Well, it’s back to school week! We had our meet the teacher day today, and we’ll jump into a FULL day on Friday!! Katie Beth is beyond excited and ready for the year to begin. In honor of school starting, I thought I’d share my thoughts on a hotly debated topic.
I’ve wanted to write this post forever, but it’s hard to figure out how to word it. Homeschooling vs. Public School is such a touchy topic in our culture these days. I read SO MANY blog posts – especially in adoption circles – of people that tell why they are homeschooling and share their passion for it. I think it’s great that these moms have a calling from the Lord and the courage to obey.
The only thing that bothers me in some of these posts are the varying themes of how horrible public schools are, homeschooling is the only option if you are REALLY a Christian mom or want REAL Christian kids, if you REALLY love your kids and want to spend time with them you’ll homeschool, if you’re not a lazy mom you’ll homeschool, etc, etc, etc. Those aren’t verbatum quoted messages, but they are kind of an underlying tone of many of the pro homeschool posts. I think most homeschool moms don’t intend for that to happen, but I’ve talked with LOTS of public school moms who get that message. I don’t understand why it seems to be okay to put down public schools when pointing out the positives of homeschooling. When reading someone’s “Why I Homeschool” post, I occasionally think I’m supposed to feel that I’m an “inferior” mom after I get finished. I know that’s not what ANY of those moms intend (I hope). I do believe that 95% of them are just so passionate about what they are doing that they would like everyone to grasp hold of it. Or they want to encourage those wannabe homeschool moms that think they can’t do it to show that they really can. And I totally get that.
But somewhere in there, I’d like to speak up for public schooling. I have some good, solid reasons about why we are NOT homeschooling – some will agree with them and others will not – but I feel like moms who are choosing to do public school should have the encouragement that it can be a great choice for your kids. You don’t HAVE to homeschool to be a great mom or to have kids with a strong faith. In fact, there are lots of benefits in sending your kids to public schools. So, I’d like to try to share those reasons for those that may feel a little guilty for not homeschooling. But my intention is NOT to bash homeschooling either.
All this is my little intro to say that I’m just giving another perspective. I have MANY close friends who are also wonderful mothers who homeschool. I have seen successful homeschool situations produce some effective and insanely wonderful Christian leaders in our society. So please don’t think I’m against homeschooling. I’m not. But I do want to share the pros of public schools. So, here they are, the reasons we DON’T homeschool:
1) I grew up in public schools, and Jason grew up in a Christian private school. I didn’t stay on the “straight and narrow” during high school, but that had much less to do with my peers than it did with my lack of a strong early Christian foundation. As for Jason’s history, he has a very clean testimony, but it didn’t mean all the kids at his “Christian” school did. He in fact didn’t get saved until he was 17, and he was in Christian school and church all his life! I’ve taught high school girls for almost 15 years and have seen many homeschooled kids come through. Some have great stories from their high school years, others not so much. Jason and I believe that bringing up a strong Christian kid comes much more from the type of discipline and grace you receive at home than it does the environment you’re around during the day. Children get their idea of who God is from their parents. A kid who wants to rebel and look for trouble is going to find a way to do it – keeping them in the home and not exposing them to the world around them won’t prevent that – whether it comes now or later. If the child is homeschooled all the way through high school, and I’ve heard of some even doing college at home, at some point, no matter how long you delay it, they will still enter “the real world” and encounter the darkness of the world!
2) Jason and I both taught in public schools. We have 5 public schools and 11 years of teaching experience between us. Not to mention that we are still enmeshed with a wide range of kids on a regular basis. Jason is a children’s pastor, and I still work with youth. We see a LOT of kids.
I know one argument against public schools is that there is so much “wasted” time. Why send your kids off for 7 hours a day when you can get the work accomplished in 4- 5 hours at home without the homework? I agree that this is correct – school does take longer than homeschool. But those extra 3 hours aren’t just sitting around doing nothing. Yes it would take me longer to do my lessons as a teacher of 30 kids than it would if I was teaching 1 child (or 5!). But, a lot of the “extra” time involves some serious life lessons. It’s time spent with other kids who MIGHT NOT be just like my kid. They may have vastly different backgrounds, vocabularies, and (gasp!) they might not even go to church. That’s okay!! Kids have to learn how to work with people who are NOT like them and who DON’T share the same beliefs as they do. I know when I went off to do my first jobs, it was not with people who were all white Republican Christians with godly language and godly lifestyles. Some of them I downright didn’t like, but I knew how to work with them because I’d had 13 years of public school to figure out how to deal with those that are different from me BEFORE I entered the real world. The “extra” and sometimes called “wasted” time spent at school is not wasted. It’s time where kids learn how to cope in a world FULL of people that are different from them.
