I remember when I submitted a letter of intent to homeschool my son. It was a decision that was informed by many factors, including the transition to remote learning and the connection between COVID-19 related precautions and the safety of black and brown students.
To be clear, homeschooling was always in the back of our minds. There had been a number of subtle yet alarming occurrences in my child’s school experiences that raised red flags for my husband and me. However, these red flags were addressed by ramping up what we did at home. We’re of the mind that learning begins at home and unlearning what is taught in school must be intentional and frequent to ensure our child is in the world, but not of it. Even when one is satisfied with what the school offers, it does not compare to what is learned at home. What is learned at home sticks — for better or for worse — because it is embedded in an environment of culture, care and continuity.
Though we considered homeschooling, we didn’t act upon it. As an educator, I negotiated my feelings and instead leaned in heavily to working with our son’s teachers to support (or counteract) what was taught in class. That model worked for a while. And by “worked” I’m referring to the type of tension that’s often felt by parents in Black and Brown communities — one of frustration in knowing your child may not be receiving the type of education you would ideally like, but have settled for, because hey, it could be worse. And you do what you can at home and stay involved with the school, but wonder how different it would be if your child received the type of education that you dreamed of.
It’s the type of education that centers the BIPOC experience in curriculum. The type of education that values hiring excellent BIPOC and white teachers committed to dismantling systemic oppression in schools, the type of education that deemphasizes standardized testing, and the type of education that is consistent with the values you have at home. If this seems like a lot to ask of a school, then maybe it isn’t the right school.
When COVID-19 hit we were thrusted into distance learning. Err’body had to homeschool. Some students were learning remotely. While some students were remotely learning. Nevertheless, the situation presented a unique opportunity to see daily and intimately what our child experienced as learning and to test, if you will, how it would be to balance school from home.
What we saw was my son’s school trying to do their very best every single day, given the unexpected and unusual circumstances in which we were all placed. The level of communication between myself and the teachers increased exponentially and we were very connected to every lesson. And it was challenging trying to balance working from home while facilitating remote learning, but there were also many benefits.
We began to have conversations about instruction in real time. And we were able to witness where the gaps were in learning for our children and support them. Something as simple as restating a directive the teacher gave or presenting a math problem differently using measuring cups proved to accelerate learning.
At the end of each week, however, that nagging feeling would return — is this it? Is this the best education for our children? And I believe if something keeps gnawing at you — there’s probably a reason. And you should listen.
Fast forward to the present as talks of reopening schools in the fall are in full swing. Many parents have expressed concern about placing their students back in school, even with the safety measures schools will have in place. And their concerns are valid, as we continue to hear news of projected, impending surges in COVID-related illnesses in the fall and winter. Cities like Los Angeles have responded by pushing back on reopening for the safety of their students, while others have presented a reopening plan that feels like school will be a lot less inviting — social distance will be heavily policed, students will attend in staggered sessions and no matter how clean the facility, the risks are evident.
Why should our children be at risk? What options do we have as parents?
As it turns out, we have plenty. Schools may be asking for your feedback to determine if you will opt for remote learning in the fall. If your school or district asks, let your voice be heard. Our family has elected to keep our sons home — by opting for homeschool for one child and remote learning for the other. However, there are parents who cannot homeschool, for a variety of reasons, including having to work or because they do not have resources to conduct learning at home.
But there are solutions.
There are community groups and online communities working to cull information for parents to support their research about homeschooling. One such community, headed by author and educator Nikolai Pizarro provides resources and consultation for parents interested in homeschooling. Pizarro recently launched a group called BIPOC-LED Pandemic Pods and Micro-schools where parents can meet locally and discuss options via @raisingreaders on Instagram.
“ We are going to have to outsource care in ways we haven’t thought of before because a lot of parents still have to go to work,” says Pizarro.
“Talk to your family and friends. Find out who is working remotely? Who is unemployed? Who is willing to stay home? Whose schedule can we work around and whose time can we supplement and pay? Do not make assumptions. Every parent is looking for solutions, so ask.”
Perhaps more importantly, Pizarro offers a framework for supporting children even if parents don’t choose homeschooling.
“My biggest advice to parents is that rather than following any curriculum, they intentionally connect with their children and find out what their children want to learn. The children are the curriculum. Each is different. We also have to learn to design new metrics for measuring our children’s success and remain committed to advocating for their vision of who they are beyond a report card.”
It is encouraging to know that from wherever you are entering the homeschooling space, there are options for you as long as you are intentional about preparing, and guided by principles that best serve your child. We are excited for what’s to come. Although there is a feeling that we may not have all the boxes checked at the time of this writing, #wegonbealright.
We can ensure that our children receive the type of education we want for them, and there are people who are dedicated to this work. As an educator, I count myself among them — folks determined to give children the best education possible, by any means necessary.