According to statistics, I should probably be homeschooling my kids. Our family is blessed to be in the position to be able to choose whether or not to homeschool. We have a decent income, a two-parent family, a good educational background, and the time and energy to invest in homeschooling. A study by the HSLDA in 2003 showed that 82% of graduated homeschoolers wanted to homeschool their own kids – and although I didn’t graduate from homeschool, I was homeschooled for 11 years and my mother chaired the local homeschool group. Most of my friends are now homeschooling their own children. In fact, homeschooling appears to be the fastest-growing form of education in the US. And why not? Homeschoolers, on average, academically out-perform their counterparts in public schools. The flexibility, the creativity, the extra family time, the ability to mold the lessons specifically for each child, and the freedom to make every lesson God-centered make it a very attractive option.
But when it came time to decide where to send our first school-age child to school for Kindergarten, we chose public school.
Despite my love for homeschooling, my homeschooling background, and my many friends who are homeschooling their own kids, we wanted to really think and pray about our family’s schooling decision this year. We weighed our options, prayed, looked at the pros and cons, and struggled with wanting the best of both worlds. But in the end, it came down to this – even though we like the idea of homeschooling, we felt called in a different direction this year.
Streams of thought from very different sources influenced our decision. I can’t summarize it all, but I’ll give you a few of the highlights:
- One of my favorite kids books, If Everybody Did, asks what would happen if everybody did things like …make tracks? …spill tacks? …pull off a bud? …jump in mud? …slam the door? …stomp and roar? What if every Christian family that could decided to homeschool? Our actions do not just affect us. All of our actions affect everyone else around us.
- Christianity Today published an interesting article titled “The New School Choice Agenda“. Here’s an excerpt: “Over the past decade, a group of mostly white, middle-class Christian couples have moved into Church Hill, the community served by Chimborazo Elementary School. Unlike most families in Church Hill, these four couples have the financial and social capital to send their kids to private schools or to homeschool. Yet they have chosen otherwise. […] They want to help restore a community struggling against generational poverty, and they believe a key component is sending their own children to the community’s public school.” We as Christians have a call to engage in our communities for the sake of the Gospel. There is hurt and brokenness in every community – whether impoverished, well-to-do, or somewhere in the middle. And one of the most influential centers in our communities is our schools.
- The book Going Public: Your Child Can Thrive in Public School, written by Young Life leaders and the parents of eight children, David and Kelli Pritchard, reminds us that God has dominion – even over public schools. And yet He chooses to use people like us to bring freedom and hope into schools. One reviewer stated, “The main thing I’m taking away from this book is that I don’t have to make decisions about my son’s education out of fear. God is big enough to be God even in the public schools.” We are not just naively sending our vulnerable kids off to be influenced by whoever and whatever they encounter in school. We take full responsibility to “homeschool” them during the hours they are in our home – and then together, we become instruments of hope, truth, and Love in their school and to the friends they meet in school.
- Part of the philosophy of Christian Community Development is that we should choose to live with the people we are called to serve. Not only does it imitate the way Jesus chose to live incarnationally with us, but it also has an affect on our own attitudes towards the people around us. It transforms “you, them, and theirs” to “we, us, and ours.” We have a personal stake in the development of our local school system when our own children are a part of it.
- And finally, there is this quote by Peter Enns, posted by a friend on facebook (a friend who is running an orphanage in an African country): “[The church has a] prophetic responsibility of calling all cultures to obedience of the same gospel. And we issue this call not by holding the world in which we live at arm’s length, but precisely by participating in that world – the world that God created, in which he has placed us.” Sometimes our call will conflict with our natural desire to “live at arm’s length” from the messiness around us, but we have a responsibility to participate in the communities in which God has placed us.
We are seeing some cool side effects from our decision to send our daughter to public school this year. She is learning a lot about friendship with boys and girls, tall kids and short kids, kids with disabilities, mean kids, kids who look very different from her, and kids who don’t have a daddy. She is learning wisdom in difficult situations, and to trust our advice when she doesn’t know how to act. She is learning that rules and consequences apply to all of life, not just at home. And she is learning to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Just last week, as we were memorizing the fruits of the Spirit, she prayed, “Jesus, help me to grow good fruit for my friends.” She is getting it… the Gospel is not just supposed to be a right belief in her head, but right actions towards others.
So. I am not saying that all Christian families should quit homeschooling and send their kids to public school. And I am not saying that we will choose to send our kids to public school every year. We will re-evaluate with each kid and each year. What it comes down to is this: there is no formula for how we should school our children. As much as we would all like to justify our decisions as “the best” choices, and as attractive as some choices might appear, the fact is that God has created each family, each child, each teacher, each life uniquely. Our job is to seek God’s direction, use wisdom and discernment, and be obedient to His direction… wherever that takes us.
I’m a homeschooler at heart, my first-born is going to public school, and my husband and I are doing our best to follow God’s direction for this family. This daughter. This year. And our goal is to keep on following Him for the next decision, next year, next kid, next choice. It’s harder than following a formula, but in the end I am pretty sure it will be worth it!