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LeBron James, Teacher

What great news this is. NBA star LeBron James, one of the greatest athletes of all time, has started a public-private partnership school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. [1] He grew up poor there. Excerpt:

The difference here is that the I Promise school blurs the boundaries between school and life, recognizing that the main thing keeping a lot of these kids from academic success is chaotic and threatening home lives.

How often do you see rich and successful celebrities doing such good? What a gift LeBron James has given to his hometown. I love this:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js [6]

More info about the I Promise School here. [7]

Last weekend, I was talking with a couple of folks who are professionally involved in classical Christian education. In our conversation, I said that it seems to me that a Benedict Option-style school would need to break down the barriers between school and family, and would involve the entire family in the mission in a direct way. Classical Christian education would be about forming the whole family in effective Christian discipleship. There has to be a way of doing this without usurping the role of the church. The thing is, you need to have real commitment from families to live the life, as opposed to just sending kids to the school. There are plenty of schools, both Catholic and Protestant, that are connected to churches, but they don’t have the kind of intentional integration that I’m thinking about here; it needs to be more monastic.

Dang. I wish I had thought to become an NBA superstar worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Then I could throw all my money into classical Christian education. Seriously, I’d do it if I had the money to give. As it says in The Benedict Option [8]:

“Education has to be at the core of Christian survival—as it always was,” says Michael Hanby, a professor of religion and philosophy of science at Washington’s Pontifical John Paul II Institute. “The point of monasticism was not simply to retreat from a corrupt world to survive, though in various iterations that might have been a dimension of it,” he continues. “But at the heart of it was a quest for God. It was that quest that mandated the preservation of classical learning and the pagan tradition by the monks, because they loved what was true and
what was beautiful wherever they found it.”

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43 Comments To "LeBron James, Teacher"

#1 Comment By Good news on the Dreher blog? On July 31, 2018 @ 9:06 am

Hey Rod,

Although this is great news, LBJ is definitely not the first athlete to do something like this (though his project might be the most ambitious). The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy ( [9]) in Detroit, is just one example, and he gets a ton of help from other current and former NBA players.

#2 Comment By Dan R On July 31, 2018 @ 9:09 am

How lucky is the NBA to have Lebron James? James grew up poor with no father in the Rust Belt, and was one of the youngest and richest players in sports history. How many fatherless kids could become millionaires at 18 and not just go crazy? All Lebron has done since then is marry his high school sweetheart, be a great dad to his kids, and give back to his community, not to mention win a NBA title for his hometown. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone, but I can’t think of any other public figure who is an successful as James while also setting as good an example. Find some of the videos of him watching his kid play basketball–he just seems to be such a great dad.

(The NBA is also lucky to have Steph Curry as its second most visible player, who seems to be a genuinely good guy as well.)

One thing I liked about this story is that every kid at this school gets a bike, as Lebron says that having a bike let him become more mobile and escape the worst neighborhoods.

#3 Comment By whocares On July 31, 2018 @ 9:31 am

Props to LeBron.

I’m not a fan of Zuckerberg and have never been on Facebook, but after blowing $100 million on Newark schools he is doing something similar to this in East Palo Alto.

[10]

“We believe that by integrating the many services and touchpoints for children—primarily health, education (both early childhood and primary education), and family—in a holistic manner, our children can be primed for success in school and life. “

#4 Comment By JeffK On July 31, 2018 @ 9:57 am

Churches struggling to find relevancy within their communities could learn a lot from Lebron James. Minor yet sustained contributions, from various community churches, aligned with more prosperous suburban churches, could make a world of difference to impoverished city children.

#5 Comment By collin On July 31, 2018 @ 10:06 am

We will have to see how this works out as past rich celebrities, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, have done similar exercises with mixed results. Those school projects, especially Oprah, come across as vantity projects and not focused on more practical education. This one both appears to have smaller goals and yet a lot more practical in nature which makes it sound more likely to succeed. In this case, I do wish more emphasis was put on practical vocational training though.

