How We Make Our School Choice (Plus, Why We’re Homeschooling)

Sarah Paschall

I’ll never forget the time the I was leaving a job interview, and one of the interviewees stopped me as I gathered my things. He said, “I have to admit that I saw you in the waiting room and thought you’d be this sweet, timid person. And, then you came in and started talking.”

That was quite the comment, but he explained that he was simply surprised at how confident I was. I think he missed what had actually happened. I don’t have any unusual amount of confidence. In fact, I rather avoid the spotlight like I avoid cleaning up the car seats in my minivan. However, that interview was all about a topic that energizes me: Education.

Years later, as my firstborn begins kindergarten, I still find the topic of education compelling. I’m always learning something about learning, and it’s humbling to reflect on my own teaching experience, as well as see the grace that abounds in spite of myself. So, naturally, I’ve perhaps over-thought which educational setting would be best for my children, but I’ve finally arrived at a place of peace when it comes to school choice.

Before I begin, here’s some pertinent background info: I grew up in a parochial school; I’ve taught in the public schools; I’ve mentored with an online charter school; and now that my son is starting kindergarten, we’re homeschooling. Amid this, I’ve learned that it’s easy to infer that if an educator such as myself has tasted the buffet of schooling options and decided on homeschooling for her own children, then it must be clear that she thinks homeschooling is far and away superior to other options. And, by golly, that’d be convenient for the homeschooling cause, right? But, that’s not the case. So, I write today to provide clarity about how we can best think about school choice, and, hopefully, it encourages someone in the same way this process has encouraged me.

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First, our family is not homeschooling (or insert whatever school choice) because we think our way is better than anyone else’s, but because we think our way is best for us.

Believe me, I’ve heard the rants against the public school system. There’s Common Core, the inordinate testing, the poor teacher/student ratios, the unresearched technology usage to justify the grants, the bullying, and the social agenda. The hasty generalizations are thrown at all camps. Homeschoolers are thrown under the bus for wanting to indoctrinate their children into an overly protected, non-structured, socially awkward bubble. Private-school families receive criticism for being privileged, rich, and out-of-touch. 

Yet, instead of looking at the heart of Common Core and testing, which is aiming to alleviate inadequacies and inequalities, we just rant at what it doesn’t do for those of us with resources. Instead of asking a homeschooler why he or she homeschools, we just assume it’s out of fear or an exclusivist attitude. Instead of asking a private-school family why and how they’re making their sacrifices, we just assume they’ve had privilege handed to them.

While I have opinions about all of these educational subtopics that skew positive or negative on a spectrum, I’ve interacted with enough professionals/parents and seen enough situations of student failure and success on all sides that I cannot wave a flag for one or the other in good conscience. Not without knowing the potentially tangled, extensive background of each story. School choice is far more complicated than we can often imagine. And, asking just a few good questions will leave us offering far more grace toward whichever side we vilify in our attempts to justify our decisions.

So, primarily, our first reason for our school choice this year stems from what our chosen path offers, not because of what other paths are lacking.  Yes, other paths lack desirable traits that we as a family value, but that doesn’t mean these traits aren’t desirable or necessary for others. And, wouldn’t it be so healthy for our communities to hear our positive, personal stories of why we do what we do? To feel so confident in understanding our needs and gifts that we don’t compare our journey to others, and we don’t apologize. We simply share and listen with joy and confidence as a friend enjoys a different experience that is helping her achieve the same goal.

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Second, we’re taking it one year at a time. Do I have any other big-picture people out there? If so, you know this is the hardest. I want the ultimate educational plan that carries us to 2050, but I absolutely must, for the love of my family, let that go. Next year, you may see us snapping “First day of 1st grade!” shots in front of our local public school doors, and we’re going to love it because that’s our journey for that year. In the meantime, we’re called to do our best with the year in front of us, and that’s where we shall lay our efforts.

Admittedly, I’ve gotten cold feet in the past couple weeks as I witness the private school and public school ships sailing away without us. FOMO threatens me. Out of all people, I know how wonderful, amazing, saint-like, and fabulous a good kindergarten teacher is. So, if you ride by and see a white flag flying from my house, you know it was because we are not only hooked, but also supremely STUCK, on phonics this year. It’s because I feel the pain of “duh–ahhh—guhhh….dog, Dog, DOG!” or am completely undone trying to explain homophones (buy, by, bye–it’s so easy, right?!) to a 5-year-old. Yet, I shall pray for all the fortitude while we step into this opportunity to grow in patience as I watch my child (hopefully) grow leaps and bounds despite our inadequacies and because of our willingness to do hard, yet exciting, things.

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Third, we realize one person’s decision impacts our entire family. As much as I believe that education should be individualized, I also believe that our individual experience is not in a vacuum. It always impacts the community around us. In our case, my son’s absence, our rearranged schedule, the restrictions of a school calendar, the potential investment of tuition/supplies, and his involvement in extracurricular activities directly impacts how the rest of his family members spend their days. As he gets older, gains more autonomy, needs more academic focus, and has siblings with more demanding academic needs; this point of togetherness will still be important, but will perhaps diminish as well.

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Fourth, we ask how our decision fits into our family goals
, or mission statement–as some call it. So, here’s the point in the post where I divulge why we’re homeschooling for this year. But, notice how very situationally specific our reasons are. One would be hard-pressed to find another family with these exact needs, which is why I cannot enough emphasize my first point of embracing it as your path.

We’re still working on a concise family mission statement (Although, I love this idea, and more about it here.), but suffice it to say that we greatly value flexibility; travel; togetherness; outdoor exploration; diversity and global awareness; margin to serve; and a God-centered lens of learning. Now, let’s pair those goals with some very pragmatic facts: mornings are not our strong suit; we just moved to a new area and know little about our surrounding schools; we are in a transition stage; there are several great co-ops in our new area for homeschool support; my husband’s new job gives him a weekday afternoon off (more family time); and we’re trying to pay off student loans with extra income.

I realize that even having all these factors to consider is such an immense privilege. For many, the decision-making stops rather abruptly when realizing that public school is the only option due to the parents’ financial situation, and that is one of my (many) reasons why we must support our local school systems. But, thankfully, we did have all these decisions to prayerfully weigh, and it became obvious that homeschooling seems like the best fit for our goals during this time.  So, here we are, walking in obedience and cheering others who choose our way or another way.

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Last, yet most importantly, we realize that God’s plan is bigger than our schooling decision. Wherever we go, we go prayerfully and faithfully. We trust that if our child struggles with a problem in high school, it is not due to my shortcomings from the early years that I homeschooled, or because I sent him to that school, or because I failed to see a specific setback. God’s plans are far bigger than that, and there’s no fear–not even in schooling choices–in His perfect love when we are walking prayerfully and in obedience.