For the second year in a row, we have begun school on the road. This year’s trip didn’t leave us soaked, but it is a watershed in American history:
Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School.
This majestic institution, built for $1.5 million in the late 1920’s (the “separate-but-equal” Paul Laurence Dunbar High had to raise its own funds from the black community), was once at the epicenter of national turmoil, the tumultuous aftermath of a simple idea. The legal argument based upon this idea went all the way to the Supreme Court. African-American homeschooling pioneer Paula Penn-Nabrit (niece of Attorney James Nabrit, who fought alongside Attorney Thurgood Marshall in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas) suggests that the real source of the fight was markedly different than its resolution:
‘I really think there has been a broad-based misunderstanding of the controlling argument in the historic Brown case. That case didn’t turn on the argument that in order for black children to receive a good education they had to be educated by and in the presence of white people. The argument was that it was not possible to support the premise of separate-but-equal in the absence of unequal funding and facilities.’ (Nabrit, pg. 61)*
The desegregation of public schools became one means of securing that equity in funding and facilities.
The story of Little Rock’s Central High School, in the wake of this court case, became legendary. There are literally hundreds of images online of the Arkansas National Guard standing in front of the entrances, with then Governor Faubus refusing to give an order for them to stand down. It doesn’t take much research to see the angry, racist faces holding up signs that suggested that school integration was synonymous to communism. And then there are the “Little Rock Nine,” the final group of black students who survived a variety of weed-out rules, familial threats, and sundry persecutions to eventually walk through the front doors in pursuit of an education. The monument below, prominently displayed at the Arkansas Capitol building, does not show the storied 101st Airborne Division that surrounded each of these kids and accompanied them individually to their classrooms. Also missing are the faces of hatred that were held back by heavy artillery as these students climbed the stairs.
I won’t use this space to recount details of their history; there are plenty of places where you can read it for yourself. One of my personal favorites is Melba Patillo Beals’ Warriors Don’t Cry. What struck me during this second visit was how the fight for quality education has evolved, but yet, how much the battle cry remains the same. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner stated the following in 2014.
‘In America, a good education is the great equalizer, something that gives our children the chance to fulfill their potential no matter how they fared in the lottery of life. That’s why the more we can do to empower parents to pick and choose the schools that best meet their kids’ needs, the better. It’s one way for us to live up to our billing as the “Land of Opportunity.” (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/01/22/why-
Where does homeschooling fit into this whole scenario? Well, for African-Americans, it might be the best solution for the continuing institutionalized racism that defines public school systems. Antonio Buehler articulates it well in his post entitled “Black Kids Should Homeschool.” He speaks very candidly to the fact that not much is expected of our students, anyway, and so the challenging opportunities are limited or non-existent. Teri at naturalhomeschooling.com expands on this crisis, speaking to the lack of inclusive history in public school curriculum (a subject that is near and dear to my heart).
What is there to do with our opportunity as home educators, even for those parents who cannot or who will not homeschool? We can make the most of what we have, whatever that means for you. You might not be in a position to take extended field trips once per month, or even once per year, but you can take action each day. Passion? Determination? A commitment to learning? Excellence? That is the spirit behind the real fight for quality education, then and now.
- Pray over your children.
- Serve others.
- Spend intentional time with your family.
- Read to your children, no matter the age.
- Discuss their opinions on current events (which means you have to allow them space to speak, and you must listen).
- Make them learn, but let them play.
- Expose them to music and art.
- Give them something to think about.
‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
Margaret Mead, cultural anthropologist, author, speaker
*Penn-Nabrit, Paula. Morning by Morning: How We Homeschooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League. New York: Villard Books, 2003.