Laronda Griffin was born to educate. As a child, she remembers setting up her dolls in a fantasy classroom and playing teacher.
“I’m literally a teacher by heart,” Griffin said. “I’m always trying to teach someone something. I just love doing it.
Griffin’s mother was a music teacher for more than 30 years, but, she said, her love of education doesn’t stem from that. It was her learning experience in St. Louis’ City and County Public Schools that fueled her thirst for learning.
“By high school, I felt like I couldn’t do the basics (literacy and math). So I had to figure out how to teach myself.”
Griffin said she flunked second grade, which was heartbreaking because her twin sister was ahead of her in school. Griffin caught up in 8th grade by taking extracurricular classes. Because of this performance, she and her twin sister graduated together.
Griffin, who went on to earn a master’s degree in education, has five children who she has homeschooled since birth. She’s planning her eldest son’s graduation. This milestone coincides with her 18 years as a parent.
Griffin said she chose to homeschool her children because she felt disadvantaged as a public school student. Her goal is to ensure that her children have the necessary foundations of education so they can determine how they will navigate and thrive in life.
This goal has not been derailed by the coronavirus. Across the country, parents have had to conform to an educational environment that has been drastically changed by COVID-19. Many struggling financially had to find ways to ensure their children could study from home. They have had to cope with academic and social disruptions and fear that their children could become infected in hybrid education.
“That’s something we didn’t have to worry about,” Griffin said, emphasizing the value of homeschooling her children. She added that as a homeschooling mom, she was prepared for alternative education.
“We’re used to this lifestyle,” Griffin explained. “If you’re homeschooling and you’re trying to maneuver between costs and ways to support it, you’re going to have to take all sorts of classes anyway. There was a year when I completed all the virtual courses. I did hybrid learning before COVID. I’ve tried all sorts of curricula. It all depends on the needs of the child. This enabled me to choose exactly what works best for each child.”
Still, Griffin has sympathy for public school kids.
“I felt sorry for these kids who are very social and couldn’t be with their friends. They went completely virtual and had to sit in front of a computer all day and they’re not used to that,” Griffin said. “I also felt for the parents who were so used to having their children in school that had to fight to stay home and educate them. Because I found something good in it (the pandemic restrictions), I was like, hey, ‘guys, you’re going to be fine.'”
Griffin’s biggest challenge over the past two years has been trying not to be perceived as a “bad mommy” because of her strict home safety protocols, the fact that she restricted her child’s social activities with her school friends and couldn’t bring them up to the Boy’s & Girls Club or the YMCA, where they usually socialize.
“I didn’t want my kids to think mom was the bad guy because they couldn’t understand what was going on in the nation. But then again, I didn’t want them to bring anything back into the house. So I was between a rock and a hard spot.”
Homeschooling has increased across the country, largely due to the pandemic. The most notable increase was seen among black families. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that as of April 2020, 3% of black households were homeschooling their children. That number rose to 16% by October 2020 and continues to rise.
While COVID-19 has indeed been a catalyst for more homeschooling, other factors apply to black parents. A February 2022 Time.com article highlighted concerns such as racism in schools, parental frustration with whitewashed history classes, disproportionately higher discipline rates for black students, and the lack of black educators (only 7% of public school teachers are black). listed. Another reason given is the politically motivated attempt to eliminate Critical Race Theory (CRT) from schools, even though it is not part of the public school curriculum in this country.
Griffin’s decision to homeschool came before most of those factors became “issues.” For example, she dismissed the CRT revolt as “nonsense.”
“People just want to find things that get them excited,” Griffin said matter-of-factly.
Key to her decision to homeschool was her desire to embed her values in what her children read, hear, and are taught.
“It’s more in line with my doctrine. For example, I want my children to pray whenever they want. I don’t want them to be told what they had to learn, what they couldn’t learn… I don’t want any of that.”
Although her motivation is not based on race, Griffin understands that “race” plays a role in the educational process.
“I realize that the story is really ‘his story.’ So if I think it’s not really useful for what they need to know, I’m not really emphasizing it,” Griffin said, adding, “I give them history, but if I don’t believe everything from his story it enriches their lives.” then I do not teach it.”
Griffin said she willingly sacrificed the salary that a teacher with a master’s degree can make. For nearly 20 years, she had to find creative ways to fund her decision. Child tax credits were used to fund textbooks and educational materials each year. She experimented with running a day care center but had trouble tolerating parents bringing their sick children to her home. She managed independent contracts and was working from home booking passengers for Carnival Cruise Lines before the pandemic began in 2020. When COVID-19 ended cruising, so did Griffin’s performance.
Homeschooling hasn’t exactly protected Griffin from COVID. At the end of last year, she and her husband contracted the virus. As cautious as she was about her children bringing the virus into the home, it was Griffin who contracted it and passed it on to her husband. She’s not 100% sure, but Griffin thinks she got it from one of the employees at her financial services company.
“I was like, ‘Okay, who came in here and didn’t tell anyone?'”
She laughs about it now, but Griffin said it was scary for a while. Although her children did not become infected, the fear was felt for about two weeks. That’s how long it took the couple to recover from the virus.
Overall, Griffin said her homeschooling experience has made her “rich.”
“I love my kids and I really love my life,” Griffin gushed. “If my children get sick, Mommy will nurse them back to health.
“So I’m rich in spirit, energy and spirit. I’m rich because I could be with my kids and nobody had to tell me what to do and how to raise them.”
Sylvester Brown Jr. is the first Deaconess Fellow of The St. Louis American.