We were created in God’s image, created to be like Him and to reflect Him to others. Despite the fall, we still are called to be like Him and to reflect Him to others. It is the natural outworking of the gospel and all that Christ has reclaimed for us through the cross.
Eph. 4:32 – 5: 2 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us ….
The Bible gives some instructions specific to parents. Too often, we only think of Christian parenting using the language of those few verses. There are virtually no verses on being a good Christian sister, yet I feel well informed on how to love my sister because there is a larger context to Scripture. Whether it’s loving my sister or parenting my children, I am called to be an imitator of God who walks in love as Christ has loved us.
It is in that context, Christian parents as imitators of God or parenting our children the way God parents His, that I bring up the issue of schooling. Occasionally, I get asked my views and advice on the different educational options available to Christian parents. I must offer this disclaimer – my boys are FOUR and SIX! That means that while I do have 4 years of schooling under my belt, it was preschool and kindergarten. Though they have presented their fair share of emotional situations, I know good and well I have MUCH to learn. However, despite my lack of hard experience on the issue with my own kids, I still feel fairly confident in my core conviction on the issue of the education of our children (under the overarching principle of parenting my children the way God parents His).
Here is my core conviction. BE INVOLVED!
Between my husband and myself, we have attended homeschool, Christian school, and private secular school. I note that we have chosen for our children the only option we didn’t experience ourselves – public school. I think that is telling. If I’m not careful, it can just be reactionary. We’re not going to protect our children from the social pressures we faced in public school by sending them to Christian school. Nor are we going to protect them from the hypocritical Christians we met in Christian school by sending them to public school. You know what protects our children from the social pressures in public school and the hypocrites in Christian school? Parents who have a relationship with their kids who know what is going on in their kids’ schools and their kids’ lives.
Homeschooling can be a great way to be involved in our kids’ education and lives. Or it can be an isolating experience. It’s not the panacea either. And for the parent who is not gifted in educating children who does it out of guilt, it’s devastating for everyone involved.
Our family first chose a secular cooperative preschool in our neighborhood. When you sign on for a co-op, you sign up as a parent to be involved. It’s core to the entire philosophy. I was at a point mentally where I would have LOVED to drop off my oldest and walk away from the building. But I also knew that was my nature and that I needed the accountability to stay committed to my core philosophy of being involved. The result is that after 4 years with 2 kids there, I know my boys’ teachers, their friends, and their parents VERY WELL. I have remained the first discipler of my children even in their secular classroom setting.
Then, we chose our neighborhood elementary school, which is a 5 minute walk up the hill from our house. We chose this because of my core conviction of being involved. It helps that it is a classic elementary school that looks and feels like the ideal you hope for your children. However, because my 4 year old was still at the co-op preschool, I made a mental choice that I couldn’t yet be involved at the 6 year old’s elementary school. Next year, when they were both at the same school, I’d be able to be involved at the elementary school.
It’s funny how quickly my fundamental convictions were overwhelmed by my circumstances. Kindergarten in the public school started off reasonably well. But in January, things started falling apart. My son was having problems getting going in the morning. He was getting in just late enough in the mornings (my fault) to be behind with assignments the rest of the day (and don’t get me started on the ridiculous expectations of kindergartners in the Seattle public school system). But the final straw was that I got called twice in one week because another kid in my son’s class hit him. The kid is a classic bully, and my son is no shrinking wallflower. So the conflicts kept escalating, with my son ending up holding the icepack to his head or arm at the end.
Should I take him out of school?! Go half day? Try homeschooling (heart palpitations and sweat breaking out as I even consider it)? I set up a teacher/principal conference, but we all got sick and had to cancel. When we got well, I decided to walk my oldest to school and stay (with the 4 year old in tow) until I could figure out a better alternative. That was a few weeks ago. Now, most mornings of the week, the little one and I stay for 30 or 45 minutes, or however long I can. My oldest is notoriously slow and easily distracted. So I make sure he gets his stuff in his locker, seated in his class, and started on his first assignment in a reasonable amount of time.
I also made sure I talked to the bully. “Why did you hit my son?! You are a bad boy and you better stop it now!” Just kidding. I know that bullies tend to be bullied elsewhere in their lives. I’ve tried to have compassion on the kid and help him at school. It wasn’t much, mostly just saying hi to him and helping him in subtle ways when it made sense. A few days later, I asked my son as he came out of school if the bully had bothered him. “No, he’s my best friend now.” Huh?! I questioned him up, but sure enough, the bully decided he liked my son and now they are fast friends.
Wow. That was easy. 2 weeks of minor involvement in my son’s class pretty much resolved the crisis. Now this is just kindergarten level crises. I know I haven’t seen anything yet. But it reinforced my core conviction. I can’t give over my sons’ education to someone else, whatever choice I make for their education. I can’t let my circumstances distract me from this core principle. I want to know their teachers and know their friends. And if I can know their friends’ parents, that’s even better. My sister who is a single, working mom has had to go at this from a different angle due to her work schedule. Yet she believes it too. She is involved, aware, and responsive, though it looks very different for her than it does for me.
I have other preferences about my children’s education. I do want to raise them in their culture. I want to protect them from, say, gang violence, but I don’t want to protect them from the general secular nature of their culture. Instead, I want to teach them how the love of God and the gospel equip us to love our community. We are not against the bully. We are FOR him. We don’t want him destroyed. We want him saved from whatever it is in him and his circumstances that causes him to act in such a way. Thankfully, in our very secular Seattle culture, God has given me and my boys good Christian friends at both our hippie preschool and our public elementary school.
Most of all, it is me, the parent, who is called to nurture/disciple/instruct my children. For me, the biggest temptation of all is to be lazy and ignore things until it gets so bad I have to do something. God has called me to be proactive, not reactive. He’s called me to disciple my children, and discipling them as they navigate secular society is one of the most important pieces of that.
Finally, this is my personal application of general Bible principle. Please don’t be constrained by my application. Feel free to be constrained by the general principle of proactive discipling of our children (knowing, loving, and nurturing/teaching our children as God parents us), but let the gospel and your own personal access to God give you confidence in how you apply it in your own life. The last thing I want is someone feeling guilty because they don’t volunteer in the mornings at their kid’s elementary school.
I spent the evening with two of my closest friends in town last week. We talked about the issues all of our kids were facing—social pressures, educational struggles, and their faith. It wasn’t until later when I was contemplating this article that I noted that one home schooled, another had her kids in Christian school, and my son was at public school. Despite our differing choices for our kids’ education, we share the same spiritual burden—to know our kids, to love our kids, and to direct them to Christ and the gospel. Each of us reevaluate our choices in light of our call to disciple them. In fact, one is switching from one form to another next year because, while it worked for a time for her child, something has changed. She knows this because she has a responsive relationship with her child and because she’s aware of her child’s friends and social situation.
So my advice on schooling your kids? Don’t get sucked into a single mentality that causes you to ignore the needs in your kids’ hearts (or in your community). Love your kids as Christ loves you. Be responsive to their needs as God responds to yours. Disciple them the way Christ modeled. Pray for wisdom, and then get up and do as God convicts you.
Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,
Proverbs 29:17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.