School choice and abundant grace (with Amy Auten)
Public school? Private school? Homeschool? School choice can feel daunting and guilt-ridden. Today we’re joined by Amy Auten to look back at our own school experiences and point to God’s abundant grace.
Hello, and welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes and another friend of ours from the office, Amy Auten.
We’re so glad to engage modeling conversation tools that you can use at home or in the classroom. And as always, we want to welcome you to either record or email in your questions. What’s on your mind? We want to talk about those things most pertinent in your context.
Yes. And also, if you like what you hear today, if you get a chance, if you leave us a rating or a review wherever you are listening, that is so helpful to help people find what we are doing. We have a review on Apple Podcasts from HoltzemFam. It says:
Much needed. Much appreciated. So much going on in the world right now that can create fear around bringing up children and how to shield or prepare them for things going on. Loving these discussions and ideas of discussion/application into our lives with children.
So thank you so much for that review. And I read that partly because it ties in to what we are talking about today. As we record this, the school year is beginning, and when you are listening to this, if you’re listening to it when it first comes out, the school year has probably recently started. We’re all thinking about how we are educating our kids, where we’re sending them to school—private school, public school, homeschool, all the different options before us. And of course, all of us bring our own past experiences to the table. And this is also something we see in the headlines, whether it’s news articles about things going on in public schools or trends going on in the way government is backing certain forms of education. There’s always discussions about school choice in the news.
But more importantly, in the home, in the church, we’re trying to figure out—how do we serve our kids best, to bring them up to prepare them for this world? And so today, we are talking about school choice—about the choices we all face when deciding how to educate our kids. So we’re excited to have Amy here with us today so that we can make this a more rounded discussion and bring more perspectives to the table.
To remind you: Amy Auten is our God’s Big WORLD Editor. She is wonderful. The conversations that we have around the office are richer because of her presence with us. So we always get excited when we can include her on our podcast as well.
She also brings snacks.
She brings snacks! She feeds us in many, many ways: mentally, emotionally, and physically. So we’re thankful to have her as we think about whole-person learning. And the last time that we spoke with her, just to point back to that most excellent conversation we had about suffering and the Christian walk—and so, just want to highlight that as one of the conversations that we have had with this fine woman. Thank you for joining us, Amy,
Thank you for having me back.
We’re so glad.
So as Jonathan just expertly introduced, we’re talking about all of these concerns of education, which in my mind always goes hand-in-hand with discipleship. If we are those who are submitted to Christ and His ways in our lives and our families’ lives, in the hearts of our children, every learning experience is what we would call a “discipleship experience.” Because we’re talking about that most whole of processes, of teaching and learning processes, that identifies all those different important pieces of who we are as image-bearers. So we’re definitely framing our discussion with this recognition of who we are and whose we are. And we then are going to be talking about a lot of those formative experiences. We want to share the things that have developed our own thinking, the decisions that our parents made for us, and how that factored into our own educational—not only experiences, but decisions for our children. So all of our questions today are going to draw out those narratives and cause us to also reflect on those experiences. And we invite you, listener, to do the same kind of work. Maybe pull out your journal, reflect on the experiences that you’ve had, and distill them into some of your thinking, your core commitments. And it gives you that opportunity to plan future action, but in a way that is submitted to the ultimate teacher, the Master Teacher.
And one last thing that I want to say before we dive in is that we know that we are only three types of people, that we represent our parents, we represent our children, our spouses to a certain extent, while we’re speaking. There are only three of us here. And we’re trying to multiply the voices to three, just to remind not only ourselves, but you, listener, that we are each unique. And our story for the Lord’s glory is also very unique. And so some of our decisions, some of our conclusions, may be different than yours. But we hope that our narrative, our story, helps to inform your thinking about your own story. So we just want to put that out there as a way of welcoming you into a discussion, not feeling you have to draw our same conclusions.
So first of all, I want each of us to touch on our own kindergarten through 12th grade experiences growing up. So Jonathan, I want to pose it to you first: Where did you live? What types of school did you attend? And just briefly touch on your educational experience as a K through 12.
For sure. So kindergarten, I went to a Christian school. I lived in central Pennsylvania my entire childhood. But after kindergarten, the rest of my up-through-12th grade experience was all homeschooled. And so that is what I’m bringing to the table in terms of personal narrative—totally homeschooled from first grade up. And a big part of that, though, that I think is an important distinction, is we had a homeschool group. So there were lots of co-op classes, kids learning together. As I got more into the high school range, sometimes there would be an entire day where me and a group of other kids in this homeschool group would go to this Christian camp, where they had classes on literature and logic and sciences. So even though I was homeschooled for the entirety of that time—and part of a Christian homeschool group, I will clarify that as well. It was called the Christian Home Educators Fellowship, or C.H.E.F., which is always kind of fun. So it was a Christian homeschool group. And even though I was primarily learning in the home, I was always connected to a group of other kids as well. So it was not a totally isolated experience.
