Why We Chose Public Education

It’s here again.

Back to school time.

On the last day of school in June I walked to my daughters’ school for their end of year assembly.  While there, I was reminded for the hundredth time how blessed I feel to be a part of such a kind, fun and interactive community.

While it’s certainly not the right choice for all, we’ve had wonderful experiences here.

I would love to share with you some of the reasons why we chose public education for our daughters and to take time to publicly express gratitude for the many ways this choice has been a blessing in our lives.

My husband and I both attended small public schools in our communities as children and we both enjoyed our experiences there.

While these schools were far from perfect we both emerged with a good education, a broad circle of friends and exposure to many people who were different from ourselves.

During high school I spent time in both public and private Christian schools volunteering and gaining experience through cooperative education experiences.  I enjoyed each classroom I was a part of and emerged knowing that I wanted to teach.  I was given an opportunity to begin pursuing that dream in a small private school in Northern Ontario at age 18.  I took it enthusiastically!  I loved the classroom and I knew this is what I wanted to do.

I taught in this school for 3 years.

I made hundreds of mistakes and certainly would have benefited from more training and education, but somehow God’s grace enabled me to teach, nurture and learn in this environment.

It was a huge learning curve and God used this experience in my life to guide and grow me.

After teaching, I spent a few years providing childcare for community children.  We lived just down the street from our local public school and two of the children I cared for attended there.  This gave me opportunities to spend time at the school, get to know some of the staff and volunteer in the classroom.  I got a chance to work alongside some amazing educators and I learned a lot from them.  It reminded me of my own wonderful experiences in the public education system, while also reminding me of some of the major flaws of the public system.

When our daughters came home we were drawn to public education because it provided the support, services and inclusion for children with exceptionalities who need it, like ours.

We wanted our children, no matter their abilities, to be able to learn and interact with their peers and absorb as seamlessly as possible into their appropriate classes.

This model was also the closest replica to what they had been familiar with in their previous homes.

I also loved that the public school was a 3 minute walk from our home, which made it easy for me to volunteer in their classrooms as well as continue spending time in some of the other classes as well.

The first year was rocky.

 Very rocky.

 Our daughters were emotionally, academically and behaviourally challenging.  They had just been uprooted from everything they knew and loved and they needed time to adjust to this change.  I am so grateful for the teachers who supported my daughters through that difficult year.  The patience, gentleness, compassion and genuine love they showed was so beautiful.

They were there to love my kids for who they were, despite the behaviours, academic challenges and anxiety that meant weekly or sometimes daily phone calls home.

I walked and ran the few minutes back and forth from the school to our home countless times that first year and often breathed a prayer of thanks that I was so close.  Some days I was at school more than home.  I will forever be grateful that during that time there were adults in my daughters’ lives that understood education was far from the most important priority and were there to encourage and celebrate both me and my daughters.

I was also thankful for the professional educators that year that helped guide me through the maze of testing, Individualized Education Plans, therapy and behavioural supports.

That year I learned to celebrate the small successes, worry less and be patient with my children as they learn.

I learned that children learn if they can.

While it sometimes appeared that my children were being lazy, defiant or purposely disruptive it almost always stemmed from an inability to manage their circumstances emotionally, academically, or physically.

While I’ve had to be the expert and advocate for my children’s individual needs at times, I am so grateful to be a part of a system that does have supports available for my children.  I’m also thankful for professionals who have been able to guide me into a better understanding of some of my children’s exceptionalities.  Sensory rooms, alternative report cards, individualized goals and expectations, one on one supervision and assistance, part time learning programs and in-school therapy are just some of the special education tools we’ve accessed in the past three years.  All these supports are available for free to children who need them.

There are many who tell horror stories of navigating the system for their children, but our experience has had many positives.  You will have to fight for these supports and probably won’t get everything you feel you want and need, but there is much available.

