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Parenting Organic and gluten-free Choosing schools and carrots!

October 17, 2016

Some might think we’ve got a pretty strange  routine at our house. Just about each morning, I get up and make my girls a smoothie. Now this smoothie isn’t the same each day, sometimes I like to experiment and let’s just say that Jamba Juice won’t be stealing my recipes anytime soon! But, we’re pretty committed to giving our girls a healthy start to their day, so spinach, carrots, apples, and some protein mix usually finds its way into each of my “creations.” If you’ve had kids in the past decade you too have probably educated yourself on the benefits of going “organic” and maybe have even experimented with going gluten-free. I laugh when I think about the frozen bean burritos I consumed just about every day as a kid, and I can’t imagine how my girls would react to seeing that microwaved monstrosity on their plate for dinner. We truly live in a different age!

I was thinking about other areas in life where our generation is pretty thoughtful and protective for our kids. We’re much more likely to organize “play-dates” for our kids than our parents were. We’ve already told our girls they can forget about sleepovers, and I’m currently in negotiations with a few prospective families about arranging marriages (ok maybe not 🙂 ). The world is just different today, or at least that’s the prevailing idea that drives our parenting. We love our kids and so we try to get them to eat healthy, develop healthy friendships and hopefully learn to make healthy choices. But there is one major area in our kid’s lives where I think many of us aren’t being as attentive to what’s best for our kids as we should—schooling.

In fact, I think there may be a useful analogy between school and diet that might help make my point. We all know that healthy eating is a long-term commitment. There’s really no measurable health benefit from eating one organic apple or one “hormone-free” chicken dinner. If we want to really benefit, we need to have a long tern commitment to eating healthy. Similarly, one donut isn’t going to ruin you. Thankfully, our health isn’t usually that fragile. However, over the long haul that processed food is gonna catch up to you!

I think it is the same with school. My girls have been at the Christian school where my wife and I work since they were 6 weeks old (actually earlier if you count the time they napped in my wife’s office before they were eligible for the nursery). My oldest, Taryn is now in 5th grade. As I’ve seen my girls grow up, my deep appreciation for this community has grown as well. The years of love and nurturing that my girls have received has played an inestimable role in their development. The constant investment from this loving environment is shaping them in countless and surprising ways!

What confuses me is when I hear of parents that carefully choose their kid’s lunch, warily arrange play-dates, wisely limit their Netflix access, but then let their kids drive the decision about their school. I’ve been teaching at this school 18 years now and I can’t even recall how many times I’ve seen this happen. Since I’ve mostly worked with high school students, the reasons for leaving were usually connected to better educational, extracurricular or athletic opportunities offered at public high schools.  Now that my kids are getting older, I can begin to imagine how difficult this must be for parents. My girls seem to naturally know how to manipulate me! And it’s because we love them so much, we’d hate to think we’re limiting their opportunities.

Here are three quick things to consider: First, Remember, we may get what we want, but we’ll lose what we had. We usually tend to maximize what we think we gain and minimize what we think we’ll lose. This is especially true with the young and inexperienced. There are so many intangibles that we’re walking away from, that I’m not sure we’re simply considering all we’re losing.

Perhaps, what’s most often overlooked is the strong social network in the Christian school environment. The close relationships of parents and students form a robust community that help as all as we raise our kids. And while it may be impossible to pick all of my kid’s friends, I can influence the pool of friends they’ll likely choose from.

Second, larger schools might have bigger, more developed programs, but that doesn’t guarantee your child will be nurtured and developed. We all love being a part of successful programs and who doesn’t want their kids on the biggest stage possible? However, in my experience, the bigger programs often fail to offer the individual attention and mentoring available at the smaller Christian school. Conversely, I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve had with our alumni who tell me just how well they were prepared for college and life beyond.

Finally, don’t fall for the, “it won’t affect my kid” lie. As I said earlier, eating one Twinkie won’t kill you, it takes time for poor diet to really show up. I think this same thing applies here. If your kid transfers to a public school, you probably won’t see them shooting up drugs or joining a gang anytime soon. It’s not going to happen. But what will happen is their worldview will be slowly shaped by a potent, toxic cocktail of secular academic instruction and an unhealthy social environment.[1]

I honestly don’t think most of us really grasp the current condition in our public schools. My context is only in southern Nevada, where admittedly the public school district is failing.  However, each year as I hear from new transfer students discuss their previous experience at public school, I get the “inside scoop” of what’s really going on. Many times I’ve wept as I heard of the horror stories they’ve been through in those environments. It’s truly unbelievable.

For some, public education seems like the only option for your family. Don’t be so sure! I’ve seen God open up doors for those who never thought a Christian school would be possible. You may have to sacrifice, but isn’t that what we do for our kids anyway? But if you must send your children to a public school, you must be intentional. You must work hard to counter that toxic environment. I certainly believe it is possible for children to remain solid in their faith in the public school but parents must remain constantly vigilant. In one sense this could actually be a good thing because if there’s a weakness in a Christian school it’s that the parents and students take Christianity for granted. When a student is exposed to the hostile environment in a public school, both the parent and the child will constantly need to keep up their guard. If done well, this can be a good thing!

We all know the nutrition our children absorb during their formative years is critical, but equally critical is what their minds absorb during these vital years. They’re only young once and these years fly by. How they turn out will be largely connected to the decisions we make now. A Christian school can’t fix everything and our school certainly isn’t perfect (I probably know more of its flaws than most), but I for one, am so thankful it’s in my children’s life.

[1] I certainly do not want to disparage anyone working in the public school system. There are many thoughtful, loving teachers there. My issue is a systemic one. The toxicity I mention derives from the secular philosophy that drives modern public education. In my view, school-age students aren’t equipped to thrive in that environment. Perhaps a well-trained student can be successful in a secular college, but even then I’m not optimistic. I’d prefer my girls complete their undergraduate work at a Christian college and then go to a secular graduate school if needed.

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