Black Military Families Who Homeschool

Homeschooling for many Black families existed long before the Covid-19 pandemic inspired some parents to educate their own children (full-time). For some Black veteran homeschoolers, the journey of homeschooling is certainly “the road less traveled.” Despite being treated as social pariahs before school-at-home became the norm, there was a rare group of Black families who took full control of their children’s education as homeschoolers. Making the decision to homeschool usually doesn’t come easy, especially for us. So, why would any military family choose to homeschool?

There are many reasons to homeschool, such as:

  • Avoid constant school-changes for military children. From kindergarten through 12th grade, the average military child will attend from six to nine different schools.1
  • 1/3 of school-age military children show psychosocial behaviors such as being anxious, worrying often, and crying more frequently.2
  • The average military family moves three times more often than their civilian counterpart.3
  • Frequent school transitions (often being the “new” kid in school) can have a negative impact on academics and peer-bonding.
  • Some homeschooling families are able to take advantage of “world schooling” by learning more about the local area/culture (if they’re overseas).
  • Based on the lack of diversity when it comes to Black children in certain areas, children may struggle more with their ethnic identity and self-pride in their cultural background in school settings. Alternatively, homeschooling allows parents to cultivate more self-pride within their young adolescents.
  • Homeschooling allows Black children to reach their full potential, regardless of their assigned “grade level.” There’s no such thing as “not being allowed to work ahead.” A child could be in only 10 years old, but do “8th grade Math, 7th grade Science, and 10th grade Language Arts.”
  • Parents can allow their children to explore subjects that truly interest them.
  • Parents can have more insight into children’s academic challenges/needs or strengths.
  • Flexible learning schedule, created to fit the needs of the family. Taking “leave” for military parents don’t have to be based on a “school schedule.”
  • Decreased probability of “peer pressure” due to children feeling like they have “something to prove” to their friends.

Without doing research, assumptions are made regarding home-instruction. Assumptions like these:

  • Black people don’t homeschool; it’s a “White” thing.
  • Homeschooling is for extremely religious families; secular curriculums aren’t an option.
  • Homeschooled children don’t know how to socialize with others.
  • Single parents can’t homeschool.
  • Parents must be college educated, in order to educate their children.
  • You can’t work AND homeschool your children.
  • Children who are homeschooled will have a hard time transitioning into a “brick & mortar” school (if they should ever attend).
  • You can’t homeschool a child with special needs.
  • Homeschooled children can’t participate in organized sports or specialized extracurricular activities.
  • 4-year colleges/universities don’t accept homeschooled transcripts.
  • A homeschooled child’s academic schedule should mirror a “traditional” school schedule.
  • Homeschooled children are “weird, introverts.”
  • Homeschooling doesn’t prepare children for the “real” world.

All of these assumptions can be disproven by numerous successful homeschooling families–Black families. Homeschooling allows children to focus on their true passions and purpose at a much earlier age, whether it’s taking classes for sewing, theater, videogame designs, and more. There are also many secular curriculum options for families who choose to educate their children with non-religious texts. For example, Math Mammoth and Moving Beyond the Page are two secular curriculums that my children use.

When children are homeschooled and also participate in extracurricular activities, they will NOT be at a disadvantage when it comes to pursuing higher learning at a college/university. Not only do many homeschooled, high school children take classes at their local community colleges (for free, in many locations), but 4-year-colleges are also known to recruit homeschooled children! Why? Usually, homeschooled children are autonomous when it comes to being self-motivated to do their school work; and, they also tend to excel in various subjects.

As for me, I’m a Navy wife and have homeschooled my three children for the past five years, using secular curriculums. My children also take a plethora of extracurricular classes like baking, self-defense, piano, swimming lessons, sewing, dance, sign language, robotics, chess, and more! Such classes are offered at Homeschool Enrichment Centers (wherever we’ve been stationed), and other classes are paid for out-of-pocket (by my husband and I). Keep in mind that some programs for homeschoolers are free, since they are connected to the local public school district (for example: Homelink in Lake Stevens, WA).

