It has been six months since we started on this journey with our 14-year-old son, who began a home-based high school curriculum last fall. I’m no expert by any means, but you’d be surprised how much severaltrials by fire in a short amount of time can teach you. I know there’s a lot more knowledge to grasp with each year, but here are ten things I’ve learned so far.
1. You can’t just go with one curriculum.
Even though my son is enrolled in an online accredited high school, there are still gaps I need to fill. For example, Khan Academy has been vital for him (and me!) to understand Algebra. Also, it can be challenging to find Christian history, literature, and other educational materials from an African American perspective in a mainstream homeschooling curriculum. I’ve posted a few history resources here on UrbanFaith.com, but you can also check outStore.UrbanMinistries.com.
2. Think nontraditional.
The main reason we’re going through this journey is that the structure of a brick and mortar school was not working for our son. So why repeat the exact same schooling structure at home? I’ve learned that sometimes he works better at night. He doesn’t necessarily need the weekends off. He’d rather do a little bit seven days a week instead of a normal five-day week. You can learn anywhere —for example, we’re going to learn Spanish vocabulary in the grocery store.
3. You do need some structure.
Every kid is different, but I can’t leave the house without making sure he knows what he’s supposed to do and then following up when I get home. I’ve heard horror stories of people thinking their kids are working only to find nothing but a trail of video games and social media filling up the day. Setting boundaries are important, and you can include your child in making those decisions. For example, I will talk to my son about the week and what we are going to accomplish and we will agree on which days and times he will complete the work. Some families might have routines that are more strict. But this works for us.
4. Connecting with other homeschooling parents keeps you sane.
I’ve spent a lot of time on social media with other parents who have kids in the same program. It makes me feel less isolated as we’re all going through it together and sharing our stories. We all have kids of varying ages, but there are always a few moms with kids the same age as yours. You’d be surprised at the similarities in our stories. I’ve learned a lot from those moms and gotten great tips and teaching resources. Check out these groups when you have time.
5. You have more time in your day to make learning fun.
When you strip out lunch, advisory periods, the time between classes, gym, assemblies, and time for teachers to work with other kids, that streamlines your child’s day quite a bit. My son can pretty much do his entire day’s work in three hours. I’m finding that is common among other kids who are learning at home. So I’ve started to get creative. We’re going to take advantage of several museums that offer free museum days to area residents. Also, we’ll be going to work out together at the local YMCA, which has affordable pricing.
6. You become the school guidance counselor.
If you don’t go to an online accredited school, you’ll need to develop your own transcript for your child. The Homeschool Mom has a great blog post about this, but keeping track of all the courses, lessons, tests, and grades become your responsibility. Also, it’s on your shoulders to plan out your child’s future, making sure that they are taking in all the subjects necessary for whatever transition they plan to make after high school. I’ve created a spreadsheet for my son that goes from freshman through senior year and has all the courses he will need to take to graduate.
7. Standardized testing is a little more challenging.
My son needs to take the PSAT this spring and it was not easy to get the local high school to let him take it there. I made several calls and emails that were ignored. If you’re not enrolled in the school, don’t be surprised if they simply don’t care that much about assisting you. Unfortunately, when you call the people who administer the PSAT, they say to contact your local school. In the end, the only reason I got a response was that I pointed out that I do have another child at the school. It was very frustrating. The lesson learned here is to start a few months early if you want your child to take standardized tests. Don’t wait until a week before the test. They have to make special accommodations for homeschooled kids and that can take time.
8. It takes a village to homeschool a child.
In my opinion, homeschooling will be hard to do if you work full-time without other family members to support you.This is a tough one to write because I know not everyone can survive financially on a part-time salary. But honestly, you have to be present to make this work. You can’t give an assignment and just leave without touching base during the day and providing assistance as needed. Not to mention, it requires a lot of planning in advance on what to teach, what classes to incorporate into your curriculum, when to take time off, how to provide extra help in subject areas unfamiliar to you, etc. That said, I could see it working if there is an extended family in the house who can help share the homeschooling load. I have a friend whose mother is helping to teach her small children a few days a week. It gives her a break and grandma time to bond.
9. People will be judgemental.
I’ve had people tell me they think I made the wrong decision. That I just gave in to my son’s anxiety. They’ve said there’s no way he can learn at home what he could learn in a public school. Some scare me with warnings that he won’t get into college. It’s hard to hear. From my point of view, my son actually doesn’t mind learning now. No more “I hate school” mantras. I know we made the right choice for our family.
10. Choose your path based on your circumstances.
If your goal is to give your child a flexible schedule in the short-term and you intend for him or her to eventually go back to regular brick-and-mortar schooling, consider starting with your local public school first. A lot of school districts have home-based, online curriculum partnerships you can look into if your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Or, they may have a program where you can work with your child’s teachers and take the work home. We did that when my son was in middle school. If this is a long-term choice and there’s really no going back, do your research first before you make the leap if you have time to do so. Talk to other homeschooling moms. There are so many options now and you can tailor something specific to your child’s interests. Start with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
“As Americans, we face challenges head-on. Climate change is not a Democrat issue or a Republican Issue. It is a human issue. This crisis is complex. It impacts all of us and future generations. And those with the least resources are impacted first and worst,” testified Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, before the House Committee on Natural Resources a few weeks ago. “If this committee and both chambers don’t urgently come together, put the people of this country first, put God first and put your political party to the side to solve climate change, we don’t make it beyond 12 years from now without huge amounts of death, destruction, and suffering.”
