Embracing Holy Encounters with All Students
By Dr. Denise P. Reid, Ph.D.
Are conversations surrounding diversity in education creating anxiety, uncertainty, and stress? This blog will provide a biblical perspective on diversity that may be helpful as you navigate conversations surrounding race and the ever-increasing diversity of schools and classrooms. I acknowledge that conversations surrounding race can be difficult, but they are necessary.
God’s appreciation for diversity was evident in the biblical account of creation (Genesis 1). The intentionality of diversity was evident in the creation of plants and vegetation (Gen 1:11), sea life and the birds of the air (Gen 1: 20), and livestock, creeping things, and beasts of the earth (Gen 1: 24). Genesis 1:31 declares, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (ESV). Although His creation was completely good, lacking nothing, it is essential to shift our focus from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation. Revelation 7:9 confirms the diversity of mankind and declares that people from every nation, from all tribes, peoples, and languages will be in heaven, rejoicing as one body with Jesus.
Your diverse classroom is “good” and lacking in nothing. The diversity that exists in your classroom is an opportunity for you to see the uniqueness of every student that the Lord has entrusted to you. Your classroom is just as the Lord wanted it to be.
In my role as a professor, I often have students in our program (who are serving in the field of education) tell me, “When I look at my students, I don’t see any differences. They are all the same to me.” On the surface, this statement sounds noble. However, I challenge you to examine this statement. Ignoring individual differences equates to an immediate dismissal of social and cultural contexts that each student brings to the classroom. Regardless of a student’s race, social class, gender, religion, or ability, every student should feel as though they are an integral part of the classroom environment and that their individual differences are valued.
The acknowledgment of a student’s differences is not problematic. What can potentially become problematic are the thoughts that might come after you acknowledge difference. Such thoughts might include a deficit perspective of the student’s academic ability, a belief in a long-standing stereotype, or a concern of individual differences that may hinder your ability to effectively care for diverse students. Far too often, our thoughts go directly to race and ethnicity when we think of diversity. Diversity includes social class, gender, ability/disability, religion, region, age, and of course, race and ethnicity.
Diversity and its identified marginalized groups are not new agendas. The gospel of Luke describes multiple accounts of Jesus caring for those in marginalized groups (Luke 8:36-50; 9:10-17; 17:11-19; 18:15-17, Matthew 12:9-13). It is worth noting that the groups, for which Jesus cared, are the same groups that make up today’s multifaceted nature of diversity. For example, Jesus cared for the Samaritans and Gentiles (race / ethnicity), the poor (low socioeconomic status), the disabled (ability / disability), women (gender), and the vulnerable (children).
God’s solidarity with foreigners, the marginalized, and the oppressed is observed in many circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life. Matthew 1 tells us that Jesus was a descendant of several Jewish / Gentile mixed marriages. Consider that Jesus was born to poor parents (Luke 2:22-24). Luke 2:8-20 informs us that even though shepherds were considered a despised group, Jesus’ birth was first announced to them. Foreign wise men also celebrated Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-2). Matthew 2:13-20 describes the account of how Jesus spent his childhood as an immigrant.
Take a few moments and think about the diversity that exists in your current class. Through holy encounters, you have the opportunity to equip and pour into the lives of future doctors, lawyers, gardeners, nurses, mechanics, teachers, maintenance workers, plumbers, etc. I pray that you see the diversity before you as good and lacking nothing. Consider your daily encounters with students as holy encounters.
An example of a holy encounter is found in the account of Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
(John 4). Here, we see that Jesus was intentional to go through Samaria (John 4:4), even though it was a common practice for Jews to take a longer route to avoid interacting with Samaritans. During this encounter, Jesus told the Samaritan woman about living water of which she would never thirst again and that the water will become in her a spring of water welling up to eternal life (v. 14). The Samaritan woman left the well and went into town and told other Samaritans about Jesus. The Scriptures declare that those from the town came to Jesus (v. 30). The impact of Jesus’ intentional and holy encounter resulted in Samaritans gaining knowledge of the Messiah. Let us, as Christian educators in the public school setting, follow Jesus’ example of intentional and holy encounters in our daily work.
What are your faithful next steps?
1.) The contents of this blog represent only a small portion of what the Bible has to say about diversity. As you ponder the question of whether or not you are stressed or uncomfortable around diversity conversations, I encourage you to take a prayerful posture as you seek the Lord for clarity and a deeper understanding as you grow in the knowledge of diversity and the assets and funds of knowledge your students bring with them to class.
2.) In your time of prayer, sit with the Lord in silence. Ask the Lord to help you understand your emotional responses when faced with issues related to diversity. Lord, what is the posture of my heart around students who are different from me? Lord, when I enter into diversity conversations, am I uncomfortable or can I rely upon Your Spirit to enter into these conversations with a posture of love?
3.) As God saw good in the diversity of all of His creation, ask the Lord to clearly show you the beauty of the multi-dimensionalities of all your students.
4.) Ask the Lord to help you intentionally seek the good of all of your students and to show you where your heart is confused, hurting, biased, or even angry, and where you need repair by the power of His Spirit in the posture of your heart.
Dr. Denise Reid serves as Associate Professor of Education at Biola University in La Mirada, California. She teaches in the online and in person Masters in Education programs, as well as in the Special Education Credential Program MA Programs. Dr. Reid is passionate about the equitable education of marginalized groups. Dr. Reid is grateful for a university position that allows her to be part of the training of current and future teachers.