#6 Comment By Caroline On July 31, 2018 @ 10:08 am

Very cool!
The La Salle schools in urban Chicago, run by the Christian bros, require a commitment from parents of 20 hrs service per semester….plus a monthly parent teacher conference. The parents absolutely have to have skin in the game.
God prosper Lebron James.

#7 Comment By Leslie Fain On July 31, 2018 @ 10:17 am

This is a great story, Rod. I didn’t much about him at all, except the obvious, but I definitely have a soft spot for him now.

This school won’t do everything, of course. The family breakdown issue is so big. I wish there was some kind of mentoring program in addition to this that could teach the kids that stable families are possible & practical ways to work toward that goal.

I’m reading Scott Hahn’s book on marriage now. Catholic Churches in that area need to be doing something along those lines.

Having said that, I think the school sounds great. They are treating the kids as traumatized.

[11]

#8 Comment By Richard Nicoletti On July 31, 2018 @ 10:18 am

Akron is the Anti Cleveland. Tale of Two Cities with a pretty in pink bus station. Carpe Diem in Akron. Akron Zips have an elite rifle team. Hope they read GK Chesterton and study the Battle of Syracuse.

#9 Comment By Michael On July 31, 2018 @ 10:24 am

LeBron James grew up poor, without a dad, was on the cover of SI, faced intense scrutiny and pressure to live up to cartoonishly high expectations, and became an overnight kajillionaire–all when he was a teenager. You could not dream up a better recipe for crashing and burning and becoming a cautionary tale. Instead, he handles his business, pours his time and money into the community, married the mother of his children, and is universally respected in the league as one of the good guys.

#10 Comment By Nancy E. Head On July 31, 2018 @ 10:32 am

Classical Christian education has always held that parents are the primary educators. The school is secondary to the parent. That view naturally draws parents into the process. The degree of success in what you propose is up to parents and administrators. Education like politics is local. Your proposal works when parents understand their role is that of primary educator.

#11 Comment By bmj On July 31, 2018 @ 10:33 am

The difference here is that the I Promise school blurs the boundaries between school and life, recognizing that the main thing keeping a lot of these kids from academic success is chaotic and threatening home lives.

This is so critical. My wife volunteers at our “home” school (which serves several neighborhoods, including one that is very poor), and chaotic home lives (or the lack of any home life at all) is at the root of so many of the problems in the school. There are several charter schools in our city that have attempted to address this issue in a similar way, and thus far, they have been successful.

It is also worth noting that there is a significant element of liturgy in schools like this, which is also vitally important.

#12 Comment By David J. White On July 31, 2018 @ 10:41 am

I’m a native of Akron who frequently returns (my mother and a number of friends still live there). LeBron is the real deal when it comes to remembering where he came from, remaining involved with his home town, and extending a hand up to those coming after him.

This is why the “Birthplace of LeBron James” signs stay up even when he leaves the Cavaliers. 😉

#13 Comment By Mario Diana On July 31, 2018 @ 10:48 am

This is great, as long as the initiative remains community-based and funded by real people. The worst thing would be for someone to get the idea that what poor kids need is a life centrally planned by folks in Washington.

#14 Comment By Stephen Piscura On July 31, 2018 @ 10:56 am

We’re Clevelanders and it’s exciting to see this! Rod, be encouraged that schools like Hope Academy ( [12]) in Minneapolis are bringing classical and Christian education to families who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Following their lead and model, we’re founding a similar in school in inner-city Cleveland where we live: [13]

#15 Comment By Joachim On July 31, 2018 @ 11:03 am

I’d be interested in hearing John Mark Reynolds’ thoughts on the subject of intentional community in education and home-school integration, since he’s running the Saint Constantine School down in Houston. Have you thought about contacting him, or looking into the school?

#16 Comment By Tim F. On July 31, 2018 @ 11:09 am

“In our conversation, I said that it seems to me that a Benedict Option-style school would need to break down the barriers between school and family, and would involve the entire family in the mission in a direct way.”

