Monday, September 29, 2014

How Public School Looks From Here

Monday morning light filters through the maples. The air bites our noses, but the leaves are still mostly green. And in some ways, it feels like the first day of school. This is the turning of the season, and our toes hug the edge of fall.

We're well into our third year at our "new" school. We've rounded the corner - we've been here longer than there, now. My mind always veers toward balancing the sides, stacking this up against that, or that against another. I think about times and dates and thin stretches of years, believing the weight of the scales holds secrets in its truths.

I should know better.

I should know it's less about growth rings and more about roots. Time is never as relevant as depth.

Flip that coin over, and years are important, too. For us, these two-years-and-counting mark a period of foggy-eyed obedience. I can't say it was blind, but it sure wasn't clear, either. Now, I strain to remember why it ever seemed so hard. But I remember the tears. When pressed, I can still feel the ache of doubt like a tender, half-healed bruise.

One of the questions I'm asked most often, including when I passed my readers the mic, is about our decision to send our kids to public school, specifically this one.

Of all the confusion our decisions incited in recent years, this may have been the most nagging. People weren't as shocked as they were simply perplexed. Had it been a few years earlier, I would have sat with wringing hands, too.

The culture of Cory and I's entire lives - the culture of white, middle-class, evangelical Christianity - favors security and prizes a "good" education. We would have never copped to hiding strands of racism or prejudice in the sturdy, salt-of-the-earth fibers of our upbringing or our life together, as responsible adults and parents. We wouldn't have described ourselves as self-centered or superior. We didn't know what we lacked. We were shockingly fenced from people unlike ourselves. We weren't fully aware that the roots of our beliefs were pointedly wrong. We were simply inclined to huddle up with people like us.

We read the same Bible, but it meant different things, somehow.

Back then, we believed our job was to love God, follow His commands, and keep our family safe and secure. I say this with no measure of sarcasm or irony. This is truly how we would have summarized the Gospel we'd been called to.

So we kept our noses to the stone and worked at building a future where our kids would remain gated in privilege, though we never would have phrased it that way. We imagined a future for them of serving in the stable majority. We looked all around us, seeing many different versions of ourselves, and believed it was the story God had penned for our family. So we jotted our own words on the page, careful not to change the script.

Then, everything shifted. We were turned on a dime.
We knew we had to leave long before we felt peace about going. 

In the span between, we stared at and stumbled away from images locked in our hearts about what it meant to live in a city where, we were told, there were gangs, drugs, crime, poverty, failing schools, and little kids who cussed people out.

Only because of God's goodness, He led us here - to the land of the living. It was entirely in spite of ourselves. He brought us here and quickly proved that all those things we'd believed in fear were true.

He took our hands and walked us into the heart of it.
We have never been safer, never more secure.

What  we weren't prepared for was the prevailing goodness we'd find. The caring and hilarious and soulful hearts of our neighbors and teachers and friends.

The dirt of humanity lives here, yes, as it lives everywhere. It might be more visible here, more in our faces. We choose to see this as an opportunity to talk with our kids about real life, failure, heartbreak, and sin. We talk now, while the stakes are still relatively low. We build the conversation brick by crumbly brick, cringing sometimes at what's yet to come, but doing our best to remember fear and discouragement have been vanquished. (Joshua 1:9)

Now, we work and play and celebrate alongside folks whose walk with God might not look exactly like ours. Theirs might not resemble ours at all. It might not even exist. But we're neighbors now. We belong to them, and them to us. This community is confusing, sometimes. It's annoying, sometimes. It's frustrating and heartbreaking.

Often, it's as easy as a slice of pie. It's the gift of a lifetime, this blending of races, rich cultural heritages, wildly different positions on the ladder.

Where God called us, He sent us. And where He sent us, He went before us.

He equipped us.
All of us.

At every turn, He wows us with His provision.

Our humble church community preaches the word and works tirelessly, imperfectly, without polish or flare, toward its job of loving and serving the neighborhood - our neighborhood.

Our Title 1 public school is building our kids into stout citizens of the world while they also teach them to read and wonder. There have been areas where our kiddos have excelled academically beyond anyone's expectations, as well as areas where they have struggled. Both have left me wobbly, at times. There have been fleeting moments of panic where I entertained the thought that perhaps I was better equipped to educate them.

But God points me back to where He sent us, back to the crowded gymnasium on Science Night where charging a pocket watch with two potatoes overrides language barriers, back to the mountain of box tops carefully clipped each month so our underprivileged student body can go on field trips and see a different corner of the world, back to free school lunches and tamales for dinner and a community grown equally on processed convenience-store food and the belief that health and nutrition belong equally to everyone.

