UPDATE: Congrats to KAT and TRICE, both of whom will receive a copy of Rachel Garlinghouse’s new homeschooling book, Homeschooling Your Young Black Child: A Simple Getting-Started Guide and Workbook!
By RACHEL GARLINGHOUSE
Homeschooling often evokes mental images of White ladies wearing long skirts with their hair badly permed. They drive big vans, carting their herd of children around town to places like the library. But today’s average homeschooler is a far-cry from what many of us think of. You might be surprised to learn that many of today’s homeschoolers are parents of Black children. (This article from The Atlantic does a great job explaining the phenomenon of Black homeschooling.) As a mom of three, I didn’t really get why homeschooling Black children was important until I had an ah-ha moment.
It was an October day when my oldest daughter, then four, came home from her afternoon at preschool and excitedly reported that she had learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at school. She had already learned about Dr. King here at home, and she was thrilled to have been familiar with him being mentioned at school. I did find it a bit odd considering most teachers don’t introduce Dr. King until January.
A few weeks later, at teacher-parent conferences, I told the teacher how excited my daughter was that Dr. King was discussed in class. The teacher looked confused for a moment, and then pointed to a nearby display board featuring Martin Luther, the theologian who started the Protestant Reformation. Apparently my daughter was so excited to simply hear “Martin Luther” that she failed to listen to the rest of the lesson.
Black history wasn’t focused on at all that year, not even in February. I realized that if someone was going to teach my child her history as a Black person, it was going to fall on me.
The following year, my daughter started kindergarten, and I had higher hopes. My daughter’s class did learn and recite a poem about Dr. King, and the teacher did spend a lot of time in February highlighting different individuals who had made a difference. However, as is the case in most public schools, the teachers were limited by district and state guidelines. There’s an overbearing emphasis on state testing and meeting goals and standards. Art, music, PE, foreign language learning, and, of course, history (particularly anything beyond White history), were last in line in terms of importance and emphasis. Despite my daughter’s teacher and her principal being Black women, their proverbial hands were tied. Black history was relegated to February.
This didn’t and still doesn’t sit well with me. As a former college teacher (of eight years), my Black students knew about as much about Black history as my White students: the people and events that were highlighted and glossed over throughout their public or private school educations. They knew a little about Dr. King, Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights Movement, and slavery. They might have read To Kill a Mockingbird or some of Maya Angelou’s poetry. And they knew when Dr. King’s birthday was, because most schools honor it by establishing a three-day weekend.
This made me incredibly sad. So many individuals and groups had put their lives on the line (some losing their lives) for the freedoms that my students and children have…yet my students, both Black and White, knew so little. I wanted my kids to have more. To know from a young age about past and present Black world-changers including artists, musicians, inventors, politicians, athletes.
After the Martin Luther incident, I unintentionally fell into homeschooling. When my oldest was in half-day kindergarten and my middle daughter was in part-time preschool, we’d spend each afternoon reading a few books, doing some workbook pages, listening to Black musicians, and memorizing Bible verses. They LOVED it. They begged me to homeschool on the days I was too tired or busy.
As a former college teacher, children’s ministry leader, and writing camp teacher, I was no stranger to curriculum planning and teaching. It came naturally to me. And so it began. Homeschooling my children. And nine months into my adventure, a friend said, put this in a book. You NEED to write this book. So I did.
I’m often asked why I homeschool my kids part-time. The answers are that I want my kids to know their history as Black people, I want them to have racial pride and confidence, and I want to strengthen my bond with my children, letting them know that I am their first teacher. Homeschooling has also bonded my children to one another as they work cooperatively on a floor puzzle, explained a worksheet to the other, or giggled over a funny book I’m reading them. We have time to work through their learning struggles, move to more challenging work when they are ready (vs. when the entire class is ready in a school setting), and we can focus on the kids’ interests.
My kids already know far more about Black history than some of my college students did. My girls have written letters to Ruby Bridges, thanking her for her bravery. They have created art featuring Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space. We wrote a letter to President Obama and received a response that was over-the-moon exciting for my daughters. We sent a letter and artwork of support to the first Black mayor of a small Missouri town (who had most the police force quit when she was elected, allegedly because of her race). We read and talk about the most incredible books like Underground (Shane Evans), listen to incredible Black musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, and examine Black photography books like Dark Girls (Bill Duke). We talk about current events and past victories. We talk about struggles and triumphs. We have watched Marian Anderson sing, Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag, and listened to Dr. King’s share his I Have a Dream speech. We’ve learned about Michaela DePrince, Misty Copeland, Serena Williams and Venus Williams, Jamie Grace, Darius Rucker, Lecrae, Mo’ne Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Madame C.J. Walker, and many more.
In essence, I couldn’t NOT write the book on Black homeschooling. In just a short year, my daughters taught me just as I was teaching them. We are just getting started! We absolutely love learning outside the “box” that society tries to put us in: a box that tries to limit learning Black history to a single month.
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Today’s essay was excerpted with permission from Rachel Garlinghouse’s new book, “Homeschooling Your Young Black Child: A Simple Getting-Started Guide and Workbook.” Want a copy of “Homeschooling Your Young Black Child”? Drop something clever in the comments section, and two winners will be selected randomly for a free copy. Tweet or Facebook this article and drop the link to your post(s) in the comments section for extra chances to win. Giveaway ends Tuesday, August 4, 2015, at midnight. The author will send one copy each to two winners (addresses in the United States only, please). Good luck!
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Rachel Garlinghouse is the author of Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children. She mothers three children, all of whom were transracially and domestically adopted at birth. Rachel’s written more than 70 articles and has appeared in ESSENCE magazine, on The Daily Drum National Radio Show, and on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. She blogs about all-things-adoption at www.whitesugarbrownsugar.com.