Our Brothers’ Keeper

If you like the idea of neighborhood schools, chances are you live in a pretty nice neighborhood. Suppose you didn’t?

When my now 6th-grade son was in elementary school, a couple of classmates were shocked to hear him talk about playing in our suburban yard after dark. “You go outside at night?,” one boy asked in amazement. Yeah, my son replied, in typical “what’s the big deal?” fashion.

Turns out in those boys’ neighborhood, children didn’t dare go outside in the dark to play. Where they lived, they said, people sometimes sprayed the street with bullets. They could get shot. In fact, they actually knew people who had.

No surprise that their parents chose a school outside the neighborhood. That might not be possible in the Brave New World that winners of this week’s Wake County School Board election are poised to usher in.

These new board members ran on a platform of returning to neighborhood schools over busing and magnet schools.  It sounds wonderful in the abstract: Little Jack and Jill walk a few blocks from home to schools staffed by dedicated Teaching Fellows and supported by PTSAs of active, two-parent families who generously give both volunteer time and money.

This won’t be everyone’s reality. In truth, Wake County already has schools with high “base populations” (translation: neighborhood children assigned to the school) whose unruly behavior and poor performance are exacerbated by 1) Parents who are MIA and 2) Unskilled, indifferent or inexperienced teachers who are afraid of the students. People who volunteer and substitute in schools know this.

What’s to become of these children, who don’t live in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?

Maybe the better question is:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This was Cain’s retort when God inquired of his brother Abel’s whereabouts. Cain, you may remember, had killed his brother.

The biblical answer to Cain’s question is yes. We bear some responsibility to keep — the Hebrew word shamar means “to guard, protect, watch for” — the interest of others. We are our brothers’ keepers —  even when the keeping is inconvenient and imperfect. We ignore this obligation to our collective peril.

Update: Decision made. Where do we go from here?