Public Education: My History
by BARBARA WHEELER*
My grandmother was a public-school teacher. She grew up on a farm in rural central Pennsylvania. After graduating from a public high school, she went to Shippensburg Normal School in Shippensburg, Pa., for teacher training then taught in rural public elementary schools for almost 30 years.
My grandmother’s career ended at Mifflin Elementary School, a few miles from her home. Her home became my home and the elementary school she taught at was the school I attended as a child.
I went to a public high school and later to a university that was part of the State System of Higher Education in Pennsylvania. That university was Shippensburg University, whose predecessor schools included Shippensburg Normal School – the school my grandmother had attended.
When I graduated from college, I served as a US-2 missionary at Bethlehem Center, a national mission institution in Jackson, Miss., supported by United Methodist Women’s Mission Giving.
At the center, I taught kindergarteners and first graders in the after-school program. Local members of United Methodist Women volunteered as tutors. All of the children in the program attended public elementary schools.
I visited one of their schools often, and I was always impressed with the services the school and teachers could provide with limited funds. Jackson Public Schools offered all-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. They had developed curricula for students in dance, art and music.
In the impoverished, inner-city community where I worked, a public education was the only opportunity children had.
If someone were to ask me why I’m an advocate for public education, I’d say public education played a major role in my education. I’d tell them if it weren’t for public education, I wouldn’t have the education I have because my family could not have afforded to send me to private school. If it weren’t for public education, the children in Jackson – and in communities across the United States – would not have safe places to learn and grow.
My grandmother was a public-school teacher and a woman of faith. The importance of faith was passed on in my family and now, as a United Methodist, I feel a call to be faithful to working for justice, including justice in public education. I have a lifetime history with public education and look forward to creating history alongside members of United Methodist Women as advocates for public schools and for a brighter future for all children.
*Barbara Wheeler is an executive secretary for communications with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
- Public Education: My History
- Take Action for Public Education
- Fixing No Child Left Behind
- Related resource: “Campaign for Children, Phase III: Public School Education” booklet. #3223, available from the Mission Resource Center, 1-800-305-9857.
- URL for Joint Organizational Statement near the end of the story: