Christians and Public Schools

My wife teaches at a small Christian school. My daughter teaches at a
huge public high school. This week they, along with many other teachers,
welcomed students back to their classrooms for a new academic year. I am
extremely proud of both of these women. They are investing in the next
generation, they are doing it as a way to serve God, and I know they are having
an impact far beyond what they can currently see.

I have tremendous respect for the teaching profession. I recall men and
women who didn’t just teach me; they inspired me. Teachers like Mrs. Rudolph,
my fifth grade teacher, who made me feel like God had created me to make a
difference in this world, Mr. Moseley, my Senior year Government teacher, who
helped prepare me for college, and so many more I could mention. After I
graduated high school, my own mom went back to school and finished the degree
she had put on hold when I was born. She then taught second grade in my
hometown for several years. Today, my sister-in-law teaches at the same campus
that mom once occupied. Of course, I know that not all teachers are as noble
and excellent as the ones I’ve mentioned. There are bad apples in any
profession, (including ministry!). And in the course of my education, I had a
handful of teachers who didn’t belong in a classroom. But the overwhelming
majority were there because they loved kids and wanted to make a difference. As
I talk to the many teachers in our church, and remember the many, many
educators I’ve pastored in previous churches, my respect for this profession
grows even greater.

So a few weeks ago, I was angered to see that a rumor had circulated on
social media about our local schools. The school district had to issue a
statement to rebut these rumors. No, they had NOT recently hired a
“diversity expert” to push the teaching of critical race theory in
our schools. I was angry as I thought, “What kind of person starts such a
rumor? What were they trying to accomplish, other than to stir up heartache,
anger, and fear?” But I must admit, I was also angry at the many people
who must have shared this rumor on their social media feed. Why are we so quick
to believe that something terrible must be happening in our local education
system? Why would we pass along information so inflammatory without at least
checking to see if it’s true? (For the record, I know our school district is
telling the truth about this. My daughter teaches high school history. If she
were being coerced into pushing CRT in her classroom, I would know it).

If you are my age or older and grew up in a town like Conroe, you probably
remember when the local school system was a source of civic pride. We watched
the marching band in the annual parade, cheered our teams together in the local
stadium and gym, and held up our teachers and administrators as community
pillars. Today, things are much more fragmented. In a way, that’s a good thing.
My daughter, aside from one year, spent her entire education (including her
college years) in public schools, and came out well-educated and prepared for
any number of careers. My son, on the other hand, asked us early in his
seventh-grade year if he could attend a local Christian school, where he stayed
until his graduation. That school was as perfect a fit for him as my daughter’s
public schools had been for her. We never homeschooled, but many of the best
Christians I know are either products of homeschooling, are homeschooling their
own kids, or both. I am thankful that parents today have options for their kids
that didn’t exist generations ago, because (as my own family proves) one size
does not fit all when it comes to children’s education. But in doing what’s
best for our own kids, let’s not forget the importance of the local school
system, and the men and women who work there.

Again, I am beyond grateful for the teachers who invested so well in my son
at his Christian school for the way they helped him grow, both academically and
spiritually. I am grateful as well for the parents who choose to educate their
kids at home, making the extra effort to prepare them to be good citizens and
(we pray) well-equipped representatives of Christ. But as I listen to public
school teachers, including my daughter, I gain a window into their world. Most
of us–let’s be honest–have managed to isolate ourselves from the hardest
problems of our community. We choose to live near people who share our values,
who make us feel safe. But a public school teacher must work with kids from
every sector of society, raised in every conceivable value system (and some you
and I probably couldn’t conceive of). A heartbreaking number of these kids are
experiencing ongoing trauma that would crush us. The parts of our community we
try our best to shield ourselves from, they must deal with every single day. In
many ways, a Christian educator on a public school campus is like a missionary.
They go where we either cannot or will not go, where the needs are the
greatest. Granted, they can’t preach or proselytize, but they are doing God’s
work nonetheless…working from the very ground up to make our communities
better places to live. If they succeed, we will live amongst well-equipped
fellow citizens. If they fail, there is no legislation we can write that will
fix the societal collapse that ensues.

I’m not saying it’s wrong for us to express disappointment or concerns with
the need for improvement in our schools. As members of the same community, we
should care enough to speak out when we see things that concern us. I am not
saying we must always agree with the local administration, approve every school
bond issue, never appeal our property tax. I am not saying parents should
blindly trust their students’ teachers. In fact, based on the teachers I know,
most would welcome parents who are heavily involved in their own child’s
education, who know what is being taught. Good teachers want to partner with
parents, not steer their kids away from them. If the day comes when you find a
teacher who doesn’t fit that model, speak up. Advocate for your child; your
first responsibility is as a parent.

But let’s approach those conversations from a place of grace. Let’s assume
we’re on the same team, working for the same goals, until proven otherwise.
Let’s support our local schools, even if we never have any kids enrolled there.
Pray for the campuses closest to you. Come after hours and prayer-walk the
campus, in fact, so you can get a feel for the place you’re praying for. Pray
for the teachers you know personally, by name…and check in with them
periodically to see how their prayer needs have changed. Attend sporting
events, concerts and plays. Consider volunteering on campus, or donating to
school supply drives and other initiatives that support kids and teachers. Our
schools should see God’s people as the best allies they have.

And when someone on social media makes accusations about our local schools, ask them where they got their information. For goodness’ sakes, don’t forward it without knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s true. To blindly believe and pass along such nonsense is no different than spreading gossip about a friend. In fact, here’s a handy tip: When you hear anything that makes you think negatively of your local school, ask a teacher if it’s true or not. Believe me, they are in your church, and would love to have that conversation with you.

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