Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Public? Private? Home?

I was talking with a neighbor of ours last night and she was telling me about their children. We've watched them grow up and seen some of the struggles that they've gone through: bad boyfriends, bad choices of friends, drugs, etc. One of their children is still mired in some stuff and has just made a mess of their life.

One thing she told me is to get and keep our kids out of public schools. She said gangs are a huge problem and out of all of the friends of this child, 100% get high on pot everyday.

And it brought into sharp relief an issue that I feel strongly about and have a great deal of fear about. I've mentioned before my trepidation at sending Kinsey to school, as Sheryl and I stop being the people that she spends the most consistent time with during the week, and every now and then last year, we'd get a glimpse of some behavior that we knew she was picking up from some classmates. We'd correct it of course and she'd be better and we hoped she was having a positive influence on her friends as well.

Back when I was teaching, Sheryl and I were firm that we wanted our children in public schools because we didn't want to be one of those "white flight" families that pulled our kids out of there because we were afraid of the people with different colored skin, and that's still very true. However, when it comes to our children's development, we really want to be as cautious as possible that they don't end up with bad influences where they make dumb choices when they're young (and under our tutelage) that can affect them for the rest of their lives.

And so we think about private schools, recognizing the financial burden that brings and the insular provincial world that can exist among those who can afford such luxuries. And even recognizing the fact that some of the same bad influences in public schools can exist in private schools.

And so we think about homeschooling and the challenges and struggles that can bring.

This isn't a post where I have one of those firm opinions that I normally can have. This is a very difficult issue and it's really, really easy to have one of those opinions before your children are born, but then you look into the sweet face of your daughter and you will do what ever it takes to protect her and take care of her and the beautiful toothless grin of my son and know that you want to prepare him for the future.

I must have missed this section in the owner's manuals for the kids.


Justin said...

I liked what my parents did in the situation. We went to public school Kindergarten through 8th grade (except for me, who went through ninth grade).

After that, we were given a choice of staying in public school or going to private school. I think having both experiences was good for me... going from a school with 3000 people to a school with 600 7-12th grades, gave me a chance to be in leadership roles and participate in things I wouldn't have otherwise been able to. Also, I developed closer friends because in between every class, I saw the same people, whereas in public school, I had to make a whole new group of friends every year... and had trouble finding responsible friends that I could hang out with outside of school.

I do think its vital to go to public school, at least for some period of time, because I've seen first hand that the sheltered environment of private school often leads to either judgementalness and a holier than thou attitude (I will say that I probably fit into that category when I graduated) or a rebelliousness once one got out of the private school bubble.

Granted, I'm not a parent yet, so my opinions may change, but as for now, I'd like to make my kids go to public school until things start getting sketchy, and then give them the opportunity once they get to high school

Christy said...

I'm right with you on this dilemma. I was a public school girl all the way. I learned a lot about sticking up for myself and my faith, but times have certainly changed. I do fear for my kids safety and not just because some people may have another shade to their skin...it doesn't seem to matter what background you come from--kids are just getting scary. They learn so much more then they should at earlier ages and think they are mature enough to put those lessons into practice. Private school is not the 'cure-all' answer but I do feel like you as the parent have a little more control (less people in class, more (hopefully positive) adult interaction interaction) and ability to be a part of your child's education process. I personally don't agree with the home school route. Being a former teacher myself, I want my children to value other people's backgrounds and learn from them. I also think children need to learn from other authority fiqures and that you need to take direction from other adults--most importantly learn to RESPECT other adults and what they have to teach you.

We have two more years of OC pre-school before fiquring out exactly what to do with Christian. Feel free to pave the way and give us some insight on the choices you make for Kinsey and her educational process.

Rob Cox said...

This is something Clarissa and I have spent a lot of time discussing. Our kids went to public school in Nashville, and part of the year in Huntsville. Now they are going to a private school.

I can see the point of view on all of the options and there are so many things to consider in this decision:
* Spiritual development
* Social development
* Being light to the community
* Protecting children (which can be a double-edge sword)
* The education itself

Complicating this are the myths. In christian schools, not all of the students are christians, there are drugs, alchohol, and other bad influences. Most public schools are decently run or even run well. We hear a lot about the worst of the public schools when one side wants more funding and when the other side wants to change the way education is done.

I don't think there's an answer that is right for everyone, but each option presents opportunities to serve God.

