WICHITA, Kan.-Jeff and Kathy Luttrell knew how they would educate their children before the children were even born. Introduced to classical Christian education by a friend, they immediately knew that this model, based on grammar, logic, and rhetoric, was exactly what they wanted.
Not all parents in this Kansas city or others around the country have such certainty.
Two or three decades ago, schooling decisions for most people involved little more than choosing between the Smurfs and the Snoopy lunch box. Today, the choices in many cities include many different types of schooling or homeschooling. Factor in a child's temperament, learning style, and ideal educational environment, and it's no wonder parents often feel lost.
For the Luttrells, reality hit a few years later in the form of four children under 5 years of age and no classical school within a hundred miles of their Wichita home. Without this resource, they settled for homeschooling their oldest boy, Sam, and, a year later, his brother Grant. But it was tough going.
"I couldn't teach everything," Kathy Luttrell said. "I just couldn't do it all. Sam needed more academic challenge than I was giving him." With a house full of younger siblings vying for mom's attention, Sam struggled to stay on task. "He needed the focus and structure of a classroom. At home, I was just spinning plates, trying to attend to each child. I needed outside help."
That assistance came with the 2006 opening of a small classical Christian school, but the decision came at a price. Luttrell teaches strings at the school in exchange for a tuition discount and plays part-time in the local symphony to cover the costs for the three boys who now attend. "It is a good fit for our family," she said: "The school environment is what Sam needed, giving him the academic challenge and focus the home environment lacked. They are learning that there is a world outside the four walls of our home and that they have to deal with it."
The boys have had to learn to get along with other children and adhere to the school's rules and protocols as well as having to answer to a person other than their mother for their schoolwork. "The school is able to teach each boy a variety of classes on his own level. I just couldn't do that at home," Luttrell said. "It may not be for everyone, but for us, the financial sacrifice is worth it."
• As a single mother, Cheryl Hetherington felt torn between the desire to educate her daughters at home and the need to work. She chose the public-school system of a nearby farming community for her daughters, Erin and Lauren. A brief unsuccessful stint in a Christian high school followed, but in the end, Hetherington placed both girls in the local public high school, where they participated in drama productions, sang in the choir, ran for student government, and thrived.
While Hetherington feels that there might be some holes in her girls' education, overall, she has been pleased-but, given the environment of the public school, she takes the goal of imparting faith to her girls even more seriously. "When issues come up at school, it gives the girls and me things to talk about, for me to talk with them about why we believe what we do," she said. "We pray, we read Scripture, we talk about spiritual things. I make sure I know who their teachers and friends are. I keep the girls busy in good quality activities. For us, it works."
• Lori Walsh also chose public school for her children, in part because of its wide variety of advanced placement courses as well as college classes for credit. She admits that she does see parents who abdicate parental responsibility to the school system and believes educating and parenting can be separated: "I want someone else doing the educating, but I still want to parent my child."
Part of parenting for Walsh means creating a safe and loving place for kids to hang out: their basement sports foosball and ping-pong tables. She reads Scripture and prays while the children wolf down their breakfast; she knows their friends and teachers and visits their schools often. Walsh says, "What we want is for our kids to love the Lord. For us, the actual education isn't quite as important. . . . Delegate the education, but don't outsource the parenting."
• Homeschooler Stan Shelden, father of five girls ages 8 to 16, says, "Character was 100 percent of our motivation to homeschool. If we sent the girls away for school, it would be hard to rub up against them enough to see where the issues are and to have the time to work on these issues." His wife, Cynthia, sees homeschooling as a vehicle for discipling her girls throughout the day: As they work, learn, and play together, she has many opportunities to observe behavior and heart issues and deal with them promptly.
When asked homeschoolers' least favorite question-What about socialization?-the whole family laughed. They say that with choir, orchestra, church, science co-op, part-time jobs, and swim club, socialization for these five girls is definitely not an issue. Homeschool highlights include reading aloud on snowy afternoons, the opportunity to focus on their music, free evenings without homework, and sisters being best friends. Their advice to parents is to relax about academics, listen to the counsel of others, focus on the basics, make sure the teaching parent is happy with homeschooling, and enjoy the journey rather than obsessing about finding the perfect curriculum.
• Another homeschooling mom, Beverly Alexander, gave her reasons for choosing what some frown at: "We wanted control over the kind of doctrine our children were taught, what they learned, and who they associated with. That sounds bad, doesn't it?" She laughed when she said that, and said the basis of the decision was, "No one loves our children like we do. We'll do whatever it takes to help them."
For the Alexanders this meant specialized training to help the boys with dysgraphia, the learning disability that makes it very hard for some students to express their thoughts in writing. The family as a family volunteers for organizations like Voice of the Martyrs and participates in activities such as robotics: "Homeschooling has given our family a closeness we wouldn't have if our kids were gone all day." Pre-reading the books her teens were reading, offering enough opportunity for discussion, and record-keeping became extremely challenging in high school, however, and Alexander admits not enjoying those years as much: She says she survived them through "caffeine and chocolate."
All of the families WORLD spoke to suggested that when it comes to schooling, one size does not fit all: As Stan Shelden put it, "Whatever you choose, be radically engaged with your child."