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Friday, March 11, 2011

going public

One of the biggest decisions Christian parents face is how they will educate their children. Should they send their children to private school? Should they homeschool? What about public school? The stereotypes that attach themselves to each of these choices can be comical - guess which mom wears the denim jumper? the North Face jacket? the tight rhinestone tee? The dogmatism that attaches to each choice, however, is not comical at all. Contrary to rumor, the Bible does not endorse one of these choices above another.

The Bible does, however, admonish parents to take seriously and personally the instruction and training of their children. How this fleshes out in practice is a matter for careful consideration. I believe this biblical mandate can be fulfilled through any of the three options I have noted. I also believe it can be completely undermined by any of the three. Each option has its strengths and weaknesses. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that the education option you choose is of secondary importance to the role you as a parent play in your child’s educational environment.

So, which route did the Wilkins go? Despite the fact that I do not own a single tee with rhinestones on it, we went with public school. I want to be honest: it would not be accurate to say that we sat down and gave serious consideration to private school or homeschooling. We did not, and I hope my thoughts below will clarify why. However, with ten years of public school under our belts we have had every opportunity to reconsider. Here are some reasons why, ten years in, we still stand behind our decision.

we couldn’t afford private school  Okay, I’m just keeping it real. Financially we couldn’t meet our long-term goals with four children in private school. The lack of ambiguity on this point was actually reassuring to us: It meant that there must be a way to honor God in our children’s education other than sending them to private school.

we believe in public education as an ideal  Jeff and I both come from families of public educators, and we ourselves are products of public education. Though the public education system is far from perfect, we believe that by participating in it we help to keep our community and our country healthy. We recognize that these convictions have been easy for us to hold – we have been blessed to live close to excellent schools. In many areas of our country choosing to participate in the public school system would be nothing short of bold, missional living. Furthermore, none of our children has special needs or learning disabilities, removing a huge level of complexity from the decision-making process.

we believe worldview comes from parents  I think homeschoolers and private schoolers believe this, too. My point is that we believe children can receive a secular education without sacrificing or compromising their Christian worldview. Ensuring this has required having many conversations about their classes. We press our kids to learn to think critically (discerningly) about what they are being taught. We correct or temper what they learn as needed.

Here are some unlooked-for benefits of a “secular” education that we have found:
  • Public school gave us early and repeated opportunities to talk respectfully about other religions with our children. Those religions had real faces. Our children have had many opportunities to dialogue about their faith with friends.
  • Public school clarified for us the importance of time spent together. We had to be deliberate about guarding our shared time since six hours of every weekday would be spent at school (see related post).
  • Public school reinforced for our kids that home was their primary place of community, rather than their peer group. Home is a safe place where they can expect to be treated with kindness and gentle speech. Their peer group – not so much.
  • Public school drew clear lines for our kids. They know they are in the minority in terms of worldview. We do not have to convince them that they are aliens and strangers.

we believe children love to learn if their parents love to learn  If the public school mom stereotype is unsavory, it pales in comparison to that of the public school student: a drug-marinated, Halo-playing, sailor-mouthed charmer clinging to a 2.0 in theater tech. That child does not live in our home. Though our children’s formal education happens in a school building, it is enriched at home. Jeff and I are dorks who work crosswords together and read classic literature together and enjoy logic puzzles and the math of a card trick and the chemistry of baking and the physics of a game of pool and the biology of gardening. We became dorks because our parents were dorks. Our kids are dorks, too (sorry, kids). They are self-motivated and active learners, which has allowed them to flourish in public school regardless of whether they get the PhD or the PE coach for their Language Arts teacher. Parents set the educational climate for their children. If you are not the stereotypical public school parent, your child will probably not be the stereotypical public school student.

For our family, public school means our children get an affordable, sound education. It means our family crosses paths with people of all backgrounds and faiths. It means we get to invest in the neighborhood in which we live. Our choice of public school is in no way an indictment of private- or homeschooling. Public school is not for everyone, but it is a good fit for our family. Education is a highly personal choice, demanding consideration of individual factors unique to each student and family. I offer here just one perspective in the hope of enriching the dialogue.



  1. Thanks for posting your thoughts on this! I could agree more and your encouragement in this area has confirmed my beliefs about the same thing. Our babies are 3 and 1 and we have actually gotten a lot of flack about our desire (choice) for them to attend public school. Thank you for sharing. :)

  2. Jennifer, thanks for your post. I am writing from Australia, which has a different educational climate, but still found it helpful and encouraging.

    Our eldest has only started school (local public school) this year and we are expecting our fourth in a few months. It is nice to hear from someone ten years further down the track with the same prioirities.