Justin said...

Right Rob, there are still drugs and alcohol and sex in private schools. I think the key thing is though, is that with a smaller school, you know the parents of the kids your kids are hanging out with.

I mean, my little brother was drinking, and someone sent an anonymous letter to my parents to let them know. That's not gonna happen at public school.

Jennifer Thompson said...

I have mixed feelings on this - and you know I'm not a parent, so take my opinion with a very large grain of salt. I was a public school kid till I went to Harding, and I'm really glad I was. I was exposed to lots of different things that I may or may not have been exposed to in a private school, and looking back I'm glad I was. Aside from the sex/drugs/rock & roll aspect, I had friends from different Christian denominations, and that actually affected me a lot. I went from just knowing my family was right to really having to dig into some things because of what my Presbyterian friends asked me, and that was really good for me. That may happen at some of the COC schools here, but my impression is that most of the kids are COC. (Not that we can't disagree at times...)

However, my public school was in the heart of upper middle class suburbia. I never felt unsafe at school, and I was never really around the druggies or drinkers, so my experience may not be what Kinsey and Connor would experience.

Tony Arnold said...

I wrestle with the exact same problems Phil. I prefer public school for Maria.

1. Because I am already paying for it with taxes. I don't want to pay twice.

2. I want Maria to be well-rounded, not privileged and not sheltered.

3. I don't want all the Christians exiting public schools.

4. I had such a traumatic experience with a private, Christian school and such a great experience in Davidson County public schools.

We have had her in public school for K-1 and she will be staying there through the 4th grade since we are very pleased. After that, we have some serious decisions to make.

For now, this is my criteria for choosing schools including staying in public school.

1. She must be safe and not have to worry about her safety.

2. She must be able to get a good education if she chooses to apply her self (quality classes and teachers are available).

3. She must be able to avoid drugs and trouble if she chooses to (I acknowledge that trouble and drugs are available anywhere, but I want a place where they can be avoided if the child wants to avoid them).

If any of the 3 above are in question, we will move her to where all 3 can be met including home schooling as an option. I found all 3 in public schools in the early 80's. Not so sure about now.

There will be a lot of prayer and seeking God's will on these matters.


DB Carden said...


Thanks for that...I appreciate the enumerated criteria.

You and I are in the same exact boat on this subject in time and space it seems. We should probably compare notes and thoughts on this over the next few years.

I went to private school one year when I was in 8th grade, it was horrible because I was outside the cliche of the class who had been together pretty much intact since K or 1st grade.

Rob Cox said...

Judy, if you read this, I hope you share some thoughts on this.

Elizabeth S said...

I went to public school k-8 and then went to private for 9-12. My experience at both was great, but I grew up in a very small town,so going to public school was almost like private. A lot of the teachers went to my church and everyone knew everyone. Now that my kids are school age, my views have certainly changed. Right now they are in public school, but I wonder how differently I would feel if we could afford private school. I tried homeschooling for a bit, but it didn't work for us at the time. I love the idea though. And my kids LOVED it. For now, they will stay where they are, but as they get older, I know we will be making some changes. We have one who is gifted and the schools here don't have much to offer him. We end up doing extra stuff at home anyway, which is why I tried homeschooling. I never thought I would have this much trouble making decisions about school.

bpb said...

I attended a private (CoC) school, grades 1 - 9, then a county/public school. I lived in a small town with only one city school. There were six county schools. The people I went to private school with have the most messed up lives. Drugs, divorce, alchohol. Yes, those things were in the public schools, but it wasn't the norm. Once I left the private school, I was "abandoned" by my friends at church - they all went to the private school. Plain and simple, the kids around here that attend private school seem to think they're better than the rest of the kids. We have to remember that it's not the job of the church or the school to raise our children with the morals we want them to have - it's OUR responsibility. In my case, I believe too many parents thought they were shifting their responsibilties onto the school (private/church) and the kids got all messed up. After my husband was killed (1989), I sent my daughter to this same private school I had attended. What a mess! I had insurance money so I had prepaid her entire year of tuition. Near the end of the school year, I had forgotten to give her any lunch money. Do you have any idea what an ordeal that was?? They finally agreed to give her a PB&J!! She was 9 yrs. old. This was not the kind of "Christian" I wanted my child exposed to. We were back to the county schools. Mind you - this is a small, rural area. There are no extra-circular activites scheduled on Wednesday (so everyone can go to church). Home School? No way. I know it's a personal decision, but we need to realize - as difficult as it is - we can't always be there to protect them from the world.

