Going Public, David & Kelli Pritchard
This book is by David and Kelli Pritchard, a couple in the US who have 8 children, all of whom have been or are being educated through the public school system. As you read it, you get the feeling you know what they are talking about. They have lived it.
While it is billed as a resource to help and encourage you to use the public school system for your children’s education, it is much more than that.
It is a book about parenting your children through the school years. Most of it is relevant no matter what education system you decide on - public, private, Christian and (to a lesser extent) homeschool.
I am so glad I read it now. At the end of the year all our children will be at school. We are starting to think about high schools for our son. It helped me to recalibrate our framework again and think about the goals we have for our children’s education, which are so much more than just good marks and a potential entry to tertiary study. Not only that, as I am thinking through what my weeks will look like with all 3 at school, I found it helpful to again be reminded that I want to be involved in my children’s education, that I want to be an supportive, caring and involved parent for the staff and students, and that our kids’ school is the largest mission field I have.
Their overarching message is that God is in control. As Christian parents, we know in our heads that this is true, but sometimes we don’t act that way do we? We worry about our schools ranking on the MySchool website, we are concerned about our children’s performance in the NAPLAN tests and we worry about the influence of non-Christian teachers and friends. Sometime we forget that God is sovereign even over our children’s education.
Their second main point is that as parents we are in control. Wherever our children are educated, we are still their main educators. We are the ones who spend the most time with them and who have the most influence over their lives. No matter what schooling option we choose, we should never assume that ‘school will teach them that’. No, we stay involved and interested and aware of what they are learning, how they are progressing and how to help in any areas needed. The Pritchards claim that our job as parents includes: to teach them to love God with all their hearts, to teach them obedience and to teach self-control. These three traits will assist any child in growing up with an active faith, and also with a respect for authority and an ability to make wise decisions.
A couple of other points that were helpful were:
- The charge to us as parents to always be polite, encouraging and helpful with all school staff, most of whom spend their lives dealing with complaining parents. In this we can really stand out. I have already found this at school, being deliberate about getting to know the classroom teacher makes a huge difference for the whole year. Being on first name basis with the office staff means all interactions are based around a relationship, rather than only about an issue.
- Making sure we listen when our kids tell us about what happened at school, and find the teachable moments when they are there. Don’t overreact to information about teachers and other students, but listen and help your kids figure out how to think about the things that happen at school from a Christian perspective.
- The Pritchards put a strong emphasis on dads being involved in education: going on excursions, making sure they get to parent teacher night, getting to know friends. This is a task that usually falls to mothers, but they encourage dads to get more involved.
- They encourage families to consider having one parent as a stay-at-home parent. There is a lot to do to support children at school well and they believe, where possible, a parent at home makes this easiest and best. Each family makes their own decisions on this point, but I have to say from personal experience, I loved knowing that every day my mum would be home when we got home from school.
One of the things that I found most helpful were things to ask in a parent-teacher interview. Yes, find out how they are going academically, which especially with younger ones you probably already know anyway. But then change the direction of the interview and ask if your child is respectful to their teacher and if he listens to them. Is it the same with authority figures in the school, including other teachers and substitute teachers? Then ask about their relationship with other students - is he kind? helpful? does he speak sarcastically to other kids? do you ever see a streak of meanness?, etc. Think about the qualities and characteristics you are raising your child to have and ask whether they are demonstrating those at school.
Finally, they talk about evangelism in the school context. Some people view their children as evangelists on the school mission field. What the Pritchards say is “The main job for a Christian child or teenager in public school is simply to be a good student, a good citizen and a servant-leader – to model what Christianity actually is.” (p192) As parents we also have an opportunity to live a clear Christian witness as parents, to be hospitable and have an open home, to treat all with respect and to continue to teach our children how to do these things, and of course, be prepared to give an answer when anyone asks us for the reason for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
I found this book incredibly helpful. It made me think afresh about parenting during the school years and how to think about my time and my involvement in my children’s education. I’ll leave the Pritchards with the last words:
What matters… is the fact that you serve an incredibly mighty God, and He will prevail. Trust Him on this journey. Walk from school year to school year in confidence that He is on your side. (p209)