It only takes a nudge, and I see the ways education is about more than book facts and test scores.

"The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peace makers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness." James 3:17-18

This is our school. These are our blocks. That was our garden where we gathered last night to pitch in covered dishes and learn a little more about one another.

We have claimed these promises as our own, and each one of us is stronger for the choosing.

We care because this is our life, the lives of our precious kids, but we also care for the ones who don't or can't or try, but fail.

We give and we take and we pray we'll get better at both.
We pray we'll become more focused on being peacemakers and less on being "right".

God has called every one of His followers into deep community, the kind that makes us uncomfortable at times, the kind that costs us whatever we have to give. The good news is, the need surrounds us on every side. The better news is, there are people everywhere who belong to Him. We won't be alone when we go. (Acts 18:10)

Your community will undoubtedly look different than ours. (And I hope it goes without saying that your educational calling might be different as well.)

I don't know the full parameters of where he called my family, but I know the front edge is right here, in our little home on 5th St. I know it eases two blocks down to the church on the corner, and across the street to the school on the hill.

We've been planted right here, so we stand. And we live. And learn.
And our roots stretch down.

 *I've organized all my posts on public schooling under one category. To read more, just click here and scroll.


  1. "The wisdom from above...shows no favoritism."
    That is a very good Word.
    Thank YOU.

  2. You and Becca give me courage to find my words about our school choice too. Went to our first Title 1 PTO meeting last week and man, I'm overwhelmed, friend.
    Over- freaking- whelmed.
    But carried by Jesus, you know?
    Thanks for spurring me on.
    {SEE YOU TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!}

    1. I love hearing both of your stories.
      Becca's perspective last week was one I had never, ever considered.
      We shouldn't be surprised that our stories can't all be shaped with one cookie-cutter, right?
      Whenever I write these posts I have to avoid the urge to write over and over again, "Just because this is my path, it doesn't have to be your path, etc..." I always get itchy because I know how people tend to respond to this. But this is my story, so it's the only one I can tell. You ladies give ME courage to tell it, by telling your own. Geesh, I love you.

  3. Whatever community we live in, living "in deep community" is the key. It doesn't matter where we choose to live if we never meet our neighbors, never lend a hand, never connect with the people around us. I wish you and your family well, if that is where God calls you, that is where you should be.

  4. You tend to write these posts just when I need the extra nudge...this line: "We pray we'll become more focused on being peacemakers and less on being "right". Thank for this. your story is so encouraging to me.

  5. We live in a town that is literally divided by train tracks - though both sides of the tracks have areas considered to be "wrong." We're a two college town, academics rubbing elbows with factory mechanics at the grocery store, a trailer park across the street and beyond the tracks from our house where the Police and Fire Department won't even respond to calls without two vehicles showing up for fear of being shot at. And yet we too choose to send our kids to the elementary school across the soccer field behind our house, rather than the parochial one so many choose that is three blocks away. This school, this community - it's the world our littles are growing up in. To deny them the chance to sit at a table with others who are every color of God's rainbow imaginable would be to deny them the chance to see the richness of the beauty He created around them. Thank you for understanding when so many don't, for realizing that for our kids, this is so much more about book education.

    1. So much more *than* about book education. Sheesh.

  6. "We've been planted right here, so we stand. And we live. And learn. And our roots stretch down."

    This is how we feel. We have been trying to sell our house, but to no avail. Clearly for this time it is where we are planted. So, we will keep talking and taking cookies to the houses around us!

  7. My family is about to make the jump from a community that is safe, comfortable, and homogenous, to one that is none of those things (for us). And God is in it, but sometimes my faith is shaky, and I freak out a little as we look at the schools, etc. It's only 45 miles away, but it will be such a big change. You honestly reset my perspective in a beautiful way, and I get excited again to get into the schools, volunteer, encourage the teachers, be a part of my neighborhood etc. But I get afraid that moving into a different culture, I'll unintentionally offend, and bring all my baggage of expectations and memories of how I've always known things to be. I've read Love Does and Interrupted and those got the ball rolling. Do you have any other books to recommend that help with the "I'm in it, now how do I navigate it" phase of following God's plans for shaking things up and bringing you closer to people who aren't your mirror image?

  8. Where He sends us, He goes before us. Amen. I loved this post for so many reasons. It hits home.

  9. This says things I have had in my heart for so very long. My favorite? "It only takes a nudge, and I see the ways education is about more than book facts and test scores." This public school teacher says a big amen. :) Thank you for the words from your heart. Blessings to you and your family for a wonderful school year.

