Seeking to counter stereotypes that homeschooling is driven by white parents motivated by racial prejudice, advocates say the movement is gaining appeal among all ethnic groups.
Articles have claimed that African-Americans are one of the fastest-growing segments of homeschoolers. A resource network called National Black Home Educators estimates blacks make up about 5 percent of 2 million children in the United States who are home schooled. By some estimates the number of blacks in homeschooling is growing at a rate of 10 percent a year.
Hard numbers are hard to come by. The National Center for Education Statistics uses a lower number of 1.1 million homeschoolers, about 2.2 percent of all students. The percentage grew from 1.7 percent between 1999 and 2003, the year with the most recent figures.
The government figures say 103,000 out of nearly 8 million black students are schooled at home, 1.3 percent. Homeschooling grew faster among whites, from 2 percent to 2.7 percent. One of the fastest-growing homeschooling demographics is among parents whose educational attainment is a high school diploma or less.
Evidence abounds, however, that homeschooling is no longer just for conservative white Christians who can’t afford private schools and countercultural liberals. While they face pressure from a majority in the African-American community that views public education as an institution that helps blacks, a number of articles suggest that growing numbers of black parents are getting fed up with overcrowded classrooms, school violence and an achievement gap between white and black students in public schools.
Voddie Baucham, an African-American minister, co-sponsored a resolution at last summer’s Southern Baptist Convention urging parents to fully embrace their responsibility for ensuring their children receive a godly education.
“The Baucham/Shortt resolution is the only position being discussed in the SBC today that addresses the race issue,” Baucham said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com.
“I am absolutely opposed to the practice of sending Christian children to government schools,” Baucham said. While critics of homeschooling accuse the movement of being racist, he said, they offer “absolutely no answer the poor black children whose futures are being eroded by inferior education.”
Baucham’s co-sponsor in the resolution, Bruce Shortt, is white. He lives in an affluent school district in suburban Houston that many people would view as superior, but he still opts to teach his two young sons at home.
“As bad as the suburban schools are (using my benchmarks), the inner city schools that most blacks are consigned to are seen by virtually everyone as vastly worse,” Shortt said. “I think this lends a special sense of urgency that contributes to the growth among blacks.”
Shortt said if race is driving any educational choice, it is overwhelmingly in the direction of people moving to “good” public schools. “Realtors don’t promote areas by saying, ‘They have really good homeschooling co-ops out there,'” he said.
Articles say African-Americans choose homeschooling for many of the same reasons as whites. Asked about what they considered to be their most important reason for homeschooling, 31 percent of homeschooled children had parents who cited concern about the environment of other schools–such as safety, drugs or negative peer pressure. Thirty percent said the most important reason was to provide religious or moral instruction.
Special concerns for minorities include bias in America’s classrooms–90 percent of America’s classroom teachers are white–and a wide disparity in test scores between white and blacks.
Shortt said he believes suggestions that allegations of racism without supporting information, including some in articles published on EthicsDaily.com, are merely “smear tactics.”
Despite such protests, Stella Edwards, legislative chairperson for Virginia PTA, said the current call for a Christian exodus from public schools “parallels with me” to earlier movements to establish white Christian schools to avoid desegregation.
Edwards, who is African-American, is the parent of a daughter who attends East Carolina University and a son who is a junior in a public high school. Her husband is a retired military officer; she also was in the military but resigned when her son was born. They have lived in Virginia for 15 years.
Edwards, a member of First Baptist Church in Hopewell, Va., said she takes exception to the idea “of carving out children of Christian families and isolating them from the general public in order to educate them.”
Rather, she says, “I would think we should be calling out for Christian young people to go into the field of education” as a positive influence on the system.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.