Dr King, Homeschooling, and Selective Education

I rolled out of bed late Monday morning and when we eventually turned on the Television, the Presidential inauguration was in full swing. At some point the name of Martin Luther King Jr was mentioned and Ms Action announced “I know about Martin Luther King, there is a song about him!”

“That’s why you are off of school today, it’s a holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King.”

“White people killed him mom.” She told me solemnly. “Yes they did.” I replied. “Some people think that white people are better than black people, and they killed Martin Luther King.” She was quiet for a moment, and then said “But that’s not true mom, white people and black people are the same. And we don’t need to organize buses so that white people sit in the front and black people sit in the back. Everyone can pick their own seat themselves.”

My heart swelled a little, proud of my 5 year old, and her public school, and the fact that I have been brave enough to send her to school despite years of brainwashing to believe that the schools were places of evil. I watched her stand in front of the TV and sing softly to herself “Sing about Martin, Sing about Martin, Sing about Loving, Sing about Loving, Sing about Peace, Sing about Peace, All around the World, All around the World.”

As a 5 year old, I had no idea who Dr King was. Actually, as a 15 year old I had no idea who he was. Sure I saw the holiday on the calendar, but other than his name and the fact that he was black, I didn’t know much else. I had a basic understanding of the Civil War from the reading I’d done, but other than Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, I had little understanding of the racism in the USA or the black leaders who had fought so hard for their people’s freedom. It wasn’t until I did more reading as an adult that I learned about the Civil Rights Movement and the fact that racism hadn’t magically ended with the Civil War.

As someone who grew up conservative, isolated, homeschooled and disallowed computer access until I was 18, there are many holes in my education, holes that I still continue to fill to this day.  In many school subjects I was given a very selective, prejudiced, or minimal view that was presented as absolute fact. For example, I was taught that humans never actually went to the moon, that the government had created an elaborate hoax and filmed the whole thing in Arizona somewhere. After all, “if man had really made it to the moon, than how come we never went back?” Imagine my shock when a few years ago I watched a documentary on the multiple space missions.

I feel like I often find myself in this position, sitting in front of my computer with my jaw dropped open, learning widely known things that I never knew.

I had never heard of the Civil Rights Movement. I didn’t know about Rosa Parks refusing to leave her seat on the bus, or the massive boycotts and sit-ins that resulted from her arrest. I had never heard of the unpunished murders of Emmit Till and countless others who were killed by white people who were later acquitted by all-white juries. I did not hear Dr Kings famous “I have a dream” speech, or know about his controversial and still challenging stances on poverty and war, or the circumstances of his death until I was 24 years old. Seeing this painting in a Norman Rockwell Calendar at my grandma’s was the only indication I had that there were once separate schools for white children and black children.


Somehow, the legal racial segregation and persecution that had plagued our country for 100 years after the civil war ended was forgotten and left out of my education.  

I hear many homeschoolers talk about experiencing a black hole where others chat about band class and prom and modern musicians, and I feel that as well, pop culture is still a new discovery. But another angle of unregulated homeschooling can be the misinformation about or omission of actual historical events, some of them hugely important.

I am thrilled to see my daughter learning about things I never knew. I don’t think that it’s OK that I didn’t know about these things. It’s one huge concerns I have for the continuation of homeschooling in the United States.


  • Noelle

    I have been having the opposite feelings today–I have felt for a few years that the public schools our kids attend have done a poor job of teaching them about MLK and other key people in the fight for equal rights. We recently made the decision to pull our oldest daughter out of school and homeschool for the remainder of 5th grade, and last night at B&N while shopping for school books I thought “we are going to DO Black History Month this year!” In our experience, the kids are lucky to get *any* Black History, much less a whole month of it. I’m glad your daughter is in a school that is doing such a great job teaching about MLK and the fight for equal rights. (Also, by a weird coincidence, I watched this last night http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGXTF6bs1IU&list=UUc_7Ma93pG8KTZOr_cw002w&index=5 I have only recently been aware that there are people who think the moon landing was a hoax. WTH????)

    • Melissa

      I hope your Black History Month goes well! I still think parents are their children’s first teacher, and that we can have great impact on our child’s education by sharing more detail on things that we feel are important.

  • shadowspring

    I didn’t learn hardly anything about the civil rights movement in my public school education. Oh, I did in grade school in Arlington, Va (1965-1968) but then we moved out to Oklahoma and not a word more did I ever learn. I am very grateful for all I did learn in that cutting edge elementary education located in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I modeled much of my own home education program after my early elementary education.

    I have come to realize that I am the exception rather than the rule where home schooling is considered, but I learned a tremendous amount about the Civil Right movement in order to better teach that part of history to my kids. I recognize the picture from the cover of the book about Ruby Bridges because I own that book. That book and a video about M.L. K. were just the beginning of my children’s education on the entire subject.

