For us, homeschooling is the only option because of America’s incompetency in educating Black children

Muffy Mendoza and her three sons — (left to right) Mackell, Jair and Phillip — sit for a portrait on the front porch of their home in Sheridan. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

Muffy Mendoza and her three sons — (left to right) Mackell, Jair and Phillip — sit for a portrait on the front porch of their home in Sheridan. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

Editor’s Note: As journalists, we spend a lot of time talking with officials and community members and distilling it into stories that explore important issues of our time. But we realize that sometimes it is just more powerful to hear it straight from the source. This is one of those times. The essay is a special feature timed for Mother's Day and the Brown Mamas Monologues* happening May 12.

I don’t like homeschooling my three sons. There, I said it. I’m not a Pinterest mom. I’m not a mom who enjoys crafting and making goo out of borax and food coloring. I didn’t homeschool my three Black sons because I wanted to do it. I decided to do it because I was afraid. I was very afraid.

Like so many other Black moms, I found myself in a perilous situation. I found myself in between the rock of constant calls from the teachers and the thought that my kid might need an IEP (individualized education plan), and the uncomfortable place where you know the adults making the decisions may not have your child’s best interest in mind.

Our nation is seeing a spike in homeschooling among Black families not because Black parents are jumping at the opportunity to spend three to four hours a day teaching their kids, but because Black mothers and fathers are afraid and upset at what is happening to our Black sons and daughters within the walls of America’s education system.

My middle son is extremely intelligent, almost in a scary way. It’s never taken him longer than one hour to grasp any subject or task. At 9 years old, he’s already doing pre-algebra. His writing absolutely sucks, but he can read circles around most fourth graders. From complex books on the idiosyncrasies of computer coding to his favorite book series “Diary of a Minecraft Zombie,” reading is a subject he readily takes for granted as his mind has been allowed the space and luxury of reading whatever and whenever, within the confines of his personal library at home.

Muffy Mendoza goes over school lessons with her son Mackell, 9. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

Muffy Mendoza goes over school lessons with her son Mackell, 9. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

Looking back, my inkling was spot on the first time I visited his first-grade class at a local charter school. I knew something was off. Every worksheet the teacher handed him was completed within minutes. Every time his educator rose to the front of the class, his eyes glazed over and almost like reflex he’d start tapping his foot, playing with paper or squirming his butt in the seat.

He was bored.

And, so were the other kids. I remember sitting at the back of the class with a little copper-toned girl with pink barrettes and highwater khakis. Every time the teacher announced a new subject, she would say in a matter-of-fact voice, “Here’s this part again.” She’d then proceed to give full details as to what was about to happen next. She was labeled a kid with ‘behavior problems.’

Jair (right) and Phillip Mendoza study at their home in Sheridan on May 9, 2018. Both are homeschooled by their mother, Muffy. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

Jair (right) and Phillip Mendoza study at their home in Sheridan on May 9, 2018. Both are homeschooled by their mother, Muffy. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

At the time, my ignorance made me believe she deserved her seat at the back of the class. Maybe her announcements were depleting the lessons that would fuel the young leaders of tomorrow.

But, no.

I remember the first time the thought entered my mind to homeschool my three sons. My boys and I were walking to our neighborhood park about three weeks after my middle son’s first year of school had ended.

I said to him:

“Dada (his nickname), are you excited about going to first grade?”
“No,” he replied.
“Why not?” I said. “You’re going to learn all kinds of awesome new stuff and maybe even make some new friends.”
“Mom,” he said, “no, I’m not. They’re just going to give me the same worksheets with different numbers on them.”

Worksheets. Worksheets. Worksheets.

It’s as if Americans have not yet figured out a better way to educate our children than to give them the opportunity to do exactly what we tell them on 8x11-inch copy paper.

His words stayed with me and will stay with me until the day worksheets are banished from the American learning system. During my time as a room parent for my son’s first-grade class, I saw more worksheets pass through those children’s hands than I’d like to admit.

The longer I was in that classroom, I realized that school for Black children in America is better equated to transitional holding cells for small people who have not yet come of prison age than it is to actual learning centers.