Phil said...

Thank everyone so much for their comments and thoughts. Sheryl is reading too and we both really appreciate knowing that others are really struggling with the same thoughts.

If you know of anyone out there that has already gone through this and think they would have something to add to the conversation, please forward this onto them. I know that Sheryl and I would love to hear from the voices of experience and wisdom as we try to navigate these waters. Thanks again and please keep the conversation going!

Laura said...

You have opened up a can of worms, my friend. I worry about Avery's future every day. Just remember that every child is different and you can rear a balanced, godly child in almost any situation if you have a good handle on the child's development at home. You and Sheryl are wonderful parents and will know what to do.

judy thomas said...

My husband were both highly involved in Abilene, Texas public schools--he was a principal and I was a librarian. Our son went to a small public school near Abilene. We are therefore, sold on those public schools. That does not mean we are sold on all public schools. From what I can read in the newspaper and by hearing people talk, I think Nashville public Schools are broken with little chance of being fixed. That probably began when whites began flying away in the 60's and 70's. It is a sad situation when one cannot trust the public schools nearby to properly educate one's child. By a proper education, I mean safety for all students, top-notch teachers in every classroom, challenge and imagination in each classroom, each child treated equally regardless of gender or race, a balanced curriculum containing academics, the arts, and physical education, and administrators who know what is going on and who care about each child and teacher.

If those ingredients are found in your local public school, go for it. If not, begin saving your pennies for a private school which offers the same amenities I listed above. Some private schools do not have the curriculum balance I wrote of above.

I have not found in my experience that home schooling is good for the child or for the parent. Excessive sheltering leads to even more problems in the teenage years than one would expect,and not every parent has the skill to teach what students need to know today. (Oh, yes, I have heard about the wonder children who were home schooled and knocked the top out of the ACT) I just wonder what their social skills are like.
Although, social skills can be lacking in some private schools in which the students feel priviliged.

A parent who home schools is often more disciplinarian than teacher. I know of one home-schooled child who said, "I just want you to be my mother."

I realize that the home schooling crowd is banding together today to give their students more educational opportunities--I think they call it co-ops. Sounds a little like public schools. Could it be that they secretly know what their children are missing? They are even asking to be included in football leagues.

As I look at my grandchildren, I would have had no qualms about their attending Abilene Public Schools. However, they live in Nashville. And that is a problem their parents are going to have to face.

Whatever the decision made, parents have the absolute obligation to become involved in their children's education and in the school they attend. That does not mean dropping them at the kindergarden door and clapping at their high school graduation--that means volunteering, attending parent meetings, getting to know administrators and teachers, and yes, being nosy if need be.

These are somewhat off-the-top of my head remarks; I am sure I will think of better things to say later.
Judy Thomas

Tony Arnold said...

db, we definitely need to constantly consult given our situations. Not that it will do much good for us to do so since our wives already do, but at least we can delude ourselves with the idea that our discussions will impact our family decisions. :-)

Jeff said...

I won't spend much time giving my thoughts, but I will echo some of what others have said. My experience was similar to Justin, where I went to a public school through 6th grade, and then my mom got a job at the local private (CoC) school so my brother and I could go there. I think going to public for a certain period of time is beneficial, but I definitely benefited from the private school experience because I had the opportunity to be a leader and be involved in many activities and sports that I would have never done at the local public high schools (which were two of the largest in the state, and I had a graduating class of 13 - it wasn't hard to make it on the basketball team with no tryouts). I also think that my parents had the benefit of knowing the parents of who I hung out with. It was not perfect, because our school began accepting some of the kids that got kicked out of the public schools, so we essentially were drug down by the fact that others in the community saw us as the place to "fix" the problem children.

Christy pretty much summed up our thoughts to date for our children. I know it will be something we continually discuss and wrestle with. I will also agree that I will probably lean to a private school that is not CoC based, because I want my children to develop their faith and belief system from something other than a daily dose of CoC mantras.

Thomas+ said...

I'll be quick.

My children are small, and they go to a great private school. We spend more money sending them to this school than we spend on our mortgage, so that should tell you how much we value it.

