Sunday, April 6, 2014

Some Reasons for Christians to Consider Sending Their Children to Public School

Let me begin with the caveat that I am deeply humbled by my own lack of wisdom and love. I don’t believe I should judge people for their parenting decisions, and I understand that each family and child are different. Personally, I believe I’ll send my children to public school, but even that may not happen.   

As I’ve had conversations with more educated, recent transplanted-to-Philly Christians about where they are sending their children, I’ve noticed that many are opting for private schools. Some are thinking that they can’t stay in the city long term because of the educational options. However, there a number of Biblical and educational reasons to consider sending your kid to our public and charter school.

The argument against sending your kid to a public school is obvious. The schools, you are told, are violent. The schools, you hear in the news, are under-performing. The schools, it is blogged, are staffed by incompetents. There is some truth in this, and there is a lot of ignorance as well. I taught at a middle and high school that was in the toughest neighborhood in the city, and I would not send my child there.  

At the same time, few of the transplanted Christians I'm speaking with live in those toughest of neighborhoods. The schools follow the neighborhoods. Also, most of us would be sending our kids to elementary schools, which are much safer. Meanwhile, the city offers a collection of special admit schools (middle and high schools that students apply to) and charter schools. These schools are excellent, and full of wonderful children from all over the city. For instance, the school I teach at, a public school, was second in the state on the most recent Keystone Assessment. All this is to say that public school is probably a much better educational option than you are aware of.

It has this added educational pay-off, that it teaches your kid things you can’t. Ah ha, you are saying, this is what I was worried about! I don’t believe that parents can control information from reaching their kids in this day and age. We have to teach them how to interpret it through the lens of faith. When I attended public high school in Philadelphia, I had to learn to speak for Jesus in an often hostile environment, and I lived the truth of his promise that he would give us the words we need we people oppose us and confront us. I look forward to my son learning that.

I also hope that my kids will be cosmopolitan. That they will learn how different people live, talk, and think. In an elementary school in Olney, I had Vietnamese, Pakistani, black, Chinese, and white friends. That same diversity is still in Philly public schools. My own parents are transplants to this city, but by sending me to its public schools, they made me into a true native son.

My parents also did a lot of my own education. They kept television  out of our house, and taught me to love reading instead. They talked about politics with me. It is possible for your child’s education to be much more than the schooling they receive. You are your kids most important teacher.

As Christians, we should be invested in our community. Particularly we are to be concerned about the situation of the least among us. Public schools are where the poorest send their kids. Teachers will tell you that good parents are their best ally. Good parents raise students of good character. You send your kid, raised with discipline and love, to a public school, you send a light out into the world. Your kid blesses his teacher, and his peers. You are forced to invest in the local public school now that your kid is there. This improves the school, and the better school in turn makes the neighborhood nicer, so it gives back to you.

As a public school teacher, whose work and livelihood is tied up with the School District of Philadelphia, I also hope that college-educated Philadelphians will care for the district, not just as a place where the poor send their kids, but where they send their own.

The American church was founded on the principal of separatism. A bunch of unhappy Christians left a church and world they were unhappy with so they could do Christianity the right way. The problem is, following Christ doesn’t mean avoiding people who don’t know him. It means engaging with them. It means loving them. American Christians, at our current worst, hide from the world. Then our children learn the same behavior. Often that backfires, because at some point parents don’t have enough control to create the walls anymore. I once heard a twenty year old say to his dad, “Dad, the thing you won’t admit is that the world is fun.” Better to have that conversation with your ten year old, than your twenty year old. Better to teach them to shine as lights in a dark world. (I should say that public school is not the only place where your kid can meet the world- there are a thousand ways to live this out.)

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