19 July 2008

Thinking Out Loud About School

School starts in three weeks.

There's a lot I need to finish. The renovations we have made to the house are on schedule, but there is still much work to be done. The family room needs to be livable by the time Julie visits in two weeks. That means that there are boards to stain and shellack, couches to buy, blinds to hang. Much, much work.

For the first time in quite some time there are also questions about school.

Not about me. I'm set to teach German again this year, along with two English classes. I will be adding podcasting to my teaching repertoire, using it to teach vocabulary words and dialogue in German--and to teach some cool things about German history and culture, too. It will be my fifth year at Station Camp High School, and my longest teaching stint to date looks pretty certain to continue indefinitely.

Ellie is looking forward to middle school. As you may remember from a previous post, she finished the school year at a public elementary school near where I teach. She loved it. She felt challenged by the work and respected by her teachers. She can't wait to get into 6th grade--6th through 8th grades attend middle school in my county, followed by high school.

The cool thing is that Knox Doss Middle School is just down the street from where I teach. On a decent day, she will walk over to my classroom after she finishes her class work and track practice.

Now Jenny and I are wondering about the boys. Owen will enter 2nd grade this year, and Jonah will be in Kindergarten. A new public elementary school just opened up on the campus where I teach, and I am leaning toward enrolling them there--70% certain--instead of returning them to Highland Elementary, the school that both I and my dad graduated from (1985 and 1958, respecitvely).

Not easy.

I need your prayers and your heartfelt thoughts. Perhaps by sharing this dilemma on my blog, I'll be able to sort this out a little better.

I don't need any prejudice. Please don't tell me what you've "heard" about public schools or speculate about the curriculum or fellow students. I have ten years experience teaching in public schools, and I have friends who teach at Station Camp Elementary.

This is how it breaks down. I'll start with the pros, since that's the way I'm leaning.
  1. The education. The teachers are all highly qualified, and the curriculum is up to date and a little more challenging. Ellie learned more about science and history in the last 11 weeks at JAES than she had learned in 25 at Highland. This year she will take honors 6th-grade English. The teacher told me they learn 5-paragraph essays. I learned how to write a 5-paragraph essay in college. Owen will qualify for advanced classes that should stimulate him and meet his gifted needs.
  2. Convenient location. The boys will be right next door. Their school would get out at 3:45; mine gets out at 3:15, so I would be able to pick them up every day as I was leaving. Last year, we had to arrange for friends to pick them up after school or pay $14 an hour to have them in after-school care at Highland. It was complicated, because they seemed to be at a different place every day.
  3. Cost. About $600 a month--although public school isn't necessarily free.
  4. Friends. It's a good school in an upper-middle class neighborhood. The kids are about twice as likely to get invited to a program at one of the megachurches in the area as anything negative.
  5. Faith. Jenny and I have no reason to invest in a lifelong attachment to Adventism, since we ourselves have moved on a different faith community. We don't want our kids fantasizing about Heaven or speculating on the Second Coming. We want them to learn to live Christian lives within the community God has given us. The onus would be on Jenny and me, however, to teach what we believe and encourage positive interactions with their teachers and friends.
Of course there are also cons.
  1. Owen doesn't wish to leave.
  2. Friends. Owen and Jonah have good friends at Highland Elementary. They like the people they go to school with, and they don't have an overarching reason to leave (in the way that Ellie was struggling with teachers).
  3. Family. It was tough enough on my family when Ellie left Highland. I feel like many of them are so prejudiced that they are now banking on her failure in life to prove me wrong. When she was faring poorly at Highland, my dad was one who jumped on the "there's something wrong at home" spin, instead of confronting some of the issues that were going on at school. If I send the boys to Station Camp, I might as well be putting them on a yellow school bus to hell.
So that is where things stand. I have prayed about this for the past few months. I feel led to make the break now, rather than drawing things out as I did with Ellie. Ellie wants them to make the move for many of the "pro" reasons listed above. As difficult as it was for her to switch, she tells me I should have done it sooner. She still sees her Adventist friends at church and at camp, but school is about school, and she likes the clarity of it.

