Comments on Black Homeschoolers: Nowhere Left to Go
PERSPECTIVES – News and Comments1
Brian D. Ray
National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, Oregon, USA
A well-recognized professor of curriculum and instruction and educational policy studies, Michael Apple (2006), proclaimed a decade ago that homeschooling is, overall, bad for African American parents, their children, and society. He argued that “… individualized atomistic decisions to school one’s child at home—while thoroughly understandable—cannot build momentum for the large scale transformations that are necessary.”
The implication is that Black parents choosing to home educate their children is selfish because homeschooling does not move people of color and society toward Dr. Apple’s philosophical-religious-political objectives for America and the world. He and his like-minded colleagues want transformative schools, responsive schools, democratic schools, and other “critical educational institutions.” Most people – both scholars and laypersons – would have to do a lot of reading to figure out just exactly what they mean by these things. Generally speaking, they are promoting a Marxist approach to understanding the world and changing it to fit their vision of how the world should be in terms of philosophy, education, economics, power, and domination.
But what do African Americans themselves think about this? Especially parents of children ages birth to 18? Do they buy the neo-Marxists’, statists’, and critical theorists’ arguments? In a refreshingly clear analysis, professor Cheryl Fields-Smith (2015) explains that many Black parents are not embracing the arguments of those such as professor Apple.
Fields-Smith begins with a sweeping overview of schooling for Black children in the United States over the past 65 years. She synthesizes some of it as follows:
Sixty years ago, the landmark Supreme Court decision known as Brown vs Board of Education mandated racial integration of public schools, and still the state of education for Black children in America remains effective for few and dismal for many. Reports indicate that Black children most frequently represent the negative portion of indicators such as the persistent achievement gap, dropout rates and suspension rates … (p. 279)
She also explains that research shows even middle-class Black families struggle to get the educational resources in public schools to help their children reach their academic potential. Professor Fields-Smith then reviews research literature on why African American families choose to homeschool, and then presents findings from one of her own studies.
Findings, Two Categories
Regarding the review of research, Fields-Smith reported that in one subset of studies, key themes “… begin to clarify Black families’ sense of urgency to see [sic] refuge for their children through homeschooling. These key themes include issues surrounding racism, racial identity, curricular relevancy and school safety” (p. 280).
In another study, it was found that
… Black homeschool families’ motivations directly stemmed from the institutional structure of school, which appeared to damage, not empower their children. Black families perceived the school system itself as destructive. Thus, ‘They described their motivation to home school as a way to protect their children from the limited possibilities and opportunities schools seemingly present to them’, … (p. 280).
Another researcher found that Black families have a sense of urgency to rescue their children from racism in conventional schools and the researcher labelled Black homeschool parents as racial protectionists. Similarly, another research pair “… conceptualized Black homeschooling as a form of resistance to conventional school systems’ institutional structure, which depict Black children as incapable or as troublemakers” (p. 280). Further, some researchers found that African American parents viewed the public schools as unsafe and the scholars “… referred to this issue as a psychology of safety” (p. 281).
Fields-Smith then presented her own empirical findings on additional reasons driving Black families to homeschooling. She reported the following:
However, examination of the conventional school experiences of Black families …, who eventually decided to homeschool their children, demonstrates the [public school] structural challenges that prevent the development of mutual trust and shared responsibility for effective and meaningful parent–teacher partnerships. Black families repeatedly reported having to face numerous barriers and roadblocks against their advocacy on behalf of their children to gain access, or even consideration, for gifted services. (p. 282)
Professor Fields-Smith also reported that the participants in a study of African American families provided similar accounts. The accounts were most noticeable regarding Black male students. She put it this way:
School personnel tend to focus on student behaviour rather than consider that a Black child may be bored or not challenged in the classroom, so they recommend special needs services. This type of situation leaves parents with very limited options. Either they remain in the public school with their child trying to thrive with a ‘troublemaker’ label or low expectations, or they find a setting where their children can be edified and held to high expectations. (p. 282-283)
Researcher Fields-Smith also found that inequities in family access within school choice can lead families to decide to homeschool. She described one husband and wife who extensively and carefully researched their educational options before their children were school aged. They decided that the Montessori approach would be best. Attending one of these schools, however, would require relocation to a neighborhood with housing that was too costly, and other options would not work. The husband stated: “They [the schools] don’t have enough spaces. See, one of the issues of school choice is that when parents choose, you’re actually limited by your choice” (p. 283). No charter schools were available to this family. They finally enrolled their daughter in a local assigned kindergarten. It, however, was not like they thought it would be. The parents thought it would be “… a kinder way of learning …” but it was not (p. 283). Three days later, these parents withdrew their daughter from institutional school and began home educating her.
Dr. Fields-Smith concludes as follows:
Yes, we need public schools, but public schools need to do a better job of educating children who are not white and who are not middle class. To do this, they should listen to the voices of families who are successfully educating their children outside of public schools. Black children remain relatively underachieving within conventional schools, yet when homeschooled they do as well as if not better than their non-Black peers in conventional schools (JBHE Foundation, 2000; Ray, 2011 [see also Ray, 2015]). Black home education is not as idiosyncratic as it may appear. Unlike the popular conception, Black families do not always instruct their children in isolation of each other. They have developed strong networks, and they have adopted collaborative instructional methods such as co-ops, which require shared teaching among parents. Educational researchers need to explore the differences between conventional settings and collaborative Black homeschool settings in order to provide public educational settings with authentic options for Black families. (p. 284)
Many people might argue with Dr. Fields-Smith about whether “we need public schools” but few would argue that public schools need to do a better job of educating Black children. Second, professional educators should heed the researcher’s perspective that there is much to learn from parent home educators, including Black ones. Finally, the public and educators should take note that professor Apple’s decade-old claim that homeschooling is bad for African Americans is misdirected, especially in light of professor Field-Smith’s recent findings. Black families have several places to go other than to state-run schools.
Apple, Michael W. (2006, December 21). The complexities of black home schooling. From www.TCRecord.org. Retrieved first paragraph 5/25/07 online http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=12903
Fields-Smith, Cheryl. (2015). Black Homeschoolers: Nowhere Left to Go. In, Paula Rothermel (Ed.), International Perspectives on Home Education, Hampshire, England: Palgrave MacMillan, pp 278-285.
Ray, Brian D. (2015). African American homeschool parents’ motivations for homeschooling and their Black children’s academic achievement. Journal of School Choice, 9:71–96.
- The “Perspectives – News and Comments” section of this journal consists of articles that have not undergone peer review.