I am so grateful for each of these supports as they have made it possible for my children and many other children I care about to learn and grow socially, academically, physically and emotionally inside a regular classroom surrounded by their peers.

Because we had invested such a huge part of our time and heart into the children in our community we really wanted our children to be able to attend school with the kids they played with every day on our street.

We wanted to be a part of our community, and school is such an easy way to do that.  We have gotten to know so many people because we chose public education.  Almost every time we go out we meet or see at least a few people we know.

I want my children to grow up alongside the children in their community and have exposure to people who are very different than they are.

I want them to develop empathy, respect and practical skills to know how to relate to the culture they are apart of.  Ultimately I want to give my children the confidence and ability they will need to embrace and share their faith in a culture that knows very little about genuine Christianity.

I don’t want my children living in a bubble of people who talk, look, speak and believe the same as them. I don’t believe that equips them with the practical skills to relate well with other people and reach the world with the gospel.

I realize a lot of fear goes along with this approach and I understand that fear.  I understand that exposing your children to the culture also means exposing them to danger.

I am confidant in this approach only because I believe without a doubt that parents are the biggest influencers in their children’s lives.

Teachers’ and peers’ influences pale in comparison to the impact you will have on your child’s heart.  While the public education system may at times come in direct contradiction to your own set of morals and values, these situations give you as the parent the unique opportunity to discuss relevant issues with your child.  While your child may question or even push back against your perspective at times, elementary aged kids will very rarely reject the values their parents hold.  What you are ingraining in them is stronger than you’d ever hope to believe.

While dealing with bullies, violence or sexualized behaviours are no walk in the park I am so grateful to have the opportunity to explore these issues with my children in a biblical way while I am still the primary influence in their life.  Helping them navigate through these issues is a privilege many parents miss because they wait too long to approach it out of fear.  I’d rather do it gradually, bit by bit and age appropriately through my children’s natural experiences than try one day in their teens to give them the whole boatload at once.

Gender confusion, racism, addictions and brokenness are all a part of the world our children are growing up in.  Wishing them away will not change that.

It’s important we give our children a biblical framework to navigate these challenging issues.  In our experience, having our children in public education has helped us to stay motivated to keep ahead of the culture in giving our children these messages.  We want to be the first to shape their perceptions and ideas, which means we need to be addressing them earlier than we’d sometimes feel comfortable with.

I am also constantly amazed at the way my children have been able to develop a compassionate, kind and respectful view of even the most difficult children around them.

They understand that a child’s outward actions are often caused by something going on inside.

It’s been one of the most beautiful parts of parenting for me to walk them through these encounters with grace and seeing them embrace this same grace toward their peers.  To see them modeling the kind of love Jesus had–a love that looks past the unkempt, unlovely parts of us to the broken places of our hearts–there is no greater joy for me.  They constantly come home asking us to pray for one friend or another who is experiencing anything from bullying to the loss of a parent through death or divorce.  Sometimes it’s just an observation of a friend who doesn’t seem very happy, is having behavioral problems or comes to school without a lunch every day.  Those prayers mean the world to me, and they teach my heart not to fear.

While many people feel the public education system is failing our children academically, I have come to appreciate the broader perspective they teach from.  It is less important that children learn to write neatly in cursive, for example, in an age of limitless technology.   It is very important, however, that children learn how to develop critical thinking skills, analyze information, and develop a thorough understanding of the math and sciences.  There are more and more opportunities for our children to enter career fields requiring strong math and science skills.  While literacy always has and always will be important, I can appreciate the strong inclusion of interpretation and comprehension of a text alongside the actual reading or writing of it.

I am still fond of many of the old-school ways of teaching children including memorization, repetition and organization particularly with children with learning disabilities, but I am also observing benefits to a more inquiry-based, natural approach.

The truth is public schools have volumes of challenge academically, socially and behaviourally that private schools will never have because they are easily accessible to everyone.  Social issues such as poverty, family dysfunction and children’s mental health impact the public system more severely than private organizations and these issues drastically change a child’s ability to learn and interact in a structured environment.

