Back to (home) school

[This month on ARP, we're exploring the intersection of race and education. Below is the next installment of the series.]

written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Dawn Friedman

We’re homeschoolers and have been since our son Noah left preschool seven years ago. We came to homeschooling in fits and starts, always stopping to consider how things were working for Noah and for our family. He’s in seventh grade this year and so far, so good.

For Noah, it was his introversion and his sensitivity that first made us think about keeping him home. With encouragement from his preschool teachers, we decided to take a year off before sending him to our local elementary and because of his winter birthday, this meant that we’d be homeschooling for kindergarten instead of just sending him late (otherwise he would have been 6 going on 7 for kindergarten and since his academic skills weren’t the issue, this just wasn’t workable). We saw that year as a free year and decided we’d re-evaluate before deciding what to do next. Turns out that homeschooling – specifically unschooling, which is homeschooling with little to no structure – was working for all of us. Noah blossomed and I wasn’t losing my mind balancing his education with my freelance career so it stuck.

When we decided to adopt we knew we would be adopting a black child into our white family and I started thinking about homeschooling in that context. In Central Ohio, where we are, the homeschooling community is overwhelmingly white. My homeschool support group is mostly made up of the same white families I met years and years ago in La Leche League/ I knew that our black child would be the only child of color at most of the homeschooling activities so I started to looked around at our other choices.

Let me add here that homeschooling, for us, meets some pretty important family values around creativity, independence and conformity. I don’t want to get into these too much here since I don’t think this blog is the right place to have a general homeschool discussion, but I think it’s important to be clear that I think about homeschooling in the same way I think about religion, (which I’ve written about before on this blog). That is to say that I needed to weigh our values against our future child’s needs and I knew that this would be something I’d be doing for the rest of my life for both my kids – homeschooling is just one part of that.

During this time of serious questioning I read Paula Penn-Nabrit’s book Morning by Morning, which is about her decision to pull her sons out of a tony private school (that happens to be here in Columbus) and begin homeschooling them, in part because of the racism at her sons’ school. While I knew that what she had to offer her sons (namely a black home life) wasn’t something I could give our future child, I did start thinking more about racism in the school system. I wondered about my ability to successfully advocate for my black child at school. Would I recognize more subtle racism? Would I have the clear vision that Ms. Penn-Nabrit had when the teachers’ racism began to impact their learning experience? If a teacher came to me with concerns, would I be able to untangle genuine problems from prejudice?

Mostly I began to understand that I couldn’t make a decision about my child’s education until I met her school-aged self.

Well, that time has come and Madison is home. She is home because of our values but also because of her needs. Madison is a busy, busy, busy child who has trouble sitting still. She’s big for her age and extremely articulate so people expect a lot from her but her very real (and age appropriate) need to move makes it hard for her spend much time doing any “seat work”. It’s not her attention span, mind you, (which is just fine) but her drive for physical activity is pretty overwhelming. I knew that sitting in a classroom even for just two and a half hours for half-day kindergarten would be very hard for her and I worried, too, that a brown-skinned child who couldn’t keep her mouth shut would be in for undeserved censure (and research bears me out). I just don’t trust the system to treat my fidgeting, chatterbox daughter the same way it would a little blonde girl with the same busy spirit.

I’ve had a couple of people say that my daughter needs to learn how to handle racism and I say sure but not all day every day when she’s still building her self of self-worth and confidence. Besides which, the world being what is is, I know that school isn’t the only place my daughter will face discrimination.

Because our homeschooling world is so white, we’re looking for enrichment activities outside the community like enrolling Madison in a daisy scout troop that is mostly other black kids but for the time being, we’re keeping her home.

It’s a decision we’ll continue to re-evaluate, as we have for her brother. I can’t tell you where she might be in a few years but for now and for as long as it works, we’re staying happily at home.

Madison has moxie!
Madison has moxie!
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