Our Less Traveled Path
- Joyce Burges Contributing Writer
- 2006 10 Oct
My story began on a rainy afternoon. It was after two o'clock, and it was wet and cold outside. I was caring for my toddler and enjoying a cup of hot chamomile tea. To me, life couldn't get any better. My husband was at his office, and three of our children were in school "getting a good education." I was about to put another log on the fire when the telephone rang. It was the guidance counselor from my oldest son's school. Her voice was professional and cold. Almost as cold as it was outside. She informed me that my husband and I needed to come to the school the next day for a parent-teacher session. Unpleasant thoughts flooded my mind.
I was comforted by the fact that my husband and I had informed the school's officials that we were available whenever necessary. I was PTO President and Chairman of the Advisory Board. I was very involved in my children's school life. So, all was well--my being involved assured an excellent education for my children, right? I was deceived. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to hear.
When we met with the counselor, she informed us that our son, Eric, was failing. When Eric had entered the school, his grade point average was 3.0, the minimum to attend this facility. She told us that his grade point average had dropped to 2.8--a blight on the reputation of the school. The counselor said that we had two choices: place our son in a school across town or have him repeat this grade next year if he remained at this school. The counselor assured me there was no hope that my son could bring his grade point average up again--and this was November! I pleaded with the counselor. I would work harder with him. He would bring his grades up. My husband and I would see to it. I promised her. But it would not do. The counselor's position was firm. Her suggestions stood.
As the counselor rose to coldly escort us out of her warm and comfortable office, tears welled in my eyes. I could not look at my husband. I was embarrassed to think that maybe he was tearing up as well. You see, our hope and faith were in the educational system. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had given us all a dream. But what I have come to know now is that, as respectable and great as Dr. King's dream was and is, it was his dream for Black Americans. Having shared that dream for many years, I know now that God was giving us a dream that would encompass Dr. King's dream but raise our family to a far greater level. God gave us a dream that our children could own and realize, one that would reach into the generations of the Burges family for eternity.
When we got home that evening, my husband and I went into our bedroom to discuss the problem. At first there were no words to describe our pain. After I cried on my husband's shoulders for minutes, sobbing and sniffing, something began to stir in my spirit and heart: a vision of having my children at home with me. You see, I was exhausted with the ripping and running anyway. I was exhausted with raising money for equipment when overburdened teachers were making copies of books for children in overstuffed classrooms. I was exhausted with rising early in the morning to whisk my young ones off to be away from me for eight or more hours a day. I was tired of seeing my children come home late in the evening.
There was more to the crying on my husband's shoulders than our immediate problem. I was crying for the death of what society wanted me to believe. I was crying because I was in a web of confusion, one that I thought had no solution. What I did not know was that I was very deceived, like so many other black parents. I was crying, but this death would sprout life--the life of a vision that began to take over my being and usher me into the beginning of a new life. I asked my husband if I could teach our son at home. He looked at me like a cow looking at a new gate. I thought about Booker T. Washington. He started his own educational plan. I would do the same. My husband asked many questions: "What do you mean, home what? What is this 'homeschool'?! Who has ever done this before? Do you know anyone who does it?" Of course I could not answer any of his questions. I asked him to find someone who homeschooled. The next day he called our local church and found a family who was homeschooling.
The reason for the stirring was that four years earlier I had met a family who were homeschooling their children. The boys were well mannered and polite. This impressed me. Well, we met with the family at our local church. They took us under their wing, and the rest is history.
Our oldest son now has a career in the military, having served in Iraq for one year. He serves with the 82nd Airborne. He boasts that having a personal relationship with Christ was the one thing that mattered while he was in Iraq. Our second son is studying piano and music composition in the School of Music at our state college. Our first daughter is also in college studying to become a research biologist. This year we will be graduating our fourth child from homeschool. She is an accomplished pianist and a strong advocate for family issues. She will continue studying at home. I am still homeschooling my 10-year-old daughter, Victoria. You see, we were very involved in our children's education, not just in their "school life." I am taking my time with Victoria and enjoying it!
The blessings of homeschooling run deep and the roots stretch far. It's more than academics. It's virtue. It's victory. I am not pretending that homeschooling removes all ills, but I must admit that the problems are minor. I will boldly say that if parents truly turn their hearts toward their children in every way, in every circumstance, in all activities, and in all affections, the hearts of the children will be turned toward the parents.
I knew that the odds were against me, but because of that I strongly knew that God was not against me. He was for me. Even my husband doubted but came along as a willing supporter. We knew that our family and friends would not support us. Many of the families in the support group were anything but friendly, but this did not offend me, because I was not looking for friends. I needed information and counsel. The seasonal loneliness did not compare to what I wanted to give my children--a strong relationship with each one and a fine education. This meant more to me than the need to be accepted or supported.
I have taught my children this principle of "standing alone." Because we were African Americans who had chosen the narrow path, we knew that our road was to be one less traveled by. We are pioneers on a new frontier, and every area of our lives is affected by this truth. God raised our family to be the biblical Joseph, first for ourselves and then for our people. My children needed to be strong and confirmed in their Godly reality. Our older children see this even more now. We do not regret our decision to homeschool nor our commitment to the kingdom building of our family. My husband and I are now advocates for home education and whole family life.
My younger children are learning excellently, and my adult children still ask for our counsel. We encourage them to remember the importance of listening to their spirits and deeply seeking God. They still consider us a part of their developing structure. The influence that we have in their lives is priceless. I encourage parents to live the good life before their children. Walk more and talk less. Children see what we do not say and will tend to perform it more than when we preach. Let your children see you loving, learning, and loving each other. I know that the best gift I can give my children is for them to see that I love and adore my husband. This sustained me when times were slim and pickings were small. Daily and openly love God. Worship Him and praise Him before your children at home.
Give your developing young sons your essence and your beautiful young daughters your passion. Sons need your essence because, as they develop into men and life gets tough, they sometimes can't open their mouths, or they do not know what to say. But if they can feel or sense the strong, wooing presence of Godliness on the inside, it will carry them over until God provides an escape. Young daughters need your Godly passion and fiery spirit because they tend to grab anything firmly and run with it. But they will remember the one thing that mattered greatly to you--your passionate love and unquenchable fire for your Father. Remember, our children will do as we live. Make sure it is consistently Godly and positive. It is a good thing!
Joyce Burges and her husband, Eric, have homeschooled their five children for 16 years. They founded the National Black Home Educators resource network in July 2000 in order to encourage, support, and offer fellowship to families exploring the benefits of home education. For more information, see their website at http://www.nbhe.net.
Copyright 2006. Originally appeared in Summer 2006. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com