I’m a product of public education up till college and these days I’m working on my Master’s degree. I love learning and I’m one of the people who enjoy the classroom setting. As of this week, I now have three kids in our local elementary school. I’ve watched over the last few years as more and more people leave the public school system for private and charter schools. Many of them are my close friends. This move is usually motivated by at least two desires:
- AÂ better education
- A way to strengthen their Christian faith
There’s nothing wrong with either of those, but consider whatÂ these desires communicate to parents who decide to use public school. Depending on the context, it can seem like you don’t care about your kids’ education or you don’t care about their spiritual health. As a result, many parents feel they should put their kids in a private education and that public schooling might be a modern, yet subtle form of parental neglect.
To be clear, I share those two desires for my family. I want my kids to have the best education possible and I also want them to develop a passionate faith in Jesus. But I’ve never been able to make this move out of public schools. Let me explain why.
It isn’t because I think all my friends’ reasoning about theÂ quality of education is bunk. Reports from a few years ago drew attention to problems in Arizona’s education system (see: 2012 article). Recently it’s been ranked 30th nationallyÂ (see: USNews.com). If that was the only determining factor, I could be on board with moving my kids this direction. And it isn’t because I expect public schools to foster spirituality in my children. At least not the type that leads them to a Biblical view of Jesus.
Instead, it’s something else. And that something else is often hard to explain.
Last week I heard someone explain my concern about this well, albeit unintentionally. We were on vacation and my wife and mom got into a conversation with a lady. The topic of schooling came up and this mother explained that she and her kids used private education. In explaining why she paused for a moment to look for the right words to use. Finally, she stated this allowed them to go to school with “like-minded people.”
That simple phrase illustrates why I don’t want my kids in private schools.
My entire life gravitates toward people like me. Your’s does too. It’s the inevitable trajectory we walk when we pick our friends, where we live, and those we choose to work with. If left unchecked, I will always choose to be around like-minded people. They are the people who confirm my beliefs and opinions and reassure me that my way of doing things is clearly normal.Â For Christians, this presents us with a challenging dilemma.
How can we impact people with our faith when we isolate ourselves from those who don’t think like us?
I realize this question runs contrary to much thinking today with Christian families. If your kids go to private schools, please don’t hear this as an indictment. I’m not judging your parenting or your faith. Odds are you care deeply for your kids and are proactively making decisions to benefit them. I’m inviting us all into a beneficial conversation with hopes of seeing an incredible opportunity before us today.
Here’s what I’ve concluded: OurÂ involvement with public schools is the most tangible “mission field” my family has. And I work at a church full-time.
Consider what I’ve noticed about my family and see if it rings true in yours:
- When we go to church together each weekend… we are predominantly with like-minded people.
- When we go to our after school activities each week…Â we are predominantly with like-minded people.
- When we meet up with our friends and their kids…Â we are predominantly with like-minded people.
- BUT… when we go to school five days out of the week and all the activities and events associated with this, we are predominantly with people who are often VERY different than us.
If your kids attend a private school, I would suggest the last item on that list isn’t the same for you. In fact, that’s exactly why our vacation friend chose private school.
This is why I believe that for my family, public school is the best opportunity to impact others with our faith on a regular basis. So what do we do with the two reasons why people choose private school? How can I hold my head high and openly admit my love for the public school system? Our solution is to bridge any gap with our parenting.
Consider the arguments again.
- My kids will get a better education. Maybe. But this isn’t a guarantee. I’ve also been amazed how the state will provide extra support for the needs of your kids if you apply for it. Don’t forget that an engaged parent trumps a good teacher. Not to mention that you may be able to support and empower the great teachers at public schools who are often very discouraged.
- My kids will grow in their faith. My years of student ministry have lead me to conclude that there’s no correlation here. For every great Christian student in private school I can show you one from public school. I could also tell you some not-so-hilarious stories about what happens at Christian schools. Kids will deal with kid issues wherever they are.
The point is that I rely on our parenting in these areas and not primarily on the school system to provide this. It’s similar to how I don’t view my wife as the soulmate who’s supposed to complete me. Yet I still cherish my marriage and the incredible ways she blesses my life. When it comes to public school, the benefit I get is that I have the opportunity for my kids to grow up with a broad view of the world and the constant ability to live out their faith (and us as parents as well) with the families at their school who might not know a single Christian. We’ve seen this time and again.
We need to spend more time with “unlike-minded people.”Â Public school isn’t the only avenue to do this. But if you have kids you have an incredible opportunity right in front of you. Please don’t feel like less of a parent for taking advantage of it.