Growing up in a family of mostly secular humanist educators, I never once questioned if I should be going to public school. My father was the elementary school principal my friends referred to as Dr. Huntington and my mom was a school teacher and a college counselor for most of my life. So, when private Christian school and homeschooling were mentioned to me, I had no point of reference for it. And to be honest, the homeschooled kids I met seemed like they were from a different planet. It was in public high school where I was exposed to Christian teaching about the wrath of God and the saving grace of Jesus. A friend shared Jesus with me and my life was transformed. I am forever in the debt of the students, parents and teachers at Bonita Vista High School, who were praying and kindly exhorting me to follow Jesus.
When my first child was born, there was no doubt in my mind that she was going to attend public school and most likely in a poor community. The responses to our decision were crass and shocking. “She’s going to get raped there!” “It’s full of the thugs!” “Your child will be taught to deny Jesus!” These were all actual statements made to me.
Beyond some of the veiled racism, there was a true belief that a public school would transform my daughter into some kind of demon who’d grow up to sacrifice goats to the CRT devil and sing worship songs to some Baal of liberal sexuality. Which felt funny to me, because I was saved in public school. I had teachers who were atheists, but I also had teachers that encouraged me in my faith.
My children are not fully grown yet (10 and 12) so there is still time for them to change and start worshipping Karl Marx or something. But I can tell you they love Jesus, even while surrounded by varying faiths and traditions.
Common problems with public school
There’s good reason to be frustrated with the public schools.
They are often underfunded, especially in our poor community. Many teachers are overworked or have eyes focused on retirement. Those deciding what is taught to our children are often not Christian. I get this. But I ask, is the solution is to abandon schools? Many of you say yes. I believe the darker it gets the brighter the light shines. I also believe the more Christians in public school, the more we will advocate for better funding, better teachers and better curriculum that makes room for our belief system. Rather than abandoning it, Christians should make the world around them better. If a room is dark, you don’t leave. You bring more light.
A recent study unsurprisingly showed homeschooled children do well. They have a parent in the home working exclusively for the education of their children. But what if that one parent were in the public school, not only advocating for their child, but a dozen more? Alongside godly teachers they could be a kind and compassionate example to many more children. That same parent could help encourage the education of their own child but also might impact generations by caring for the more neglected children in their community. They also set an example for their own child what it looks like to engage secular culture with compassion. At the same time, many Christian families who cannot afford to put their children in private school or homeschool would have the support of other Christians. When our family is present, we can kindly advocate for all families. More recently, we met with representatives from our local district to discuss how to navigate our differing views on sexuality. We found the leadership to be collegial and willing to work with us and the other Christian families in the school. The presence of Christians made this conversation possible and led to actual positive change and improved communication for everyone.
Beyond the religious changes, I’ve seen studies show intelligent children who are well educated, bring up the grades of those around them. If their academics drop it is found to be negligible. Minor loss and major gain for society. When tutoring certain children in reading, I’ve seen perpetually lowered heads raised in confidence. Imagine the impact your time, care and presence can have on children like this. And while we can help from the outside, being inside brings new awareness. A wise man once said the needs of the community aren’t your problems until they are actually YOUR problems.
But inevitably alongside this come new accusations.
“YOU ARE SACRIFICING YOUR CHILD ON THE MANTLE OF MISSION!”
No, I’m not. I’m allowing my child to go into the world every day and come back to me for equipping. One pastor mentioned children are like sponges and should not be filled up at a secular school. I agree, children are like sponges, but it’s our responsibility as a parent to fill them up before they leave for school. Does this mean we might have to make some priorities above sports or entertainment as a family? Yep. Does this mean we might need to volunteer and mobilize our church to volunteer at our local school? Also, yep.
Christian school is only as godly as the children and teachers in the school. I’ve had parents in my churches in the past send their children to “godly” educators at their Christian school who were not solid believers. I’ve even had a teacher from a Christian school under church discipline at our church before! Many cultural Christians send their children to Christian schools. Those children, under the guise of Christianity can be just as damaging to your offspring as the openly non-believing children at public school. If anything, their imitation faith, bathed in hypocrisy may forever sour your children on Christians.
Pastor, Dhati Lewis says “We don’t want our children to be safe. We want them to be warriors.”
When we send our children to public school, we are equipping them. We study the Bible as a family. Sometimes it’s a train wreck and there is crying, but other times we see true impact. (Note: I don’t cry every time. Sometimes it’s the kids crying) We allow our kids to ask questions about anything they learn at school and we ask them probing questions about what they’ve learned and who they spend their time with. Then we help them understand how the Bible informs their world. Our children will be ready for college with a deep biblical worldview that has already responded to the active arguments of their friends and teachers. When homeschooling or sending children to private school, they too may be equipped for those arguments and I think that’s wonderful. However, I believe the biggest difference is my children will be “battletested.” I’m not sacrificing my kids. I am equipping them. My daughter is an avid reader. She reads about two novels a day. We started out by reading to her at home and then we bought her trusted books to read on her own. Eventually we started making weekly trips to the library for her to check out a Belle’s bounty of pages. But we’ve trained her, so often she will be about 20 pages or so into a book when she can sniff out the author’s agenda. This didn’t happen by accident. We will often discuss with her how that book aligns or doesn’t align with God’s word. There have been many times she’s loved the storytelling of a novel only to throw it back in her library bag, because it’s not helping her honor God.
Friends. I don’t believe those who send their children to Christian schools or those who homeschool are all making the wrong decision for their children. It is often the right decision. But I also believe every Christian family needs to seriously AND PRAYERFULLY consider public school first. My children have had amazing Christian teachers. My children go to school with many Christian children. My children experience true diversity in ethnicity, political affiliation, and socio-economic status. I believe they are well rounded believers because of it.
In the Summer of 2020
I was asked to speak on a panel for ethnic reconciliation through NAMB and the SEND network. There, I said some very hard things about race in our denomination and our country. I believe we still have a long way to go as a people to find true reconciliation. I knew what I was saying would not be well received by everyone. But once I got down from the stage, another panelist said something interesting to me.
Him: Bro, I can’t believe you said that! You are making a lot of people angry with that one!
I internally scanned through everything I had said. Was it when I mentioned some of the heroes of our faith had been human traffickers? Was it my point on the continued effects of redlining on our communities today? Did I just say something stupid or unbiblical?
Me: What was it?
Him: You just said every parent should consider sending their kids to public school. You are going to get a lot of heat for that!
I guess I am just wired that way. But if this article can cause just one more parent to live on mission in their children’s public school, I suppose it’s worth the heat.
Parents. Equip your kids, in public or private school. And no matter how well you do as a parent, you will have to trust them to God.
The Prodigal Father lost his son for a season. We know He was a good pop and we know He did His best. That’s what I am going to do, try my best and trust God with the rest.
I hope you will prayerfully do the same.