And also worth noting that, you know, the different states in here in the United States all have different rules for homeschooling, Pennsylvania, I would say, is kind of like a moderate level of regulation, where there’s a lot of freedom of education. But also every year, we were presenting kind of our portfolio of what we had done and achieved and the benchmarks we hit to, you know, an educational authority in the public school system. So that was also part of it, which is less about the personal narrative, and more just about what made my homeschooling experience maybe a little different from homeschooling experiences in other states for other kids. So Christian homeschool experience, but still kind of in a social context, a lot of times.
That’s really helpful. I think, actually, having an awareness of different state laws really informs some of our understanding of those experiences. So I’m glad you touched on that as well. Amy, I’m going to pose it to you next. Just touch on your K through 12 experience at school.
The first thing that comes to my mind as I have to reflect on that is, C.S. Lewis once said to somebody who was wrestling with faith, Lewis said: “The Hound of Heaven is at your heels. I doubt you’ll get away.” When I look back, I really see Jesus chasing me. And my educational history is all public school, really. We were in Mexico briefly, and for a very short step, my mom homeschooled. It was very important that she stopped, because we did not have the community support that Jonathan had. We were pretty isolated at home during school. So we went to a missionary school briefly, but from then on, I’m thinking from like eight on, it’s all public school. And we landed in small-town North Carolina. And God raised up, at really critical moments, amazing teachers for me, who went way above what was required of them in terms of teaching curriculum. They were investing in me as a person. Some of them were discipling me.
In particular, junior high—one of my sons is named after Coach Bob Ayscue. I was the least athletic kid in my class. I had nothing to recommend me to him. And he just pursued me. He would give me C.S. Lewis books. He’d take me out to pizza and ask me how I was doing. And then in high school, there was a pastor/teacher who taught science, Mr. Ashley. I just want to pay tribute. And then there was a fantastic English teacher named Mr. Taylor. All of them were planting seeds. And again, this is mainstream public school. And I just want to stress: God plants His people who are faithful to the call in front of them, and who do way above what their job description requires.
So, fabulous teachers Oh, wonderful. My K through 12 story is a bit of a mix. And sometimes I like to dip into what happened after 12th grade as well, to help frame it. But to just try to simplify: My dad was a pastor, and so we moved around a little bit as he established a call. And what that did is, that affected some of my parents’ choices for school. And I’m going to go ahead and dip a little bit into what their posture was towards mine and my siblings’ education, because it’s going to sound crazy if I don’t kind of say that there was this overall intentionality from my parents, which was that they would evaluate every year what was going to be best for me, my brother, and my sister. So right out the gate, we started with public school. And I was in public school until third grade, actually in Loudoun County, and so an interesting Northern Virginia context for public schooling.
And then, because of a move, not even because of disappointment in those public schools, my parents put us into a parochial school for about a year and a half. But they took us out of that school to put us into homeschooling, in a Northern Virginia context, in the ’80s, for two years. One of those years, we were preparing for missions overseas. I’ve mentioned being in Dublin, and I’ll talk some more about what school was like there. But homeschool law in Northern Virginia in the ’80s—it was tight. It was one of those things where my parents had to coach us, if we were going downtown to look at the museums with the other family—we only had one other family that was homeschooling at the same time as us, so we were like a little homeschool pod. They coached us, you know, to not be very forthright about the fact that we were schooled at home. So that’s just a very interesting difference in terms of what the legal situation was there for homeschoolers at that time.
Then, after those two years preparation to be on the mission field, I was in a Church of Ireland—which, basically, it’s an Anglican school—in Dublin for three years. And I’ve also mentioned this in the past, the best that I can associate is that it was a classical style school. For about three years, I was entrenched in a very different cultural system, school-wise. I was talking to my daughter about it last night. Basically, you did your—what would be the equivalent of high school here, you did your high school work between what is seventh grade, or first year, and fourth year, or 10th grade in Ireland. And then, after that, it’s like you’re doing early college for the rest of it. In England, it’s like your O levels and your A levels. So I was there during what was the equivalent of O level years, and so really just academically hardcore, and then moved back and went back into public high school.
So my story is kind of crazy. I was in two different public high schools for my junior and my senior year, as my dad moved into a church planting situation. So I needed something besides the institutions that I was in as a unifying foundation. And so we’re going to point to some more of that, as well, as we go. But I just want to say—my parents’ intention from the beginning, and their understanding that they needed to supply that continuity underneath us.
So you had the sampler. A taste of everything.
