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BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Well, now, here’s a staggering statistic for you. Homeschooling among black families increased by 500 percent last year. It’s an increasing
trend across the U.S., but especially in communities of color. Well, our next guest said good-bye to the public school system after feeling like it
failed them and their kids
Education justice advocates, Keri Rodrigues and Bernita Bradley, now run homeschooling initiative that aim to give power back to parents. Here they
are speaking to our Michel Martin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN: Thank, Bianna. Bernita Bradley, Keri Rodrigues, thank you both so much for joining us.
KERI RODRIGUES, FOUNDING PRESIDENT, NATIONAL PARENTS UNION: Thanks for having us.
BERNITA BRADLEY, FOUNDER, ENGAGED DETROIT: Thanks for having us. Yes.
MARTIN: You know, I’m going to ask each of you like what was your journey to home schooling. Keri Rodrigues, you had this experienced that a lot of
parents have had that just — that, you know, this is just not working for your children and you got to figure something out. Like what are some of
the thoughts that led you to where you are now?
RODRIGUES: I grew up — you know, I was in foster situations. I was growing up in a home that was mired with addiction. So, my I journey
actually begins with myself and my firsthand experience. I was expelled from a public school. I got my GED from Boston public schools. I was lucky,
I was able to kind of scratch and claw my way in the college, but it was by the skin of my cheek.
So, by the time I had children, and I had three little boys, you know, I came in, I was a union organizer. I was teaching other people had an
advocate for themselves. So, when my oldest son was diagnosed with ADHD and autism, I was like, this is going to be fine, because even though I’m
coming into this my dukes up (ph), like I’m going to be able to advocate for my kids and I’m going to get this done.
Well, what I found out very quickly when my son was suspended from school 36 times in kindergarten, was at the end of that IEP table, I have no
voice. As a parent, no one cares, no one’s on your side. And all of those educators had already given up on my son by the age of six. They were done
with him. They were pissed off at him. They were writing him all. They’re calling me to pick him up. They’re putting him in a redirect room that
looks like a cinder block cell. And I was horrified.
But I had no idea what was going on in our education system. I just — you know, the great trauma of my life was being expelled from school. I thought
it was my fault. Not knowing that literally we have a system that set up to fail kids like me, kids like my son. I didn’t know any of this. All I knew
was that I had no power. And when I get mad, I organize.
MARTIN: Tell me about your organization, Keri. What does the National Parents Union do? What is — what do you do and what’s the goal?
RODRIGUES: So, we are all parent advocates, activists and agitators. That’s what we are. We are more than 500 organizations, all across all 50
states, D.C. and Puerto Rico and its parent led advocacy. You know, there are pockets of parent power in all corners of this nation, where mamas who
are building groups in their neighborhoods who are doing building solidarity together so that they can speak with a united voice, so that
they can share resources and we can talk back and forth, and then we can speak truth to power.
MARTIN: And what’s the goal of the Parent Union? How would you describe it, the National Parent Union, of which you are the president? How would
you describe the goal?
RODRIGUES: The goal is to ensure that every child in America has equitable access to high-quality education.
MARTIN: So, Bernita Bradley, tell me your story. You’ve been committed to homeschooling for some time. So, as briefly as you can, tell us your
journey on that, will you?
BRADLEY: Yes. So, I’ll say here in Detroit, we only had 13 percent of our kids’ reading on grade level. 16 percent right before the pandemic. And
during the pandemic, beginning of the pandemic, children didn’t access to tablets, tools to even make online learning possible. Families were tapping
Specifically, my daughter, asked me in fifth grade to homeschool her. But during the beginning of the pandemic, she was in a lot of grey. And she
came to me at the end and told me after having interactions with only one teacher for five months, and she was like, if my senior is going to be like
this, I’m dropping out. And I was like, well, no, you’re not. So, what do we need to do? Right? And so, she was like, well, let’s try homeschooling.
