In African-American Communities, Growing Interest In Home-Schooling

Mar 30, 2016

Photo credit: Gabrielle Emanuel/NPR

By Gabrielle Emanuel

On a quiet street in Detroit, light pours into the back windows of the Kirksey home. In the back of the house the walls are lined with textbooks, workbooks and multicultural children’s books. It’s a home — but it’s also a classroom.

Brandon, 8, is wearing pajamas and a paper crown from Burger King. He heads into the back room and pulls a large laminated world map off the bookshelf.

“This is the whole entire map! Michigan,” he says enthusiastically pointing to his home state. His two siblings, Zachary, 3, and Ariyah, 1, echo him.

Their mother and teacher, Camille Kirksey, ushers them into the dining room. Sitting among bowls of fruit and stacks of books, the kids figure out the date and the weather.

This is a typical start to Brandon’s school day. Today’s agenda: poetry recitation. Then, it’s time for reading and math. Fridays are reserved for science experiments and field trips.

Brandon is part of a distinct subgroup of the U.S. home-schooling population: African-Americans.

“Black home-schooling is definitely on the rise,” says Ama Mazama, a professor of African-American studies at Temple University.

It’s hard to determine the exact number of home-school students, let alone the racial breakdown. Most estimates put the total figure at roughly 2 million and suggest that between 5 and 10 percent are black.

Mazama says black home-schoolers tend to come from urban, two-parent households.

The key question, she says, is why these families are deciding to leave traditional schools. Research suggests black families often choose to home school for very different reasons than white families.

“White home-schoolers, the No. 1 reason they give when asked is religion,” Mazama says. “For the black families, it was not the case at all. It was racism.”

This is particularly interesting, she says, because African-Americans are consistently the most religious subgroup in America. They pray more. They go to church more.

“And yet, religion was not No. 1, not No. 2, not No. 3.”


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17 comments on “In African-American Communities, Growing Interest In Home-Schooling

  • Home schooled kids miss out on teaching time. They miss out on teacher training. They miss out on socialisation.
    They miss out on academic equipment and physical activity. They are vulnerable to crackpot parental ideas being brainwashed it.

    It should be reserved for isolated families where school is not available.



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  • The above comments are from people with no acquaintance with modern homeschooling. There are an increasing number of families who choose to homeschool for non-religious reasons. In yesterday’s Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/homeschooling-without-god/475953/, there was an article about the rise in atheist homeschooling families. Many homeschoolers choose to do so simply because they can give a better education at home than are available in the local schools. These children have plenty of contact with other children and adults, physical education, and in many cases, far less religious indoctrination than they would have in local schools. According to a 2011 article in Science, seventy-three percent of American biology teachers don’t teach evolution in their classes. Seventy-three percent! Of those, thirteen percent openly teach creationism; the other sixty percent simply don’t say anything at all. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/331/6016/404. All secular homeschooling families teach evolution. In a 2011 Department of Education survey, “desire to provide religious instruction” came in fourth behind safety at local schools, family situations (including distance from schools), and “dissatisfaction with academic instruction” at local schools. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013028rev.pdf. Kate Laird, author of the forthcoming book Homeschool Teacher (aimed at an audience of secular and academic homeschoolers).



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  • 4
    Pinball1970 says:

    Any data on how well home school kids perform in national exams?

    Or on university entrants/graduates who were home schooled?



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  • I would understand completely if parents who have a child who is being bullied and abused in school were to take the child out of that environment and home school them, even temporarily. Even with strict policies in school against this atrocious behavior, it still happens. This emotional damage at a young age can be difficult to compensate for after the fact. I’ve not dealt with this problem personally but if had ever become aware of it happening to my child and if the school could not resolve the matter decisively, I’d homeschool. Granted I’m capable of covering most subjects up to college level but there are ways to fill in with instruction from the outside too. Our community colleges here accept students at age 16 if they have formally quit school. After two years at community college they can slide straight into the University of MA system without even taking SATs etc. This is providing their grades from community college are up to snuff.