I did! The sample platter. Absolutely. So I want us to reflect on some of those different experiences. So this next question sends us into our reflection over those things. As we look back, I want each of us to name a handful of the things that we noticed or learned specifically about ourselves, the world, God, and even how did those things increase our appetites for knowing Him better? So I’m going to again go around the circle as we did before. Jonathan, I’d love for you to look back, reflect on those things that you learned about yourself and the world and the Lord.
I definitely feel like my education gave me a great opportunity to learn about myself, because one of the beautiful things about homeschooling, in my experience, was the level of freedom to pursue the things that brought me joy, or that really interested me. So if there was something that really came easily to me, I could kind of get it done. If there was something I needed to work harder at and understand, I could slow down and take the time I needed to understand it. And I also just had a lot of freedom to pursue things, like, I’ve always loved to write. And it was a lot of freedom to put more emphasis on writing and growing that skill through my childhood, and that is something—man, to this day, I see the strengths that built in me, that have been beneficial up till today.
But you know, it also, I think, showed me a bit of the limits of trying to separate from the world, I suppose. So, again, this gets into the diversity of homeschool experiences. I know, for some people, homeschool is quite insular, or there’s kind of an intense separation from the outside world. In my experience, that was never really the case. I didn’t feel like I was in much of a bubble, I guess, for lack of a better word. But I definitely knew people around me who were maybe a little more cut off from the outside world, or however you want to phrase that. And you certainly see the limits of how that can actually shield you from the world. You know, homeschooling, being outside of the public education system, did not prevent friends from coming out as gay. It did not prevent people from walking away from the faith. It did not prevent people from using drugs. You know, it’s—as much as homeschooling might be seen as a path to escape some of those things, certainly in the people I knew, that was not something that could be entirely prevented by homeschooling. There’s definitely something of human nature, and our inability to shield ourselves in the world just by changing our educational path. But I again, I don’t say that as a knock on homeschooling, as much as—if that was the goal. I don’t think it necessarily accomplished that goal.
But at the same time, it did bring these great benefits of being able to learn more about God. And also, even just a, more of a diversity even in social experience of, you’re not just relating to people in your class and your exact age level. There’s people in different age categories, maybe even different socioeconomic categories. When you’re doing things in groups, you’re often in other people’s churches, you’re in other people’s homes. And so there was an interesting connectedness to community and people and generations that I think I also really learned from, in ways that I can’t necessarily verbalize but I know were formative.
I notice, as you reflect on those experiences, something of a redemptive narrative at play, and I hear you naming the true, the good, the beautiful of your experience, while also naming that it wasn’t a magic pill, that human brokenness cannot be solved through any institution or any vehicle of man’s effort. So I hear in you pointing towards the way that your experience reinforced a biblical worldview for you, that you not only have that opportunity to experience the things of faith in an outright sense within your educational experiences, but also, those experiences themselves reinforced the story that we’re living in the story that the Lord has written for all of us, as humanity. You learned who you were as an image-bearer. But you also learned who you were as that glorious ruin, and how other humanity really reflected that same glorious and ruinous aspect. So I’m just thankful for the way that your story is a beautiful reminder of those things of the Redemptive Narrative. So a narrative in your life—I’ve already heard redemptive elements from you, Amy, and I’d love for you to reflect some more on that story. Like, how did you learn more about yourself, the Lord, His world?
Three incidents are coming into my mind. Junior high was like a state of angst. I guess from junior high on you can be in angst, but I had tremendous insecurities. And I had a gorgeous, athletic older sister, who was super kind to me, but I was competing mentally with her and coming up short. And I mentioned this coach—again, I had nothing to endear myself to him. He pulled me aside once and had the guts to say, “You’ve got to stop comparing yourself to your sister.” It was really important that he said that. I mean, I’m still remembering it. I’m 50. So, legacy. And he—I want to stress—he did not then say, “Now let’s go through all your attributes that are great.” That’s not what he did. He pointed me to truth he was giving me. C.S. Lewis. He was encouraging me in my faith, so that your eyes are directed towards Christ. Not “do I measure up,” because my measuring up would vary day to day. He went out of his way to say that to me, and it really mattered.
And then I got to high school, and still some of that competition going on. But I try to really reframe it in my mind. That’s when I first encountered romantic situations and dating, and a godly teacher—again, this is Mr. Ashley, pastor, science teacher—paused me kind of like in the hallway, and I had just had a breakup that I was devastated over. And he said, “I knew you and he would not fully agree on matters concerning the Lord.” He kind of looked at me hard and just was validating that the relationship had needed to stop. That took guts. And it was really important that he said it.
And then there was a crisis when I was about 16, a friendship crisis, where you’re looking around and you’re not sensing that you and your friends are on the same page, that your friends are valuing you, that there’s reciprocity happening. So, huge crisis. I am, at that point, mostly in the athletic crowd, because I was a cheerleader. And one day, I just picked up my cafeteria tray and walked to a different table. It was a big deal. And I walked to the quiz bowl team, which is the intellectuals, the heavyweights intellectually, and they became my people.
