Friday, September 11, 2009

Choosing Public School - Part 1

I feel like I need to take a deep breath before I write this post. I mean, this is a topic that could really be tricky to write about. But, a couple of weeks ago this came up and a few of you asked me to do this, so I will oblige.

First, let me just say that this is our experience. Nobody else’s. Deciding where and how your own children are educated will be your experience entirely. And I’m O.K. with that. I have enough on my plate with my own little brood that I don’t need to worry about yours.

Second, I’d also like to add that much of our decision has to do with where we live, and we know that. If we lived somewhere else that didn’t have excellent public schools with excellent teachers, we would have to explore other options. But for now, we have an abundance of riches, as they say, at our disposal, and we know we are blessed to have that.

So, how did it happen that our kids ended up in public school? Way back in 1997, as Kate was heading to kindergarten, B and I did a lot of praying about what to do. We knew our options. But it seemed like the doors to those options weren’t opening very far.

There was homeschooling. Um . . . no. My temperament just was not at a place back in ’97 (or even in ’09 for that matter) that would ensure success at homeschooling. Plus, God had opened a door for me to teach a college class, which I loved, and we felt like that was not something I should give up at that time. So, for those couple of reasons, plus the fact that we didn’t feel strongly about the homeschooling option, we closed that door. (I locked it securely while B wasn’t looking, and then I threw away the key.)

There was private Christian school. Again, neither one of us felt strongly enough for this option that it seemed that door wasn’t opening very widely either. We have lots of friends who have made this choice, and they seem happy with it. It just didn’t seem like the right decision for us.

But our public school choice wasn’t made by process of elimination. It was made with lots and lots of prayer, and public school was our first choice all along.

So what things did factor into the equation? Well, obviously, the education. I mean, really, why do we put our kids in school anyway? To get educated. Sometimes they get educated in things we’d rather they not know about, if you know what I mean, but that just comes with the kid territory no matter where they go to school. Really, though, the education in our school district is one of the best in the state, so we figured we should at least give it a try.

And, honestly? I’d prefer to leave the education of my children in the hands of the professionals—people who have gone to college for many years (lots of my kids’ teachers have master’s degrees) to learn how to do this well. Me? I would be a disaster with a bulletin board. There would be nothing on the walls. My classroom would be a sad place to be. I guess that’s why I taught college—no bulletin boards.

The other factor was what I’ll call the salt-and-light factor. This gets a little complicated in some people’s minds, so let me explain first that we never expected our children, especially in elementary school, to be “missionaries” at their schools. I really believe that a child’s job in school is to learn.

But it’s another thing for us adults. B and I thought long and hard about our community, our neighbors, and the teachers we might get to know in public school. We wondered how we would meet our neighbors—I mean to really get to know them—if we didn’t rub elbows with them on a regular basis. It’s one thing to see our neighbors at a Christmas party once a year, but when you’re serving on a school committee with them or sitting next to them at an all-school picnic, you start to get to know them. So we decided that we needed to put ourselves, not just our kids, in a place where we could “do life” with our neighbors. School seemed to be the obvious place to do that.

Both B and I had a very strong sense that we could not make this decision based on fear. Fear of the unknown, of the world, of other people—none of that could come into play. This decision needed to be based on more than that.

It seems to me, as I talk to parents, that there is a lot of fear out there—some justifiable, some not. I have seen it become a huge factor in some people’s schooling decision. But God clearly commands us throughout scripture “Do not fear.” Because along with that He also says, “I am with you.”

As we prayed, B and I both felt like the "fear factor" was one of the main reasons God was telling us to choose public school. We knew that for us, trusting God in our children’s education, as we have trusted in Him all along, would be a huge step of faith. As we placed our girls in public school, we were literally placing them in the care of our heavenly Father, telling Him that we knew He could protect them there.

About 10 years ago some dear friends left our church to plant a church in Chicago. I’ll never forget the time someone asked them, “What about your kids? Will they be safe?” Their response has stuck with me all these years. He said, “Our kids are less safe in the suburbs, if we are out of God’s will, than they will ever be in the city within God’s will.”

I believe that with all my heart. My kids are less safe in any other place than right where God wants them to be. And, for us . . . for now . . . that is public school.

