Some 220,000 African-American children are currently being homeschooled, constituting 10 percent of the homeschooling population, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.
A recent article in The Atlantic features the stories of several Black families to gain insight as to why this group has become one of the fastest-growing demographics in homeschooling.
The families confirmed previous studies that indicated Black households are more likely to cite the culture of low expectaion for African-American students or dissatisfaction with how their children — especially boys — are treated in school, Jessica Huseman reports. Whereas, white families traditionally reference religious or moral disagreements with public schools in their reasons for pulling their children from traditional classroom environments.
"Whenever there are mentions of African-American homeschoolers, it’s assumed that we homeschool for the same reasons as European-American homeschoolers, but this isn’t really the case," Ama Mazama, a faculty member in the African American Studies department at Temple University in Philadelphia, told The Atlantic. "Because of the unique circumstances of black people in this country, there is really a new story to be told."
Twelve years ago, Mazama joined the hundreds of Black parents who have decided to homeschool. To compensate for the lack of research on Black homeschoolers, the scholar conducted her own survey and compiled a report published in 2012, titled "African American Homeschooling as Racial Protectionism." Cheryl Fields-Smith, an associate professor in the department of Educational Theory and Practice at the University of Georgia, also reportedly led several studies on the issue and found similar motivations among Black homeschoolers, The Atlantic reports.
Take, for instance, Vanessa Robinson, an African-American woman who decided to pull her son, Marvell, out of school to homeschool him.
When Marvell attended a San Diego public elementary school, she claims he began to experience a slow build of racial bullying from his kindergarten and first-grade classmates.
"Why are you that color?" one boy allegedly asked Marvell, a question that Robinson says made her son scared and speechless. She also pointed to Marvell's Asperger syndrome and his being the only Black child in his classes as additional sources of provocation.
"I just thought maybe I could do a better job myself," Robinson told The Atlantic. "They said, ‘kids will be kids,’ and the only solution was for Marvell to be monitored — like he had done something wrong," Robinson said. "In the end, I don’t think that anyone should have to monitor my kid" because of other kids’ behavior."
Like Mazama and Fields-Smith's studies suggested, Robinson and the other Black homeschoolers interviewed by The Atlantic cited dissatisfaction with traditional campuses, from incidences of school-related racism to "Eurocentric" world history curriculums.
"The schools want little black boys to behave like little white girls, and that’s just never going to happen. They are different," Fields-Smith's said. "I think black families who are in a position to homeschool can use homeschooling to avoid the issues of their children being labeled ‘trouble makers’ and the suggestion that their children need special-education services because they learn and behave differently."
Another shift in homeschooling seems to be toward accessibility, particularly for middle and lower class households. While home education has long since been considered an option only for wealthier and better educated households, more access to public-education resources — such as subsidies and public programs — which allow homeschooled children to partake in nutritional offerings and enroll in extracurricular activities and after-school sports. Fields-Smith is also currently penning a book on another Black demographic that, she reports, is also experiencing a boost: Black, single homeschooling mothers.
So, is home education worth the change? In Robinson's case, yes.
"He’s a completely different person," she said about Marvell, pointing out that his confidence has blossomed and led to more friends and a much higher learning capacity. He is reportedly breezing through his school lessons.
"Right now, Marvell says he wants to work for NASA, so we’re really focusing on getting in depth into science and space," Robinson said. "I just want my son to be a free thinker and to question everything," she said. "I wish that when I was growing up, I could have done that."
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(Photo: Beau Lark/Corbis)