Why We Chose Public School: The Great {Education} Debate

It's that time of year again...time to start thinking about books, pencils, backpacks, and going back to school.

I love that in the United States (as well as many other countries) we have the freedom to choose how to educate our children. That same freedom can seem overwhelming to parents who are trying to determine the best option for their family and individual children.

So I thought it would be fun to do a series for the month of August on The Great {Education} Debate. Every Wednesday this month we'll hear from families (that means fabulous guest bloggers!) who have chosen different educational options (public school, homeschool, private school, etc.).

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It is not my intention to create (or even contribute) to an ongoing debate about which choice is the best. My goal is to share stories of real families who are living out real choices from which we can all learn.

Today, I'd love to share with you why we chose public school.

When my kids were preschool age, I did a lot of what some would call preschool "homeschooling." We did a Letter of the Week, worked on numbers and counting, and did nature walks to explore science. I loved it. As kindergarten began to quickly approach, I considered homeschool.

The more I learned about homeschooling, the more I wanted to do it. But the more we prayed about it, the more we felt it wasn't the right option for us at the time. We didn't want to choose public school simply because that's where my husband and I had gone. Neither did I want to homeschool simply because I felt some sort of self-imposed "Christian peer pressure."

I prayed about it, but honestly I did not know. My husband felt strongly that God was leading us to public school, and so I agreed. The choice, for us, came down to this: We felt it was what God would have us do at the time.

It's as simple as that. We weren't on a mission to turn our daughter into some public school evangelist or to transform the public school system from the inside out. We simply wanted to be obedient to what God was calling us to do.

We live in a very small, conservative community which, for the most part, supports our Christian values. That helped ease the decision, but I still wondered if we'd made the right choice.

Wouldn't you know it...both God and my husband knew better than I did?

Little Miss and me on her first day of kindergarten
Little Miss and me on her first day of kindergarten

Two weeks before my daughter was to start her first day in kindergarten, I discovered a 6-inch mass in my thigh. I was told I would need surgery to remove the tumor. If it was malignant, I would possibly need to have chemotherapy as well.

So, the week after I handed my baby over to the public school system, I had surgery. The tumor was malignant, and I spent the next 10 weeks recovering, doing physical therapy, and undergoing radiation treatment. To say things were a little chaotic at home would be an understatement. There was a revolving door of family and friends staying with us, bringing food, shuttling the kids, and taking care of things around the house.

In spite of the chaos at home, my daughter flourished. My little girl, who needs stability and consistency, knew that no matter who was bringing dinner or tucking her in that night, she would wake up the next morning, go to the same desk, be greeted by the same smiling teacher, and things would be just fine. (Her teacher is a Christian, and she committed to pray with us for my healing. Coincidence? I don't think so.)

I learned a valuable lesson that year: When I step beyond my preconceived ideas of what my child's education should look like and walk in obedience to God, my child will thrive and my family will be blessed.

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Yes, we've had some interesting conversations from things she's heard at school. And I would have been OK if she'd never discovered Taylor Swift. But things like that have provided opportunities to discuss why we believe what we do and why we make different choices than others. Those are conversations we might not have had otherwise.

Obviously, not everyone who sends their kids to public school has a story like mine. My husband and I have often said if we lived in a different community or our children had different needs, we would likely make different choices for their education. And we are committed to re-evaluating that decision as needed. But for us, for now, this is what God has called us to.

If your child is in public school, here are some ways to stay involved in their education:

1. Participate
I asked a wise friend how she remained so involved in the lives of her three teenagers who attend public school and are involved in numerous activities. Her sage advice: "Sign up for everything. Be there. Get to know their teachers and their friends." I have become that mom. I want to know who is influencing my child and what they are saying.

2. Communicate
If your schedule does not allow you to be there in person, e-mail the teacher regularly asking how you can help your child at home. Find a way to keep the communication open.

3. Educate
Just because you send your child to public school does not mean you are off the hook concerning their education. Yes, help them with homework. But, more importantly, create an atmosphere and excitement for learning at home. (I love this concept of "afterschooling" at Simple Homeschool and this wise advice from The Art of Simple.)

UPDATE August 13, 2015: Read Why and How we Transitioned to Homeschool.

