Let’s talk Diversity in Home Ed Curriculum, shall we?

If you’ve followed my home-ed journey for a while, you would know that I am a big fan of  both the Charlotte Mason and Christian Classical Education approaches.

It’s been ‘thought-provoking’ to read the recent strong reactions to these two education philosophies from both sides of the race camp over the past two weeks. I’ve seen both people of colour and white mums decry the whitewashed context and sometimes blatant racist symbolism and references within Charlotte Mason and Classical Education. 

Whilst I don’t deny the validity of these criticism as it’s been my experience also, (the picture of page 3 of The Little Grammar People suddenly comes to mind), I however find the sudden shock and outrage, somewhat bemusing. It is as though until #BLM, everyone’s eyes were closed to the inherent systemic and historic racial bias against people of colour within the canon of western education. Everywhere I turn, I hear well-meaning people saying I’m listening. My eyes have been opened. I don’t get it. Why were you desensitized before?

I was alarmed when I read one mum’s post calling for the burning of Charlotte Mason’s books in a closed FB group! Really, sis? We might as well burn down every library in the West or find one of those memory erasing machines seen in sci-fi movies to wipe out chunks of literature and history books in most people’s memories. The dehumanising of black people or the systemic effacing of our agency within history is inherently built into the fabric of Western education but, this is not the point of my post.

Ok, flippancy aside, I can imagine and therefore empathise with the shock and cognitive dissonance a well-meaning home-ed parent could feel if they suddenly realise that they’ve been led up the garden path in their choice of educational resources. It’s like the rude awakening one gets when as a teenager, you suddenly realise that half of what you believe about how the world works were cute white lies your parents may have told you in their attempt to protect your innocence or in their well-meaning ignorance. Perhaps the call for burning books is a bit like confronting your parents about their outdated worldview.

I can imagine the sense of gut-wrenching shame any goodhearted parent may feel when confronted with the fact that some of the wholesome and delightful feast you’ve been feeding your children through suggested Living books within Charlotte Mason curriculum for example, may have racist undertones and, you missed it. To quote one African American mum who has been writing about racist undertones within recommended Living Books since 2018 puts it, it’s a bit like hiding bits of ‘vomit’ amidst a seemingly delicious feast. Ordinarily, I’d like to say pardon my use of such repulsive analogy but given how repugnant unconscious bias is when left unchecked, it would be wrong of me to make this sound any sweeter.  Thank you @heritagemomblog for this aptly phrased analogy.

If you are still unclear as to why I find the sudden outrage over racist connotations in Classical and Charlotte Mason curriculum bemusing, let me break it down here. I can’t understand how any non-white or anti-racist white person could walk into classical education or an 18th Century Victorian educator’s terrain, given what we know of their dark history and not expect to find bits of goop here and there. The point of the debate at this point for me, isn’t about the existence of racist connotations or the lack of positive black representation in these books. The point at this juncture for me is, for those of us who for what every reasons, want to keep subscribing to these educational traditions, do when (not if) we find said goop within our children’s education.

    My first response therefore to the issue of how we deal with the lack of diversity within Charlotte Mason and Classical tradition is first not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    As a Black, British-African, Christian woman, I recognise and accept that Charlotte Mason, an 18th Century British, Christian, female educator was a by-product of her time. She was born within twenty years of slavery being abolished in Britain, which meant that the US and the French were still trading in slaves during her lifetime. Whilst she may have been motivated by a vision to help poor children within her own society, majority of the teachers and parents she educated were the well-educated, upper-middle-class. This is not to say Charlotte Mason wasn’t without her own fair share of personal struggles. She was orphaned aged 16 which meant she had to drop out of college after one year of studies. She later suffered from a grave illness that left her paralysed for a considerable time. For a woman in that era, I find it admirable that she was able to overcome all that to become a formidable educator and prolific writer whose insight into human nature and how children learn offers a philosophy of education which still works like a charm on my urban, black son, 200 years later. As a Christian, her principles and methods closely align with my understanding of all humans being made in the image and likeness of God. how God sees and interacts with me.

    Without Charlotte Mason, our home education journey would be dry, mundane and cumbersome. I love how she encourages me to be a better Christian mother by seeing my child as a masterpiece ‘poema’ of God which means respecting his opinions and insights and his unique way of experiencing the world.  My job therefore is to become less of a teacher but to act as a co-labourer in bringing forth all that God has already placed inside the child. Charlotte Mason encourages me to make time for myself as a home educator. For her, it is the Holy Spirit who is the supreme educator, which suggests that I must do my best to point, guide, facilitate and get out of the way. As a facilitator my role is to point my child towards a rich, inspiring beautiful feast of the mind that is relevant to the world around him.

