Many years ago, Aileen and I made the decision to enroll our children in the local public school. This was a decision we made as carefully and thoughtfully as we knew how to at the time (which was way back in the early 2000s). We decided we would take the approach of “a child at a time, a year at a time, a school at a time.” But even as we kept options open, we never felt the need to change course. Neither did our kids. A lot of time has gone by and two of our children have graduated from those public schools while the third has completed as far as tenth grade.
After Nick wrapped up his high school education, I did a little interview with him. I wanted to hear about this experience, whether he felt public schooling had been good or bad, wise or foolish, and what he intended to do if the Lord granted him children. You can read that here. I recently asked Abby the same questions because I wanted to get her take on it as well. In both cases I really encouraged them to be as honest as possible without any fear of offending their parents. Here are Abby’s unedited answers.
What do you think were the benefits of being in public school?
I think that one of the main benefits to public schooling is that I learned very early in my life about the brokenness of the world and about the people who are living apart from the Lord. I was still young enough that I saw what was going on around me and I could return home and talk to my parents and older brother about it who would explain the brokenness to me and point me back to Christ. As I explain a bit later on, seeing this brokenness is a large part of my testimony.
Another benefit is that I learned how to be friends with non-believers very early on in my life. I started public school in junior kindergarten and continued all the way until I graduated high school. I was around unbelievers constantly, and most of my friends were not Christians. While this also proved to be a challenge, it allowed me to learn how to be a loving friend to them, and also provided me opportunities to share my beliefs (looking back I wish I had taken more of these opportunities). Now that I have graduated high school and moved out of the area, I still have some of those friendships and can still minister to my unbelieving friends as we continue to get older.
Are there ways in which you think public school may have harmed you or otherwise been a negative force or influence?
I don’t think public school harmed me. However, I do think there were negatives to my experience. The negative influence of public school came more from the people I was around than public schooling itself. I knew what I believed and by God’s grace I was not swayed. However, being in the world and being around so many people who were living unrepentantly in sin weighed heavily on my heart. By the time I graduated high school I was ready to be in a Christian environment, surrounded by believers. However, through this I learned how to pray for, serve and love those unbelievers in my life.
Did you find it hard to be a Christian in public school?
Yes and no. For the most part I did not find it terribly difficult, especially when I was younger. Most of my peers did not care about my religion. I grew up in a very multicultural area so a lot of people identified themselves with one religion or another and I was just another one of the religious kids. However, I think it was more difficult as I got older. There was the pressure to be and live like everyone else. Being around unbelievers constantly and hearing about their sin weighed heavily on my heart. It was also hard when I was expected to complete assignments or read material that I did not agree with. I found that most of the difficulty came from teachers and the pressure to agree with what they were teaching even when I knew I did not.
Did you feel pressure to conform to a non-Christian standard?
Yes. I think that the pressure I felt came the most often from the teachers I had throughout the years and less from my peers (although I did experience this as well). When I was younger (young elementary school age) this pressure was less intense. The older I got the more of this pressure I felt. Multiple times there were assignments I was expected to complete, books I was supposed to read or movies I was told to watch that were thoroughly against what I believed. Specifically in classes like Canadian Law and English class. I was expected to debate or write papers defending subjects that I disagreed with. I was expected to agree. This is where I found the most pressure to conform to a non-Christian standard. Not agreeing could have serious consequences and I felt the pressure to conform heavily.
In terms of my peers, I found that they for the most part, did not care much about what I believed. I did have to choose my friends carefully however, and I lost a lot of them as we continued to get older and found we had less and less in common. While they did not understand, they did not pressure me to do things that went against what I believed. However, as I started to get older and my opinions and beliefs on major issues (abortion and discussions of sexuality) differed so fundamentally from many of my friends, these pressured increased. I found myself avoiding the subjects more often than not. Avoiding subjects like this is where I think I found myself succumbing to pressure the most amongst my peers.
Do you feel like your faith would be stronger if you had been homeschooled or Christian schooled?
No. I think that the Lord used public schooling and the experiences I had during my time there to show me the brokenness of the world. A large part of my testimony includes seeing the way that the Christians in my life were living their lives dependent on the Lord, and in contrast, watching the non-Christians that I had grown up with fall deeper and deeper into sin while at the same time becoming more and more miserable. I think that seeing this contrast first hand every day strengthened my faith, and it made me realize that I wanted no part of the world that my friends were living in. I also had to learn how to trust the Lord with my friends.
Are there ways in which you think homeschooling or Christian schooling would have been a more positive experience for you?
I do not feel like public schooling was an overall negative experience for me. However, had I been homeschooled or Christian schooled it could have potentially saved me from being influenced by some friends who I should not have been influenced by. It could have also allowed me to avoid some of the heaviness on my heart from being around and hearing about unrepentant sin so constantly. I do not think that the negatives I experienced in the public school system outweighed the positives I walked away with.
As much as you can put yourself in our shoes, would you have made the same decision?
I think that I would have made the same decision as you. I do not feel as though public school was an overall negative experience for me. The world has changed since I first started my education. Through public school, I learned a lot and it is a huge part of my testimony. In his kindness the Lord used it to show me my own sinfulness and His grace. He also used it to show me the sinfulness of the world. As I said earlier I think the positives I walked away with far outweigh the negatives I experienced and I’m glad I went through the public school system.
As much as you can project into an uncertain future, how do you think you’re likely to educate your own children?
I think that in answering this question it is important to know just how much the world has changed since I started my public school education. Schools have become much more liberal and much less tolerant than they were when I was in them. If I could have my children repeat the experience I had in public school I believe I would send them into the public school system. However, with the way the world seems to be moving and what I know of that’s being taught in schools now, I would be more hesitant to send my children, especially little ones into them as I believe they would have a much different experience than my own. I think I would be more comfortable sending my older kids into public schools however. I believe I would lean more toward a Christian school education where I could be more confident in the teaching they were receiving and the peers they would have.
OK, back to Tim so I can wrap up as I did last time. 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. But we agree with what Abby said at the end—some key cultural factors have changed between then and now. Regardless, we gratefully 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.