Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wrestling With My Daughter's Education

A few years ago it was getting very near the time when my daughter would be attending kindergarten. No big deal right? Well, for my wife and me, it was a big deal. We had lots of big questions, some which were spiritual, some concerning education, and some concerning the general safety of our daughter.

While I have many good friends who home-school their children, we quickly ruled that out as an option. For one, it seems to take a high level of gifting and patience (neither of which we had in great supply) to teach your own children in an effective way and secondly, we really wanted our children to have ample opportunity to learn how to interact with others. So the next option we considered was private Christian schools. Again, we had a couple of issues there as well. First, after years of doing youth and college ministry I had noticed that many of the kids that went to Christian schools were often very ill-equipped for the real world and many times were much less than adequate examples of Christ-followers than their counterparts in other schools. This left us with one remaining option - the dreaded public school system.

Our objections to public school went something like this,
“Don’t kids kill each other in the public schools?”
“My daughter will be offered drugs!”
“The education will be second rate!”
“Can’t we as her parents do a better job teaching our child than the government?”
“Won’t she get contaminated with anti-Christian ideas and philosophies?” and so on…

The objections in our minds seemed to be endless.

However as we struggled with these issues one phrase of Jesus kept coming to mind – “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt 5:13-14.)” In spite of all of our questions I could not shake the firm conviction in my soul that I wanted my daughter to learn to be a Christian, not isolated and shut off from the world but, in the real world. Our struggle finally gave way to an abiding sense of peace that putting our daughter in public school was the right thing for us to do.

For the most part the first year went off uneventfully. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of education and our daughter seemed to really enjoy it as well. That is, until another kid attacked her with some scissors one day. Though our daughter was not seriously injured, suddenly all of our fears were confirmed. We just knew everything was too good to be true. We began to seriously question whether we had done the right thing. This minor crisis began to cause us to really question what we believed about God, about family, about education, and very much with what we thought God had called us to do. We reluctantly decided that we would keep our daughter in school. However,what we were about to find out is that our child’s education was not simply about her or us but something much bigger.

Dina (my wife) met with the principal a few days after the scissors incident. She went in to get answers about how something like that could happen to our daughter but was caught off guard when she heard herself asking the principal if there was a mentoring program in place for at-risk kids in the school. Though there was no mentoring program in the school at that time we could both sense God moving in our hearts and in this situation to get something started. While I will spare the details of what transpired over the next few months, we were in fact able to get a mentoring program in place in that public school. The mentoring program, Kids Hope USA, pairs churches with public schools to mentor at-risk children (http://www.kidshopeusa.org .) We are now starting our third year of Kid’s Hope in my daughter’s school with around fifteen mentors from our church that will spend one hour a week throughout the school year mentoring a child.

Last month Dina attended a meeting with the teachers the week before school started to connect with them about Kids Hope USA again. When the principal introduced Dina, she recounted how when my daughter had been attacked by a scissors-wielding child that she figured that we would either pull our daughter out of school or get a lawyer and sue the school. She recalled being taken aback that we would actually respond to the situation by trying to help the school out by mentoring children.

So all of our wrestling with these various complex beliefs ended up coming full circle. Through the process, Dina and I realized that there was more to the school question than simply education and spirituality. In this wrestling match, God wanted to get at something in both of us and bring his kingdom to bear in our small corner of the world. I write this not to boast or say we did anything extraordinary but simply to illustrate the struggle of wrestling with our worldview and our values. I am thankful that we did wrestle with these issues rather than simply follow the dictates of the “Christian” culture or surrounding society. I suspect there are several kids that get mentored each week who are glad we wrestled too.

I have come to realize that education is far more than academic, far more than book knowledge and the regurgitation of facts.  Children are educated by everything they experience whether at home, in a classroom, or just learning to get along with people who are very different from them.  Like any parent I want my daughter to learn how to read and write and do math but I also want her to learn how to get along with a diversity of people from differing races, religions, and backgrounds. I want her to grow up thinking that normal Christianity is experienced not in hiding from the world but in engaging it. I want her to have a faith that is not cowering in fear of the darkness but displacing darkness with light. The smartest kids in the world are at a disadvantage if they don’t know how to engage with the world around them. And kids who come from devoutly religious families are certainly going to have a hard time in college and the surrounding real world if they have simply been hidden from it for their entire childhood.

These are issues that we have wrestled with and will continue to wrestle with as long as these children are in our care.  There may come a day when we feel God leading us to homeschool our kids but for now we sense God with us in this current educational path.