Johnson City Schools, Johnson City, TN
District 41, Glen Ellyn, IL
By Sarah Lindsay
Most parents experience at least a twinge of emotion as they send their child off to kindergarten: that first day of school marks a significant transition. I certainly felt that when I dropped off my oldest for the first time. But for me, the twinge was heightened by the fact that I wasn’t just sending my daughter into a new experience for her — I was entering a new experience myself.
You see, I was homeschooled.
About six weeks into first grade at a public school, my parents pulled me out. They meant it as a short-term solution, but my younger siblings and I ended up homeschooled through our high school graduations. And we became, gradually, the sort of homeschooling family that views public schools as evil, hotbeds of liberal politics and myriad vices.
So how did I end up sending my own children to public schools?
When my oldest was four (and my youngest six weeks old), we moved to a mid-size city in northeastern Tennessee. The public schools are the pride of the town, and there are only a handful of private schools — mostly small and church-based — and none that continue beyond eighth grade. Because my husband and I both worked full-time, we had ruled out homeschooling. And after scouring websites, visiting private schools, and taking a hard look at our finances, I gritted my teeth and scheduled a tour of the nearby public elementary school.
I was still apprehensive. I no longer thought, intellectually, that public schools were evil, but we were talking about my precious baby girl: could I trust teachers to guide her developing mind? Could I allow her to learn alongside children who came from different families, children who might corrupt her? I had deeply ingrained fears of what a public school system might do to my child, of losing my daughter to outside influences.
When I toured the nearby elementary school, however, I immediately felt welcome. The principal was enthusiastic, the teachers warm and welcoming, the library spacious. Crayon and marker masterpieces lined the walls and children zoomed around the gym. The school received Title I funding and served enough higher-income families that it could use the extra funding to keep classes small and to provide support services for students who needed them.
So come August, we filled my daughter’s backpack with school supplies and sent her into the public school system. Two years later our middle daughter followed her, and this fall our third girl will also start kindergarten at our local school. Like anything in life, we’ve found imperfections in the public schools, both our first one in Tennessee and our new one in a Chicago suburb. But I’m glad we chose public schools, despite my deeply rooted misgivings.
I know that my experience as a homeschooled child was out of the ordinary, and my concerns about public schools not completely congruent with reality. And yet my fears were heightened versions of those that animate many people as they consider schools for their children: the fear that public schools provide a sub-par education or that peers or teachers will undermine our values.
But my fears haven’t materialized. Instead, I have come to appreciate the educators who can patiently help my preschooler to stop skipping 13 when she counts, who can introduce my voracious reader to new books, who can spark a fascination with engineering in first grade. I love that my children are building friendships with many different kids, even when third-grade politics are challenging to navigate. I’m confident that my children are learning — and not just academically.
Sending my children to public school also taught me that my husband and I are still the primary influence on our children. My daughters’ teachers expose them to new ideas and give them new avenues for their creativity; their friends supply pop-culture references and opportunities to develop empathy and conflict-management skills. But at the end of the day, my girls come home to me. My husband and I, as their parents, help our children learn to navigate the world. And this reassures me that, even when we encounter some of the negative influences that some fear in the public schools, we will be there to support our daughters through whatever problems arise.
And so I find that I’ve moved from fearful of to committed to our neighborhood public school. And next August, as I send my last daughter off to kindergarten, she’ll be venturing into a new experience — but I have the confidence that she will learn and grow and make new friends under the care of her teachers. I know that, instead of losing her as I feared with my first daughter, I will gain the support of an entire community as she enters her school years.
Sarah Lindsay has a PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spent four years teaching at a small Christian college in the South before relocating to the Chicagoland area, where she now lives with her husband and three young daughters. As she transitions out of academia, Sarah is finding new avenues for her writing. She loves encouraging and empowering women in the church, and she also loves using her training as a scholar of the Middle Ages to expose people to the rich historical background of Christianity. Sarah has written for Mutuality and Arise, and her blog is IntoResurrection.com. She is also on Twitter @drlindsay.
READ MORE: Read Erin & her guests’ posts in the Passing Notes series HERE.