Why We Chose Public School

school bus rearBack in elementary school, the favorite post-school activity of the neighborhood boys was riding our battle tested dirt bikes down the mean suburban streets in Richmond, Virginia. Every once and a while, we’d catch a glimpse of them:

Homeschoolers.

The lonely home school family in our neighborhood had enough kids to start a football team. We’d catch a glimpse of them every blue moon riding their big wheels in the cul-de-sac with their mom watching over them like a mother hen. As public school kids, we didn’t know what to make of these alien subjects that (in our minds) skipped school and probably watched G.I. Joe cartoons all day. The homeschool kids weren’t allowed to play or talk with the rest of the neighborhood kids. We treated them like broccoli covered with cheese: Be suspicious of what’s underneath. We’d heard rumors they were part of some strange cult group anyway.

Today, homeschooling is now longer treated like a strange alien landscape. The number of children homeschooled dramatically increased between 2001 and 2009 by 74 percent to 1.5 million children. A 2008 Department of Education surveys have uncovered that 83 percent of homeschool families cite “religious or moral instruction” as the principal reason that they homeschool their children. Homeschooling – once derided as a kooky protest – is now mainstream, and often expected in some evangelical / fundamentalist circles. Case in point: I have some good friends and congregation members that are grappling with the issue of transitioning their kids from homeschooling to public school. I asked them why they started homeschooling in the first place, and they responded: “In the fundamentalist church we grew up in, that’s just what you were expected to do as a Christian parent.” It would seem that homeschooling isn’t just for cult groups anymore (just kidding … just kidding … just kidding).

When my daughter turned school age, I was caught off guard with expectations from other Christian parents to homeschool (or at least send our daughter to a decent private Christian school). Public schools were now “the enemy.” I heard the arguments that public schools are prone to school shooters … That public schools turn kids into goth-dressing, meth addicts that run away from home … That public schools are an evolution-loving, atheist producing factory … That public schools simply produce dumb kids. The future of our child seemingly rested in our hands. Would one decision incontrovertibly chart the life success or failure of our sweet, tender child? So we checked out the local private Christian school and visited public school options. We prayerfully considered the matter. And we ultimately enrolled our daughter to public school over the braying concerns of other horrified believers. And it has been the best decision that we’ve ever made.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why to homeschool your kids or send them to private schools. Fear of screwing up your kids is not one of them.

It’s become popular in Christian circles to demonize “THE public schools” – as if “THE public schools” were one monolithic sausage factory producing the grotesque kids from the “Another Brick In The Wall, Part II” video. “THE public schools” as an entity does not exist. Public school corporations by nature are local and regional entities. While public schools are impacted by state / federal dollars and mandates, the day-to-day administration of local schools is not driven by a red hotline phone to the President’s (or – even worse – your congressman’s) desk. Painting “THE public schools” as a singular diabolical organization (similar to Marvel Comic’s HYDRA) bent on the destruction of innocent children’s lives is farcical. Using a broad brush to castigate public school teachers as Satanic atheists who stand unified in opposition to public prayer and the 10 Commandments is even sillier. A public school in Fairbanks, Alaska does not operate with the same standards as a public school in Topeka, Kansas.

To many Christians’ shock and awe, many public schools are filled with devout Christians who have not sold their soul to the deities of Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins. One fundamentalist recently told me: “Satan already has the public school teachers on his side.” News to me. If our local public schools are a reflection of the composition of our local communities, it stands to reason that many teachers are Christians. My daughter’s last two teachers were Christians. How do I know that? I asked. It wasn’t weird or awkward. I told them I was a Southern Baptist pastor and they said, “Hey! I’m a Christian too.” Meaningful conversation about Jesus ensued. It’s not rocket surgery. You can do the same thing too, and I guarantee the riot police in black hawk helicopters won’t even come to throw you in jail for doing it. I also have a deacon who is a public school teacher, and I’m pretty sure that he’s not a maniacal instrument of Beelzebub either. Stereotyping is not our friend.

Nonetheless, Christians will hear the sensationally breathless 11PM news reports of knock-out games, online bullying, cellphone sexting, explicit sex-ed classes and sexual predators masquerading as teachers and bubble wrap their kids in fear from public schools. Fear of “the worst happening” – whether in the form of bullet rounds crashing through the calm of school rooms or in the form of hoodie-adorned dealers pushing PCP in the playground – overwhelms our decision-making. We play the insanity-inducing “what if” game: What if my kids are given condoms and told about safe sex? … What if my kids learn about alternative lifestyles and decide to become transgendered? … What if my child tells me that he believes that he descended from monkeys? … What if my kids start hating broccoli?