Now I want to stress: They were not all Christians. In fact, the majority of them were not dialoguing about their faith. But they wanted to talk about things of depth. They were extremely kind to me. And so what that generates is the questions that my kids ask, is—how come people who aren’t confessing Christians are sometimes the kindest, or the most intellectually hungry to dialogue about the things that have substance? And so we’ve had conversations like that. I said, like, God is so generous, that if you function according to His design, you thrive and flourish, and these people understood the Golden Rule and lived it out and treated me according to it, and we flourished. Our friendships flourished. And so they were thoughtful and intentional with the way they engaged me. They sharpened me, and that was monumental. So what’s fascinating to me is, I’m not noting some educational pedagogy. I’m not thinking classical. One thing about public school—I think we all know this—you never finished the books, right? At the end of the school year, you never finished the math, you never finished the history. So you have these gaps. But that happens with homeschooling too, and public school and private school. But I was learning. I have information in me that there’s no doubt was shaping me, but the relationships were shaping me more. It all goes hand in hand. But the things that stand out, as I look back over it, is the relationships.
Something I love about what your story is bringing up for me is how you found that healthy crowd of friends in public school. And I think there’s sometimes a sense like, if you want your kids to have those good, healthy relationships, you’ve got to send them to Christian school, or you’ve got to homeschool. But, you know, there’s really no—there’s no easy button. I know kids, not in my own experience, but I know people who went to Christian schools and just—their friend groups were not healthy. And God can bring those healthy relationships in any form of schooling. But what your story shows is, man, it took that intention to seek that out. And that’s so good.
I’m going to reflect just on one story, because I alluded to it when I was doing my mixed salad of experiences. We’re going to find a couple other metaphors to describe my educational experiences. But we left the private school that my parents had placed us in because of things that were really eclipsing the flourishing of that community. There were some decisions that had been made in the pedagogy, how they lived out their faith as teachers, what it meant to live and strive to live according to the Lord’s law. So there’s a lot of legalism instead of an excitement of exploring what it meant to be these unique creatures, who were both glorious and ruinous, but were constraining towards an obedience through a process that was sometimes really messy. I think they switched out the process for the constraining, and it ended up really stifling that opportunity for children to grow and to learn and to recognize in and of themselves, that brokenness was a part of what would drive them to the Father.
I’m thinking about the ways that you named some brokenness in your community, Jonathan, and the ways that you named some of the things of flourishing in your community. And I’ve used the term “glorious and ruinous.” We can find those in every single situation that we’re in. And, you know, listener, it’s about really evaluating—is this environment causing the flourishing of my children? Or is this so concerned with obedience, is it so concerned with outcomes, that it’s stifling the growth of this child in front of me?
There are a couple places where, even what you two mentioned, remind me of some bridges or some exit ramps off of the current topic that we’re on, but that we hope to explore someday, that are exit ramps onto the idea of deconstruction. Because I think in each of these experiences that we’ve had, there’s been high challenge. We’ve noticed people maybe not flourishing, spiraling into what educators call miseducation, but that we might in our common terms, just say, you know, mental unhealth, emotional unhealth, making decisions that are in service to, really, idolatry, or human comfort is the idolatry that I think of first and foremost. You know, what is going to make me feel good about my life? So we will unpack those in a future episode. But I wanted to name that we’re seeing some of those off ramps right now onto that topic area.
That idea of deconstruction, that we want to unpack more in a further discussion—I think that’s kind of like the scary thing that is driving anxiety in a lot of the school choice discussion for Christian parents. Because you’re seeing younger generations walking away for all sorts of different reasons, questioning the faith, and it’s like, how do I prevent that in my kids? And it feels like, there’s almost this anxiety, like we need to make this right school choice to avoid that scary outcome.
So we’re wanting just to put a pin in this right now, that this discussion deserves more exploration towards those spheres. But today, we’re just going to continue to reflect over some of those takeaways that we have from our experiences, and regarding the Lord’s faithfulness to us as a Master Teacher in our lives. So underneath the authority of the Master Teacher is that authority, that primary authority in each of our lives, our parents. And I want us to reflect next about the way that each of our parents made decisions about our schooling, or what we know of their decision-making process, and how those decisions or our experiences of schooling even influenced the decisions we’ve made with our spouses, about our children’s experiences. So it’s kind of a two-fold question, where we’re looking back and looking forward.
My parents, I think, were kind of going with status quo. It was more of a utilitarian perspective, like, what worked for us? Let’s roll with it. Or “What’s available?” So single income home, my mom’s at home, it’s a very kind of 1950s-era mindset, even though I was born in 1973. So mom’s at home, dusting, which is baffling. [Laughing]
[Laughing] Who dusts anymore?