How did you determine your choice for your child's education?

Next week my friend Lora@MyBlessedLife will be sharing about her family's decision to homeschool. Don't miss it...or any of The Great {Education} Debate series: Enter your e-mail address in the box to the right, and you’ll get new posts delivered straight to your inbox!

Read the rest of the series!
Why We Homeschool 
Why You Will Never Find the Perfect School Option
Why Christian School

Photo source

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Plus: Read the full story of my journey through cancer to healing in Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm. Available now at Amazon.

52 thoughts on “Why We Chose Public School: The Great {Education} Debate

  1. What a great story! Yes, God knows what life will bring us and often prepares us in advance even when we don't realize it. Love how that works out!

    Obviously, public school is still a major majority, so I think you're okay there 🙂 I know very few homeschoolers, although I'm so blessed to be able to be a part of a community of them online.

    How blessed your family was to have such a great experience w/ the public school system and wonderful Christian teachers!
    Crystal @ Serving Joyfully recently posted...Made to Crave Study (Chapters 5-8)My Profile

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    1. Post author

      Ha! True, Crystal. But I have to admit, sometimes I feel outnumbered online. There are SO many homeschool bloggers who do both (homeschool and blogging) so well! Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  2. This post brought tears to my eyes. I'm inspired by your faith and obedience. I really agree that God calls us all to different things at different times. I feel some of the peer pressure too and am taking it one year at a time. We have similar decisions about how we go about educating our kids to prepare them for school and then continue to educate them carefully while we navigate school. My mentors and friends, the Pritchards, wrote an amazing book called, "Going Public." It's basically about how your child can thrive in the public school setting and gives great advice for remaining the #1 educator of your child no matter where they might be schooled. Thought you might enjoy it since it goes along so well with your article. So, so glad that you were sensitive to what God was saying and that he provided for you so well during that time. I'm sure it was scary and yet had the comfort that God was there through it all.

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    1. Post author

      Thank you, Jodi! I will check out that book; it sounds amazing! I'm so glad you stopped by and that my article encouraged you.

      Reply
  3. I think you have pointed out the most important thing: each family must pray and seek God's direction for their family. You obviously have and He directed you to public school. We did and He directed us to homeschooling. God has a plan for each family and as long as we seek Him, we are doing it right.
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  4. What a great post, Nancy! It was nice to hear from the "other side" of the discussion. We are "homeschooling" for Pre-K, but plan to put both kids in public school (mainly because I am a bit ADD & worry that I would get off-task in my teaching). I also loved the imagery of the public school evangelist. I can see her on the playground with her bible. 🙂
    Amy recently posted...Giveaway Winner!My Profile

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  5. I really appreciate this, Nancy. I think about what to do with my kids' education a lot, and I just picked up pre-school registration papers off my desk and wondered why I decided not to go that route this year. 🙂 I have not been very good about any educational emphasis with Isabella, but we have had a fun summer. It's a good reminder to get some focus for the fall with her.

    I am grateful for the peace that God will lead our family just as He has led yours. Thank you for sharing!
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  6. Love this story! God's timing is perfect, even when we want something good He always knows what's best!

    I'm a product of the public school system myself, and I loved much of my time there. (Except middle school but even then I had some wonderful teachers and made good friends that I'm still in contact with . . . ) . . . I've also worked in a public school setting as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional staff. In many ways the school system now is so different than what it was when I was growing up, and most of it not for the better. But one thing I consistently witnessed was that kids with involved and caring parents did the best. I think that is so key, no matter where or with whom your children get the bulk of their education - being present, caring and involved with your children is a recipe for success.

    I hope to homeschool my own children, if I'm ever so blessed - but I also know that if the circumstance requires it and the schools are good, I would have no problem sending them to Christian, private or public school - because I know they'd have caring parents who value learning waiting for them at home.
    Amy recently posted...Gut Healing Diet ReintroductionMy Profile

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    1. Post author

      Amy, thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind and thoughtful words. I agree that as a whole the public school system is much different than when I was in it (and not for the better). That's why we feel so blessed to be a part of a school system that has high educational standards. However, they do not (and cannot) replace the spiritual education we provide at home. I agree parental involvement (no matter what educational model is chosen) is the key!

