The following is a cross-post from Becky at Becky not Becky.
Our oldest child is one year away from Kindergarten. That statement is probably not as surreal for you as it is for me, but there it is. My son is a pre-schooler in the literal sense of the term. And for my husband and me, that means it’s time to evaluate our education options.
I am a big believer in public education. I went to public schools, as did my husband, and while we had different experiences, we were both served pretty well when it came to the basics. Both of us had opportunities to explore our interests in and out of the classroom. Both of us had encounters with loving adults (and some not-so-loving ones) who in one way or another helped to direct the course of our lives. We support public education, and we are proud to say that next year, our boy will be beginning his formal education at a neighborhood elementary school.
But as happy as I am about our decision, I’m sad to say that it was a forced one. You see, while friends of ours are looking intensely at three different but equally weighted options, we were ruling out homeschooling and private schooling as possibilities. We’ve known since our kids were born they’d most likely be public-school bound. And recently, I’ve become frustrated and jealous reading about the wonderful experiences of moms who homeschool. I’ve felt scorn for those who send their kids off to Christian schools, where they will learn at the feet of teachers who profess and confess a love for Jesus Christ. I’ve felt this way because I want those choices, too. But the biggest source of aggravation is knowing that I can have them, and I don’t.
Several years ago, long before we had kids, my husband and I decided that whatever our own biological capabilities, we were going to pursue adoption at some point in our marriage. We’d had friends who went through infertility and turned to adoption after failed attempts to build their family on their own. We’d had friends who adopted internationally, transracially, and locally: some through fostering first, some with specificity that they wanted a certain kind of baby. Given the wide range of experiences being open to adoption can bring, and given that any number of those options could make our lily white family less monochromatic, we began to evaluate our church, our community, and our lives for diversity.
We were found wanting. We went to a white church. I taught, for the most part, in a white school. We had white friends. If we were going to open our lives for an adopted child, we’d have to radically change the spectrum of influences and relationships we had in order for that child to feel at home and free to explore their own identity in a safe context. But then, in reading more about race, racism and racial identity development, we discovered something we’d never considered. What does all this homogeneity mean for our biological white children?
What experience were we giving them raising them in such an isolated context? Thankfully, through very little work on our own part, the Lord moved us to an area where no matter where we chose to live, we’d be making a choice for diversity. We visited churches and prayed about where to attend and in every case, we made racial diversity a factor. Our current church is developing satellite campuses, and in the last few years, this has helped to broaden the membership beyond the occasional inter-racial couple, and our satellite is reaching out to communities of color and reflecting all these changes in staff hiring. I’m still not sure if these moves are intentional on the part of our church leadership (though we have one elder pushing hard for it), but God is moving our church in a direction that we feel is consistent with our family’s values.
So our white kids are living in a neighborhood where they are in the minority. They are attending a church where their race is representative of the majority, but those proportions are swiftly tilting to reflect our community. But now we have this school issue.
As I’ve looked into homeschooling, I’ve been discouraged by the numbers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009, 76.8% of homeschoolers were white. Many proponents of homeschool say that their kids have plenty of social and athletic opportunities through homeschooling groups and leagues, but they never tell you that those opportunities are as segregated as the statistics show. While I’ve been able to find some blogs or groups of parents of color homeschooling their children, these are vastly outnumbered by the white mommy blogs on the subject. And, honestly, I’m equally disappointed looking at curriculum options. The traditional religious curricula I’ve seen are as problematic, if not more so than, the generally monochromatic public school curricula for literature, history, and the social sciences.
Private Christian schooling is also disappointing. I know from experience as a teacher in a Christian school that often the curriculum ignores race, and omits important authors of color or literature from anything other than a white-male canon. History can be anyone’s best guess, and in a conservative evangelical school, can be filled with reverence for the Founders and ignorance of the oppression of and contributions by Native Americans, African Americans, or immigrants.
Last year at MOPS, we had a panel of professional women each representing public, private Christian and homeschooling options. During the discussion on private schooling, one white mom stood up and shared that her husband was black and her child was biracial. She was concerned that in a Christian school, her child would be the only person of color in the class, perhaps in the grade. The white teacher on the panel said she had the same concerns for the exact same reason: her son was biracial. She said the lack of diversity was the only thing that gave her pause about enrolling her son in the school where she taught. She added that her son participated in county sports, not school athletics, in order to feel connected to different types of kids and families and that her family was constantly looking for ways to offset his school experience.
I felt for both those moms. And I wondered why the other moms of white kids weren’t likewise concerned. I’ve thought about the idea of “offsetting” a whites-only education with other experiences, but all of it feels like compromising an important value for our family. I don’t want my kids to grow up without a teacher who is a person of color. I don’t want my kids only having sleepovers, birthday parties or field trips with an all-white class (even if that class consists of me and their siblings).
So, we’re left with public school. And we’re glad to have it. Our local elementary school is only 29% white. The majority of the school is Latino, then black, then white, then Asian. It’s a good school and the teachers work toward cultural and linguistic competency so that they can best serve students and their families. Also, the principal is a woman of color.
I know my lament is one of privilege. I could easily choose to homeschool or send our son to private school. We have the means and the opportunity. But for us, the choice is not easy. It’s hard because our values on this tell us those doors are shut by the same forces that kept schools segregated in the past: a compulsion to commit to the status quo and the ability of white people, in particular, to be completely comfortable and at-home only in contexts where they are in the majority.
If any anti-racist out there has found a way to make homeschooling or Christian-schooling work for their kids, I’d love to be wrong about this. Until then, I’m a little frightened that I’m right and that it’s our organized Christian culture that’s wrong.