    This being said, I don’t say that this strategy is equivalent to thundering straight through school in the conventional way with a nice high GPA and straight onto the University system for as long as one can possibly stay there. But if there is debilitating bullying going on then I can’t see how it would be worth it to come out of high school with a self esteem that is so beaten down into the dirt that they would suffer for the rest of their lives (or worse consequences than that). Not worth it at all.



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  • LaurieB #5
    Apr 4, 2016 at 10:08 am

    This being said, I don’t say that this strategy is equivalent to thundering straight through school in the conventional way with a nice high GPA and straight onto the University system for as long as one can possibly stay there.

    I’m not so sure about the “for as long as one can possibly stay there”, bit.

    My younger so decided not to take that route and has declined to take a master’s degree.

    Instead he does specialist short courses related to work.

    The way he looks at it, a higher degree would just put him a year or two behind the field in the specialist work he does, and cost him money instead of earnings.

    So far his strategy has got him as far as head of development and a directorship of the IT company.



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  • @ #4

    A celebrity tv chef/personality comes to mind, albiet this is not indicative of stats you are after…

    Her children are home-schooled, a combination of christian values and location isolation. They’re also rich rich rich (one factor in the mix) that secured acceptance for their eldest to a well known (and respected) conservative college.



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  • @pinball1970 (#4)

    That is a good question, but I’m afraid not one with a lot of hard data. Anecdotally, I would say the secular academic homeschoolers do as well or better as they would otherwise, for the very reason that many of those families have pulled their kids out of school because of problems in the schools rather than a homeschooling philosophy. Many of the families have some children in public school and some at home. There are also a disproportionate number of families who are homeschooling children with learning disabilities who were being left behind in public schools. True, the parents may not be professional special ed teachers, but how many kids in this country actually have the chance to see a professional special ed teacher? Many over-stretched districts simply cannot handle children who are ahead or behind the curve. So, most of those children are probably doing better than they would have done otherwise, but they may not test well. With the rise of virtual public schools in many states, children are able to do some courses at home, some at school, and many public schools permit students to take a few classes at home, a few classes at school. There are certainly a lot of homeschoolers out there who meet the stereotype of twenty children studying science out of books called “Land Animals of the Sixth Day” (I’m not making this title up), but there is an ever-increasing proportion of homeschoolers who are doing so to give their children the best academic and social opportunities possible, such as the families described in this article.



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  • Yeah take note these are disproportionately URBAN black families or school districts in the USA, not lilly white suburban or semi-rural communities in Missouri or Florida. That is key, since the idea that racism could be all THAT bad in the URBAN schools of the USA is absurd, as most urban schools are more diverse have been allowing dubious ‘politicized’ interpretations, perspectives, or narratives from the left to creep-in if not flourish in the schools for decades now.

    What I have seen of these home-schooling blacks in the urban centers, is ethno-religious and social quackery called Black Hebrews or Black Israelites (often intermingled with varying degrees of black supremacy, nationalism, and liberation theology depending on the local congregation). NOT to be confused with those blacks who have fully converted to and are accepted by mainstream reform Judaism. The ones to which I’m referring are NOT accepted by Judaism. They think they are the original Jews or Hebrews of the Bible; and that the Jews we know today are fakes and imposters who have ‘whitewashed’ history and stolen credit for all the things that are attributed to the “real” Jews (who were black). The conspiracy theory and ‘alternative’ history runs strong with these ones, depending on the local group, varies from mildly unhinged to batsh-t crazy.

    The “racism” to which they are referring basically means all of mainstream accepted history written by whites or Europeans (Jews included). They see “microaggressions” everywhere, in everything.



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  • Alan4discussion #6
    Apr 4, 2016 at 10:24 am

    I’m not so sure about the “for as long as one can possibly stay there”, bit.

    I guess that betrays my American perspective where one tends to run out of money at some point in the higher education process (no matter how brilliant one might be!) and it’s a sad day when one must sit down and sign one’s life away for tens of thousands of dollars in loans for the privilege of furthering one’s education. Not only does life get in the way of higher education here, what with babies that show up unexpectedly, family members who need care, basic challenges like sexism, racism and learning disabilities to name a few, but here we have choking debt that would cause anyone to stop and pause before signing on the dotted line.