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  7. This is wonderful! I definitely feel like homeschooling is the "in" thing to do amongst Christians, which is interesting. If we decide to home school, or send our child to public school I want it to be a decision based off of prayer and what's right for our family. And church can be just as bad as public school for the peer influence issue - negatively I mean. Parent involvement I believe is key, no matter where they receive their education. 🙂 Looking forward to the other articles!

    Blessings
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    1. Post author

      Thanks, Nicole! You hit it dead on: parental involvement is the key! That's why I wanted to have this discussion: I don't believe there is a one-size-fits-all educational model for every family or even every child within the same family. The key is to be obedient to what God leads you to and remain engaged in your child's education and overall development! I'm so glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for dropping by!

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  8. Hello! Thanks so much for stopping by and linking up again. It's always great to see you pop up in my inbox! Ha! 🙂 I have always believed that there are things that God commands that are absolutes---exact instructions for every person to follow. Then, there are things that God commands that are general things with the details being left up to us. As deeply and strongly as I feel about homeschooling, I still think it's one of those things that God is not commanding---rather, something he is encouraging in some people based on their own personal circumstances. He does command you to raise your children in the knowledge of him---and in the "right way". If you've made this decision with prayer and feel peace about it, then more power to you! Have a GREAT year! 🙂
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    1. Post author

      Oh, thanks Sarah! I do enjoy linking up, but haven't been able to lately. It was nice to come back! I agree completely that there is a difference between the absolutes God calls us to and the "general" as you put it. Our pastor refers to them as "open-handed" and "closed-handed" issues. The closed-handed issues being non-negotiables; the open-handed issues being ones of personal conviction.

      I have several friends (and a sister) who homeschool. I believe in the concept/philosophy. And, like public or private school, I've seen homeschooling done really well and I've seen it done...less-well :). I love how you said it: It's one of those things that God is not commanding--rather, something he is encouraging in some people based on their own personal circumstances.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such thoughtful words!

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  9. Yes, we are called to do what God wants, and I've learned what He wants isn't always the same for every child. I have three who are currently being homeschooled, and two who are still in "regular" school (we are very blessed with a good private Christian academy nearby with affordable tuition). I never thought we'd be homeschoolers, but here we are with a foot in each world. It's so important to just keep our hearts open.
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    1. Post author

      Such wise words, Meg! Thank you for stopping in and leaving such an encouraging comment. You (mamas with kids in multiple educational styles) are my heros! I don't know how you do it all! 😉

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  10. Hi Nancy,

    What a beautiful example of God's loving care for us. I am so glad that you shared your experience with public schooling.

    I've home schooled for 17 years, but I've never thought it was the choice for everyone. I consider it to be a very individual decision between husband and wife with God's guidance. We certainly don't want to do anything at all against God's will.

    There are many moms writing about home schooling, not so many about public schooling. It's good to read about the subject from another viewpoint.

    This topic has become much too divisive among Christian women. There is grace is the perfect antidote. ~smile~

    May God bless your family,
    Laura Lane
    Harvest Lane Cottage
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    1. Post author

      Laura, I couldn't agree more that this topic has become much too divisive among Christian women. And I hope my heart was clear...I am not anti-homeschool or pro-public school by any means! You said it so well: It is a very individual decision...with God's guidance. Kudos to you for homeschooling for 17 years! My hat's off to you, girl!

      Thank you so much for the kind words! ~Blessings, Nancy

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  11. Loved your post! The only reason we homeschool is because we feel led by God to do it for our family. If we didn't feel that, I would gladly put them in our local school! It's a pretty great community and a great school. I think my kids would thrive anywhere God guided us and it sounds like He has blessed your family with where He had you plant your kids too!
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    1. Post author

      Yes, that is key: to go where God is guiding you. And that may look different in different seasons and for different children. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment!

