I graduated my daughter from our homeschool last Spring, a month before she earned her associates degree from the Community College of Baltimore County in June. She is now across the country at her university while I still do research and community organizing in Maryland. I also continue to direct Black Family Homeschool Educators and Scholars (Have you gotten our new book?)
Earlier this month, I got wind of a proposed HB832 bill to launch an advisory council for homeschooling in Maryland. This bill was introduced by Delegate Sheila Ruth who represents Baltimore County in Maryland. Ruth, a former homeschooling mother was advised by the Maryland Homeschool Association‘s Aleesa Giampaolo Keener to create the bill. Many homeschooling advocates (myself included) were alarmed to learn of the bill because additional oversight of homeschooling as a practice could lead to detrimental impact on accessibility and freedoms that allow homeschooling families to provide optimal learning experiences for their children. Homeschooling children do not face any types of hardship or learning barriers, proportionate to their population and compartively to traditionally schooled children, that warrant a need for an advisory board. I tweeted this displeasure and was invited by Delegate Ruth to meet and talk about it.
I invited five other Black parents, from different parts of Maryland, and who are currently homeschooling their children, to the meeting with Ruth. All of these parents had concerns about the possible negative impact of an advisory board and the very real possibility that the council will not be reflective of the diverse homeschooling community in Maryland. As it is now, the only organizations in Maryland that are allowed to be umbrella organizations to facilitate portfolio reviews to gauge compliance are orgs that identify as churches. (NOTE: If this is inaccurate, I would love to be proven wrong. I have not learned of any secular orgs that are legally identified as umbrellas and not listed as a religious org). In addition, the state has historically only met with reps from the white-led groups– Homeschooling Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and Maryland Homeschool Association, and a Black-led Christian Homeschool collective* when discussing homeschool relevant policies, so there is not a history of the state being intentional with including a diverse set of representatives at the table. What about the homeschooling parents who are not Christian, are working homeschooling parents, are not in two-parent households or considered low income?
Delegate Ruth recently released this list of FAQs regarding the proposed HB832 and is sharing that there will be a Ways and Means Committee hearing on March 3 at 1pm online for people to be able to express their thoughts regarding this proposed bill.
Why is this so important for me when my daughter is no longer being homeschooled and there are no more portfolio reviews in my near future? Well, I will be honest and say that the recent attention to homeschooling due to COVID has been both a curse and a blessing. For those of us who have been homeschooling prior to COVID, it has been wonderful seeing some of the pre-conceptions about homeschooling being dismantled and folks beginning to understand that homeschooling is not some right-wing cultish practice that only white families engage in. Some are recognizing that each family’s homeschooling practice is as unique as the family. But, many have flocked to the homeschooling ecosystem to profit off of newly homeschooling families who are not yet aware of all of the possibilities that a homeschooling practice can bring. Many are still tethered to an idea of learning that looks like a classroom in a traditional school setting. When you view learning through only that lens, you are attempting to replicate a traditional school setting, unable to truly assess what the best approach could be for your children who are now in need of you, the parent, to curate their learning experience with their needs and interests in mind. This advisory board is reflective of a vision of education that is not aligned with how the majority of homeschooling parents operate. Many of us left the public schooling system because of a mass-production approach to learning.
Delegate Ruth told us in our meeting that the point of the board would be to learn how the state could best serve homeschooling families. I said that, rather than create a board, plan public forums where homeschooling families can choose to attend and share their feedback. Get better data collecting tools so that you are getting feedback from the majority instead of appointing a few folks who are not representative of the diversity within the homeschooling community. Optimize the systems that are in place instead of creating new bureacracy. For example, one of the parents in the meeting suggested having a survey presented to parents during their portfolio reviews. And, the data collected should always be about making things available to all children, not creating new ways to take away options, earn money or imprison parents within a frenzied network of policies that don’t benefit the children. I care about all of this because I would love for homeschooling to be a viable option for those after me if they so choose.