Significant growth in black families’ participation in home schooling is beginning to show up on the radar screens of researchers. The National Center for Education Statistics computed African-Americans as 9.9 percent of the 850,000 children the federal agency figured were being home-schooled nationally in 1999. Veteran home-schooling researcher Brian Ray figures blacks are currently about 5 percent of the 1.6 million to 2 million home-schooled children but he agrees that black home schooling is growing rapidly.
One sign of growth is the rise of support organizations, such as the Network of Black Homeschoolers and the National Black Home Educators Resource Association, which use the Internet, telephone, conferences, workshops, and newsletters to help families making the big commitment to home schooling.
In Prince George’s County, Maryland, there’s a boom in home schooling evolving in part out of an active support organization for stay-at-home “moms of color” called Mocha Moms. New and veteran black home schoolers alike tell how deterrents to black home schooling are fading as more people realize the educational benefits of making this personal choice and total commitment.
The rise of black home schooling coincides with an overall diversification, as more so-called mainstream families come on board with a movement begun largely by religious fundamentalists and so-called “unschoolers.”
The outlook is for continued brisk growth in home schooling among ethnic minorities. Tax breaks could help more families make the commitment for one parent to stay at home to teach the children.
The Rise of Home Schooling Among African-Americans
When the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, published the results of its survey of American home schoolers in July 2001, some of the figures on demographic distribution fairly jumped off the pages.
By race/ethnicity, the NCES reported that there were an estimated 850,000 home-schooled children nationwide in 1999 and they divided on a racial/ethnic basis as follows:
Those numbers fly in the face of the stereotype about home schooling being in the domain almost exclusively of white religious fundamentalists. They also ran counter to some earlier research by home-schooling advocates. One study in 1998 indicated that of 20,790 respondents to a random sampling, less than 1 percent (.8%) were black .
It may well be that the federal researchers have underestimated the total number of home schoolers and somewhat overestimated the proportion of black and other minority home schoolers.
Home-schooling advocates believe a significant number of home-schooling parents did not participate in the survey because they were leery of government involvement. Dr. Brian Ray, who heads the National Home Education Research Institute and has been doing widely respected studies of home schooling for the past 18 years, estimates that in the fall of 2001 (2-1/2 years after the NCES’ survey) between 1.6 million and 2 million children were being home schooled in the U.S. Of that number, he estimates that 5 percent are African-Americans. (For cultural and historical reasons, minority home schoolers may have been more willing than white home schoolers to cooperate with the government’s phone surveyors, but that is a matter of speculation.)
But even though precise figures are lacking, many signs point to a surge of black participation in the home-schooling movement, which is one of the strongest signs of a broad-based demand for educational freedom. Dr. Ray commented that from a little research and a good deal of traveling the country and meeting with home schoolers, he concludes that “African-American home schooling is growing and growing fast.”
One sign of the growth of home schooling among African-Americans is that organizations have been springing up to provide encouragement and support within this growing segment of the movement. Two notable ones of recent vintage are the National Black Home Educators Resources Association (NBHERA), begun by Eric and Joyce Burges of Baker, Louisiana, and the Network of Black Homeschoolers (NBH), founded by Gilbert and Gloria Wilkerson of Richmond, Virginia.
The Burgeses and the Wilkersons are in the vanguard of what The Home School Court Report has termed “the new pioneers” – African-American families who, like the earliest home educators in America, are defying stereotypes and cultural pressures to give their children a good education at home. The Burgeses have home schooled for 12 years, the Wilkersons for 13.
“Black families felt and still do feel that an education is the door to our people’s freedom,” says Joyce Burges. “Many black families across the nation are returning to the old-fashioned method of teaching learned years ago from our ancestors.”
Cultural obstacles sometimes appear as a result of a stuck-in-the-Sixties mindset. Some African-Americans who were involved in the heroic civil-rights revolution regard it as a betrayal of the movement if blacks leave public education after all the struggle to gain them a place at the table. The flip side of that, though, is that many public schools have not lived up to the promise of providing equal educational opportunity.
Commented the NBH’s Gilbert Wilkerson: “I want to help black people come out of the mentality that we’ve been sold, that’s been engrained in us, that we’ve been so cemented in for years and years. My goal, not only with homeschoolers, but with all African-Americans, is to bring them up to a higher level of thinking. I know we can do better. We have the courage, the strength, the spirituality, the economics – everything we need within the black community. Why are we waiting around for somebody else, like the government and others, to give us a hand for something we can do ourselves?”
Founded in 1998, the Network of Black Homeschoolers seeks to “unite, strengthen, encourage, inform, and update African-American home educators regarding issues, laws, and information in educating their children.” NBH seeks to foster unity through publications, seminars, and conventions, and is dedicated to perpetuating the “proud heritage of the black family.” Members receive newsletters and discounts to events, NBH materials, and conferences. Via the Internet, telephone, or support groups, NBH members share information and form friendships. NBH’s future plans include a database of African-American studies and inventors. Wilkerson said the volume of e-mails, phone calls, and letters is growing so rapidly that he and his wife are considering adding some help to handle the requests.
Network of Black Homeschoolers
P.O. Box 28325
Richmond, Virginia 23228
Membership: $20 a year.
Founded in 2000, the National Black Home Educators Resource Association seeks to “assist black families nationwide who share the common responsibility of teaching their children at home by providing these families with…
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