I don’t understand this strange phenomenon. But, so mom’s at home holding down the fort and dad’s at work, and we can’t afford private Christian school. And the local public school seems to be functional, so we go there. I wasn’t particularly discipled at home. And I want to be fair to my parents. We live in an age where resources and awareness of home discipleship is—you can find resources everywhere. Again, I feel like we do what was modeled to us. And that’s significant for me to say that, and I want to stress that one more time. I can lecture my kids, my parents can lecture me, but what becomes normative and behavioral functioning in my home tends to be what I default to. And that’s what my parents did. And so it was public school. And when you get home, you watch TV. We had dinner around the dinner table together. That was important. That was intentional, points of connection. But after that was—I go do homework, my sister goes and does homework, my dad’s in the back bedroom. So not a lot of community-building around our identity in Jesus happening. Not a lot of intention there.
So I would categorize it as kind of more American than Christian. And I want to say, that’s happening still today, except the new flavor spin on it is political. Our identity becomes American political party, rather than image-bearer of God. And that shapes the way we educate our kids. That shapes our educational choices and our emphasis in the home, as we process what we’re learning.
So Matt and I—that’s the boys’ daddy, who’s now with Jesus—we decided that we would try to homeschool, because I was at home, and I had a willingness to do it. And greedily, I just wanted to spend more time with my kids. That was really the bottom line. I really enjoy my kids and I really wanted to hog them. And that can be good; it can also be not good. We can talk about this. Because that hogging impulse sounds so affectionate-driven, but it can also be micromanaging. I have homeschooled the whole way through. I now have a son who just finished high school and I have a son who’s going into his senior year of high school. Now I will say, we live in a community that has tremendous resources in terms of co-ops and opportunities. That’s been huge. And my sons have greatly benefited from it. The good and the messy is that my sons have had the best educational moments at the co-op and the absolute worst. No surprises. And one thing that happened this past summer was, my sons were in a theater production through the through homeschool connections that was open to the public, and my sons got to dialogue with an atheist. And that was really helpful and important to them—to my youngest, especially who dialogued with him the most. It drove him to go to the internet to watch a debate between an atheist and a Christian. And it really helped him pull apart and process why he believes what he believes, and the trigger would not have happened without that experience. I just—I see the value of the cross-dialog and the exposure to other perspectives.
I just want to jump back to part of your story earlier. You mentioned just the economic aspect of your parents not being able to afford a Christian school, and that is a huge thing I think we just need to pause and call out. Because we’re even employing the language of “school choice.” But you know, for a lot of families, you’re a single parent, or if both parents are working full time just to, you know, make rent or make mortgage—homeschooling, private school, very well might not be options. And I think that really needs to temper some of the language we use. You hear sometimes, people heap guilt about school choice. Like, if you’re putting your kids in public school, what are you doing to them? You know, I think we need to have those sorts of things tempered by the fact that there is a certain level of privilege in being able to homeschool or private school.
For my own experience with my kids—Christian school for pre-K, kindergarten, and then kind of skipped ahead to second grade. And that was a good experience. But for this year, we are now making the switch to public school. And that’s for a variety of reasons. There’s a financial component to it. There’s also just a component of connection to community. We really want to be able to connect to the community where we live. Just this summer, moved to a new town, which is farther from the old school that we used to be sending our oldest to. And we really want our daughter to be able to make connections here, in this community.
But I would say that, actually, a big part of what formed my feelings about public school was not my own educational experience. It was actually after college, getting to know a lot of school teachers. I worked for a church for several years, and a lot of members in that church were teachers at the local schools, whether that’s like elementary school or high school, throughout all that, there was a lot of teachers who went to our church. And I got to know some of these people and just see their heart for these kids, and the ways that they were embodying the gospel to their community—much like you were saying with your experience, Amy. So growing up, you know, I didn’t see public school as like, “evil,” but I certainly had an overall negative view of it, being homeschooled. And as I met more of the people who are actually doing good work in the community through public school, it became evident to me: Public school is not this big uniform thing. It’s really—you’ve got to know the community and the teachers. And what we see in the headlines often is the most extreme or scary circumstances. Whereas, in a lot of small communities—I mean, the town where we just moved this summer, just this last weekend, there was a pre-start-of-school prayer night, to pray over the students and teachers. I mean, that is so cool, and I would have never thought something like that would happen in a public school, from the way I grew up. But the more I’ve gotten to actually know people involved in that system, and some of the actual teachers in the community—not abstractions in the news, but embodied people in our churches—that has been so transformative to me.
