If you ask my parents they will share with you that they never thought they would have taken the education journey with us that they did. You see both of my parents are very proud of the public school education that they received in California. My mother, a board-certified emergency medicine physician, is a product of the Long Beach Unified School District. My father, a public relations consultant, is a proud alum of the Los Angeles Unified School District. They share with my siblings and me great stories of attending their schools and how it impacted their lives.
When we moved to Texas, we did what every family with kids in America tries to do—find a community with good schools. We ended up in the Dallas Fort Worth suburb of Keller, Texas. When we moved here it was ranked as one of the top communities to live in by the U.S. News & World Report. It is beautiful. Amazing parks and all the amenities you would desire. It seemed so perfect.
When we arrived, I was enrolled in my highly ranked local elementary school. It all seemed well at first. I liked my teachers and had made a few friends. But as time went on, there were growing signs that demonstrated to my parents that the school system had deep problems in its DNA that would keep it from fully serving all of its students. Especially students who looked like me.
As beautiful as Keller, Texas is, the lack of diversity in our community and the lack of diversity in the administration and staff of the Keller Independent School District created an environment that would create problems for students like my siblings and me. My parents’ concern about our mental wellbeing associated with attending Keller ISD schools grew each year.
While in elementary school my parents requested multiple times that I would be tested for the gifted and talented program. Each time they were met with a response that since I did not start kindergarten in Keller ISD schools I could not sit for the gifted and talented assessment. As we were told no, other students—who happened to be white—were allowed to take the gifted and talented assessment test. Even with this ongoing denial, my parents kept us in our local public schools.
As I transitioned to middle school, my grades started to suffer. Honestly, I was focused on everything but academics. At the same time, my parents grew frustrated as our schools demonstrated they were unable to fully embrace the potential of the diverse students it served. In our history course work, we seemed to hyper-focus on the American Civil War. My teacher decided to have a class experiment where our class was divided into families from the North and South. I was the only Black girl in the class and my teacher decided to assign me to the Southern family and I was made the mulatto slave girl. Yes the only Black girl, who is mixed, was picked by the white teacher to be the mulatto slave girl.
As if that was not enough, when we divided into our groupings my white classmate turned to me and said “if we were alive back then, I would own you.” That was it for my parents. We were out. All the national rankings in the world saying Keller schools were high-quality schools couldn’t convince them that these schools were safe spaces for my siblings and me. My parents had reached the point where they felt they had to take action. They made the deliberate decision to choose an education system that would provide us with the best ability to learn and also protect our basic humanity from the microaggressions and racism that are so deeply rooted in the DNA of our nation’s public schools.
After weeks of discussion and exploration of school options, my parents took deliberate action to homeschool my siblings and me. The reaction from family and friends was shock and whispers that we wouldn’t make it long. My parents shared that some of their friends in California had thought we had moved to Texas and lost our minds.
My siblings and I thrived in our homeschooling environment. Once removed from the shackles of a school system designed to ignore the needs of individual students to satisfy the masses, we were able to rapidly achieve academically. We were able to learn at our own pace and take the time we needed to master a subject. We received that attention we needed in a loving environment that saw us for our full potential. No microaggressions. No racism. No school dress code policy attacking our identities by outlawing our natural hair. In all honesty, it was liberating and empowering.
For our family, school choice allowed us to design the specific educational environment we needed to find success. What mattered to our parents was that we had the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves and that the historic barriers of race and gender were not used to explain away why we couldn’t reach our God-given potential. The solution was homeschooling.
Homeschooling Is One Path to Academic Opportunity and Freedom
When we discuss school choice we are often still bound by the education system that has been ingrained into our psyche. When we think of schools we think of a designated location and building. School must fit a neat and tidy definition of administrators, teachers, and students all coming together in one specific location at a specific time to learn. If a school does not meet this standard it is immediately disregarded by many and often attacked as being unworthy of acceptance.
The constant attacks on homeschooling are driven by a stereotype of who a homeschooler is. I understand why people think this way. There are real stories of historic abuses of homeschooling students by parents driven by their religious beliefs. There is still a segment, a large one in fact, of homeschooling families who use the ability to homeschool to practice the traditional American act of “white flight” and remove their children from the growing diversity in our nation. Homeschooling, like all forms of education in our nation, is not perfect and there are those who abuse it.
What is missing from these discussions around homeschooling is in the specific communities of our nation who our public schools have and continue to fail, homeschooling is becoming a path to academic opportunity and freedom. In 2020 the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that the number of Black households who were homeschooling their children grew from 3% in April of 2020 to 16% in October of 2020.
This growth is driven by the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism in our schools. The reality—and this is not up for debate—is that Black families are making the rightful decision each day that they will no longer blindly send their children into any type of education system that is not free of racism. Public, charter, and private schools should take notice that if you fail to create an education environment that fully embraces and protects Black students, then homeschooling will continue to grow. In many ways, homeschooling is becoming the new underground railroad of the 21st century. We will take our freedom into our own hands and will leave behind those decaying institutions that are unable and/or unwilling to change from their racist beginnings.
The real questions that will surely be brought up over the next few years are:
- Will the right-wing politics of hate currently on display over CRT and diversity issues be used as a reason to attempt to regulate homeschooling in places like Texas?
- Will these same states that have pushed vouchers, school choice, and are fully open to homeschooling turn their back on those beliefs as soon as we reach a tipping point where homeschooling is dominated by a new wave of families that don’t fit the homeschooling stereotype?
- Will the network of existing homeschooling advocacy organizations fall into the culture wars and support legislation in states to regulate homeschooling curriculum?
As we celebrate National School Choice Week we should remember that the purpose of choice in education is supposedly rooted in the rights of parents and their children to find an education system or school that fits their needs. Part of that is and will continue to be homeschooling. Homeschooling will continue to thrive and school choice advocates should be prepared to defend it from any attempts by misguided policymakers on both sides of the political spectrum to attack and dismantle it.