I love that we live in a time and a place where there are lots of choices for how we educate our children. In just the relatively small circle of my closer friends and family, most of those options are represented. Public schools. Private schools. Online schools. Home school co-ops that blend classroom learning with home study. Full home schooling with unique, custom curriculum. It's an interesting time to be a parent. With so many choices out there, we have one guarantee: We will compare our choices to the choices of others, whether we want to or not.
Comparisons are natural. They can even be healthy, especially if we're in the middle of making a hard choice or a change. But, as with other hot button issues of parenting, comparisons on how we educate our kids can become polarizing when they aren't paired with humility and understanding.
I overheard a conversation recently that was full of disapproval concerning Christian parents who would knowingly send their kids into the public school system in today's social climate. As you know, I'm one of those parents, so it stung a little. It really shouldn't have stung, because I know all of the reasons that lead us to that choice. But, hey, I understand completely where they're coming from. With regard to the big picture, I have some of the same concerns. Kids are exposed to a lot more a lot earlier these days. My kids may be victims of peer pressure or bullying. They may hear conversations I don't think they're old enough to process correctly. They may come across a teacher at some point who has a condescending attitude toward their values or their faith. I certainly don't want my child "educated by the state" with little to no input from me. Dude, I get it. BUT. That's not really the whole story.
I've hesitated a lot about responding to this line of thought. I know that when people explain why they make a certain choice, it can put others on the defensive. (That's usually my first reflex, at least.) I know that many times, we overemphasize the benefits of our own choices as a defense against nay-sayers. We live in a culture of hashtag passive aggression. I think it's part of the modern parenthood landscape to feel judged, regardless of our choices.
So, as I share some of my thoughts on public schooling, I hope you can take it at face value. I'm not sharing my perspective on this to gain public school recruits or to bash other forms of education. I not only think the other forms are great, I think they're exactly where many kids should be! I'm just trying to help facilitate a change in attitude. I know some people think, in their heart of hearts, that we Christians with our kids in public schools just don't get it. If we got it, surely we'd pull them out! But, I believe we were each created with a specific and all-together unique purpose. I'm only responsible for the upbringing of two children. The only thing I need to know is whether those two specific kids belong in our specific neighborhood public school this year. So here are some of the reasons our Christian kids are in a public school:
"The System": There's a bit of a fallacy out there in some circles that all public schools are created equal. People throw around a term like "the public school system" as if it's all a giant maze of educational pipes that our children are thrown into haphazardly. The truth is, a child's school is defined by its people. The way it functions is based primarily on choices at the campus level. I can't speak to all of the public schools in the nation. I can't even speak to all of the schools in our district. But I know our school. We purchased this home, before we even had kids, largely because of its proximity to this school. Ryan and I have gotten to know the administrators there. We've gotten to know our kids' teachers. We know many of the other parents, and we know many of our kids' classmates. This isn't a blind "system" maze to us. It's one well-lit classroom at a time. It's a hard-working teacher that we hand-picked for our quirky son, because she's skilled at teaching outside of the box. It's a loving, high energy Kindergarten teacher who attends the same church we do and who manages to build a foundation of knowledge and achievement in even her lowest performing students with a combination of deft skill and genuine love for each child. This is what "the system" looks like at the school around the corner from our house. If I have any concerns or questions, I can address it with people - people we know.
Involvement: One of the reasons we know so many people at our local school is because we make a point to be in the mix. As a stay at home mom with both of my kids now in school, I have an opportunity many parents don't -- the freedom to volunteer in my kids' classrooms and be present on their campus. I mentioned a little about it in an earlier blog, but being able to do this is part of what makes public school so much more comfortable for us. I witness first hand that my kids aren't "in the belly of the beast"; they're in the care of instructors I respect and work to know personally. I'm not doing the teaching, but I'm right in the middle of it, sometimes in the classroom, and sometimes at home with homework and projects. If there's curriculum that rubs me the wrong way, I don't have to cringe in fear or stage a protest. I can communicate openly with their teachers, and more importantly, I can address the topics at home with my kids to give them my perspective on what they're learning. I may joke about getting rid of my kids for a few hours, and I certainly enjoy the perks of going grocery shopping alone and making mid-morning classes at the gym, but our experience is far from the stigma of just dropping the kids off and letting someone else deal with them. And when the time comes that we're up against some of the real concerns we have about the world today, it will be our involvement, not our withdrawal, that addresses them. That brings me, lastly, to our beliefs.
That Whole Christian Thing: As a believer, my first and foremost viewpoint is informed by my faith. I know it's hard for some Christians to wrap their head around, but we don't see our Christianity as a reason to leave public schools. In fact, for us, it's a reason not to leave. I know that the Bible calls Christians to be salt and light in the world. That can mean so many things to so many people, but for our family, that extends into the schools. When you remove light from an area, you shouldn't be shocked when it gets darker. I think a lot of the issues Christians see in public schools stem from the great exodus of Christian kids and parents. If there aren't any Christian voices in our schools, we can't be surprised when decisions made at the school level don't reflect our values. I don't think God calls every Christian parent to the public school system, but I do believe he calls some. We're right here, on the front lines, being the community you want for your children. If the time ever comes when regulations change, and other choices are no longer feasible, I hope that my family's influence in our local school will be part of why others will feel safer there. And when our children enter universities and the workplace, I hope the lifelong friendships they make there are stronger because of the influence of families like mine in their friends' schools.
Don't let my reasons for our choice fool you. I have moments of doubt. Moments of fear, even. But, I know the Bible tells me not to operate in fear. I obviously have concerns about the future of our nation, and more specifically, the persecution of Christians that the Bible tells us is inevitable. But one thing is certain; I trust God's will for my family. I have to choose not to walk in fear; I have to choose to walk prayerfully down the path God calls me to. Because this isn't just about my kids. This is about Christ's heart for a generation. This year, at least, my family's role in that starts with the school around the corner.