With disputes over Common Core standards and concerns about school choice, there has been much debate lately over the state of public education in America. Here in Indiana, many parents and educators have voiced their concerns regarding the way our state’s most prominent school corporation went about right-sizing its district.
Last week, while dozens of parents gathered downtown to protest Indianapolis Public Schools’ decision to close three high schools, Indianapolis resident Brent Barnett and his wife, Joi Barnett, were making lesson plans for their son’s next year of school from the comfort of their home. Barnett is one of a growing number of Black parents who have chosen to take their children’s education into their own hands by embracing homeschooling.
The National Home Education Research Institute stated that Black families are one of the fastest-growing demographics in homeschooling, with about 220,000 Black students currently homeschooling in the U.S. Barnett’s son has been among these numbers since 2014, when Barnett decided traditional schools were not right for 13-year-old Shamar Woodson.
“There was an issue with his effort, but the connection issues were more of a problem for him. The teacher didn’t have the ability to get through to him, and he wants to know that people care,” said Barnett. “(When he was younger), we would get him to school and he would be calling us from the nurse’s office, saying ‘I don’t feel good.’ In October of 2014, we decided to go ahead and take him out.”
Since embracing homeschooling, they have seen improvement in their son’s academic performance. Woodson is able to learn in ways that are relevant to his interests. For example, he has an interest in Marvel and DC comic book characters, so the Barnetts are incorporating those interests into a blog he will run as part of his curriculum.
Academics are not the only reason Black families are embracing homeschooling. Many parents cite hostile school environments, teachers with low expectations and a desire to instill positive values and beliefs as reasons they choose homeschooling. Queen Taese, a homeschool parent of 22 years, says she choose homeschooling because she wanted her children to be connected to their culture.
Taese is the founder of the Liberated Minds Black Homeschool & African-centered Education Expo, which she has nicknamed the “Family reunion of African-Centered education.” She says homeschooling is more accessible and affordable than many people believe.
Queen Taese, a homeschool parent of 22 years, is the founder of the Liberated Minds Black Homeschool & African-centered Education Expo.
According to Taese, the idea of needing a lot of money to hire private tutors or having to quit your job to homeschool isn’t always true. Typically, homeschooling will cost more than public school but less than private school. The Home School Legal Defense Association reports that $300-$450 per child per school year is a reasonable amount that parents can expect to spend.
There are homeschooling co-ops that allow parents to collaborate, share resources and teach on subjects they feel comfortable with and online classes that families can look into. Thrifty parents can borrow or rent curricula from support groups or utilize the library.
“When I came across homeschooling, which I knew nothing about, I thought it was just something people who were movie stars on the road did; I had no idea the average person could homeschool. I did more and more research, and I didn’t see a lot of Black people’s images involved,” said Taese. “I didn’t find anything online reflecting us, but I did find information on how to register and what was needed, and it was really simple. I thought this can be done, I can bring some other children and parents in, and this can be good.”
By her second year of homeschooling, Taese had formed a homeschool group, allowing her children to go on field trips and take classes with other homeschooled students. Taese was able to develop a curriculum that reflected her children’s interests and to incorporate real-word experience into their education. Her son, who loved science and mechanics, got an internship at a mechanics shop at the age of 12 and learned to fly aircrafts by the age of 16. Her daughter, who enjoys cooking, started a vegan catering business as a project for school, applying math and finance lessons to the real world by serving healthy food at baby showers and other events.
“Education is not just sitting in a classroom memorizing stuff. You have to teach them to apply it to their life,” said Taese. “What I really love about homeschooling the most is the bonding that takes place. You are in tune with their life, you know who their friends are, and you can make sure they are around children and parents who share the same morals and values. We teach them a cultural foundation of our African history from our viewpoint, not someone else’s opinion of our situation.”
Though the Black homeschool community in Indiana is small, local homeschool mom Uzuri Asad hopes to see more homeschoolers of color connect. The Asad family (clockwise from left): Nature (5), father Bashiri, mother Uzuri, Peace (12), Freedom (9) and Sunni (4).
Though the Black homeschool community in Indiana is small, local homeschool mom Uzuri Asad hopes to see more homeschoolers of color connect.
“At the present moment, there are a couple of homeschooling collectives that are in the developing stages that are specifically for children of color. There is not one I am aware of that’s fully established and up and running. I was talking with a couple of families here about developing a co-op, because it’s something that’s necessary to make sure all of our children are getting what they need,” said Asad.
As with any educational choice, homeschooling has its pros and cons. While Barnett has his son learning at home, he has children in traditional schools as well and feels it’s about what’s beneficial for that particular child. Some parents worry about the socialization of homeschooled children, and brick-and-mortar schools have teachers available who may be experts on particular subjects, including sports, instrumental band or video production. In traditional schools, special education teachers are available to work with students with disabilities, and kids are exposed to people from many walks of life. In the end, Taese says it’s all about choosing what’s best for your family.
“(Our ancestors) fought for us to have a choice in our kids’ education, and our choices should be based on what’s best at that time, moment and place. With the public school, you have bullying, you have the school-to-prison pipeline, you have Black kids being put in special education. You can look at the education your child is receiving and make a decision. Now that we have a choice, what are we going to do with it?”
Brent Barnett decided traditional schools were not the best option for 13-year-old Shamar Woodson. Since embracing homeschooling, Brent and his wife, Joi Barnett, have seen improvement in their son’s academic performance.