Decisions about a child’s education loom large in the mind of every thinking (a.k.a. intentional) parent. I’ve known many parents who lost sleep, wept tears, and passionately prayed about where and/or how to educate their children. While a child’s education path is a big decision, it’s not like you’re giving your child a tattoo. You can change educational formats whenever you need to.
In eight years of formally educating my children, we have experienced every format available except for boarding school: private school, Christian school, homeschool, and public school. Sometimes the change was the result of a move or shift in circumstances, sometimes it was simply God-directed. Through these many experiences, God has taught me to release the idol of education and place it among my parenting goals, not at the top of my family’s priorities. If my child doesn’t learn to read this year, he will learn next year, and that’s okay. By the time he gets to middle school, it won’t matter. And I’ve never heard anyone say, “If only I had gotten into AP Calculus in high school, my whole life would have turned out differently!” Let’s face it:
- There is no One Best Way to educate children.
- That a child learns is far more important than when she learns.
- Every school environment teaches more than what is gleaned from books.
- Aside from the fundamentals (reading, writing, basic math), learning how to learn is often more important than what one learns.
In 2014, God very clearly and specifically led us to place our children in public school—one in middle school and one in elementary. Sure, some days are more difficult than they would be if we homeschooled or if they were surrounded by children who shared their Christian worldview. The benefits, however, have been exceptional. While we might see some portion of these benefits in other educational contexts, public school has provided them all…with little added effort on my part. Consider these nine things my kids are learning in public school.
- How to interact with different social, economic, ethnic, and religious groups. They constantly rub shoulders with poverty and wealth, agnostics and fundamentalists, recent immigrants and DAR descendants. They are learning to live harmoniously in our multi-ethnic American culture.
- How to wait. When they finish their work before others, they must wait quietly. Patience: what a real-life skill to have under their belts!
- How to help others through explanation. When they understand something, the teacher will occasionally ask them to help a student who is struggling. This exercises patience, compassion and generosity…not to mention verbal skills in re-explaining.
- How to speak up for themselves. In the classroom setting they learn to answer questions with confidence. They learn to express their needs (younger years) and their opinions (older years). Sometimes those opinions don’t correlate with others in the class, so they learn how to defend their position with poise and respect.
- How to win and lose graciously. Sometimes their team wins, sometimes it loses. They must “be okay” with either. Sometimes they answer an oral question incorrectly, and they learn to manage the embarrassment. Sometimes they score 100% on every spelling test, and they learn to manage that success without hurting their friends’ feelings.
- How to apply Biblical wisdom without adult guidance. In social situations at school, their obedience and faith are tested. The school context provides a safe environment where they can fail without huge consequences—great practice for college and adult life.
- How to speak respectfully about their faith. Again, they can succeed and fail in small steps so they gradually learn what Peter meant in 1 Peter 3:15b-16a, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.
- How to learn things they don’t really want to learn in ways that aren’t their preferred learning style. Not everything in school is interesting. Not every activity fits my child’s best learning style. He has to learn it anyway, so he learns how to learn even when he isn’t motivated. This is an essential life skill.
- How to summarize their experiences and reflect on their days. When the children come home from school, we talk about the good and bad things that happened that day. I don’t need a moment-by-moment account. I need a summary that includes highlights, emotions, and an evaluation of experiences. They are learning to glean wisdom from their own lives.
Every child is unique and every family is different. In the spring, we begin to pray about where/how to educate our children in the next school year. As you pray and plan for the coming year (It’s not too early!), don’t ignore the public school option. It might just be God’s will for your child and family. Then, whatever method of education to which God calls you, embrace it! I support you.