After leaving my job to homeschool my children, I hit a paradox in black middle-class culture. No one is questioning my decision to homeschool. Rather, almost everyone has acknowledged the horrible state of public education and how it is failing black kids. Many people have even applauded my decision to take my kids’ education into my own hands. But then everyone questions my decision to leave my corporate law job, leaving “all that money on the table,” selling the big house and moving into a much smaller house. The final blow is when I’m asked when I intend to return to work and how long we plan to live only on my husband’s salary.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that many black middle class kids are falling behind in school, few black families have made the leap to homeschooling their kids. There are several cultural reasons why black people continue to avoid homeschooling despite it being the best choice for their kids.
1. Blacks have a duty to honor achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.
Black parents today were raised by the generation who lived through the civil rights era. My own mother participated in the marches on Birmingham. The Movement sought opportunities that were previously unavailable to blacks: open access to the voting booth, a quality education for children at an institution of their choice, and the ability to pursue a profession of their choice with advancement based on merits.
The price of progress was extremely high, so it is extremely difficult to consider giving up those hard-won gains. The pressure and expectations from family and friends is immense. After all, we are the first generation of blacks who have had the ability to achieve everything that whites have achieved. We can become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, live in large houses in any community that we chose, drive luxury cars and go on annual family vacations to exotic places. The lifestyle that the black middle class has achieved was only a dream for our parents and grandparents. So quitting a job to stay at home with kids and taking those kids out of public school is generally not part of the black middle class mindset.
2. Black girls are raised to be self-sufficient.
I grew up with involved parents. My dad, a former Marine, always provided for us. When my parents divorced, Daddy remained my best friend and closest confidant. My mother remarried and my stepfather treated me like the daughter he always wanted. Yet, despite the constant presence of two loving and supportive dads, I was raised to believe that you can’t depend on a man. It was understood that I would always need to work and support myself. And even if I did have a husband with a good job, I needed to be ready to help my husband support any kids we had. I was taught that while white mothers may stay at home with their kids, I should never think that my life would allow such an extravagance.
So, despite the black middle class mirroring what you may find among white middle class families—two parents at home, a nice home in a safe community, a dog and a minivan—you won’t find many stay at home moms among black families. Except for my aunt, who made great sacrifices to stay home when her kids were young, I didn’t know any black stay-at-home moms when I was growing up. Even today, it just isn’t done. Even when the dad works. Even when the dad has a good job.
3. Blacks think private school is a good alternative.
When middle class blacks can’t abide the local public school, they seek out private schools. In some communities, the more prestigious, the better. A prestigious private school is not only supposed to offer black kids more opportunities than the local public school, but also indicates a family’s social status. But evidence is surfacing that black kids are suffering from the same issues in private school that are plaguing their public school peers. Indeed, some of my own acquaintances will admit that private school just isn’t working. But when paying in excess of $20K per year per child, most people typically don’t let others in on that dirty little secret.
I never thought I would become a stay at home mom who homeschools her children, but as I watched my son endure a terrible pre-K year at a private Montessori school, I knew that I had no other choice. By the end of his pre-kindergarten year I watched the light go out of my son’s eyes. An eager and advanced learner had become a child who hated school and resisted anything that looked like “learning.”
After pulling my son from school, it took over 6 months to deprogram him from his annus horribilis, and another 4 or 5 months to get him on track to actually want to learn again. A full 12 months after leaving school, my now six year old has returned. He is happy. He loves learning. He understands that learning doesn’t only take place in a classroom. He seeks out learning in our everyday experiences. He finds pleasure in his achievements both academic and extracurricular. It’s beautiful to see my boy happy and inquisitive again, and worth every penny that I left on the table when I quit my job.