Interview: Delina Pryce McPhaull Talks Woke Homeschooling and Her ‘Oh Freedom!’ Curriculum

“I think Black Christians in particular are starting to feel the inadequacy of the educational system that has been used for decades to maintain the status quo.”

Delina McPhaull Homeschooling
Photo of Delina Pryce McPhaull, author of "Oh Freedom!" (Photo: Delina Pryce McPhaull)

Delina Pryce McPhaull is a writer, editorial consultant, and homeschooling mom living in rural Texas with her husband, kids, and free-range chickens. She co-hosts “Broke-ish,” a fun/serious podcast that takes on topics related to the racial wealth gap and how it impacts Black people today.

McPhaull is the author of Oh Freedom!, a socially conscious and justice-oriented homeschooling curriculum she makes available via WokeHomeschooling.com.

This interview with McPhaull was conducted by email. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Tell us a little bit about your faith journey – how you became a Christian, your Christian faith today as it impacts the work you do.

I was in my late 20s when God opened my eyes to the gospel. In the years that followed, I began to take hold of grace and freedom in Christ. I was free to explore my faith without fear and free to rest in the finished work of Jesus. Wow! But that also meant that my husband and I made a very public exit out of the religion that we were both raised in and where he was a full-time pastor. That was almost 10 years ago.

My faith journey has led me to ask myself, “How can I parent and homeschool out from a place of faith, freedom and rest instead of fear, self-preservation, and manipulation?” Because of my religious upbringing, I have an insatiable interest in discovering how a child’s worldview is shaped. I have processed how stories and songs shaped my early understanding of the world and of God. I wanted to be intentional about how my children’s worldview and sense of self would be shaped. So, I think about these things when purchasing resources, and even though I did my research, even the most inclusive-appearing homeschool curriculum ended up including White-centered narratives, “White-savior”-type missionary stories, and nationalism blended with Bible. Needless to say, on so many levels, this didn’t sit right with me. I was skipping most of what I purchased.

I believe in teaching critical thinking skills and cultivating kids’ sense of justice and desire for all creation to flourish.

Studies show that Black Christians and other Christians of color are increasingly turning to homeschooling as a viable education option for their children. Why do you think that’s the case, and how and why did homeschooling enter as an option for your family?

I think Black Christians in particular are starting to feel the inadequacy of the educational system that has been used for decades to maintain the status quo. It’s the history books, especially, that have perpetuated the myths and lies that hold up white supremacy and American exceptionalism. In addition, it’s been proven that Black children get punished more often and more harshly than their White peers. When parents have to fight to just get treated with dignity, much less, receive a robust and truthful education, it just gets to be too much. In greater numbers, you’re seeing parents finding alternative ways to educate and empower their children.

Christian parents who are decolonizing their theology are also looking for ways to teach their kids in a way that doesn’t perpetuate wrong thinking. It’s a challenging time we’re living in where we have to be more intentional than ever about what we feed ourselves spiritually and how we teach our children.

What are the specific difficulties that Black Christians and other Christians of color have when they decide to enter in the homeschooling world? Is there a reason why, for example, that so much of Christian homeschooling curricula is overwhelmingly Euro-centric and not suitable for non-White Christian families?

If history textbooks, in general, are whitewashed, then homeschool history curriculum takes it up 100 notches. It is appalling. I don’t know the history of how this happened, but the ones who have been producing a lot of the popular homeschool curriculum truly believe that this nation was founded as the new Promised Land and that this country has a special place in God’s heart because it was founded as a “Christian nation.” This revisionist history is not suitable for anyone, much less people of color. Many Christian homeschoolers have opted for strictly secular curriculum in order to avoid this propaganda.

Oh Freedom! Homeschooling Curriculum
Cover of Oh Freedom! (Photo: Delina Pryce McPhaull)

When did you decide to write your own curriculum and Oh Freedom! specifically? What were the difficulties in writing your own curriculum, and what were the rewards and encouraging things about it?

I didn’t set out to write my own curriculum. I found myself frustrated by what I’d purchased and began building my own schedule from materials I had or online recommendations. When the lessons from various resources started to weave themselves beautifully, to create a thread that extended even to the fiction we were reading, I felt God smiling on me. It was pure grace to have it work serendipitously without having pre-read all the material.

I began sharing my reading plan and book suggestions with a few friends and then decided to package it all into a curriculum. It took a year after I did it with my own kids to finally have the time and space to pull it all together, add resources here and there, and create a plan that could be easily implemented by others.

But like I said, I didn’t set out to write curriculum. If this had been available when I needed it, I would have happily purchased and not had a second thought about creating something new.

