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!
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.
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.