And that was something that, you know, to just skip a little bit ahead to a bit of a response—that is something I would just encourage to any listener who is thinking through these decisions, is not thinking about public school in this broad, abstract cultural sense, but actually getting to know the people in your community, and who in your community is teaching your kids, what is their hearts. Because I think that’s going to make so much of the difference.
I’m so thankful that you tied it back to what’s influencing our decisions in an external sense. So even while we’re thinking about how our own experiences, or our parents’ decision-making process, has influenced us, we’re also recognizing that there’s a much larger community out there, or surrounding culture, that has influenced our thinking. But then when we are diligent to continue to know where the Father has placed us, and that really being the work He’s given to us, to go out, make disciples of every nation, starting with our home, going into our communities, that as we get to know our communities, we really get to see just where His people are faithfully engaging, and where we might also faithfully engage.
So we are kind of leaping into some of those responses when we point towards them, and I hope we’ll return to it. But for me, they connect with my story. My dad, he was very missionally minded, which—I mean, you see that in terms of some of those choices, of bringing us overseas to Dublin, Ireland, that he thought very much about what it meant to bring those who didn’t yet know the Lord into our home to have those conversations like you mentioned your boys having with that other student this summer. We had so many people in our home. Our home was the center for all learning for us.
So in spite of my smorgasbord—there’s the third term—of educational experiences external to, and sometimes based out of, the home, actually all of my education was, at its core, led, discipled, shaped, shepherded—whatever is the best word to communicate that my parents were the authority over it. And every time we were sent out into the world, it was with words of understanding of who we are, whose we are, how the world works, according to the truth of scripture that they had been so diligent to supply as the foundation for all of our lives. And so then, when we would return, we did that reflective work around the table, discussing the things that we’d experienced, but also sometimes engaging things like—you know, the media of the world, where it allowed us to talk more about the things that we were experiencing external to the home. And so centralized in my experience was my parents’ overarching authority over our learning, and diligence towards that learning. So they were the major disciplers in my life. Not that there weren’t occasional disciplers, but I can’t think of their names in the same way that you were able to, Amy, [you] mentioned teachers. Until I went over to Ireland, and most of those teachers, they were not believers.
And so a lot of that experience was the challenge of debating, even, not only with my peers, but even with the professors that were leading out of very highly secularized curriculum with a philosophy that was steeped in relativism. You know, postmodern Europe, it is very much a thing. I know that that’s oversimplifying, you know, their response to the tragic history that was still very proximate to them, and that they endured on their soil, and that we see them continuing to endure in different ways today. The response to that suffering, to that violence, that massive destruction—there’s a loss of identity and a loss of a sense of reason and a feeling, “Well, I’m going to make my own identity. I’m going to seek after my own outcomes, because this idea that there would be a God who’s an authority over everything that is going on in this world, that can’t be true. He couldn’t be good if there is one.” So everything that I learned there was steeped in that. And I’m mentioning that because it relates to that missional heart of my dad, and of my mom as well, like I said, that they were mutually hospitable and welcoming of people into our home to seek to show, model, a different way—to model the understanding that they were desperate for the love of the Father, desperate for a better story. And so they lived out and modeled that story for us, for those that came into our home. And that was, maybe, the air that we breathed, is a good way to think about that.
And that really did influence my own thinking, as I came into marriage with Chip who—my husband, he’s five years older than you, Amy, he’s 10 years older than me. And so he grew up in the era where, he was in high school during the time that I was homeschooled in Northern Virginia. And he was in public school all the way up, didn’t get Christian education until he was at Covenant College for the last couple years of his education, helped him with his thinking, majorly engaged mentors there for the first time in his life.
So as we came together as a union and thought about what we were going to do with our children: It was a similar perspective to what I would say my parents had, where we would evaluate every year, that the major, the thing that was of utmost importance, was for us to engage the discipleship of our children, their learning, and their going out and their coming in. And so I just want to say, for the sake of tying those reflections together, that we see the Father’s goodness and His faithfulness to each of us, that even when our parents maybe are not engaged with that level of intentionality, or whether we’re making faltering steps to do that in our own lives, that I’m seeing His faithfulness to call His people in whatever context that they’re in. And I just want to glorify Him for how He is having His way in each of us, in each generation. And it reminds me of that promise, that He is faithful to 1,000 generations, and just thankful for seeing those threads of His story in each of our lives.
So we’ve begun to name how our process with our children has even continued to contribute to our own learning and discipleship processes. And I’d like to ask this question more for you, listener, than that we’re going to track it down really well, which is: How has your process in rearing and discipling children continued to contribute to your own learning and discipleship process? I’d like to encourage you to reflect on that.
We’re going to move through to, what are conclusions you can draw now, regarding the process of school choice?
