Purposefully Participating in Public School

We moved to rural South Carolina with my husband’s first call out of seminary. I clearly recall having a wonderful dinner with one of the elders and his wife on a visit before we moved there. During the meal, the elder said, “It will be so great to have you here until your son starts school. Then you will need to move on.” Our son was only one and a half at the time, but I clearly remember being completely thrown off by what the elder said. He sincerely believed that the only decent option for our son’s education was the local private school (which we definitely could not afford), and so we would need to leave before he started school.

We now have five children between the ages of nine and fourteen, including our current foster son. All five have been in public school since kindergarten. Public school can be a controversial choice for believers, even with all things being equal educationally. My family lives in an area where the public schools test below the state average. Many people have asked us why we continue to send our kids to public school, and honestly that is a tough question to answer. Wading into this controversial subject with fear and trepidation, I would like to share the reasons we decided to put our kids in public school and the benefits we have seen from that choice.

Personal and Prayerful Choices

Let me begin by saying that the decision of how to educate the children that God has given us is a highly personal one. My husband and I have had to consider the needs of each individual child in our home, two of whom were adopted from trauma backgrounds and one who is in foster care with all the flux that entails. Private school is still not financially feasible for us with five kids. I don’t believe God has called me to homeschool. We have had to prayerfully consider the options that are available in our area and try to choose the best one.

In addition, we have realized what works best may change as our children grow. We certainly want to hold our decisions and choices loosely. We are constantly reevaluating and researching the best fit for each child. I substitute teach at the kids’ schools so that I can build relationships with their teachers and administrators. We have moved children to different magnet programs and last year sent a child to a public charter school in another city. Educating our kids has involved lots of moving pieces and parts, but we continue to attempt to make the best decision for all. Each Christian family is called to faithfully wrestle with Scripture and make choices for each child’s education each school year.

Free in Christ to Choose For Our Children

I believe that God has given us freedom to make choices regarding our children’s education. Clearly Scripture teaches us in Deuteronomy 11:19 that we are to teach the Word of God to our children, “talking of [Scripture] when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” But God’s Word does not give us a directive as to how children are to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sometimes people hold their educational choices up as the “only way” and judge others for the decisions they make. Recognizing the freedom that we have to make decisions about education, we can encourage and pray for our brothers and sisters as they make difficult choices as well. We prayerfully consider our options and step out in faith, knowing the Lord will lead and guide us.

Loving Our Neighbors Through Our Choices

Having our kids in public school is one way that we are “seeking the welfare of the city” where God has placed us (Jeremiah 29:7). We want our children to attend a school that reflects the city in which we live. The population of our city is 74% Black, and local public schools are almost completely Black. Our children are often the only white children in their classes. The private schools in town flip this demographic, but it is more than just a racial disparity. People moving out of the local school district in an attempt to find a better-quality education have taken resources with them, which contributes to those schools continuing to fall behind in performance. It is a self-perpetuating cycle.

We love the city we live in, so we are committed to the good of all the people who live here – not just those we go to church with. We fervently pray for the day that our church more clearly reflects the community we live in, but public education helps us be better involved in the life of our city now. Even in seeking the welfare of the city, the Lord has graciously blessed our kids too. We have seen how he is causing them to grow in empathy for those who have different backgrounds and experiences than they do because of friendships made in school. We appreciate how they’re beginning to get a glimpse of the people from every tribe, tongue, and language, who will one day join them around Jesus’ throne.

Discipling Our Children Through Our Choices

My husband and I often hear concerns that public schooling will have a negative effect on our children’s faith –- a worry we don’t take lightly. We have actually found that public education has given us great opportunities to shepherd and disciple our kids. Many people see private education as providing more opportunities and freedom for Christians. However, private school may not be the religious safeguard that we might think. Our kids have friends who are in private schools or are homeschooled, and we find that these children are exposed to many of the same questions and issues as our children are. Sometimes their parents are caught off guard or lulled into a false sense of security, thinking the school will care for the spiritual needs of their children or that these children won’t be exposed to unbiblical things. When our kids come home with questions about the world at large today, we try to thoughtfully answer their questions and point them back to what God says in his Word. I believe our kids have been helped by our discussions contrasting the world’s view with what God’s says in Scripture, and we have been thankful to have these opportunities.

The big question that we come back to again and again is this: how does the gospel apply to these education decisions? God loves these children far more than we do. He has eternity in mind and is committed to growing them to become more like Christ. Ultimately, he is using all things for their good, even the hard things. That goes against most of what the world would tell us – regardless of what school your children go to. Again and again, I am forced to answer the question whether I trust Him to be the God of my children, not just in their education but their whole lives.

Shea Patrick is a former Alabama lawyer, now a stay-at-home mom, living in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She and her pastor-husband currently have five children, including two adopted from foster care.  Shea serves on the National Women’s team for the PCA as the Regional Advisor for the Mid-Atlantic. She loves her church, Trinity Presbyterian, and serves with the kids, music, missions, and women’s ministry. She is a contributor to Hinged: Vitally Connected to Christ and His Church.

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