Katie Beth is going into 2nd grade. She’s had kids in her class already who have very different home lives from her. She doesn’t see all of that yet, but she does see that they “act different” in class sometimes. But I would not trade in a second her coming home and talking to me about those differences that she sees and the amazing conversations we have about how we as Christians are called to stand out and be different. Some on the homeschooling side argue that Kindergartners to 4th or 5th grade is too young to be salt and light. But, Katie Beth is not having to be salt and light to drug dealers and gang bangers who party and drink it up in their parents’ basement in 1st and 2nd grade. Her big differences now may be some different words or seeing that someone’s home life is different from hers or a child who hasn’t learned the same manners or values about how to treat one another. I’m okay with her being exposed to that in an age appropriate dosage. I pray regularly for her mind and heart to be protected from the things she isn’t ready to hear.
I really want her to see the difference now in what our family is called to vs. other families. I want to have those discussions bit by bit. And discussions where you TELL your child what other families and kids are like vs. them actually SEEING and EXPERIENCING it for themselves are very different. I feel like those lessons are learned at an age appropriate time through an age appropriate schedule as they go through school.
3) For the above reasons, I know many parents who homeschool early elementary years and then put their kids in public schools by middle or high school. When I taught in Ft. Worth, I spent two years at the middle school right by the seminary. Parents were moving to the area and were often forced to send their homeschooled children to public schools in order to work to pay for seminary, etc. During my first year at this school, I got a formerly homeschooled kid in my class mid semester. That poor kid. Not only was he in public school, but he was in a low income, 98% Hispanic school with known gang activity, and a lot of students with English as their second language. Talk about some culture shock. I don’t think he talked for a good month. But the thing that made me physically hurt for him was that he was even behind those lower income ESL students academically. His mom had been homeschooling him for seven years yet he was not up to par academically. Now he could read and write, but he wasn’t accustomed to the school’s format of test taking, he wasn’t taught the same ways to comprehend reading – maybe from a different curriculum or something – I don’t know. But he didn’t get it and was one of my lowest students all year. And that was just one student. I taught 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grades, and over and over I saw kids who came in who just weren’t where they should be academically due to homeschooling. The gaps aren’t that big in 1st grade or 3rd grade. But by middle and high school, the differences can be seen more clearly. I know this isn’t with all kids, but I’m just saying I saw it A LOT. And it can be overcome, but I think it can often be really hard on the kids.
I think the reason for this is sometimes people aren’t born to be teachers. God gives everyone different gifts, and I do believe teaching is a gift. Some homeschool parents I have talked to, when I really listen, seem to be making the homeschool decision based upon fear. Fear of the culture at public schools, fear of what their kids will encounter, fear of their kids “leaving them”, and often the fear of not knowing what to do with themselves when their kids are out of the house. (BTW, God alone is to be feared Ps 76:7, Lk 1:50, and God tells us MANY MANY times not to give into fear Is 41:10, Is 41:13, 1 Pt 3:6, 1 Jn 4:18, and we are called to not have a spirit of fear Rom 8:15) – more on that in the next point. But, someone who is not gifted to teach and who doesn’t know or have the passion for a subject matter is not necessarily the best person to teach. All that to say, the decision to homeschool (or do anything) based solely on FEAR of any kind is wrong.
I LOVE to teach. I went to school to learn to teach. And I love reading and writing. So that’s what I taught primarily. But sometimes I had to teach Science. And I hate Science. I really hate teaching science. I did not teach science with the passion I should have. So every year but one, we traded classes, and I taught all of the reading, writing and social studies while another co-teacher who had the knowledge base and passion for science taught it. It worked out great!
There are amazing, gifted teachers in our public school systems that work their rear ends off to not only teach the necessary knowledge but to give our kids passion for that subject matter or material! Are all teachers passionate? No. But if you are blessed enough to live in an area with a great school district and great teachers, why would you trade that? I’m not going to home-doctor or home-dentist because I’m not experienced in those areas. And I honestly believe that teaching is a similar profession. Now some moms thrive at teaching their kids. I’m not saying you have to have a teaching degree to teach. I’ve seen MANY non-teachers blossom into creative and gifted teachers when they are called to homeschool. But I’ve seen lots and lots of moms who weren’t gifted teachers. I’ve seen “homeschooled” kids who spent a lot of time doing anything at home BUT learning. And their kids suffered! Homeschooling is a LOT of work, and I think successful homeschool moms have to work really hard to do it right. It’s totally doable, but I wish more potential homeschool moms knew how much work it’ll be going into it and were committed and prepared for that. I know moms that hook up with other moms to plan and work on curriculum years before they even start homeschooling – that’s great! Get ideas from other moms and teachers. And just be ready to work hard at it and give it your all if it’s something you commit to!