    We went back to the Reconstruction Era and started there. Since we were still pretty religious, I especially loved Dave and Neta Jacksons Trailblazer books, “The Forty Acre Swindle” “The Defeat of the Ghostriders” and “Journey to the End of the Earth”, historical fiction centered on Gearge Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, and William Seymore respectively. I bought lots of books from Scholastic, and then we got into the Civil Rights movement more in depth in jr. high. We actually met a woman who took place in the March on Selma and got to see her scrapbook!

    I learned about more than just history from that brave women (she was white, and that was seriously frowned upon in those days- another white woman and the black friends riding in her car were killed that weekend). I also learned that we are all a product of our times. She married an African immigrant and had a child. Her husband died tragically, and she was left to raise her daughter alone. I met her when she was in a nursing home. Her daughter was not proud of her mom for challenging racial barriers, but told her mom that she was wrong to marry a black man. Ironic isn’t it? I still remember the pain and confusion on the old woman’s face as she puzzled over the issue, truly confused and embarrassed that she had done the wrong thing when all her life she thought it the heroic and right thing to do.

    Anyway, I am sorry that you didn’t get the education you deserved, and very proud of you for letting you kids get out there and experience things you never did. Peace and good will. :-)

    • Melissa

      What an amazing experience to meet with someone who could relate some of the story first hand. Like I replied in the comment below, I am certainly not saying that all homeschoolers exclude civil rights from education. And I recognize that public schools can fall down on the job depending on the region and the time. I want better accountablity for everyone.

      • shadowspring

        Me too!

    • http://myveganchristianlife.blogspot.com Val

      Wow Shadowspring! Your story is amazing.
      I am encouraged by your list of resources and books. I’m going to look into to all of those for my son.
      Thanks so much for sharing!

  • shadowspring

    Place = part, took part in the March on Selma.

  • wildknits

    Bravo on your daughter picking up on the spirit of the teaching in her classroom!

    As a parent who homeschooled my kids I do feel a need to defend homeschoolers a bit. I tried to expose our children to a wide variety of experiences and knowledge and sought out opportunities for our kids to be involved in the community, exposed to diversity and able to interact with people who held a variety of views on various topics. And I was not alone in my efforts, having a group of similarly minded folks locally and regionally to join forces with and share resources.

    Thanks for keeping your blog going – have been passing it along to friends.

    • Melissa

      I recognize that there is a large variety of experiences in homeschooling, and I’m certainly not saying that all homeschoolers do not learn about civil rights. However, what the children do learn is largely up to the discretion of the parents, who could teach their kids pretty much anything. Of course, this can also happen in public schools, with localized small school boards choosing to change or exclude important matters from curriculum as they see fit, but at least it is more than one person hashing it out. I feel that there should be more accountability somehow for both public and private schools and homeschoolers.

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  • e

    I think the holes would get smaller if the parents were more involved, regardless of school/homeschool. There is only so much a state appointed body can do. Should there be basic standards? Sure. There usually are, for both school/homeschool. Who decided them? Are they what you would consider a well rounded education? Do you think something is over/under emphasized? Even if a curriculum taught in schools is thorough on paper (the ones around here are a joke), there are numerous reasons why it may not make it to the kids. There are only so many hours in a schoolday and if those hours are interrupted (misbehavior, explanations of subject matter, assisting struggling students) not all of it is going to be taught. Another issue is not every school system follows the same process of relaying information. There is a vast amount of knowledge that can be passed on; what do we teach in elementary? What can wait until they junior high? High school? If one school teaches a certain topic in a certain grade, but the child moves to another school that taught it in a different grade, the child may miss it altogether. An involved parent can make all the difference because they can expand upon what the child is learning in a personal way. It really is more on the parents than the school to make sure their child is learning a wide variety of basic information, because no school is going to care as much about your child as you will. Yes, we need to work to better the education system. But, in the mean time, we as parents must be aware of what they know, what they don’t know, and take care to bridge the gap between the two.

    • e

      *oops. Hit post too soon. I also wanted to say I’m sorry you missed out on quite a bit. I don’t know the extent of that kind of disadvantage, but your curiosity seems to be alive and well. You could have accepted what you were taught and shut down all outside voices. Instead, you challenged it and are now working your way through so much. You also want to give your kids the world you didn’t have. Now, on some things, you can start to explore them together and that is a ton of fun. I have a blast doing this with mine, filling in my (small in comparison) holes while introducing them to something new. Or, all of us learning something completely different, with a book/computer in one hand and the utensil/tool/fire in the other! I know I want to always keep learning and I want to pass on that desire to my kids. I fully intend to be on my deathbed and still wanting to learn lol!

