Months before we got married and years before we became parents, my husband and I sat down and discussed where we would send our hypothetical children to school.
OK, technically, I sat my husband down and fired a series of questions at him from a “before you get married” book I was reading. Being a generally easy going guy and also being highly, adorably interested in marrying me (bless him), my groom-to-be went along with it.
We decided in that conversation that our kids would go to public school. We were both Christians raised in Christian families, and we had both been public-schooled. But we did not choose public schooling for our children based on tradition—we chose it based on intention.
We did not choose it by default, but by decision.
We did not choose it because we couldn’t or wouldn’t make the sacrifice to send them somewhere else but because we felt led not to send them somewhere else.
No one type of education is right for every family, Christian or otherwise. There’s no one right way to raise kids, and because of that, parenting is a constant series of choices.
In between figuring out who to see for prenatal care for our babies and where (or if) we should send those babies to college, hundreds of decisions lie in wait. And we want to get those decisions right, for the sake of the kids we love so much.
But “right” for one child or one family or one season often looks radically different from “right” for another family or another time.
My husband and I wanted our kids to regularly spend time in a place where they could build on the foundation of faith we would lay for them in our home and at church. We wanted their faith to be tested and tried and challenged and refined—and to come out stronger than it was when they went in.
We wanted them to be around kids who did not believe what they did, so that they might clarify what they believed. We wanted them to learn, gradually and carefully, how to live in the world but not be “of” it (John 17:14–18).
We did not, as some have suggested, send our children to public school to be missionaries.
We sent them to public school to be students and friends—guided by the greatest Teacher and Friend, who regularly spent a lot of time in close contact with “the public.”
Now, we’re all the way through thirteen years of public schooling with both our children. Our older daughter just graduated from a Christian university, and our younger daughter is headed to one this fall.
Both are excellent students, well-prepared for futures they are excited about. Both have deep and intentional personal relationships with God through saving faith in Jesus. I look at them and know without a doubt that if my husband and I were making that school decision all over again, we’d still make the same one.
Back then, we heard and read many horror stories about Christian kids in public schools. We were warned that if our children wanted to write about Jesus for an essay assignment on “my hero,” for instance, they’d be forbidden to do it.
We were cautioned they wouldn’t be able to pray at school or even mention God (except to take his name in vain, of course—that would be fine). But these scenarios were never our reality.
On the contrary, just a few weeks ago at my younger daughter’s public high school commencement ceremony, my daughter’s Christian friend and fellow salutatorian gave a speech telling her friends and classmates how much she loves Jesus, how much he loves them, and why they should pursue him.
Her speech, like all the others, had been submitted ahead of time to the high school principal—and approved.
Along the way in public school our children had many Christian educators, including their mutual third-grade teacher who addressed the first instance of “oh my God” in her class each year with a stern directive: “God is very important to me and to many other people, and you will not use his name that way in my classroom.”
They had friends who shared their faith and many more who did not. They prayed around flagpoles. They gathered outside the school cafeteria for weekly student-initiated/student-led prayer groups.
In public school, our children learned math and science and English and history. But there they also learned to initiate the faith they once imitated. They learned to pray when they were not prompted. They learned to trust God when they were tested.
Could they have learned these lessons in some other educational setting? Of course!
But the fact is that my students learned them in a public school setting. And while I’ve never doubted this was the right place for our children in our family and in our community, any doubts I might have had would have been erased by a single conversation I had with my younger daughter.
She had a teacher who let his students listen to music (via headphones) while they were doing daily work. My daughter always listened to Christian music. She told me that for a while, she’d sensed God telling her he wanted her to be bolder in her faith in school and that she felt he had given her a test.
Three times, when other students had noticed her listening to music, they’d asked what kind of music she liked. The first time, she hedged and said, “all different kinds.”
The second time she was asked, she named a popular secular artist whose music she did actually like but did not, in fact, often listen to.
The third time (God often works in threes), she answered honestly, naming a Christian artist who was one of her favorites. She told me she felt like she’d passed a test. And then she said, “Thank you for putting me in public school, because if you hadn’t, I don’t think I would have learned to be bolder about sharing my faith.”
And then there was the moment four years ago when my older daughter walked across the stage at her public high school graduation, her mortarboard decorated with the words of Proverbs 31:25, “She is clothed with strength and dignity.”
I watched her and thought, “Yes. That’s absolutely what she’s clothed with. And she put on some of those clothes right here.”
Which told me that for her and for our family, it was exactly the right place to be.
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