Monday, September 29, 2014

FAQ: School Choices in an urban neighborhood (part 2)

Yes, I realize it has been a week since Part 1, which is the very reason I made no promises about when I would post Part II. Because we went to CCDA, and shared a hotel room with five people, meaning I haven't been alone to think in nearly a week. Introvert-worst-nightmare-alert. Seriously.

A side note to kick-off Part II: 
Sometimes when the kids and I go to the park, I see another mom who has packed healthy snacks and even a well-balanced lunch for her children. Immediately, my insides get a bit squirmy because she obviously packed those snacks specifically to point out how I haven’t brought a shred of food for my children; in fact, Caden has pooped and I didn't bring wipes or extra underwear.

Thankfully, I’m learning (slower than I’d like) that her behavior and choices have nothing to do with me. Both of us are actually just doing the best we can for our kids. And I have my unique challenges (like forgetting wipes all-of-the-time), and she has hers.

And so I want to begin by assuring you that I intent not a single word here in judgement of anyone else’s schooling decisions. I have friends who live life really similarly to us, and they send their kids to the public school. I also have friends who do urban missions, and homeschool really well.

For us, our decision rotates on the axis of a God who leads each of us with a quiet voice: this is the way, walk in it. So we are trying to listen. And we came to this decision for our family, for this time, this year, this season. I also try really really hard to live my life in a way that recognizes the complexity of every situation and family and life. No simple answers or pat solutions here. We have lived too long in a landscape riddled with complicated to go there.

Ok, all of that said: consider this post nothing more or less than an answer to a question we get asked again and again: what are you going to do about school? (not, what should everyone do about school?)

If you haven’t already, now might be a good time to read Part 1.

Although you might not guess based on all-of-the-crazy, Adam and I both have a tendency towards compromise or middle ground. Not exactly liberal (my parents) or conservative (Adam’s). We never adhered to a strict babywise schedule with our babies, nor did we attachment-parent.

Charter school appealed to us partly because it felt like that familiar happy-medium. Specifically, between public and private schools. The school we applied to had a diverse make-up of 11% white, and just over 50% of students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch. We particularly appreciated the diversity of socioeconomic status right alongside racial diversity.

And so we settled finally, if still somewhat uncertainly, on a charter school. We filled out paperwork and submitted applications, crossing our fingers that Jayci would get accepted, particularly because friends who lived nearby also had a daughter who attended. Carpooling and free-of-cost both certainly contributed to our decision.

This charter school appealed to us not only because of its diversity, but also because the option of attending there was technically available to all of our neighbors as well. In fact, we convinced a few to apply and agreed to help drive if they got in. Although we also admitted that technically available doesn't necessarily translate to actually an option. First off, one must navigate the application process, which (since we’re being honest) we only made it through because of friends who reminded us of looming deadlines. Transportation, of course, poses another obstacle. We’ve also chatted with a teacher at a local school who mentioned some of the ways that charter schools have only further damaged mainline public schools by attracting all of the parents who were interested and available enough to be involved in their children’s education, but couldn’t afford a private school.

Our back-up plan (which was barely thought or talked about really) became homeschooling. This task (I insisted) would fall under Adam’s responsibilities; after all, he was the former teacher. Thankfully, Jayci ended up getting into our first choice charter school, and we took it as a sign-or-whatever-we-needed to proceed with this plan.
Jayci has such a beautiful spirit, she loves people well, noticing needs before they can even be spoken. She loves Jesus, and gently spills that light onto those around her. We knew that wherever she went to school, we wanted it to be a place where that light could be nurtured, and also shared. (proud mama moment aside: I’m not just saying this, Jayci got student of the month her first month of school, primarily because her teacher said she kept finding her doing caring things for other students, even without being asked or prompted).

We ultimately feel good about our decision. Most days. Sometimes. I don't know. I mean, I still have days where I second guess. When I sob under my covers because Jayci won't eat eat lunch for days after a little girl made fun of her sandwich. And then I'm certain we should yank her out of school and homeschool so I can protect her from everything and everyone forever and ever amen.

Or I contemplate the school that our sweet neighborhood kiddos attend, and wonder what runs through their mind when we tell them Jayci isn't going to their school. They wait for the bus right outside our front door, climbing up to the porch and swinging on the yellow swing and playing cards in the crisp morning breeze. And I think, again, that perhaps we made the wrong decision and Jayci should be sitting in school alongside them.

I'm trying to honor the number of times we get asked this question by giving y'all an answer. But please know that my words are descriptive and not prescriptive. And that I wake up unsure more days than sure.