One thing I learned as a teacher is that it's easier to be a Christian in a public school environment. I think the choices are starker, the outcomes more clear. One doesn't get bogged down in trivial stuff.

Comment below. I welcome your ideas.


AMcNulty said...

You probably already know what I am going to say and you might have already made your decision as I just came across your blog today after returning from out of town. I feel that Christian education is important even though it is apparently easy to be a Christian in a public school. I look back at my time at Highland Elementary and am very thankful for the Bible instruction and beyond that Godly teachers that have still left a lasting influence on me today. I have no doub that the curriculum and quality of teaching would be good at the public school but there is something to be said for the quality of instilling Christian education that your boys will be exposed to every day. I know for myself I won't think your boys are on a school bus to hell if you do put them in public school but I do think they could continue to flourish amongst their peers there along with some good teachers.

Finally, for what it's worth Highland is getting a new principal there. From what I have heard, she is very qualified and is very innovative looking at advancing and bringing thing to even higher levels. She comes from Atlanta where she was principal of two schools! At any rate, these are just some of my thoughts. As you mentioned in your blog you are soliciting prayers and I will be praying for this situation as I know it is not easy. Talk to you soon.


JD said...

I really appreciated the "Christian" aspect of the education at Highland. Owen would come home and ask us about things from the Bible, which led to really interesting discussions at home.

At the level he's at, it's all good. Apparently one of Ellie's headaches in 5th & 6th grade was "baptismal class," which was really an indoctrination. She just tuned out the pastor who taught the class after awhile. But at Owen and Jo-Jo's level, this isn't a problem.

I appreciate your comment, Aaron. I want to hear some more!

garnet said...

Hi JD,

I had forgotten that our principal was invited to interview for the position at Highland. I don't think he ever did, though.

The one thing that jumped out at me when I read this was your statement that Owen doesn't want to change. That could mean a lot of different things from "I'd rather really not make a change as I'm pretty content" to "I do NOT want to move and you'd better not make me". Obviously, I have no idea what Owen is feeling beyond your simple statement, but if it were towards the second option I might consider that pretty carefully. How easily does he make new friends? Is he likely to adjust quickly and easily if he doesn't want to? I guess since I have one that does not handle change well AT ALL I'd have to have a really good reason to do it otherwise the trauma -- both to us and the child -- probably wouldn't make it worth it. You know, not provoking the child to anger and all that. Picking the battles.

Of course, this may not at all apply to Owen. Just what came to my mind. From what you wrote, doesn't sound like it would be anything to come into play regarding Jonah.

Another, more minor thing that crossed my mind was something I'm surprised to find myself even writing, since I spent my entire academy life wishing to be at a better school with better academics. I'm finding as time passes that academics matter less for me in what I want for my children. They can learn -- if they so desire -- anywhere. And if they learn how to learn, they can keep on doing it all their lives. But how will their experiences shape their characters? That just might be a bigger factor for me when considering what to do about their education, then academic opportunities. So, perhaps, a slightly different set of criteria to examine in addition to academics. Of course, you may have already done this -- and I certainly couldn't as I don't know your kids properly, nor do I know anything about the school situations.

Finally, a question. I'm really curious as it sounded rather like that baptismal class was mandatory and I've never heard of such a thing. Every school with which I've been connected has offered baptismal classes but they have always been for those who wanted to join up -- not something forced. What's the story with that? I guess I'm thinking if Ellie wasn't interested and she'd had the option, she would have dropped out, so I'm guessing she didn't have the option?

JD said...

Great questions about Owen, Robyn

Owen has a very conservative personality. He is very meticulous, he doesn't like change. Compared to Ellie and Jo-jo, who are outgoing and popular wherever they land, Owen is somewhat reserved.

We went to an open house at Station Camp Elementary last Saturday night. He threw a fit the whole time. At least Jonah got into the inflatable slides and played around. Owen just closed up.

I think that education prepares you for community in much the same way that participating in church does. My education prepared me to be a part of a worldwide Adventist community, even if it left me ignorant of normal people in Portland, Tennessee or Bartlett, Ohio who didn't attend church with me.

