Conejo Valley resident Brooke Foxworthy — a wife and mother of three — enjoyed an industry-leading job in men’s fashion for which she traveled weekly and had an office in Manhattan. Her kids attended an exclusive private school in the area.
But this fall, Foxworthy is putting everything aside to homeschool her children.
“I’ve never felt more excited and inspired to do something which I feel less equipped and know less about,” Brooke says with a laugh. “But they’re my children, darn it.”
The Foxworthys are among hundreds of families in Ventura County who are walking away from public and private schools, having seen both at their worst over the past 2 years. For Brooke and her husband Mike, the shift began when their private school fully embraced COVID protocols, far beyond the time period that seemed necessary.
“We were surprised at the amount of people that were complacent and complicit,” Brooke says. “We were scratching our heads about very good friends who placated far too long. It was very interesting to see who was in what camp.”
At home, Brooke and Mike walked their kids, now ages 11, 9 and 6, through conversations about “grownups not leading but following from a place of fear,” she says. “We are dumbfounded it went on as long as it did.”
Even then, the family was loath to give up an educational community they loved. But the breaking point came when their school started “putting a scan gun to my kids’ heads every time they came” to campus, forcing everyone to wear masks and excluding parents from buildings.
“I felt myself pushing away,” says Brooke. “The community there is amazing, [but] I’m not playing this theater.”
Homeschooling, however, was not in the plan.
As an executive in men’s fashion for Nordstrom for 23 years, “I kind of had it all,” Brooke says. “I was rocking and rolling in a fashion career. My work friends forgot I had children; my school friends forgot I had a job because I burned the candle at both ends. I took red-eyes, and nobody knew the difference. … Three years ago, I would have said props to the people who wanted to do it [homeschool], but it’s not for us.”
Mike, who grew up in Thousand Oaks and moved back to raise a family after college and early career, says, “If you had asked me 3 or 4 years ago if Brooke would part with her job to stay home and work with the kids, I would have looked at you sideways and said you’re crazy. It’s not that I had ill-conceived notions of homeschooling. I just didn’t think it was in our wheelhouse as a family, even from a skillset perspective.”
That changed with the disruptions of 2020-21.
“Brooke kept talking through it, and we had more conversations together and with friends,” Mike says. “Then it was clear to me she was called to it because I started to see the excitement she had for doing it.”
With more questions than answers, Brooke attended several homeschool meetings locally and was intrigued by “the amount of quality people I was meeting,” she says. “We adored the families and their children, and the product coming out of these phenomenal programs was not the homeschoolers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. [The difference is] how kids speak to adults, how they interact.”
In a word, homeschooled kids seemed cooperative and cheerful rather than hostile to their parents. Foxworthy began to suspect that “normal” school settings create adversarial environments by their very structure.
“When the kids come home from school, they are tired, yet they still have homework, and you are the adversarial one who didn’t get the best of them all day, and now you’re asking them to do something else,” she says. “Homework for the sake of homework is something I can’t wrap my head around.”
Meanwhile, her own industry was changing due to government responses to COVID.
“I didn’t just wake up one day and not like what I did for work,” she says. “I stepped away when everybody was forced to, only to peer back in to see that I didn’t want to be part of it.”
The clincher was when her kids returned to the private school for in-person classes — and Brooke discovered she missed spending her days with them.
“I didn’t want to send them back,” she says. “I didn’t want to not enjoy my kids.”
Even before CVUSD teachers and staff members began sexualizing children in K-12 classrooms, local parents were making significant changes to how they chose to educate their kids. Steven Duvall, director of research for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, wrote in April that the estimated number of U.S. households homeschooling their children in the 2021-22 school year dropped only 1 percent from the prior year’s historic highs, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. This means the number of families who started homeschooling by necessity during lockdowns held steady even after public and private schools reopened.
These strong numbers probably undercount the homeschooled population because, in some states, homeschooling is considered a private school option. In other cases, parents who homeschool older children also enroll them in classes available through a public or private high school, and so the data does not fully reflect the number of students being educated at home.
Duvall calls the homeschool surge “record-breaking growth during a historically important time.”
Local father and parental rights advocate Steve Coker recently blogged at the California Parent Alliance website that “Parents across the state are waking up to the indoctrination of their children within the public school system. … [They] are fed up with a failing school system that spends millions of dollars and hours of classroom instruction on CRT and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, while nearly half of California students are behind in reading and two-thirds of California children failed to meet the state’s math standards.”
For example, only 56 percent of CVUSD high school graduates meet CSU and UC academic requirements. Even local private schools have become expensive versions of public schools with little difference in the kids’ character and campus culture apart from a certain sense of exclusivity, many local parents believe.
So the Foxworthys took the plunge and decided to start a new schooling chapter this fall where the kids “are not putting on a uniform and being told to march out of the house at a certain time,” Brooke says.
In some ways, it has meant swimming against the current.
A number of fellow moms tried to talk her out of homeschooling. Some thought they had tasted homeschooling during the Zoom-driven “remote learning” experiments of the lockdown year.
“You were on six different devices checking in. That was not homeschooling. It was someone else’s agenda,” Brooke says. “We have friends who say, ‘I tried homeschool, and it didn’t work.’ I say, ‘You didn’t. You did someone else’s agenda in your own home.’”
In preparation for the fall, she has visited several friends’ homes to observe what their homeschool days look like. Some have set schedules, and some were “loosey-goosey,” she says.
Her present mood: “Partially idealistic and partially nervous.”
“I’m starting the process of becoming a student of my own children,” she says. “I’m talking to anybody and everybody about how their kids learn.”
The family is already easing into some curriculum this summer.
“My kids wake up and know the process. They have workbooks they do,” Mike says. “We’re starting to get into what this is going to look like on a more significant scale, and the kids are adapting exceptionally well with it.”
Brooke’s work skills, too, will come into play. She intends to “harness” her depth of professional experience to offer classes to other homeschoolers.
“I want to teach them public speaking, presentation skills, interacting with adults, selling themselves and the product,” she says — not to mention classes on the Bible and American history.
She admits that her personality is prone to saying yes to too many options.
“Park day, field trips, chess club — I could see myself saying yes to all of it and feeling overscheduled,” she says. “I know my temperament and could see that happening before correcting course.”
Their greatest sense of peace has come with the belief that the change is providential.
“The shift is not of me if I can say it without sounding hokey,” Brooke says. “It is way bigger than me, and I feel like God has a special plan for how He wants my kids to learn. Two or three years ago, I would have said, ‘That is not my skill set. I don’t have enough patience for that.’ But I am their mom. I know them best. Having a bad day doesn’t mean I’m not called to do this mission. I am checking my heart every day to see how can I be the best in my home so my kids feel this is a place they want to learn. Where Mom gets them, Mom sees them.”
Mike agrees fully.
“I’m actually excited about this new journey and for the flexibility,” he says. “I’m not a big fan of structure for the sake of structure. Being able to educate our kids and work to their strengths on their time frames is all very exciting.”