The benefits have been amazing. God has blessed our entire family, not just our kids, through our decision to put them in public school, and I’ll tell you more about that on Monday.

So now, how about you? How do (or did) you educate your kids? How did you make that decision? I’d really love to know, so leave a comment.


  1. You know I'm with you on this one, Shelly : ). Thanks for sharing so clearly. For us, it's the "doing life together" that makes so much sense. There is also a clear sense of "calling" to the public schools for us. For reasons too numerous to list here, I am confident God wants us and our children there.

  2. Shelly, I LOVE that you wrote this post. And I love HOW you wrote it.

    You know my daughter is just 2 (or will be in less than a month!!), so we haven't had to make this decision yet. But I will be surprised if our decision is any different than yours, for many of the reasons that you mention.

  3. Thanks, girls. I wrote it with young parents like Mary in mind since you'll be making that decision sooner than you think! :)

    Jennifer, it's fun "doing life" with our neighborhood, isn't it?!

  4. It's funny. When we got here -- there were lots of homeschooling parents, and I thought that was just the craziest thing ever. I remember talking to one of them, and she said very clearly -- if God *calls* you to homeschool, that's one thing. If he doesn't call you to -- and your only reason to HS is because you're afraid -- you shouldn't.

    We chose to with Edison, because we felt like it was God's calling for us at that time. When we learned Caroline was coming along -- not knowing her situation -- we decided to put him in school.

    We chose the local Christian school partly out of fear -- he'd been homeschooled for four years, and I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought of putting him in a school of over 500 3rd - 5th graders. (Still would be)

    He has FLOURISHED at his school. He gets opportunities to develop leadership skills in a great environment. So, for him it's been the right choice. And, with the added attention we've had to give Caroline the last five years, his environment has been so supportive -- praying for her on a daily basis those first couple of years -- and the atmosphere has made it easy for us to focus more attention on her, when we've needed to.

    Then along came Caroline. All the services, therapies, and extra attention she needs cannot be provided by our sweet little Christian school I love so much. So, alas, she's my public school girl. And you know what? She's doing great. Already working on learning sight words -- in kindergarten -- and she's the one with the "developmental delay!"

    So, you're right -- it's a decision each family has to make. Our decisions haven't been easy, and there's been some sacrifice involved. But, God has blessed all along the way.

    I look forward to reading what others have to say! Sorry I got so long-winded -- but I've got experience with all three options! :)

  5. I'm with you, Angie--I hope others will share their experiences. Thanks for sharing yours!

  6. Shelly,

    Thanks for sharing this. I suspected these were the reasons you chose public schools, and I was correct. I think that's excellent. I agree that kids and parents need to be salt and light to a lost world. If we are constantly immersed in a Christian bubble, how will we ever reach anyone who is LOST?

    We have chosen Christian schools because our public school options are not good where we are, whereas our Christian school is nationally ranked and the largest of its kind in the country. But I am adamant about my children interacting with unchurched people in our neighborhood and our family for the reasons you mentioned.

    Excellent post. It will help a lot of parents dispell the fear of public schools.


    p.s. I'm totally with ya on the homeschooling thing. I'd be the worst HS teacher. I do NOT have the temperment for it at all!!!

  7. Just as a side note (I don't have an opinion either Shelly said, everybody's circumstances are different!) a former Christian school teacher, just because a kid/family is in a Christian school doesn't mean they aren't lost! Some people are just looking for a good private education. There were plenty of kids and families at my school who were not on the right path who needed good Christian "light" around them.

  8. Hi! Popping over from Mary's Blog-I love this post. I have 4 kiddos 3 currently in Public School. So far we have experienced all 3 options. We had the children in Christian School for 2 years, Home School 1 year and Last year we made a big move from Florida to Texas and I was preggo with our 4th--we made the prayer filled decision to send the kids to Public School.

    It has been the best decision. We happen to have wonderful schools here, and we only know 1 family that sends their children to private school. I don't even know any homeschoolers here. Even our pastor sends his kids to the local public schools. Thank you for your post and "verbalizing" our reasons for our schooling choices. What an encouragement to me.

  9. Hi Hip Mama! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm glad public school is going well for you.

    You don't know any homeschoolers where you live?? I'm amazed!