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Homeschooling: Privilege or Sacrifice?

I love talking to veteran homeschool moms. I place a high value on the wisdom gleaned from those further along in their journey. So I was grateful to have met an older woman at my church who had homeschooled her three boys through high school. Two of her sons are now at universities and one is in the military. Success!

She teased me a bit about how easy I have it, as I am educating my children in an age where I have access to things she could only dream of. Not only did she teach her children without my indispensables like the internet, Amazon Prime, YouTube tutorials/reviews, and (gasp) Google search, but she did so in an era when homeschooling was unpopular and even disparaged. She had to look far and wide to find anything resembling a co-op or support group. To add to her isolation, not many African-American families in her area were interested in homeschooling and her family didn’t understand why she didn’t just save her curriculum money and send her sons to private schools. This woman is the stuff of legends.

As a general rule, when you meet your superior, it is best to spend more time listening than talking. Honestly I was a little star struck and didn’t add much to the conversation. There was one thing I said in passing though that she took issue with. I said that I consider it a privilege to be able to stay home and teach my girls. She promptly interrupted

“No. It is a sacrifice.”

I politely continued. “Our family has sacrificed to be able to homeschool but I do believe that it is a privilege to be able to afford to stay home and provide an education for your children on your own terms.”

“No,” she interrupted again. “It’s no privilege. It’s hard work. You give up a lot to be able to do it. Others are not willing to make the sacrifice.”

“I hear you,” I replied, thinking of my mom, who, after my father passed away, worked three jobs to take care of my four siblings and I. She was a teacher in Haiti before migrating to the US. She would have been a phenomenal homeschool mom. But, you know, life. She was a widow with 5 children. I wouldn’t dare doubt her commitment or her willingness to sacrifice on our behalf.

“I think if you consider the socio-economic positions of the families you speak of then, maybe you would understand why I consider it a privilege.”

She replied, “Again, that should not matter. If you care about your children you would give that up.”

We were at an impasse. I changed the topic and signaled my husband to help me make a smooth exit.

It was a conversation that I thought about long after politely excusing myself.

I would never deny that homeschooling requires sacrifice. It means giving of my time to find or create curriculum and plan our days. For our family, it means that I got off my career track to be home with my children while my husband works. Giving up that second income was a journey in discipline and sacrifice. I have to be honest, though. We don’t miss it. Sure, we go without cable. We eat most dinners at home. We buy our children’s clothes from second hand stores. But those are paltry sacrifices for what we get in return.

When I thought of my mother, I thought of sacrifice. I thought of the 20-hour days she worked to keep us just under the poverty level. I thought of how she went to school while she worked so she could find better opportunities. I thought of how she still made time to sign our permissions slips and put us in Girls Scouts. I thought of how exhaustion gave her migraines that would bring tears to her eyes. She worked to buy us a quaint home. She scrapped to save money for us to get clothes for each first day of school. She gave of herself in every way imaginable.

And then I thought of me. My mom’s commitment to her children sent 3 of the 5 to college on scholarships. I graduated college with no debt but the honor I owed to my mother. I married, had children, and then bought a home in a squarely middle class neighborhood. We live comfortably and lack nothing of importance. I get to live what sometimes feels like a dream. I have the support of a loving and encouraging husband. I am able bring in extra income through various means online and at home. I get to wake up everyday and face my children without the exhaustion that plagued my mother’s life. I am privileged.

These are the thoughts that keep me from speaking in judgment. They prevent my lips from condemning the choices of any parent. Although I will shout to the rooftops about the joys, benefits, and thrills of teaching my children at home, my elation is tinged with the memories of my Mommy’s tears. I think of her, and parents like her, and I hold my tongue.

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