Maybe you have heard this: the public schools are so bad that we have to educate parents and motivate them to action. If parents only knew how bad things are with these schools they would be rioting in the streets for better alternatives.
While the suggestion sounds a bit haughty, like one class of parents looking down on others, polls confirm the alleged disconnect between parent satisfaction and school performance.
Perhaps a deeper reading of the polling, better polling questions, and a larger commitment to qualitative research would yield a story with far more contours.
While research finds black parents responding positively to public education globally, or at least the school they have chosen for their child, social media is flush with examples that black parents are not simplistically supportive of the public education system. There is a constant stream of articles, studies, and links traded online decrying bias against black students, the dearth of black teachers, outrageous suspensions, overuse of special education, and other issues showing people are more than aware of educational inequities.
For a select group of Black families the information has prompted a change. They have made the difficult decision to leave the schools (public and private) and educate their children at home.
A study by Garvey Lundy and Ama Mazama says homeschooling grew by more than 74% between 1999 and 2007. African Americans have been a growing portion of homeschoolers, driven by a concern about educational quality in their schools, and racism against their students.
The struggle on the part of African Americans for a quality and equitable education in America is well documented (Anderson, 1988). This struggle was prompted by the educational inequities that continue to color the lives of young African American males (Noguera, 2008). The following sections of this manuscript highlight four sources of inequity experienced by African American males: (1) low teacher expectations; (2) the over-referral to special education programs; (3) school safety and aggression; and (4) the growing alliance between schools and the criminal justice system. These factors, we argue, have preoccupied homeschooling parents and contributed to their decision to homeschool.
These are important voices that may be the canary fleeing the coal mine. We should listen. Their concerns are common and supported by lived experience.
Fatima, a mother in Washington, D.C. says:
Well…the boys, the African American boys in my class, they were always treated and spoken to with a lot of malice; with contempt sometimes. And I just remember that; I remember I was never treated that way, and the girls were very rarely treated that way, but the African American boys were always treated that way.
Martha, a mother from Philadelphia, points to low expectations for black students:
I just thought, you know: all white teachers, all African American kids, and I have boys. It just didn’t sound like a great mix. The kids in the school are black, but I didn’t think they were given the best of these schools. Let me think of how to explain it…it seemed like they were given the leftovers. It seemed to me that the teachers were coming in to get paid but not necessarily to give their best to these kids. They didn’t expect much from the kids. They could care less. The passion and heart for teaching wasn’t there, and the students, especially the boys, paid for it. I knew that wasn’t for me.
Shawn, another Philadelphia mother, says standards for black students are too low:
We were fighting all the time, and our experience is not just with [my son] alone, but with a lot of other boys and knowing that, typically, they’re not placed where they could be, and I’m certain some of that has to do with what I believe is race-based. And what I mean by race-based is where decisions are made. So why aren’t African American boys in the accelerated academic program? Why would they be trapped into low-level courses? So that’s my concern. So because I look at that, I know that there are decisions that are made based on race and because they’re scared of Black boys, I didn’t want that for him. I pulled him out knowing that is so typical.
One parent from the study below, Tara, says “Schools are institutions, just like prisons are institutions. Just like insane asylums are institutions. They are there to keep our kids locked up.”
Concurring, Jason, another parent, says “So, if we’re going to let our children go to these schools, we’re going to be training them…training them to be future convicts…because I believe schools are so very related to prisons.”
Some Americans romanticize public schools as the sacred cornerstone of an ideal democracy. Black parents, not so much (or, at least not uniformly). Some of us think deeply about the nature of state-run schools. We are realistic about their meaning and troubled history in the lives of black people.
It’s exactly how I see the world. Every morning 8 million black students walk into public school buildings that hold little promise of preparing them for lives as independent black adults. We can’t hide our eyes behind polls or romantic visions of institutions and consider ourselves worthy as parents.
For a better explanation, see Dr. Ama Mazama’s presentation: