Going Public: Why We Chose Public School

Jackson was only 3 when we moved to our new home. His school years seemed far away – like thinking about Christmas when it’s March. You know it’s coming and you think you have plenty of time to prepare. Within a year, though, we had to begin seriously consider our options. Mike and I were homeschooled and very familiar with many of the arguments in favor of homeschooling and concerns regarding public school. We also have several wonderful private and Christian schools in our area that we had to consider.

When we began to weigh our options, we did not want to simply make a decision out of convenience. We wanted our decision to be based on faith, not fear. It was a decision that required a lot of thought, prayer and research. As we discussed our options, I read Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive In Public School by David and Kelli Pritchard. We had several conversations with friends whose children are slightly older than ours (thank God for people with more experience!) who shared their positive experience with our local schools.

When we had to decide, it came down to the question: did we trust God? We increasingly sensed public school was his direction. Could we trust Him to give us wisdom as we sent our son to public school? I was inspired by the Pritchard’s perspective that, “God is bigger than the public school…If Christian parents in the old Soviet Union, or in the antichristian nations of today, have managed to raise godly children despite the pressure of a hostile school system, we on this continent have little excuse. ‘The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.’”

I realized that, at this point, if we homeschooled it would simply be based on the fear of man. It would be because it felt expected and because it was often considered “the right thing to do if you love your children” by many with whom we are acquainted. But it would not be because we were specifically called to do so. “It is easy to give lip service to the fear of the Lord while, in fact, acting based on a fear of people.” Having extensive experience within the homeschooling community also meant that while we were aware of benefits, we also had personally observed some of the negative effects.  I had to step back and refuse to make a decision about Jackson’s education based on an assumption that I am his best teacher or that teaching him at home would somehow guarantee he will someday embrace my values and avoid peer pressure.

One of the top reasons I have heard for choosing other educational options is the negative influences in public school. While this kind of sheltering can sound appealing, I want my kids to learn how to deal with peer pressure while they are still young. The Pritchard’s observed,  “There’s no magic age at which your children become exempt from negative influences. You are in the business of raising influencers who will go out and make a difference in this society, wherever God places them.” Removing our children from situations where they will be influenced did not appeal to me. One of the benefits of being a part of our public school is the unique opportunity to reach out to people whose lives and values do not mirror our own. “The public-school experience throws us together with all kinds of people holding all kinds of life philosophies. It is our privilege and calling to speak for Christ in ways that resonate with them. In other words, we should not think in terms of sending our child off by himself to ‘the mission field.’ We go there together. This is a family expedition…this is a joint venture.”

 

The fact is, sheltering kids from negative elements only works for so long. I have come to see public school as a “great place to train kids in discernment.” Mike and I hope to use the situations in public school as a way to train our kids to discern and thus prepare them for adult life. Every day they will be around people who have different family backgrounds. While “today’s public schools do have some ungodly elements” we can be present and help them process. Messing up at 10 is very different from messing up at 25. It is so important that my kids learn how to deal with negative peer pressure before they are independent adults. “We would much rather have [our children] mess up at age 5 or 10 or 15 when the stakes are smaller, so that we can deal with the fallout right away.” I want to allow my children to mess up now and deal with the peer pressure of school while Mike and I can walk beside them. Waiting until they are independent adults can have disastrous results.

Over the years I have observed many people who, as children, were kept safe from negative influences and who, as independent adults, completely floundered. Being given a set of religious rules is never enough. The Pritchard’s note, “We Christian parents are not interested in raising little robots who can spout off a list of dos and don’ts – if that is all we achieve, the minute some situation pops up that doesn’t fit the list, our child will drift and flounder…we want our child’s heart so bonded to Christ that it can’t stand the pain of separation.” Nothing can “separate us from the love of Christ.” I want my children to experience this in the midst of the challenges that peer pressure presents. I want to walk with them as they are tested and experience difficult scenarios that don’t fit our little box.

