Our firstborn was about to enter kindergarten. We had struggled and prayed and labored over the decision of where to send him to school. I was pregnant with our third child, who was due soon after school was starting. The idea of a public school where I could just drop him off and be done with it was tempting.
But we just knew that wasn’t going to be right for him.
So, off we went to a small, private Christian school, where each family was required to volunteer at least one day a week. All the teachers, administrators, office workers and so on were parent volunteers except for the middle-school teacher, who was paid. The more you did, the greater your tuition discount. Some of our closest friends already had their kids at the school, so we wouldn’t be starting out alone.
Fifteen years later, we graduated our last child, that one with whom I was pregnant when our eldest started. Over those years at this school, I worked in the office where I could keep my baby on the days that I worked, then I was the registrar and a part of the management of the school, and finally, for my last seven years, I taught second grade and then moved to sixth grade, where I stayed until our daughter graduated. It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it for what our kids gained over their years in K-eighth grades.
After our eldest graduated from eighth grade, we gave him the choice of where he wanted to go to high school. He decided he would like to give our public high school a chance. With much trepidation, we put him on that school bus and prayed that he would be a light on his campus. We were confident of his academic ability because of the rigors of the curriculum he had been used to. What we didn’t know was whether he would make the kind of friends who would help him “live up.”
We had done what we could in his formative years. Setting the stage in elementary and middle school had positioned him for success, but what he did on that stage was going to be up to him.
Our job as parents of young kids was to be students of them, so we could determine what was in their best interest. Would they thrive in a large school with myriad opportunities and experiences? Or were they more likely to blossom in an environment that provided a smaller teacher-to-student ratio and a biblically based curriculum? Were any of us gifted to try the homeschool model?
Our family had the benefit of that choice. Many don’t. We could be involved in the school that we chose because our jobs as missionaries allowed me to be at home with my kids while they were still school-aged. I could give the volunteer hours required because of it. Many can’t.
When my boys decided to attend the public high school once they graduated from eighth grade, I determined that I would be as involved as I could while still teaching at the private school our daughter still attended. I joined the PTSA and eventually became the secretary. I volunteered to be the secretary of the JROTC booster club. When a new principal was hired, I hosted an open house at our home so that the community could meet him. When he was lured away by a co-superintendent job after just two years, he asked me to be on the panel interviewing his replacement.
Our church spent several service days helping clean around that high school campus. We always attended orientation and open house, meeting the teachers and assuring them of our support. We had our boys write thank you notes every June, whether they really enjoyed the teacher or not.
But here’s the thing: Our involvement, our kids’ attendance at a Christian school, everything that we did that we considered the “right” thing to do, didn’t guarantee that our kids would follow Jesus. It’s only been very recently that I learned this truth: We’re not called by God to raise godly kids. We’re called to be godly parents. Whether they ultimately walk with Jesus or not is their choice.
Our mistake was in thinking that right behavior indicated a yielded heart. But that’s not always the case. Isaiah 29:13 (Berean Study Bible) says, “Therefore the Lord said: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men.’” My kids could memorize Scripture for a homework assignment, but that doesn’t mean that it had worked its way into their very being.
In her wonderful new book Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind, author and counselor Brenda Yoder says, “Being a Christian doesn’t exclude your kids from messing up. But your child’s problems don’t define you as a parent.” It was our mistaken perception that we were guaranteeing our children’s faith by giving them the private Christian education that we did. It certainly would have been easier to just chuck them into public school and let strangers take care of educating them.
I didn’t have to spend five years helping to make decisions for the school — worrying over things, solving problems and losing sleep because my mind was so distracted. I didn’t have to spend seven years grading papers and planning lessons and coming up with ways to get sixth graders to care about ancient civilizations and Greek and Latin roots.
We made that choice and spent those years gratefully and giving glory to God because that was what he wanted us to do. My younger son recently told me that what he most appreciated about his years at the Christian school was the deep friendships that he made. He is in college now, but he is tight with most of those friends still, thanks to things like Facebook Messenger, which keeps them connected.
My daughter decided when she graduated that she wanted to do high school virtually. We have a wonderful virtual school in Florida that she “attends,” spending her days at home with me while learning at a distance. It is a sweet season for us to spend more time with her in the years before she heads off to college.
And our eldest? The one who started our education journey? He made his choices, which now include a live-in girlfriend and a baby boy who is the light of our lives. Is this the path we expected and hoped he’d take? No. But he’s a great dad and a dedicated partner, still attending college and graduating next spring, if all goes as planned. And we are very close, watching that sweet baby boy five days a week so that his mom and dad can work without worrying about affording child-care.
I had always clung to Proverbs 22:6 (English Standard Version) as we raised our kids: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Having our kids in a Christian school certainly seemed like that kind of training. The point I never noticed about that verse was this: It says “when he is old he will not depart from it” (emphasis mine). It doesn’t say that when he is young and still trying to figure things out that he won’t walk away for a season.
Here’s what I’ve come to know as truth: My kids aren’t saints because they went to a small Christian school. And my kids aren’t sinners because they took the step into public school. Neither are homeschooled kids any more holy than other kids. They all need to make their own choice to walk with Jesus. One could just as easily fall into sin in one’s own backyard as on the playground of a public school.
School choice is a very personal decision. Each family must do what they feel God is calling them to do. But it’s a mistake to think that one way is more righteous than another. The only righteous way is the one God has mapped out for you.