    We have worked out over recent years that we are not "pro" anything in terms of educational method. The real, actual options vary from one family to another. Whatever we choose, we are completely dependent on God's power and grace for ourselves and our children.

    Loving Jesus with our children's education (and loving his people and his world) will look different in different places and times.

    Thanks for your level headed encouragement.

  3. I link jumped over from Twitter. I just wanted to thank you for the post. My wife and I are homeschooling our oldest daughter 6yrs. And we decided to home school her again next year. I think her brother 4yrs. and her will go to public school next year. As a Pastor and Father I have been wrestling with this issue for sometime. I thought you made some very good points. I am writing a blog on this soon and will post a link to this post if that is okay? Thanks again!

  4. Thank you Jen for sharing your thoughts! God has placed his people throughout the world and puts them in private schools,public schools, home schools and some with no schooling at all.He prepares us in these different environments, community's, and countries to become who we are.All to Glorify himself!! Praise God that we all have a different testimony that we can share of him!

  5. this was so good..Matt and I go before the Lord each year and ask the question "do we continue to home educate or do we place them in public school"..private has never been an option and no scholarships have fallen from the sky yet to date.. i love this Jen.. so good..for us as our oldest is approaching 8th grade so we have really begun the process of seeking what HIS will is for (her)&us concerning high school. It is hard.. but at the end of the day it is trusting HIM.. whatever that looks like..be it public, private, or home..if someone had ever told me I would home educate I would have laughed at them..just some really good things here for us to think on.. a good post

  6. I love this post! We homeschool our three and it is often assumed that is the only choice we approve of. It is not! We believe that it is a very individualized decision and ultimately God is in control no matter what schooling choice you make. Few seem to agree. It is refreshing to hear some balance! Thanks.

  7. As someone who was homeschooled my entire life, I appreciated this post. Public school is not the enemy (as it is occasionally portrayed in homeschool circles). As long as Mom and Dad are teaching the most important lessons, math and science knowledge can come from anywhere =)

    PS: It took me a while, but I finally discovered the reason behind the denim jumpers (cause my mom definitely wore them). They double as both maternity/non maternity clothes...which is convenient if you are having 12+ kids =)

  8. I know there are some wonderful Christian kids that go to public school and come out of that system just fine. I agree with you that the foundation comes from the parent's worldview and it has to be strongly taught and must remain the stronger value system, if the kids are expected to maintain the same.
    However, just for dialogue sake, let me throw out a few reasons we have chosen to keep our kids at home for the last 18 years:

    Answers in Genesis put out a poll that 80% of Christian kids raised in public school, will walk away from their faith when they graduate. The reason stems from the fact that in the system, for 12 years, they are taught that creation is not real, but that evolution is. That's called indoctrination. In Sunday school (which is basically like ps, but in church) they are taught cute little bible stories that seem more like fairy tales. Add those 2 together, and they find themselves disbelieving the Bible. It will take a parent doing more than just sending them to church on Sundays to combat that negative opinion that the gov't schools hand out.

    The peer problem is a given. My opinion is that when a child spends 40 or more hours a week with kids of all kinds, some blatantly disrespectful and filthy mouthed, they will begin to mimic what they see. It doesn't take long to see those results.

    Third - here is a scripture that I believe Christians ignore in regard to public school:

    2 Corinthians 6:14-17
    "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? ....Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord."

    At one time, public education was rooted in Biblical principals; today it is rooted in Gov't agenda. Therefore, the children are sitting under teachers, who by law, are subjecting the kids to whatever the gov't says they need to teach. Even Christian teachers have no choice. They have to teach evolution, sex ed (homosexuality as young as kindergarten), and many other lies.
    Jesus walked among unbelievers and ministered to them, but he didn't sit under their teaching. It is one thing for us to minister to the lost; it is quite another to sit under their teaching.

    These are just some thoughts. I'm not condemning your decision, just giving another side to this very controversial subject. I think many parents struggle with this decision because God may be calling them to NOT put their kids there, yet, it requires sacrifice, so they do anyway.
    We all have our areas of compromise and struggles; this is just one of them.

    And, let me say, as a homeschooling mom for 18 years, I have pulled my kids away from many homeschooled kids, for lack of moral conscience too, so the only magic formula is exactly what you said - God and the parents, working in the kids.


  9. Well said, Jen. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I am not a dork!

    Jim Maloney (Jennifer's Dad)

  11. Excellent- well balanced- biblical approach to the options. Re-shared this all over!

  12. Thank you for your thoughts. I'm wondering, if it were affordable for your family, would you have considered private school more seriously?

