Perspectives on Our Children's Education: Going Public
Editors' note: We asked three moms of school-age children to share their families' perspectives on education. Jen Wilkin, Jenni Hamm, and Amanda Allen are three friends who attend the same church and raise families in the same geographic area. All three share mutual respect for each other as parents trying to raise children with intentionality, in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In this series, you will see their perspectives on how and why they chose to educate their children through public school, private school, or homeschooling. The series begins with Jen Wilkin on why she sends her children to public school.
- Perspectives on Our Children's Education: Homeward Bound, Amanda Allen
- Perspectives on Our Children's Education: A Private Enterprise, Jenni Hamm
One of the biggest decisions Christian parents face is how they will educate their children. Should they send their children to private school? Should they homeschool? What about public school? The stereotypes that attach themselves to each of these choices can be comical: guess which mom wears the denim jumper? How about the North Face jacket? The tight rhinestone tee? The dogmatism that attaches to each choice, however, is not comical at all. Contrary to rumor, the Bible does not endorse one of these choices above another.
The Bible does, however, admonish parents to take seriously and personally the instruction and training of their children. How this works out in practice is a matter for careful consideration. I believe this biblical mandate can be fulfilled through any of the three options I have noted. I also believe it can be completely undermined by any of the three. Each option has its strengths and weaknesses. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that the education option you choose is of secondary importance to the role you as a parent play in your child's educational environment.
So which route did the Wilkins go? Despite the fact that I do not own a single tee with rhinestones on it, we went with public school. I want to be honest: it would not be accurate to say that we sat down and gave serious consideration to private school or homeschooling. We did not, and I hope my thoughts below will clarify why. However, with 11 years of public school under our belts we have had every opportunity to reconsider. Here are some reasons why, 11 years in, we still stand behind our decision.
We couldn't afford private school.
Okay, I'm just keeping it real. Financially we couldn't meet our long-term goals with four children in private school. The lack of ambiguity on this point was actually reassuring: It meant that there must be a way to honor God in our children's education other than sending them to private school.
We believe in public education as an ideal.
Jeff and I both come from families of public educators, and we ourselves are products of public education. Though the public education system is far from perfect, we believe that by participating in it we help to keep our community and our country healthy. We recognize that these convictions have been easy for us to hold—we have been blessed to live close to excellent schools. In many areas of our country choosing to participate in the public school system would be nothing short of bold, missional living. Furthermore, none of our children has special needs or learning disabilities, removing a huge level of complexity from the decision-making process.
We believe worldview comes from parents.
I think homeschoolers and private schoolers believe this, too. My point is that we believe children can receive a secular education without sacrificing or compromising their Christian worldview. Ensuring this kind of thoughtful engagement has required many conversations about their classes. We press our kids to learn to think critically (discerningly) about what they are being taught. We correct or temper what they learn as needed.
Here are some unlooked-for benefits of a "secular" education that we have found:
- Public school gave us early and repeated opportunities to talk respectfully about other religions with our children. Those religions had real faces. Our children have many opportunities to dialogue about their faith with friends.
- Public school clarified for us the importance of time spent together. We had to be deliberate about guarding our shared time since six hours of every weekday would be spent at school (see related post).
- Public school reinforced for our kids that home, rather than their peer group, is their primary place of community. Home is a safe place where they can expect to be treated with kindness and gentle speech. Their peer group? Not so much.
- Public school drew clear lines for our kids. They know they are in the minority in terms of worldview. We do not have to convince them that they are aliens and strangers.
I should note that we did not send our children to public school to be "salt and light." We sent them to public school to receive an education. We did not try to strategically position our kids as miniature missionaries in their kindergarten class.
We believe children love to learn if their parents love to learn.
If the public school mom stereotype is unsavory, it pales in comparison to that of the public school student: a drug-marinated, Halo-playing, sailor-mouthed charmer clinging to a 2.0 in theater tech. That child does not live in our home. Though our children's formal education happens in a school building, it is enriched at home. Jeff and I are dorks who work crosswords together and read classic literature together and enjoy logic puzzles and the math of a card trick and the chemistry of baking and the physics of a game of pool and the biology of gardening. We became dorks because our parents were dorks. Our kids are dorks, too (sorry, kids). They are self-motivated and active learners, which has allowed them to flourish in public school regardless of whether they get the PhD or the PE coach for their language arts teacher. Parents set the educational climate for their children. If you are not the stereotypical public school parent, your child will probably not be the stereotypical public school student.
To Sum Up
For our family, public school means our children get an affordable, sound education. It means our family crosses paths with people of all backgrounds and faiths. It means we get to invest in the neighborhood in which we live. Our choice of public school in no ways indicts private schools or homeschooling. Public school is not for everyone, but it is a good fit for our family. Education is a highly personal choice, demanding consideration of factors unique to each student and family. I offer here just one perspective in the hope of enriching the dialogue.