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Holy Week Voting
Why I Vote Y-E-S to SEL and CRT
I didn’t have time to hide. The canvassing candidate caught me unloading groceries from the back of my minivan.
To be fair, I looked the part. Based on political profiling, the candidate might well have guessed that the minivan-driving, suburban-living, blonde- (okay, gray-) haired woman she approached would clutch her pearls right along with her as the woman launched into a diatribe against the evils of our “failing” schools and their “liberal agenda.”
But reader, as the candidate sneered the teaching of self-awareness, kindness, and empathy through Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). And as she bemoaned the apparently even-worse evils of an inclusive, comprehensive history that hints that this country is not all “liberty and justice for all,” all the time, as Critical Race Theory (CRT) suggests, I did not clutch my pearls. Though I may very well have been wearing them.
Instead, I held up a hand and smiled (I am a nice, polite person—most of the time). I told her I loved our schools, supported our teachers and school staff, was a fan of SEL and CRT, and that she was preaching to the wrong choir.
That candidate didn’t win this past November. But her sneering contempt for our “failing” and “liberal” schools and for SEL and CRT lives on in some of the candidates in our local elections—which happen tomorrow (April 4) here in Illinois.
And as I hear the messaging from the rabidly anti-SEL and anti-CRT crowd (not everyone falls into this camp. I understand some people are still figuring it out!), I continue to wonder what on earth is happening—especially when those candidates claim to be people of faith.
I love Jesus. I believe this is our Father’s world and that the Holy Spirit is on the move. Because of this, I applaud the inclusion of SEL and the teaching of goodness in our public schools. (FWIW, I also write books—a whole series, in fact! — that get an SEL designation.)
And as far as “CRT” (this broad academic term that seems to have come to mean something more specific than it was intended to) is concerned, I get that history is written by the victors. But unlike the anti-CRT crowd, I believe we are culturally, intellectually, and even spiritually worse off because of this.
I credit the Bible for my view.
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Most of the stories, poems, prophesies, and letters in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are by or about losers. Sure, the Exodus had victorious moments, so do the “conquest narratives” and stories of King David. We could make cases for the “victories” of Noah, Abraham, Ruth, and Esther—and certainly others. Of course, Christians believe Jesus was victorious over the grave (Alleluia!). But oppressed, decidedly non-victors wrote those stories. Jailed, beaten, murdered, exiled “losers” wrote the letters, helping us explain what Christ’s victory meant.
Thank God for that. Imagine if our Holy Week writings came from the Victors.
Of course, it would be amazing to have a record of this. How exciting if a scribe-y Roman soldier kept an eye on Jesus during Holy Week and took notes. If we found a scroll that read: “Those poor disciples. Word is, they believe this Jesus has risen. Little do they know Pilot is a notorious body snatcher…”
From their rhetoric today, I have to believe the rabid anti-CRT folks would insist that is the story. The Romans “won,” after all. They get to tell it. I assume were the anti-CRT crusaders around when the canon were put together, they’d say the loser stories we preach this week and on Easter should be seen as “woke.” Tossed aside. We don’t want children to feel guilty that THEIR SIN caused those nails to be put in Jesus’s hands and feet (more on this in a moment…).
And of course, the Scriptures are full of stories, poems, prophecies, and letters that help us be kinder, better people. Jesus tells us the best thing we can do in this world is love God and love others—as we love ourselves.
Take out Jesus, put that in a textbook, and it sounds like a bunch of SEL nonsense!
Does Jesus not know that if we worry about loving ourselves and others and spend a moment talking about that in schools, our children’s test scores might fall? Grades might suffer! Loving others as we love ourselves jeopardizes the power and prosperity of white ( … male … cishet …) Americans. Does Jesus not know that?
Now, of course, this is not something the voracious anti-CRT and anti-SEL crowd would say. At least not the ones who claim to follow Jesus. Which is confusing.
Goodness know, I love and follow Jesus imperfectly. As Tanner, friend to those great theologians, the Indigo Girls, says, “You know, me and Jesus, we’re of the same heart/The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep f***ing up.”
Can I get an Amen?
But, here’s the thing: aside from my confusion over why any Christian would think teaching empathy and love and care for self and others in the public school is bad, I have heard Christian conservatives say that the problem with CRT is that it makes white children feel guilty. About horrors of the past, committed by their ancestors, back when white Christian Americans weren’t as nice and good and thoughtful of others as we are today.
And yet, these same Christians teach their (our!) children—often as young as two or three years old—that their sin and the sins of their ancestors—is and was so bad that Jesus had to come to earth, get beaten, and have nails driven in his hands and feet to pay for that sin.
I see a disconnect.
In the case of Holy Week, our guilt is good. Presumably, because conviction of guilt leads us to Jesus, to asking for grace, to receiving mercy, and to becoming better people.
But in the case of recognizing the evils of the American past and the privileges of the American present, guilt is bad. Presumably, because conviction of guilt might, what, lead us to Jesus, to asking for grace, to receiving mercy, and to becoming better people?
Of course, we all know that the problem is not guilt. The problem is not test scores.
The problem is power—and the fear of losing it.
White (especially male, cishet or closeted) “Christians” have been in charge for a long, long time. We’ve had a good run—for ourselves.
The idea of someone else directing the play, of having the lead voice in the narrative, of being able to reveal something about this country and its systems, or about God and theology, or about kindness or equity or public health or whatever is too much to bear for many.
Because what if that guilt leads us to conviction—personal and collective? What if we have to stop pointing fingers and judging and admit we’re the ones who’ve failed and wronged others and that Jesus probably isn’t all that tickled for how white American Christians have “loved” one another?
We’d have to repent! We’d have to ask for mercy. But repentance means to turn away from our power and privilege and toward a God with a huge heart for the oppressed and some harsh words for the powerful. Yikes.
And asking for mercy requires humility. That would mean giving up power. Like Jesus! We all know what happened to him.
And once we repentented and humbled ourselves and relinquished power, what if others treated us not as they would treat themselves or loved us not as they love God, but as we have treated them?
This is especially so for those who do not truly believe in redemption. Who do not really believe in a Jesus who rose from the dead to restore and redeem and make all things new and set things right. Who do not thank God that the Bible was written by the powerless instead of the Victors. Who do not understand that it’s because of the voices of those oppressed and wronged Bible writers and editors that we see the power of God. We get the story of God (not human powerhouse) at work in this world.
But that does nothing for test scores.* It doesn’t guarantee success or more money. So, that’s the rub.
Nothing makes me feel more patriotic than voting. Nothing makes me more grateful to live in this amazing country full of trouble and opportunity than than the hard-fought freedom to vote.
Truly, no matter how you vote, I hope you join me at the polls. Of course, I can’t wait to cast my vote in favor of the local candidates who understand guns—not freaking books—are the actual, real danger in the classroom and who share my appreciation for including goodness and, well, inclusion in the curriculum.
*Oh, and I do hate standardized tests (I’ve always done poorly on them, but managed to “succeed” in many areas of life). But according to the Department of Education: “Research clearly demonstrates the significant role of SEL in promoting the healthy development and academic achievement of all students. It also shows that SEL reduces problem behaviors and emotional distress that interfere with the learning and development of some students. Research indicates that SEL programming significantly raises test scores while it lowers levels of emotional distress; disruptive behavior; and alcohol, tobacco, or other drug use. SEL is thus an effective approach for addressing the SS/HS core elements: safe learning environments and violence prevention activities; substance abuse prevention; behavioral, social, and emotional supports; mental health services; and early childhood SEL programs.”
So, if you love testing, you can support SEL too.
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