Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why We Public School

I think I've mentioned that Cory and I were particularly sickening in our early days of dating. We were smitten. We couldn't even help it. We never fought, we always held hands, I once famously told his mom that his breath never smelled bad.

But the rainbows faded and the unicorns lost their charm one dark night around March, 1998. I was in Ohio, he was Indiana, both of us held a phone to our ear. It was on this unholy day that he dropped a bomb: He wanted me to homeschool our future children.

I wigged.

I cried.

I didn't want to, couldn't possibly. I would. not. do it.

In the span of one long distance phone call (not free, I might add), our armor was officially chinked.

Of course we survived.

Well, we survived in the short-term, then called our wedding off with two weeks to go, then took turns crying our eyes out for the next six months, then got married in six more months.

We survived.

The home school question was tabled for seven years, only to emerge with the arrival of our first child. It was back on the radar and my mind hadn't changed. I had no interest.

But...I was also sort of intrigued. For one thing, it seemed like lots of the best Moms did it.

I liked the theoretical idea of teaching my children myself. (I was pretty sure I could get on board with the practical applications.) I trust me. I know me. I dreamed about classic literature and Erlenmeyer flasks. I imagined art gallery day-trips and world history, alive and breathing. I suspected that my kids would be the super smartest. (I denied the very existence of math. It was my dream world and I made the rules.)

I knew lots of kids who were homeschooled. Fine, I knew a few. But they were all intelligent, charming, and witty.  (None of them wore jumpers, fyi.)

I asked around, read some blogs, toyed with the thought.

My children grew. As they became more and more like little humans, tiny fears sprang up around me, nipping at my ankles. There was probably no way in heck that I could send my babies off to public school at the practically-infant age of 5 or 6. They would learn naughty things on the school bus and their text books would tell them bold-faced lies. I fell deeply in love with the idea of keeping them far, far away from all things bad.

A strange thing started happening though, when homeschoolers began saying things to me like, "Oh, I wouldn't homeschool if I lived in your district." Or, "They'll be fine since they're in the ____ school system."

So I tabled the issue again, basking in the perks of living in "the best" school system around. It was a massive relief, since I really, truly never wanted to take that plunge.

A year or so later, we put our house on the market and I told God I would do it, but I wasn't switching schools.

But He made it clear that we would be switching schools, so I slowly, hesitantly started getting on board.

Before we knew what was happening, our life and our hearts and large chunks of our soul turned inside out. Everything changed. We rubbed our eyes and saw it clearly - we had a calling to Go. Like, really. Go. Put shoes on, go where hurting people are, be their friends. It was the Mother of all epiphanies.

Suddenly, the very thought of homeschooling no longer made sense to us. I still liked it in the sense that I loathed reading logs and tabulating minutes and signing forms and remembering (or forgetting) that Wednesday was show-and-tell. But it no longer made sense that we would be called into the heart of the world around us but keep our kids at home.

The life we had lived up to that point started pinching our toes. We'd grown weary of a Christian culture that kept to itself and feared the lost. We wanted the heck out. We wanted out because God had called us out, and if He called two of us, He called all five of us. There was no minimum height requirement for his purpose.

Let me make it very clear that this is our heart and what God has spoken to us. We have many friends who homeschool with great success and enthusiasm; friends I trust deeply and without reservation. Friends I respect and love. They homeschool for all kinds of reasons and what's best for them and their families is unique to them and God's plan for them. I trust that the Creator of the chihuahua and the chimp can be Lord of both the PTO and the CHA.

Of course doubts wormed in. People warned us about gangs, drug dealers, low test scores, and teachers who might not love Jesus. They worried that we were throwing our kids to the wolves, so every now and then, I heard a quiet howling.

But beautiful things started to happen once we were settled in. We discovered that we had inadvertently landed in the school with the highest poverty level in the area. The former (now retired) principal talked to us about what it means to be in a high poverty school. Here's a sampling: 1) No one cares what kind of shoes your kids wear because many of them have never owned a new pair of shoes. 2) Everyone eats for free, because 96% qualify. 3) Homework is handled differently, because most kids are from low-income working families with little time to assist in the evenings. 4) The majority of kids do not speak English as their first language, and most of their parents speak very little English at all.

“You know, for these students, I just think wow, what a wonderful place to be at, where you can get to know each other just as people. That’s the situation here. They get to know each other for who they are, and not the color of their skin or where they come from. After that, they can go anywhere in the world and be comfortable, and I just think that’s such an important thing.”  - Don Jantzi, former Principal, as quoted in Goshen News

Mr. Jantzi told us how lucky our kids were to be there. We believed him from the start.

Does this plan require more prayer or faith on our behalf? Well, no. It seems like it might, but it doesn't, really. We just have to trust in different ways. The God who holds us holds them, too. He holds them when they're two blocks down the street, eating lunch for free and picking up Spanish on the side. He holds them while Siley and I are doing jail duty or sharing McNuggets with the girl with the tattooed neck and her four little boys.

He holds them now like He's always held them before. We just have to believe it.

If I have learned one thing over the recent years, it's that God is a mover and shaker. I'm not committing to forever here. I won't draw a hard line. I'm not saying our way is the only way or even the best way.

I'm saying that for us, it feels really safe to get a little risky.

And I'm saying it because many of you have assumed that I'm a homeschooler. (Dude, if you saw me helping with homework? You totally wouldn't have to ask.)