The advantages of this education were a group of core friends with whom I have lifelong relationships--even if some of them have moved to Africa, ahem.

There are some specific disadvantages, however. I don't want to offend Larissa and Xander's school, and I want to emphasize that I am only talking about my own education.
1. Diversity. I attended school with kids who looked like me. There were African Americans in my community. At best there were one or two in my schools, usually none. More importantly, I attended school with kids and teachers who thought exactly like me. I wasn't challenged to think, and I almost ended up being a lifelong right-wing Republican wacko because of it (thank God for Newbold).
2. Limited career options. Adventist elementary school prepared me for Adventist academy which prepared me for Adventist college which prepared me for Adventist institutions. Health care, education, ministry, administration. These are the jobs at Adventist institutions, and they are what 75% of Adventist college students train for. I want my kids to think bigger than that: entrepreneurship, economics, sciences. I don't want to dwell on missed opportunities, but sometimes I kick myself at loving math so much all the way through school and ending up an English teacher because I had no clue how to apply it until I took statistics in my final year of grad school.

I guess it comes down to community. Public school prepares you to live in the community. The kids Ellie goes to sixth grade with--some of them will be business owners and firefighters in Gallatin 15 years from now, others will be bagging groceries and raising kids here. Perhaps that focus is too low? Too local? Of course, others will go to other communities.

This probably sounds pathetic, but one of the things I like about teaching in public schools is this: I like running into people I know at the grocery store.

garnet said...

Thanks for the morning laugh! I really needed that to wake up, but I guess it's my own fault for going to bed well after 2:00. Yeah, poor Larissa. We need to get to work on getting more diversity in her life. Unfortunately, so far we've only had classmates / friends from the Philippines, Switzerland / Germany, Rwanda, Eritrea, Kenya, Chile / Panama / Bolivia, Pakistan, and a few from the U.S. It is a small school, but it seems terribly unfair to ignore two whole continents. I've got some ideas for friends from Australia, but the parents just aren't cooperating. Neither are the penguins.

Politics. Well, that's a bigger problem, though I am still hopeful that someday we'll find a Republican to introduce them to. Not going to happen in my family, though.

It's good for me to see some different views. Honestly, I've always felt the odd one out for working within the SDA church. I really don't know anyone else from my academy that does. (Ok, I take that back. There was one guy in my class of 44 who taught at an academy and there may be one girl whose husband does. And one girl is a pastor. But I think that is pretty much it). And not too many even from college, although there should be as that was kind of the point of Newbold for many who attended.

Meg said...

Not having kids myself probably makes my opinion invalid but for what it is worth--here is my two cents worth... First of all, I think it is wonderful that you are putting so much effort and thought into making a decision about schooling. So many people just send their kids to a school without really thinking about it.

Secondly, although I am a big believer in Christian education, I do not think just because a school is a Christian school that makes it is right for every child. I am thankful for my SDA schooling which was good and encouraged me to be open minded. However, I know other people who have had the opposite experience. It may sound obvious but there are good and bad Adventist/Christian schools just as there are good and bad public schools.

We have friends who have 4 kids, all of whom go to different schools. The parents have chosen each school depending upon the child's personality/ aptitude etc. And the kids all seem really happy and well adjusted children. It certainly is more hassle for the parents, but each child is in a place that is best for them. (The schools are a mix of christian/non christian, single sex, mixed etc).

You are obviously making the decision prayerfully and with much thought.

JD said...


I saw my principal last week, and he told me he had read my blog--something about doing random searches for Station Camp-related information.

He said, "If every parent put as much thought into sending their kids to my school as you have, this place would be so much better."

I don't think it's a case of easy vs. hard or good vs. evil. What challenges are Jenny and I willing to rise up to? What obstacles can we eradicate to make our family more efficient/focused/effective?

Sean Robinson said...


The following is a loving, heart-felt, off the cuff response to your blog, and I hope you will read it with the same loving sentiment.