Statistics often do not mirror the extreme challenges educators are being faced with daily in the public system and the creative, compassionate and intelligent ways they are handling those challenges.

I took many of the learning approaches I learned in our public school into my homeschool with our younger daughter.  It was invaluable for me to gain a larger repertoire of teaching styles to be able to teach her in a way that she could truly thrive.

The first year our daughters were in school they both had the opportunity to bond with a teacher in a way that made it possible for them to thrive.  The difference a caring teacher can make on a child’s ability to learn is so huge.  I am so grateful for the many teachers that have invested in my daughters’ lives.

Some of them are now people I call friends.

There are so many wonderful men and women who are choosing to become educators to our children.  I have seen so much passion, energy and thought put into my daughters’ education.

To the Christian community I would also like to make a note that there are hundreds of Christian men and women in our public school system that are working hard to make a difference in these children’s lives every day.  Some of these men and women have been a huge blessing to our family during the last 3 years and it’s been an honour to support them in prayer and encouragement.

I have been humbled to be able to see just how many of the teachers involved in my children’s lives are brothers and sisters in Christ.

 For my daughters it’s been a special privilege to be able to connect with some of those men and women spiritually despite being in an environment that does not teach or encourage our faith.  Some friends and I formed a prayer group one year specifically to pray over our school, the teachers and the students.

I was humbled and amazed during that year to observe in awe and gratitude how many ways God blessed our education experience and the teachers he placed around our children.

Last but not least I love the large, colourful and diverse world public education brings to my children.  Art, music, drama, Native language and culture, a variety of athletics, French and plenty of time in nature are just some of the experiences my children enjoy at their school.

They have a beautiful wooded area on either side of the school property that they get to spend time in exploring, learning and sometimes just being kids.  They’ve come home with stories of building bridges across little streams, observing tadpoles, and finding different types of bark and moss.  I love that their teachers have carved out time for them to enjoy nature as they learn and that they recognize that sometimes an afternoon playing outside in the woods is just as beneficial as sitting inside studying.

I also love that technology is a part of their education program as well as plenty of opportunities for kinesthetic learners to experience hands on learning.  There are math and literacy programs that my children can access both at home and school so they can continue to make progress wherever they are and have a more individualized approach.

While every education experience has its challenges and benefits, I am so thankful for the freedom we experience here in Canada to be able to pursue education for our children in however God leads us, whether that be public school, home school, private school or a combination.

I am thankful to have the freedom to be involved in my children’s education and to have access to so many resources in our community to help them thrive.

While I don’t know what the future will bring, we will commit to just one year at a time, following where He leads us.

Cheers to September!

May it be filled with new beginnings and abundant grace.

AF

 

Giants Fall

There are two books that have blessed my socks off recently.

The first is a title that caught my eye as I was wandering through a bookstore with a friend a few months back.  The title “Overextended…and loving most of it!” made my breath catch in my throat and I nearly grabbed the soft cover off the shelf.  The subtitle reads:

“The Unexpected Joy of Being Harried, Heartbroken, and Hurling Oneself Off Cliffs.”

Lisa Harper’s words spoke to my heart in ways few have been able to.  So much about Christianity today has become tame, logical, practical and sensible.  Faith is valued most highly when it’s carefully planned out, thought out, weighed out with pros and cons and calculated to require as little risk as possible.

This has just not been my story.

I’m a jumping off cliffs, intensely passionate, go for the gold kind of girl.  This is how God speaks to me.  In the middle of my deepest passions is where I feel Him closest; His heart beating strong within my own.  Everything that is there has been planted by Him and I love to be on His adventures…but sometimes I feel like I’m constantly swimming against the current.

Like there’s something wrong with leaping out without answers;

committing without the figures matching.

Shouldn’t I have a plan that wraps it all up neatly in a bow?

But what kind of faith has it all figured out?

