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How I Raised an Obama

Updated on November 9, 2009

Upon my daughter, a biracial seventeen year old, receiving notification that she is among the semi-finalists for the National Achievement Scholarship Program, I was asked how I raised an “Obama.” To think that my daughter is among the highest achieving black high school students is an astounding honor. In fact, only 1,600 high school seniors are named as semi-finalists in the country.

How did she achieve such recognition? Are we wealthy with an endless supply of academic resources? Well, no. We live in poverty and all that entails. Did she attend a prestigious private school? Certainly not. She attends a public high school that is mediocre at best. However, I did homeschool her for most of her academic life.

My daughter started attending public school when she was four years old. The guidance counselor had identified her early as intellectually gifted. However, the public school guidance counselor said that intellectually gifted children were not able to participate in the gifted program until they were in at least third grade. Then, the gifted program consisted of little more than allowing the gifted children to spend extra time in the library. I wouldn’t even call that a gifted program but more of a lack of one.

By the time my daughter was in first grade, she was crying at school or immediately afterwards due to sheer boredom. I was afraid that her dissatisfaction with school would turn into a dislike of school or worse, an aversion to learning. Though I had not been a supporter of homeschooling, I decided that it was our only option.

Homeschooling in and of itself is not necessarily any better than public schools. Many homeschooling curricula are similar to what is offered in the public schools. Honestly, I did not have money to purchase a curriculum for her. Now, I am glad that I didn’t.

My daughter was homeschooled on a shoestring budget. During her elementary years, I took her lead. She learned the basics each year, but I emphasized the areas in which she had a strong interest. In her case, this was science. As I continued to teach the basics, I also provided a significant amount of time for her to explore her own academic interests.

This is where public school fails children. The outcome-based education kills the children’s desire to learn. I once had a disagreement with her principal about the total lack of science in the public school’s curriculum. His answer to the parents who voiced this concern was that the needed emphasis on reading and math left no time for science or “extras.”

So, the public school drills the children endlessly on reading and math while forsaking any other academic pursuits. It is no wonder that children learn to hate school. It is no wonder that they lose interest. By the time the children must take the standardized tests, many children don’t care about academic achievement. Some schools have gone so far as to try to bribe children to do well on these tests. Feeling the need to bribe children to do well shows that the schools recognize they have killed the natural motivation that a child who loves to learn would have.

Schools continue to follow this same path. More math! More reading! Those things are important indeed. But, what if the schools could light the inner fire of the children with a desire to learn for the sake of learning? What if the schools dared to try something different and made learning fun instead of force feeding the children what they think they need to know?

When my daughter was old enough to attend high school, I enrolled her. I wanted her to have something that I could not give her, an official high school diploma. She’s done very well and has taken advanced placement (AP) courses for college credit.


I can’t take credit for my daughter’s innate intelligence. Beginning when she was only months old, I read to her often. I avoided baby talk and spoke to her normally. By the time she was one year old, she was speaking in complete sentences. When other preschoolers were scribbling on sidewalks with chalk, I was writing simple algebraic equations in sidewalk chalk for her to solve. I was a single mother on welfare and just tried to do right by my child.

I recognize that a child’s academic success is not the sole responsibility of the school. My household has always been an environment that fosters learning. I’ve provided her with what free academic materials I could get through different organizations. We frequently watched documentaries on television as part of her schoolwork or for leisure. As she got older, I regularly bought some used textbooks. We used the library resources as well. Every year, I spent very little on her homeschooling supplies.

I believe that children have a natural desire to learn and will continue to have this desire if it is not squashed by inanely repetitive scholastic drills. Many school boards seem to think that their failure is related to a lack of funding. Money has absolutely nothing to do with how successful the public school is. The motivation to learn is key.


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