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Black families increasingly choose to homeschool kids

In the last 15 years, the number of black children in homeschool has doubled from 103,000 to about 220,000. Black parents cite a number of reasons for homeschooling children, including concern over peer pressure and drugs at school -- but increasingly, they are also citing school-related racism as a reason to keep students at home. NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano reports.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    One of the most important choices a parent or guardian makes is where to send a child to school. And an increasing number are deciding not to send them at all, instead educating them at home. One segment of this growing movement – African Americans – are looking to provide their children the history and social context they say can't be found in public schools. Ivette Feliciano reports from Atlanta, Georgia.

  • AKBAR IMHOTEP AND AUDIENCE:

    I'm not going to the wedding…

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    At the Atlanta home of 19th century writer, Joel Chandler Harris, best known for his Uncle Remus African American folktales, Akbar Imhotep is keeping alive the oral tradition that inspired Chandler's books.

  • AKBAR IMHOTEP:

    Listen to the words and help them grow.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    This is part of a homeschooling support network in Cobb County Georgia, just outside Atlanta.

  • AMBER JOHNSTON:

    This is not just any old house.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    It was founded in 2016 by Amber Johnston, a business owner, wife and mother of four. She wanted to fill a need she saw for her daughters and for a burgeoning demographic in the homeschooling movement — African Americans. Johnston's group, which began with two families less than two years ago, has grown to 66 families.

  • AMBER JOHNSTON:

    I'm still shocked about it. It reminds me when I was, like, growing up in the '80s, there was this cartoon called Thundercats. And when they needed to be called to action, they would say, "Thundercats, Thundercats, Thundercats, ho!" and this light would go up in the sky and the other Thundercats would see it. That's what I feel like. I feel like I put a beacon light up in the sky in Cobb County thinking that a few sprinkles of families might see it. And I've been overwhelmed by the response.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Across the nation as many as 202,000 black children are being homeschooled, up from about 105,000 in 2003.

    While white Americans still make up a majority of the 1.7 million homeschoolers, the percentage of African Americans is growing fast. They cite some of the same reasons for abandoning traditional schools that the larger homeschooling community does, negative school environments including peer pressure, dissatisfaction with academics, and a desire to provide religious instruction.

  • SASHA JOHNSTON:

    Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    But it wasn't just the family's faith that made the Johnston's look for alternatives. They were worried about the quality of the schools in their area.

    And there was another factor that gave them pause.

  • AMBER JOHNSTON:

    I started realizing that maybe we hadn't come as far along in race relations in the country as I thought that we had. That there seemed to be a lot of messed up stuff brewing underneath. And I was feeling very much like a mama bear. Like hey, "I don't know exactly what's going down here," but I'm not willing to sacrifice my child as I try to figure this out.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    That was four years ago and Johnston's daughters have been homeschooled ever since.

  • AMBER JOHNSTON:

    What does that mean?

  • NINA JOHNSTON:

    If you don't work for your food, you can't get any.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    The decision to home educate was strengthened in 2014 when Johnston found out she was having the first of her two boys. She was initially excited.

  • AMBER JOHNSTON:

    And my very second thought was, great, now I'm the mother of America's most hated, and what am I going to do with that. When I look at my little boys, I just see beauty. And the thought of putting them in an environment where one day they would be looked upon potentially and very likely as being less-than, less smart, less deserving, less safe. And I just hear less, less, less, less less.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Johnston isn't alone.

    Cheryl Fields-Smith, a professor of education at the University of Georgia, has heard from a lot of parents like Amber Johnston.

    In 2009 she published a study about black homeschoolers. She found the vast majority cite perceptions of, or experiences with racism in public and private schools as a reason for homeschooling.

  • CHERYL FIELDS-SMITH:

    The research shows us that we have discipline disproportionality, where black males are suspended two times more than their other counterparts. So, that's not by accident. I think that's racism. I think that that's prejudice and assumptions that we're making about children.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Judy Sarden, who lives just outside of Atlanta, knows these kinds of assumptions all too well. Sarden and her husband, an architect, both went to public schools. She was an attorney making six figures when she decided to quit her job to teach her two kids, 10 year old Aidan and 9 year old Haley.

  • JUDY SARDEN:

    Kind of hard to imagine that person quitting their fancy corporate job and going home to be with their children.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    It was 2012. Sarden says then four year old Aidan had a tough year with one teacher in his Montessori class.