And I’m like, OK. Well, let’s do this. What do we need to do to do this?
So again, we activists, right? So, if my child — like in baseball and just the other voices we were hearing from our community parents tapping and
tired, we were like, what do we need to do? What do we need to learn how to do to home school? And then we opened up Engage and Trade, our homeschool
So, now, we had coaches for parents who wanted to homeschool. What you need for your child for your individual household to home school and make sure
it’s successful for your kid.
MARTIN: Let me go back to something, you said that your daughter has been asking to be homeschooled since fifth grade. How did you react when she
said that to you? Like I can only imagine the feelings that you would have had.
BRADLEY: Yes. So, my daughter had been through extreme bullying. She’d been through bullying with teachers, schools that were just were poor
managed. And at fifth grade, she was just like, I’ll tap out. I’m ready to — can you homeschool me, right? And my thought, first of all was, OK. I’m
not an educator. I don’t need to be at a desk with you all day like, hey, get it done. Do this. Do this. And I’m working all day. So, I didn’t have –
– I felt like I didn’t have the autonomy to do that.
I didn’t have the where was to do it in as far as all the other tasks I had as an advocate, as a community organizer, as a mom. So, I tried to find my
daughter better schools. I tried to find her — like she got into an A rated school in first grade, and that A rated school still failed her in
City of Detroit. It still did not have what she needed.
Throughout her lifespan, my daughter has been in eight different school. And that right there was not just like oldest parent who is like, I’m just
going to keep switching schools. We fought for change in those school, fought not just for chance for me daughter but the change on all the kids
in the school.
MARTIN: Keri Rodrigues, if you were to sort of sum up what you think is wrong with the way education is set up in this country right now, and I’m
thinking particularly here at K thought 12, what would you say that is?
RODRIGUES: We have the systemic racism in literally every system in our country. And we have generational systemic racism that is imbedded in our
education system, and we don’t address it. We cover it up. We say we want more money to fortify the school, the prison pipeline, and we do not
confront the deep problems that we have in our education system.
MARTIN: How do you think that played out? Like can you just give me an example?
RODRIGUES: Well, take a look at the demographics of the people who are leading our classrooms. 80 percent of our education — our educators are
white men. OK. The belief gap in this country is very real and we do nothing to confront that elephant that is in the room.
I mean, we have two people who are leading our classroom who believe kids like mine are not capable of proficiency, are not capable of excellency.
That is embedded in our school system. We have people who are literally calling the cops on our kids. We don’t address any of that. Instead, we
blame them, we blame people like me and people like Bernita.
Like, I’m a parent, I’m a former student. I have lived experience. I already went through this system. And now, I’m told that I am mandated by
the government that I had to put my kid in the same seat where nothing has changed.
MARTIN: One of the things, the interesting things that’s happened is that the parents who are pushing for kids to go back to school, the physical
school, tend to be white, tend to be — and the kids who are going back tends to be white among African-Americans, Latinos and Asian parents, they
are more likely to continue to keep their kids at home, or to continue to ask for a remote learning option. So, it isn’t just African-American
parents, people of color, writ large. And I’m just wondering why you think that is.
RODRIGUES: Fundamentally, like this is laid out in our living rooms. Like we were very witness to what goes on in classrooms the way that educators
talk to our children, the lack of rigor, the lack of competency. And parents were watching — literally watched the system failed in front of
our eyes. What the pandemic did is, for the first time ever, told poor black and brown folks that, oh, only you know what’s best for your child.
We’ve seen that actually having our kids in a different environment, some of them blossom when there’s not racism that they have to deal with on an
ongoing basis, where there’s no distraction, where there’s actual choice around the curriculum that they get to access, that we could actually have
a culturally competent curriculum introduced to our children. And we, we get to opt into that. And we get to play the role that we’ve always wanted
So, we have — this toothpaste has been led out of the tube. I don’t know how you put that back in.