For more than a decade, Rev. Yearwood and his celebrity-infused, non-partisan Hip Hop Caucus have been hyper-focused on voter turnout, but also tackling big issues, such as climate change and environmental justice, civil and human rights, voting rights and election system reforms, and economic empowerment. The Hip Hop Caucus is the result of four voter drive organizations merging back in 2004: Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network, P. Diddy’s Citizen Change (“Vote Or Die!”), Jay Z’s “Voice Your Choice,” and AFL-CIO’s “Hip Hop Voices.” It was the force behind the 2008 “Respect My Vote!” campaign, which touted registering the most voters in one day: 32,000 people across 16 U.S. cities.
With the 2020 presidential campaign season kicking in, Urban Faith reached out to Rev. Yearwood to chat about social justice, Christianity, his spiritual journey to fighting for underserved communities, and what’s up next for the Hip Hop Caucus.
Some Christian leaders believe that social justice is not “Christian.” How do you respond to that?
I think there’s nothing more Christian than having social justice. I can’t understand how folks can say they’re Christian and not, to me, see how many times Christ literally fought — fought for the woman by the well, fought for those who were out in the desert who were hungry, fought for those who were infirmed, fought for those who were hurting because there was no fish in the net. I mean, there’s story upon story upon story upon story, even to the very end with the thief on the cross.
I can’t understand how you could not connect social justice and overcoming when people have been wronged, with Christ. So that baffles me a little bit. To me, if your faith is not connected to justice, it doesn’t have the kind of power that it could have with a faith based upon justice and freedom.
You received your bachelor’s degree from the University of the District of Columbia and your Master of Divinity from Howard University. What led you to do what you do? What was your spiritual journey?
I grew up around the church, so the Christian faith was not something that was unusual. I have many ministers in my family. My uncle was a Church of God in Christ bishop. My aunt has her own church. I grew up around a number of faith-driven people who were Christians. My background was one in which I came from a very spiritual background.
I was the student government association president at the University of District Columbia. It wasn’t so much that I was in a situation that I had something that went wrong, so to speak, and was called into ministry. But I believe very strongly in helping people, and I could feel a definite call when I was finishing up my last term. I was also SGA president when I was at divinity school too, but in my second term I began going to homeless ministries here in Washington, DC, and was also very dedicated to working with young people, and a more of social justice type of ministry.
When I went to seminary, my first calling was to go and teach. I was extremely good at the Old Testament and became the first person at Howard Divinity to be a teaching assistant for both the Old Testament and the New Testament because I could speak Greek and Hebrew. I was going to go up and get my Ph.D. in Old Testament studies, which was normal because my parents both had Ph.D.s. My mom has her Ph.D. in psychology, and my dad a Ph.D. in African and social studies — he was a dean at Howard. So it wasn’t a long stretch for me to go that way at all, and to teach.
But it was also a retreat because I was at the time very frustrated with the church. There was a lot of emphasis around prosperity ministry, and that wasn’t for me. I think the calling came when the war was going to break out and we were getting ready to invade Iraq. I was a chaplain, and I began to speak out against the war while I was in the Air Force — I was in the Reserves on the weekends. It wasn’t the best career move.
I got a call from Dr. Ben Chavis, who was working with Russell Simmons, and he says, “Would you like to work with organizing young people?” So, at the time I’m going through a situation with the Air Force. I said, “Well, why not?” Might as well. You know, I didn’t know my journey. I may be thrown in prison. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me because of me speaking out.
It all sounds heroic, but at the time it was very much a situation with my lifestyle of being a middle class, African-American with two very small children. I literally put it on the line for what I believe and trust in God that I was doing the right thing. What I began to see is that I had to give up all of my privilege. My privilege of growing up with parents who had Ph.D.s. My privilege of growing up middle class. My privilege of going to good schools. My privilege of being an SGA president or being on a basketball team. All those things that I would use as privilege had to be stripped away, and I realize that now. They had to be stripped away before I could do effective ministry, so I could be at the bottom. Then, once you get to the bottom and you feel vulnerable, you can connect. Not in charity, but in solidarity with those who have been oppressed. Your whole mission can change and that’s probably where I am now.
I am in a position where I can connect with young people, folks who are from really tough situations, because I’ve been stripped down and can connect with them through faith and Christ.
What are your plans for the 2020 Presidential election? Is the Hip Hop Caucus doing a bus tour again?
Yeah, yeah. We’re going to get out the vote. Just last year, our “Respect My Vote” campaign celebrated ten years, which is exciting. It was an award-winning campaign. We’re going to continue that. We take a lot of pride in being nonpartisan. When the “Respect My Vote campaign” was created in 2008, I mean, clearly there was a tremendous amount of excitement around Barack Obama, and for a good reason. Nothing wrong with that. But we felt that it was important that young people kept their lane in that. We got a lot of heat back then for not supporting any candidate, and if you were going to support one, that probably would have been the one to support. But we didn’t. We were like no, we want to make sure that we can also hold that person, he or she, accountable, and that’s what we did, and that’s important to us.
