Sunday, April 09, 2006

Why Home School???

We used to send our oldest children to a public elementary school near our home. One of Baltimore’s best public schools, we’d heard nothing but rave reviews. But we got more and more pissed as the semester progressed until we took them out. We are now homeschooling them fulltime, and don’t plan to stop.

The first warning sign was my son’s first grade class. They were always on timeout. The entire class. For what seemed to be weeks at a time. There would be a few kids who would be good, but the majority of them would be living terrors. The kneejerk Cosby response is to blame the parents, or the knuckleheaded kids right? When we dug deeper, we found out that my son’s first grade class didn’t have recess. They didn’t even have gym.

You do the math. Thirty kids (yes, thirty). A little more than half of them boys. Eight hours in a classroom with nowhere to send that pent up energy. Even felons in the joint get recess right? Not these kids. No wonder they spent most of their time crawling up the walls, mimicking Spiderman.

The second warning sign was my daughter’s math homework. She brought me her homework one day and showed me the following simple math statement: 1.00<1. Of course that’s wrong…1.00 and 1 are the exact same number.

“It’s not wrong daddy. My teacher told me this is right.”

Unless you happen to know me personally, or meet me at an academic conference, I don’t wear my degrees on my sleeve. My grandfather was one of the smartest people I know, and he barely finished tenth grade. But here? My wife and I had to take my daughter and explain to her that not only were we right, and her teachers wrong, but that we were most likely smarter than any teacher she’d have in her lifetime…and that we would probably always be right.

The third straw?

When that same teacher ended up spelling “mimic” like “mimmic.”

We yanked them out with the quickness soon after.

We are lucky. We’ve been able to make due on one income for a while now with the help of our parents. And while again we don’t flaunt our education, it comes in handy as far as having the skills to educate our own kids. And we were able to find a strong network of black families who are also homeschooling their children.

But what about those not so lucky? What about the parents who are barely struggling to get back from work in time to send their children to school? What about the single mother working two and three jobs just to make ends meet? What about the kid who gets suspended and has to stay at home alone while on suspension because her grandmother is at work?

I believe in public schools. I support them with my tax dollars, and with the pen when I can. However while we struggle to fight for affirmative action in college admissions, and to fight for increased black contracting dollars in our nation’s blackest cities, we are ignoring one of the biggest battles we need to wage—the battle for the education of our children. Now in as much as even black people (Bill Cosby anyone?) believe that a combination of bad-ass kids and bad-ass parents are to blame, it is very difficult to mobilize people around this issue. And given that we’re really talking about black administrators, black teachers, black staff, and black school board members, it isn’t the same as taking on the Klan. It isn’t as sexy. It doesn’t get people as riled up.

However if voting and economic power were the dual civil rights issues of the twentieth century, literacy and educational power should be considered the dual civil rights issues of the twenty-first century. And to fight these new civil rights battles we’d better recognize that the first people we’re going to have to fight are people that look like us. We’re going to be fighting teachers who don’t care about our kids, teachers who in some cases wouldn’t know a math equation from a hole in the wall, and educational budget crises that end up leaving some kids without gym, recess, music, sports, or even toilet paper.

About Dr. Spence:
Introductions of sorts are in order. My name is Lester Spence, and I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, and a Kellogg Scholar of Health Disparities at Morgan State University 2004-2006. I've published in a wide range of academic and popular spaces, from the American Journal of Political Science to the Washington Post. I've also appeared on NPR, on PBS and C-Span, and delivered lectures at various universities across the country. My specialties are Black Politics, Urban Politics, Race and Politics, Political Behavior, and Black Political Thought.

To the degree that my works reflect a common theme, I'd say that I'm interested in promoting an old school vision of African American life, politics, and culture--one that does not require "leaders" as much as people willing to identify what they need and do what it takes to get it. Part of this means dealing honestly with white supremacy in its various and sundry forms. Part of this means going after African Americans who present themselves to us as "black leaders."

My specialties are Race and Politics, Black Politics, Urban Politics, Political Behavior, and Black Political Thought. For those who are interested in inviting me for speaking engagements, or contacting me in general, the best way to contact me is via email. blacksmythe at gmail dot com.

To Read more of Dr. Spence's Commentaries please go to

No comments: