Friday, May 18, 2012

Public schooling doesn't make me a bad parent!

Okay, I just have to address this, because, well, I do. I am hoping this doesn't come off as a terrible rant or offend people, but I feel like I need to be the voice for many a public schooling Christian parent.

 Public schooling doesn't make me a bad parent!

Just so we're clear, nobody has ever directly accused me of this, but there are undertones I hear in others' conversations; condescending tones, indirect jabs, sarcastic remarks, questioning of the morals of parents who subject their children to "the horrors of the secular world"... It gets old, and its hurtful. There. I said it.

I also need to point out that, prior to my son turning 5 and having to actually make tangible decisions about the schooling of my children, I, too, was on that bandwagon. The attitudes of the majority of Christians I knew was that homeschooling was the "right" - dare I say, the "godly" - thing to do, and public schooling was "wrong," and practically neglectful parenting. There was a clear notion that only "bad" or "lazy" parents who didn't really care about their kids' education and spiritual well-being public schooled their kids. And I bought it. I truly began to believe that I had to homeschool if I was a "good" Christian parent.

Then reality set in. Private Christian school is outrageously expensive and would've been a good half-hour drive each way from where we were living when my son started kindergarten (and we only live 5 minutes closer now).  I'm a stay-at-home mom, I could handle driving him back and forth, but that would take a lot of time out of my day.

Homeschooling, I then decided, was also out of the question.  Observing my son at preschool, I realized that he did better when he spent some time each day away from me, and likewise, I spent time away from him.  We both love each other immeasurably, but having our own time and space on a daily basis seemed to be very good for our mother-son relationship.  Another factor is that I am a very undisciplined person, and I run on a very "organic" schedule.  I worried that the lack of structure wouldn't produce a lot of "school time."  And, like private school, homeschooling costs money we just didn't have for the supplies and curriculum.  It just didn't seem like the right fit for us, either.

So what were we left with?  Public school.  I was wary at first, but I knew both the kindergarten teachers, so that helped.  Then I began to see my son blossom as a student.  He began to read and write, learn his addition, create art, enjoy music, make friends, and generally enjoy going to school.  And it was then that I knew we'd made the right choice.

I'm not going to pretend like public school is all sunshine and roses.  Its not.  We've had a number of situations arise throughout the years that we've had to deal with and been utterly unprepared for.  Curse words, lewd jokes and ditties he'd come home with, unkindness from peers, struggles with math, and a whole slew of other situations.  But you know, while most parents would look at those situations as purely bad things, I see the good in them.

Say what?!?

I see those instances as teaching moments.  When one of my kids come home with ditties or jokes with lewd innuendos (that they don't even catch, fortunately), I gently and appropriately explain what the content means (within reason), and explain how its offensive and inappropriate and should not be repeated.  In peer situations, we remind them that its okay to speak up, but to always do so in a kind manner.

In teachings that don't align with our beliefs, we explain what we do believe, how it differs, and why we believe what we believe and don't believe what we don't believe.  We do not, however, freak out about all the things "out there" that our kids are learning.  We don't believe in macroevolution (the "big bang" and all that), for example, but we don't make a scene about it.  We just explain what we believe, how it differs, why we believe it, and leave it at that.  We don't live in fear that what our children learn at school will taint their understanding of their world or their faith.  In fact, I believe that to fully understand what you do believe, you have to have a comprehension of what you don't believe.  So, I don't mind if they learn that the theory of evolution exists, as long as they understand that we believe in a Creator and not a "big bang."  And I think both my school-age kids have a pretty good grasp of that.

I am not opposed to homeschooling or private schooling, if that is what others believe is best for their own child(ren).  What I take issue with is the notion that every child should be schooled the same way, or that I'm a "less than" Christian parent because I choose to public school my kids.  Every parent has their own priorities when it comes to the education of their children, and I totally understand and respect that.

For me, school isn't about "churchin'."  Its about reading, writing, math, science, music, history, social sciences, peer relations, etc.  My kids get plenty of Christian teaching on Sunday mornings, and throughout our weekly discussions here at home.  For some parents, that's not enough, and that's fine.  But personally, I don't feel like my kids need to be immersed in Christian teachings 24/7 to excel in life or have a solid relationship with Christ.  In fact, I feel like the teaching moments that public school provides will make them more solid in their faith than kids that are immersed in it 24/7, because it makes them have to really dig deep and think through their beliefs, actions, and words regarding their faith.

So here is what it boils down to for me...

Before I even had kids, I always wanted to afford them the best education I was able to give them.  Around here, I truly believe that is through public school.  We're fortunate to live within the boundaries of one of the best school districts in the entire state, so for educational purposes, its a no-brainer for me.  While the idea of a Christian school is great, due to separation of church and state (which I do believe in, by the way), religious schools don't have to hire licensed, accredited teachers.  Now, I don't put all my stock in college degrees, licensure, and accreditation.  And I do believe there are some really lousy licensed teachers, and really incredible unlicensed, teachers out there.  But, right or wrong, I just can't accept that the quality of education at a private school with unlicensed teachers is going to be at the same educational level as our cream-of-the-crop local public school.  Right or wrong, that's how I feel.

Regardless of how you choose to school your kids, make sure you weigh all the options and make your choice for the right reasons.  I think its crucial that we go purely on what's educationally best for our kids, and not on fear or our own emotions.

I know a lot of parents who homeschool to "protect their kids from the outside world."  That's noble and everything, but I feel like that is a fear-based decision, and not an education-based one.  If you aren't equipped to give your child a homeschooling education better than a public or private school option, then I don't think you should homeschool.  If you don't know how to teach your child upper-level math or proper spelling, capitalization, sentence structure, and grammar, then leave it to someone who does know and can effectively teach your child to the highest standard you can provide them.

Likewise, if a private school can't provide the same quality of education as a public school or homeschooling, and you're just doing it so that your kid can get more "churchin'," then I question those motives, too.  I'm all for nurturing the budding faith of our kids, but I don't think the quality of their education should be compromised for it.

And if you live in an area with really crummy public education, then I urge you to consider alternatives such as homeschooling or private school.  Again, its not worth selling your kids short just to do what's cheaper and easier.

The bottom line is, I chose public schooling because I feel its best for my kids.  I am fulfilling the promise I made to them before they were even conceived that I would give them the best education I could possibly provide them.  And, for us, the best education comes in the form of public school.  So its hard for me to see public school-bashing posts on Facebook, or hear snooty comments here and there out in the Christian community that imply that us public schooling parents are "lazy" or "uncaring" about the education of our children.  I can't speak for every Christian public schooling parent, only for myself, but that is anything but the truth!

I will end this post much in the same way I end many of my parenting-related posts:  You do you, I'll do me. You parent how you see fit, and I'll parent how I see fit.  And let's leave it at that and not judge eachother for our different choices.

What about you?  What is your take on this issue?  Is this something you've witnessed or experienced as a parent?

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