Public versus Private Schools – Part 2

Note: On on January 11, 2009 I began facilitating a parenting class for DaySpring, the church I attend in Waco.  I’m going to be offering some of what I’m doing there in this space over the Spring.

Week before last the parenting class benefited from conversation with a panel of high school students from both public and private school settings.  This week we followed up with a conversation just amongst us parents.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect from this session, but I suspected it might be difficult, and it was.

This is a very polarizing topic in general, but especially polarizing for parents who take Christian faith seriously.  For the sake of discussion, I think I’d describe the two ends of the spectrum like this:

  • Some parents believe it is imperative that Christians be involved in the public school system as a reflection of our duty to be “salt and light” in the unsavory and dark corners of our culture.
  • Some parents believe it is imperative that Christians be “salt and light” by offering an alternative to a public school system that seems hopelessly broken and is antagonistic to religious perspectives.

In my opinion, the former group tends to accuse the latter group of almost being “unchristian” by segregating themselves and sharing the “wealth” among themselves, while the latter group tends to accuse the former group of withholding resources from their own children under the naive assumption that the public school system might actually change.

Let me be clear in saying I don’t know anyone who falls at either end of this spectrum.  Everyone I know lives somewhere in the middle.  This is just my attempt to provide some sort of clarity to the issue by offering a picture of the extremes.

Consequently, our conversation this past Sunday was often tense and and difficult.  As a way of summarizing, here’s an email (edited) I sent to a parent who’d expressed her thoughts to me.  She’d not been able to this last class:

Hi Matilda (not her real name),

We continued our conversation this past Sunday, and it was not an easy one.  I’m fascinated by how much anxiety the topic generates, and by how difficult it is for adults to discuss without all sorts of defensiveness and judgment coming in to play.  Personally, I just think parents on both sides deal with a fair amount of guilt, especially Christian parents.  Private school parents have to wrestle with the fact that their kids are getting an advantage most kids don’t have simply because they have more money.  Public school parents have to wrestle with the fact that they are withholding these resources from their children, often because they are unwilling to make the financial sacrifices required.  Both sides have their justifications, but, if I’m right about the guilt aspect, then we’re never going to be able to have a constructive conversation unless we all own our “small self” anxieties.

Because my wife and I are avid public school supporters, I must say that we wonder how it might change the public schools if “you” private school families were in the mix, working to push public education to a higher level.  Yet, we also understand how hopeless that can seem, and why parents decide its not right to make their children pay the price for that battle.

I must say that I find it almost amusing that our kids don’t have near the issues with it all that we adults do!

I also must say that I think this is probably another arena in which the way we “do church” probably doesn’t serve our faith all that well.  As long as our worship and religious education remain so segregated along ethnic and socioeconomic lines, then we are probably going to have trouble discerning the most redemptive path.

I’m thinking you probably have a thought or two in response to what I’ve written here!

Wes

I hope readers of this blog will offer their thoughts on this difficult subject as well.  I invite those who do respond to be careful not to make broad assumptions about “the other side” and to acknowledge that this is yet another arena in which good people can hold vastly differing opinions.

peace (?),

wes-signature-b

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P.S. :  This coming Sunday we’ll be talking another “simple” subject: How and when to talk with your children about sex. If any readers of this blog are aware of particularly helpful online resources on this topic, I’ll be grateful if you send me the link.

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About Wes Eades

I've been a pastoral counselor, marital therapist, and overall listening ear since about 1989 or so.
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3 Responses to Public versus Private Schools – Part 2

  1. Todd Buras says:

    Thanks, Wes, for leading our class. Here are a couple of thoughts for the conversation.

    First, I thought our discussion was very considerate and respectful, and that is very much to your credit. Your warning at the outset, I think, prevented any bomb-throwing of the sort you seem to have experienced on this subject before–not that anyone in our class is a bomb thrower, anyway. So I am surprised you described the conversation as tense and difficult. But maybe that just means I was the source of the tension and difficulty!

