Like many other families on the island, my family and I had a decision to make this past summer about our daughter’s schooling.
We knew everything would be online when the fall started if we went with the public school. We knew a lot of people were unhappy with their distance-learning experience last spring (our experience went mostly well), and it seemed like a lot of people were considering homeschooling. I’ll be honest, the thought had crossed my mind more than once, too. But with my wife and I both working full time, we knew we needed the support of the public school system, so that was the choice we made.
But the fact that the public school system could help us was not the only reason for our decision. As an evangelical Christian family living in a community where most of our neighbors don’t adhere to an organized religious tradition, we feel it’s important for our daughter to continue making friends with a wide variety of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
We want our daughter to be able to comfortably navigate the intersection between her faith tradition on the one hand, and the wide world of people on the other. My wife and I were both raised in the faith and went to public schools here on Vashon. And while the experience was not always positive — I was picked on quite a lot for being a “preacher’s kid” and a Christian growing up — we both feel it was good for us not to have lived sheltered childhoods.
But that wasn’t even the primary reason we chose to send our daughter to the public school. The final, determining reason was our commitment, as a family, to the public school system itself — not because we are against private schools or homeschooling in any way, but because we believe in the importance of mutual support.
Because the schools represent an organization, and an idea, we believe in, we wanted to actively participate in its ongoing well-being by being a part of it — even if that was only sending our daughter there as a student. It was our small part in trying to help make Vashon a better community for everyone who lives, learns, and works here.
In our highly divided and divisive time, it’s common for people to isolate more and more from those who are not like them. Even as we appear to be making strides (painful though it is) in our national discussions around race and equity, our cultural divides are deepening and we increasingly find ourselves living in self-imposed intellectual ghettos.
When I go onto social media, for example, it amazes me how much my friends on the right and on the left live in completely different worlds. The only interactions between the two take place as border skirmishes — everyone yelling and firing shots, but because no one speaks the same language no one really hears what the other side is saying. Everyone just sees muzzle flashes and keeps shooting.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are all vulnerable. Not one of us really knows what tomorrow holds. Should further disasters strike in some form, our self-reliance and looking after our own will only take us so far. Eventually, we will have to decide that we need each other. But if we look out our doors and windows and see everyone around us as an enemy, or as competition, what then will we do when we need a helping hand?
My prayer for us as a nation, as a community, and as individuals, is that we would increasingly find ourselves capable of seeing the humanity of those against whom we struggle and with whom we disagree. I pray for Vashon, that we would not find our virtue and strength in ideological homogeneity, but in neighborliness and generosity. I pray we as individuals would listen twice as much as we talk —and that when all of the fighting, arguing, and voting is over, we would realize we still need each other.
Mike Ivaska is the pastor of Vashon Island Community Church, which is affiliated with the Assembly of God denomination.