No recess, silent lunches and yelling (a lot of yelling) are some of the daily activities that my sons told me about (and that I experienced) in their school.

Reality is that Black children don’t get an education in school. They get what I like to call a do-cation. Rather than evolving into the human beings they are divinely meant to be by exercising their birthrights of the skills, talents, intelligence and dreams they innately possess, they are told to do. Do worksheets. Do sports. Do (you fill in the blank).

For Black children in the American education system, learning is not self-expressive or expressive at all. It is a series of hoops, trials and tests that they pass or fail. If they pass, they are given their do-ploma to be able to go on to the next step of doing, not creating or determining. Their do-ploma gives them the opportunity to do more in corporate, nonprofit or judicial America.

Hence perpetuating the system that continues to churn out Black doers, instead of Black beings.

Muffy Mendoza says she didn't want to homeschool her three sons, but felt she had to because she believes America's education system is not suited for black children. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

Muffy Mendoza says she didn't want to homeschool her three sons, but felt she had to because she believes America's education system is not suited for black children. (Photo by Maranie R. Staab/PublicSource)

A being has original thoughts that do not stem from doing the bidding of others. A being becomes responsible for their thoughts and, out of that sense of obligation to fulfill their intellectual prowess, creates. A Black being would go on to create families, then communities, then economic, education and social constructs that support community.

That’s not what’s happening in school for Black children. In school, Black children lose the ability to believe in their own intellect and dreams as they are lulled to sleep with the constant demand to do.

In school, Black children are not taught about the issues facing their communities and given confidence in their ability to solve their own problems. Their problems are issues that would cease to exist if just one generation was allowed to think outside of the box about real solutions for poverty, fatherlessness or blight — instead of being given a worksheet about Johnny losing his dog.

For me, I drew the line at the worksheets, my son’s squirming and the little girl who sat at the back of the classroom patiently waiting for the inevitable time when my son would join her as a companion. That year, I pulled my sons out of school.

No, I’m not a teacher. I struggled to teach my kindergartner how to read when I pulled him out of school. I struggle every day with the tug of wanting to fulfill my own intellectual dreams and the necessity of teaching my children to solve the problems my family, my community, my race has been dealing with for the last 400 years (or more).

Homeschooling was not a part of the American dream I thought I would have access to after graduating college. Like I said, I’m not that kind of mom.

Muffy Mendoza is the founder of Brown Mamas, a movement that champions Black mothers to be the gamechangers our communities need. She is also the founder of the upcoming Brown Mama Monologues. She can be reached at brownmamas.com.

* The Brown Mama Monologues provides space for Black mothers to share their unique, vast and inspiring stories about motherhood. The Brown Mama Monologues will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the Carnegie Library Theater in Homewood. To learn more, follow this link.

  • Celinda

    About the boring worksheets–I got the impression from Muffy Mendoza’s article that only black children were given the worksheets, but I don’t think she meant to say that. I’m imagining that the whole class was given worksheets. –???

    • Renae

      You missed the point, hun.

      • Celinda

        Right, I still don’t understand the point. Are you home schooling because the needs of black students in particular aren’t being met, or because all students are short changed by excessive use of work sheets, testing, etc.?

        • Jennifer Gray

          Both. Systemic racism is showcased in our schools. Black children are suspended more, disciplined more harshly in the classroom, and the language used itself in the text books and tests are primarily sourced from white culture…thus setting children of color up to do poorly on them. (and poor children)

          A child raised in poverty is simply not the same as a child from a privileged upbringing. A child from a culture that values cooperation is not the same as a child from a culture that values individual achievement. They will score vastly different on standardized assessments.

          The people creating the tests are almost exclusively upper middle class white people, it should come as no surprise that that is the measure by which they assess success.

          Knowing this, it should not be shocking that poor kids and children of color don’t score as well on these tests. Nor is it shocking that upper middle class white kids score so well.

          Now, this does not mean poor and/or black children are any less intelligent. It just means rich white kids have the things for which the test designers are looking. Some of this is due to economic factors like greater access to private tutoring, books in the home, parents with more time to read to their kids, coming to school healthy and more focused.