Here's why:

1) Christian formation. I want my kids formed in our religion. There is plenty of time and space for secularism in our society, and they will pick it up.

2) Basic Education. Tennessee is at the bottom of public school education in this nation. So, even schools that are "the best in the state" don't have much to brag about. The primary school we are zoned for is among the worst in Davidson County. The school they are going to, on the other hand, rocks.

3) Enrichment education. The average student in Davidson county gets 20 minutes of music education a week, and there are 700 students for every music teacher. My kids get 45 minutes of music a week, with 150 students to a teacher. And our school puts on two major musical productions a year--in elementary school. Add to that our awesome art, drama, spanish, computer, Bible, etc.

4) Their friends. Our school is expensive, but not nearly as expensive as other private schools. And there are scholarships. The families come from all over the place. The parents are all 100% committed, and their kids are great.

I could go on and on, but I was trying to be short. You can ask me for more, if you want.

Jonathan said...

I'd like to second Rob's bullet about being a light in the public schools. My wife and I could afford to send our kids to private schools. We could send them to public schools on the other side of town where the average students are from more stable and affluent families. Instead, we have chosen to send them to the public schools in our neighborhood. One of the reasons, explicitly, is because we believe our kids (and us through them and through interactions with their friends' parents) can be a positive influence in the public schools.

Not to judge anyone else's decisions, but for us it would seem selfish and contrary to our understanding of the "light and salt" message to do otherwise.

Phil said...

I completely understand where you're coming from, Jonathan. I really do and conceptually, that was much easier for me to think about before I had kids. Now, having children, where do we draw the line between being the salt and light and their safety? I don't want to discourage them from being that light or even feeling like safety trumps taking the good news to the world, but as their parents what's our responsibility about protecting them and keeping them safe.

jim said...

I always went to private schools (until I had to pay for my Masters, that is ;-) ) growing up. My grade school was Overbrook and my high school University School - but it was also a long time ago - before gangs and drugs (there was such a time, believe me) and thousands of dollars for tuition.
In high school, my graduating class had 66 people in it. My 8th grade class had even fewer. As a former teacher, Phil, you can esily imagine the added value that class sizes that never stray from the 12 to 20 people range can offer your children and their future.
Can they get a good education at a Nashville public school. Yes, they certainly can. they will definitely have that opportunity. But it will be an opportunity, not a certainty.
Will they get a better education at a private school? It depends on the private school and its focus. If the school is focused on giving a good education to the children and giving a good foundation in the principles of a Christ-centered life, that's exactly what you will get. It will be a good education, but the quality of the education won't necesarily be dramatically better than you will get in public schools (Yes, I do have my flame-retardant suit on, btw.) You'll be paying that extra money for the environment, for being around more Christian role models (and students) during the day than they would in public schools. They'll get a good education there.
And what if you bite the big dollar bullet and send them to a private school that focuses entirely on the education of the child? Will they have a better life, a better future, a happier life? Probably, but not because of that. If anything, they'll have a better life and a happier future because of the personal moral foundation you and Cheryl provide them. Will they have a better education? Uh, yep. No question about it. They will most likely also be exposed to people of other cultures, races, and religions. Nashville isn't like Memphis where white flight denuded the racial balance of the schools and engorged outlying suburbs like Collierville. Nashville has African-American and Hispanic and Indian (and on and on) families who want their children to get the best education possible. My high school had blacks and Hispanics and Jews and Catholics and Muslems and Christians and the blind and the deaf in it long before Metro was integrated.

Brandon Scott said...

Education is overrated. I say pull a few teeth, take off their shoes and let them roam free in the rural parts of Tennessee...

If you decide against that, then good luck.

TCS said...

wow, hit a nerve. EVERYBODY has an opinion on this and I guess most think they are right or it wouldn't be their opinion.

My answer to this question and it seems to come up more and more is that you have to decide what is right for you and your children individually. What is best for you may not be for your neighbor. Gross oversimplification and singular horror stories are a load of crap.

At the risk of offending the missional crowd, It seems to me that a lot of people want to say their children are influencing the culture when they themselves are hardly involved in any way with it.

I remember a book that is probably a decade old now about Christian families that others saw as successful and every one of those families had a philosophy that said they protected their children and held them extra close when they were young and turned them loose, or gave them a lot of freedom at an earlier age than most. This protected the child when they were weakest and gave them a safety net of a good home and parent's wisdom if they failed before they were out of the house. That always seemed wise to me.

