One of the most dramatic demographic shifts in the past 15 years has occurred in our suburban public schools. The Pew Hispanic Center recently released a study from data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. Here’s what they found:
When it comes to increases in public school student enrollment, the suburbs are where most of the action has been over the past decade and a half. Since 1993-94, two-thirds of the 5.1 million increase in public school enrollment nationwide has occurred in suburban school districts. In 1993-94, city school districts educated a majority of the nation’s minority students. That is no longer the case.
The student population of America’s suburban public schools has shot up by 3.4 million in the past decade and a half, and virtually all of this increase (99%) has been due to the enrollment of new Latino, black and Asian students, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of public school data. Once a largely white enclave, suburban school districts in 2006-07 educated a student population that was 41.4% non-white, up from 28% in 1993-94 and not much different from the 43.7% non-white share of the nation’s overall public school student population.
The next generation in the United States will be impacted by a variety cultures and ethnicities, but particularly by the growing Latino influence. Additionally, many more school-age children are third culture worlders than in the past. Third culture is a sociological term used to describe a person who has spent significant time in another culture, thus incorporating their birth culture with a second culture and creating a third culture. The term is typically attached to children who spend large portions of their developmental years outside of their parents’ home culture.
These changes will be positive in many ways, but it is also bound to produce some tension within individual communities. These changes also create opportunities for the church to reach a generation that will be more religiously integrated and tolerant. According to Gallup, Americans already show more interfaith cohesion than Europe – they are more “integrated.” Gallup defines integrated people as those who seek to know more about and learn from others of different religious traditions. They believe that most faiths make a positive contribution to society. Furthermore, integrated people do not only feel respect toward people from other faith traditions, but they also feel respected by them.
These cultural changes are already in process. The younger generation will better embrace people from different backgrounds, a positive movement in the culture. However, they are also more likely to be religiously tolerant of a variety of beliefs, an alarming cultural shift for the church looking to reach them with a message of the exclusivity of Christ. So how should the church communicate an unchanging gospel message to a more integrated and diverse generation that embraces others, specifically those in changing suburban public schools?