The morning walk:
Every morning our family makes the short walk to our local neighborhood school. We cross the bridge over the freeway and my four year old son makes sure to say hello eight times to our friend David, who is always sweeping out in front of the local liquor store/market.
When we reach the school, our son begins his usual refrain of “BENOS-DEE-ASS!” (Buenos dias) A group of local mamas and abuelas respond with joyful shouts of “que guapo, muy bien!” and more phrases that I have yet to learn. (I can tell they aren’t cussing or making fun of us as I learned all the spicy Spanish curse words in high school baseball.) It is a daily shining moment of welcome for my boy. When he gets to his pre-school class line, there are usually about 5-7 kids waiting to hug him and fight me over holding his hand. I almost always win.
Although he has special needs, the children welcome him as one of their own. I get choked up most times over it, but I’m not the most manly dude you’ll ever meet.
This morning, however was my daughter’s day. On the day of her seventh birthday, she was met with two songs celebrating her. Afterwards each woman approached her for a tight perfume laden hug session, followed by shouts of feliz cumpleaños. Her face, dark red, she was every bit as loved as she had ever felt in any school. Yes this is a public school. Yes it is in the hood. And YES it is a great school.
Why public school has a bad wrap with Christians:
I first must confess that I am a public school homer as you’ve probably already figured out. I come from a long line of educators and I believe in public school. My mom was a teacher and my dad was a principal for over 25 years. Of course I am biased. So take everything I say with a grain of salt.
Many Christians I meet believe sending kids into public school is like sending them into a war zone. Spiritually and culturally they are probably right. I get that. You worry your children will be taught about sex at a young age. You worry they will hear they are descended from an ape instead of the biblical view of creation. You worry they will have to use a bathroom with someone of a different gender. I get this and don’t blame you for being concerned.
So let’s keep our kids out of public school right?
I can’t say I have an answer to all of these things, but I do have the distinctive honor of getting to speak to my children about the goings on in our city, schools and our world constantly. The advantage here is my children still respect and look up to me at this point. (They probably will lose said respect upon realizing my dancing to Gloria Estefan’s “Conga” is not as good as I’ve advertised.) But for now they can come forward with any and every question. We are a safe place for answers. This is a good thing. Why would I wait until they are adults before talking to them about homosexuality, evolution, Raider fans or the stanky leg? Why not let them experience different cultures, beliefs and people groups while they are still in our home?
Also, as parents, the more we spend time with people who are different than us the better rounded we become. When Christians only spend time with Christians like them they can become, to quote Lisa Simpson, “isolated and weird.” I’m already weird. Why would I want to be isolated?
Being in a public school also gives un-churched people access to those of us who profess Jesus as Lord. We get to speak our unique point of view into every situation and I am often surprised by how welcome our thoughts and prayers are. We don’t brashly parade them around. With meek and gentle words, we speak when we see opportunities.
Don’t believe ratings and test scores:
I think the biggest knocks on local schools originate from gossip and websites that speak ill of them. Before you completely write your local public school off, consider meeting with the staff. My children have had amazing, devoted teachers who come to birthday parties on weekends, buy school supplies for kids and are constantly going the extra mile.
Our principal has consistent meetings for the parents, teaching them how to prepare their kids FOR COLLEGE. She doesn’t need to do this, but she is caring, dedicated and has a deep love for the families on her campus. She’s obviously not in it for the paycheck alone.
But if I went on a school rating website they would rate our school somewhere above a state prison. If you didn’t look into it, you’d think our children are getting shanked in our school.
BUT ratings are deceptive. There are so many children who are just now learning English as their second language and other children who don’t have access to help at home. They drag the school ratings down. What if those of us who had college degrees saw this as an opportunity to bless our city rather than a chance to run to greener pastures? What if we saw this as a chance to help tutor children that were not our own? What if we sought after the good of every child, not just our own?
Some may say “You are sacrificing your children on the altar of ministry.”
We may attend public school in the hood, but ask our kids how they feel about it? We read to our children every night, play chess with them, have dance parties with them and take them through the Bible most mornings. Are they suffering? Nope. They love it and they are growing. (My dancing to “Conga” might cause them to suffer eventually.)
Not all families are called to public school.
For those of you who feel you are supposed to home school. ROCK THAT.
For those who feel called to private school: God needs you there. I got nothing but love for ya, baby.
While I believe not everyone is called to public school I also believe more Christians should prayerfully consider it for their children. Pray about it. Discuss it as a family. Meet the local teachers and staff.
We can’t make friends who look and act differently unless we leave our “safe” places.
We can’t push back darkness if we are unwilling to enter into it.
Come join us in the “darkness.” There’s more light here than you think.