  10. 22 years ago I moved into a city with gangs, drugs, crime and poverty. I didn't expect to stay, but here I am. Our children go to our church school. A school that was started because kids were dropping out in middle school. They needed a safe place. The tuition for this private school, filled with an assortment of "church" and community kids? $25 per month. Which means our school could never function without God stirring the hearts of others to help us. We aren't a rich congregation. We don't do it alone. Reading about your life in the city is great because not that many people know about this life we live.

  11. "I should know it's less about growth rings and more about roots. Time is never as relevant as depth."
    that was good.

  12. Long time reader of your blog here, encouraged and challenged by your walk with the Lord! I have been doing a study with women across my city called "Return to Jerusalem" and, once again, I am struck by God's great creativity, grace, and strength to work in so many different ways through many different people-- of all giftings, ages, stages, locations, and more. All to His glory! It is clearly evident, that the Lord has called you to this place in life. That He walks beside you to your public school on the hill. As a former inner-city public school teacher, I am blessed to my core to see God using your family and having that school, in turn, impact you. In a similar way, His calling for our family to homeschool (which I never thought I'd do!) holds His glory right smack dab in front of my face and calls me to share it. We, too, live near our inner-city purposefully. I don't really see homeschooling as a way to keep my kiddos safe and secure, but more the humbling opportunity to take them with me into ministry every single day. Whether it's visiting the widows in our community-- exchanging a baked mac-n-cheese with their saved "funny papers" for my daughters, supporting Daddy as he goes into the prisons every month, or simply noticing and trying to serve our neighbors and beyond who are in need (and, in turn, expose our needs threadbare alongside them)-- homeschooling gives us the freedom and flexibility to study God's word and, I hope, live it out together with so many people of all ages and stages as our meager offering to the -- who has been radically generous to us. It is such a beautiful thing to watch Him work, in and out of our constructed boxes, across cities and nations and family dynamics. Shine on and thank you for your willingness to share with us all!

    1. -- as our meager offering to the Lord, that is. :)

    2. I loved reading your perspective! Thanks for adding your voice and for knowing I wasn't saying MY way should be everyone's way. I have many beloved friends who have been called differently. Viva, differences!!! :)

  13. I'd like to ask you re-read your statement, and consider the fact that your demeaning stereotypes, far from being Christian, are actually what one reads coming from the anti-Christian left who are bigots and racists themselves.

    "the culture of white, middle-class, evangelical Christianity - favors security and prizes a "good" education. We would have never copped to hiding strands of racism or prejudice in the sturdy, salt-of-the-earth fibers of our upbringing or our life together, as responsible adults and parents.."

    Are you aware that it was white Christians, including evangelicals, in the south and north who formed the anti-slavery/abolitionist movement? Who far from excluding, risked their lives to convey runaway slaves to freedom.

    Evangelical and other Christians, from Georgia, Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont & other states walked the walk inspired by Christ's teachings. White Christian republicans, including evangelicals, were lynched along with black republicans after emancipation, by the white democrat founded kkk. White Christians, including evangelicals also were heavily represented in the 20th century civil rights movement.

    As an older mom, I well remember that what has done more to divide and segregate our communities, to trap people in never ending poverty, has been Bill Clinton's opening the door to the wholesale outsourcing of Americans' jobs through NAFTA and Most Favored Nation trading status with China, and his introducing taxpayer subsidies to fund the exodus of untold millions of jobs, leaving over 92 million US citizens, black, brown and white long term unemployed. Clinton also changed how unemployment was tracked by no longer counting unemployed Americans once their 26 weeks of unemployment ran out, to hide the harm to American citizens his policies were causing. Clinton also introduced the meme, "stopped looking for work" to define those Americans no longer being counted, as though they had given up so as to put the onus on them.

    Nor is it "racist" or indicative of prejudice to seek to protect our children from the sexualization, anti-Christian propaganda that is running rampant across the US. American parents, black, brown and white are demanding alternatives to public school for their children, because they see their children's innocence and futures being undermined. In my state, little boys were handed a pamphlet with graphics depicting teen boys as condoms, encouraging them to go to gay bars, and addresses of said bars were included, to "get used" I won't include the name of the activity encouraged, but it caused a scandal, and the info is available on the internet. Similar incidents targeting children as young as 4-5 are becoming all too common. And Common Core, isn't in aid of education, as it is dumbing our children down. Christ admonished us to protect the innocent, and as responsible parents, we have an obligation to protect our children as well as equip them for survival in this world, with their Christian values intact. Inferring there is anything "racist" in that, is the sort of thing you'd see the Marxist liberation theology playbook, who find Christ's teachings inconvenient, and seek to exploit Him to get you to serve their agenda which involves divorcing yourselves and your children from those teachings, and corrupting them.

