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Friday, February 10, 2012

I am going there...

“I don’t want to step on anyone’s beliefs, but well, here we go.” --Bryan Regan (comedian).

Truthfully, that is not my intent at all. My hope is to perhaps put something out there that can be encouraging for anyone who is struggling with feeling good about their children’s education.

Let me start by stating that I have many friends/acquaintances who home school. Over the past few years, I have experienced some insecurity surrounding our choice for our children’s education. Most of this insecurity stems from rubbing up against people who have been convicted to homeschool. When Don and I moved to Wilmore three years ago, many of the friends we made were homeschooling their children, or decided to do so while we were there. Seeing the home school phenomenon bloom around the country has caused me to take a closer look at my childrens’ education--which is a good thing.

Don and I have talked about this at length. I really appreciate Don’s perspective, which I will share more with you throughout this post.

Some background: I was raised in one of the worst education systems-- French schools in Nantes, France. Teachers threw chalk, used physical punishment, pulled students’ ears for making mistakes, occasionally refused to let children go to the bathroom (with results including soiling and/or wetting clothing). They also degraded pupils verbally in front of other children, ranked students according to grades, and even seated us in order of our averages sometimes. Tests were occasionally handed out in order of lowest to highest (or vice versa). They felt free to insult children, and intimidate them.

Most children repeated one grade in elementary school. Many repeated two grades. By the time they reached middle school, many children were one or two years older than the ones who made it through without any failures. When I was in the seventh grade, half of my classmates failed to pass into the eighth grade (incidentally, bathrooms were often filled with cigarette smoke in middle school, because students would smoke in the stalls. Gotta love the French).

How did I survive do you ask?

Number one: GOD.

Number two: MOM and DAD and a healthy godly home.

Number three: I did OK academically. So it didn’t kill me to be seated in order of rank, you see? I remember one time being ninth out of twenty something. At least I made it in the top half, I thought.

Now: not everything about French school was bad. Teachers did teach, and children did learn. I don’t remember goofing around much. I would say that many of the teachers I had did seem to like teaching and children. By the eighth grade children were learning two foreign languages at the same time.

Everything was taken seriously: art, music, and PE included. It was difficult, but being challenged in school is a good thing.

I think that most of us parents tend to fall back on our own experiences when trying to raise their own children. Is this true for you? Do you find yourself trying to remember what you did when you were a certain age, or how your parents handled certain difficult situations? It’s natural to learn from our past. There are two tendencies that we have in parenting: one is to try to duplicate the good parts of our childhood, and two is to try NOT to duplicate the bad parts. However, sometimes, the things that we remember as good might not necessarily be the best thing for our children, and the things that we remember as bad might not necessarily be bad for our children. I trust my readers to assume certain disclaimers including very obviously bad or good things. I’m talking about gray areas here.

In our parenting, some of us tend to overcompensate for bad memories, or try too hard to relive the past. As an example of this, I think that some of us think that since we had a bad public school experience, we must therefore protect our children from public schools.

Another phenomenon that I observe in our generation of parents is a desire to protect our children from more than just public schools. We even pray that habitually. “Lord, protect our children.” I do it too. But do we pray for them to be brave? Do we pray for God to use them as salt and light in His kingdom?

Incidentally, most the things we try to protect our children from are not necessarily what Jesus would want to protect them from. Do we try to protect their minds from bad movies or from becoming too popular among their peers? Most often, I find myself wanting to protect them from being left out, or from getting their feelings hurt, or from failure.

Last month, I watched a documentary entitled “Waiting for Superman”. It was an interesting film about certain public schools in very populated areas, inner city mostly. It definitely did not make the public school system in America look good. Some teachers who have tenure should not be teachers at all and the schools cannot get rid of them. Because of the no child left behind stuff, there is an excessive amount of testing going on. Teachers feel pressure to teach to a whole new set of standards, and much of the fun of learning is lost. Some classes were videotaped in which nothing was going on in the classroom. Literally, the teacher just sat around, I guess. The teachers’ unions have paralyzed the board of education in the DC area. They have prevented them from getting rid of bad tenured teachers.

By the time they reach middle school, many students are placed in a certain “track”. In other words, there is a track for students with higher grades and test scores, and then there is another track for children with lower grades and test scores. The children who have lower test scores tend to be placed in classes where the learning progresses at a slower pace, and so they fall behind. And there are even more criticisms that we can list against public schools. Gangs, peer pressure and abuse, lack of challenges, etc…

OK, so let me turn the tables a little bit on you. Here is why, for the present time, Don and I have agreed to send our children to public schools:

I like the structure of school. I like that our children leave the house, and that when they return home, they are not at school anymore. It is over. Yes they might have homework, but they have left the workplace, per se. I like that they are being exposed socially. I like that they are exposed to a variety of teachers, different teaching styles, different sets of knowledge, teachers with different strengths and weaknesses. I actually appreciate the education they are getting. I am learning (and/or relearning) a lot of things myself. I like that they see a lot of life. I like that they have to learn how to navigate many different social situations.