In the sense of sharing a common vision and value system, yes. A school can also play a key role in building community bonds. Unfortunately my experience with the ‘involve the whole family’ approach sometimes taken with private schools is that you end up with your family being run according to how someone else thinks it should be run. Personally I resented the intrusion into our daily life and the impact that it had in defining how I spent time with our kids. A couple of decades ago, the concept of boundaries in relationships was popular. Building a close community does involve breaking down some boundaries, a healthy community should probably still think through what boundaries are appropriate.

Before kids, my wife and I were involved with a Benedict style Evangelical community. While actually quite successful, ultimately it fell apart based on excessive emphasis on authority and lack of boundaries. Anyone wanting to avoid mistakes of the past may want to do some background reading into what was known as the Shepherding or Discipleship movement.

#17 Comment By Adamant On July 31, 2018 @ 11:14 am

He’s the GOAT, in more ways than one.

The only upside of James going to LA is I might be able to afford season tickets this year.

#18 Comment By Roger On July 31, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

This is a great thing, but we also need to change the culture. More athletes need to come out and discuss the importance of education. Especially how it helps them to manage their careers and money. As long as kids see the money athletes are paid as a way out of poverty it is going to be hard to sell them on education as the way out. More of these kids see athletics as the answer and grades are something they need to stay on the team. It is time for the athletes to speak up and be honest about the education they received and how it has helped them. And then they also need to discuss any struggles they had due to a lack of education.

#19 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On July 31, 2018 @ 12:25 pm

@collin, “vanity projects”. yeah, maybe. I would submit, Harvard, Duke, Notre Dame, Stanford, et al, are a slightly different type of vanity project. think the difference between plutocracy and autocracy. and let’s be honest, if one man’s (or woman’s) vanity can transform the lives of hundreds of future men and women, he can have all the vanity he likes. it’s not like the vanity projects of Gates, Oprah, Lebron, et al are rooted in destroying the lives of “99%” of Americans.

#20 Comment By EarlyBird On July 31, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

What a wonderful story. It makes me even happier that LeBron has come to my hometown to play basketball.

Indeed it takes committed parents. My wife is a kindergarten teacher, and she can immediately – on the first day of school – see which children have parents who are deeply invested in their children’s education, and those whose parents are not, the ones whose home life is chaotic.

#21 Comment By Duke Leto On July 31, 2018 @ 1:07 pm

And he would know, check out this tweet:

[14]

Greatest Of All Time in so many ways. I don’t understand why it’s still even a debate whether it’s him or MJ. Sure MJ has 6 rings to LeBron’s 3, but MJ was surrounded with a stellar cast the whole time. And MJ is not a great human being either.

Go Lakers!

#22 Comment By Alicia On July 31, 2018 @ 1:23 pm

There’s a similar Christian school in Iowa City that was founded by a local church and supported through donations from other area churches, businesses, and individuals. They are located in a high poverty area and the education is often free or very low cost to the student’s family. Every parent has to sign a covenant agreeing to participate in the child’s education with the school and at home. They have had tremendous success with kids coming from public schools on IEPs and being able to catch them up to grade level in relatively short time. The ultimate goal is to impact not only the kids, but the whole neighborhood. I love to see these kind of practical, holistic approaches. [15]

#23 Comment By JonF On July 31, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

Re: Akron is the Anti Cleveland

Well, maybe. It’s a smaller city, also hollowed out by Rust Belt decay. Firestone is there– but just some HQ office jobs. Not a single tire is made there today (and that was true when I lived there sixteen years ago too). Akron has jumped on the Meds-n-Eds bandwagon with the University of Akron and Summa Health Systems becoming the key institutions in the town, and it seems to be hanging on better than Cleveland, and definitely better than Youngstown. (I was just there early in the month)
And it is always good to hear that someone up from humble beginnings who who has made a major success of himself has not become a nouveau rich snob but actually remembers where he comes from and gives back.

#24 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 31, 2018 @ 3:22 pm

This is great, as long as the initiative remains community-based and funded by real people. The worst thing would be for someone to get the idea that what poor kids need is a life centrally planned by folks in Washington.

That’s one interesting caution.