MARTIN: There haven’t been a lot of large-scale studies on this, but the data shows that the number of black parents’ home schooling has increased
exponentially in the last like five years. Isn’t your view that part of the reason you saying, more parents of color, not wanting to send their kids
back to in school learning and more parents of color opting out in a long- term basis for homeschooling is that they see that schools are built for white kids, or at least they’re not built for their kid. Is that the
bottom-line? Do you think that these schools —
BRADLEY: You said it right the first time.
MARTIN: Right. Go ahead.
BRADLEY: You said it right the first time. Schools were built for white kids. They didn’t even want our kids in schools back in 1920s, in the early
1900s, they didn’t want our kids in their schools. And when our kids did come to their school, they changed. They changed curriculums. They got
older books for our kids, right?
History lessons are not built for black children. And families, again, they’re recognizing it. And the families that are tapping out, though mind
you, they’re not just tapping for one place, they are tapping out after they’ve tried public school, they’ve tried charter school, they’ve tried a
whole lot of things. Most parents aren’t just saying, I’m just done — one and done.
MARTIN: So, how does homeschooling fix this problem? How does homeschooling change does dynamics?
BRADLEY: Yes. So, homeschooling puts the power back in the parents, right? If you want to reinvent and reimagine education for the sake of all
children, of the sake of our children, specifically, because they’re the most marginalized. If you won’t do that, we decided to do it ourselves. We
no longer go and wait for you. We’re pushing for change. We’re showing change.
When a parent can understand that they can educate their own child and they see it happening, other parents see it happening. And we create this
collaborative of our own to say, we’re going to try if we can get it. We create partnerships in the community to make trust with STEM program,
science programs or type of programs to make sure our children get it. And those children are going off to college. They’re going off to careers,
becoming engineers. We’re seeing it happen.
MARTIN: You know what’s interesting about this though, it’s fascinating to talk with both of you because there are elements of what you’re saying
that, of course, that have been advanced by a lot of the conservative political activist for some time now whose primary goal, I think is — I
think it’s fair to say, is weaken the teachers’ unions which they see as a peak (ph) of constituency of the Democrats.
And I take it that that’s clearly not your motivation. But what do you say to that? I mean, I know that some of your organizations do get funding from
some of these conservative activist groups. But how do you deal with that?
RODRIGUES: But we —
MARTIN: Go ahead, Keri.
RODRIGUES: Like, listen, we don’t have permanent funds, we have permanent interest. Our NorthStar is our children, OK? And that is what we’re
primarily focused on. I don’t have the same funding mechanism that a teacher’s union is going to have. I can’t pass a law that says, anybody who
becomes a parent is going to have to pay me dues the way the teacher’s union can.
So, when people talk about our funding, it’s kind of comical. Like where would you like — we need to do this work to advocate for our children.
Right now, the conversation is dominated by the people who are running the status quo in the system and our voices aren’t even a part of the
conversation. So, we need to be a part of it. To do that, we have to write grants to anybody who will fund us, including as teachers (INAUDIBLE).
But let me say this —
RODRIGUES: — again, like the problem we have in our education system is that we don’t even — that the outcomes that we get for our children are
secondary, if secondary. You know, it’s of no consequences, how do you maintain this employment system that we have created? Now, I don’t think
that teachers, you know, shouldn’t be a part of the conversation.
Of course, they should. But right now, it feels like they have every seat at the table, including ours. They speak for us and they don’t do — they
are not close enough to the pain. They don’t have the firsthand experience. And that’s why we keep doing the same things like over and over and over
MARTIN: Bernita, can I ask you to get your take on that too? I want to ask about the fact that a lot of the people who are financially supportive of
these efforts are some of the same kinds of conservative activists who have also been, A, are very interested in disrupting the power of the teachers’
unions, who are very interested in weakening a core democratic constituency, and frankly, have not been terribly interested in kind of a
systemic racism as a social sort of problem. And I just want to ask, Bernita, how you think about that?
