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The Luttrells (Rodrick Reidsma/Genesis Photos

How then shall we educate?

Back to School | If they had not already made their choices, last month was decision time for parents throughout the United States: Public, private, or Christian schools? Homeschooling, co-ops, online programs? WORLD asked parents in Wichita, Kan., about 175 miles south of the geographic center of the continental United States, how they made their decisions

Issue: "The Purge," Sept. 12, 2009

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.

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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.

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