Personally, I feel that this is a good scenario for my own relationship with my children, particularly my oldest child. We butt heads a lot, and I feel that it is healthy for us to be apart sometimes.

We have been blessed with excellent teachers. If Jon David and Luke had not been to public schools up to this point, they would have missed out on some high quality educators. I have a lot of respect for them. They work very hard every day, and have taught more to my children than I can think of or list.

The older my kids get, the more we have to work through heart breaks--kids being mean; teachers perhaps not acting fair; Jon David and Luke not liking school on some days; getting bored; too much homework sometimes. When bad days come, this is when I doubt myself. Don reminds me of something that I think is a huge key to feeling peaceful about parenting, and really life in general: we are not here to make our children’s lives easy. We are not even here to make them happy. I might even go so far as to say that our number one goal as parents is not to protect our children.

Our goal is to help them to be good, godly, and walk in God’s path for them. Our goal is to help them press into God when they suffer. I can hardly even stand to type that sentence, because I don’t want them so suffer!! Sometimes Don reminds me of how hard I had it, and how I turned out fine. But I don’t want them to get their feelings hurt! Don is right, though: I can’t protect them from that.

I feel like I need to interject here that we are in a good school zone. This makes a huge difference for sure. We are also blessed with very good teachers. And I understand that every single family is different, and there are many different GOOD ways to educated children. There plenty of situations where homeschooling is truly better for a child than structured school of any kind. Again, please hear disclaimer, disclaimer.

I just feel like there are a lot of support groups out there for homeschoolers, but not a lot of voices saying “I’m glad my children go to public schools.”

I like the independence and responsibility that children must develop when they attend public schools. I like the prayer club that Jon David participates in. I like that Jon David has had the opportunity to stand up to a bully. I like their musical programs. I like that Luke has to do sit ups every day. I liked the mother’s day tea that I had when Jon David was in the first grade. I like field trips, field days, etc…

Is it bad for children to be bored? To learn how to deal with being bored? To be subjected to a set of rules that they don’t like?

Finally, it is my hope that by sending my children to public schools, I am giving them opportunities to shine Jesus’ light in a dark world. Jon David has had the chance to talk to a child who does not believe it God; he has had the chance to rescue someone who was being picked on. I believe that going to public schools gives them a chance to put their faith into practice, and to reach out to others. Are they too young to carry the light of Christ into the world? No. They are not. Children are strong on the inside. God made them that way.

Again: please read appropriate disclaimers into this: public school is NOT for everyone, and hey, there might come a day when I pull my children out. If something serious happens, or if they are truly being threatened, then I will not hesitate.

I’m just talking in general terms, about regular situations and better than average public schools.

I appreciate the chance to be away from my children, and then to come back together and hear about their day.

Whatever the choice is for our children’s education, I think that we all occasionally need to be reminded that most importantly, they are God’s children, and we have to let go of them. God has a specific plan for each of our children. And if we hold on too tightly, we risk not allowing them to carry out that plan. His plan is the best thing that we can possibly imagine for them… although it might be difficult to watch sometimes. God is the best teacher that they could ever have, and I don’t want to withhold them from Him.

Since I am a teacher by profession (well, technically, my certificate has expired now lol), I can be very critical of other teachers. It is good for me to have an opportunity to trust others, to humble myself and allow others to grab the wheel. I struggle with wanting to be in control of all areas of my life. So this is just one way that I can practice letting someone else have control of some of my most prized possessions.

At the end of the day, life consists of giving up our own will in order to let God steer the boat. I hope to teach my children that as well.

Perhaps this has been helpful to someone out there. I hope so.


  1. Great post, Anna. We are planning to put our kids in public school for many of the reasons you've outlined. I especially loved the thought "what are we protecting our kids from?" Good stuff! Thanks for articulating this in such a loving way.

  2. I appreciate your "going there," Anna. With our girls just learning to sleep through the night and hold their heads up, I haven't thought much about academics lately. I have a strong desire to homeschool... but I'll remember your loving reasoning when I think about public school, especially if our kids ever do attend one. I'm sure grateful that you, Daniel, David, & Sarah were at Central High: lights in (often) dark places. Your little guys are salt & light.

  3. Great post Anna, the line about children being strong inside, God made them that

  4. Loved reading this Anna. Even though we are still a few years away, Rusty and I have already started discussing our options for public vs homeschooling. We too happen to be in a good school district, and we are definitely leaning toward public schools for many of the reasons you outlined above. Thanks for putting this out there!



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