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According to the National Home Education Research Institute, there are approximately 220,000 black students currently homeschooling in the U.S. This comprises more than 10 percent of the total homeschool population of 2 million and growing.
Becoming less and less stigmatized as solely a movement of white conservative Christian families seeking to pull their children from the secular attack against religion in the schools, homeschooling is becoming embraced by other demographic groups that also view the public education system as failing their children. Even though blacks make up 16 percent of the public school population nationwide, their homeschool ratio is steadily increasing.
But what are the conditions within school gates that are bringing parents to the realization that the schools are failing their children both academically and socially? One homeschooling parents gives a glimpse of what her child faced on a daily basis in the public schools.
"I just thought maybe I could do a better job myself," African American homeschooling mom Vanessa Robinson told The Atlantic. "If he hadn’t been bullied I would have really looked into transferring schools, or going back to where I grew up in Kansas.”
Robinson says that the lack of racial diversity in the school system played a factor in her decision to homeschool, which she has worked into her busy weekday schedule as a nurse.
"At least in Kansas it was more racially diverse,” added Robinson, whose husband works as a sous chef in downtown San Diego. “I assumed that’s how the schools would be in San Diego, but I was wrong."
She believes that removing her son from the public schools doesn’t isolate him from society, but allows him to grow in an environment that is nurturing and gives him the space to develop without damaging influences.
Besides bullying, education experts have found that public schools have also failed the black community academically.
Educational researcher Ama Mazama of the Journal of Black Studies has found that the a major part of black Americans’ shift from public schools to homeschooling has to do less with overt schoolyard racism as it does with subliminal racism at the hands of teachers and other school staff.
"We have all heard that the American education system is not the best and is falling behind in terms of international standards," Mazama expressed. "But this is compounded for black children, who are treated as though they are not as intelligent and cannot perform as well, and therefore the standards for them should be lower."
Mazama, who asked black Americans in her study why they chose to turn from the schools and toward homeschooling, found a definite trend that was worth noting. When she began teaching her own children more than a decade ago, Mazama noticed that there was virtually no information available about black homeschoolers.
"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," she said. "Because of the unique circumstances of black people in this country, there is really a new story to be told."
After surveying black home educators from coast to coast, Mazama coined the term “racial protectionism” to describe the movement of black children moving away from public school — a term that highlights the inability of the school system to meet the specific needs of its African American students.
"Typically, the curriculum begins African American history with slavery and ends it with the Civil Rights Movement," Mazama shared. "You have to listen to yourself simply being talked about as a descendent of slaves, which is not empowering. There is more to African history than that."
Special needs education not so special?
With African American families having a higher rate of single-parent homes, it can be more challenging for them to homeschool.
"It’s not easy," expressed black homeschooling mom Rhonda McKnight, who homeschools her autistic 8-year-old son while working 45 hours a week as a contractor in Georgia. "It’s extremely difficult to balance everything."
McKnight says that racial factors weren’t the primary motivator behind her decision to homeschool, but insists that teachers from every racial background come out of teacher training programs with similar mindsets that work against black students.
"I don’t know how racially motivated it [her decision to homeschool} was at the time," McKnight recollected. "But even black teachers are taught certain things they are not even aware of. Our culture tends towards labeling our boys."
McKnight found that the very dynamics of public school — one teacher instructing 25 students — just doesn’t work, as she found her son falling far behind his grade level in every subject.
"He doesn’t really get a day off — not right now, because he’s just behind,” informed McKnight, who found out how far behind her son was after she began homeschooling him. “I feel like he doesn’t really have time to relax. I felt like I had totally failed him, and the school had totally failed him, and the only thing I could do was work with him one-on-one to get him caught up."
A false allegiance to public schools?
With the civil rights history of African Americans entering the public school in 1954 after being banned before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, Mazama says many black families balk at pulling their children from public schools because of a misguided sense of loyalty to them.
"For African Americans, there is a sense of betrayal when you leave public schools in particular," Mazama argued. "Because the struggle to get into those schools was so harsh and so long, there is this sense of loyalty to the public schools. People say, ‘We fought to get into these schools, and now you are just going to leave?’"
Mazama says that this feeling of guilt is unwarranted. She insists that parents are sacrificing their children for an unfounded allegiance to the state, which doesn’t have their children’s best interest at heart — as only they do.
"A lot of people felt that because my family was intimately involved in the effort to integrate schools, that for me to pull my children out of schools was a betrayal of all that work," Mazama pointed out. "But it really wasn’t. The case had nothing to do with what I, as a parent, decide I want for my child. That decision meant the state can’t decide to give me less than, but I can decide I want more than."
Better education, better results
After homeschooling her son for just five months, Robinson has seen a remarkable difference in her son — for the better.
"He’s a completely different person," asserts Robinson, who moves much more quickly through the curriculum than the public schools — and even has time to dig deeper into the subjects that her son loves. "Right now, Marvell says he wants to work for NASA, so we’re really focusing on getting in depth into science and space."
Robinson is grateful that her son is now learning in an environment that encourages him how to think — not what to think.
"I just want my son to be a free thinker and to question everything," Robinson concluded. "I wish that when I was growing up, I could have done that."
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