Unfortunately my experience with the ‘involve the whole family’ approach sometimes taken with private schools is that you end up with your family being run according to how someone else thinks it should be run. Personally I resented the intrusion into our daily life and the impact that it had in defining how I spent time with our kids.

This is another. The more I consider this, the more I appreciate Ursula Le Guin’s concept of “the Great Balance” in the Earthsea trilogy.

When home life is either deprived, chaotic, or both, kids need more from school, and sometimes need that in spite of parental indifference. When parents are stressed but supportive, participation in the school can be helpful to them AND their ability to parent their children. When parents are prosperous and well organized, some infatuated busy-bodies from the school can be a real aggravation.

The real skill is sorting out who needs what from who and how it can be delivered without stepping on too many toes.

As for Washington, like many Americans I play the mind game of “If I were president my policy would be…” Washington CANNOT set a complex set of universal standards and expect good results. Even the most sincere, dedicated, caring, insightful president, and secretary of education, and dept of ed staff, simply cannot do that successfully. One of my enduring objections to Hillary Clinton is when she wrote that in the modern world, government IS the village it takes to raise a child.

Our federal government can play a useful role in funding promising local initiatives (and necessarily vetting which ideas are promising, which are asinine, which are scams trying to suck up some government dollars). It can play a role in setting a floor, and in identifying areas, demographic, geographic, academic, where things are falling short and need to be shored up. It can highlight best practices that emerge from local initiatives and help spread what works on a larger stage.

But ultimately, what works is a child having a really good teacher who inspires, challenges, commands respect, and demands success. There should always be ample room for initiatives like Le Bron’s.

#25 Comment By Tar Heel Blues On July 31, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

I wish this were not the case and that schools did not need to play such an expansive roles in the lives of some children, but it is a reality until we can somehow break the cycle of disfunction and chaos that is too common in too many homes.

#26 Comment By David J. White On July 31, 2018 @ 6:17 pm

Firestone is there– but just some HQ office jobs. Not a single tire is made there today (and that was true when I lived there sixteen years ago too).

Goodyear is the only tire company still headquartered in Akron. I believe they still made some specialty tires and racing tires in Akron. My father retired from Goodyear in 1991 after 37 years. He was an engineer who worked in Goodyear R&D.

Firestone has been for some time a subsidiary of Bridgestone. Firestone recently built a new R&D center.

General Tire used to have a plant in Waco. When I first moved to Waco and men of a certain age heard where I was from, they often said, “I’ve been to Akron! I worked for General and they sent me there for training!”

#27 Comment By kgasmart On July 31, 2018 @ 6:38 pm

And now it’s my turn to rain on the parade. Are we really going to have a school, or I Deleigh a group of school, that not only educate the child but solve all the child’s problems at home? Posted this in a different thread a week or so ago, but we now have it in our heads that the schools must solve all of society’s problems. Schools can’t somehow “solve” the problem of bad parenting or no parenting, they can solve the problem of poverty, That somehow it’s the job of the educational institution to overcome every obstacle a child is going to face early in life. What I like about what LeBron is doing is that he is doing it With charitable and private dollars. What I don’t like about this is the idea that if it works, suddenly public school districts everywhere without access to those charitable and private dollars will suddenly be “morally obligated” to adopt the model, and how does that get paid for? The need for LeBron’s school in the first place is rooted in poverty, but why is it that now, more than half a century after the “War on Poverty” was launched, and trillions spent, has the problem grown so intractable? And the answer is that even as we’ve thrown resources at the problem the family has broken down, thanks in large part to the culture that marched arm in arm with this increase in empathetic governmental largesse; so now we say that to fix the problems of society we must fix the problems of the schools, and for that to happen we must fix the problems of the family. I say, why can’t we go directly to the source, and say: the decline of the traditional family dynamic in these troubled communities is a huge factor in which they remain so troubled. Why not start at the actual start? Because ultimately, I see LeBron’s school as a well-meaning Band-Aid over a gaping wound. I hope it succeeds. It’s bound to be an improvement. Is that enough? Well soon see.

