I’m an atheist.
I’m not the evangelizing sort of atheist. I’m not out to tear organized religion apart. In fact, I’ve got no real beef with organized religion at all. It’s just not for me. I find myself incapable of believing what the religious believe.
That being said, it may surprise you that someone like me would agree to a Christian school for my children. That’s just what my wife and I did this fall – she’s a practicing Lutheran – and it certainly surprised many of my friends and family.
So how did we reach a decision like that (and I write “we” because it wasn’t just my decision to make)?
For one thing, we wanted out of the public school system. We have an older daughter who is in the public school system. She gets fantastic grades, and we’re keeping her in public school because we feel the continuity is important for her at her age. But increasingly we’ve felt like the public schools work pretty hard to keep us at arm’s length. It doesn’t seem like the schools want parental involvement. There is a sense that we’re to get our kids to school on time, and then show up only at parent teacher conferences and school performances.
Oh, and open our wallets to buy magazine subscriptions and candy bars to raise money for schools that are already getting a hefty chunk of tax dollars.
We wanted more. We wanted to feel like we were part of our child’s education, and the private school we chose afforded that. On the first day we got a list of all the ways in which we could volunteer to help both in and out of the classroom. Our involvement, if not outright expected, is definitely encouraged.
For another, we felt like there was more accountability in the private school. The teacher our child has been assigned to has a blog. And an online calendar. And a reporting system that allows my wife and I to get status updates about our child’s behavior and achievements almost in real time, if we want it. The Minot Public School system has something similar where grades and announcements are posted, but my experience is that it is inconsistently used. It wasn’t something we could rely on.
Our teacher is eminently accessible in ways public school teachers haven’t been. If we have a problem, she’s a call or an email away, and with just 30 students in her two half-day kindergarten class, she’s always got plenty of time for us. The school’s administrators too. We don’t feel like we’ve enrolled our child in a school. We feel like we’ve joined a community.
This, we think, will pay dividends.
And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that some of the data points on academic achievement coming out of our public schools didn’t worry me. ACT testing numbers showing less than 1/4th of students ready for college-level classes is troubling. And while I’m no fan of No Child Left Behind as public policy, when it comes to my children it worries me that the schools they would/do attend aren’t hitting Annual Yearly Progress benchmarks.
I often feel like the public school system is run to benefit the bureaucrats to administer it and the teachers who work in it. It seems like the public schools often end up serving political agendas, rather than educational agendas. I’ve felt like serving parents, and serving teachers, fell far lower on the list of priorities for public educators than they should.
At our new school, there is a sense that students and parents are at the top of the list. And why wouldn’t they be? Unlike the public schools, in a private school we can always take our tuition dollars elsewhere.
To be sure, we didn’t make this decision without some concern. For instance, I had a lot of questions about the science curriculum (and the school had satisfying answers). But on the whole, we feel it was the right decision.
You often hear the saying that education “moulds young minds.” But I don’t want my daughters to be moulded. I don’t want them to be shaped. I don’t want to feel like I’m sending them off to a factory. I want them to be empowered. I want them to be taught to think critically.
There’s a better chance of that happening in a private school than a public school, I believe. Which brings me back to the atheism vs. Christianity thing. I’m ok with a Christian school because they will provide a better education for my daughter. I’m ok with a Christian school also because I’m not afraid to send my kids out into the world to be confronted with ideas that may not conform with my own.
I think more people would choose these things if they were empowered to do so. I think we’d all be better off if the public education policy weren’t such a hurdle to parents choosing something better for their kids.