PERSPECTIVES – News and Comments [endnote 1]
On Blacks Choosing Home-Based Education
Brian D. Ray
National Home Education Research Institute, PO Box 13939, Salem, Oregon 97309
Many Americans today – whether plumbers, professors, painters, or politicians – believe that children and youth should attend public schools so they can have proper individual lives and be part of the best social life that advances the best corporate societal life. This sentiment is consistent with major changes that occurred regarding education during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Carper and Hunt (2007) explained it the following way:
Distressed by the social and cultural tensions wrought by mid-nineteenth-century urbanization, industrialization, and immigration (which included a large number of Roman Catholics from Ireland) and energized by what Carl Kaestle has called the values of republicanism, Protestantism, and capitalism, educational reformers touted the messianic power of tax-supported, government-controlled schooling. Common schools, they believed, would mold a moral, disciplined, and unified population prepared to participate in American political, economic, and social life. Some reformers went so far as to view the common school as a substitute for the family. Horace Mann, for example, often referred to the state and its schools as “parental.” Private schools, on the other hand, were often cast as undemocratic, divisive, and inimical to the public interest. (p. 241-242)
Most parents by the early 1900s eventually decided to put their children into the hands of the state, the public, for their “education” or schooling. It remains so to this day. There have been, however, some significant changes regarding minority groups in public schools since then.
The mid-twentieth century ushered in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (United States Supreme Court, 1954), desegregating state-run schools. Many believed that due to this decision the public schools would more quickly become the liberator of black (African-American) children and their minority group. History to date suggests, however, that this hope was too high. Black students continue to perform well below whites in terms of academic achievement (Lee, 2002) and public schools are becoming more racially segregated (Frankenberg & Lee, 2002; Rice University, 2006). And now, 53 years after the high court’s decision, evidence suggests that an increasing number of black parents have decided not to wait on a state-run system (i.e., public schools) to change and properly educate their children and are choosing parent-led home-based education.
Increase in Black Families Homeschooling?
This author’s communications with many homeschool leaders and homeschool families across the nation suggests that black, Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnic/cultural minority groups were scarce among local homeschool support groups and at homeschool conferences 10 or more years ago. This appears to be rapidly changing. Researchers Bielick, Chandler, and Broughman (2001), for example, found that 25% of homeschoolers were not “white, non-Hispanic” in 1999. And other researchers remarkably reported that by the turn of the millennium a majority of homeschool households were non-white (split evenly between Hispanic and black families) (Barna Organization, 2001). Despite the methodological limitations (and therefore tentative nature of the findings) of the two studies just cited, most indications are that homeschooling is expanding among minority populations, including African Americans.
The number of published news articles that reference blacks homeschooling also appears to be on the rise. This author discerns a distinct increase in media interest during the past seven years (Aizenman, 2000; Fulbright, 2006; Home School Legal Defense Association, 2003; Sorokin, 2003). Along with this increase in practice and public interest, certain academics are lodging opinions about black families practicing home-based education. There are some who think they know what is best for blacks in the U.S., even if they are not members of that minority group.
For example, Apple (2006), a white professor at the University of Wisconsin, wrote the following: “There is now a (slowly) growing home schooling movement among traditionally oppressed groups – such as African Americans.” He then proceeded to attempt to sort out for blacks and the rest of his readers the reasons for blacks’ decision to homeschool, the nuances that surround it, and what is best for blacks and all Americans regarding whether blacks should home educate their children rather than send them away to state-run institutional schools to be taught right from wrong, the proper worldview, how to get along in the world, and so forth. Although Apple obtusely alludes to the idea that not all is well for “… many children of color in America’s schools …,” he also wrote, “… I do not think that these individual sacrifices [of black homeschooling] will ultimately lead to lasting changes for the majority of children in our schools.” Soon thereafter, Apple’s class-and-group ideological theory that labeled “a rightward turn” as “unfortunate” (Apple, 2000, p. 258) and his undefined version of “democratization” (or, implicitly, a leftward turn) as good drove his argument as he wrote:
Thus, I ultimately come down, just barely, on the negative side [regarding black homeschooling]. ….. Since we know it is social movements that are the driving forces behind lasting educational change …, individualized atomistic decisions to school one’s child at home—while thoroughly understandable—cannot build momentum for the large scale transformations that are necessary. (Apple, 2006)
Apple (2006) portrayed an understanding tone toward African Americans but ultimately criticized their choices to take on the personal responsibility of engaging in parent-led home-based education for their children when he wrote the following:
We should not criticize black parents who home school their children. But a more powerful response in the long term requires that we redouble our efforts to create more responsive, democratic, and critical educational institutions for those children who are all too easily seen as the “Other” in this society and its schools.