What I will say with certainty is this: whatever ideas you have about education for your children, hold them loosely. Because in the same ways I need to remember that my identity cannot be defined as homeschooling-mom or my-kids-go-to-public-school-mom, but as follower-of-Christ first and foremost. Unclenching my fists and allowing Jesus to lead us for today, for this year, for this child, has been the best thing I’ve done for growing my faith and trust in Him, and reminding myself that my daughter and son are His both before and much more fully than they are mine.
This post has been hard for me to write, because I want to make it beautiful. I want to frame our decision in words that sound lovely and right, while somehow also reminding us all just how NOT right some of the realities surrounding education remain. Education in our country needs fixing, and I don't know what that looks like. But the schools in my neighborhood are not diverse. They are poor and poorer. Though we haven't decided to send Jayci to the local public school, we still desire to advocate for and serve them, which means Adam and I both try and spend time at the local elementary, middle, and high school on a weekly basis.

Sometimes, when I volunteer, the administrators will ask me to sit in on things like re-writing their purpose statement. And they all shoot glances at me awkwardly, until we laugh a little when they write about valuing diversity and my white skin glares solitary.

We are trying to fight for justice in a high school with over 100 freshman and only 18 seniors, which sounds to me like a graduation rate much lower than the reported 42%. And so we volunteer and advocate, and file paperwork, and stand awkwardly in the packed silent-lunch-detention, regardless of where Jayci attends school. Because we are sorely mistaken if we believe that Jayci (and our family, and all of us really), is unaffected by the inequalities in education. Because I'm not quite sure any of these students should be here. Not to discount the amazing teachers, members of the vibrant and beautiful staff who haven't yet been beat back by the day-in-day-out hard that simply defines reality in an under-resourced school.

Wherever our kids go to school, the reality is that there are no-easy-answers. We have entered into the world of complicated. Of terrible and of beautiful. Of the Kingdom that is here, and not yet.

And so we pray and we lament, and we hope. Always hope. For Jayci to find her feet and her voice in a school that seems far too big for her tiny-little-self. And for her to keep caring for her friends in loving and beautiful ways, at her school, in her neighborhood, and in our home. 


  1. I can't read any more of these posts before I publish my unschooling book, or I'm going to want to steal all your words. I already have the "descriptive, not prescriptive" line in there, which I'm thinking I might have plagiarized from Ann Voskamp. It sounds like something she'd say. Love you, friend. xoxoxo

    1. haha I must have plagiarized it from her too, I suppose . . . oops! :-)

  2. You wanted this to be beautiful, and it is, Rebecca. I feel like how we educate our kids is becoming the "stay-at-home" versus "working" mom debate of our day. We move (a lot) and my kids have been in private school, public school, and now I'm homeschooling. But when someone asks me, "So, where do your kids go to school?" my stomach hurts. I feel like I either need to defend my decision or explain that I'm not part of some revolutionary educational movement. I'm just doing what my husband and I thought was best for our kids in this particular season of our lives. I loved your park example because that's exactly the real deal. We are all doing the best we can for our people in this broken world we live in. We're just using the resources we have at our disposable to help our kids become lights in this darkness. I appreciate your words. You always put them together so beautifully.

  3. You share your heart here with such truth. I like that. I've become such anl wild and rabid public school advocate that I needed your reminder to hold it all loosely... Yet I have to also believe its okay to be sure of some things on some days, knowing tomorrow it could change. (Been there, bought the shirt.)

    I love so much that you guys still support the public school. I can't believe that grad rate...heartbreaking. You would like that book I linked a week or so ago! I forget the title right now...ha.

    See you soon!!!

  4. wonderful perspective. We are facing this decision next year and I have been waiting for your insight. I've checking your blog daily to see what path you and Adam decided to take. PS - I'm a repeat offender on forgetting wipes too. now I keep two packs in my glove box. Two because I will inevitably pull one out and forget to replace it and would be back in the same boat again.

  5. I love how you put all this. I've written some on our decision to public school our kids (after homeschooling for a few years, and doing a university model school for a couple of years), and I have more to write on the subject but I write it and write it and it's just not coming out how I want it too. So maybe I'll just link back to you! I feel the way you feel many times, waking up unsure of what in the world I'm doing and that maybe I just want to pull my babies all back into my home and shut the door. This has been so huge for me in relinquishing my *perceived* control and has deepened my trust in the Lord as we send our children out into the world. Thanks for sharing!


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