By Sara Elsner
Regardless of HOW or WHERE you educate your children, you can probably sense their anticipation of approaching holidays. Hopefully the happy diversions of Thanksgiving and Christmas will be breaks from what’s become a happy school routine this semester. But if the “routine” is still a work in progress, or if it’s lacking in the “happy” department, you might be questioning whether your children are thriving, and you may feel a motivation to change their current educational setting. This article is an attempt to address those motivations objectively from the perspective of the following disclosures:
Disclosure #1 - I homeschool, and have ONLY homeschooled all eight of our children, (one with Down’s syndrome), through high school.
Disclosure #2 – I’m a mother of a public school educator, both my parents and mother-in-law are all retired public school educators, and I am a certified public school educator. I also loved my own public school upbringing.
Disclosure #3 – It was a childhood dream of mine (and still is) to direct a private school.
De-compartmentalizing Education in the Body of Christ
Regardless of the genre of schooling God is calling a family to pursue, we should neither be intimidated, envious, suspicious, nor critical of the choices other families are making – nor prideful about our own. This NOW seems like a no-brainer, but it hasn’t always been the case. Beginning our homeschooling journey in the 1990’s was still a countercultural decision, and I was often almost exclusive in my alignment alongside other homeschoolers for the validation of that choice. This shared defensiveness, unfortunately, also included discrediting the more conventional alternatives of schooling. I remember being at an evening homeschool moms’ support group meeting, and hearing one mom tell how she withdrew her children from a conventional classroom setting because her son “had a screaming teacher.” I thought about how my day as a homeschooler had been, and another mom chuckled when I whispered the admission that my kids had a “screaming teacher” that day too.
I guess that’s Disclosure #4 - There are no ideals when it comes to educating our kids.
After two-plus decades of parenting and homeschooling, as well as being connected in a diverse body of Christ followers, I’ve watched many people parent extremely well – and also experience extreme challenges – using all educational genres. I’ve learned to be far less dogmatic about the HOW and WHERE of education. (While I have learned to be far less opinionated, I have not waned in my passion for the calling God has given our family to homeschool, or for all the HOW’s He has led us to, for walking out that calling – I share more about that in my next article “Why We Homeschool: Passion – Not Dogma”. Some of these HOWS could also be applied in families who do NOT homeschool.)
Just as there’s no perfect local church, there’s no perfect homeschool, public school, or private school that solves all the problems of humanity. Only God can do that.And we do best to humbly lean on Him to intervene in our children’s hearts, minds, and lives - regardless of whether we put them on a yellow school bus, drop them off in a uniform, or seat them with books at the kitchen table.
As moms, we rightfully desire the most ideal learning environments for our kids, but it’s impossible for those ideals to be constantly maintained for every child at all times. For that reason, our decisions about schooling genres for our children are better, if motivated by a commitment to the positive benefits of those choices, rather than against the alleged negative aspects of the alternatives.
In other words, don’t pull your child from school to homeschool them just because they had a bad day, or because a teacher seems to be impatient with them. Trust me – homeschooling doesn’t always solve that problem! At the same time, don’t assume you’re not patient enough or able enough to homeschool your child – be assured that even professional educators have limitations. And limitations aren’t bad – they’re the reality of humanity, but God is bigger.
Let the “WHY” Drive the “WHERE” and “HOW”
As I’ve learned to be less dogmatic about the HOW’s and WHERE’s of educating our children, I’ve also learned to more persistently and humbly pursue the WHY’s.
WHY are we educating our children? This again may seem obvious – we want our kids to be nurtured and equipped to be world-changers and contribute to society. As Christian parents, we also value this biblical directive that affirms our WHY’S:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 NASB
We want our children to be engaged with their God-given purpose and gifting, and for them to value and be committed to that purpose.
HOW and WHERE does the engaging of our children’s hearts and minds for their purpose best happen? For one family, that engagement is best accomplished in a homeschool environment where curriculums and schedules are most easily customized by a parent (I share more on this in my next article: “Why We Homeschool: Passion – Not Dogma”). For another family, a public or private school classroom setting is best because of the structure and schedule it provides, or for the opportunities it offers their students. For some families, the logistics of educational engagement may vary from child to child within the family, or across different seasons of marriage, parenting, or vocation.
Relational Intentionality and the Big Picture
In hindsight, I’ve learned the following:
Regardless of where their kids’ educational settings are, parents relationally engaging the hearts of their children, from birth through the teen years, is paramount to training them for their purpose “in the way they should go” – and this does not equate to an endless smorgasbord of extracurricular activities to discover what may potentially make them seem significant.
Even though quantity time is usually required in order for quality time to happen, it doesn’t guarantee it. Regardless of the quantity of time our kids may physically spend in my presence, I’ve had to be intentional about relationally engaging their hearts according to their purpose – otherwise I find I run a risky treadmill that has the potential to generate indifferent compliance at best, or rebellion at worst.
The above concepts aren’t always easy to process – no matter where our kids go to school.
The Bible also speaks to this relational intentionality:
“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NLT
When I read this, I see that God’s purposes for our children can be effectively communicated with them in any setting in which we intentionally relate to their hearts. I love that God doesn’t seem to be dogmatic about the WHERE’S and HOW’S of education either!
I am thankful that we have a relational God who is very passionate about the WHY’s of educating our kids, and that He’s big enough to meet us and them at the kitchen table, carpool, or bus stop – morning or night! So if you’re contemplating alternatives in the WHERE or HOW of your child’s learning, ask Him to help you evaluate the engaging of their heart on the WHY as you make your decisions.
A wife of thirty-ish years and homeschooling mom of eight, “plus-three”, Sara enjoys cooking for her remaining household of seven that grows to at least thirteen when their married kids are also seated at their family’s twenty foot table. As a math major, Sara battles symmetry-addiction, and she can’t avoid using both sides of her brain as she gardens and decorates. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook!