July 24, 2020

Is Christian Education Christlike?

By: Charity D’Amico

Preface

I want to preface this by saying every parent should do what is right for their family with prayer, research, and consideration. I write this to take away the shame and guilt of choosing something opposite of the norm in your circle. This is my family’s story.

Christian School…The Christian Mecca?

Public school vs. Christian school has always been a battle inside my brain and heart. Public school, among my circle, has always been a place seen as “unsafe” for Christian kids. Rumors were spread of teachers advocating the gay agenda and abortion rights. Public school was a place where children were not allowed to bring Bibles or have Christian clubs. Christian school was lifted on a pedestal untouchable by public school, with curriculums based on “Biblical perspective”, teachers with shared experiences, scripture memorization, pledges in the morning, and chapels on Friday.

Giving Public School A Try

As our children became school age, my husband and I talked and talked and researched and talked some more. The cognitive dissonance was so strong as we decided to start our children in the local public school, that I would feel ashamed as I told friends. However, we found that our children enjoyed the public school. The teachers started the day in a circle, with a morning message from the teacher. At the end of each day, they would come back in a circle and the student of the day would sit in the center. Everyone would take turns saying something they liked or admired about that student. The school promoted restorative justice: if there was a scuffle among students or if a student acted out (harsh words, bullying, etc.), there was circle time to rebuild the relationships. All the students (the one acting out, the ones most impacted, and the bystanders) would have a chance to talk about their shared experience. Students were not just told to say sorry and forgive each other. The goal was emotional intelligence and relationship building.

The public school welcomed every student regardless of their religion, sexual-orientation, socio-economic level, race, or color. “Love your neighbor” was not only taught; it was exemplified. When the teachers and staff saw that many students were not able to focus in the morning because they were arriving at school hungry, they decided to do a soft landing in class. Students were able to eat breakfast or a morning snack in the classroom, allowing them to turn their focus to learning. Our kids made friends and their teachers were wonderful. I would get comments on how our kids were kind and loving and how well they got along with other kids. We loved our public school experience, but our cognitive dissonance kept pushing us to transition to Christian school.

Private School…What an Experience

Our kids’ third year of school, we transferred to a local Christian school. Our kids really enjoyed chapel, and singing Bible songs, and it was great to see them on stage. However, there was very little else that we found we appreciated. Staff didn’t feel welcoming, we had to do more screening of the library books than at the public school, the first day the teacher was teaching very specific theology inappropriate for a 2nd grader, and one of the teachers would often make self-degrading comments.

We were also surprised by their procedure for handling in-school injuries. We had several cases where our children sustained head injuries on the playground and we weren’t notified. Addressing this with the principal’s office required multiple calls and emails to get a meeting and then nothing changed. After two more incidences, the principal copied us on an email to the staff, saying to make sure we were informed about injuries to our children. We were very surprised that they felt this had to be a unique statement about our family.

Weighing the Options

As we prepared for our kids’ fourth year of school, we again weighed the pros and cons of public vs Christian school, and realized it came down to the 1st vs 2nd great commandments. Christian school taught theology. They claim to teach children to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” However, we didn’t even agree with some of the theology taught, and they fundamentally failed at the 2nd greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Public school taught and modeled:

  • Pro-life: public schools are closing due to COVID-19 to protect the lives of their teachers, vulnerable family members, and students.
  • Love everyone: public school modeled unconditionally loving people who are Black and white, LGBTQIA+ and straight, undocumented and citizens, poor and rich, the misbehaving and the well-behaved.
  • Mending community: public school taught kids to restore relationships when they are broken by acts of anger or aggression, not just give an empty apology.
  • Celebrating differences: public school celebrate student’s strengths and worked through their weaknesses. They recognized that everyone has different giftings and abilities.

So, we were left with a choice: do we pick a school that teaches our kids to love God or one that teaches them to love others? As we considered this, we realized, we teach our children at home to love God. We teach them through the Bible, our actions, church, and other adults who we strategically engage with as a family. However, if they spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 12 years learning to NOT love others, that is a much harder lesson to unlearn. Our choice was made: we’ll teach our kids theology at home, so they can go to school in an environment that teaches them to love their neighbor.

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