What kind of faith makes sense to everyone else watching…or even me for that matter?

What kind of faith chooses the obvious, the safe, the perfectly within my comfort zone option?

You don’t need a big God to do that kind of faith.

I’m not even going to balance this out with all the thoughts that may be spinning through your mind right now because well…I’m just tired of those.

Is there anyone out there who wants to live big?

Is there anyone who believes in a God that makes all things possible?

Is there anyone who is willing to jump off cliffs and believe God will take care of the parachute?

The second book is called, “Your Beautiful Purpose” by Susie Larson.

Subtitle reads:

“Discovering and Enjoying What God Can Do Through You”

Again, this woman hit the nail on the head as she explored purpose, faith and a big God.  We really do not need to be hiding in these shells of fear, apprehension, confusion and insecurity.  God longs to free us from those bonds to walk in an abundant life that is full, beautiful, purpose-filled and covered in grace.

Recently I cried out to God,

“Please, God, if I am doing the total wrong thing here please remold this clay!  Please redeem this somehow and use it to fulfill your purposes.”

And you know what?  I’m ok with that!

He is perfectly capable of doing that.  And if that cry is coming from a heart that is sincere, searching and laid out before him like a blank page…I think He loves it.

We frequently talk about how small we are and how God does not need us but chooses to use us anyway.  We talk about how on our own we can accomplish nothing!  Maybe we should also realize that daring to step out in faith when we’re not quite sure of all the detail is not going to derail God!  You might just get to see how big your God really is!  I believe with all my heart He loves to take us on those adventures and to see the trust in our floundering leaps of faith.

This morning I was reading in Esther.  Mordecai’s words to his fearful, cautious niece always take my breath away.

“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such as time as this!?”

-Esther 4:13-14

The worst case scenario of Esther approaching the King was her death.  That really would not have helped the Jews at all.  In fact, it could have made things much worse!  She had logical reasons to believe the King would not appreciate her bold gesture.  But Esther chose to believe that her God was big enough to take care of the details.  She was willing to put her life on the line to be a part of God’s kingdom purposes!

Most of the time we’re not being called to put our lives on the line.  We  are asked to sacrifice much smaller things, like our pride, our popularity, our reputation, our comfort.

And guess what?

Just like Mordecai made clear to Esther…YOU ARE NOT IRREPLACEABLE!  God’s purposes will not be stopped by one little human!  When I decide to curl up in my shell and quake in fear or maybe simply say no, He has thousands of other options.  Thankfully instead of immediately getting frustrated He will usually kneel down, peer into that dark little abyss and remind me of all the reasons I should be coming out to join him…because guess what?

HE REALLY DOES WANT TO USE ME!

Not because I have so much to offer, or am specially talented.  No.  More likely, He wants to build something in my character.  He wants to show me something new about Him.  Or maybe He wants to see if he can pry my hands open to let go of those things I hold so dear.  My security.  My safety.  My logical reasoning.  My comfortable life just the way it is.

Do I want to miss that?

NO WAY!

I love reading stories about Peter in the Bible. He’s so brash and arrogant…yet so many times his passion and zeal are just so endearing. You gotta love him. In all his enthusiasm, he often misses the mark. For people like Peter and I, that means a lot of harsh rebukes…and that can be painful. But when God got a hold of that zeal, energy and ambition and molded it into something He could use, Peter emerged a whole new character.

Confident.

Courageous.

Humble.

All in for his Jesus.

God didn’t need to take away all that zest for life to use Peter…and you don’t need to throw all the zest out of your life either!

Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve known all your life that you’re just a little too over the top most of the time. Or maybe you have a son or daughter that is constantly living on the edge and you feel like they’re bound for some sort of disaster. Don’t give up just yet. See the potential for bold faith, courageous cliff jumping, and surrendered ambitions. Now believe with all your heart that when Jesus Christ moves in, He transforms even the wonkiest characters into something beautiful.