In other words, Apple and others of his philosophical persuasion, want black parents, who have seen decade after decade of ill-effects in public schools for black children, to wait for an unspecified “little bit longer” for the system to change so that the alleged greatest good for the alleged greatest number might eventually come to pass. Notably, Apple offered no hopeful evidence that this will ever happen.
On the other side of the discussion, Taylor (2005), a black woman with a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, wrote the following, as if in direct response to those thinking like Apple (2006):
An increasing number of African American families are choosing to homeschool their children. ….. The 50 years since the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision have seen a persistence of the Black-White achievement gap in U.S. public school systems, and a growing number of African American parents have determined they can better educate their children at home, employing strategies that are not available in most classrooms: low pupil-teacher ratio, focused attention on academic problem areas, elimination of “tracking,” and deeply committed teachers with high expectations. Higher academic achievement regardless of parental educational attainment and the flexibility to conform to a variety of family conditions and income levels make homeschooling one of the best options to prepare African American children to compete in the twenty-first century. (p. 121).
Taylor, in the preceding single paragraph, presented what decades of research and the past 5 to 10 years of personal anecdotes heard by this author have been saying about why parents, including black parents, choose homeschooling.
Further, again addressing points in Apple’s later 2006 piece, Taylor wrote the following:
Many African American parents have tired of waiting for traditional schooling to overcome its limitations. The persistent Black-White achievement gap is evidence of a chronic, systemic failure of the traditional school system to address the needs of African American children. ….. We are not obligated to wait for schools to improve to better meet our needs; we are obligated to provide our children the best education available. Homeschoolers secure a brighter future for their children by giving them the educational foundation they deserve. Those of us who take the reins in pursuit of a sound, equal (or better) education for our children, in an effort to help them achieve their maximum potential, do so in the spirit of the proponents of Brown v. Board of Education” (p. 131-132).
A few years before Taylor and Apple, Lubienski (2003b), a white professor now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, while not specifically mentioning minority groups, claimed the following:
The accelerated movement toward home schooling reflects a serious threat to the collective good—a threat encouraged by organized efforts to withdraw from common endeavors such as public education ….. Home schooling fragments the public good into individual concerns that deny the public’s interest in the education of all children. (p. 41)
As Apple (2006) did not, Lubienski provided no evidence to support his claims that homeschooling “fragments the public good,” that homeschool parents are selfish regarding those outside their family, and that society as a whole would be better served by children in families who are benefited by homeschooling being sent away to state-controlled institutions called public schools. Again, Lubienski (2003a), while not specifying minority groups, offered the following argument against home-based education:
While there is certainly some truth to these views [that are critical of state- or government-run schooling], on the other hand, education in the public sphere also serves as a source of liberation for some groups, expanding opportunity for many who would not otherwise have advantages from their home lives, and providing and creating a sanctuary for those in more oppressive home environments. Indeed, compared with the institution of the family, the institutions of state-supported education are better suited to promote equity – a central concern of a democratic and meritocratic society. (p. 175)
Lubienski went on to argue that homeschooling “is intended to frustrate” the efforts at giving all students an equal opportunity to advance socially in public schools by washing out one’s inherited advantages or disadvantages in life. Again, Lubienski offered no empirical premises to support the implied claim that state-run educational institutions are generally better suited to promote (his undefined) equity or are helping any given group – for example, one composed of disadvantaged black families of type X – more than would homeschooling for the same type of families.
Conclusions and Cautions
At the same time that no empirical evidence is offered by negative critics of home-based education that the practice is harming the common or social good in the U.S., one should keep in mind that currently there is limited evidence (e.g., Ray, 2000, 2005; White et al., 2007) that, in the long run, home-based education is improving the common or social good. Depending on how one defines and measures “common or social good,” more important research evidence will likely emerge during the next decade. With the limited research evidence in mind and their personal experiences at hand, one may wonder what black parents would ask, given an appropriate forum, the theoretically negative critics of homeschooling.
