When we were first house hunting in Nashville, the area we were looking at was zoned for a really great public school with a sterling reputation and sky high test scores. I was excited because it seemed like, as good as Luke’s school in South Carolina was, this one was going to be significantly better. Thus, when my husband called to tell me that he had found the perfect house in that area, I was ecstatic. There was just one catch:
“It’s zoned for a different school.”
He had spent the past five minutes gushing about the house, so I was not initially alarmed. I was already on a real estate site on the computer looking at the house, and I asked him what the name of the school was, so I could look it up.
The first statistic I saw made the blood rush from my head: “99% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.” There was kind of a roaring sound behind my ears when I read that. I also saw the statistic that said that my child would be very much in the ethnic minority, but I was more hung up on the first one.
Greg told me I was a racist.
“Classist,” I corrected. “I’m a classist.”
This was another “rubber meeting the road” moment for me. I like poor people, and I want to help them. But to send my child to their school, which I could only imagine had the host of societal problems that I had come to see were associated with poverty? Yeeesh.
Then I looked at the test scores. Double yeesh. They were not good.
Greg, who was still in Nashville, said that he would suspend judgment until he toured the school. I, on the other hand, immediately began researching “school choice” in Nashville. Turns out that they do have a school choice option…if your school is a “Title 1, High Priority school.” I looked it up.
My child’s potential school was a Title 1, High Priority school.
Even the city of Nashville recognized that I would not want to send my child to that school if I could help it.
The next day, Greg toured the school and was actually pretty impressed. He talked with the volunteer coordinator and with the principal, who was new and very enthusiastic. He saw the big map on the wall that highlighted all 27 countries from which these students came (like, they were born in those countries). He saw the well-behaved students sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor while the teacher read to them. His report was heartening, but to say that I was still hesitant would be an understatement.
Now, you might be wondering my son’s education situation would be featured on a blog about Kingdom Civics. I really do believe that every part of our life should be lived to the glory of God. And I know that God probably doesn’t care whether I have pancakes or waffles for breakfast, but I think that something as big as the education of my child would fall into His purview. I think He cares about those kind of decisions, and while there may not be an objective right and wrong in every case, I believe that the reason we make such decisions does matter to God.
I also know that many Christians believe that our number one goal as Christian parents is to protect our children from the world. I understand that belief, I respect it, and I even agree with it…to a degree. I also believe, however, that as Christians, we should not make decisions out of fear, and that we have an equally important goal to teach our children how to interact with the world around them so that they will be equipped to reflect God’s glory to their culture in a way that their culture understands. That is my personal understanding of “IN the world, but not OF the world.” As such, I am a strong advocate of public schools. I think that Christian families need to be participating in the public school system, especially in the early grades, and that it provides maybe the best way for Christians to get involved with their local community, their “neighbors.”
You can agree or disagree with that assessment. What is relevant at this time is that those words represent my firm conviction, and that Luke’s school situation was testing it. Far from making a fearless decision, I was actually quite terrified of sending my child to that school. I’m not justifying the assumptions behind that terror; I’m just being honest. And though in theory, I want my kids to be well-versed in other cultures, the idea of my son being the only white kid in the class was boundary-stretching for a mom who has spent all her years comfortably in the majority. Again, it is a great idea in theory, but when it comes to your child, your child…well, let’s just say, the theory gets tested.
When we got to Nashville, we toured a couple of the schools with the higher test scores and then headed down to the Board of Education to explore our school choice options. Turns out, that was a total bust. The “choice” we were given was for two schools that seemed no better than our own, and were further away! So our real choice turned out to be between “our” school and scrimping to make our private school option work.
Greg and I talked about it, and we both agreed that if we had no safety concerns about the school, then we should at least give it a shot to see if it would meet Luke’s educational needs. One reason the test scores were so low is that they had to teach many of the children English, so they were already starting behind. If, however, they could find a way to also challenge students like Luke, who not only knows English, but also knows how to read, then we would continue sending him there, as long as he didn’t have any huge social problems. We figure that since the children are given standardized tests at the end of every year, we could see if Luke was falling behind, compared to other schools in Tennessee.
We toured the school. It looked very much like my own elementary school, right down to the antiquated lunchroom. There was definitely a melting pot of children there, and Greg even saw a girl wearing a hijab that lit up like those light-up shoes. We both laughed at what seemed like a clear influence of American culture on foreign traditions, for better or worse. We saw whole classes of “newcomers,” who spoke no English, and learned about the distinctions between the Kurds. The principal gave us a tour and candidly answered all my very frank and decidedly politically incorrect questions. It’s funny how you don’t worry about being “pc” when the best interest of your child is involved! She was open and honest, and we really liked her. Later, I took Luke back to see it, and the secretary took us around. Her daughter had attended a similar public elementary school with great success and was now attending high school at the same private school we were thinking of for our children. She was great to talk to, and I asked her lots of questions, too, including things like, “Would you send your child to this school?” Without hesitation, she said, “Without a doubt.” Both she and the principal marveled at how little discipline problems they had, especially when compared to the other schools where they had worked.
So this was the bottom line: Luke liked the school and the kindergarten classrooms. The school seemed safe. The children in it seemed happy and well-behaved. There were no red flags that suggested that their method of educating children was inherently faulty.
We had a choice to make.
What would you do? Would you send your kindergartner to that school? What if you had the same beliefs about public school that I do?