  13. Hi Sarah, that's a good question. I really don't know. My mother taught both public and private (faith-based)school, so my perception of private school is probably heavily shaped by her experiences there. I guess there's a cost-to-benefit relationship to nail down. And I think you have to ask what you want from private school that you don't think you'll find in public school. The things we wanted (academics, diversity) were present in public school. I do not doubt that many private schools have better academics than our public schools, but not all do. I know Christian parents who choose Christian private school for reasons other than academics. I don't think we would have considered private school for reasons other than exceptional academic programming, but I can't say for sure.

    1. I appreciate that answer because, sure, if the local public schools were known for having very poor academic programs it would make sense. What can be a discouragement at times is when families choose private (Christian) schools simply because they want their kids to hear Christian worldview teached and have Christian friends, both aren't necessary or promised.

      My husband "learned to be bad" at a Christian private school. A lot of kids weren't believers and the teachers preached moralism. And above all, we know as parents it's OUR responsibility to pass on our faith to the next generation God has given us. As well, we already have the church and our home preparing a Christian worldview, and school becomes the only place for steady (more than an hour of soccer per week) missional living.

      Thanks again :)

  14. Jen, this is such an excellent post, and it has been lingering in my mind since you posted it. Thank you for walking through all your options and the thinking behind each one. I grew up in and taught in a Christian school, currently supervise homeschool families, and we send our daughter to a public school. We've been accused of "sacrificing our daughter for the sake of evangelism" as well as ignoring the call of God for parents. It's not easy to choose what schooling option is best and we only do it through prayerful consideration. I greatly appreciate your encouragement and example! (Not just in this post but in your whole blog! Wish we were close enough to Texas to be in one of your Bible Studies!)

  15. Thank you for posting an informative and concise explanation of your family's choice. Do you know of any blogs (or do you have further posts that I haven't found) that have great ideas for doing public school well? Ideas for talks to have as you send your kids to school each year, ways to pray for teachers... I don't really know many ideas, but I would love to have someone to get good ideas from... Thanks!

  16. Hi Amy,

    I don't know of any blogs, but Tim Kimmel writes on this topic a bit. Here is one article I liked: http://bit.ly/qBqB3G

    His book "Grace-based Parenting" gives a good perspective on raising children without fear as our motivator. I loved it.

  17. So glad I've found your blog, Jen! I especially loved reading this post, as I've been answering a lot of questions lately about why we have chosen public education for our family. I appreciated how your explained your choice, without condemning others'.

  18. I appreciated this very much...and will direct others here as they consider public education. We've chosen a mix of homeschool and classroom setting for a variety of reasons, but each year we ask God..."Where do you want our crew next year?"

    A while back I shared "25 Questions to Ask About School Options" when considering educational options...we pretty much go through the list each year.


  19. I agree with some of the other posts. Ultimately, your decision as to what you will do about your child's schooling is up to you and how God leads you. However, as a parent of a child who was once in public school and is now homeschooled, I wish to issue this challenge to anyone considering public or private school. Are you prepared to be active and engaged at your child's school? If the answer is no, my opinion is that there is a great deal of risk involved with that. Being involved in my son's school and seeing the day-to-day issues as well as what he was being exposed to were all factors in our decision. I could have chosen to become more involved, joined the PTO, talked to the board, etc. but I felt God was instead leading us to homeschool. The point is--you cannot, and should not ever, assume all is okay. Today's sex education is _graphic_. You have to be responsible for what your kids are being taught. Also, I completely and totally disagree with calling public school missional. For you and your husband, YES, absolutely. For your children, that is just not correct. We are admonished to raise our children in the fear of the Lord not so we can send them to be witnesses now, although that may happen. We are admonished to do so in order that they might learn (meaning learn over the course of years and years) what it means to walk with God. Anyone sending their kid at age five to school thinking their child is going to be "light" is missing the Scriptural calling to make teaching our kids about God a lifestyle. They are not ready to be the apostle Paul at age five, nor should we expect that at all. Our job is to protect, to guide, and to teach. We have to be completely vigilant at all times. It is OUR responsibility--not the school's or our church's--to teach our kids how to walk with God and to choose what is good and right.

    1. Hi Emily, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with what you have said. I read back through the post (it's been awhile since I wrote it) because I wanted to see where I had called public school "missional". I guess you took that from my comment that my kids have had opportunities to dialogue with friends about their faith? If you took this to mean that we had urged our children to go witness to their kindergarten classes, let me assure you we did not. What it meant was that my children were exposed to other belief systems at an early age and had conversations with friends about that. We did not send our kids to school proselytize - we sent them to study and to make friends. Now that they are in high school, they do have opportunities to share their faith (as we would hope), but they do so with a level of respect for other peoples' beliefs that I would say comes from early exposure to and friendships with kids from many backgrounds. I'm so glad to hear that you take your child's education seriously. I hope many parents will do the same.