I have one or two thoughts. The first one is that, looking back on my experience, and also the testimony of others who have been homeschooled, I see there are lots of good reasons to go that route. But there is a reason that I think is certainly a bad reason. And that is the motivation of fear, or the motivation of wanting to protect your kids from the world. And that is because of a simple biblical truth, which is that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The way I’ve phrased it is, “The monster is inside the house.” We could put our kids in a box with no exposure to the outside world whatsoever, and sin would still be in that box, because sin is in the human heart. No matter how much influence of the world we try to push away, the problem of sin is something that can only be solved by grace. And it is something that is within all of us. And so whatever school choice we go with, our kids will always be battling sin. Our kids will always have peers who are also battling sin. Homeschooling or any other educational choice is not a silver bullet against deconstruction, is not a silver bullet against coming out as gay or trans. It’s just the—sin is in the human heart. And I think we need to start from that position. And then, because the solution to that is not our action, but His grace, that brings us to the second thing that comes to mind for me, that it really also comes to our view of God.
What kind of God do we envision? You know, Tozer says that our view of God is the most important thing about us. And I think that is really shown true in this issue. Because when we are coming at it from that place of fear or anxiety, like, “I’m going to screw this up. If I make the wrong choice, my kids are going to walk away from the faith, they’re going to deconstruct”—there’s this sense that, even if I’m trying to walk this out faithfully, even if I’m looking at scripture and talking to people and trying to make a wise choice, I could still screw it up, and my kids will fall out from under God’s protection. You hear this silly thing going around, like, you know, why is there violence in schools? “Well, I’m not allowed in schools,” said God. You know, that’s awful. That’s not truth. Do we have a picture of a cruel God who is waiting for us to make the wrong choice, so He can punish us? That’s not the God of scripture. The God of scripture gives us the space to walk faithfully, and He walks with us.
So there are real risks in every one of these educational paths. In homeschool, there is a risk of being too insulated. There is a risk of living in a bubble, not getting that social exposure you in need. But God can walk with you through those things, and bring faithful people. In public school, there is a risk of getting that secular education. But God can walk with you through that. One of my big takeaways is making sure our image of God is an image informed by scripture, that He is a faithful God who has grace for us and walks with us, not a vindictive God who is waiting for us to make the wrong choice.
One of the things that I’ve been thinking about regarding this process of school choice relates to those limitations that Jonathan talked about, you know, financial limitations. And it connects with some of the things that I’ve said about the intentionality, to be parenting and teaching our children in their going out and in their coming in. In educational theory, we talk about the need for structure and support to go hand-in-hand well with the amount of challenge in your own lives and the lives of your students, and the lives of your children, that they would move towards growth rather than towards miseducation, or maybe in our terms for today, deconstruction. What does it look like for us to seek out those elements of support and of structure that are needed in order to engage them in whatever place that the Lord has opened the door for them to be in our lives? The door has been closed to private school for the entirety of our parenting experience and tenure. Our eldest just started at public university right around the corner. And the majority of her education was public schooling, but she has had some time to be at home when the challenge was really high in our lives. After job loss, during COVID, we had that wonderful, magnificent opportunity to increase support in that way. But sometimes that’s not the way that you can increase the support in your child’s life. Sometimes it is by seeking out, knowing those teachers that are in the school, and introducing yourself and discerning their hearts and seeking out those places of connection for the child who is in whatever public, private school, any institution that is external to your home. It is an opportunity for you to engage, while you’re also seeking out those elements of support that are needed.
And I wrote in my notes for today, some of those other elements of support that include the fellowship of believers—we’ve all mentioned how significant the church is in our process. And that’s probably another off-ramp onto a topic for another day, that I hope we’ll explore further. But the fellowship of believers, speaking the word, and helping your children to learn how to study the word for themselves—worship, you know, to get our eyes off of the things that are challenges to us, and lifting our eyes up to the one who has it all under control and praising Him for it, though it might be mysterious, and not something we can fully fathom, but that we worship Him because we know that He does know, and that His purposes are good. So those disciplines of grace that I’ve pointed out in another episode, providing some of those structures that allow our children to be just surrounded by truth and beauty and goodness, and a reminder that the Father is Father.
I would like to note the obvious, that in our situation, Matt and I made a decision, and then he died. That was nine years ago. And there was a space of crisis where I did not know what my options were going to be. And so there was a real serious moment where I thought, I have to go work full time, I have to send my kids to public school, which would have been okay, fine. But because of some resources that God provided through His church, and through the prayers of His people, it worked out extremely well for me to continue to stay home. And the reason I say that was totally God’s providence was, when you go through massive trauma, it’s very helpful to change as little as possible on the home front. So in our particular situation, it was extremely helpful to continue homeschooling. And that’s what Jonathan echoed earlier, is each situation calls for discernment. You have to analyze: What community do I live in? What is the state of a local schools? If I go into those schools, do I get a shot to look at their curriculum? Do I get to meet the teachers? It’s going to vary subject to subject, teacher to teacher. We all know that if you went to college, you know, each class is so different based on the professor, whether it’s a Christian college or not. We just want to stress, it’s a case-by-case scenario, and broad sweeping brushstrokes of “this is how you must educate” are not bearing that in mind, that you are called by God to have discernment where He has placed you.
