Monday, May 23, 2011

Navigating the Waters of Public School

As parents of 4 boys, Kristy and I spent a good deal of time praying about, talking about and figuring out which avenue we would take for educating our children. Our options were, magnet school, public neighborhood school, homeschool, private school or unschooling. (Wikipedia: Unschooling)

From the very beginning, I sensed that God was leading us to put our kids in the public neighborhood school for a couple of reasons that I'll mention shortly. That being said, public school was a scary option for me. I grew up a private school boy. Pre-K - 12th grade. All private. All the way. I had very little experience with public schools but what I did know (think I knew) was not good. I saw Dangerous Minds and Lean on Me. I knew some stuff about public schools. The only thing that public school had going for it in my mind was that my wife went to public school and she seems to be doing fine these days.

With 4 (soon to be 5) kids, we had no choice but to eliminate private school as an option simply due to the cost. Unschooling was never a real thought. Homeschool was also easy for us to eliminate for two reasons. The first was that Kristy and I didn't feel cut out for it. The second reason, which is why we also felt led from the beginning towards the neighborhood school was that we wanted our kids in an environment where they would be able to experience life and practice their faith with people who do not all believe or live like we do. (We have lots of friends who have chosen both private and homeschool for very good reasons that work very well for them. We also will not rule either of these options out for the future, however at this time we simply felt led in a different direction.) 

That left us with the magnet school or the neighborhood school. We went back and forth for a while but upon touring our public neighborhood school, we were immediately sold on it. We really liked the school facility and faculty and we loved the idea that our kids would go to school with other kids who they live in the same neighborhood as.

Some have asked how, as a Christian, I feel about what my boys will be taught in public school. I'm actually okay with my kids learning about evolution and humans coming from monkeys. I'm okay with them learning about GLBT issues and orientations. I'm totally okay with prayer not being allowed in school and think that Happy Holidays is actually a better way to go than Merry Christmas. These things don't bother me, they just remind me of how important my role is as a parent to actively pursue God and to continually lead my kids to the heart of Jesus so that they may learn how to ultimately be led, not by rules, but by his spirit. I don't mean to sound like I take these things lightly, but this is the world that my kids will grow up and live in, so I want to teach them early how to navigate these waters in everyday real life situations.

Our first year at the school was a very good one. Our oldest 2 were at the school this year in Kindergarten and Pre-K. We loved their teachers. We loved their friends. Both of our boys became best friends with kids in their classes that were of different races. This totally blessed my heart because my boys will not grow up seeing color (which is also good considering their sister will be black). On the whole it was a great year!

Last Friday our family was there on the second row for our oldest son's graduation from Kindergarten. He was so cute on the stage with about 50 other Kindergarten students, singing songs, reciting poems and stories and receiving certificates.

And then it happened....right in the middle of the program.....a fight broke out.

But this wasn't just any public school fight. This one was even better because it was between parents. Right there on the front row, 10 feet from where the children were standing and watching and learning. One man was actually hauled off to jail, another woman escorted to the back of the room and two other adults were watched closely for the rest of the ceremony.

I'm sad to say, but my initial response was that we needed to get our kids out of this school. We needed to place them somewhere where evil and stupidity couldn't touch them. After calming down though and getting back to God, I feel even more strongly that this is the very reason we need to keep our kids right where they are and as parents who follow Jesus, our role is to continue becoming more engaged in the lives of our kids friends, their parents, the teachers and so on. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where our hope that life can be different actually gets played out. This is where the kingdom of God touches the kingdom of the world in very real, very tangible ways. This is the tension we've been invited to live in. These are the waters that we feel we have been called to navigate through with grace and mercy, hope and light.

So, the journey will continue. If we continue to feel this is the direction God is leading us, we will have 3 at the school next year. Four the year after that. And five the year after that. My prayer is that Jesus in the Jeansonne's is evidenced by more of his kingdom touching that school and the lives of those involved at the school in tangible ways every year.

And for those who are curious...yes, it is still scary for me.


Me! said...

While mentoring in Kid's Hope the principal at Schneckenburger asked me if we had something for the parents of these children and my thought was "That is a GREAT idea!" Maybe you should think about that:)

Rebeca Milford said...

thank you for sharing this story and your feelings on this matter. Our oldest just graduated from a private high school and our second is going into a private high school, but we are taking our two youngest kids and placing them in a public neighborhood school and I am SCARED...they are going into the 2nd grade and I am praying daily. I am not even sure what to pray for I just know that I am nervous.

I did attend public school and I think that is why i am so freaked about it but i have to say that you are right in saying that this is the world that our kids will experience. So here goes "Kingdom of God meets the Kingdom of the World..." All I can say is God give me Grace!!!
I thank you again for sharing

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your boldness as parents! Believe me, from a teacher's perspective, we appreciate your dedication to your children's education & participation in school events. Your children & others with moral foundations provide appropriate peer models in class. In my experience, there were very few "involved Christian parents" throughout my years of teaching; but when I did it was so refreshing & was blessed by their efforts! Children do learn what they live & the public schools reflect, at times, our society's ills. Dr. King's dream has not come true in all public schools- sad to say. We, as Christ followers, must continue to provide hope; let HIS light shine as much as possible. It is tough. I am sorry such a distasteful incident took place at such a joyous occasion.

Anonymous said...

don't think that stupid only exist in public schools, it doesn't. as a child growing up in private school, i would think that your mom and dad saw things differently than yourself during that time. i was a parent of two boys in private school and i saw stupid.. no matter where i go, i see stupid, he's everywhere, i just choose not to engage stupid but to ask the question... Why? or why not?
would love to share my experiences with you one day

Simone said...

I agree with you Brian. Grant and I had to make a choice as well and with private school out of the questions due to finances we were stuck with public school or homeschooling. After touring the public school and learning more about the programs offered there for our daughter, we both knew that it was not the place for her. Had there been a magnet school, things may have turned out differently. Our decision to homeschool has been great! She has learned so much and we think that for now, this is what God wants us to do.
I also agree with her being exposed to others that are not "Christians", I do believe she needs to know that not everyone is like those at church. That's where, for now, she is enrolled in gymnastics. I also make sure to talk to about how others do not believe the same things as us and why.
I agree that it is a calling and that you have to be ready and patient. I do think all people "can" homeschool if they choose, you do not need a degree in teaching to teach someone else. There are so many programs out there that make it very easy.
A side note: I think it is great that your children do not see color! That is a reflection of parenting and something that we have tried to instill in our children as well.

Cimbrey said...

Look, Brian! I'm reading your posts!!! :)
I totally agree with you about public school being a way for kids to learn how to let the spirit lead them. It's real life, and they have the choice to really screw up if they so choose. This allowance gives them the space to choose Christ. I think my biggest failures in (public) middle school and high school ended up being how really showed me how much he loved me and how much I needed him. We usually learn to love God most when we need him the most.