Because I’ll just say to you, if I may, since we’ve been very frank with each other here, that there are those who believe that the reason that some
of these groups are as interested in African-Americans and people of color homeschooling their kids is that they would like to get them out of the
school system. So, what do you say to that?
BRADLEY: So, let me address the public schools being a threat. Public schools are not threatened because of charter schools or the push to try to
destroy public schools. Public schools are threatened because public schools fail children. Public schools fail brown children as historically
has failed us, right? And parents are tired of it.
And the cycle of continuously doing the same thing is what (INAUDIBLE). And if parents are going to keep trusting in the fact that you’re going to be a
best actor on behalf of our children but we don’t see any evidence of it, we don’t see any evidence in the MEAP scores, we haven’t seen any evidence
in the college rate scores, we haven’t even seen it in the economical status of black people in inner cities who go off to college and come back
and they’re working at Applebee’s for 20 years, because they were not prepared for school.
Public education had devastated some household. Generations and generations of children going to the same schools. That is the problem, not where bonds
from or any mission driven agenda on my behalf.
MARTIN: Are you ever concerned that the homeschooling movement takes the most activist parents like yourself out of the system?
RODRIGUES: I’m not concerned about it. I’m a hybrid parent. You know, my kids go the different kinds of schools based on what’s best for them. So —
and I don’t think any parent is going to just completely throw up their hands and say, I don’t care about any other kids. Especially activist
parents, like we don’t do this work because it’s fun, because — trust me, it’s not fun. It’s emotionally draining. Like people call us everything
except name our mama gave us, like it states a lot.
MARTIN: Like what? Like what do they say?
RODRIGUES: Well, they assume that because what we’ve built here is so powerful because we’re able to do things. We’re able to be part of policy
conversation, because we’re able to get seats. We work together. We speak with the united voice. And now, they is in the united independent voice of
parents. It’s not coopted by anybody.
But what they try to do is make it seem like poor black and brown women could not have come up with this idea. That somebody gave it to us.
Somebody installed me as president. I was elected to this position by 185 organizations across this country in New Orleans. Nobody gave us this idea.
We created this together. We speak together. We are a council to each other. But there’s always —
BRADLEY: See, that’s part of the problem though, they don’t want to think that we can call this, like they don’t want to think that we have that
power or that much where we live (ph) to be able to combine together and combat what they are doing.
MARTIN: So, they see you as this sort of a front for their, say, white conservative movement? Is that it?
MARTIN: That was —
RODRIGUES: That’s the —
BRADLEY: But they don’t see the years of advocacy where we were advocate came in from everything from little corners of our community to across this
country, right? They don’t see that.
MARTIN: Keri Rodrigues, what do you think? What do you think should happen now?
RODRIGUES: We’re in a transformational moment, OK? And all of our poll, and we’ve done 18 national polls. And parents, families and community keep
saying the same thing over and over and over again by more than 2 to 1 margin, this is a moment to reimagined education. They don’t want to put
their kids back in the same box that was not working before. We are addicted to an antiquated system that does not meet the needs of our
So, what we have an opportunity to do is something transformational and say, instead of just doing things the same way, we’ve had an unprecedent
disruption by necessity. Are we going to take this opportunity to learn these lessons and say, you know what, by any means necessary, we’re not
married to a particular government’s model, a particular way of doing this? What married to getting it done for our kids. The outcomes that we want is
equitable access to opportunity.
And if that looks different for different kids, then we’re going to create a system that’s flexible to meet their needs instead of meeting the needs
to be adults that really like the system that does not work. We know it doesn’t work.
MARTIN: Bernita Bradley, Keri Rodrigues, thank you so much for talking with us today.
BRADLEY: Thank you for having us.
RODRIGUES: Thanks, Michel.
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Andy Slavitt; Dawn Porter; Elie Honig; Keri Rodrigues and Bernita BradleyLEARN MORE