Many of the recent conversations in home educator spaces around anti-racism have been both encouraging and depressing. Perhaps they unveil how white the homeschooling landscape is. I use “homeschooling” to mean education outside of school as a globally recognised term, rather than in reference to a specific education or parenting approach. By “white” I don’t just mean that the community largely consists of people who present as white but that whiteness is an idea many home educators buy into either through the myth of individualism or by upholding colonial concepts of what childhood and education are. Where to from here? Lots of home educating parents want to do the work – the following is to encourage us all to think further. Lots don’t see the point of talking about racism in the context of homeschooling. If that’s you, come even closer. You need to hear this.
Homeschooling is political
Homeschooling is a movement by virtue of the fact that families who choose it step outside of the mainstream system. More than that, home educating families remove themselves from society’s primary established support network for parents and children. As inadequate as the school system is, choosing to leave it places us together and makes it urgent that we look after each other. A threat to one is a threat to all. I was aware of this when writing about home education for The Telegraph last year. Although at the time I still saw my family as semi-structured in our approach, I knew that the risks attached to potential compulsory monitoring could affect all of us and therefore I needed to argue the cause of unschoolers. Like it or not, we are a community.
Community is inherently political in the sense of thinking about who has access to it. Who can afford to home educate? That’s not to say that everyone who home educates is wealthy. Realistically a lot of people choosing this path are making hard financial or career decisions. But harder decisions need to be made by people who are economically vulnerable. This may be a roadblock for working class people who present as white but poverty disproportionately affects Black and brown families here in the UK. When we make home education accessible to those who most struggle to be able to choose it, we make it more accessible to everyone.
What can we do about this? Advocate for universal basic income. It’s more than a social justice issue. It’s about racial justice.
We also need to talk about funding. Do we push the government to give home educators financial support or allow home educated children to audit classes in schools? The worry is usually that support for some could entail registration, regulation and monitoring for all. There are no easy answers here. Could we push for the government to finance exams for home educated children who would like to take them? Could we organise or contribute to funds for home educating families in severe financial insecurity, especially families who experience systemic racism?
When we ask who can afford to home educate, we’re not just talking finances. Families who are not white potentially risk a lot more by stepping outside of the school system. Bodies like local education authorities and social services may judge them more severely. Concern about qualifications and employability is often greater. We may have opted out of the mainstream education system by home educating but we have a responsibility to challenge it. Others need the freedom to step out of it or to stay in it.
Collective education doesn’t have to look the way that schooling does. Free, mainstream education could be rebuilt on respect for children’s autonomy, support for their interests and recognition of more representative methods for giving evidence of learning. As it currently stands, coercive education reinforces racism, colonialism, ableism and perhaps every other system of oppression. Keep an eye on the consent-based education movement and more immediately on the campaign to scrap GCSEs.
Parenting is political
And yes, there is an element of this which is smaller-scale, individual work. Anti-racism starts at home. It’s wrapped up in the books, toys and media you bring into your home. What your kids observe you consume. How you speak about others. Who you mix with. How you model critical reading and thinking. The way you address your privilege. The open conversations you have with your children and others about racism. You are either working with your children to dismantle white supremacy or you are upholding it. It doesn’t start with diversifying your home library, though that should be part of it. It starts with educating yourself. That doesn’t need to mean you read lengthy books if that’s not your learning style. From film and television to supportive courses to radio and podcasts there are many, many other ways of accessing the information you need. Stories can be just as helpful if not more helpful than non-fiction. They enter us in more visceral ways.
Home education groups
Anti-racist work affects the way you run your groups. Are your groups culturally safe and genuinely welcoming to all? Are you involving people of colour who attend in decision making? Do discussions recognise the intersectionality with which people come to homeshooling and conflict resolution? Are families both free and welcome to share their culture if they want to? Are you able and willing to spot racism and call people in?
If this sounds like hard work, that’s because re-conditioning is. That’s not a reason to avoid doing it. Just because someone hasn’t said they’re uncomfortable in your space doesn’t mean they feel comfortable. If you feel like you need more support with this, that’s fine! Start the discussion about how to get more support. Could you work together with others to undertake some anti-racist training? Is there an informal way of gathering with others to collectively do this work through discussion?
If you don’t think this is something that needs to be talked about in homeschooling spaces, it could be that you haven’t had to think about it. Racism doesn’t always look like racial slurs and overt exclusion. If you don’t think it’s present, maybe that’s because you haven’t been personally affected by it. Even if you don’t want to face that, disconnecting from society and the oppression of others isn’t just undesirable – it isn’t possible. Opting out keeps the problem alive.