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  12. Nancy,

    I'm probably going to get stones thrown at me for saying this, but I don't think I can not say it. Please know I write this in love for you as a sister in Christ, I am not judging but simply giving food for thought so to speak. Your post says that you 'feel' it is what God is to have you do...we get our feelings from the heart. Our hearts are deceptive and wicked (says the Bible), so I personally wouldn't put to much thought into what I feel to be right but rather what the Word of GOD says. And He says that we as parents are to teach our children, mainly fathers are to have full control over what their children are to be taught. I don't think that means that children can't go to a private school as the father can determine what his children will be taught at that school. But fathers have no control over what their children will be taught in public school and we actually know that they teach against God's word. Deuteronomy tell us that education should be based on His Word. Also Proverbs 1:7 says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction." If you were to ask the school your children attend, what is the beginning of wisdom, I am 100% sure they will not tell you the fear of the LORD. Shouldn't that be the foundation of all education?
    Having said all that, our LORD is graceful, and while I didn't come from a Christian home and I did attend public school I praise Him for lifting the veil over my eyes and saving me. I don't think we damn our kids to hell by sending them to public school, we do serve a graceful and merciful LORD. Praying for you and your family.
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    1. Post author

      Katie,

      First of all, I appreciate your honesty and the spirit with which you stated your disagreement. I certainly hope you have no stones thrown at you for expressing your heartfelt convictions! There are definitely no stones coming from me!

      I assure you our decision was based on more than emotion or feeling; it was based on much prayer and seeking God. (Maybe the term "led of God" would have been a better choice?) I agree it is the responsibility of the parents to have full control over their children's education. I do not believe that means others cannot participate in that education or that one type of education model is the right fit for every family or for every child.

      The issue, in my opinion, is not HOW our children are taught, but WHAT they are taught. God's Word instructs us to teach His commands to our children "at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up" (Deuteronomy 11:18-21). We strive to do that in our home. We teach our children about God and His Word in our everyday moments (including the ones they encounter at school). We teach our children that God's Word is the ULTIMATE authority in education and in life. So far, we have not encountered anything in OUR public school system that would contradict that. (Should that issue ever arise...as I'm sure it will...we will deal with it prayerfully and with wisdom. If that means making the choice for private school or homeschool, we are open to that.)

      As I stated in my post, my intention is not to debate whether one educational model is better than the other, but to offer some wisdom and encouragement from families who are being obedient to God in different educational settings.

      I certainly hope we don't "damn our kids to hell by sending them to public school!" 😉 But I'm afraid if we are not open to a conversation about different METHODS of education, and to the idea that someone else's obedience to God looks a little different than our own, we risk sending that message.

      Thank you for your comment, and your prayers,
      Nancy

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      1. Nancy, you are too kind and His grace shows through you. Thank you for gently responding. I am so glad you are open to conversation on all forms of education. I don't think there is a one size fits all approach to education, although I would love to see more Christian parents homeschooling 🙂
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  13. LOVE this quote: "When I step beyond my preconceived ideas of what my child’s education should look like and walk in obedience to God, my child will thrive and my family will be blessed. " SO, so true! I was public-schooled through 10th grade, and homeschooled for 11th and 12th grade. I LOVED homeschooling and planned from my teen years to homeschool my own children. God definitely led my husband and I to homeschool, and we are entering our 11th year of homeschooling. (Eek!) Even at that, though, our homeschool experience has been NOTHING like I "planned". God had radically different plans than I did, and it has looked nothing like I expected.

    One thing I am more and more convinced of all the time, though, is that homeschooling is *not* for everyone, and that God does call different families to very different paths! And I love that He works in each of our families in different ways, to meet the needs of our children and to show His glory in and through us. You mentioned that He used your medical issues to confirm that public school was the right place for your daughter to be, because she needed that routine. One of the things that has confirmed for us that our children needed to be at home (even though our homeschooling wasn't what we'd planned for it to be during that time) was a string of family crises...for us, our children would have really struggled with not being at home during those times...they really *needed* to be at home. God made our children (and us!) all different, and He guides us in different paths to meet their (and our!) needs and show His faithfulness and glory. What an awesome God we have Who is able to work personally and uniquely in each life and family. So thankful we have the blessing of following His leading *wherever* it leads!

