Let’s talk about Christians in public schools

5 September 2023

Oh boy, here we go! :)

What this series is not:

This series is not a blanket defense of public schools, and it is not trying to convince anyone to send their kids to public school.

This series is not a debate. I’m not going to square a family who homeschools against a family who public schools, or a family who had a positive experience of public school versus one who had a negative experience.

This series is not making the argument that every public school is right for every Christian family.

This series is not addressing the negative effects Christians can have on public schools.

This series is not meant to be representative of every type of family or every type of public school.

This series is not a commitment that my family will always attend public school.

Okay, then, what is this series?

On the internet, we hear a lot from Christian families who have chosen to homeschool. We hear a lot from secular families who have chosen public school. We hear from Christian families who have chosen private Christian or classical school and secular families who have chosen private secular school.

Too often, these internet voices – especially the first two – are strident and black-and-white, focused on cementing their choice as the best option and painting any other choice as lesser, wrong, or – in some cases – dangerous or irresponsible. (It is worth noting that the real-life voices I hear, across the scholastic board, are almost-uniformly more humble and gracious.)

In this series, I hope to give voice to committed Christian families who have made the decision to attend public school and who have had a largely-positive experience. If you’ve been around on the internet a bit, you know this is not a constituency we hear from much. That’s a shame, because we all benefit from having an accurate, well-rounded worldview instead of one that’s shaped by niche pockets of social media. I’ve asked several women I trust and know personally to share their perspective, and I will be sharing mine, as well.

What do I mean by committed Christian families? Generally, I mean families with parents whose Christian faith is central to their lives and who are actively seeking to help their children to trust God and follow Jesus. They buy into Justin Whitmel Earley’s conception of households as “schools of love, places where we have one vocation, one calling: to form all who live here into lovers of God and neighbor.” They agree with him in their desire to produce “something other than the typical anxiety-ridden, depression-prone, lonely, confused, and screen-addicted teenager” but instead form children in God’s love, who they can “train in meaningful relationships … teach the peace that comes with knowing the unconditional love of Jesus” … and ultimately “create homes that are missional lights in a dark world.”

What I hope readers will take away from this series:

If you’re a Christian who is considering public school for your kids or has kids in public school, I hope you leave encouraged by the possibilities, galvanized by the opportunity, and clear-eyed about the difficulties. I hope you feel fellowship with a vibrant, faithful cohort seeking redemption, especially if you’ve felt discouraged or uncertain over your choices.

If you’re a Christian who has chosen homeschool or private Christian school for your kids, I hope you come away with greater understanding of why other Christian families may choose differently. I hope you leave compelled to support those families and to remember that they are just as serious as you are in their desire to raise kids who trust God and follow Jesus. More generally, I hope you see the choice to send Christian kids to public school as an honorable one and not a lesser one, and to more readily turn away from media that stokes tribalism and fear. If you are already doing or feeling these things, that is wonderful :)

If you are not a Christian, I hope you take away a greater understanding of the perspectives, motivations, and priorities of your Christian neighbors, and that that understanding might lead to greater respect, for the good of every kid in our schools.

What will this series look like?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve interviewed six women I personally know and trust. They live in different parts of the country and have school-age kids who range from kindergartners to college freshmen. I asked them a series of questions, covering everything from why they’ve chosen public school and their favorite and most challenging parts to what faith formation looks like for their families. I’ll be presenting them to you in their own words – one woman per week – and I will wrap up the series by answering the same questions, as well.

I know this series is not everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps it feels irrelevant to your life, you resent that I want to talk about it, or you wish that I would talk about it in a different way. Of course, you are more than welcome to skip these posts and stick around for the rest of the content you know and love, but I am deeply grateful for those who will choose to join for this conversation, no matter what your personal experience. It’s a topic I care about deeply and have thought about extensively, and that’s the kind of thing that I think is worth my time. I hope you feel the same way!

In the meantime, I’ll be back later this week with a completely unrelated topic :)

Next in this series:
Shelby
Claire
Amber

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Fiona
September 5, 2023 5:37 am

Oh, yes! What a great series. I’m so excited for this!!

Madeleine
September 5, 2023 7:00 am

YES! So excited for this series. Thank you for being so brave and tackling the tough topics!

September 5, 2023 7:52 am

So fun! Love this series and subject! You know we have done it all—a mix of home/private/public, depending on the needs of each kiddo. Several of our friends have done a mix over the years or have had positive experiences in public school (myself included growing up). I had a friend who told me a long time ago to take it year by year, kid by kid. We still do that and consider what’s possible at the beginning of each school year for each child—or our season of life or budget. We have close Christian friends who have chosen public (a Montessori charter like you) to grow their children’s faith in an atmosphere that largely opposes it at their particular school. It has been a challenge for them, but one they are growing from together! Academically, they are thriving and learning to love their neighbors right where they are in class. I often remember, too, that just as we don’t rely on Sunday school to form our children’s faith, our children’s schools are a portion of their learning each week. No matter a person’s school choice, much learning happens outside of school hours. We have friends who would love to homeschool, but it’s just not possible with two working parents or logistics. We have been in a similar boat with a special needs kiddo and made the most of time outside of school for other learning. So much can come from read-alouds at night, nature exploration on the weekend, a craft lesson from a skilled neighbor, or a trip to the library— not all classrooms have four walls, as they say. Excited to read this series!