One might imagine academics such as professors Apple and Lubienski facing an audience of black homeschooling fathers, mothers, and young adults at an organized symposium. Some would be highly educated like the two professors, while others would not. Some would be articulate and practiced at public address, and some would not. Some would have the financial means of a state-paid professor to choose private schooling for their children, while others would not. Some of the questions to the academics might be the following:
1. Black father: I attended public schools in the 60s and 70s and I know how we blacks were treated. I know it’s better in a lot of places now but I also know that expectations of black children and teens are still lower than for whites, and black children’s achievement is significantly lower. How long should we keep our children in the systemically failed schools in our neighborhood? All of their thirteen K to 12 years while professors with fine hopes like you try year after year to see the state-run schools change while my little boy and my little girl serve as those on which we experiment?
2. Black 17-year-old homeschool student: If the public schools are such a great place for children and youth to be and teaching, training, and indoctrination in public schools – rather than in private schools or homeschooling – is the best hope for America, why do such a high percentage of public school teachers put their children in private schools? And why are such a high percentage of my black public-school friends and acquaintances on drugs and having children out of wedlock? And why do I enjoy my home-based education so much, through which I am scoring a little above average on tests, and having plenty of time with my family and for an internship at a local hardware store?
3. Black mother: Professor, you are a strong advocate of public schooling so that children can be taught the values, beliefs, and worldview that you personally approve. Why are you distraught when parents, especially “conservatives” or those from the “right” – whatever these vague terms mean – decide to pass on their worldviews to their children via home-based education that does not cost their neighbors any tax dollars? I thought you were a proponent of free-thinking, freedom of choice, and open-mindedness toward “the Other” (Apple, 2006), those who look, think, and act differently from you.
4. Black father: Why are you using some of the same arguments against parent-led home-based education made by advocates of “common schools” wanting to control Roman Catholics and many of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised during the nineteenth century in America? Like them, you basically argue that private home-based education is “.. undemocratic, divisive, and inimical to the public interest” (Carper & Hunt, 2007, p. 242). German philosopher-thinkers and other leaders, by way of government, are currently using some of the same arguments to ban home education, jail parents who practice it, remove children from homeschool families, and force families to seek freedom-of-conscience asylum in other nations because these thinker-leaders want to extend their own hegemony over German culture as a whole (Colen, 2006; Unruh, 2007; WorldNetDaily.com, 2006).
While certain theoreticians and political activists of particular socio-political and philosophical persuasions are trying to convince the public and African Americans that homeschooling is relatively bad for the U.S. nation and the children and families within it, a quickly expanding number of everyday (and not so everyday) black families are launching into homeschooling. Joyce Burges, a black homeschool leader, put it this way when asked why more blacks are homeschooling:
Well, one of the reasons is a lot of parents are wondering if their children are going to come home safe. And then a lot of our children are not really being educated [academically]; it’s more socialization going on than education. And parents nowadays want to see their children get a fine education, and homeschooling is going to do that in the most excellent way. (Home School Legal Defense Association, 2003)
Burges, like Taylor (2005), was quick to explain more than one reason for blacks homeschooling. African-American parents, similar to others, like to see their children enjoying learning, doing well academically, and not living under the threat of various forms of harm for most of the day, 5 days per week, 9 months per year, regardless of whether such a way of life might, theoretically, one day advance the common good in a way that no one has yet substantiated to them with solid evidence.
Large portions of homeschool parents and youth – including homeschoolers of color – are consistently pooling their resources, developing wide and generous support networks, working together in flexible and creative educational co-operatives, continuing to develop locally-based and low-cost educational services that focus on home-education families, and activating grassroots political efforts (National African‑American Homeschool Alliance, 2008; National Black Home Educators.; 2008).
Finally, black parents and youth who choose homeschooling increasingly understand that all theory and practice of education and schooling is built on a particular philosophy or presupposition-based theoretical framework. They think they are choosing to empower themselves and help those both inside and outside their racial or ethnic group by using their own worldview to inform and advance their pedagogical objectives and practices. They think the most effective way to do this is via homeschooling. Regardless of what value judgment black or non-black theoreticians and researchers assign to the choices of those involved in the phenomenon, homeschooling by blacks and other families of color is apparently on the rise.
Keywords: Homeschool, home-education, home-based, homeschooling, education, African American, Blacks
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Apple, Michael W. (2000). The cultural politics of home schooling. Peabody Journal of Education, 75(1 & 2), 256-271.
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1. The “Perspectives–News and Comments” section consists of pieces that have not undergone peer review. — end —