Cheers! 🙂

Love this song by Francesca Batistelli

“Giants Fall

Everyone’s telling you
To let go of what you’re holding to
It’s too late, too far
You’re too small, it’s too hard
Throwing water on that spark
Living deep inside your heart
With oceans of reasons
The things you’re not seeing
But oh, maybe they don’t
Know what you know
That you’re not alone

[Chorus:]
Don’t you be afraid
Of giants in your way
With God you know that anything’s possible
So step into the fight
He’s right there by your side
The stones inside your hand might be too small
But watch the giants fall

We could really live like this
Can’t you imagine it
So bold, so brave
With childlike faith
Miracles could happen
Mountains would start moving
So whatever you may face

[Chorus]

Ask and believe
You’re gonna see
The hand of God in every little thing

[Chorus]

Miracles can happen
Anything is possible
Watch the giants fall

“Seven”

I love to read.

On a grey, rainy day (like today) there is nothing I feel like doing more than crawling into my p.j.’s and curling up on the couch with three pillows, a fuzzy blanket and a good book.  Unfortunately, I rarely have the freedom to do this, but it’s a thought that circles through my mind constantly every time I look outside and see rain…therefore completely eliminating any shred of motivation I once had!  I almost always have at least 2 or 3 books that I am in the process of reading.  I like to have a few on the go, so I can choose according to my mental or emotional state at the time.  Therefore, I am always on the lookout for a good book to hide on my shelf.

Recently I discovered there were numerous books in the library at church that I had never taken the advantage of borrowing.  (FREE books are my favourite!)

One of those books was Seven by Jen Hatmaker.  “An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.”

I am still not even half way through this book, but I just had to write about it because it is just that good!  🙂

In Seven Jen takes you on a hilarious, passionate and deeply honest journey into the materialistic chaos our western culture has become.  She journals about her 7 month long experiment of giving God control over 7 very personal areas of life that we love to sweep under the carpet and say…”It doesn’t matter that much!”

I am convicted.

Jesus had no place to lay his head while here on earth, and warned us again and again about the trap our earthly possessions create.  Not only that, there are people all over the world who are struggling merely to survive one day at a time…yet here I am.  Overindulging, hoarding, craving.  Me in all my glorious rubble.  1600 sq. feet, closets stuffed full of clothing and possessions, hundreds of dollars worth of food stocked in my fridge and pantry…yet still wanting more.  Shopping for the sake of shopping.  Carelessly throwing around that word ‘need’ to describe my unquenchable greed.  Not that big of a deal?  I challenge you to go around your house and start counting your stuff, or adding up dollars’ worth in your head as you look around your humble dwelling.  You will be shocked.  Guaranteed.

Unfortunately, at this point I am still mulling all this over in my mind…and planning on going scavenging other peoples’ junk at garage sales this weekend!  So don’t think I’m preaching at you.  Just thinking out loud.  (Yes, I know that is dangerous!)  Here’s a quick little summary of the experiment Jen Hatmaker describes.  I may or may not choose to go on my own little experiment.  Right now my flesh is screaming…please no!!  Let me know what your thoughts are, or better yet read the book yourself!  Keep in mind this is not some crazy idea simply relying on our own discipline to see what we can achieve.  This is about decreasing ME and increasing Christ.  Sacrificing stuff so that others might clearly see His Presence living in me.

Month #1 – Jen chooses to eat only 7 foods for an entire month!  Yes, 7.  Keep in mind that health is still important, so it needed to be foods that would sufficiently nurture her body, not just 7 of her favourites!  She chose chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados and apples.  Water was the only acceptable fluid and salt was the only seasoning permitted.  No extra sauces, no butter, no coffee…the list goes on and on.  A few friends decided to join her in this little experiment but adopted their own version.  They chose 7 of the world’s most impoverished countries and chose to eat as the poorest of each of those nations for three days each.  While they identified with each country’s poorest they remembered to pray for and educate themselves on that country’s struggles.