#28 Comment By kgasmart On July 31, 2018 @ 6:39 pm

Sorry for typos, using the phone

#29 Comment By Dave G. On July 31, 2018 @ 6:56 pm

In fairness, many pro athletes do such things. It’s great that James did it, but we shouldn’t see it as some bizarre exception to the rule. Pro-Athletes are often encouraged to be charitable, and often gladly do it out of the desire to give back. We hear about James because, well, he’s the one the press is trying to get to fill the void left by Tiger Woods. Since Woods went down, the Sports Media/Market hasn’t had a genuine phenomenon to cash in on. It had Woods, and before him Jordan. The Celtics and Lakers, and in the 80s the 49ers and Montana; before that the Steelers, the Big Red Machine, the Cowboys and Landry and those rascally cheerleaders. And of course Broadway Joe, the NFL’s first crossover celebrity. For decades there was always that ‘sports star/dynasty that transcends mere sports’ that made money whenever their name appeared on a headline. It’s not easy, and it is often far more than just stats, which don’t always tell the whole story. Since Woods went down, they’ve not had that ‘phenomenon as household name’. They’ve tried with Brady and the Patriots, but they’re tarnished. I know Patriots fans who can’t stand the Patriots. Others have come and gone. But they think James might be it. So much so that the press is pretty much ignoring a legitimate dynasty that could be on the rise (The Warriors) in order to give saturation coverage to James. So yes, a good deed to be sure. A needed one. And I like LeBron (Ohio native here). But just calling it like it is. There are others who do these things regularly with their wealth, it’s just the press isn’t going to cover them the same way at this moment.

#30 Comment By Steve Pickard On July 31, 2018 @ 7:05 pm

Remember a fox news host told James to “shut up and dribble”.

#31 Comment By Hound of Ulster On July 31, 2018 @ 7:46 pm

The very best pro athletes have often come from working class urban (think Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, who grew up in a reform school) or from rural poor/small town (think Cy Young and Randy Moss) backgrounds.

Not all of them turn out to be as smart, or as wise, as LeBron James (at least business and personal life-wise, I question LeBron’s GOAT status in terms of sports team-building and strategy), and the history of pro sports is littered with the forgotten careers of men blessed with million dollar talents, but cursed with ten-cent brains.

I will note to the room that the much-maligned Colin Kaepernick is working on similar projects, but doesn’t have the capital for them (NFL contracts are not guaranteed, except for the signing bonus) that LeBron can muster.

#32 Comment By Anon On July 31, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

This is great, but it is not a new idea. This is basically a privately funded full-service community school program. This federal program aims to provide similar wrap-around services in high-need schools, has been around for well over a decade–but it is woefully underfunded. I admire LeBron James and am glad he’s stepping up, but I would prefer the FSCS program be robustly implemented so that poor children don’t have to depend on the voluntary largesse of our more civic-minded athletes to obtain a quality education. There aren’t nearly enough LeBrons to go around for all the communities in need.

#33 Comment By Crème Fraiche On July 31, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

Some commentons in here seem to have missed the point. As usual much ado and crowing about culture and Christianity.

Probably the most important thing they did in this school was acknowledge that few children need to be educated according to an agricultural calendar. They extended the school year. Second, they extended the school day. These are realistic changes that acknowledge the realities of working parents, blue collar, and white collar, who are better served by a stable réalisable educational environment that allows the to do their job in PEACE. Less time freaking out on care.com or whatever the latest emergency childcare app « solution » is means more time spent doing homework with kids.

But instead we want to pretend it’s 1955 and all women are free at 3pm to go pick up Jack and Jill from school.

C’mon Guys stop piling on working poor parents, and give them a hand up instead. That’s what Lebron’s team understood.

#34 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On July 31, 2018 @ 10:16 pm

@kgasmart asks’ “why is it that now, more than half a century after the “War on Poverty” was launched, and trillions spent, has the problem grown so intractable?” sorry to rain on your parade. the quick answer, like the (federally-declared, tax-payer-funded) wars on drugs, terrorism, etc.; these wars are endless because profitable financially for the oligarchs (think: Agricultural-Industrial Complex), and Wall Street banksters (think: 2-5% “tip” for VISA/MC, Amex for every dollar spent via “food stamps check card”). not saying your cynicism is not valid, just responding to your comment.

