Where My Faith Is Most Real To Me: Competing Values (About School Choice)

My faith is in God. Who knows? We might screw up in the end.

I’m driving in our new neighborhood, two kids belted in their carseats in the back. It’s threeish, the sun is at the golden slant of the fall, and there are young students trudging home from school, open jackets half dragged down their shoulders, their backpacks slung low, hair messy, day done. And I have that feeling, that feeling of hope and anxiety pulled taut, stretched among multiple springs, a trampoline that bounces a decision up and down.

Next week, I will attend a “prospective family informational meeting” at a classical charter school for our older daughter who will be a kindergartner. I put her on the waitlist as soon as we signed the rental papers for our new address so that we would have more school options. Sigh.  I envy my parents, who sent me to the only available local public school.

This is my inner trampoline of competing values. It was bouncing when I gave birth to my first child and entered the mommy wars and would long but also dread to be around other mothers and their vocal convictions about feedings and sleep. It was bouncing when my husband and I began to discuss where we should live in this new city, moving from the progressive, social-justice oriented, Volvo-owning neighborhood of South Minneapolis to the a megachurch-mushroomed, republican-steeped, SUV-driving northern suburb of Colorado Springs, just five minutes from his new job.

My temptation once was to increase the rigidity of the trampoline by becoming rigid myself, an activist of one way to do something. Years ago, I assumed one form of church structure and style as the right way to do church, deeming all other Christians as second-class. It felt good to do so—I was secure and passionate (or strident) about my position. Just as some are fervent evangelists of attachment parenting or strict sleep schedules or living in the city rather than an outer ring.

The problem is, if I do so, I’ve closed off my ears to hearing fully the other voices, other options.  And those voices are possessed by actual people, made in the image of God, who may have something to speak into my decision-making, something for the better.

For our children’s school choice, each spring holding the fabric taut has a good claim, as frequently the case, or at least part of a good claim. Two possibilities haven’t joined the circle: private school and homeschooling. We cannot afford a private school, and currently it’s a higher value for us as a family to connect with our community through our children’s school, a decision made easier for us in that our new area has highly rated schools.

The other voices are the writer I respect who tells of parents who have moved into a poverty-affected area to involve themselves in the diverse community of a public school (we don’t plan being in this rental house long so that is a possibility). Our new folk singer friend with strawberry-blonde hair that reflects the sun and a heart as wide as a country who talks of her teacher friend who said to send them to the nearest local school—give it a chance, be closest to the community you’re in now.

My background in linguistics that says that an immersion school would make my kids world citizens and enhance their cognitive ability, backed by a blogger suggesting that a student’s frustration within immersion could increase compassion for others. But there is the teacher at the aforementioned charter school who teaches with Socratic questions and is delighted by her motivated students, noting their investment isn’t surprising with this suburb’s demographic. The biggest voice in all of this, my husband, supports her—his appreciation for a classical education, his desire for his children to love learning and be with other kids who do.

In my position, I can appreciate the good being held out by many options, the good of God’s creation including the people who promote their favorite option. Situations of competing values like this are where my faith is most real to me. 

Whatever works out, whatever we decide, I’m not going to have total confidence in the choice itself. My faith isn’t in the decision or the school we select. I have to remind myself that where my kids go to school isn’t a matter of a major tenet of religious belief. Recognizing the various good that each option offers is not a slippery slope to relativism.

My faith is in God. Who knows? We might screw up in the end. Despite our prayerful consideration, maybe we’ll recognize we didn’t make the best choice. But that doesn’t change who he is, not a method or an approach but the Way himself, an ultimate good not dependent on our process of discernment.

I practice faith by not bending into my fear of others’ perceptions when I make different choices and I must refrain my own thoughts from judging theirs. Faith is his graciousness to give a fair hearing and examine each option kindly. Faith is falling back on God, knowing that I won’t bounce. He is the stable ground beneath me: the grass is soft, the sky blue, and the clouds glorious.

Heather Walker Peterson
Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.

Comments are closed.