Today the Thanksgiving break ends and my little munchkins head back to public school. Will you think me a bad mom if inside I did a little happy dance?!
I was homeschooled 10 of the 12 years of my school life (two years were in small Christian schools). In the 80’s. We were the jean jumper wearing, Bible Belt, conservative evangelical, Volkswagen bus driving, homeschool freaks. It really wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but I think I’m still recovering.
Actually my parents made the choice to homeschool us out of profound love. There were lots of motivating factors. I had (at the time undiagnosed) ADHD. We moved frequently due to dad’s job. Schools in rural Mississippi back then were substandard, to say the least.
That was then. This is now.
For a while I felt so guilty that I wasn’t homeschooling my kids. As I’ve traveled this parenting road, though, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the decisions my husband and I make.
When my son reached kindergarten age, six years ago, we lived in Wyoming. It’s a wealthy state, their schools are excellent, class size is small. I had become very sick. And I had a toddler. In some ways circumstances forced the decision. God does that occasionally; he uses our weaknesses, our available resources, and other people to help us change course. I’ll confess I tried to homeschool him for the first month of kindergarten. I almost died. So did he.
The relief I felt that first day I walked him into his classroom, several streets away, and left him in the capable hands of a veteran teacher was palpable!
Our family has the tendency to move as frequently as my family of origin did. My now sixth grade son has been in public school in Wyoming, Ohio, Alabama, and Georgia (that’s another topic). And in each school I have found incredible things to celebrate.
Here is why I love public school:
- I’m not a teacher. My mother was a patient teacher, wholehearted homemaker, inquisitive. I’ve got my own style, and that’s not it. Every parent needs to engage, but that’s going to look different in every family.
- Diversity. My kids are learning to work with and value children and adults of many colors and ethnicities, as well as unique physical and mental challenges, and belief systems. Exposure to diversity is good.
- Discipleship opportunities. Certainly my parents discipled me and I had some very unique experiences. For our immediate family though I feel we are more intentional and consistent in teaching our kids how to approach life with truth and grace when they are in school.
- Relationship building. We’ve gotten to know a variety of families and individuals we wouldn’t have known otherwise and have a different presence in the community than if we were homeschooling.
- Missional opportunities. As I’ve spent time at school volunteering I’ve prayed regularly for children in obviously vulnerable situations. I’ve prayed for the teachers and staff, and I hope our family’s little light has shined.
Honestly we’ve been blessed to have some amazing teachers. Some have very actively built into our children’s spiritual life by teaching them to be spiritual leaders in the class, when they themselves can’t be. I know teachers have prayed for my kids and have nurtured their gifts. I’m beyond thankful.
We’ve also had a couple of stinky teachers. Teachers unwilling to be gentle or fair. Teachers overworked and overwhelmed who haven’t handled situations well. Which has provided opportunities for our kids to learn how to advocate for what’s best for themselves (with our help of course). In one situation we moved our daughter to a new classroom. She learned through that process that her parents were for her, that she had a voice, and that sometimes change just needs to happen. They’ve also learned healthy conflict management and to live at peace with everyone so far as it depends on them.
Recently Max had an unpleasant encounter with a fellow student. He was called names and punched. It hurt. He was embarrassed and sad. Thankfully a teacher saw what happened and got involved. The situation was an opportunity to learn that life isn’t fair. Sometimes people are mean to us, not because of us but because ugliness is in their hearts. He learned that he can only control how he responds. We talked about a kingdom response to that kind of mistreatment and how Jesus called his followers to a unique way of life. To mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. We imagined the boys circumstances. What if he’s abused at home, or his parents cuss at him? What if he doesn’t have a dad at home and he hasn’t had a right example set for him? We also signed him up for Taekwondo.
I’m proud of my kids willingness to try to respond correctly. I’m proud they care about following Jesus wherever they are.
I do realize one day we may face circumstances that warrant stepping in and protecting or removing them from a situation. Until then I’m thankful for the opportunity to help them stand on their own feet. I’m also thankful for a school system with a lot of like minded people. I think choosing to send kids to an inner city school would be a whole different decision.
Let me make sure you hear me say that I’m not knocking homeschooling. There is no wrong style to parent our kids so long as a strong foundation of love and truth is being laid. And maybe that’s my point. I’m thankful for public school because it fits our family, it’s been a great way to educate and disciple our children. But I’m also thankful for the option of homeschool. Sometimes it fits best and offers a deeper relationship with parents that kids need. We actually did homeschool Max in the second grade, and both Max and Maggie for part of last year as we were moving. But those were the exception for our family and just confirmed our decision to send them to public school.
Education is a constantly changing beast. Occasionally we all need to evaluate how things are going in our home, question why we’ve made certain decisions, and ask if adjustments need to be made.
For homeschoolers ask yourself; Am I homeschooling my kids out of fear? If the answer is no. Great! Blaze ahead making sure to engage them in the world around them. If the answer is yes, address that fear. Communicating that the world is dangerous and bad is not helpful to your kids. Of course bad things do happen and human nature has been harmed by sin. But the image of God alive in people and the beauty of creation makes the world a wonderful place, one that your children can affect for the better. Protecting them from the world is a poor motivation for homeschooling. Teaching them to interact with the world and influence it in a positive way is healthy.
For public schoolers (and private schoolers for that matter) ask yourself; Am I appropriately involved in my kids education and social life? If the answer is yes. Great? Keep on investing in your kids and community. If no, re-evaluate your level of engagement. The only way to have kids in the school system is to participate. Get to know their teachers, volunteer at school, get to know their friends, keep lines of communication open. Be careful not to assume anything, not the worst or the best. Have realistic expectations. Set a godly example for your children and help them navigate relationships and the secular arena well.
Parenting is hard work! We will all mess up some time or another. Guaranteed. I learned a long time ago that the best gift we can offer our kids is healthy parents. If we are whole mentally, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, etc. our kids will have a secure place to grow from. You can homeschool them or public school them but if you have a broken view of God, poor relationship habits, unresolved anger, or a bitter heart it will make little difference where they get their education.
Embrace whatever choice your family has made for educating your kids, but even more so, embrace the power of God alive in you to be an example of a person growing daily in truth and grace. Your kids are watching to see how you deal with life, that is their biggest education by far!
I want to hear from you! What challenges have you faced in educating your kids?
And please feel free to pass this post on to friends or family who are wrestling with these issues. Invite them to join the conversation too!