Slaves, Heroes and Communists: Home Schooling and Race Education
About the author: Annelise Pierce blogs at www.annelisepierce.com. She spends her days being a mom first and a free-lance writer second while spending as much time as humanly possible thinking and reading about the issues that she cares about most. Annelise has lived all over the map, first with the Navy and then in East Africa. Now she and her family are having a quiet rooted time in the Beautiful Northern California.
I was home schooled my whole childhood or “all the way through” as the home school community proudly refers to it. My family of origin is intelligent, curious, and out-of-the-box. That’s probably what led them to home educate, a way of life that allowed them to emphasize their particular form of intelligence and indulge their curiosity and worldviews with a rapt audience of six – children, that is.
My mother taught me all I knew about history. I didn’t have the internet to turn to in those days and every library book I brought home was carefully checked over for appropriateness. Some were turned away, even books about historical fiction. Some were not considered appropriate. I was never sure why, as my hurried and discrete pre-review behind the library aisles had not yielded any sign of falling in love, bodies touching or other topics that might anger my mother. Over time I learned from her that some people’s ideas of history were threatening, even dangerous. That much of the world wanted to teach me a series of lies and that if I believed them I too would be a bad person. This was why we didn’t read a lot of those kinds of books.
This left me with an ever-present feeling of vague dread and a deep distrust for the world around me. I realize only now that perhaps it is part of why I never liked history much. It seemed like endless stories of war with dubious winners and a thousand dates to memorize. I found few heroes there, few people I would wish to emulate or who led me to dream of how I myself could change the world.
My mother had a hero though. He was Robert E Lee, a southern general during the Civil War. We celebrated his birthday with cake most years. I still remember that.
I remember too, hearing about some of the villains of history. There were the obvious ones such as Hitler and Stalin. And some that remained shrouded in mystery such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, evil in a way that I did not understand and which was never talked about.
In my twelve years of schooling I never learned more about Martin Luther King than that he was a communist.
Needless to say we did not eat cake or get a day off on his birthday – with home schooling, you get to choose your own holidays.
No, we never learned about MLK, we just skipped right over that part of the A Beka textbook, because even Christian textbooks aren’t all good. We did, however, learn lots about the War Between the States. Not the Civil War . . . . we were carefully taught that that name itself was propaganda. Books on the War Between the States populated our shelves and we learned in detail how a few bad slave owners were used to color the whole bunch of slave owners and make them all look bad. Most of them, we were taught, were actually a kind group of people who were doing the best they could to look after the African slaves and give them a chance at a good life.
This puzzled and worried me as I have always had a strong sense of justice for as long as I can remember and the idea of slavery always felt so wrong. To add to my puzzlement, I remember that we had home schooling friends growing up who believed slavery was still a healthy way of life. They called themselves theonomists – they were looking to create slave relationships but somehow it hadn’t worked out yet. I remember wondering as I watched their two cute young children, how you went about finding someone to be your slave? It seemed strange, dark and frightening, yet they looked so normal. I wondered how their children would grow up.
Now, at thirty-four I have found new friends and new perspectives – ones that fit my deep calling to justice. I am still exploring the great big wide world of history as seen with no blinders on. My heroes are MLK, Ghandi and Mandela. I am reading my way through Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series and loving every minute of it. I follow Feminista Jones and I learn every day about what race is and how it shapes me and those around me. I teach my children about white privilege. We read and reread books about Ruby Bridges and they marvel at a little girl’s courage to stand up for equality.
History will always be a matter of perspective. But the wonder of multiple history teachers is that we learn over time that each person’s perspective on history is different; that even those recording the “facts” have their own bias. That is what I missed when I home schooled “the whole way through.” And that is what my children could so easily have missed too, had I drunk the Kool-aid and continued the home educating cycle without reading and learning outside of the boundaries I had been given.
This is what can make home education dangerous – propaganda. Yes, that very word I learned to fear growing up, used so often about the “left wing”, “communists” and public schools is very much a part of home education too. It surfaces in a million ways with a million stories. And as it touches our young, developing brains, it shapes the very fabric of who we are.
I’m glad that I am someone else now.