I mentioned recently that I just finished a scrapbook of my teaching experiences and that it was bittersweet to do so. I was in the field of education for about eleven years in a wide variety of situations so I had all kinds of experiences to chronicle. I do believe these experiences give me a unique perspective when writing this entry about education. I realize this is much longer and different than my normal posts, but I hope it will be profitable for those who read it. This post is written from what I hope is a Christ-centered and Scripture valuing perspective so those values will shape what I write here.
My Educational and Professional Background
My educational background includes:
- Diploma from a very good public school system; graduated tied for first in my class
- B.A. in Elementary Education from the Honors College of Michigan State University; graduated with High Honors
- Partial M.A. in Teaching completed from Western Michigan University
My teaching experience includes:
- First teaching job: On the first teaching staff of the brand new, conservative private school opened by Hillsdale College
- Second teaching job: Worked for the first charter school in Michigan; the school was challenged legally and we never received any pay
- Third teaching job: Taught at a K-12 Christian school that was marginally academic with a greater focus on what I would call “if the kids love Jesus that’s all that matters”
- Fourth teaching job: Taught at K-8 classical Christian school
- Fifth teaching job: On the first teaching staff of a brand new charter school operated by a fairly conservative charter school management corporation
- Other teaching experiences along the way: private tutoring, summer school, and substitute teaching; all primarily in public school related situations
In the interest of privacy I am not going to offer much more information than that. People who know me in real life know all the bloody details associated with some of the experiences and it isn’t necessary for me to broadcast them throughout the world. Suffice it to say that I experienced some pretty distressing circumstances in my teaching career. I also experienced some truly great and rewarding moments.
Choosing Your Child’s Education Is A Significant Choice
I believe one of the most significant choices with life-long impact is that regarding a child’s education. We live at a time of history with many options and the potential consequences of the choices are profound. I would like to share what I see as some of the issues associated with each of the four major choices: public school, charter school, Christian school, and homeschool.
It isn’t my intention to present an exhaustive explanation of each since others have done that already. I am not going to give a doctrinal outline of the major Scriptural passages that seem to relate to education. Rather, I will share my thoughts and perspectives based on my own experiences and observations.
This is not the Fox News Network so my goal is not to be fair and balanced. My prejudices will be apparent.
The first inkling that I would not fit into the public school environment as a teacher came during my college days. During a methods class in my specialized program, I asked what I as a Christian thought was a reasonable question: What do you do if you are asked to teach something you don’t believe? I cannot remember the exact answer I got, but the general response was the same as if I had asked, “What should we do with that alien that just walked into our classroom?”
The question made no sense to the people in the room and they couldn’t fathom why someone would even ask such a thing. Even though I was a product of the public schools myself and was attending a state university, it was beginning to dawn on me that I would not fit into the relativistic, humanistic, union-controlled, multi-culturalistic, non-faith public school arena.
I completed my student teaching with a lovely Christian woman as my mentor teacher. I was blessed with an exceptionally wonderful class of fourth grade students in the public school district I grew up in and truthfully had a great student teaching experience. But I was never hired into a public school district, although I applied for many positions. In retrospect, I believe God kept me out of a public school environment for my own protection. I tend to call a spade a spade and I am not the type to go with the flow if I think something is wrong. I’m thankful I was never put in the position to go through the heartache of not fitting in and feeling as though I was banging my head against the wall.
Part of what concerns me is that I don’t think parents really think through the issues related to public schools. Many of them have the attitude of “I went to public school and I turned out okay” and they don’t think beyond that. I don’t believe most parents truly understand what goes on day in and day out in the public schools today – even in the “good” districts. These are not the same schools they went to a few decades ago (and even then they weren’t all that great an environment for an impressionable child or youth). Even having a nice Christian teacher isn’t enough.
And maybe the biggest issue isn’t what goes on in the public schools as much as what doesn’t go on. Christ is not exalted, the Scriptures are not respected or even consulted regarding truth, and no encouragement is made to help students develop a world view that is Christ-centered. This is no small thing. How can followers of Christ influence the world when their worldview is the same as everyone else’s? The truth is that all you have to do is look at the ridiculous and unbiblical things going on in “Christian churches” throughout this country and you can clearly see the results of decades of a non-Christ-centered worldview being taught in the public schools.
