If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’re concerned about your child’s educational training, especially if your kids are enrolled in the public school system. My wife, Susie, and I have certainly explored all the options with our own four children. We’ve homeschooled and enrolled our kids in both public and private schools over the years. My friends Stephen and Sarah Williams have now written an important book that will help you think clearly about the issues that face all of us as we consider the educational options for our kids. Their new book, Navigating Public Schools, is a great resource for Christian parents. I highly recommend this book, and in order to introduce it to you, I asked Stephen for a short interview:
J. Warner: Tell my readers a little bit about you and Sarah and your experience teaching young Christians.
Stephen: Sarah and I are passionate about empowering young Christians to stand firm in their faith. For almost ten years now, we have been organizing an annual youth conference in Bend, Oregon called the Christian Youth Summit. The mission is to help equip the younger generation with a Christian worldview before leaving home. Last year we had almost 700 students gather. You spoke at that conference several years back and the students really enjoyed your talks.
J. Warner: Why did you write Navigating Public Schools?
Stephen: Prior to going into full time ministry, I was a public school teacher for ten years. I realized that the education system has a huge impact on shaping the worldview of students, and therefore our culture. Kids often spend more waking hours in schools than at home. The stats on Christian kids leaving the faith are pretty discouraging right now and I met a lot of parents who were hungry for more resources to help them navigate through secular culture. Also, Christian teachers, administrators, volunteers and anyone affiliated with public schools have been lacking resources to know how to appropriately live out their faith on public school campuses and this book is meant to be a “go to” resource for them as well.
J. Warner: What was your experience like as a teacher in the public school setting?
Stephen: Overall, I loved teaching and I think there are some great teachers out there. That said, I witnessed what I would call a bias against a Christian worldview at times. I had a unique situation in that I was involved with a federal court case towards the end of my teaching career. I had historical documents with Christian references censored from my 5th grade classroom due to the principal siding with an activist atheist parent. I was always careful to honor my contract not to proselytize in the classroom. I simply wanted to use historical documents to teach history and these happened to have references to God (which many from that time period do). I learned a lot about what rights Christians actually do have in the public school setting, whether they are parents, teachers, coaches, Young Life leaders, etc. We talk about this quite a bit in the book.
J. Warner: What are some of the pros and cons of placing our Christian young people in public schools?
Stephen: Navigating Public Schools was not written to debate whether kids should be in public schools or not. Our hope is that parents will take the decision very seriously and prayerfully. The book is meant to equip those who are involved in the public school system. One pro of being involved in the public schools is an ability to be salt and light. We have encountered some Christian families who have had amazing opportunities through involvement in organizations such as Moms in Prayer, Child Evangelism Fellowship, and campus Christian clubs. One challenge of placing kids in public schools is that many have their faith challenged before they are ready to defend it. They also face immense peer pressure. I don’t think parents realize what these kids are up against. We owe it to our kids to help prepare them for what they will face in schools.
J. Warner: Are your kids in public schools? What has your experience been raising your own kids as believers?
Stephen: Parenting is a daunting experience. We have four kids ranging in age from 3-12. We pray a lot for wisdom! We have tried to put much of what we have learned through writing this book into practice. We focus a lot on building strong relationships with our kids. We also try to be intentional about building a strong worldview foundation as a family and helping them become students of the Word. Our kids are enrolled in a public school, but the school is an alternative charter school where we have them at home for a portion of the week and also have an ability to choose some of their curricula. We like the flexibility, but I think every family needs to prayerfully make these decisions.
J. Warner: What is the one best piece of advice you can offer parents who have their kids in public schools?
Stephen: I think it is critical to be intentional about building a strong worldview as a family, and find healthy Christian community where you can get support. I think we, as parents, need to take the statistics seriously that over 50% of young people walk away from the faith when they leave home. There are no guarantees, but if we are intentional about studying God’s map, and the cultural map, it helps us navigate more effectively.
J. Warner: What should parents do if they discover their child’s public school is teaching something contrary to a Christian worldview?
Stephen: Parents will likely face plenty of teaching that will be contrary to a Christian worldview. The key is to be involved enough to recognize material that may increase doubt in your kids. We outline five key curriculum issues in the book that should be on parents’ radar. Another issue is whether material is presented in such a way as to have an actual bias against a Christian worldview, or to violate your student’s First Amendment rights. This is when potential conflict may arise with a teacher or principal. We go into a lot of detail on the topic of conflict resolution in the book because we think it is so important to represent Christ well. Conflict is inevitable, so we outline key steps to take, depending on the age of the student.
Stephen and Sarah hold an annual Christian Youth Summit in Bend, Oregon. Their ministry, Prepare the Way, helps train students with a Christian worldview. If your kids are in public schools, this book is a critical resource.