My children love the flexibility of homeschooling, but they also enjoy being among their peers. There are co-ops and groups that meetup for various field trips, and my family definitely participates in such outings. Admittedly, being in the role of both teacher and parent can be challenging at times, even with the help of co-ops or other homeschool programs. However, the rewards far outweigh the drawbacks. When a parent or caregiver commits to being the primary educator for their children, it’s an opportunity for them to also be a student–for the adults to be the students. The grownups are continuously learning during the homeschool journey. Figuring out how your child learns best, the time of day when they are most alert, the type of curriculum to use, and meeting other individual needs, are all apart of the process. Being gentle with yourself, if you decide to homeschool, is also vital. 

Take the experience of Mrs. Nichelle Nelson, from whom I had the honor of gathering information. Mrs. Nelson is a wife and mother, who endured some trials and still succeeded as a homeschooling parent. Not only was she gentle with herself, but she was also steadfast in prayer! Although Nichelle homeschooled her children with Christian views, her journey as a military wife still resonated with me. I asked Nichelle some questions and learned quite a bit, from this successful homeschooler–a Black military spouse who homeschooled her children from the beginning until college!

Are your the Spouse or Service-member?  I am the wife of a retired Air Force service member. 

How long have you been married? 34 years.

How many children do you have?  Four: one in heaven and three on earth. 

What made you want to homeschool? What were your reasons for continuing to do so? In 1989, our firstborn daughter was born while we were stationed at Lajes Air Base in the Azores. Through prayer, we felt very strongly that she was never to enter the public school system. At the time, we assumed that meant that by the time she was old enough for kindergarten, we would be stationed somewhere with a good Christian school.  

But, we never stopped homeschooling. By the time that we could have enrolled our oldest daughter into a school, we had two daughters–our second was born in Frankfurt, Germany. We heard a message before we left Germany that stated, “If you don’t have a vision for yourself, you’ll take on someone else’s.” Homeschooling was a part of our identity as a family–it was our vision. We moved to Japan, and continued to homeschool our girls. We had a great homeschool support network there called OCHEA: Okinawa Christian Home Educators Association. We had great homeschool field trips, academic competitions, and friendships.  

When we relocated back to the United States and settled in Texas, some of our extended family always assumed that our reason for homeschooling while overseas, was because the schools were bad. We had a son while in Okinawa, and our fourth child–a daughter–was born a few months after our arrival in Texas. With having four children now, our families assumed that our homeschooling experience was over.  When my husband retired, he began work as a network administrator. The IT industry in Austin can be tumultuous at times, and occasionally the job market was oversaturated with network administrators. In moments when our family learned that we were experiencing financial difficulties, they would make comments like, “Why don’t they put their kids in school, so Nichelle can get a job?” We were saddened that–they didn’t share our vision, but these were our children and by faith, we continued homeschooling…in spite of the difficulties.

Our final major challenge came after our firstborn daughter passed away from a brain tumor that we had only been aware of for 72 hours. We had tons of support from our church community, the homeschool community, neighbors, military friends, and our family. They all descended upon our home to assist us in whatever way they could. At some point between her passing and the funeral, my husband, our 11-year-old (2nd-born daughter), and I had a moment to ourselves and we had a conversation about whether or not we were supposed to continue homeschooling after this tragedy. We questioned whether the vision to homeschool was only for our firstborn and not the others. We were still having financial difficulties, so that factor weighed heavily on our mind as well. After thinking it over out loud, we thought that separating our family by sending one to middle school, one to elementary school, and the other to daycare (where a majority of any paycheck I might earn would go) while my husband and I worked in separate locations, did not seem to be a path toward healing. We needed to continue to be the family we’d become, even while flying in missing-man-formation.    

For how many years did you homeschool? We homeschooled our children for 25 years.  

How old were your children when you began homeschooling? Which grades have you covered? How many times did you PCS while homeschooling? We began homeschooling when our oldest was four and our 2nd-born was three. We often say that we homeschooled from birth to Baylor [college]. We PCS’ed twice while homeschooling.  

What are the benefits/drawbacks of homeschooling while being a military family? The benefits of homeschooling while being in the military were that it didn’t take us long to find new friends at the next duty station. Homeschooling had become so popular among military families, that they were easy to find. Another benefit was the multicultural lifestyle. After living among civilians who never ventured far out of their cultural comfort zone, we realized how beneficial having a multicultural upbringing with wide travel experiences was to our children. There was also freedom in homeschooling as a military family, like: taking family Birthdays off and taking leave in the middle of the school year. The drawbacks are the same for any military family, homeschooling or not: the separation of close friendships [when it’s time to PCS].  