Month #2 – Clothes.  For one month Jen chose only 7 articles of clothing to wear.  Now, to clarify…two pairs of shoes counted as one item and undergarments didn’t count at all…but still!  7 articles of clothing to mix and match for a whole month!  Day in, day out!  No accessories, no coat, no making exceptions for that occasion where you really want to make a good impression!  I don’t know, girls.  I think we’d all do well to be put on this experiment for a month and have to come face to face with our own insecurity and obsession with what everyone else is thinking of us!  I know way too often I find myself looking in the mirror wondering how I’ll look to other people.  Ouch.

Month #3 – Possessions.  For one month Jen chose to give away 7 items she possessed…every day!  Only one week of that month was allowed to be clothing…and as many of us would find, Jen ended up giving away much more than 42 articles of clothing once the closet cut occurred!  Also, a rule for this month that I especially appreciated and hit me right in the gut was that the giving needed to be purposeful.  No just sorting through your junk and hauling it off to Goodwill.  This was not just ridding the house of extra stuff we’ve been needing to get rid of anyway, though I’m certain that would happen in the process!  If that were all this consisted of, I think I’d manage just fine!  I love to go through all my stuff and cart off bags stuffed with unused and unwanted items to the local Salvation Army Thrift Store.  The sad part is, I usually smile gleefully to myself packing up these bags because I am looking forward to replacing my old or unwanted items with new things.  It’s more like a trade off than decreasing my mound of earthly treasures.  No, this month consisted of surveying the overflow and having things available to give…then looking for people who needed them.  Not only did this rid the house of a bunch of stuff…this pressed Jen and her family and friends to have their eyes wide open and their hands holding loosely.  If you’re looking for needs…you will find them no problem.  If all you’re doing is sorting junk…you’ll probably have no clue what else to do with any of it other than dump it off at the thrift store or sell it at a garage sale.  Hm.

Month #4 – I haven’t actually gotten past this point in the book but looking forward to it!  Media steals the show for month 4 and with a quick peak ahead I see that Jen chooses 7 types of media to eliminate…yes, I said ELIMINATE…from her family’s time for the whole month.  She chose TV, Gaming, Facebook/Twitter, iPhone apps, Radio, Texting and Internet.  The last two had some exceptions.  Gulp.  I have thought a lot about this issue of media consumption, and have become disturbed at my own addiction to my phone and other types of media many times…but I have to admit this would be a huge stretch for me!  More of Him, less of me…

Month #5 – This month focuses on waste.  Jen chooses 7 habits to promote a ‘greener’ lifestyle.  Say what you will about God being in control of the earth, etc.  Like it or not, we are still stewards of our habitat and I believe respecting the environment and doing our best to care for it are God-honouring.  The 7 new ‘green’ habits Jen began this month were: gardening, composting, conserving energy and water, recycling, driving only one car, shopping thrift and second-hand and buying local only.

Month #6 – Spending…yup you got it.  7 places to spend money for a month and that’s it.  Originally I went…oh, that one’s not so bad.  But think.  7 places to spend money included the grocery store, the kids’ school, gas station, online bill pay, limited travel fund, emergency medical and only as a last resort and if needed…Target.  No McDonald’s.  No Tim Horton’s.  No shopping mall.  No movie rentals.  Might be harder than first expected!

Month #7 – Stress.  Not sure how this all comes together yet, so maybe I’ll have to update this once I have read chapter 7.  For month # 7 Jen and her family choose to reduce stress in their lives by 7 times a day taking a moment to pause from the chaos, meditate on God’s Word and pray.  Sounds interesting.  “Be still and know that I am God.”

So…

I will let you know what I decide to do about all this, and would love to hear your own ideas or experiences with the fight against materialism, greed and excess in our culture.

Wishing you a blessed day that consists of more of Jesus Christ, less of you.

AF

“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lost his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.  For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lost his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Mark 8:34-37