Last week Aileen and I had the joy of attending our son’s high school graduation. Nick graduated as an Ontario Scholar, certified as bilingual in French and English. Now he gets six weeks of vacation before he heads south to Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, to begin the next phase of his education. We are tremendously proud of him not just for getting through school but for being a young man of character and godliness.
I’ve written in the past about our decision to enroll him (and our two girls) in public schools—a decision we made when he was very young, of course. Though we’ve revisited it several times and considered alternatives, we’ve ultimately stuck with it for him and his two sisters. As the oldest child, he is the first to make it all the way through and his graduation seemed like an ideal time to try to get an honest assessment of the path we chose. Did we make a good and wise choice or did we blow it? I wanted to hear it from him, so decided to ask him a few questions about his experience. He agreed to allow me to share his answers here. I gave him full freedom to answer these questions without fear of retribution or hurt feelings and with the assurance I’d share it whether or not he ultimately affirmed our choice. Here are his unedited answers which I share purely as a follow-up to all the other things I’ve written over the years about the ways Christians educate their children.
What do you think were the benefits of being in public school?
As strange as it sounds, I think public school was a good, slow introduction into the depravity of the secular world. At some point, I would have been faced with worldly sinfulness, with all the requisite temptations. It was far better to face all that when I still had my parents, not only to walk me through it but to model good Christian living in their own lives. When I was a child, this created a bit of a conundrum. My secular friends were living wretchedly miserable lives. My Christian parents were not. I really believe that this juxtaposition was instrumental in driving me to faith.
Are there ways in which you think public school may have harmed you or otherwise been a negative force or influence?
Of course. You can’t soak into a worldly culture for years and not be changed. Probably my most egregious offence was adopting a two-layer view of everything. At school, my response to a given question would be one thing, whereas if I were in church, I would respond quite differently. Then I read Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, where she spends a lot of time dissecting the idea of having a two-tiered worldview. She argues that Christians, rather than compromising and melding secular and Christian worldviews, should have one that is consistently biblical. So I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to reshape the way I answer questions, a process that is still ongoing.
Did you find it hard to be a Christian in public school?
It’s hard to be a Christian anywhere, anytime. We don’t become Christians to make our lives easier. Looking back, God gave me grace when and where I needed it, which is exactly what He promises us.
Did you feel pressure to conform to a non-Christian standard?
Quite the opposite actually. In grade 10 and 11 I slowly came to the conclusion that at some point in time any non-christian friends that I made were either going to reject me or force me to conform. So, instead of doing the logical thing and praying for grace when that happened, I decided to preempt them by making myself disappear. Eventually, people began to pass me in the hallway and say (jokingly) that they thought I had died. I’d laugh, mumble something about working too much, and move on. Recently I came to the realization that this had less to do with a desire to avoid conformity and far more to do with indulging my tendency towards being an introvert. I wanted to avoid what I saw as an inevitable conflict because I just didn’t want to put up with it. It was selfish. It was stupid. It was sin. So, I’ve done as all Christians have for millennia and repented. Fortunately for us, we have a loving God who abounds in steadfast love and mercy.
Do you feel like your faith would be stronger if you had been homeschooled or Christian schooled?
I don’t think so. What really strengthened my faith, especially in grade eight and nine when I was a brand new believer, was evangelism. Having the ability to tell my classmates about the good news was terrifying and hard, but made me a far stronger Christian. I’m not sure that I would have had the same types of opportunities anywhere else.
Are there ways in which you think homeschooling or Christian schooling would have been a more positive experience for you?
Certainly it would have been a lot easier. Not having to worry about the kinds of things my teachers were going to tell me, or what my friends were going to do after school, would have made the last few years far easier. But not necessarily better.
As much as you can put yourself in our shoes, would you have made the same decision?
In grade one, I was stuck in the French Immersion program. This turned out to be a huge benefit since the French Schools are generally way better than the English. Both my elementary and secondary schools were rated as among the best in the province for academics. On a more personal level, I’m so introverted already, if I had been homeschooled and had the ability to turtle up inside my room and never leave, I probably would have. With those two things in mind, I definitely would have made the same choice as you.
As much as you can project into an uncertain future, how do you think you’re likely to educate your own children?
Many others have said it, but I’ll say it again. Education is not a “thou shalt,” meaning we have the freedom to exercise our own judgement in relation to our own circumstances. In other words, I have no clue. It really depends on what the schools are like, where in the world I end up and especially, who I marry.
OK, back to Tim. I guess the big question at the end is this: If Aileen and I had to begin again, would we choose the public schools or would we instead go with one of the alternatives? To be honest, we just don’t know and we can’t put ourselves back in that situation. Regardless, we acknowledge God’s hand of blessing on the decision we did make while also acknowledging that same hand of blessing would have been upon us whichever path we chose. We’re so deeply grateful to Him.