4) And now onto fear. Sending your kid to school is SCARY!!!! Do you think I didn’t flip a little when Katie Beth headed to Kindergarten? Oh yeah I did. She was my baby! She still is! As committed as I’ve ALWAYS been to public schooling and as passionate as I am about it, I even had some moments where I considered homeschooling, but I knew for me it would be a fear based decision and not what was best for her. But it was still so hard to send her!!
Her first day that I didn’t walk her in and had to drop her off in the carpool lane? CRAZY! Could she get all the way to the door? What if she fell and nobody saw her? What if someone grabbed her? I let her get out and then whipped down the carpool lane and then into and back up across the parking lot so that I could watch and make sure she got in. And then I put my head on my steering wheel and cried. And prayed. And read here about one of our first days of school and what I thought about it. It’s not easy! But, I know in my heart of hearts of hearts that it’s right for her. I see all the ways she’s grown, and I’m so glad I didn’t let my fears deprive her of those things.
I just read this paragraph in Grace Based Parenting and thought it fit: “Speaking of fears, if your child attends the public school system, a grace-based family makes it easier for him or her to succeed because you aren’t intimidated by the inherent shortcomings inside the public school system. And if you aren’t afraid of what’s out there, it’s a lot easier for your children to thrive spiritually inside the antagonistic environment they might encounter at school.”
5) Some of my favorite verses since high school have been Philippians 2:4-6, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” As Christians we are to SHINE like stars in a dark world. If my kids are with Christian kids all day long – within our family or within a homeschool co-op or at homeschool activities or at church – they’re with a lot of other stars! I want my kids to shine in the DARK! Stars don’t shine when the sun is out, where it’s light. And we really believe they have to learn to shine a little bit at a time in a little bit of dark at a time. I don’t want to throw them into the dark once they are 12 or 15 or 18 if they’ve never experienced much dark. I want them to grow their light gradually as the dark around them grows.
And this quote says it best about what we believe (from this Focus on the Family article about Dr. Kimmel, author of Grace Based Parenting):
“Dr. Kimmel believes today’s postmodern society has caused Christian parents to allow their fears of losing their children to the world to define how they raise their kids.
“Many families see how corrupted the culture is, how evil Satan is and how fragile the kids are,” he explains. “That’s when your fears define your strategy. But it is a bankrupt plan: it’s a contradiction to everything we say we believe. If we are followers of Jesus Christ, we should be the last people afraid of just about anything!”
He says Christian parents are “scared to death” of public arenas like Hollywood and the Internet and he believes the detrimental message this fear sends to kids is that God is not big enough to protect them.
His alternative? Raise kids in the midst of the world, instead of teaching them to fear it. The most important way children learn to exercise grace with those around them is to see their parents do it with confidence that the Lord will follow through.
“Your actions should say, ‘We love our unbelieving friends,’ ” Dr. Kimmel prescribes. “When kids are younger, we protect them more. But as they grow, we need to bring them up to speed and trust that ‘the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’ (1 John 4:4). We want to raise our kids to glow in the dark and show people how to love others and be gracious.”
6) I think homeschooling should be a kid-based decision not based on what the parent wants. What is best for YOUR KID? I have one friend who sent her oldest son to school for K and 1st grade. He just wasn’t succeeding for various reasons. So she pulled him out to home school, and he’s thriving – he loves homeschooling. But she has a second child coming up, and she’s sending her to school this next year. She’s sending her because she’s social and loves that interaction with other kids. And she says that she’ll decide year by year, kid by kid, dependent on the school district they are in, whether or not she will homeschool, and which kids she will homeschool. I think this is really wise.
For our kids, Katie Beth is very social and loves the interactions at school with friends and other adults who pour into her. She LOVES it and has just blossomed more into herself these two years. She also is semi-strong willed and doesn’t always give a flip what I have to say. She and I working together at home on WORK wouldn’t be a good combination. So often she’ll come home to do the dishes or take care of something I’ve worked on her about for years because “my teacher said it was a great idea”. I love that. It just sometimes means something coming from someone else they respect. And Katie Beth has had two amazing godly teachers so far that she ADORES! What blessings!
Everett however is the opposite. He’s not quite as social and really doesn’t love the idea of school. He could stay home all day, everyday, if it was up to him (playing Wii for sure). For that reason, he NEEDS school too. School (right now just pre-k) helps him come out of his shell and gain confidence in lots of areas. Nolan appears to be like Katie Beth so far.
