Homeschooling stories usually fall into two camps. One is the type where the reporter discovers that the parents are devout Christians or observant Jews, and tries to find the hidden “safe room” where the five-year supplies of freeze-dried food and the leather-bound works of Ann Coulter are hidden.
Then there are the “unschoolers,” who tend either to be hippies or the children of hippies. These are the parents who feel that the best way to ensure that their children get a nice crisp education is to let them bake in the sun all day.
Of course these portraits are caricatures. Parents choose homeschooling for all sorts of reasons. And as Jonetta Rose Barras notes in this interesting cover story in the Washington City Paper, a rising number of homeschoolers are African-American.
I’ve read Barras’s work for twenty years, in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and Washington Examiner. She is an independent voice who really can’t be pigeonholed, except that she is rightly skeptical of white liberals who think they know what is best for African-Americans. (If you search on unz.org, you can find a piece she wrote for The American Enterprise skeptical of the ACLU for its efforts to favor criminals over law-abiding African-Americans.)
As for homeschoolers, she cites statistics from the Virginia and Maryland Departments of Education and the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education that there were, by the most recent statistics (which, for Maryland, are only for the 2006-7 school year), about 35,000 homeschoolers in Maryland, 24,000 in Virginia, but only about 300 in the District of Columbia. However, she finds that homeschool cooperatives in Washington likely to favor blacks have as many as 500 members, so the official number for D.C. is probably too low. According to Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, about 2.4 million American children are homeschooled, with about 200,000 being African-American.
Why do parents choose to homeschool? A rising number think that public schools are biased against African-American boys. Barras quotes a 2010 study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education that states that “the data indicates that most [public school] systems contribute to the conditions in which black males have nearly as great a chance of being incarcerated as graduating.”
A lot of times this is because black boys are suspended or expelled from school. The District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education reports that in the 2012-13 school year, 10,000 of the 80,000 students in public schools were suspended at least once. Charter schools, which currently enroll about 44 percent of D.C. public school students, are even tougher, with a 72 percent higher suspension rate.
“Incredibly,” Barras writes, “180 of those suspended or expelled were 3- and 4-year olds.” Yes, if you live in a state which is debating about whether or not to extend public education to four year olds, not only does the District of Columbia mandate such education, they’re already expelling them. And rather than re-enter the system, these expelled students find the code of the street more enticing than school.
“About 99 percent of African Americans rotting in prison are people who are the product of public schools,” says Pier Penic, who chose to homeschool her children. Penic grew up in Boston during the school busing crisis of the 1970s. She told Barras that her father refused to send her to the city’s public schools because of fears for her safety. He kept to that vow even when Massachusetts officials threatened to send him to jail for violating truancy laws. Penic eventually went to a boarding school in Connecticut—and vowed to keep her children out of public schools.
“People are developing a distrust for the school system,” she adds. “Based on that distrust, more are coming to the conclusion they need to have choice.”
Renée Flood-Wright said she decided to homeschool her son after getting scores of citations from the principal at his elementary school accusing him of continued misbehavior. “The way they are teaching in these schools, every black boy will be in special education,” she said.
Homeschoolers in the District of Columbia are also threatened by encroaching education bureaucracy. In 2014 the Office of the State Superintendent of Education proposed that in 2016 the state superintendent would be the “chief homeschooler” in the District of Columbia and that all homeschoolers would have to fulfill a mandated curriculum of twenty-four credits to get an official high-school diploma. These regulations have not been issued, and the state superintendent’s office has declared that it will not issue rules that affect the autonomy of homeschooling parents.
Barras’s report provides additional evidence that public schools are failing African-Americans—and that homeschooling provides a constructive alternative to crumbling, crime-ridden inner-city schools.