African-American Homeschoolers Thriving
Paula Penn-Nabrit homeschooled her three sons in the 1990s. In 2003, she wrote a book about her family’s experience, Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League. Her sons attended Princeton, Harvard, Amherst, and the University of Pennsylvania. At that time, her family’s decision to homeschool was looked upon with skepticism by others in the black community. But more and more African-American families are choosing to homeschool.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute, an estimated 220,000 African-American children are currently being homeschooled and the number is increasing. This demographic currently makes up 10% of the homeschooling population, while African-American children make up 16% of public school students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Families choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons. Traditional rationale includes dissatisfaction with available schools and the ability to include religion in the curriculum.
Some black families are opting for home education in order to escape the low expectations they believe public schools have for their children. Temple University professor Ama Mazama has homeschooled her own children for 12 years. She says that black children are sometimes “treated as though they are not as intelligent and cannot perform as well, and therefore the standards for them should be lower.”
Mazama’s research into black families who homeschool shows that some chose to offer “more detailed descriptions of ancient African civilizations and accounts of successful African people throughout history.” Parental choice of curriculum and the ability to focus on particular subjects is one of the benefits of homeschooling.
Motivated to Homeschool Boys
Penn-Nabrit and her husband “elected to teach [their sons] the subject areas they knew well.” For the “remaining science and math courses, they hired black, mostly male, graduate students from Ohio State University to take over — in large part so that the boys had exposure to successful people who looked like them.”
Penn-Nabrit says, “Most black people go to school and never have a teacher that looks like them, and this is particularly true for black boys.” According to the Dept. of Education, fewer than 2% of current classroom teachers are African-American males.
Some African-American families fear that boys in public schools are sometimes misunderstood and expectations placed on them are developmentally inappropriate.
University of Georgia education professor Cheryl Fields-Smith believes that boys are sometimes expected to act more like girls and can face disciplinary action for natural behavior. Fields-Smith says, “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.’”
Rhonda McKnight is a single mother who homeschools her son while working full-time as a contractor for the state of Georgia. She describes her son’s curriculum as an “original mix of purchased homeschool lesson plans and lessons she’s written herself.” McKnight supplements the curriculum by enrolling her son in a homeschool collective that meets “on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to do extracurricular events and hands-on learning activities that can’t easily be done in the home.” Mc-Knight also takes her son on educational field trips.
In the 15 years since the founding of the National Black Home Educators meeting, their annual conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has grown from just 50 attendees to upwards of 400.
(The Atlantic, 2-17-15)