The bottom line really isn’t rocket science. As someone else pointed out (and I can’t remember who it was to give credit), there is almost nothing in this country that liberals and conservatives, Christians and non-Christians, rich and poor agree on except this – by and large the public schools are a well-documented, tremendous failure. Almost anyone who is really honest will agree to this statement. Even “successful” students graduating from “great” public schools today by and large pale in comparison to excellent students of the past. (Most people, being a product of the same system, don’t have any idea what a thoroughly educated person should look like.) And so people who have so many other options available to them continue to defend and use the very same failing public schools. It makes no sense to me.
(As a matter of full disclosure, my husband and I did contract work for a charter school company when I wrote this.)
Charter schools are a form of public school and are available in many states. They receive money from the government to operate, but have different oversight. They frequently have different focuses such as science, particular ethnic heritages, character development, etc.
I would describe charter schools as a poor man’s private school. Charter schools in inner-city districts often have waiting lists in the hundreds because parents are desperate to get their children out of the traditional public schools. These are parents who can’t afford to move to a “good” school district and certainly don’t have the money for a private school. The charter school is the only hope they have of offering their child something better.
I do think charter schools generally offer a better education, especially in the inner-city. Charter schools have to perform well or they won’t stay in business. No one is required to go to a charter school so parents can choose to leave if they aren’t happy with the results. There are bad charter schools and those that are bad close. That is the beauty of the charter school system. The bad schools don’t stay open and can’t hold the students hostage as is the case in failing public schools.
I also think that charter schools put pressure on public schools to improve. For example, the charter schools in my city have a strong emphasis on a moral focus. Well, what do you know? After hemorrhaging students to the charter schools for a few years, the large public school district decided to begin a character development program. Would that have happened if the charter schools hadn’t been here? I highly doubt it. I do think charter schools are forcing the public schools and the teachers’ unions to rethink what has been going on.
I am in support of charter schools. As a Christian I would not choose a charter school for my own children because they do not offer the Christ-centered perspective that I feel is critical. But as an American who lives in a fallen culture, I support the creation of charter schools for the parents who are desperate for something better for their children. I would much rather live in a culture where all children learn to read, write, and do math well than what we are currently getting from the public school system at large.
Christian schools cover the whole spectrum from outstanding to downright embarrassing. There are a few Christian schools out there that offer an excellent education and a positive Christian environment. However, I do think truly excellent Christian schools are few and far between.
There are a huge number of Christian schools that don’t offer much more than the local public school with the exception of a Bible class, occasional chapel service, and the freedom to pray without fear of persecution. But does this really make an excellent Christian school? Shouldn’t a Christian school be more than just a public school with a little bit of moral sprucing up and Bible verses on the wall?
Many Christian schools use a secular curriculum that does not present a Christ-centered world view. Other Christian schools use Christian curriculum that while not offensive is also not excellent in terms of the academics it offers. It seems to be a rare Christian school that has a vision for truly offering a challenging academic program with a strong Christ-centered curriculum. Instead it seems that many Christian schools look to the public schools for the current educational trends and then they slightly adapt the public school program to make it “Christian.” It is tragic that Christian schools aren’t setting the standard throughout this country for excellence in academics.
And what of the moral expectations in Christian schools? Do they truly set a high standard? Shouldn’t the children in the Christian schools stand out as incredibly different (in the positive sense of the word) from their public school peers? Sadly, they often do not. I would argue that in many ways it is worse to put a child in a nominal Christian school than it is to put them in a public school. At least in a public school you expect the people to act in an unbiblical way. It shouldn’t surprise any Christian that someone without the Holy Spirit would act in an ungodly way. But it is very confusing for a young child or young adult to go to a Christian school and see and experience things that are completely contradictory to the Scriptures and are done without consequence.
Another concern of mine is that a significant number of Christian schools see their school as a ministry to the lost – almost a form of a rescue mission. While Christians should be concerned about the lost, I don’t think bringing troubled and/or lost children into the Christian school is the best idea. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with a group of children will realize the tendency for the least positive role models to begin to influence a group. Just a few unregenerate children can have a tremendously negative impact on the rest of the students in the classroom or school. Obviously only God knows for sure who is actually a part of His covenant people, but in many cases it is quite obvious that children enrolled in Christian schools have no presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Related to the mission field mentality is the cold hard reality of money. Christian schools operate on tuition dollars. There are very few Christian schools that are well-endowed or have the backing of a large church to support them through the lean times. Every child in that school represents cash flow. I know this sounds cynical, but I believe too often students are allowed to stay in the school rather than be expelled because the school needs the money. When this happens, what message does this send to the rest of the student body? That there are no standards and consequences?
