Starting with the positive pregnancy test, many parents have the privilege of being faced with a bevy of choices. Every parent wants what is best for their child, and each decision is made with great care. Hospital or home birth? Breastfeed or bottle? Co-sleeping or sleep training? Some decisions were made for me: I had to have an emergency c-section and, despite my best efforts none of my three babies would nurse (we laughed that if my husband’s career didn’t work out he could qualify to be a lactation consultant). Other decisions have required much thought, prayer, and counsel.
When it came time for formal education, we were fortunate to have reasons not to fret. First, Memphis has good public schools, private independent schools, and Christian schools, and there’s always the homeschooling option. We know and respect families who have made each of these choices, whose children are now capable adults who love the Lord and serve His people well in their families and careers.
Second, my husband and I grew up attending independent single-sex schools. We both had good experiences: we made good friends, we felt well prepared for college and beyond, and we had leadership and athletic opportunities. While offering three children similar experiences to our own is a financial stretch, we are fortunate that it is possible for us. It was a fairly simple decision for us to enroll our kids in private, single-sex schools. That said, we hold this loosely and take it one year at a time.
Academics and Diversity
The benefits our kids’ schools offer are plenteous. Both our son’s school and our daughters’ school are known for academic excellence and for having faculty that are passionate about their work. Our kids are encouraged to think critically, to be curious, and to apply knowledge creatively. Our middle school girls have been chosen for leadership positions and play on athletic teams that might not have been available to them at a larger public school. We anticipate the same for our son as he likely moves on to his dad’s alma mater for 7th-12th grades.
While our children are learning side by side with mostly kids from similar backgrounds, our schools have prioritized diversifying their student bodies. Our kids are encouraged to befriend and learn from peers whose ethnic, cultural, and faith backgrounds differ from their own. Our son’s school researches and implements methods of teaching and learning that are tailored specifically to the way boys’ brains are designed. The culture at our daughters’ school encourages girls to use their voices and to consider careers that have historically been reserved for men. Both schools consistently send most, if not all, of their graduates on to an impressive list of colleges. This is something we hope for our children. We know several alumni of each school and are impressed by their academic success, diversity of careers, and their commitment to bettering Memphis.
Support and Spiritual Formation
Along with these anticipated benefits, we have enjoyed unexpected gains. Two of our children presented with minor but unforeseen learning differences late in elementary school. We have been overwhelmed with the resources these schools offer kids that learn differently. In regard to faith and worldview, our son’s school is connected to our church and is unapologetically Bible centered (he regularly beats his big sisters in dinner-table Bible trivia). Our daughters’ school is connected to a faith tradition much more progressive than our own. This has given us the opportunity to help our girls unpack the illogicality of the “you have your truth, I have mine” ethos that the school has embraced in an effort to be inclusive in our post- truth culture.With much help from Rebecca McLaughlin’s books 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask and Answer About Christianity and The Secular Creed, as well as Michael Kruger’s Surviving Religion 101 our family is learning how to love our friends and classmates who have different faiths and lifestyles, while holding unwaveringly to what we believe to be the truth of God’s Word. There are times when I think the girls might have been better off in a public school than a school that is nominally Christian but doesn’t point them to Scripture in their search for truth. However, when they leave the nest, I hope they are able to discern true Christianity from its hazy counterfeits. Perhaps we are getting an early start on this.
Parental Responsibilities: Christians and Citizens
Although we feel good about all that is being taught at our son’s Christian school, we must take care not to count on his school (or even his Sunday school) as the primary source of his training in the faith. Deuteronomy 6 reminds parents that the bulk of our children’s faith formation is to happen in the home. Additionally, the fact that his school is Christian does not mean that all of his classmates come from Christian families. We still view our involvement in the school as being missional and use discernment when he is invited to spend time in classmates’ homes.
My husband and I are grateful that we are able to provide our children with safe, encouraging, and challenging educational environments. Every child in Memphis deserves access to a good education; owever, many families in our city do not have the privilege of choice. With almost 40 percent of children in Memphis living below the poverty line, our city ranked number one(out of large cities in the US) in child poverty in 2021.
The Lord has called us to “seek the welfare of the city where [he has] sent you in exile, and pray to [me] on its behalf…” (Jer. 29:7). In expressing her thoughts on school choice, Jen Wilkin recently posted, “if we choose to opt out of the public schools, I pray we would remain a benevolent force in them…” Volunteering is a great place to start. For example, research reveals that children living in poverty who read proficiently by the end of third grade have an 89 percent graduation rate, soach week I tutor second graders who are reading well below grade level at a local under-resourced school through Arise 2 Read. Likewise, my kids participate in school cleanup Saturdays at the same school
In my 10 years of youth ministry, I found that the students who would grow up to walk with the Lord did not share a common schooling background. What they had in common was parents or mentors who faithfully walked with the Lord, prayed regularly for them, and prioritized corporate worship.
This can be an intimidating fact for those of us who at times feel lazy, weak, and overwhelmed by cultural influences. But let us remember that we serve a covenant God who has chosen to work primarily through families. Our Lord transcends culture. His life, death, and resurrection has rendered sin powerless over those he calls his own. As parents, we have more influence on our kids than anyone. Our greatest prayer for each of our children is that “[their] love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that [they] may be able to approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-10).
Take heart, Christian parent: your choice of schooling does not have the power to make or break your greatest desire for your precious children – that they know and walk in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ all of their days. Our good God has that power.