    She inspires me to bring my whole self to my son’s home education process. I bring my creativity, my faith, my skills, my passions as well as my intellectual and cultural preferences to create a unique learning environment that is well suited for my family. This kind of gentle, all-encompassing and spirit led learning has given me the tools to cultivate the love of learning in my strong-willed, curious, book loving, intuitive, quick to synthesize and outdoorsy black child.

    Does this mean I condone or accept all things Charlotte Mason? No way!  On the contrary, I often find myself cringing…wait, scratch that. I often find myself rolling my eyes, sucking my teeth and then quickly supplanting most her nationalistic, classist, Victorian sensibilities with bits of my own urban, bi-cultural preferences whilst upholding her principles and methods. This is the luxury I have as a home educator, to pick and choose what my child learns at home. 

      Classical Education

      As a black Christian parent, it is my responsibility to ensure a delineate the point where my faith inspired education stops and where Western Greco-Roman/imperialist cultural indoctrination begins. In case you are wondering, the alternative, i.e. secular education isn’t any better when it comes dealing with the roots of racism. I would argue that there we find a more insidious yet potent enemy with decades of empirical evidence justifying the violent subjugation of Africans who are considered to be much like apes and therefore need to be cultivated by force. Again, that’s a post for another day. Having been educated mostly in the West, I am fully aware that Western, Liberal Arts Christian Education which includes Charlotte Mason curricula does not reflect my black experience or perspective of history. Given what I know of history, it might even seem patronising or suspicious if suddenly every mainstream curriculum provider started including black stories and faces in their materials, especially if done without working with black educators as equal partners. In as much as I love Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Series, I’m always weirded out that a Scottish, middle-aged white man is writing in the first-person voice of a black, curvy, traditional yet formidable Southern African woman. Weird picture , right? I take the same vigilant approach with reading Classical Education resources as I do with Charlotte Mason recommended living books. The Well-Trained Mind is one of my top 3 go to resource of how to educate at home. If I’m honest I enjoy reading Susan Wise Bauer’s-Story of the World series more than my son. However, I still read it out loud to my son with my eyes wide open for narratives that don’t correlate with my history and experience as a black person.  One of the first sayings I added to my son’s Charlotte Mason Morning Time basket when we first started home schooling was this African saying: ‘The tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter until the lion begins to tell his tale.’ It is important that our children understand early in that education that all learning is value-laden and bias to author worldview, even in science. In as much as we would like to continue serving our children the “delectable”, “true, good and beautiful” feast we still need to remain woke enough to critically evaluate the content of our children’s education against our experience as people of colour. Education isn’t a passive experience. The information we offer our children should never be shared without room for reflection and questioning of the validity of the ‘truth’ that is being offered. It is at this point of cramming of facts with little analysis that I part company with Classical approach in favour of Charlotte Mason. Ms Mason advocates giving children space to process what they have learnt, which I call allowing God to help you connect the dots. In our home, we don’t just cram or narrate what we’ve learnt, we engage with it and question it even. If it is offensive or doesn’t sit well with everything else, we chuck it out. See friend, need to burn anything.

      I believe it is our responsibility as educated people of colour to use our education and abilities to insert our version of the story in the continuum of western classical or CM education. After all,  it is also our history now and has been so for the past 400 years.

      10 ways to circumvent racist ideas and embrace diversity within our home education curriculum

      1. Try not to limit yourself within the confines of a single curriculum for any subject. No single curriculum is perfect. Pick and choose what works for you and your children in keeping with your preferred educational philosophy.
      2. Actively seek to substitute or supplement recommended mainstream education materials with Black, African, Asian or any minority ethnic literature, history, art and music that suits you. I will be packaging my experience of infusing black literature and history into Charlotte Mason -inspired Morning Time and making this available to you for a monthly subscription of £10 in the coming week.
      3. Offer your children a menu of multicultural stories, sayings, games and songs as part of your daily home learning ritual.
      4. When you or your children eventually come across a racist or demeaning statement or symbolism in your home learning which you will, use the incident as teachable moment or simply chuck it out.
      5. If your children are in primary school age, try to pre-read their suggested books and curriculum materials beforehand.
      6. Make critical thinking an integral part of your home education process. Give your children the permission to question ideas that don’t sit well with them.
      7. As your kids get older, try to encourage them to see different sides to each story by drawing from several resources even ones you disagree with.
      8. Use mealtimes or transition times, to solicit your children’s opinions on controversial topics or themes you may have come across in your learning or in the news. “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument”.
      9. Use age appropriate movies or black family sitcoms like Blackish or Fresh Prince of Bel Air to discuss sensitive race related issues with your children.
      10. Encourage your children to link or apply what they are learning academically to real life situations which may or may not include black and or urban lifestyle experiences.
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