      • Melissa

        Thanks e! I also look forward too and enjoy learning new things with my kids. :)

  • shadowspring

    The main point- that many Christian home school parents skip the Civil Rights movement- is still valid. The fact that the same could happen if a child moves from one state or district to another doesn’t change the reality that with no basic standards for home schooling, many religious parents only teach the history that they think makes their religion/politics look good.

    • e

      I agree there are families that do that. I’ve seen them and its not pretty. I’ve seen the schools do it, too. It’s wrong in both cases. I think you have more luck with encouraging parents to get involved with their children’s education than with petitioning a governmental body to change regulations. The ones in charge of making sure homeschool regulations are followed are the same people that make sure the schools are teaching certain subjects also. If they cannot take care that these subjects are explained in a situation where they control a great number of things, how can they make sure what is taught in a situation where they have little control? Many schools are failing in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. If you can’t get the basics down, you can’t build anything upon it (like civil rights in this and other countries). I guess what I am pointing to is I don’t think this is a homeschool problem specifically, though it may be more obvious in homeschooling families. I think its a national issue. I’m just more for a bottoms up approach (one on one family and friends encouraging each other to be aware of the world around them and teaching their children to be good, educated members of the human race) than a top down (outside regulations dictating what is important and when). While regulations will by necessity be concerned with bare minimums, one on one people can be encouraged to learn more and delve deeper into a subject.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    Melissa, I was homeschooled, and experienced this exact same thing. I didn’t learn much about civil rights, slavery, and much else. That said, I do feel that I made up for the gaps quickly, and I don’t think its a life and death issue.
    But I do agree with your underlining thesis that homeschooling, generally speaking, gives children one perspective of the world. I had my parents, and that’s about it. My parents friends don’t count because they came from the same mold. I think its extremely unusually for homeschool parents to spend the time needed to expose their children to other perspective, and I don’t think its always intentional. Granted, the homeschool leaders intentionally influenced parents like mine to brainwash us, but not all parents get involved in what we did. Yet I feel as if many homeschoolers didn’t get other perspectives.

    Perhaps some people would say public schoolers end up in the same boat. I wouldn’t know.

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  • sara

    I, too, was not given much info on MLK, except that I was told he was a womanizer. (So were many “heroes” in the Bible). Only in my late 20′s did I actually read and was able to appreciate his many contributions. I didn’t learn about the Trail of Tears or the other horrific persecutions of Native nations either. Nor did I know about the American concentration camps for Japanese Americans during WWII. The homeschooling of the religious right still upholds a whitewashed version of America’s founding and past. So much so, that the anger and shock that is felt when the whole truth comes out is almost paralyzing. God help me if I do not do what I can to right these incredible wrongs. Because their effects are still being felt by these people groups today.

    • http://myveganchristianlife.blogspot.com/ Val

      Wow Sara!
      As a black woman who attended public school in southern California, I don’t remember hearing a lot of detail about the civil rights movement in class. Most of what I learned was on my own through media.(movies, news stories, etc.) I actually hadn’t heard about Dr King’s “womanizing” until my early 40′s. (I’m 48 now). I do remember finding that incredibly frustrating that people would focus on that when like you mentioned, many biblical heroes had issues with women as well.

      I’m homechooling my 7 year old son who’s biracial and we watched a wonderful documentary on Netflix last week about Dr. King and the civil rights movement. I noticed in the suggestion box a film called Brother Outsider. Curious, I watched it alone later. I had no idea that one of the major players in the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington was an openly gay man from a Quaker background. Have you ever heard of Bayard Rustin Melissa? I never had. His story was inspiring and sad. As a homeschool mom of a black/biracial child, my intent is to make sure he does learn all he can about our history, the good and the bad.
      I’m suspicious of what I suspect as the whitewashing you mentioned Sara in Christian homeschool curriculum that I come across.
      Ok, sorry for rambling. lol. I am just really enjoying this discussion and it gives me a lot more to think about in terms of my sons’ education. :-)

      • Melissa

        I have not heard of Bayard Rustin, sounds like a really interesting story. I’m off to look him up!

  • http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org/ ‘Becca

    I’m so glad that your daughter is learning about civil rights in school and that you are catching up now! You might be interested in my reviews of some books about civil rights for adults.

    Some of the home-schooled kids I’ve known have had weird gaps in their education, sometimes because of their parents’ ideology, sometimes just because their parents didn’t know much about the topic so didn’t bother covering it. It’s true that this kind of gap can happen in schools, too, but it’s less likely with more people involved in arranging the curriculum.

    One of the things that irritates me about a lot of the pro-home-schooling arguments I see/hear is the assumption that children who go to school can’t learn anything from their parents and won’t know how to learn on their own because that ability will somehow be destroyed by school. I knew from my own childhood that this wasn’t correct, and I’m seeing that my son learns a lot in his time at home as well as at school. For example, on Martin Luther King Day he made his own educational game!