Mother's Day Features
Should I Send My Child to Public School?
It’s common these days for young churchgoing parents to approach us with the question, “Our son, Michael, is going to turn four next month, and we’re already thinking about what kind of school he should go to. What do you think we should do?”
“Well,” we reply, “have you prayed about it?”
“Oh, yes,” they quickly respond, and then keep right on talking about human criteria. “But you know, we read in the paper that the test scores for District Such-and-Such are down 3 percent this year—and we’re trying to see how we could afford Christian school tuition, but that’s kind of steep, you know? We really need your guidance.”
“Actually, the guidance you need,” we say with a gentle tone, “is not so much from us as from the Lord. Ask Him what He wants you to do with Michael—and don’t assume the answer based on some research report you read in the newspaper or online. Find out what God thinks.”
We’re not trying to be evasive here. And we’re not trying to sound super-spiritual. We honestly believe that if God knows every detail of our lives down to the number of hairs on our child’s head, He would not be aloof to a question as important as where that child should receive instruction.
When young parents push back and say, “Well, how would God ever answer that kind of prayer?” we reply, “Don’t worry about it. God is big enough to figure out a method! You just do the asking. Let Him know that you really want to hear His take on the matter, and then watch what happens.”
One young mom (whose husband works in full-time Christian ministry, no less) began reciting a flood of statistics she had read: “Well, I found out that if your children go to college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree, their future income will be X. If they get a master’s, it’s estimated to be Y. And if they go on for a doctorate, it will be Z. So, the thing is, you’ve got to get them into the right colleges, which means going to the right high school and grade school, which means you’ve got to start with the right preschool . . .” It was all boiling down to a scientific formula. Pros versus cons. Statistics and probabilities. We felt like we were listening to somebody lay out their research for buying the best SUV or the best home theater system.
There’s nothing wrong with research. Schooling decisions should not be made flippantly. But research and numbers are not the beginning of wisdom, according to God’s Word. We need to start out by investigating soberly, reverently, even fearfully, what God thinks. This is where true knowledge begins.
It is easy to give lip service to the fear of the Lord while, in fact, acting based on a fear of people: Which school has the fewest disciplinary problems? What if I have to admit to my friends that my kid didn’t make it into a first-tier college? What if future employers aren’t impressed by my child’s transcript? Such questions are all predicated on what people will think, and how our reputation as parents will stand up to scrutiny. It is as if we think we’ll be judged based on what the world believes is important.
But the opinions of others are not nearly as important as the opinion of the heavenly Father.
Back in 1988, as our firstborn, Alyse, approached kindergarten age, we were typical young parents who wanted the best of everything for our precious daughter. We had already researched early-enrichment programs, from James Dobson books and videos to How to Multiply Your Baby’s Intelligence by Glenn Doman—and a number of others. We read all kinds of books and articles. We monitored what was “hot” at the time. We certainly didn’t want to blow it. We feared getting Alyse off onto the wrong foot by making a mistake when it came to her schooling.
Education had always been a big deal to the Pritchard family. In fact, that was one of the reasons David’s father and his young bride moved more than 5,000 miles across the ocean from Samoa back in 1950. They wanted a quality learning environment for their yet-to-be-born children.
Making the right decision for Alyse seemed just as momentous. Centralia, Washington, where we lived at that time, had a strong Christian school as well as a large homeschooling network. We received a lot of friendly lobbying by people we knew and respected in both camps.
Kelli, with an education degree, was entirely ready to homeschool. She felt confident; she knew she could handle the job. And she loved our kids intensely. She was definitely not the kind of mom who was eager to push her child off the doorstep toward some school so that she could regain her “freedom.” Spending the next two decades teaching Alyse and the others at home would have been Kelli’s idea of paradise.
The flexible schedule that comes with homeschooling was a real plus in our minds, as well. It would have enhanced our lifestyle as small-business operators who were also involved as volunteers in a teen ministry.
But we didn’t jump for any one option right away. We interviewed our pastor, seeking godly counsel. We talked with both sets of our parents, wanting to “honor your father and mother,” as the Scripture says. After all, this was their grandchild. We met with various principals and teachers we knew and asked lots of questions.
Most important, we sought the Lord. “God, we want Alyse to be where You think she should be,” we prayed night after night. “Where is that? What are You thinking about this situation?”
The longer we prayed, the more we felt a nudge in the direction of public school. It was nothing external or dramatic; we simply sensed in our spirits that we should begin this route. Neither one of us considered that the die had been cast for her whole education, nor for all our kids yet to come. We said we would take it year by year, child by child, and see if God continued to affirm this choice.
In fact, sending Alyse to public school was the right choice. Her kindergarten teacher, who happened to be a Christian believer, was an excellent educator. We watched our daughter grow and blossom in her classroom. We began to understand the many things public school could do for her. We also saw aspects that needed our monitoring and even occasional intervention. But by the next year, we had decided that Alyse would continue her public-school career and sent her to first grade. The following year Krista started there as well, and then our son Tavita a year after that. We sensed God’s confirmation each step of the way.
And the rest is history.
David Pritchard is a nine-year veteran of Young Life youth ministry. He currently serves as area director in the south suburbs of Tacoma, Washington, and as camp manager of Young Life's largest summer camp. Kelli Pritchard has degrees in secondary education and in social work. The Pritchards have been influential in the lives of dozens of young people in their home and lead weekend parenting conferences. They are also cofounders of a community action group to work for improvement in the local school district. Learn more at http://www.pritchardministries.org/