Black Home Schooling Parents Meet in the Deep South

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When Joyce Burges first started home schooling her children 15 years ago, the African-American mother of five turned to a white home schooling mom from her church to show her the ropes.

After a few years, Ms. Burges and her husband, Eric Burges, felt they knew enough about the practice that they could mentor others, and they particularly wanted to reach out to African-Americans. So in 2000, the couple from Baker, La., founded the National Black Home Educators Resource Association, or NBHERA. The organization uses the Web site, a newsletter, and an annual symposium to support black families who are home schooling. The group held this year’s symposium, its fourth, July 29-30 here in Baton Rouge.

The Burgeses have persuaded a number of African-American families to educate their children at home. “Black people like familiarity,” said Ms. Burges, who now home schools the two youngest of the couple’s five children. “They were not familiar with home schooling but they were familiar with me—being black.”

The annual meetings haven’t attracted large numbers. This year’s drew 60 adults and 56 children, mostly from the Baton Rouge area. But the Burgeses keep a database of about 2,000 home schooling families nationwide.

African-Americans need their own home schooling association, said Ms. Burges, so they can exchange ideas about curriculum that covers the contributions of black people to American society. The kickoff event for the symposium included a dramatic depiction of two African-American heroes—the abolitionist and journalist Frederick Douglass and the educator George Washington Carver—given by Cedric Saunders, a home schooling parent and storyteller from Kansas City, Kan.

Racial Issues

Attendees gave different reasons for why they home school. For some, racial issues are an important factor.

“The system has failed our children,” contended Marcy Clark. The St. Paul, Minn., woman and her husband, Gregory Clark, are teaching their three sons and one daughter at home. Ms. Clark said she’s concerned that standardized test scores of black children lag behind those of whites, which she attributes to educators’ having low expectations for black students. She’s also worried how young black men are overrepresented in the nation’s prisons.

“Why would I put my three black sons in a room with teachers who have no clue about their culture?” Ms. Clark asserted. “[The teachers] don’t care and don’t give significance to African culture, which is part of African-American culture.”

Ms. Clark has helped to start a resource group for black home schooling families in St. Paul. The group, which is affiliated with the NBHERA, has 20 families participating.

By contrast, Bobbie and Daniel Williams, who home school their five children in Jacksonville, N.C., said racial issues didn’t play a role in their decision to home school.

Ms. Williams said she teaches her children at home so they won’t receive “negative influences” from other youngsters and so she can spend more time with them than if they went off to school each day.

Her husband said he is opposed to some of the instructional decisions of public schools, such as his belief that they require students to read Harry Potter books and to teach that homosexuality is an acceptable alternative lifestyle.

The keynote speaker, Gregg Harris, a white pastor and home schooling parent from Gresham, Ore., spent several hours talking about what the Bible says about the roles of men and women in marriage and parenting.

Most home schooling parents interviewed here said they are churchgoers. But some said their religious beliefs didn’t play a big part in their decision to home school.

Mr. Burges said many African-Americans resist schooling their children at home.

He and his wife first started home schooling because they disagreed with how their local public school wanted to handle some difficulties their eldest son was having in school. But Mr. Burges soon discovered that his own parents were against home schooling. “They said, ‘You guys are traitors,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘We fought to get into the schools, and you are getting out of them.’ ”

But in time, they’ve come around to support home schooling, he said. “If you talk to them now, they’d think it was their idea,” he joked.

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