    I would also like to say that I agree that the guilt and anxiety you describe are really out of place, here. From my point of view, this is a matter on which Christians should expect to differ. That is because I don’t see any general obligation for Christians to educate their children one way or the other. Both options are permissible, even commendable. Ultimately, I think the decision is a matter of a family’s calling. Which is to say, that on this issue (unlike, say, the issue of adultery) Christian teachings give us latitude. In this, the education issue is like many other ethical decisions Christians must make. It is permissible, even commendable, for Christians to take vows of celibacy and poverty, or to live in alternative communities, for example. But there is no general obligation for Christians to do so. We can recognize the importance of what our fellow Christians do to live out the Gospel, and even admire them for it, without feeling compelled to do the same things. The body has many members; the hands and feet should not expect to do the same things.

    So, let me end by saying this: while I feel called to provide a Christian education for my children, I admire and appreciate Christian families that are committed to building up the public school system. The light that shines in the darkness is a many-splendored thing!

  2. Mark says:

    Wes,

    As always I enjoyed reading your blog. Your latest, that about the public/private school debate, brought back memories of our own deliberations and dis-ease. In the event, my wife and I decided that we had to make whatever sacrifices necessary to put the two older kids in Xn schools. It was a struggle financially, but it comported with a very, very conservative view of the world. We had to protect the children against the insidious, humanistic teaching that the kingdom of darkness propounded in public schools. (We really did talk that way) But then, in 10th grade, our oldest decided she wanted to venture out into a private, college prep school, and the next year into the public school world. Thereafter, none of the 3 was in a Xn school again. We were fortunate, however, in being situated in school districts the caliber of Midway. We never worried about the children’s physical safety nor the strength of the curricula. And, to our relief, the teachers were generally conservative.

    Now, the “baby” is out of school and practicing law. The school debate isn’t personal and existential, as it once was. I have spoken at length with all 3 about their experiences. The consensus is that the Xn schools they attended delivered an inferior education. Moreover, none felt that the public schools sought to propagandize humanism. In only one instance did a Xn school maintain parity with the public schools we knew, and that came during our son’s 9th grade year. The school was a very large and very well-funded, college prep in California. In that instance, the school was far superior to other Xn schools we had known.

    And what do I draw from this as I think back?

    1. Physical safety and excellence of education are non-negotiables. If I were starting over, those factors would outweigh all others.

    2. If those two factors were equal, I would opt for public schools, because I would want my kids to engage other points of view and, indeed, other cultures. I think of CSL answering the question, Why do literature? Because, he said, it “lets us out.” But then it “lets us back in.” Others will probably disagree with me here, but I would ask them to deliberate the point.

    3. Primary responsibility for spiritual training falls on my shoulders.

    4. As a corollary, I was shocked to learn that my kids were more interested in my lifestyle than my sermons. They sometimes filtered out my doctrines, but they were always attuned to whether I was acting like an ass or a decent guy. I add this because, if I had needed to counter any insidious doctrines, my Francis Schaeffer apologetics would have counted for far less than the way I behaved. Almost too late did I learn more effective ways of communicating truth.

    5. If the public school my kids would attend were unsafe, unsound academically, or explicitly destructive of my values, I would not send my kids in to “be missionaries.” Our kids are not called to repair the schools or to take adult-type risks. And, more importantly, I need to remember I am sending my children to be educated, not—in the first instance—to be evangelists. Better to be a good evangelist later, having had a rigorous (and safe) education now.

    6. If I am truly interested in salt, light, and public schools, I should go there myself as a teacher or administrator, or cheerfully acquiesce to having my property taxes raised to support public schools. And if I did go there, it would not be for the purpose of evangelizing. It would be to do what I could to promote excellence in education and to inspire to ethical action. I would not hesitate to say that I am a Xn. I would also pray for the strength to live a life of integrity. But I would not preach. The way I live would say a great deal more about what I believe. Not incidentally, if we allow public schools to go to academic hell, it will one day be a hell of a society that our Xn kids cum adults will one day live in.

    Ok. Enough ventilation. Pax,

    Mark

  3. Great posts on public vs private schools. Very interesting reads.

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