Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=33755
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'Village' concept keeping more black children at home for school

by Yasmin Tara Rammohan
April 12, 2007


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Yasmin Tara Rammohan/ Medill

Cheryl Fields-Smith is conducting a study of African-American homeschooling families in Georgia.

The African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" is finding new application among African-American parents who are opting to educate their children at home.

But these parents are choosing their own village, rejecting the public education system that at first denied them and later failed them.

Cheryl Fields-Smith is conducting a two-year study into black homeschooling in the southern states. She was in Chicago on Thursday to talk about the study and called the homeschooling movement among African-Americans “an extreme form of parental involvement.”

Unaware of the African-American homeschooling population, Fields-Smith stumbled upon a black parent in Georgia who introduced her to others, which led to her current study of 36 African-American homeschooling families.

Fields-Smith, assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Georgia, presented her preliminary findings in a round-table discussion titled “Challenges in Teaching Your Own: Perceptions of Academic Involvement among Black Parents.”

The discussion Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago was part of the 88th annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.
Parents of black children are teaching them at home for various reasons, Fields-Smith found.

Reasons included infusing black history and perspective into education, countering negative images of black children, demanding higher expectations from their children and sheltering them from bad influences in public schools.

Parents said they wanted to hear more from teachers than simply that their child was “well-behaved.” They wanted to produce “well-rounded thinkers.”

“Teachers do not have time in this era of accountability and test-taking to really get into the needs of individual children,” Fields-Smith said. She added that one parent said it took her two years to decipher her child’s learning style, which made her question how public school teachers can effectively teach overcrowded classrooms.

There is a freedom of curriculum with homeschooling that African-American parents can use to their advantage, Fields-Smith said.

Black students have a better chance of learning about their own history and reading a more diverse range of cultural books than they would in the public school curriculum.

Homeschooling support groups are integral to making the system work. Parents can find information about curriculum and legal issues, get emotional support and combine resources to create a homeschooling community that furthers child development, Fields-Smith said.

Fields-Smith noted accountability and opposition from the black community as obstacles to homeschooling. Some parents are worried about their own self-efficacy as teachers, she said.

Others have the mentality that African-Americans have worked so hard for public school integration, it seems counterintuitive to pull their children out of school, she added.

Jennifer James, director of the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance, disagrees with this notion.

“African-American parents who want their children to receive an exceptional education are facing unequal resources in the schools, overt and subtle racism at times in the schools and an achievement gap that doesn’t look to be narrowing,” she said.

Homeschooling is often thought of as a white phenomenon. It first emerged as a white, left-wing, hippie way of life, said Ronald Butchart, an education historian at the University of Georgia. When desegregation came, it became an excuse for white parents to pull their children out of school to keep them away from black children, he added.

Fields-Smith noted that the African-American parents in her study have support from white and black homeschooling groups, but also said one parent did mention hostility from a white support group where she was not well-received.

While homeschooling is not for everyone, it is certainly an option for parents who are growing increasingly weary of public school education.

“Parents are putting their children’s educations in their own hands and succeeding in large part," James said. "These parents understand that if they fail their children, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. This causes parents to give their children the best education they can, on their own terms and in their own way."