More Black parents seek educational control
A growing number of African-American families have begun to homeschool their children. This is especially true in light of the pandemic as the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that in April 2020, 3% of Black households homeschooled their children, and by October it was up to 16%.
Among the early reasons during the shutdown was that Black parents wanted their children safe from schoolyard bullying. Another concern was “freedom” from governmental restrictions. A third and largely primary rationale for homeschooling was that these parents wanted their charges to understand more about their cultural history.
A unique form of activism
In Black households, homeschooling can be its own unique form of activism and resistance. More Black parents are turning to homeschooling to counter what they say is “educational racism” which comes in many forms. Homeschooling parents have long been motivated by a desire for “more control” over their children’s curriculum. Black parents who are now pursuing a more diverse, comprehensive history education are the latest example of the trend.
“I began to homeschool my son during the pandemic because the structure is more individualized,” said Britni Washington of Aubrey, Tex, about 38 miles north of Dallas. Washington admits that she knew relatively little about homeschooling, but soon discovered her now 10-year-old son, Kaidyn, “understands more about what he’s learning.”
Homeschooling parents are facilitators over their children’s learning. If they’re not terribly fluent in the subject matter, parents can interview and hire the right people to teach more complex subjects like algebra or chemistry. Finding a foreign language teacher is now a “click away.” Washington is part of the burgeoning K-12 online education program that makes texts and related classroom materials easily available for each subject.
The Department of Education estimates that it costs between $700 to $1,800 per student yearly to homeschool. For a family of four with two school-aged children, however, the price quickly doubles to an estimated $1,400 to $3,600 per student per year. At the higher end, it’s possible to spend $1,000-plus on a single prepackaged curriculum.
Providing a high-quality education
If you’re thinking about a tax credit, forget it. There are no federal tax credits or qualified deductions for families that choose to homeschool. And no, the state will not send you a weekly check for your time and service as a teacher. None-the-less, Washington and thousands more Black households across the country are willing to pay the out-of-pocket expenses to assure their children receive a high-quality education.
“It’s great,” she said. “Parents can come back with questions and the child is therefore more involved with the curriculum. Kaidyn has benefited greatly. Before, I felt he wasn’t really being challenged in a conventional classroom setting. I’ve discovered it’s really an online prep school that brings out the best in the child.”
The system provides for social interaction as well. Different groups of kids “zoom in” regularly on subject matter, while the parents are fully engaged in a full array of learning resources.
“Oh, he feels so included socially,” Washington explained. “That’s what I was concerned with early on. You have to have social interaction with the other kids. That makes for a more fulfilling school day. He’s made lots of friends and finishes the daily lesson eager to learn more the next day.”
Washington said both she and her son are “assuming more control” in learning.
Assuring a full study of Black history
“He can focus more, and an added benefit is that I can include more about Black history,” she said. “The news lately is that the study of Black history is slowly being eliminated from the public school curriculum. I don’t want my son–or any Black child–to miss out on learning about the incredible things that African-Americans have accomplished since the nation’s founding.”
Since the mid-term elections, states such as Florida, Texas and a handful of others have brought before school boards so-called “anti-CRT” (Critical Race Theory) proposals that would limit secondary school instruction on Black history. This has led to sharp pushback from both African-American parents, educators and politicians that believe these moves are mere political grandstanding on the backs of Black children.
“The history that’s taught is that we’ve tried through Brown v. Board of Education to get access to schools and schools are integrated,” said Cheryl Fields-Smith, a professor in elementary education at the University of Georgia who studies Black homeschooling and its cultural significance.
African-Americans were among the first to have been self-taught. Back then, the method was primarily rote memorization, various catechisms redefined among Protestants, and, of course, Scripture all of which formed the basis of what educational methods were available. A foundation of religious instruction resonates today. More Black families who homeschool are driven by an emphasis on religious training in their instruction.
Fighting back against ‘mainstreaming’
Fields-Smith encourages an expansion of Black homeschooling to provide not only a broad range of subject matter, but also to explore the historical issues specific to the African-American community.
“Today, we know clearly that there are structures, policies and practices being debated within our traditional schools that can be damaging to students of color–Black students in particular,” she said. Fields-Smith is referring to the high rate of suspensions of Black students as opposed to their White peers, as well as the long-standing practice of “mainstreaming” or special education outlets for so-called “difficult” Black children.
Biased school discipline is reportedly another reason why more African-American parents are homeschooling their children. Data from a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Education for Civil rights showed that Black children were suspended at three times the rate of White students, and were more likely to be reprimanded. Another study, this time from the Association of Psychological Science in 2016, suggested that Black students are more likely to be labeled “troublemakers” by predominantly non-Black teachers.
“This idea of White supremacy and the inferiority of Blacks lingers today in the classroom,” Fields-Smith said “We are overcoming racism through homeschooling. I don’t think white people can say that.” Fields-Smith said the increase in Black homeschooling can be construed as a “form of resistance” against the status quo as “families are pushing back against what’s happening in their schools.”
Advancing ‘woke homeschooling’
African-Americans are not unfamiliar with homeschooling. That was the traditional method of educating their children from slavery through Reconstruction and on to the Jim Crow era. An early wave of Black homeschooling took place in the 1970s, mostly driven by so-called “left-leaning” parents fashioned by the Civil Rights Movement as well as the Black Power Movement. During the 1980s and ‘90s, homeschooling became more of a conservative movement, overlapping with conservative ideals about limited government, parental rights and religious freedom–not unlike today’s rationale within more White households who homeschool.
Pryce McPhaull of Keene, Texas, the creator of Woke Homeschooling, said a “new curriculum” is necessary after she participated in a racial justice survey group in 2015. It became clear, she said, that the standard public school curriculum was leaving out important aspects of Black history.
“There’s little taught about Reconstruction following the Civil War,” she explained, “and while the term ‘Jim Crow’ is brought up, there is hardly anything taught about the many laws used to enforce segregation in Texas.” McPhaull said she wanted her children to have a better understanding of the legacy of racism in U.S. history as they reckoned daily with ongoing examples of on-line hate groups, police brutality and an uptick in White-on-Black mass shootings.
“This isn’t just something happening out of the blue,” she said. “This isn’t an anomaly. It was important for my kids to have that historical context. I’m grateful for homeschooling.”
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott has said he wants to “abolish critical race theory” and signed a law last year that severely restricts how teachers can discuss race, gender and other issues in the classroom. Specifically within the law, Texas public school teachers “may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public privacy or social affairs.” Further hampering an unabated teaching of Black history is a directive that requires representatives from every Texas secondary school to attend a training program on how to teach about race and racism.
“They’re basically banning anything that might make White students feel uncomfortable,” McPhaull said. “When I hear that, I’m reminded not to shy away from hard truths when talking with my children. Simply, racism and discrimination doesn’t ‘disappear’ if we don’t study them.”