My 6-year-old hates the British. To be more specific, the British Empire that ruled over up to a quarter of the world’s land by the early 1900s. Hates that one of the biggest diamonds in the world, found in India over 1,000 years ago, now sits in the queen’s set of crown jewels. Hates that they drew up borders quickly and exited South Asia in the 1940s, resulting in the death of millions, and making his grandfather and great-grandparents refugees in the newly formed nation of India.
How does my 6-year-old know all about this? Well, because we talk about it and have a lot of books at home. We have always read books about South Asian culture and history. And now that we have more flexible schedules since we have to work at home – and the kiddo has to do school at home – we have even more time together. He naturally gravitates to the books with characters that look like him.
As a scholar of multicultural education, I know that children are able to understand complex issues, like racism, if they are broken down and explained in a way that they can grasp. So, when books talk about subjects like segregation, slavery, colonialism or sexism, my partner and I explain those terms as best we can.
A different worldview
Conversations about world history in our home go a little like this:
Parent: “People from Europe really liked the spices and cloth from South Asia, so they wanted to go there to buy stuff.”
Kiddo: “Even Christopher Columbus was lost and trying to find India, right?”
Parent: “Right! Europeans went to South Asia, first to trade and buy things. But then they wanted more power, and the British decided to take over and bully people around.”
Kiddo: “How did they bully them?”
Parent: “They made people give them money (land-taxes), didn’t let them make their own clothes to wear, and didn’t even let them make salt out of the water in the sea next to where they lived!”
The coronavirus pandemic has brought on a lot of hardship and heartache to families everywhere, and it has also made it easier for parents like us to spend more time with our children. For parents of color, this means a chance to educate our children as we see fit. We have an opportunity to offer counter-stories that focus on people who look like us, as opposed to having our children forced to learn from narratives written from a European or white perspective.
Our family traces our origins to different parts of South Asia, and we are using this time at home to read about anti-colonial and anti-caste activists like B.R. Ambedkar and Dakshayani Velayudhan, people my son wouldn’t ever encounter in his school curriculum.
Racism in schools and society
There’s no shortage of examples of inaccurate textbooks like the one in Texas that made headlines a few years ago for referring to enslaved people as immigrant “workers from Africa.”
There is also a cultural mismatch between America’s teachers and students – 80% of America’s teachers are white, but more than half of the nation’s students are children of color. And this mismatch matters: Studies show that black students are more likely to graduate from high school if they have an African American teacher in elementary school.
No matter the teacher’s ethnic identity, research shows that students are more interested in school and do better when they feel like they can relate to what’s being taught and when the lessons reflect their own heritage and history. This is where schooling your children at home can make a difference. That is, parents can select lessons on historical or contemporary issues that do reflect their children’s history and heritage.
No doubt, some social justice education can get to be too much and provide too early an exposure to graphic images of violence and suffering. For example, a friend’s son at age 5 watched a video at a neighbor’s house that showed the targeting of an African American boy by the police – something that is part of a larger documented issue of police violence against black Americans in the U.S. Afterward, the child would get quiet and scared whenever he saw a police officer.
“The talk,” or discussions African American parents have with their children about the police, is both necessary and real. But, all forms of racial justice education have to be done with nuance and from a place of liberation rather than fear.
Earlier this year, when my son and I read a book about abolitionist and Civil War hero Harriet Tubman, we listened to some songs on YouTube from the movie “Harriet,” but I didn’t let him see the video. Studies show that early exposure to graphic violence can cause trauma and distress, so home-based social justice education has to be delivered with care and attention. That means carefully preselecting videos and clips to watch with children to screen for excessive violence, and taking time to explain tough concepts and issues.
In search of liberation
In reading and discussions in our family, we focus on movements and activists. Educator and TV legend Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” I would modify that Mister Rogers quote slightly for parents of color to say “When you see injustice, look for the people who are resisting. You will always find people who are resisting.”
Schooling at home provides a unique chance for children of color to build up their knowledge of their histories and larger struggles for social and racial justice locally and globally. Perhaps this moment can be an opportunity, a place of possibility within the overwhelming and daunting task of parenting during the pandemic.
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.
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.