I was also excited to share the method we used to pray through our learning. U.S. History is hard to process. It feels familiar and personal and unjust, but all you hear in the culture is celebration and ideas of American exceptionalism. This is changing every day, thankfully. But learning the truths of history is tough on the parent (who may have to deal with not having learned this in school) and it can be hard on the students. Prayer is how we chose to process it.

Woke Homeschooling reflects a desire to raise and educate kids who are socially-conscious and passionate about pursuing justice for everyone. We want our children to acquire knowledge in order to better the world, not just join the rat race in pursuit of comfort. It’s more about asking “How can I use my knowledge, gifts, and resources to impact the world?” instead of “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

How did you come up with the names “Woke Homeschooling” and Oh Freedom!?

The words of the African-American spiritual “Oh Freedom!” (“And before I’d be a slave I’d be buried in my grave”) perfectly encapsulate the resilience and the struggle that Black people have experienced in this country. We’re going to change things or die trying.

The term “woke” is one most people today understand as being aware of social injustice. Woke Homeschooling reflects a desire to raise and educate kids who are socially-conscious and passionate about pursuing justice for everyone. We want our children to acquire knowledge in order to better the world, not just join the rat race in pursuit of comfort. It’s more about asking “How can I use my knowledge, gifts, and resources to impact the world?” instead of “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

Tell us about Oh Freedom! and what is unique about it. Who is it intended for? Why did you start with a U.S. history curriculum?

Oh Freedom! is a literature-based curriculum. We learn history through stories and themes vs. facts and data. For example, when we learn about the Emancipation Proclamation, we’re simultaneously reading the diary of a young slave girl living during that time. What did it mean to be free? How does she come to grips with realizing she was only free-ish?

The curriculum includes music and video playlists, suggestions for field trips, and links to web resources. It’s all curated for you to enjoy a rich learning experience together with your kids. And I say together, because this curriculum is meant for the parent to go through it with the child/children. American history is HARD history. But a lot of countries have legacies of genocide and slavery and unspeakable atrocities and injustices. So, that’s not necessarily what makes it hard to discuss. I think what makes it hard is that as a nation, we haven’t grappled with history in a truthful way. So, not only is it hard and traumatic wound, but it’s unhealed and it’s oozing. It’s hard to look at. It stinks.

I’m convinced that in order to understand why so much of the present stinks, so to speak, we have to understand the past.

If our kids can begin to contextualize the present, I believe they have the capacity to come up with solutions that are meaningful and lasting. That’s my hope, anyway. To that end, I also created a companion journal to help students record, pray through, and reflect on what they’re learning.

In many ways, your work creating Oh Freedom! symbolizes what many Christians of color have been doing – creating our own paths and offering alternative options for a broader diversity and equity. What would you say to others who want to do the same – write their own curricula or start something on their own?

Do it!

Technology empowers us to share what we create with each other and not have to rely on gatekeepers to produce and distribute what we create. Spend the time to create something of quality that you can be proud of.

Do you have any next steps or plans? Are you planning to write any other curricula?

I want to develop a prayer guide to help families pray through not only hard history, but contemporary race and class issues and existential issues like climate change. We watch the news almost every day and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Rather than ignoring the issues, I want to encourage families to pray together and ask for eyes to see next steps.

I also dream of doing a Black history tour of the diaspora with my family and creating a guide for other families to explore history more tangibly. Wouldn’t that be epic? I’m a dreamer.

Do you have any advice for Christians of color who are considering homeschooling as an education option for their family?

My first piece of advice would be to think through and pray through what homeschooling would look like for your family. You’ll literally be going against the grain, swimming upstream. It will often feel like you’re doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing (and expects you to do). Don’t do it out of fear or panic of what’s going on in schools and don’t do it out of spite for a teacher or principal. That won’t sustain you.

This homeschooling thing is a whole thinga whole lifestyle. So, do it because you feel called to it. Do it because you want to learn with your kids and want to invest your life in their learning. Do it because you want to develop a bond that only hours together every day can forge. Homeschooling is more than academics. It’s one-on-one apprenticeship for life. It will take commitment and failing and frustration and mind-set shifts and all the things that help you grow as a human. It’s not for everyone, though. God might be calling you to grow in a different way altogether. Think it through and pray it through.

But just because you’re not homeschooling, you still have plenty of opportunities to explore history and engage your children in conversation and critical thinking. I hope Oh Freedom! will help others do that.

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    Contributor

    Written by Timothy I. Cho

    Timothy Isaiah Cho is Associate Editor at Faithfully Magazine. Timothy’s bylines have appeared in Religion News Service and Reformed Margins, and he has been interviewed for several podcasts including Truth’s Table and Gravity Leadership Podcast. He also runs a personal blog on Medium. He received a Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from U.C. Berkeley. Email: timothy.cho (at) faithfullymagazine.com

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