Lastly, who is running the school? Are they godly people with a soft heart toward the Holy Spirit? People with an ax to grind? Pharisees? Unregenerate people? People who mean well but have no solid philosophy of Christian education so they are tossed to and fro with every educational whim that comes down the public school pike? The people running the school need to be mature Christians – not perfect, but there needs to be some depth. This is often lacking.
So would a Christian school be an option for me? Yes, but only if it is the right school.
When I first heard of homeschooling, I thought it was one of the dumbest things I had ever heard of. How in the world could parents teach their own children? They need to be with kids their own age! With the wisdom only a twenty-one year old college student can have, I knew that only a real teacher could teach children. Thankfully God worked on me and opened my eyes to see the bigger picture.
Homeschooling was not an option when I was in school so it was a choice my parents could not have made for me. As my husband and I have discussed education, we have both guessed that we would have done well in a homeschool situation. I remember in elementary school sitting in my classroom and looking out the window. Life was out there and I was in the building. I loved going to school and did very well, but there was always a sense of real life being not at school.
Now there are many things that draw me to homeschooling. First of all, as a student and as a teacher I fully realized the utter waste of time in the traditional school setting. It doesn’t matter how efficient the teacher is, there is so much wasted time in a school day and an entire school year. Most homeschool families will tell you that they can easily complete the “academic” portion of their day in the morning. It simply does not take all day to “do school” in a homeschool situation. The beauty of that is that it allows children to develop other interests and they actually have time to do them without the school schedule ruling their lives.
Homeschooling also appeals to me because one-on-one tutoring is such an effective way to learn. I did a lot of tutoring for several years and there is nothing as effective as being able to interact with the child in a close manner. I know many parents say that they can’t teach their own children. I disagree. I believe almost any parent can teach their child. The problem often is that the parents have not trained the child properly in areas of discipline and obedience so they do not have the heart of their child. If that is the case, they are probably right. They won’t be able to teach their child – until they take care of the other issues first.
Something else that draws me to homeschooling is that it would most effectively fit with our family lifestyle. My husband and I own our own business and work at home. We enjoy the relative freedom that comes with that. I would like our family to enjoy that freedom and locking ourselves into a school year schedule would take away so much of that freedom.
I also have a strong desire to protect my children. I don’t want to be paranoid, but I also don’t want my five year old exposed to children who watch rated R movies and sing the latest gangsta rap. Childhood is a brief and precious thing. I prefer my children to be able to be innocent as long as possible. I don’t want them to grow up naïve, but I’m not in any rush to expose them to the evils of this world either.
Lastly, homeschooling appeals to me because I want to see children who grow up to be godly, mature, thinking, Christ-centered adults. With the exception of an outstanding Christian school, I just don’t see that happening regularly in any of the other options.
To Tell the Truth
One problem that I could not get past when I was teaching at my last job (the charter school) was the feeling that I was lying to my students.
I taught first grade at that time and first graders have a million questions about everything. Truth and integrity are vitally important to me and I wanted my students to trust me that I would tell them the truth. (Christmas was especially difficult, trying to get around the Santa discussions!) When my students asked me questions that really required a biblically based answer to be truthful, I found myself so frustrated and conflicted. I did not want to lie to my students, but I was not able to freely discuss the truth of God’s word with them. As a Christian with a strong commitment to the importance of the Scriptures, I found it basically impossible to be comfortable with the compromises I was required to make whenever such a situation presented itself.
I remember at one point in my last year of teaching that the realization came to me – I would not want my child to be in my classroom. It was a real watershed moment for me. I was a strong Christian, a very good teacher with an excellent record of academic progress among my students, had high behavioral expectations, and was generally liked and respected by parents and staff wherever I taught. But I knew at that moment that sending my child into a place hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year, where Christ and the truth of the Scriptures were marginalized would not be an option for me.