I have read the blog several times, and while I can feel your pain, I am not sure you blog is fair or representative of all the issues. You experienced a series of negative incidents with Ellie. However your blog is a blatant attempt to justify writing off both Christian and Adventist education. I am not sure that is evenhanded to either. While most teachers, both in Christian and Secular settings want the best for children, unfortunately a bad apple occasionally makes it through – causing pain wherever they appear. There are generally ways of working with the school to overcome the situation. You also indicated your decision was being made so Ellie could develop as a Christian. But I saw no biblical position/ counsel in the discussion. You have mentioned you asked Ellie for her opinion. She is a minor looking to you as her parents to provide the foundation for her life. While you can use that to help her look at the choices, I hope you are making the decision based not on your heart but on what you know to be the very best empirically for her.

As an Adventist Christian I am proud of our educational system - which is the envy of most other denominations. Not because it is perfect - because it isn’t! I too spent 5 years in an Adventist School. While overall the years were fantastic, there was one negative situation which could have colored my perception of the whole – if I chose to let it or wanted it to. Because the overriding principle of Adventist schools is to change lives for the better – and I believe that is what happened to me – overall I have an extremely positive perception. This includes temporal/ civil and eternal dimensions. You said you went through Highland and that your parents were alumni before you?! How do you think your Mum & Dad feel when they see you arguing against the foundational principles they thought were so important, they not only sought to instill them in you but were prepared to sacrifice to that end. Are you saying their decisions for your development were inadequate?

You and I have both had the privilege to serve our community though our Church. ADRA, an Adventist organization was born to help develop people. I serve as the Adventist Community Services Director for W TX and New Mexico. Recently I was privileged to support a church helping families who had been flooded out of their homes. Last year ACS was helping out families in Nashville whose homes were damaged by a series of tornadoes. Through ACS many people served their community in Nashville. Please don’t suggest Adventists don’t interact or support their communities in your local area. FEMA has so recognized the Adventist contribution it signed a national contract with ACS.

Catherine and I have made it our dream to develop in the minds of our children through the following list of priorities:

1. Love for Jesus
2. Provision of a Loving Home
3. Adventist Christian Education
4. Stewardship - using what God has given them for lifelong service.

We have every intention of spending their inheritance instilling these priorities. Not that we are perfect either, but in this we hope to be “perfect parents” giving our children the very best of what is important to us as Christians. We use the church community and Adventist Education as part of this – seeking to fill-in where we find weakness rather than negatively attacking. To be successful those things have to be intertwined. To remove just one spoke in the wheel leaves the young child’s mind open and vulnerable.

No matter how nice or professional the teachers a secular state school cannot provide those things entwined, even if a teacher is a Christian. It is not being prejudiced to say that either as I think you are inferring. Secular curriculums ARE teaching moral and ethical issues outside of a Biblical basis. If you don’t believe that, why be a Christian? In the US the separation of Church and State argument legally ensures the secular aim in schools. Just being a good person, as is currently popularly defined by society, would be enough. Or why place your children in a school operated by some other world religion – like Confucius or Buddhism. They operate “peace loving” philosophies but they don’t have a loving God who died on the Cross. Texas coined the phrase "good old boy" epitomizing the “being good is enough” sentiment. Sadly, there is no God in "good old boy" – Romans 3 & 6. And isn’t this works anyway – why do you need Jesus Christ?

If as you say you have moved on to another religious community, why have you not chosen to enroll Ellie or the boys in a Methodist school? I think you could justify that easier than what you are trying to accomplish here.

You list $ in the Pro's - I hope I misunderstood – since I remember you would have never put a dollar figure value on preventing your children having the best. Money has never been an issue where our kids’ Christian education is concerned. Catherine and I drive 5 + year old cars because we would rather spend our money/ their inheritance, on the best foundation for life rather than driving in the latest models or other materialistic priorities. We’ll eat beans and rice if necessary!

Whether you are dealing with a Christian or Secular school you are going to find mistakes being made. Sometimes the system will let you down. But you are part of the “system”, so what are you going to do to change it for the better? And in my view the question to ask is not what is the best “education”; rather, how can I achieve the foundational priorities I have for my children! What are the foundational priorities you and Jenny have for your children? To me that would be the better place to begin your discussion.

God bless you and your journey JD, as you seek the Kingdom!