I have a box of all the stuff my kids brought home from their time in traditional school that made me want to homeschool them. I wish I had known that I was going to have a blog about homeschooling, because when the box was nearly full, I started throwing stuff out. I worried that I’d become a bitter, depressed, and ineffective parent if I allowed myself to have a box full of stuff that makes me angry about school.

But the take-home folder gave me a good sense of what’s going on in traditional schools.

The best thing that I threw out was a coloring book. I saved a bunch of coloring books because it was absolutely unbelievable to me how much the kids colored in class. I saw the coloring as the only way for a teacher to get a break. But that didn’t keep me from going beserk when my son brought home one coloring book that was titled “Things to Play With” and on the last page was the word “Target” and the kids colored in the logo for Target. The store.

I didn’t take my son out of school the next day. But I did start looking for another house in another school district.

That was back when I thought the school district was maybe the problem. Now I know better. But still, I was able to collect materials from many school districts. Each item belies a different problem in the schools.

The obvious ones are teacher-student ratio (I’d have the kids color all day, too, if I had to handle 30 preschoolers all by myself.) Another is lack of funding. But the Philidelphia Inquirer reports that these are not the real problems of public school. The schools have money, they can hire enough teachers—the problems are more complex and therefore harder to solve than money and teachers.

The picture up top showed up in my son’s take-home folder in our rural school. It’s an advertisement from a local church. They want people to send their kids to the church after school. The church subsidizes the program because it includes prosthletizing. Back in the olden days, two years ago, when I thought being friends with the school principal would help me navigate the school better, I called the principal to find out what was going on.

“This is a violation of separation of church and state,” I told her. “You can’t use take-home folders of a public school to advertise a church activity.”

Then she explained to me that there are a lot of kids who have nowhere to go after school. There is not an after-school program at the school. There is often not even a parent at home after school. She said that it’s probably better for the community to let them know there is a safe place for kids to go than to protect the separation of church and state.

Actually, I have to agree. Then it became clear to me that the problems of educating a melting pot as large as the one we have in the US are enormous. I write a lot about how schools are in no position to manage project-based student-directed learning; it would be chaos to let even a small classroom of kids do that with a single teacher. But there are other issues as well. The problems we face as a society are so huge, that I have to agree that the school principal should be worrying first that the kids are safe after school.

There are many, many trade-offs we make as a society when we prioritize what’s important for our schools—including homeschooling too, for sure. But the biggest trade-off we make to send our kids to traditional school is accepting that the education of your kid is not, actually, the top priority. I took my kids out of school when I realized that I couldn’t even justify arguing that educating my kids should be the school’s top priority.