#35 Comment By The Sicilian Woman On August 1, 2018 @ 12:12 am

So wonderful to hear good news, and about a major sports figure. I don’t follow sports, but I’ve heard his name many times. David J. White, that’s also lovely to hear. God bless LeBron James and his efforts.

#36 Comment By JonF On August 1, 2018 @ 7:01 am

Re: why is it that now, more than half a century after the “War on Poverty” was launched, and trillions spent, has the problem grown so intractable?

Ask the guys who send jobs out of the country and replace people with machines in many jobs that remain.

#37 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 1, 2018 @ 10:35 am

Schools can’t somehow “solve” the problem of bad parenting or no parenting, they can solve the problem of poverty, That somehow it’s the job of the educational institution to overcome every obstacle a child is going to face early in life.

There is a good deal of truth to that. I recall a minister of African descent who served on a local school board, who asked “If you can’t control them at home, what do you expect the schools to do?”

But the fact is dysfunctional home life and traumatic experience in the general community DO interfere with efforts to impart an education, or a modicum of socialization. Ergo, while it takes a lot of extra money and effort and specialized personnel and commitment, those willing to make the effort can actually save some children who could go on to lead very productive lives, or, be very skilled gang leaders. (Or die an early death of dysfunctional failure).

#38 Comment By Nelson On August 1, 2018 @ 10:03 pm

That’s so wonderful. I am so glad he is trying to break down traditional barriers between family and school and help the entire family so the students will have a better chance of success. Thanks for sharing this story.

#39 Comment By KS On August 2, 2018 @ 2:40 am

LeBron turns out to be not only a giving, caring individual, but one of the most thoughtful players in the game. Believe it or don’t. You can see it in his stats (his passes lead to successful shots more often than anyone else in the game, save one point guard) and in the postgame interviews, which usually consist of extraordinary athletes dripping sweat and dumping obvious, exhausted cliches on frustrated interviewers.

Watch a big NBA game sometime and if LeBron’s team wins, take the extra two minutes to hear him interviewed — it’s remarkable how often he actually answers questions. We are fortunate to have his leadership in the country today.

#40 Comment By Stephen Pickard On August 2, 2018 @ 9:38 am

One thing to consider is what would poverty in America look like today if nothing was done.

#41 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 2, 2018 @ 10:51 am

Ask the guys who send jobs out of the country and replace people with machines in many jobs that remain.

There was a great article in (hold your jeers over the source) the New York Times magazine some thirty years or so ago by a man of African descent who grew up in Chester, PA, and managed to get out, who recalled in detail when the shipyards closed, and young black men who might have expected to follow their fathers and grandfathers into well paid industrial work ended up selling crack on the corner and killing each other. Similarly in Milwaukee, a lot of African American families had just gotten settled, with one or two generations working good union jobs, and then those jobs were gone. In California, when containerized shipping came in, the longshore union negotiated job stability or excellent pensions for employed longshoremen, but the next generation had nothing.

Now, some industries are bemoaning the lack of skilled labor in production fields, but nobody has it on their radar screens anymore. Its NOT what fathers and uncles and neighbors have been doing all their lives.

And its true, poverty programs are no substitute for a solid, reliable occupation with a good paycheck.

#42 Comment By Estella On August 5, 2018 @ 2:36 am

Lebron James at 33 still not showing sign of slowing down. This time with the lakers is the last chance for him to win one more ring although he no longer needs to prove himself since he is already a legend. He is the best basketball player right now. But to win one more ring might need more help from teammates but his current teammates on paper is not what he needs. Lets just see what will happen on this season…

#43 Comment By Casper On August 21, 2018 @ 3:52 am

No matter what, lebron will be fully healthy when the season begins. His conditioning routine is top notch and there is no slowing down for at least this coming season. We will still witness his greatness and see a lot of highlights. Though we are not sure if he can contend with championship with his current teammates but still he will be competitive as he always be…