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Why We Sent Our Children to Local State Schools

Schooling represents a significant, and perhaps increasingly fraught, area of choice for Christian parents. With worries about the advance of secularism on one hand and the dangers of over-protectiveness on the other, parents often worry whether they have made the right decision about how to educate their children. Here, as a follow-up to Emily Cobb’s reflection on the same topic, is another perspective from Fiona McLean


The issue of where and how to educate our children is controversial, so I write with some trepidation. I know and respect Christians who have chosen to educate their children in Christian schools, in private schools, in state government schools, and at home. This decision is not a question of what is right and wrong, but of wisdom. Hence the answers will be different for different families.

What is unhelpful, however, is to make a decision without consideration. We have the luxury of choice, which many Christians around the world do not; but merely to choose the most expensive option we can afford, unthinkingly copy what our neighbours are doing, or do what is most convenient to us, is unwise and ungodly. We are not to be seduced by the idols of our age. Has education become the respectable idol of the reformed evangelical Christian? Does the money we spend on education reveal its place in our hearts?

Has education become the respectable idol of the reformed evangelical Christian? Does the money we spend on education reveal its place in our hearts?

While it may not be the same in other countries, I believe that sending our children to local state schools in Australia is still a godly option, not a compromise that will damage our children, nor an abdication of our parental responsibility to raise our children to know and love God.

We have sent our children (now aged 12-18) to our local state primary and secondary schools in Melbourne. Both are well-regarded state schools, so in one sense, the choice has been easy. Here are some of the reasons we chose state schooling. They vary in importance—and most of them are not a matter of right or wrong but of wisdom or even of preference. Some could apply to other forms of schooling. And there are good and godly reasons to choose other forms of schooling.

1. Justice and Equity

As a matter of justice, it’s good for quality education to be available to all Australians, not just those who can afford private schools. But if we want our local government schools to be good schools, we need to support them ourselves.
Local schools also enable our children to learn to relate comfortably to people from a range of cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.

2. Values

Any school conveys values—which may not be the same as their explicitly stated values. For example, if most students at private schools are from wealthy families, this might place an unintended value on riches and independence that fosters pride, a sense of entitlement, or greed. It’s worth considering what values are conveyed, explicitly or implicitly, by the schools to which we send our children—or by the choice to home-school.

3. Salt and Light

By attending local state schools, we have an obvious way to build relationships with non-Christians around us. Organising playdates, or children catching up with friends on their own, is easier when they live locally, especially if they are walking or cycling distance away.
Christian families have the opportunity to model godly marriages and family life, in a context where more and more children (and adults) experience divorce and family break-down.
Christian families have the opportunity to model godly marriages and family life, in a context where more and more children (and adults) experience divorce and family break-down.
It can be possible to have a more explicit Christian witness in our schools. I taught CRE (Christian Religious Education) in our kids’ primary school for six years. For a number of years, I ran a small prayer group for our primary school. Our older two children have been involved in running a Christian group for fellow students at their school.
We don’t regard our children as “evangelism fodder”: that is, we don’t prioritise evangelism over their health and well-being. However, we believe that attending a state school can strengthen, rather than undermine, their faith. We want them to recognise that we live in a context where most people are not believers, and that following Jesus will be counter-cultural and costly. We want to support our children, help them to critically think about what they hear at school, and assist them as they work out how to live for Christ in an increasingly hostile context. Learning how to respond to uncomfortable ideas at school is great training for later in life when they are less likely to have the support of immediate family around them.

4. Stewardship of Money and Time

Sending our kids to state schools has seemed good stewardship of our money. It has allowed us to live on one income for most of our married life. State education has meant we’ve had more money to give away to gospel (and other) causes. I have been able to pursue voluntary work and ministry, and be home-based much of the time.
Despite growing expectations that schools will care for students pastorally and socially, parents remain the most important factor determining children’s wellbeing. This means that we need to ensure that we’re around to relate to our children and train them in godliness. That’s often easier if both parents don’t have to do paid work to cover school fees.

5. Keeping it Simple

Going to a local school helps keep life simple and reduce stress. When kids can walk or cycle to school, it makes the commute to school easier and more fun, better for the environment, cheaper, better for our kids’ health (and ours, if we accompany them). It also lends itself to opportunities for conversations with our kids and other families along the way. Finally it also generally means less travel time, so children and families have more time to spend at home, to read and relax, to play, to do homework and chores, and to be together as a family.
Because there are often fewer extra-curricular demands on children at state schools (no Saturday sport, for example), we’ve been able to get involved at our local cricket club—something that has provided many opportunities for gospel conversations over the years.
We tend to think in individualistic terms of “What’s best for this child?” but it may be just as valid to ask “What’s best for the family?” Life is simpler if all the children in a family attend the same primary and secondary school (e.g., speech nights, school bulletins, uniform, etc!). It also means it’s easier to invest in the school community; and that siblings have common experiences and sometimes friendships that can strengthen their relationships with each other.

6. Being Counter-Cultural

Christians are called to be counter-cultural—to live lives that are distinctively different from those around us who don’t follow Jesus. How will our allegiance to Jesus shape our decisions around school and education; about how we use our money; about how important we think our children’s academic success is? Choosing state education may be a tangible way of saying that we prioritise other things over education: godliness, investment in relationships, time to play, family time, giving money away.
Choosing state education may be a tangible way of saying that we prioritise other things over education: godliness, investment in relationships, time to play, family time, giving money away.
It can be a way of demonstrating godly risk-taking. There’s always the fear that our children will suffer because they mightn’t get all the opportunities other children might get. But can we trust God with our children’s education? Can we be content with the government school? We have had friends who have been missionaries in places like Mexico or Pakistan, where there are far fewer schooling options. I have been influenced by thinking, “If we were in their situation, how delighted we would be to have a school of the standard of our local state school nearby!” This has helped me be content with and thankful for the options we have.

7. What’s Best for The Gospel?

Finally, the best question is “What is best for the gospel?” If we are committed to living missional, sacrificial lives of costly discipleship, what implications will this have for choices about schooling?


Photo: pxhere.com

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