It’s a common perception that white, evangelical families are the most likely to homeschool their children. But a growing number of Black families have started teaching their kids at home — especially during the pandemic. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that in April 2020, 3% of Black households homeschooled their children, and by October 2020 it was up to 16%.
Those numbers may not be completely accurate, the Bureau noted, because a lot of children were learning at home in 2020. So part way through the survey period, the homeschooling question was expdanded to clarify that homeschoolers did not include children enrolled in public or private school. Even so, the numbers signal a significant increase.
Joyce Burges, founder of National Black Home Educators, said that since 2020, thousands of families have joined her organization.
“I think you’re going to see more and more parents, Black parents, homeschooling their children like never before,” Burges said.
“COVID was the catalyst”
Didakeje Griffin in Birmingham, Ala., is one of them. When she and her husband realized their kids wouldn’t be going back to public school in March 2020, they knew they had to make a change.
“It was like a light bulb moment,” Griffin said. “Ultimately, what I realized is that the pandemic just gave us an opportunity to do what we needed to do anyway, which is homeschooling.”
The mother of two said she’d always coached her kids at home to keep them on track. But three things made her decide to officially start homeschooling. First, she wanted her children to be safe from bullies. She also wanted them to understand their cultural history. The third factor was freedom.
“I want to have time to cultivate my children’s African-American, their Nigerian history and culture in them first, before anybody tries to tell them who they are,” Griffin said. COVID was the catalyst, “but it has not been the reason that we kept going.”
The Griffins celebrate Juneteenth more than July Fourth. They have discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement and talk about critical race theory with their children, ages 11 and 8. Griffin sees homeschooling as a way to protect her children.
“I don’t want my kids to be subjected to racism in certain ways so early,” she said.
Homeschooling as activism
In Black households, homeschooling can be its own unique form of activism and resistance.
“The history that’s taught is that we’ve tried through Brown v. Board of Ed to get access to schools, and schools are integrated,” said Cheryl Fields-Smith, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies Black homeschooling and its cultural significance.
“And that’s true,” she added. “But we’ve also always been self-taught.”
Fields-Smith said homeschooling is a way to combat educational racism, which comes in many forms.
“We all know that there are structures and policies and practices within our traditional schools that can be damaging to students of color, Black students in particular,” she said.
School discipline is one of them. Data from a 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showed that Black students were suspended at three times the rate of white students, and were more likely to be reprimanded. A 2015 study from the Association for Psychological Science found that Black students are more likely to be labeled “troublemakers” by teachers.
These statistics can make parents and caretakers of Black children distrust the education system. In the last couple years a number of states have moved to add more Black history into their lesson plans. Still, earlier this year, Alabama and a handful of other states banned critical race theory in K-12 classrooms, even though it’s an academic theory of structural racism that is largely taught at the university level.
“This idea of white supremacy and the inferiority of Black people lingers today,” Fields-Smith said. “We are overcoming racism through homeschooling. I don’t think white people can say that.”
A growing community
Some families are also creating community through homeschooling.
In Alabama, Alfrea Moore said homeschooling her children for the last three years has given them the freedom to ask questions and learn without a strict curriculum. It’s also allowed them to connect with their culture.
“The thing about homeschooling in the South as a Black family that I’m finding is that there are a lot more of us than we actually know of,” Moore said.
“When we moved to get my kids to interact with other kids, there are networks of homeschoolers and Black homeschoolers in not just this part of Alabama where we live, but all over.”
Jennifer Duckworth and Yalonda Chandler co-founded the Black Homeschoolers of Birmingham three years ago so more homeschooling families of color could find and support each other.
Duckworth said she started homeschooling because she was concerned that if her son were in public school, he would start to withdraw.
“My son, being a young Black boy with positive self-esteem about himself, can sometimes be threatening, for lack of a better word, to some teachers,” Duckworth said. “They’ll create an identity for the Black and brown children that they don’t even realize they’re doing.”
Duckworth said the Black Homeschoolers of Birmingham has created a community where children don’t feel different because of their race.
Her 10-year-old son, Alexander, agrees. “It just feels great to be around kids like me so you don’t always have to be alone, like the odd person out,” he said.
Duckworth has been homeschooling her three children for several years. They participate in a lot of the Black homeschooling group’s activities, like the debate club and field trips.
Last month the group held its first homeschooling summit. The founders said in just three years, the Black Homeschoolers of Birmingham has grown from two families to 70.
“Black families, they understand now that they don’t have to be trapped in a system that overpolices them, that marginalizes them, that makes their children feel criminalized for just being who they are,” said Chandler.
For a long time, the U.S. had barriers that made it hard for Black people to get an education, so learning and knowledge were always shared within the community.
“The African-American and African culture, we are the culture that has been homeschooling our children since the beginning,” Duckworth said. “And so I feel like it’s just in our DNA.”