God loves my children more than I do. Realizing this has been significant and helped calm my inner control freak.  One of my biggest concerns regarding other educational options is how much they cater to the idea that you can control outcomes. Advertising for homeschool/Christian schools often reflect the idea that you can make sure your children embrace your values. Do I hope my children will embrace my values? Absolutely. But more importantly, I hope they embrace Christ. He is more than a set of values.  And if they embrace my values I want it to be of their own free will and because they have “watched how I live out my love for the Lord.” I want my children to embrace faith. I really do. But I want it to be sincere and of their own free will. I don’t want them to merely live mediocre lives with an inherited faith. All too often I have witnessed kids who outwardly embrace their parents’ values only to ditch them once they were in a position to do so. “Young people who, of their own free will, deeply love the Lord and care about God’s divine perspective can navigate the most treacherous waters with steady confidence.”

Public schools today do not include prayer and Bible reading and for many this can be a strong detractor from utilizing them for their children’s education. Many times I have heard the lament that we, as a society have, “kicked God out of public school.”  In reality, we are not that powerful. God is there even if we no longer have state-led prayer and Bible reading. And history confirms that much societal injustice was occurring while we had prayer in school. We can’t view history through a religiously romanticized perspective.  I want my children’s spiritual teaching to be so much more than a quick teacher led prayer and reading of Scripture. And, quite frankly, I don’t want someone who is paid by the government teaching my children about God. That is my job. It is the responsibility of the church where we worship.  It is not the school’s responsibility to impart spiritual truth to my child.  “The public school is not even going to try to expose young people to God’s Word and prayer on a daily basis – and it shouldn’t. That is our job. In fact, it is our high privilege.” Jackson attending public school has strongly motivated me to pray with him frequently, talk about God and spend every morning at breakfast with a devotional time. “One of the most important armaments you must give your children as you send them out the door to the public school is a relationship with God that fills all their minds.” It is an amazing privilege to be the one to “infuse daily life with discussion about God’s truth.”

God knows our hearts. He knew one of my anxieties about Jackson attending public school was the sheer volume of time he would be away from home. I had a vague idea that the vast majority of his waking hours would be in school. Logically, however, that is not accurate. “Think about the sheer number of hours you get with your child compared to the number of classroom hours.  If a student spends, say 6.5 hours in school multiplied by 180 school days per year, that’s 1,170 hours over a year’s time. Meanwhile, parents have access to the other 9.5 waking hours of the school day, plus all the weekends, holidays and assorted vacations, including summer a grand total of 4,670 hours per year. Do the math: School receives 20 percent of the ‘time pie,’ while parents control the other 80 percent. That is certainly a sizable advantage that cannot be overlooked.” When you really break it down, we have so much more time than any teacher. While I am very grateful for the time his teacher invests weekly, it does not compare to the time we have to invest in his life.

Mike and I approach school with the understanding that we are primarily responsible for our children and this includes their education. A recent survey from the school asked what I view as my responsibility regarding my child’s education. In a sense, we “homeschool our children…and starting at age five, we also send them to public school to get more information. We consider ourselves to be our children’s number-one educators, and we will never give up that responsibility or privilege- even though they spend 30 hours a week in somebody else’s classroom.” We are currently reading the Little House series at home. We visited multiple children’s museums over the summer – including a science museum. We look for ways to incorporate learning into daily life. However, I love the fact that another teacher is covering the day-to-day academics and I am simply my child’s mom. I don’t have to try to wear every hat.  While the ultimate responsibility for our children’s education rests squarely on our shoulders, we choose to delegate the day-to-day teaching.

We are only a few years into our children’s educational journey. While we will not rule out any educational option, we are confident that public school is right for this child this year. There was a time I would never have even considered public school. But I am so, so thankful we did consider it when options were discussed.  “What a great opportunity we have in this country to live for God with our children in the midst of a ‘crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe’ (Phil 2:15), just like missionary families do. God is bigger than our culture, more powerful than the forces of darkness at work in our world. He has put us here, in this place, at this time for a reason.”

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