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10 Lessons from 10 Years of Public Schooling

Last weekend I was a guest on Up for Debate on Moody Radio where we discussed whether or not Christian parents should send their children to public schools. I am not opposed to homeschooling or Christian schooling—not even a little bit—but do maintain that public schooling may also be a legitimate option for Christian families, and this is the perspective they asked me to represent. It is quite a controversial position in parts of the Christian world today.

As I prepared for the show I went back through my archives to find what I had written on the subject in the past. I found that I first wrote about it around eight years ago when my son was in first grade. Well, he is now just days away from his eighth grade graduation and this seems like an opportune time to revisit the subject and to ask, What have we learned in ten years of public schooling (which includes two years of kindergarten)? I spoke to Aileen and together we jotted down a bit of what we’ve learned from having three children in public schools. Here are ten lessons from ten years of public schooling.

1. Develop and Deepen Convictions

I often find that parents who put their children in public school are represented as being without convictions while parents who homeschool or who enroll their children in Christian schools are the ones with strong convictions. Admittedly, that is sometimes the case and if you are a person without convictions it is unlikely that you are homeschooling. But before Aileen and I put our children in school we developed and deepened our convictions about public schooling and these convictions allowed us to enroll our children with confidence and to keep them there with confidence. At the same time we have regularly revisited the subject to ensure that we have not grown complacent but are still following conviction. My encouragement to any parent considering any of the educational options is to develop and to deepen Bible-based convictions, and then to respond charitably to those whose convictions differ from your own.

2. It Is Possible

There is a lot of fear involved in parenting. There is an extra measure of fear in public schooling, and especially so when so many Christians warn of all you stand to lose if you allow your children to attend them. The gentlemen who represented homeschooling on the radio last weekend said he had statistics to prove that something like 83% of all Christian children who go to public school end up forsaking a Christian worldview. That is a scary statistic, though I am far from convinced it is accurate, at least when it comes to families who are Christian in more than name. By the grace of God, the last eight years have not ruined or harmed our children, at least as far as we can tell. I will grant that they are still quite young and have lots of growing up to do, but when we evaluate, we do not believe we made a bad decision all those years ago. We made that decision in light of biblical convictions, and we believe our experience has validated those convictions.

3. The Family Goes to Public School

The third lesson is this: You do not send your children to public school—you send your family. What I mean is that public schooling requires the participation of the parents which, in our experience, is something the school values just as much as we do. We have attempted to remain involved with the school and with its teachers. This means that my wife volunteers and spends at least one morning a week in the school and that both of us volunteer to go on class trips. Not only that, but we attempt to get to know our kids’ teachers and to interact with them through the year. They appreciate our involvement and we appreciate their support. This was one of our big takeaways from the excellent book Going Public.

4. Don’t Send Your Kids As Evangelists

One of the common reasons people send their children to public school is to allow them to be salt and light among their fellow students. However, this is a heavy burden to place on young children, and especially young children who are not yet believers. Children are not born believers and, therefore, cannot be expected to be evangelists until they are converted. We never placed that responsibility on their shoulders. (With all of that said, we have found that as our children show an interest in the gospel and become believers, they naturally become evangelists as well. As our kids have grown, they have had many excellent conversations with their fellow students and our kids have pillaged the house for Bibles to give away at school.)

5. Be Open To Alternatives

Aileen and I heed the old mantra, “A kid at a time, a school at a time, a year at a time.” We are not public schoolers by blind ideology and feel very willing to explore alternatives if and when it seems a wise course of action. My son’s graduation to high school has given us good reason to explore all the alternatives once more and we find ourselves seriously considering Christian high school. We public school best when we are willing to not public school.

6. It Takes a Church

It takes a congregation to raise a child. This is true whether your children are educated at home, in a Christian environment, or in public school. As my kids have gone through public school, they have also been deeply involved in a solid church where their peers and adults engage them and pursue them. When my children wrestle with spiritual issues, I find it a joy to be able to tell them to speak to their friends who are also my friends. Our church supports our educational choices by their involvement in our kids’ lives.

7. The Teachers Are Your Friends

We have encountered many teachers over the past ten years, and our experiences have almost all been very positive. It is easy to caricature teachers as being unapologetic leftists or vile perverts who are out to corrupt and destroy our children. But we have found that teachers love our kids and take joy in their success. When we have expressed concern over any part of the curriculum, the teachers have been very eager to show it to us and to ensure we are comfortable with it. In our experience the caricatures have been unfair. We do far better to regard the teachers as our friends and allies.

8. Prepare for Difficulty

I would be lying if I said public schooling has been wine and roses in every moment. There have been a number of difficult situations over the years—teachers who lacked skill or compassion, students who were cruel, ideology that contradicted our own, class trips that we chose to keep our children from attending. But we knew these situations would arise and while our preparation did not prevent them, it did allow us to respond appropriately and to walk our children through them. We have not had one situation yet that was outside God’s ability to use and redeem for good. So be prepared for difficulty, don’t be afraid of it, and don’t allow minor ones to drive you to despair.

9. We Are All Homeschoolers

Inviting the public school system to educate our children has not meant that we abdicate or outsource all responsibility or ultimately responsibility for the kids’ education. We remain involved in what they do, what they learn, the kids they befriend, and all the rest. Wherever or however children are receiving their education, they need their parents to be involved. Their parents have by far the loudest voice into their lives and, by looking to the Bible together, we can explore, explain and interpret anything that comes their way. We are all homeschoolers!

10. Enjoy It

We have few regrets with our decision—no more than we would have had if we had chosen an alternative, I’m sure. We have enjoyed the public schools and believe our kids have been blessed in and through them. If you are going to public school your kids, allow yourself to enjoy it—enjoy the schools, enjoy the teachers, enjoy the kids you’ll get to meet, and even enjoy the challenges. God can use them all.

(Please do note that our experience is our experience. We are who we are and where we are—in a particular context that is different from your own. We did not choose to put our children in public school outside of our own context. Had we lived elsewhere or had some of the particulars of our life been different, we may well have chosen a different course. What I mean to say is while we believe public school has been a good and viable option for us, we are firmly convinced that every family ought to make their own choice based on their unique circumstances.)

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