By Ruth Meyer
My son has been getting into a lot of fights at school lately. But it's not what you'd think. Believe it or not, he and his friends have been arguing about God. Some of his friends believe in God; some don't. They argue about the origin of the universe, whether or not Jesus was a real man, and the logic of biblical accounts. Even though my son goes to a public school, religion is still a part of his day.
Education can be a touchy subject. I've read articles on why Christians should never send their kids to public schools. I know women who won't even consider anything but homeschooling. Other parents place a high value on Lutheran school education and are willing to make it happen no matter the cost. Then again, I have a friend who pulled her son out of their Lutheran school to put him into a public school, where he is doing better. Public schools, parochial schools, and homeschooling all have pros and cons. I should know. My kids have done all three.
I never thought I would send my children to a public school. I myself went through a Lutheran grade school, high school, and college. It was a wonderful blessing, and I’m a strong proponent of Lutheran education. I always assumed my own kids would go through the system as I did. And until our latest move a year ago, there were indeed Lutheran schools readily available. But now our circumstances make it impractical on many levels to send our kids to a parochial school, so when we moved here, we sent them to the public school just down the street.
I never thought I would homeschool, either. But after a semester at the public school, my husband and I felt that our fourth grader and first grader needed more one-on-one attention. We've moved a number of times in the past few years, and it seemed as if our kids were giving up. They seemed to have the mentality that “we're going to move again soon anyhow, so why bother?” So we made the leap to homeschool the two of them. Our oldest is now in middle school and wanted nothing to do with homeschooling, so he's still at the public school. So within a two-year time frame, my kids have done parochial, public, and homeschooling.
Of the three options, which do I prefer? Honestly, all of them. I’m glad my kids have had the eclectic experiences they’ve had. What I love about the Lutheran school system is that the teachers are all teaching the faith throughout the day, even when it’s not religion time. I don’t have to worry about an evolution lesson or a “family values” talk about Susie’s two daddies or whatever. In the Lutheran schools my children attended, they had daily and weekly memory selections that included Bible verses, hymns, and items from the catechism. I love that. They sang songs and hymns that they still remember.
Yet homeschooling has also grown on me, I have to admit. I did it at first out of desperation and necessity, and I went into it hoping it would be a short-term deal. Now we’ve joined a co-op, I’m able to talk curricula knowledgeably, and I am seriously loving our world history textbook. I’m learning more than the kids, and it’s fascinating. I also love the laid back schedule that allows me to give them something to work on while I put the baby down for a nap. I love that I can send my oldest off on his own to walk to school and not have to rush everyone else out the door at 7:30 in the morning. I like that I can spend individual time with my students and personalize the learning to their interests and ability levels. Yes, there are days I wonder why I ever wanted to homeschool in the first place, but overall, I find I honestly love it.
As for the public school, ours is a fairly good one by state standards. I’ve been in public school systems that are terrible academically. I wouldn’t want to send my kids to one of those. Our academics are decent and the community values are conservative overall. Frankly, I believe that rather than getting "brainwashed" into liberal thinking, my son has actually been strengthened in his faith. Yes, you read that correctly. He’s had numerous discussions over lunch and at P.E. with his friends about religion, and not surprisingly, some of his friends aren’t Christians. This has been a great opportunity for my son to witness to them, and it forces him to really think about what he believes and why. He’s practicing apologetics at the age of 11, which is something I didn’t do until I was in my 20’s. He tells me about the conversations they have at school, and I’m fiercely proud of that kid for standing up for his faith in Jesus Christ.
So what does all this mean? Dear sister, don’t let anyone else tell you how you “should” educate your children or shame you for your choice. Don’t let the devil tempt you to feel guilty (or, conversely, superior) about your decision.
Ultimately, no matter what schooling option you choose for your children, you are their first and most important teacher. The values and lessons you pass on to them and model for them on a daily basis will make the biggest impression on them. If they go to a public school and are expected to learn evolution, turn that into an opportunity to discuss with them why we as Christians know evolution is false. If they get into high school and get little care packages with condoms inside, use that as a chance to talk about God’s gift of sex used rightly in the boundaries of marriage. Your family values will trump whatever they learn in school.
The same holds true for those who send their kids to a parochial school. If you expect the school to teach them religion, but then do nothing at home to reinforce that, they will follow your lead. If you don’t take them to church because “they get it during the week,” you’re teaching them that church doesn’t matter. The responsibility lies with you to pass along the faith and values you want them to learn. Do not shirk this responsibility and honor.
Whatever education option you choose for your children, pray for them. Pray that God would bless their learning and their development and grant them opportunities to grow in their faith. Pray that He would give them opportunities to share that faith with others. Our God is a powerful God, and He loves your children even more than you do. He will not fail them. They are His through baptism, and His Holy Spirit will “keep [them] with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Even in a public school.
Ruth Meyer is living out her vocation as a Lutheran woman in the roles of sister, daughter, mother, and wife. Her greatest joy in life is living as a redeemed child of God, who has blessed her in her many vocations. Besides her human relationships, Ruth's other interests include music and writing. She is a church musician and has a special love for Lutheran hymnody. She also loves to write, and her children's book, Our Faith from A to Z ,was recently published through CPH. Ruth keeps her own blog at truthnotes.net. Her hope is that through her writing you are encouraged and perhaps even challenged in your God-given vocations.
Image: The Artists Daughters on the Way to School by Gustav Adolph Hennig, 1851