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In Defense of the Christian Private School BubbleBarney Moss / Flickr

In Defense of the Christian Private School Bubble

Feb 6 2014
Giving parents grace in a complex educational landscape.

Last week I heard my four-year-old daughter Madeline sitting on the toilet singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" with an exaggerated vibrato. My first instinct was to laugh. My second response was an overwhelming sense of gratitude. My kid knows the words to a timeless hymn proclaiming the sacredness of God's triune nature. She knows the words—and will soon learn the attending theology—because of a hard decision that my husband and I made a year ago: to send her to a Christian private school.

To public school advocates, I'm one of those people destroying the educational infrastructure of America, complicit in wrecking the hard-earned egalitarianism of a public classroom where kids of all creeds and colors can meet together in unity to learn about everything from planets to caterpillars. (Slate writer Allison Benedikt was bold enough to write a manifesto to this effect, declaring in no uncertain terms that I'm a bad person for bailing on the public education system.)

To certain Christians, I'm a gutless parent who rushed my kid into a windowless safe house. My decision reflects a misguided impulse to isolate my family from the "world" at the precise moment in American cultural history when I should be bridging all kinds of unhealthy, factious divides—the churched and unchurched, the white and nonwhite, the rich and poor—by sending my kid to the local public school.

Even without other voices, I generate my own internal criticism. I read about parents who send their kids to the poorest school in town and wonder if I've betrayed my own values. I ask the same questions most Christian parents ask: How do I look after my child's long-term wellbeing? How do I introduce her to God's world, both its elegance and peril? And finally, how do I teach her to embrace the particular place where God has her?

My family and I live in a middle lower-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Every week we visit Grandma Jesusa, the 86-year-old widow who lives down the street. We're friends with Martha, the immigrant from Guatemala who cleans houses for a living, Arlene, the domestic abuse survivor from Trinidad who called one night to ask if I could run her pregnant daughter home—"I hope she doesn't puke in your car," she said—and John, the community organizer who last year went door to door with me collecting signatures for a traffic safety petition. By all signs, I'm the kind of person who would send my kid to the local public school.

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