“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be surprised that schools would become places of carnage?” — Mike Huckabee, (R) former governor of Arkansas, Dec. 14, 2012
Dear Governor Huckabee,
I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, that you would explain the horrors of what happened in Newtown, CT according to one of your favorite soapbox issues: prayer in the schools. After all, as a Baptist minister, this is your worldview and frame of reference. You are simply trying to make sense of this horror just as the rest of us are.
I want to tell you why you’re wrong. God IS in our schools, each and every day. While it might be true that a public school teacher may not lead a group of students in a prayer, any teacher or student is free to pray at any time, according to the tenets of their own faith. But there is a difference between the presence of organized prayer or religion, and the presence of God.
I’ve spent thousands of hours in schools, public and private, religious and secular, as a student, as a teacher, as a volunteer, as a parent. My own parents were both educators who worked hard, sacrificed, and made incredible contributions to our community. I can tell you that every day in every classroom I’ve ever been in, I have witnessed the presence of God.
God’s love is in the kindergartener who gives his lunch money to a friend every day, knowing that he has food waiting for him at home that evening, and she does not.
God’s understanding is in my friends Stacey (a head of school) and Linda (assistant head of school and an ordained minister), whose offices are a calm place of refuge rather than punishment for children who are acting out in class or simply overwhelmed.
God’s compassion is in the preschoolers who rush to a classmate’s aid, offering him bandaids and ice packs after he’s fallen off the swing.
God’s patience is in my aunt Sue, who taught kindergarten for forty years, my aunts Linda and Sarah who have also taught for decades, my cousins Amy and Jessica and Dunia who now teach middle school and high school, and my cousin Jody, who keeps a small town library going — book by book, child by child.
God’s grace is in the high school football players in Arizona who befriend a developmentally challenged girl each day, so that she will not be alone or bullied.
God’s abundance is in my friend Amy, who each year buys school supplies and decorations for her classroom out of her own salary, so that her underprivileged students will have a bright, inspiring space and everything they need to do their work.
God’s caring is in the young Colorado girl who created an anti-bullying program for her school, a program that is now a model for other schools to follow.
God’s generosity is in the principal who bought a teen a brand-new suit when he was nominated to Homecoming Court and had nothing to wear.
God’s sacrifice is in Victoria Soto, the first grade teacher in Newtown, who hid her children in cupboards and cabinets and told the shooter they were in the gym. She was killed, but most of her students survived.
God’s perseverance is in each and every teacher who stays late to help a struggling student, who places a reassuring hand on the shoulder of a young child, who spends countless unpaid hours grading papers, coaching, and mentoring simply because they know in their hearts it is the right thing to do.
I could provide a million more examples, Governor Huckabee, but I think you get the point. I believe if you were to spend a few weeks in a classroom, with an open mind and an open heart, you would be reassured that God IS in our schools. I challenge you to do that. I’m sure you can find a school where your service would be welcomed.
If, after this time, you are still concerned about the lack of God in our schools, I would encourage you to remember that Americans have the freedom to choose religious schools for our children. I encourage you to look around at our communities, where there is an abundance of places for people learn about religion and be filled with faith. We have churches, temples, synagogues and other houses of worship. We have Christian schools, Catholic schools, Jewish schools, vacation Bible schools, and more. We have religious bookshops, public libraries filled with books about religion, and websites devoted to teaching the tenets of any faith you can imagine. The opportunity to know God is everywhere. Even in our public schools.
God IS in our schools. And in each and every one of us. Let us not forget that in this difficult time.
Kristi Holmes Espiñeira
God IS in our Schools: An Open Letter to Governor Huckabee by Kristi Holmes Espiñeira is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.