Thousands of black children across North Carolina are finding their way out of institutionalized education and into the bosom of hearth and home to learn their ABCs and 123s. And the numbers are steadily growing.
Nationwide, the numbers of black students homeschooling has topped 120,000. Not only are they five times more likely to be homeschooled as they were five years ago, but the Home School Legal Defense Association web site reported they are “scoring in the upper percentiles right along with white students” on standardized achievement tests.
A story written by Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor, said “thousands of African-American parents are homeschooling their kids in a growing backlash against America’s public education system.”
Jonsson said so much in public education is broken that parents of black students are no longer willing to “sacrifice their children to a system that is suffering.”
In the article “Homeschooling Grows in the Black Community,” Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said a recent survey conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed more than 25 percent of the black population dissatisfied with public education. “The study shows that many black families have concluded that government-run schools have failed them,” he said.
As a result, Smith said, the number of black homeschoolers is growing rapidly. He estimated 5 percent of the total home-school population is black. “Most importantly (the) black homeschool movement is growing at a faster rate than the general homeschool population. The changing attitudes of minorities indicates that public educators can’t count indefinitely on the loyalty of ethnic minorities as the backbone of big-city schools.”
Leading the charge in North Carolina is Chapel Hill resident Jennifer James, a black mom dedicated to educating her two daughters at home. She said race played an extremely important role in her decision to keep her children at home. “Home schooling has only been viewed by scores of African-American families as a viable educational alternative to traditional education for the last five years,” she said. “And the truth is, I had to do something to save my kids. My husband, Michael and I wanted to protect our daughters from the prevailing stigma of minority underachievement. We didn’t want them to feel they are intellectually inferior to anyone. I want my children to be able to excel academically and not apologize for it.”
James vividly remembers her three “very intelligent brothers” struggling in the public school system. “They all had a tough time in school,” she said. “Their teachers told them they couldn’t read, even though they were reading the Bible at home.”
James said this type of behavior wasn’t uncommon back then, and the attitudes have only gotten worse through the years. “The children in North Carolina, the black boys in particular, don’t really have a chance,” she said. “The black boys are labeled early on. They are ruined in kindergarten. They face racism early on and are not allowed to achieve. It’s ruining a black child’s education, and now African-American parents are realizing they have to do something to save their kids.”
The concerned mom desired a safe place where her children could learn all the time, learn at their own pace, and satisfy their natural curiosity through intellectual discovery. James also wanted her girls to understand that black history is more than slavery or the Civil War. “I want a multi-cultural curriculum,” she said. My children have the right to know and be proud of the fact that there were black scientists and inventors, even back in the 1800s.”
James said one of the biggest setbacks to a black child’s success in education was desegregation. Instead of helping black children achieve, she said, it became a frightening time when black children faced extreme racism and discrimination. “Somewhere along the lines things got really messed up,” she said. “To this day, the kids don’t have a chance.”
In the newsletter Issues & Views, founded in 1985 by black Americans who advocate self-help, business enterprise, and the protection of constitutional rights, writer Elizabeth Wright reported on the plight of Williston High School in Wilmington. Wright wrote about how the school that once wove a circle of familiarity about the residents of the black community was ripped to shreds when it was shut down after the students were forced to bus to school across town.
Wright also reported about Kenneth McLaurin, an alumnus of the school. “The closing of Williston High School contributed to further disruption of the lives of hundreds of teachers, students and citizens within the community,” McLaurin penned in a yearbook. “Sent into an unknown world by the powers who had made decisions behind closed doors, teachers and students were precisely misplaced without benefit of preparation.
Being snatched from the comfort of our own environment was unreal. It was like a nightmare, unwarranted and unjust. We lost the bond between school, parents and teachers. We lost the ability to love and live together in the way to which we were accustomed.”
James said throughout the years that desegregation has caused negative peer pressure among black children to not achieve academically. “It’s not cool to be in the advanced honors classes,” she said. “The (black) kids don’t want to be labeled ‘white.’”
In order to overcome the obstacles created by desegregation, James not only decided to homeschool her daughters, but has found herself a key player in the field when she became the editor of the Mommy Too magazine and also the founder and director of North Carolinians for Home Education and the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance.
James’ decision to start the organized support groups came from the need to create a new sense of community at both the state and local levels. “One of the biggest obstacles facing the African-American home-schooling community is the lack of support groups geared toward African-American homeschoolers,” she said. Her efforts have placed North Carolina is at the forefront of the budding movement.
Smith said committed people, such as James, will ensure the success of black homeschoolers. He said the future looks bright for black students who have opted out of a dismal education system into the nurturing and teaching arms of family members.
“The percentage of minority home-schoolers will grow rapidly in the future and one day might equal non-minority homeschoolers,” Smith said. “We look forward to the day when large numbers of minority children experience the American Dream by receiving the education they need for success.”
However, Smith warned that black parents will need to be vigilant and work hard to overcome and combat media-driven stereotypes of homeschoolers, obtain the right materials, and overcome cultural opposition from family members, neighbors and churches.
But, he said, they also need to realize there is support from parents of all creeds, races and walks of life who also homeschool their children.
“More and more African-Americans are discovering a road to hope, not just for their children’s academic success, but also for their families and communities,” he wrote in his article “The New Pioneers.” “These are our brothers and sisters, the next wave of courageous pioneers in a movement that we now already has great value.”
Karen Welsh is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.