The grain of bad logic is that parents can protect their kids from sin. The Bible verse used to support this position is typically Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This proverb is often treated as an unbreakable divine promise. If a parent simply teaches their own kids and keeps them away from the worldly dangers of cigarettes, R-rated movies and Twilight novels, they’ll stay out of jail … They’ll never get pregnant as a teenager … They’ll never reject Christ in their lifetime. If you just hover over your kids, your worst nightmares will never come true.

Reality is more nuanced because the Gospel is true. Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb. It’s Biblical wisdom … not law … not an unbreakable axiom. Not every kid that is “trained up” well by their parents will stay on the straight and narrow. The Bible never says good parenting will protect kids from sin. Face it: Your kids are sinners too. Yes, I used the “s” word to describe your kids, because – well – it’s Biblically true. Your kids are included in the “all” of Romans 3:23. Your kids will fail … Your kids will falter … Your kids will make bad choices and horrible mistakes that will keep you awake at night. And their sin will principally occur because they are sinners by nature … Not necessarily because the parents have failed in some capacity. As a pastor, I am counseling several parents who homeschooled their kids, and are grieving from the poor adult choices of those same kids. Homeschoolers who now reject Christ. No matter how hard we attempt to protect our kids from touching the third rail of sin, they’re all going to get jolted.

Interestingly, Proverbs 22:6 rarely plays out as a promise in the life of any Biblical figure. Even for the first parents recorded, there’s a Cain for every Abel or Seth. There’s a Ham for every Shem. There’s a Esau for every Jacob. Jacob had a litter of kids that killed newly circumcised men and sold their brother into slavery. Samson’s parents devoted him to be a Nazarite from birth, but Samson loved to chase Philistine skirts. David’s love child, Solomon, started out on track but was wooed away by a veritable army of ungodly women. Go through the royal lineage of 1 & 2 Kings: Bad kings producing good offspring … Good kings producing bad offspring.

Public schools and teachers are not the enemy. According to the Gospel, sin is the enemy and Christ is the solution. The warmth and light of Christ that overpowers sin and mortifies the flesh is needed in our schools. The “salt and light” that comes from being in Christ is needed too. Paul writes in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” As we interact with public schools (or any other setting for that matter), our attitude should not be an unbiblical defeatism that comes from an unhealthy fear that the darkness of the world will overcome Christ. Certainly, the power and authority of Holy Spirit is not mystically blocked by the cinderblock walls of a school building.

Many fundamentalists incessantly complain about God being taken out of our public school systems … as well as prayer, Bible education, abstinence education and quality school lunches of yore, such as square pizza with a side of greasy tater tots. As a result, they take their kids out of public school to protect them from the unwashed heathen horde. It’s an ironic self-fulfilling prophecy: We pull our kids out of public schools because they aren’t “Christian” enough … Then complain that our public schools aren’t Christian enough. Why should we expect any realistic pressure for Bible education, prayer or abstinence education to return to public schools when Christians are taking their kids out of public school in droves? Why should we expect salt and light in a place where believers have quite admittedly given up on being salt and light?

Regardless of where your kids are educated, my hope is that you’ll share with your kids about how Christ has changed your life. I believe that Deuteronomy 6 commands parents to share about Christ with their kids. Too often, believers of all varieties have shirked this basic responsibility out of fear or laziness and left their kids’ faith (or lack thereof) in the hands of “professional” pastors and Christian educators. Faith begins in the home – not in schools (or churches for that matter). My wife and I have intentional daily devotional time with our daughter. We daily pray with our daughter. We talk about Christ in our home. We have a small group that meets in our home. Our daughter witnesses us worshipping, singing praises, reading Scripture, teaching others about Jesus and sharing our faith with others. Regardless of where our child attends school for education, we have taught our child about who Jesus is and the impact that He has made in our lives. Last year, I led my daughter to Christ and had the opportunity to baptize her. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I know she won’t be perfect. I know she’ll have her problems. I know she’ll try our patience and drive us to our knees in prayer. But she is a beloved child of the King, and I am comforted that she belongs to Him no what may come.

In the end, the measure of being a good Christian parent is not whether your kids turn out perfect. They won’t.

The measure of being a good Christian parent is not based on your selection of homeschooling, private school or public school. In our Christian liberty, there are many options. Do as God leads.

The measure of being a good Christian parent is whether you imitate Christ to your kids and share Christ with your kids. Here’s the measure of good Christian parenting: When I die, I want my daughter to be able to say: “My daddy loved Jesus. My daddy loved me. And I know Jesus loves me.”

That would be a job well done.