One other thing that I want to note is, it’s really easy, in our culture, to foster a mentality among, amongst, our young people, especially as they reach the age that my sons are, which is 17—almost 17—and 18, is to fixate on their identity as future husband, future wife, and thriving in your career. Now, those are God-designed goals. God created the appetite for us to flourish in our work and to have relationship, specifically marriage. That’s like the biggest appetite in us, right? But if that’s their defining identity marker, that’s really dangerous, as we have seen with the fallout from the purity culture of—if your primary identity marker is, “I’m being preserved, waiting for marriage,” then you’re losing sight of all that God’s made you to be. And if your primary identity marker is “I must choose the exact right career, the exact right school to foster that career,” what happens when you get into your senior year and realize you hate this career? What happens if you get the dream job and then the company folds? That’s a setup for identity crisis. And how do we foster in our children—you are more than your job, your marriage status, whether or not you have children? You’re more in God’s sight than those categories.
Every year—and this is this is the result of suffering, but God’s redemptive with it. We don’t have a dad in our home for two reasons: death and abandonment. We have a stepfather who left the church and he left our family. What do we do with that situation? And God’s answer [to] that situation is, we go to the local community; we go to the church. And every year, I have my sons take a list of questions to someone they admire. And it tends to be a man, because we have that absence. But we’re also eyeballing some lovely, heroic women in our lives. But they go to these men with questions, and what they learn from these men is how to function day to day, the daily grind, godly. The questions are, who are your heroes? How has Christ pursued you over your life? What advice do you have about career? What makes a healthy family? What makes a healthy marriage? The basic, fundamental questions. And it has been so beneficial, because they’re getting the full picture. It’s not just “go to this college, study this curriculum, memorize this catechism.” It’s not like that. And it’s living flesh and blood men who are exhausted, who are romping with toddlers, and who are parenting teens who are having gender identity questions. It’s real and raw. And that has been huge. And that’s outside the school system. That’s just grabbing people in the community whom we admire and saying, “Tell me your story. How are you thriving? What’s hard? How do you deal with what’s hard?” That’s been a massive—I cannot stress enough, none of these choices—public school, private school, homeschooling—guarantees the salvation of our children.
And in a nutshell, there’s this teeny verse in the book of Jonah, that says, in its beautiful simplicity, “Salvation is of the Lord.” It’s of the Lord. So you pray. You plant seeds. You do your best. You repent when you botch it, and you botch it every day. Nothing’s more hard or humbling than parenting. And He reigns, and He’s sovereign. And He works in spite of us and around us, and He uses the brokenness in ways we never could have foreseen. Nothing is too hard for Him. I want us to remember how big and radically merciful He is. The arc of the whole Old Testament is God chasing a people who are not that interested in Him. He’s relentlessly pursuing us. He’s so faithful, and the object of our hope is not the curriculum, my faith, my effort, it is He is the object of our hope. He is faithful.
Moses wanted to see the Lord’s glory. And Lord said, “You can’t see it, but I will pass all of my goodness before you,” and proclaims of Himself the Lord, the Lord, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. We chose, as the verses that we wanted to share today, a reflection of what He calls us to in Himself, that compassionate and gracious Lord. “Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” He has that compassionate, gracious presence in our lives. And He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
He—His presence—goes with us. It goes with our children. Parent, teacher, mentor of kids and teens: His presence equips us for the work.
Public school? Private school? Homeschool? School choice can feel daunting and guilt-ridden. Today we’re joined by Amy Auten to look back at our own school experiences and point to God’s abundant grace.
Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study.
We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at email@example.com. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.
See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.
Failure has been a hot topic in an interdisciplinary sense for over a decade. These four sources come from three different sectors: education, ministry, and business. Each have excellent material to add to the conversation:
Listen to our previous conversation with Amy Auten, “Suffering with redemptive intention.”
Read “What I’ve Learned About School Choice” by Winfree Bisley at the Gospel Coalition.
Watch the TGC Good Faith Debate “Should Christian Parents Send Their Children to Public Schools?”
Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Covenant College.
Looking for an unapologetically Christian College Experience? Pursuing knowledge transformed by faith, Covenant College prepares students for their callings and careers. Covenant is located on top of Lookout Mountain, Georgia, 20 minutes from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Students who visit are eligible to receive a grant of $1,200. More at Covenant.edu/world.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.