After much discussion and prayer, we’ve decided to send our children to public school.
We are Catholic and we love our faith. The Catholic teachings are the guideposts by which we work to live our lives each day. And in the current world, with the messages our society is preaching (individualism, secularism, materialism, hedonism, etc.), it is harder than ever to live our faith and feel a safe space for practicing what we believe in our day-to-day.
When we first had children, I automatically assumed we’d send our kids to public school. Both my husband and I are the product of public education. For what it’s worth, I think we turned out ok. But then things changed. We changed. Our faith strengthened. And in turn, we recognized the value of living our faith.
My husband took a job teaching at a Catholic school and we sent our youngest along with him to attend Prekindergarten while his father taught math and science to middle schoolers. I absolutely adored the experience. I loved the little faith-filled projects that came home in the backpack, the required school-wide monthly Mass, morning prayer and the general reinforcement of the Liturgical calendar throughout the schoolyear. Catholic School integrates education and faith in a way that other education models, outside of homeschooling, do not allow. I loved that our values were reinforced daily as part of the curriculum. It made my job as a Catholic mama a piece of cake and I turned my efforts to convincing my daughter to switch from public school to a Catholic school.
The downside to my husband’s school is that it is 40 minutes from our home. To get there on time, we were waking our son before 6:30am and then they were on the road by 6:50am to fight the traffic. That’s an early morning and a long day for a little boy.
And then there was the argument from both kids that they wanted neighborhood friends and all that comes with those friendships – invites to birthday parties and impromptu street hockey games. I can’t say I blame them. I am not the most outgoing mom. The reclusiveness goes along with my bookish and intellectual tendencies. It means no one is flocking to me to shoot the breeze or catch upon town gossip. If the kids want to make friends, they know not to come through me. Also, attending a school 40 minutes away wasn’t facilitating the formation of lasting friendships. The kids were craving community and we couldn’t make ourselves a fixture within the school’s community from such a distance and with our existing schedules.
Since I loved our experience and wanted to extend it, I explored Catholic school options closer to our home town. We actually have a school less than a mile from the house. We could literally roll down the hill on which our house sits and be there. What could be more perfect? The downside was that my husband’s school offered significant tuition assistance and the school in town does not. While I agree with the general statement that “you can’t put a price on good education,” I couldn’t justify paying more than we currently pay and jeopardizing college and retirement savings, never mind the inevitable upcoming car purchase. I’m sorry to say that the final straw in my decision was something as base as money, but there, I said it. It’s money.
And so, we’re going public!
Some argue that public school is too impersonal. That the education isn’t tailored for the needs of the students. That the teachers are burned out and under-supported by administrators. That, overall, public education is inferior. There may be elements of truth to these statements, but I try to avoid extremes. I am of the opinion that what you get is the sum of what you invest. Am I going to have to work harder than ever to lift our Catholic values to the height they deserve in general society? You bet.
Philippians 4:13 tells me “I can do all this through him who give me strength.” And so I have a plan for retaining all I loved about Catholic school as we fully immerse ourselves in the public school system. Here goes:
1) Set a good example of living our Catholic values.
Sure, Catholic school may reinforce what we believe but parents are the first, and best teachers. We cannot tell our kids that we want them to be kind, charitable, loving and forgiving when we are huffing and puffing at the driver who cut us off trying to get into the drive-through lane at Starbucks. The kids are going to notice the discrepancy and will emulate our actions, not our words. If we want children who live like Christ, we must do our very best to behave like Christ ourselves.
2) Prioritize family over friends.
This can be hard, especially as kids grow and we parents inevitably become uncool. Friends are certainly important but family time is sacred and must be treated as such. The family is a holy unit within God’s Church and it deserves uncompromised devotion to grow and thrive. Spend time together as a family. Make it a regular occurrence. Kids who feel loved and accountable to their families make better decisions and more confidently navigate the swamp that is peer pressure. And this accountability does not develop overnight - it takes years of careful cultivation.
3) Attend Mass faithfully. No exceptions.
This goes back to setting a good example. Attendance at weekly Mass and on all Holy Days of Obligation clearly communicates priorities and values. Yes, schedules are busy. Yes, we all have too much going on. But we much unfailingly pick the Lord over soccer or ballet or the PTO school carnival. Just as eating dinner together as a family strengthens our familial bonds, sharing the Eucharistic meal together further unites us.
4) Celebrate Feast Days and other events in the liturgical calendar.
One of the things I loved most about Catholic School was my son’s awareness of what was going on in the Church at any given time. He learned about various saints. He knew the details of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. He brought home little projects and activities that reflected what they’d learned and we hung them up in the house. Make similar activities regular part of your life! For example, honor Advent with an advent wreath and light the candles and say the weekly prayers together before dinner. Learn the Regina Coeli to say together during the Easter season. Either use a namesake saint or pick a favorite saint and celebrate his or her feast day. These practices help a family keep time with the liturgical calendar.
5) Prayer and praise – say it loud, say it proud.
Father Patrick Peyton said “The family that prays together stays together.” There is truth to this. I’d also add that the family in which parents regularly voice their personal prayers of praise and supplication are families where children more easily learn to integrate prayer into their own lives. So don’t just pray together before meals. Let your kids see you thank the Lord aloud for a blessing. Or call upon the Lord in a moment of distress. Show them the relationship you want them to have with our Father using a voice they are familiar with.
6) Supplement curriculum where you see a deficit.
I am the first to admit that public education cannot be everything for everyone. It’s just not possible. If there are areas where a child is struggling or areas where a kid is bored to death and needs more challenge, it is our duty as parents to fill the holes. There are tons of online resources. Amazon has countless workbooks. The public library has a litany of books that can supplement what’s going on the classroom. As parents, we need to feel comfortable grabbing the bull by the horns when something’s not working, and that doesn’t mean writing a strongly worded email to the teacher asking him or her to fix it for us. It means sitting down with a kid who can’t spell and working through a weekly list of words. Or taking out books on coding from the library and experimenting together. Or staring a foreign language. It means really getting involved.
7) Learn and share the wonder.
In Catholic schools, there is a dedicated religion class and elements of the faith are threaded throughout the main curriculum, too. That’s not going to be the case in public school and without careful attention, learning about our faith can become something that happens only at our Parish’s weekly Religious Education class. As parents, we also need to learn more about what we believe as Catholics so that we can communicate these facts in an accessible and appropriate manner. I majored in English not theology, so I feel duty bound to read and learn about Catholicism and then look for ways to pass what I learn along to the kids. We never stop gathering knowledge and growing when it comes to our relationship with God. Showing our children that the acquisition of “faith facts”, as I like to call them, is important and ongoing helps recreate that steady flow of religious education that is part of the everyday at Catholic school.
All of these pursuits require me to work harder than I am today. I don’t have oodles of extra time. I am already up way past my bedtime trying to finish this post, never mind making photocopies of math worksheets or researching a new saint to honor. But solidifying our beliefs is important and it’s worth the extra effort. We’re going public because I have faith I can make it work. That my kids will get a great education and grow up surrounded by our Catholic faith.