September 5, 2023 10:15 am

Ahh! Thank you for this series. I am looking forward to it. This is very relevant to our family in this stage of life. Our daughter just started public Pre-K (our state has free/public pre-k for all), and we really weighed and prayed through all the options and still wonder if we made the right choice. Have you seen the Gospel Coalition Good Faith Debate on this topic with Jen Wilkin and Jonathan Pennington? I found that compelling and timely for us as well. It’s free and available on YouTube. Thank you for bringing the helpful, relevant content that may push a few buttons but is so needed!

Kelly Strawberry
September 5, 2023 10:44 am

Love the direction you decided to go with this series and so looking forward to reading it! Although you know I would’ve loved to hear from and live vicariously through a Forest School mom, lol! :)
My Durham Public School education shaped much of who I am and I really want to be an advocate and support for our state’s public school systems…we cannot afford to let our public schools fail and so much of the economy would be boosted with better public schools, better compensation for teachers, safer school environments, and less political/social agendas being pushed onto our kiddos.

September 5, 2023 12:35 pm

Oh I totally wasn’t expecting this! Hahaha I grew up Christian and went to public schools all my life with other Christians and people of all different faiths. It never occurred to me that this was a “thing” for people to weigh. My husband went to a Christian private school for a few years and I don’t think it mattered to him. And I guess that’s my stance! Haha I support public schools and I believe that these days Christians, and all faiths honestly, could do a lot more good being integrated into other parts of society and being surrounded by people who don’t think and believe the way they do. I grew up an army brat, moving around, going to different schools, and when I went to college, I was the most well-rounded person I knew. So many freshman we’re having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that not everyone was going to be the way their hometown was. And also, doesn’t Christian school cost money? Haha Maybe that’s the real reason why I my parents never sent me to one, and it’s the reason we aren’t sending our kids to ANY private school. It’s definitely a privilege we don’t have.

Sarah
September 5, 2023 3:10 pm

I am in the third category of readers (I wouldn’t consider myself to be a part of “a committed Christian family”, though I do hope to achieve much of your description of those who are!), and wholeheartedly look forward to this series as I find it fascinating to understand how people make educational choices for their children. I just sent my oldest to kindergarten and we weighed (and agonized over) our options for school for years- even before he was born. I honestly had no idea there was any debate amongst Christian families about public schools (apparently I’m living on another side of the internet!). Anyways- I can’t wait to read.

Sarah
September 6, 2023 9:36 pm
Reply to  Em

Wow- I’m down the rabbit hole now. I can see why you have a lot to say about this! Thank you for sharing.

September 5, 2023 3:18 pm

I am really looking forward to this series!! In Germany private schools aren’t really a thing (there are a handful of international ones, maybe a few Christian ones?, but basically everyone goes to public schools. Oh, and homeschooling is not an option in Germany. All children 6 or 7 and older have to attend school.
So, obviously I grew up in public school (like all of my Christian and non Christian friends) and you could say I didn’t know any better, but I truly believe in having everyone in one place. All the beliefs, all the economic backgrounds, all ethnicities etc. Even if we could afford private schools for our kids, I prefer them attending a public school. That being said, I might have a different opinion, if we didn’t live in a good school district or if our kids struggled in school.
Either way, I can’t wait to read all the interviews and your take on this!

September 6, 2023 1:37 pm

Probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a series on EFM! Can’t WAIT to read!

Amy
September 6, 2023 1:43 pm

I’m so very excited for this! Thank you for delving into a touchy topic so thoughtfully. Eager to learn more soon.

Bailey
September 6, 2023 4:14 pm

I am so looking forward to this series! The homeschool/private Christian school voices in my social media feeds are loud. My oldest is 3 and will start kinder in 2026. We’re at an interesting crossroads because we live in Memphis city limits and our public schools are sadly very poorly rated. Everyone in my friend group that doesn’t move out to the suburbs sends theirs to private, and our private options are $15-20k minimum per kid… wild. We have a lot of decisions to make in the next few years! As always, grateful you’re a few steps ahead of me in parenting – love learning from your wisdom!

Nichole W
September 20, 2023 2:54 pm

I’m so excited for this! With my oldest child starting kindergarten next year, school choice has been heavy on my mind. For the time being we feel called to start out with public school and take it year by year. As someone who grew up in a private Christian school, this is uncharted territory and I find myself having a lot of doubts. I’m thankful for other believers encouragements and willingness to have these conversations!

TBH I was very discouraged with the negative feedback against Jen Wilkin after the Good Faith Debate and it solidified the fact that we have to be able to have these conversations in a gracious and respectable manner. Thank you for making the effort to do that .

Katie R
September 20, 2023 4:29 pm

I’m so pumped to read and share this!

Meredith
September 20, 2023 9:11 pm

As a public school science teacher and deeply committed follower of Christ, I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness and care in examining this topic. I have felt isolated and lonely as a result of my husband and my decision to send our daughters to our neighborhood public school in Greensboro. I look forward to reading the posts in this series and learning how others have navigated this path.

Victoria
September 26, 2023 5:12 pm

I am looking forward to reading this series. My biggest concern with public school is all of the state testing. My son is in 1st grade and already has had 3 state tests this year with another 6 to go by the end. It’s just a lot. So not related to this subject at all, but schooling has been on my mind a lot lately and I will value this feedback.

Leslie
October 3, 2023 3:46 pm

Commenting here now that you’re 3 responses in. The series is spot on for where we are in life, evaluating where to send our kids next year. Based on the posts thus far, I’m hoping to see more geographical representation. Specifically, Christians sending their kids to public schools in non-southern and non-suburban settings.