Would I go so far to say that I will NEVER homeschool? No. There could be a point in one of our five children’s lives at some time where they aren’t succeeding at school and need to be home for a period of time. I really am open to that and pray about each upcoming school year as it comes. I don’t think anyone should make any blanket statements regarding, well… anything. Anything that involves an “I’ll ALWAYS” or “I’ll NEVER”, well just watch out is all I’ve learned on those types of statements. If you believe it, I once actually said, “I’ll NEVER go to Africa. I just don’t want to. I’ll go anywhere else but not there.” And I meant it. Three months later? We were on a plane to Africa for a mission trip. And look at us now adopting from Africa with a passion to help the many poor there. Yeah, I don’t use “I’ll never” statements anymore and try to guard against those attitudes in my spirit.
I could seriously list a thousand more reasons why we believe in public schooling. But this post is long enough already. For us, and granted we’re only two years into public schooling, we have made it work in our family. There are things we give up to make it work – we don’t do a lot of weeknight activities during the school year. Jason tries to go in early and get home earlier so that we can have a good 4-5 hours of family time each night. If one kid is playing sports, we all go to the practices so we’re together. We don’t watch much TV. We don’t do a lot of date nights, by choice – many of our date nights happen when we put the kids down a little early at 7:30ish. We watch a movie, have a special dinner, play games, whatever. We have our times out, but we don’t do once a week. We don’t let the kids do a lot of weekend days at friends’ houses. Everett and Nolan go to pre-K at church, and so on MWF, they don’t do a lot of play dates because they have their social interaction on TR. I want to have them on the other days. Jason and I don’t go to a lot of weeknight things like Bible studies or evening workouts. During the school year I often clean Katie Beth’s room for her so she doesn’t have to spend time when she’s home doing that. I help her with homework and if we’ve had a crazy night, and she’s done mentally I’ll send a note saying we didn’t get it done. I’m involved with the school as much as I can be – that’s hard with other little ones at home. But I wouldn’t hesitate for a SECOND to talk to a teacher about something I didn’t feel was appropriate for our kids that happened in the classroom. And if talks with the teacher didn’t work, I wouldn’t feel bad about talking to the principal (please don’t ever go to a principal until you’ve tried to work it out with the teacher!!!). We do have Bible verses we work on at home to memorize. We talk about the scriptures and ways to apply it to our lives at opportune times throughout the days. I really try to focus summers on teaching and expanding what they are learning at school and church. We aren’t as consistent with formal family devotionals as we could be, but we have lots of informal ones. I’m okay with that – I think it SHOULD come naturally. I allow school friends to come here, but I wouldn’t let Katie Beth go to someone’s house with whom I wasn’t completely comfortable. I depend and network with other parents I trust in Katie Beth’s peer group to determine what activities are ok or not. As our kids get older, I PRAY these parents will not hesitate to help parent my kids with my commitment to do the same for theirs. I think ABOVE ALL, going to school with kids that are involved in the same church is essential. We purposely chose schools that are closely involved with our church, which also has a strong growing youth group. I won’t back down on that because kids need accountability and as many friends as they can get that go to their church.
I know some people are called to homeschool because they are passionate about it and they have kids that have some special circumstances where they need to be homeschooled. I support many of my friends that are doing it. But, I think there are many valid reasons for public school too. I think there should be more mutual support between the two camps. Do what you’re called to do and recognize that others are called to do different things. Don’t judge if someone is not doing it “your way” or doing what you’re called to do. And let’s all be careful about how we voice our beliefs about our passions.
I’ve been really working on this verse this week – working on it permeating my heart – and my mouth. Proverbs 12:18 “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” I pray our words regarding our passions (homeschool vs public school, adoption, politics, stay at home vs working moms, etc) will bring healing and unity and not hurt and dissension.
****Add on comment from me:**** Can I just add that a sweet friend sent me a message shortly after writing this that made sure she had never offended me – oh please please believe me when I say that I’ve never been PERSONALLY offended by anyone regarding homeschooling. I’m really not an easily offended person. I even said in the above post that I felt like I was “supposed” to feel inferior about homeschooling. My sweet friend said she was glad for the reminder to have some sensitivity and to remember who she’s around when she’s talking about homeschooling. But, my friends’ homeschool talk doesn’t bother or offend me! I like the ideas sometimes and will use them! I like hearing how it’s going. It intrigues me when homeschooling is done well! So please, if you’re a homeschool friend of mine, don’t think you’ve offended me – I PROMISE you haven’t. Don’t not talk about homeschooling – I want to hear about your experiences! I really am just giving a voice to the “other side”!!!