Last winter as part of our seminary training we were studying eschatology (the study of end times) and the rapture (the event when Christians are caught up in the air to meet Christ). I watched the Left Behind movie with Nicolas Cage for some comic relief in the midst of some intense study on the subject. As lame as that movie was (truly terrible), I began to wonder what the world would look like if the rapture were to transpire in that fashion. In the movie, the world disintegrated into chaos, save for Nick Cage, who safely landed an airplane while having no contact with the ground.
For whatever reason I began wondering, Is the rapture happening right now? Okay, I get it, Christ hasn’t returned yet, sure, but that hasn’t stopped Christians from pulling out of society. No place is this more apparent than from our public school system. The message from pulpits across America is all about “the downfall of the public school system.” The convicting message barrels down the tracks and crashes into the hearts of parents who are rapturing their children from schools in rapid fashion. The fear of their children receiving a God-less and moral-less education is real and strong (I was one of them). But let’s slow down for a moment. Is this right? Is it even biblical? How do we as Christians influence culture with the gospel if we are so eager to remove our children from it? I’m certainly not qualified to answer these questions. This is a hefty decision each parent has to make for each child.
Tune into episode 2 (listen here!) where Alex and Jason sit down with Superintendent Sean Costello. Sean has spent time in the public and private school sector holding just about every job you can think of and is currently a superintendent overseeing 13 schools! He also participates in four different homeschool associations and is a roller derby referee. (what?) We half a light-hearted conversation about the serious topic of homeschooling and the responsibility of parents regardless which route they determine for their child’s education.
Here is how this decision played out for my family.
The questions began early for Jess and I, our two oldest boys were three and two years old, with another on the way. The decision for school loomed just two short years away. The church we were attending at the time was hosting an apologetics seminar, and the buzz at the time was all about homeschooling. Stats began flapping from the the lips of the speaker, each one more damning than the last. It culminated with “They don’t even say the pledge with “Under God” in it anymore!” The collective gasp from the congregation filled the air. I couldn’t breath. How could I say I love my child and yet send them off to public school? The sermon was so convicting, my kids were doomed to hell, their salvation was hopeless, how could I be so careless in not taking this matter more seriously? The fear consumed me. I logged onto the speaker’s official website where I read even more stats and horror stories. Jess began collected information on homeschooling, but the route just didn’t seem right for us. We began researching private Christian schools, whose websites confirmed the fear that had been planted in my head. Private school was the answer! Private school assured salvation, safety, and superior education for my child! At last a solution! Then I looked at the price; did the math, and it proved impossible. By the time both boys were enrolled the cost was more than our mortgage and we were a young family already struggling! I e-mailed the seminar speaker, who reassured me that we couldn’t put a price on something so important as our children’s education. I buckled down, rewrote budgets, made plans, began questioning which of our few possessions we could sell, and found a school in Ohio and began researching the area. I loved my kids, I wanted the best for them!
What happened? Fear begot fear, it began to strain our marriage, and we drown. Jess didn’t want to homeschool which by implication from the church meant she was unloving mother. I couldn’t make the numbers work which by implication from the church meant I wasn’t being enough of man to take care of my household. We felt like failures. About that time, due to a number of building frustrations and feelings of hopelessness, Jess and I left that church and found a new one. The message from the new pulpit was refreshingly entrenched in the gospel rather than whimsical-fear-mongering-hypothetical doctrine we had been consuming, and though the new church culture still embraced the homeschool movement, we found comfort through that gospel. I read the words of Jesus in Luke chapter 12 and life changed.
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!”
I realized I wasn’t trusting in God as my provider. I wasn’t trusting God with the salvation of my children, I was attempting to take it into my own hands, as if I could do better than God, as if I knew better than God! Jess and I began to reassess school in-light of the gospel. We determined that regardless of whether or not they went to public, private, or homeschool that A) God was in control and B) our interaction in their lives wasn’t going to change. In private school, my kids would have been fatherless to be raised by the school because I would have had to work two jobs. In homeschool, the stress of three boys at home would have ate Jess alive. In public school, we agreed to be involved as much as possible, attend the conferences, attend the class parties, attend the field trips, and volunteer when opportunity permits. In this light, we saw public school not just as a route of education, but also a gateway to community service. We decided public school was the route to go for our family.
I’ve volunteered at school three days so far through a program called Watch D.O.G.S. My heart broke in the first 5 minutes, when a little red-headed kindergarten girl got off the bus, ran up to me, and gave me a giant hug saying, “Good Morning Watchdog!, Who’s Dad are you?” Just a few short years ago I was forcing homeschool on my family out of fear… fear of this? Fear of these tiny faces who need as much love as they can get? Who better to give that love than Christians who are commissioned from their God to give it! I almost made an ill informed decision based on fear without even investigating my local school district. I spent so much time worrying about my own children, that I wasn’t worrying about all of the other children in my community! Aren’t they just as valuable as the very children God assigned me responsibility of?
I’ve learned in short fashion that teachers are saints! As a Dad I looked around these classrooms and saw chaos! I don’t know how they do it everyday! But teachers, these saints, look around the room and see our future. They see a small window to teach this child how to count, how to read, and how to function. Their hearts break when they send that child home knowing they may not eat tonight. They break when that child comes to school the next morning in stained and smelly clothes. They break when a child show signs of physical abuse. They aren’t just teaching, they are taking care of the “least of these.”
We’ve also seen our child be used by God. Two years ago through our church, Jess and I hosted an Easter party at our house. We contacted Oliver’s teacher and asked if he could pass out invites to his classmates, and she said yes. Oliver got to class the next day, but his teacher said he only had a few invites in his backpack, so only a few kids got them. We asked Oliver what happened to the invites, and he was so excited that he passed them out on the bus on the way to school. A few days later I got a phone call from a young mom, probing me about an invitation her daughter got on the bus. She wanted her kid to go on an egg hunt, but the mother confessed to be an atheist and wiccan and didn’t want her to daughter to be indoctrinated at some egg hunt. I told her we were just doing the egg hunt, no worries, and that I get it, I wouldn’t want my kid indoctrinated the other way around. The egg hunt comes, and the mom with her daughter show up. They both had a good time, she was a normal person, a single mom struggling, but surviving. Later that year on Thanksgiving day, we volunteered with our church to take a thanksgiving meal to the inmates at the Genesee County Jail. As we were leaving the jail, I saw the mom. No, she wasn’t wearing orange, she was in our group serving alongside of us. She had found Jesus because Oliver handed out an invitation to her daughter on school bus. Oliver became a missionary, being used by God to reach a women in our community! It wouldn’t have happened if he weren’t engaged in community.
I’m not telling you what to do with your child, you may investigate your local school and find that it is wretched, homeschool may be your best route. There are so many pros and cons to both, this article, and our episode is pro public school, but it is not anti-homeschool. I spent many sleepless nights deciding what to do with my children, and at the end of the day, God placed us in the right spot. I wish at the time we were deciding that two immature dudes would have invited a well educated superintendent on a ridiculous podcast to help me decide!