    So with all of this, when I say “as long as one can possibly stay there”, I mean that staying the course here can be a daunting task. It’s a herculean effort or extreme privilege or both if a Masters or PHD is required for the chosen field. We don’t take that lightly. But I acknowledge your point of course that not everyone can and should aim at the highest level without serious consideration of what is realistic and what is actually possible.

    This reminds me of another thread where we discussed the importance of making realistic goals – oh yes, it was that thread about telling kids that they can be anything they want to be. I am in favor of realistic goals. Not sure if I said it back then.



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  • LaurieB #11
    Apr 4, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    So with all of this, when I say “as long as one can possibly stay there”, I mean that staying the course here can be a daunting task. It’s a herculean effort or extreme privilege or both if a Masters or PHD is required for the chosen field. We don’t take that lightly. But I acknowledge your point of course that not everyone can and should aim at the highest level without serious consideration of what is realistic and what is actually possible.

    While many may rise to their level of capability (or in politics way beyond it), part of the point I was making is the ability to rise outside of the academic system .

    The son I mentioned seems to already working well above the levels of the higher degrees he could have enrolled to take, albeit working on an all-graduate / post graduate company team who help each other in a fast developing subject area – producing business software which monitors billions of £ $ € of global trade, and which clients pay up to a £million (each) to use.



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  • I posted #11 above BEFORE even going to the NPR article. Now that I have read the article, this bit seems to seal it:

    She says she was particularly excited to teach her kids a version of history that features their own ancestors.

    “As black people, I really want my children to understand that we are a huge part of history that is not always told,” Kirksey says.

    BOOM! Given all these indicators, the do-rag on her head, the unlikelihood that “racism” in a highly diverse (if not predominantly black) urban community school could be all THAT bad to warrant a rational person to pull their child from school, and not least of which, her telling statement that there is a ‘huge history featuring black people that isn’t being told’, I’m even more confident in my suspicions. She is very likely a member of one of these far-flung Afro-centric (black supremacist, black nationalist) groups, some of whom are being tracked/monitored by the SPLC as extremist organizations. In my research or experience, a substantial portion of urban black home-schoolers (in the USA) appear to be associated with these cult-like groups or ideologies. A measurable uptick or trend in them is NOT a good sign of things.



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  • I posted #11 above BEFORE even going to the NPR article.

    Sorry, I meant to refer to post #10, not post #11. I went to edit that while I still had edit time but the power went out here for ~30 minutes.



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  • Alan4discussion

    The son I mentioned seems to already working well above the levels of the higher degrees he could have enrolled to take

    Yes, I do understand this and all good things to him of course. While this particular case is successful, I will also point out that it can be a career disaster to be working along successfully well above what shows on the resume and then to find oneself filling out applications in the unemployment office. This recipe for disaster actually happened to my brother in the worst years of the economic downturn here. In his late forties with his B.S. in Business (or B.A.? idn.) he was lost his job with many others in that year. He then found himself competing in a down market for the few jobs out there with younger guys who had Masters degrees and many of the certificate courses that they take on the side, outside of the degree programs. He did find another position that he is happy with but as many others of his age discovered the hard way, he took a major pay cut over his neglected resume.

    Our conclusion is that we want the kids in our family to, as I said above, stay in there for as long as they can but also they need to know that education is a life-long endeavor and it’s important to update and augment one’s skill set whenever they have the opportunity to do so.



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  • LaurieB #16
    Apr 5, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Our conclusion is that we want the kids in our family to, as I said above, stay in there for as long as they can but also they need to know that education is a life-long endeavor and it’s important to update and augment one’s skill set

    That can be a good career choice IF they pick the right subjects or get top grades.

    My daughter (that son’s twin sister,) has a law degree, an international business diploma, and a post-graduate law professional qualification.

    She works as a lawyer, but is a bit miffed that she still earns less than her brother.

    However some subjects like law, are high risk uni courses, as there are many more graduates than there are positions for them in these professions. Quite a lot of graduates end up without jobs directly using their qualifications despite have accumulated debts during years of study.



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