When my kids were young, I enrolled them in a darling little public school up the hill from my house. At the time, private school was not a financial option, and homeschooling them seemed like a lonely way for them to go through their first few years of elementary school. I lived in a wonderful neighborhood, the school had great academic ratings, and it seemed like the best thing to do. I wanted to be a part of my local community and public school was the obvious choice.
I volunteered in the classroom, helped make cupcakes, and was as present as I knew how to be in those early years. The yellow school bus is probably my all-time favorite icon of American life. That I get to walk my kids to the bus every morning, and watch their bus arrive at the top of the driveway in the afternoon, is a delight to me.
In Chile, the academic world is very different, and my kids went to private school for a little over a year. I struggled with the educational philosophy, and the rigorous academic standards, and eventually, pulled them out of private school and homeschooled them for two years. At the time, it seemed like the right choice. We had some great days and valuable learning time, but overall I was not a good homeschool mom. I found it overwhelmingly lonely, boring, and difficult. I did it because it was the best thing for my kids at the time, but I didn’t want to homeschool forever.
Upon returning to the United States, I enrolled my kids in the public elementary school that coincided with the neighborhood where we lived, and once again, slipped into the delightful bus-stop life I mentioned above.
Currently, I have no option but to send my kids to public school. I couldn’t afford private school even if I wanted to send them, and because I’m a working mom, homeschooling isn’t on the table. Some parents homeschool and work, but I’m a part-time substitute teacher. My hours directly coincide with school hours.
All this to say, education is a challenging topic. I have friends and family spread across the entire academic spectrum. I have good friends who choose to homeschool, and dear friends who have the finances, and the desire to give their children a private school education. These are good choices.
What concerns me in the debate about public school and the Christian faith, is the reticence so many have in sending their children to public school. I am a practicing Christian. I practice my faith with rigorous intensity, and I am not sorry that my kids are enrolled in our local public school. We are a part of the community. I know their teachers. I volunteer for field trips, and I show up when they need parental help. Every year, I pray for God to provide good friends and thoughtful teachers for my children. And every year, no joke, I’m shocked at God’s creative provision.
Some of this probably has to do with the fact that I grew up going to public school, and overall it was a good experience for me. I made life-long friends. I practiced my faith, debated with my teachers, learned to advocate for myself, lived out diversity and thoughtful tolerance, and learned how to read. All those things continue to serve me to this day.
Do I think public school has its weaknesses, and much of one’s positive or negative experience depends on one’s residence? Yes, absolutely.
If I lived in a dangerous neighborhood, I’d probably be more reluctant to send to them to the neighborhood school. However, even with that, I have to admit, my go-to-gut-level belief is that wherever God calls you to be is where you’ll experience God’s grace and strength and remarkable provision.
Twenty-five years ago, homeschooling was virtually unheard of, and was almost perceived as a negative thing for society. People were suspicious of it. Now, particularly in the Christian community, it’s wholly normal and acceptable to homeschool one’s kids. For this, I am so grateful. We need options. We need the freedom to choose what is best for one’s family and children and way of life. I’m so grateful our society has grown more tolerant and fair-minded about homeschooling.
However, what I am finding in today’s Christian community is that a lot of people look down on the choice to send one’s kids to public school. Sometimes, it feels like people see it as an inferior option, something one shouldn’t choose if they really cared for their children’s well-being. I would like to quietly and thoughtfully, without judgment or condemnation, say that public school is a choice I’m happy with, for me and for my children.
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