We want to make sure that whoever is in office, Democratic or Republican or Independent, we’re able to hold you accountable and measurable. Millennials and Gen Z drive us — I mean, we let their issues regarding the economy and climate change and civil rights be at the forefront. Right now, we’re very concerned about what’s going on with the voter suppression and what we saw in North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. We have issues that affect everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democratic if you want clean air. I think we all want clean air and we want clean water.
We also challenge ourselves as an organization. We know that in general, our movement and sometimes the culture can be very patriarchal, very male-driven, and so we are actually board-mandated that anything that we do has to have gender balance, or even more so, we have to put forth women in our movement, because it’s such an important thing in that process. We’ve been very blessed doing that for the past 10 years.
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, standing outside of Oakland’s city hall, formally kicked off her campaign for the White House on Sunday, presenting herself as the leader who can best unite an America that is at an “inflection point” and facing a critical question.
“We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before,” Harris said. “And we are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question: Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America, we are better than this.”
Harris, a first-term U.S. senator from California who announced her candidacy last Monday, rallied thousands of supporters at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, her hometown and where she served as a prosecutor before becoming the state attorney general.
Harris invoked the speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968 when he announced that he would challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that Kennedy said “at stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country, it is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”
Harris added, “So today I say to you, my friends: These are not ordinary times, and this will not be an ordinary election, but this is our America.”
Harris’ campaign is filled with historic possibility. If she ultimately wins the White House she would be the first African-American woman and first person of Asian descent to be president.
Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, said that as she and her sister, Maya Harris, grew up in the East Bay they were “raised by a community with a deep belief in the promise of our country, and a deep understanding of the parts of that promise that still remain unfulfilled.”
She has attributed her decision to become a lawyer and a prosecutor to her upbringing, and said Sunday that she and her sister were “raised to believe that public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility.”
She said she is running “with faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother.”
Harris’s launch has drawn heavily on symbolism. She officially entered the race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Campaign aides say she has drawn inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, a New York congresswoman who in 1972 became the first black woman to run for president from a major party.
Harris’ first news conference as a candidate was on the campus of Howard University, the historically black college in the nation’s capital that she attended as an undergraduate. On Friday, she was in South Carolina to speak to members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is a member. Other members of the group, wearing traditional pink and green, were on hand at Sunday’s rally.
Her choice of Oakland for her campaign launch was both biographical and symbolic. The state of California has played a leading role in resistance to the presidency of Donald Trump. And Oakland itself, where she was born and spent her formative years, has a history of activism. The plaza outside City Hall where Harris spoke once housed Occupy Oakland’s encampment. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he picked the site for his first Bay Area campaign event.
Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called it “fitting” that Harris chose “the most liberal district in deep-blue California to launch her campaign.”
Harris’ campaign is expected to highlight her career as a prosecutor as part of her rationale for seeking the presidency. Harris was the first black woman elected district attorney in California, as well as the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to hold that job.
On Sunday, she said she has long known the criminal justice system to be “deeply flawed” but that she also knew the “profound impact law enforcement has on people’s lives and its responsibility to give them safety and dignity.”
Harris said throughout her life she has “only had one client: the people,” echoing the words she has used in courtrooms and has adopted as her campaign’s slogan.
Harris also did not shy away from taking on Trump directly, saying the U.S. welcomes refugees and calling the wall that Trump wants to build at the southern border a “medieval vanity project” that would not actually stop transnational gangs, which she noted she battled as state attorney general. She also said that, as president, she would “always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will tell the truth.”
Harris is among the first major Democrats to jump into what is expected to be a crowded 2020 presidential contest.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have announced exploratory committees. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Julian Castro, federal housing chief under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, already are in the race.
Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont may also run.
After the rally, Harris planned to her first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate. In the weeks before last November’s elections, she traveled to the leadoff caucus state to campaign on behalf of Democrats, and also visited other early-voting states.
Harris’s campaign will be based in Baltimore and led by Juan Rodriguez, who managed her 2016 Senate campaign. Aides say the campaign will have a second office in Oakland.
I’ve read about moms who have known since their kids were toddlers that they wanted to homeschool. That wasn’t the case for my family. Until recently, both my two boys have always been in public schools. Our journey to homeschooling came by way of a lot of personal issues that we couldn’t have predicted. Honestly, I never considered it before now. But here I am and, actually, I’m starting to wonder why I waited so long. I wanted to do this column to provide resources and encouragement to others who find themselves in a similar situation. I’ll be writing a new post each month (or more if time permits) with an update on how we’re doing, adding any new resources I’ve uncovered, and sharing tidbits about homeschooling that I’m learning along the way.
It has been six months since we started on this journey with our 14-year-old son, who began a home-based high school curriculum last fall. I’m no expert by any means, but you’d be surprised how much several trials by fire in a short amount of time can teach you.