          The questions themselves are biased towards people of color, one that I flagged when grading tests had to do with sun tan lines and sun screen…both things that people of color don’t have much experience with. Imagine a white child being asked to refer to black hair care products…do you think they’d be able to answer that question well with a solid point of reference? No, they wouldn’t because most white people haven’t ever even picked up a black haircare product in the store.

          So black kids stumble on the tests, while upper class white kids sail right through them. We even have a name for it: the racial proficiency gap.

          Rich white kids will have no problem jumping through the hoops. Yet, poor black and brown kids will stumble and fall – just as planned.

          This is what has become of our public schools.

          This is corporate education reform.

          This is our racist, classist school system.

          And it’s all based on standardized testing – a perfectly legal system of normalizing rich whiteness.

          • Celinda

            There were a number of poor kids (none were black) in the rural school where I taught for 18 years. The last two years I was there (2002-2004), their test scores were put in a special category called “economically disadvantaged” and the school was pressured to push the students to score better. If they didn’t, the school’s name was listed in the local paper. I don’t know whether a way was found to help those students learn after I left, or if it was just a way to rate schools. It was part of a national program called “No Child Left Behind.” I retired 14 years ago after 18 years at that school, and have been substituting every since because I still love the classroom, especially the diversity in our local school district. –Many students are improving (as shown by test scores) with a program called “Summit Learning” which has them almost constantly on the computer working at their own pace w/o interruption from other students. –The small town is fortunate to have a university, so we have a lot of diversity, not only racial but ethnic and geographic because so many of the children’s parents come from all over the world and are in medicine or higher education. I have not noticed the problems you itemized about more frequent punishment for black students, which you mention happens so much in the inner city–and wonder how broad your research is. I hope the problems in the inner city schools are successfully addressed, they must be!
            But I can’t go so far as to say this is the case everywhere, and it’s hopeless.

  • Jennifer Gray

    Worksheets are the bane of my existence! I’m the misfit homeschooler who just refuses to do them. (much to the dismay of our homeschool charter)

    That said, I took the courses to become a teacher, then decided during my student teaching that I’d rather do anything else…due to the worksheet and standardized test prep mills that we call schools. One of the courses I took was on Ethnic Diversity in the classroom and how to help children of every race and ethnicity succeed. It was a GREAT class!

    But there is no way that much of what was suggested can be implemented in a test focused class. You can’t focus on the individual needs of a child, when your goal is to get them all to pass the same test to keep your job. You can’t invest in 1×1 relationships with all your families…if you are focused on doing hours of “documentation” to show you are working on raising those test scores. You can’t go to community events and meet your students where they live…if your weekends are spent memorizing your script (yes, the district I did my student teaching in forced teachers to read from a script so every classroom was on the same thing at the same time) and grading worksheets…mountains of worksheets. Bottom line, our schools are not set up to educate children of color.

    Our teaching and administrative staff are mostly white, 84% of teachers are white in this country…and how many of them have been taught to identify their own biases and are focused on giving every child in their classroom an equal opportunity? Children growing up now NEED to see more people of color in positions of power in the classroom and higher educational world. Children of color need that representation, and white children need to see people of color as leaders.

    Now, it would be nice to see more people of color entering teaching and getting administrative credentials (we NEED more black admins!)…but it is a low paying field, high stress, not respected, and emotionally draining. So, I can understand why people of color are not lining up to join the ranks. But, it would be nice to see the school boards filled with people of color…

    • Celinda

      Thanks for the reply. I retired 14 years ago but still love a day in the classroom every once in a while (I sub in the junior and senior hs). We are fortunate to have a diverse student body in our district (black, white, various nationalities because we have a university). I see some of the problems you mention, but a lot of good, also. And the problems affect all students, not just black students–I still don’t see why you say “the schools aren’t set up to educate children of color” in particular. –I do wish more people of color would enter teaching and wish you had stayed. More black administrators are
      a definite need. And I wish there were more people of color on school boards. I belong to the NAACP and will ask about that.