However being in the Christian parenting world in the past 5 years, I have sometimes picked up on a subtle vibe that public schooling is an inferior choice to homeschooling or private schooling. (No one in our church community has ever made me feel this personally! I just mean I feel it in the wider Christian subculture.) I know that people do have a variety of reasons for putting their kids in public schools and sometimes it really is as simple as living in a great school district. Nothing wrong with that! But many of us have made the decision actually based on our Christian values, not in spite of them as some might assume. So I wanted to take some time to shed light on what exactly that means to our family.
Investing in the Heart of the Community
The idea that "our children are the hope of tomorrow" is incredibly cliche but there's a reason why: it's simply the truth. We believe that following the way of Christ means loving the community He has put us in (and remember what D.C. Talk said: love is a verb). The public school system is at the heart of any community, simply because children are. What better place to actively love our neighbor and labor to make our community one that reflects God's Kingdom?
Offering Our Resources
We are not wealthy and we are not saints. But we do have a happy marriage, my husband has a secure job, and I have been able to give most of my time to our family life. Unlike many other parents in much more difficult circumstances, we have some financial and emotional energy to give to our children's education. We see this as a matter of justice. Where others are struggling, we can carry some of their share. That single mom might be working three jobs and have no margin for helping her child sell wrapping paper, and she certainly can't buy it all herself. So I'll do those stupid fundraisers that I hate so much, but I'll do them because it makes this place a better school for both of our kids.
I signed up to be a parent volunteer in Alyosha's class, mostly meaning I will come a few times a year to help with the seasonal parties. One of the requirements to be a volunteer was a background check that cost $12. The only thing I could think of was how that may completely disqualify some parents from volunteering. $12 is nothing to me, but I could have easily (so, so easily) seen different outcomes of my choices when I was younger and $12 would mean a lot more right now. I don't take my privilege lightly. And I want to ask you this: if all the families who can pay for a background check or who have time for a fundraiser pull out of public schools, what will become of the children who have less?
Building Relationships with Hurting Families
Which is a great segue into the next point, which is that you get to actually build relationships with people who are in need. Of course there are people in need everywhere, we all know that. And of course there are certainly many different types of need. What I'm saying is that if following Jesus' example of seeking out the poor, the broken, those in need of Good News, is something that is a value to you, well look no further than your local public school.
Letting Our Children Meet Different People
While it is critically important to us to create a home environment that reflects our faith and to be deeply involved in our Church, we do not deem it necessary or even beneficial that our children be only surrounded by other Christians. When I see a mom with her head covered at the elementary school, I am sincerely glad because I want my son to know she exists and that she's not scary. I want him to see me talking to her. And I want him to know that her children are just like him.
The same thing goes for race. Obviously this may be more important to us as a transracial family, but I would hope that it would still be a value to me if we weren't. I want my children to have friends who don't look like them, some who don't even talk like them. I want it instilled in them as early as possible that we can be different and still be friends. I honestly don't worry about my children growing up and losing their faith. I do worry about them not doing anything with it or not being open to anyone who doesn't share it.
Supporting Our Community's Teachers
Being a teacher in any capacity is tough. Being a public school teacher is arguably the toughest. Our teachers manage large class sizes of students with varying abilities and backgrounds, many from broken homes or hard situations that need extra attention and encouragement. They almost always work overtime without getting paid for it, and then they have the added pressure of those blasted standardized test results. If all of the invested, intentional parents pull out to put their kids in other forms of schooling, who will send these teachers encouraging emails? Who will surprise them with coffee gift cards for no reason? Who will volunteer to organize the class parties or attend field trips? Who will go out of their way to thank them for what they do?
Regardless of what schooling path we choose any given year, my children will be raised enveloped in the knowledge that God loves them and is with them. They will be educated on the tenants of our faith, as they grow we will read books and wrestle hard questions together, and I believe that the spiritual convictions of our family will one day become their own. One of those convictions is that we don't make decisions without determining how it will effect those around us.