    1. Hi Mary. Just wanted to clarify that I am still and will most likely always be white, middle-class, Evangelical. This is not something I apologize for.

      As for my comment on the subtle strands of racism my husband and I once carried (and probably still do, in ways) I was speaking only for us.

      Our reality was a culture that stayed largely removed from folks unlike ourselves. This is something we still fight... But as we've stepped toward the differences around us, we have seen firsthand what a gift diversity is.

      As for your political comments, I have no response. I align myself with Christ. I also do vote, but do so knowing there is no party that will save us from the mess we are.

      You're wise to stay involved in the education of the kids in your area. Particularly as a PS parent, it is essential.


  14. Dear Shannan,

    I have the unique position of growing up gratefully in PreK-college private Christian schools, yet being called to teach and strive for students in a high-needs, low-resources, Title 1, rural district for five years now and I want to humbly THANK YOU for being bold enough, committed enough, engaged enough, obedient enough, courageous enough, and faithful enough to engage with your community in this way.

    What you said about "little kids who cuss people out" spoke to my heart. Rarely is the depravity of daily life so vividly recognizable in communities of children than in such moments. Those moments are a regular part of my life as a teacher, and the lives of my 29 eight- and nine-year-olds.

    But you have beautifully highlighted the other things that emerge in our daily life: there is reading, there is wonder, there are moments of illumination, there is encouragement, there are partnerships, there are successes, there is love- deep, great, love, and yes- there are box tops.

    Yours is the most beautiful defense of public school for Christian families -in this case, yours- that I have ever read. I understand, value, and even love intentionally Christian schools and environments. Indeed, I am a grateful product of such communities.

    However, as you wrote, "God has called every one of His followers into deep community, the kind that makes us uncomfortable at times." One of the most courageous things I believe parents of faith can do is to trust that God will equip them to raise their children as strong and bold believers who not only seek reconciliation, but who find truth and beauty in their own community, which is fallen, as all communities are.

    Though we have never met, I read real truth in your words tonight. Prayers for wisdom and discernment, empowered by a desire to be boldly obedient to Christ are lifted up for you tonight. Thank you- you are an inspiration!


  15. I'm intrigued, do many evengelical Christians in America tend to shun mainstream schools for Christian, fee-paying ones? We don't really have this at all in the UK. There are only a handful of evangelical Christian private schools here in the whole country, and they are very small. There are state run primary schools (5-11 years old) that are nominally led by the local Anglican Church, but they are rarely evangelical in nature just more culturally Christian and have some services in the local church - harvest festival etc. The real educational divide here is between the vast majority who send their kids to the local, free, state run schools and the very rich who can afford to send theirs to the private day and boarding schools, (Eton et al), which cost upwards of £20K - £30K per year. It would be considered extremely unusual to send your child to a evangelical Christian school here even if that was your style of faith. Belinda x

  16. Shannon,
    I love you story, and your heart. I love that when God called you followed even when there may have been backlash, and I love reading your posts. They remind me to stay grounded in Christ. They remind me that He is more than enough. Thank you for sharing your life with total strangers. It can't be easy.

  17. Hello Shannon, I've read your blog occasionally. I saw this post on Facebook and had to read it. I'm working on my Masters of Art in Teaching and I'd like to use your quote about sending your kids to a Title 1 school, making them into stout citizens into my assignment this week. It will underscore my point that there is a growing number of parents in my generation who have both faith in God AND the American public school system.

    1. Feel free! Best if luck with your project. Don't even get me started on the Arts in education. THANK YOU for all you're doing!

  18. Thank you for this. My youngest goes to public school - a special ed. preschool just down the road from us (and both us and the school are not in great neighborhoods.) Every morning I drop him off, I fear, I cringe, I want to throw up - and it's just two mornings a week. I was a public school teacher. I'm the daughter of a school teacher. And I wrestle with these educational decisions regularly. (I'm homeschooling my kindergartner this year, and wrestle with that, too.) Thank you for reminding me we aren't alone wherever we go (or stay).

  19. Beautiful! We currently home school our kids. But - I am a transplanted missionary kid uncomfortably and imperfectly putting down roots in a small southern town that feels completely foreign to me many days. A number of years ago we decided to stay and intentionally invest in this community. I can relate to so much of what you wrote, even though our communities look different.

  20. Just want to say I can relate with so much of this. Well said.