    Looking forward to the rest of this series!
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  14. Nancy, Thanks for sharing this story. I think it's important, and it's encouraging. I know there are compelling reasons to homeschool, and you didn't discount them. You gave it honest and prayerful consideration. It's amazing how God showed you the way. I take from this that you were leaning toward homeschooling but felt God leading you to school. Then He showed you why. Your little girl needed that stability. It's easy for those of us who homeschool to try to make you fit into our plans and even go so far as to tell you that you could have made it work for her. But God made it work for her.
    I'm thankful for you that you are in a town where you feel like school is an acceptable option. Sometimes I wish that were true for me, when I'm feeling a little less than successful! (And just so you know, she would have learned about Taylor Swift even if she had homeschooled. Sad but true.)
    I wrote a book that addresses the weary homeschooling mom and her unspoken question "Should I quit homeschooling" because I feel bad about all the guilt-ridden and unhelpful answers that mom usually gets.
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    1. Post author

      Yes, Beth, we are very blessed to be in the community we are in. I realize it is rare. Your book sounds awesome!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your sweet comment. 🙂 Blessings! Nancy

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  15. Nice article! It's wonderful how God's guidance led you to a stable environment that helped to care for your daughter during your surgery and recovery. I've often been grateful for the stability school provides when our home life gets chaotic--not just in my experience as a parent but also when I was a child.

    Here's why my child goes to public school. I think it's crucial for parents to have the freedom to decide how their children will be educated, but I worry over the prejudices I hear from some (not all!!) people who advocate private or home schooling; often they make it sound like all the "good people" do it their way and the rest of the children just don't matter so they don't want to pay for public schools or care about their quality. Not every family can afford to have a parent home to teach the kids or pay private school tuition, but it is our responsibility as Christians to see that all children get a good education.
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  16. As a 17-year homeschool veteran, I appreciated your gentle sharing of how God has led your family. Involved parents are the key to whatever educational option a family chooses. Just because a family homeschools doesn't mean they're involved. Sadly, not all homeschooling parents choose to homeschool for conscientious reasons. I'm sure the same is true of those who choose the other options. Prayer and commitment to whatever option a family chooses is vital.
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  17. Very well said. We homeschool, but it's because God has led us in that direction. You are responsible for your child's education, whether that be homeschool, public school, or private school. What's important is that you give it to the Lord and follow Him obediently on whatever path He leads you. Sounds like you did just that. Thanks for sharing your story.
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  18. This post is SO timely for us! My little guy is about to start Kindergarten in a couple weeks at our rural town's public school. We went through a very similar decision process (homeschool/public/Christian). We felt a definite peace about our decision, but also realized that this is only for 1 year. Next year, we'll reevaluate and so on......I'm excited to read the rest of the series! 🙂
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      Rachel, I'm so glad this post encouraged you. I know that feeling of second-guessing your decision. We started our 4th year at public school this morning, and as I dropped my youngest off in his kindergarten class it was confirmed in me again: This is where we're supposed to be for now. There is no feeling like the peace of God! 🙂 Blessings, Nancy

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  21. Nancy...It is so comforting when we are in the will of the Lord. He always knows what is best for our families and calls us to obedience. We have homeschooled for 20 years and that has been our obedience to God's design for our family. Either calling requires parental involvement because ultimately God tells us we must train up our children unto Hid glory. Thank you for sharing your post at WJIM's Monday's Musings this week. I'm glad you did. Blessings.
    Naomi@WhatJoyIsMine recently posted...A Meal Connects UsMy Profile

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      1. The lunch box thing made me laugh. My sister kept bringing home cute lunch boxes trying to persuade her kids to give up the Avengers and the.e.oth.r one, I can't remember what it was now. Anyway, She ended up with way too many lunchboxes for her TWO kids in school. :)Putting that book on my to-read list! Happy Friday!

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  24. Amanda

    I went to public school in a town of about 5,000 people so our graduating class had about 160 students. Many of my teachers were Christians (even my Biology teacher!) and were not shy in saying so. They participated in everything from our club, United Christian Teens, to See You at the Pole joining us in prayer. Even the Superintendent of the district was a Christian and often spoke at Men's Prayer Breakfasts at churches in our community and attended the National Day of Prayer community meetings every year. Just because you choose public school, doesn't mean you are leaving your children in the hands of the World, there are many Christian teachers, staff, and administrators in public schools around our country.

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