What are some misconceptions about homeschooling? The biggest misconception was that homeschooled children lack opportunities for socialization.  People assume that homeschooling means that you never leave your house.  

How have you seen homeschooling change within the Black community?  Homeschooling became a more widespread educational choice among African American military families, long before it became a well-known option in the United States. When we lived overseas, our first homeschool family friends in the early 1990s were African American homeschooling families. We moved to the Austin, Texas area in 1999 and lived here for five years before meeting another African American homeschooling family.  

Why/How is homeschooling beneficial for Black families (in general)? Homeschooling gives African American children the opportunity to learn and grow without someone trying to politicize their education. They don’t have to win the lottery to be admitted into Talented and Gifted programs, they don’t have to deal with cultural biases of educators who make assumptions about African American boys, family structure, home life, behavior differences, economic level, inclusive curriculum, or any other issues that African American children face in the public school system today. I have seen African American homeschooled children soar to professional heights unimaginable, because of the freedom they had to grow their unique gifts and talents without being stifled by public school requirements.  

What have been some homeschool challenges (outside of the military lifestyle)? We have been blessed to have raised our children in a city that has a large homeschool population.  Our children have lacked nothing. They had a homeschool co-op, where they took higher-level math and science classes. Our community has a homeschool football team, basketball team, volleyball team, choir, and orchestra. There is a Christian homeschool prom and a secular homeschool prom. Other than the lack of cultural diversity, I have nothing negative to say about our homeschool experience.   

Have any of your children graduated from high school through homeschooling? All of our children have graduated high school through homeschooling. Our co-op put on beautifully moving commencement ceremonies for all three of our children. Two of our homeschool graduated have graduated from college.  

What did your children like/dislike about homeschooling? Now that they are adults, they feel that they were well educated and fully prepared for college. They are thankful that they were able to pursue interests that they were passionate about. They also look back on their childhood and feel that they were accomplished. They participated in academic competitions and martial arts. We have a wall in our house that is full of their accomplishments. They are proud of their achievements. As far as dislikes, they did find that they had enough in common to bond with the secular homeschoolers that they attended activities with, and they felt that some of the rules within the Christian homeschooling activities were overbearing and unnecessarily restrictive. They also would have enjoyed more cultural diversity within their homeschool experiences.  

Are you children extroverts/introverts? My firstborn was an extrovert. My 2nd-born is an introvert. My son is an introverted extrovert. My youngest is very extroverted.  

Have your children ever been accused of “being at risk” of obtaining socialization skills? Not by anyone whose opinion mattered.  

Did your children participate in co-ops, pods, or extracurricular activities? Which? Dance classes, gymnastics classes, community soccer, softball, volleyball, and cross-country, Missionettes, Awana Club, worship dance, ministry vacation Bible school, volunteering, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Teen Court, American Heritage Girls, Civil Air Patrol, science club, spelling bee competition, and National History Day competition. My youngest three children hold black belts in Tae Kwon Do. At the co-op, they took algebra, physical science, biology, pre-calculus, chemistry, SAT/ACT prep, US Government, and Constitutional Law.  

Who was your support system for homeschooling? We have belonged to many homeschool support groups over the years.  

Ever experience judgment? Harsh comments? We had a family member who was going through a difficult time. This family member thought they could cause division within my family, so that we would have no choice but to put our children in school, so they could have all of my care and attention. Their plan backfired and rather than being divided, their antics served to unite our family further. They viciously attacked our family through letters that my children (wanting to spare me hurt) intercepted and read. They said horrible things about our family, stating that because I didn’t have a college degree that I was too stupid to homeschool them and that they would never be anything more than kitchen help. They only lived long enough to hear rumors of our 2nd-born’s admission to Baylor.  

Any success stories of your children? Our 2nd-born daughter earned her BA in History and MA in Museum Studies from Baylor. She has served as the Map Curator for the Texas General Land Office and is now the Director of Engagement for the National History Day competition, of which both she and our youngest daughters are alumnae of the competition. Our youngest daughter is a past national award winner. Our son graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Film and Digital Media with a minor in Corporate Communications; he is a 2nd Lt in the Air Force and serves as the Chief of Public Affairs. Our youngest daughter is a senior at Baylor and is participating in the Baylor in Washington program as a congressional intern at the US Capitol. 