  • JUDY SARDEN:

    My son was reading at the time. He was young, but he was reading. And the other teachers had pushed him, anything he showed an aptitude for, they had pushed him, and helped him to develop it in a way that he enjoyed it. But this teacher, who had come from the public schools, didn't. And I begged her to, you know. I sent her books to school that he was reading, and asked her to encourage him, and have him read to her, and she never did. There was no expectation that he should be able to read. And, I could see kind of, you know, the writing on the wall. I could see where we were going with his education. With him regressing the way he did that one year, it was drastic, and it was heartbreaking.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Keeping her kids home, Sarden says, she is able to shape their curriculum. That includes history lessons they won't get in public school.

  • JUDY SARDEN:

    Depending on what state you're in you learn about African enslavement in the Americas or you don't learn about it at all. And basically that is the history that all kids, black and white, learn about black people.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    With her kids she teaches a different way.

  • JUDY SARDEN:

    So we don't just learn about the Greek and Roman empires. We learn about the African civilizations, we learn about what's going on in the Americas, we get to learn about what's going on pretty much on every continent throughout history. So that by the time we get to modern times, and we get to African enslavement in the Americas, we've studied four or five thousand years of world history, but especially African history. So that for my children, their history didn't just start 300 years ago here in the Americas, their history started back in Africa.

  • SHEVA QUINN:

    We go hard on African American history, and culture, and again that's a reflection of just what I didn't know, you know. I didn't know much about Africa, I thought Africa was a country, you know.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Retired Air Force veteran Sheva Quinn lives in rural Byron, Georgia. She has been homeschooling her two daughters, seven year old Zariah and six year old Aniah for the past four years.

  • SHEVA QUINN:

    So six times five is what?

  • ANIAH:

    30.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Like Judy Sarden, Quinn emphasizes African American history, and has added a personal touch, tracing her family's DNA to Ghana. And she's doing it on her own as a single mother.

  • SHEVA QUINN:

    Being a single parent is not easy on nobody. I mean, I'm not going to lie. My day starts at 3 o'clock in the morning, I've been up since 3 o'clock this morning, getting breakfast going, getting lunch on, because you can't afford to eat out every day, like who does that, right? So you have to be more engaged with your family.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Homeschooling can be costly. Like private school families, homeschoolers still must pay the local taxes that pay for public school even though their kids are not enrolled. The cost of educational content can run into the hundreds. And funds for teaching tools like tablets and these programmable robots come directly out of parents' pockets. But with access to low cost or free online lessons, Quinn says being a homeschooling single mom is possible.

    A combination of her Air Force pension, a job teaching a few online classes, and financial contributions from her ex-husband allows Quinn to stay at home.

  • SHEVA QUINN:

    Granny is a noun.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    She decided to homeschool when teachers refused her request to give her then four year old daughter advanced reading material. The decision was very much grounded in her family history.

  • SHEVA QUINN:

    I come from a family of illiteracy and I wanted my kids to really know how to read well. And that was, you know, the whole thing of it behind me when I say the schools wouldn't, you know, push them. You know, I'm like, I know they can do more, I know they can do better, but we're just going to do this, and we're not going to do anymore. And I'm like "no." Why she can't practice her sight words over the weekend, or why we can't read these books, or you know, why we have to just stop at this level? And when I found out that the teachers just were not working with me and trying to help me move my children forward, I was like this is not going to work.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Professor Fields-Smith points to studies suggesting Sheva Quinn's experience is not unique. African American parents can face more resistance from schools than white parents when advocating for their children.

  • CHERYL FIELDS-SMITH:

    A lot of homeschoolers have had experiences in schools where the parents have tried to advocate for their children, and they've experienced marginalization, and their child has experienced just not being able to be themselves. They're painted as troublemakers.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    And being able to be yourself and embrace black culture, says Amber Johnston, is part of what her homeschooling group is all about.

  • AMBER JOHNSTON:

    Sometimes, doggone it, we just want to go to Alvin Ailey and put on some Nina Simone and come home and just talk about stuff. And that's what, you know, we're able to do. So it's not against anyone as much as it is a support. And I really see it as a mental health system for our kids.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    But not everyone sees it that way, she says. On social media she's received some painful comments, particularly from those outside her black community.

  • AMBER JOHNSTON:

    "You're basically teaching racism to your kids," or, "Your group is an example of reverse racism." And so, I wish, you know, that I could sometimes say I wish you could walk in my shoes, because I know you're a passionate mother, and I know that if your little girl was heartbroken, you would start any kind of group you could to help her.

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