Alice said...

I guess I'm going with Brandon, first. tee hee. I also agree with tcs on several points.

John was private Christian schooled. I was public all the way. We homeschool. I can't tell you what a relief it is to know you've done the right thing for YOUR family. We're all in different places, right? We all have different backgrounds. The public schools are a product of the families that participate. The private schools are a product of the families that participate.

We do go to a tutorial once a week, which my private school friends say, "What's so different from going to school?"

I say, I haven't heard of a school that will let you show up only one day a week and still keep you on the roll.

Anyway, theu get that all-important "respect for other adults that aren't your parents," only I get to hand pick the other adults! :) And few of them are CoC members.

Sandy said...

A few random thoughts from a homeschooling perspective:

As a child, I was educated in several public schools in different states, as well as a CoC private school (which was a rotten experience). My Junior and Senior years of high school were spent at an excellent public school with literally some of the best teachers in the country.
I have a degree in education and it was while I was student teaching (at a public school with excellent teachers and administrators) that I first knew that I did not want my children spending the bulk of their time in that kind of an environment. The schools are not the same as they were when we were growing up. They had problems then, and in most schools, the problems are much worse now. Because of this, there are a large number of ex-teachers in the homeschool community.

In our area, the public school students spend a huge amount of time in test preparation so that they receive good scores on the state tests. The students who test well receive special treatment because they are needed more than the other students (for example, school administators look the other way when attendance rules are broken). Teachers HAVE to teach to the test because they are evaluated based on student scores. Several students in our area have been the unfortunate victims of ridiculous "Zero-Tolerance" rules.

Contrary to what the media would have you believe, most homeschooled students spend a great deal of time out in the "real world". My two oldest children volunteer 2+ hours a week at the pregnancy crisis center, where they meet and serve many different types of people. They participate in scouts, the symphony children's chorus, 4-H, our church youth and children's ministries, and AWANAs at a neighboring church, in addition to various summer camps and other activities.

We are part of a "co-op" and yes, we freely admit that it combines the best aspects of homeschooling and public schooling. There are many benefits in the public schools which we recognize: the opporunity to learn from other teachers, learning to work as part of a group, being accountable to a schedule, and even "classroom skills" such as raising your hand, walking single file, etc. In our homeschooling co-op, we have 8 families and 21 children (ours is a small co-op compared to ones available in areas like yours). All but one parent have college degrees, three of the moms are ex-teachers, and one is a college biology professor. We teach history, Science, writing, art and a foreign language (right now, Latin). Other subjects such as math are up to each individual family. Other co-ops are similar.

Sure, my kids are sheltered in some ways: my daughter played with her American Girl dolls until she was almost 12 because she didn't have friends telling her that it wasn't cool. She does not have boyfriends or try to dress like Paris Hilton. She was allowed to progress at her own pace when she had trouble learning to read. In the schools, she would have been put into a remedial class and labeled by the other students as an idiot. Now, she is an avid reader and this spring she tested well above grade level on the Stanford Achievement Test.

My middle son is not teased because he is shorter than his friends and wears glasses. My kids would be hard pressed to tell you the name of any popular clothing designer- they wear what they like. Girls do not call my sons, and no one teases them because they don't have girlfriends or wear the "right" clothes.

Are my children adequately socialized? I think most people don't really know what they're talking about when they say "socialization". My children play well with kids their ages and with kids both older and younger than they are. They communicate well with adults; they respect and obey authority figures; they are diligent workers; they think independently without constantly trying to please a peer group. Because they are not in an environment where race is constantly a negative issue, they have never considered their friends of other races any different than themselves (although I did have to coach them on proper terminology when my 5yo son mentioned the "brown" boy he had met one day at the playground :-)

I know there are homeschooling odd-balls out there (I've met several of them) but most homeschoolers are just like you: parents trying to make the best educational choices for their children. If I had the school system which I attended in Virginia available to my children, we might be making a different choice. There are many times where I ask, "Am I really doing the right thing for my kids?" And each time God has confirmed that for my family, this is the right thing.

Homeschooling is not right for everyone, but it is right for many of us. I have friends who have homeschooled for a season and then chosen to send their children to public or private school. I think the important thing is to fully understand all of the options available and then seek God's will for your own family.

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