What do you wish you knew then, that you know now regarding homeschooling? I started homeschooling before there were many success stories.  I wish I had been more confident that I was doing the right thing. I would have chosen math curriculum that fit my children’s learning style, rather than what was popular.  

Any advice of how to respond to naysayers? Recognize that they are your children, not your extended family’s, and not the state’s. Get wise counsel, but make your decisions based on what is best for you and your family.  

How can families find additional support if they’re hesitant or feel too inexperienced to homeschool? There are many good groups on Facebook with veteran homeschool moms in them. I am still a part of many although mine have all graduated. I enjoy being an encouragement to those who are still on the journey. 

Which resources or organizations have been the most helpful? There is a group that is no longer very active; it was started by Tony Robinson in Yahoo Groups called FOCUHS: Families of Color Utilizing Homeschooling. I am still friends with many homeschooling moms I met there. I have met a few in person. The Facebook group, “African American Homeschool Moms” is a good source for information as well.  

What were the beginning steps that should be taken when considering homeschooling? Learn your children’s learning styles. Research what that means. Choose curriculum that you both enjoy using. Teach your children to read well. Practice reading aloud to one another, every day. We read aloud together for at least an hour, every day. I read books to them that was above their own reading level, so they would have something to reach for. They read to me books that would give them confidence in their fluency and comprehension. We read together while preparing meals, cleaning up, folding laundry. No time was wasted.  

Which words of encouragement would another parent need to hear throughout their homeschooling journey? You can do this. You may not feel as if you are educated enough or wealthy enough, but if you have the passion for seeing your children reach their full potential, you will be resourceful and find a way, even if you have to teach yourself something to teach them. Black families have been teaching their own children long before we got here. They were equipped with nothing but love for their children and a desire to see them succeed in life. You can do the same.  

Anything else? Most of our learning from preschool through 6th grade took place by me. Our children were rewarded with the opportunity to learn in community through our co-op when they reached 7th grade. This was the time where not only were they desiring a greater social circle, but we felt that they needed to learn how to be accountable to someone other than “just mom.” By the time they reached 10th grade, they were ready to start taking dual enrollment classes at our local community college. These were tests of maturity. They needed to develop a work ethic about their education and sometimes they failed. Failure is not always a bad thing, if you learn from it.  

Last year, I became the founder and CEO of Warp & Weft History. My daughters and I offer online history and government classes for homeschooled teens, as well as to provide coaching for the National History Day competition. It is important to us to see African American teens, in particular, learn about history, then present it in a creative and artistic way.  In an era where the telling of history is politically charged, it is vital that our students not only learn history, but also learn how to articulate it. Our website is www.warpandwefthistory.com. The classes that I teach are college prep and are a good place for students to develop a strong work ethic. People can reach out an inquire more about services, throughout the year.  

Thank you for trusting me with sharing my experience. ~Mrs. Nichelle Nelson

References

  1. “Military Student and Family Support.” San Diego County Office of Education. https://www.sdcoe.net/student-services/student-support/Pages/military-liaison-home.aspx
  2. Flake, E.M.; Davis, B.E.; Johnson, P.L.; Middleton, L.S. (August 2009). “The Psychosocial Effects of Deployment on Military Children.” Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 30, 4:271-278.
  3. “Fact Sheet On The Military Child.” AASA, The School Superintendents Association. https://www.aasa.org/content.aspx?id=8998

Resources for Homeschooling

Home School Leading Defense Association (HSLDA): https://hslda.org/?fbclid=IwAR1r_HDfjj7LbLU5JrNir2OtuqcoQ0GNJlzsTEDsZ_9coIJ0RTxLUHwaipY

“African American Homeschool Moms,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AfricanAmericanHomeschoolMoms/

“Black Secular Homeschoolers,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/628067467553891/

“DMV Black Homeschoolers,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/815882118508965/

“Secular, Academic, Ecletic (SEA) Homeschoolers,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/seahomeschoolers/

“Homeschool for Free,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/832489420199525/about

“Affording the Homeschool Life,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/594052600614228/

“Military Homeschoolers Group,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/militaryhomeschoolersgroup/

The other “Military Homeschoolers Group,” Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/militaryhomeschooling/

Photo by: Natasha Hall, Unsplash.com
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