There are a handful of topics that are almost guaranteed to stir up controversy and spirited debate in many Christian circles. There are, of course, theological matters (e.g., infant baptism, methods of communion) and political issues. But in my experience, one topic can easily trump them all: the education of children. Or, more specifically, public schooling versus home schooling.
In the past, I could watch such debates with detached bemusement, but that’s no longer the case. Our oldest turned 5 this year and my wife and I are preparing him (and ourselves) for kindergarten. We’ve chosen to send him to a nearby public school, for several reasons (e.g., it’s a very good school, my wife and I both had positive experiences with public education, the current composition of our family would make homeschooling difficult).
We’re comfortable with our decision, though we fully realize that it’s not the option that every (Christian) family may choose. We have good friends who have chosen to home school their children for reasons that make sense for their family. I must confess that, in the back of my mind, I’ve been bracing myself for some pushback, which is why I appreciated several recent blog posts from my friend Maralee Bradley on it.
Maralee and her husband chose to send their son to a public school for kindergarten — incidentally, the same school that our child will be attending next year — and she’s been reflecting on that decision, and what it means in light of the controversy that often surrounds education in Christian circles, rightly or wrongly.
One post that I found particularly interesting dealt with how social media, blogs, etc. has changed how we discuss our education choices. She mentions that she often sees snarky commentary directed at the public school option, and asks for some grace and understanding from those who have chosen otherwise.
What I’m saying is this: If we remove our children from our neighborhood schools, that doesn’t mean those schools no longer matter. When you say something demeaning about those public school kids, you are often talking about children who are your brothers and sisters in Christ, or kids who are growing up in difficult situations, or kids who have unique needs. While all publicly schooled kids aren’t in a bad spot, most kids in a bad spot are also in public school. And yes, some of those kids are growing up without positive influences and may have developed troubling behaviors as a result. God grieves for those children. If you remove your kids from that environment you may have taken away those negative influences on your children, but you may have also removed your ability to influence those hurting families who desperately need it. Even if you structure your life so your kids never interact with those children, their adult world won’t be quite so segregated.
Reading through Maralee’s posts, I’m reminded of the awesome/terrifying God-given responsibility that my wife and I have for our children. In her introduction to the series of blog posts, Maralee quotes a former youth pastor:
In my years of working with kids I’ve seen great kids come from public schools. I’ve seen great kids that have been homeschooled. We did both with our kids. I think the primary factor influencing the character of children isn’t what kind of school they go to, but what their relationship with their parents is like. If you want your children to have your beliefs you need to be living them authentically and spending time connecting with them.
We might give into some fear that the culture “out there” is going to usurp our kids’ formation and maturation, but as Maralee’s posts remind me, my wife and I will always be the primary worldly influence in the lives of our children. And while that is reassuring, it is also frightening. Sometimes our influence will be overt and obvious, but many times, it will be in ways that we could never have imagined.
What I want, more than anything else, is for our children to know that we have made decisions regarding their education with their best interests in mind. That we want them to be successful in life — not simply materially, but also intellectually and spiritually. Right now, we believe that desire is best achieved through public education, a decision we have made based on research, discussion with friends, and personal experiences. That may change in the future, and it might be different for our other children, or at different stages of life, but at the root of that choice — whatever it might be — will always be our love and dedication to them.