I’M KEEPING MY SON HOME: African American Males and Homeschooling

Record: Garvey Lundy and Ama Mazama, “‘I’m Keeping My Son Home’: African American Males and the Motivation to Homeschool” in Journal of African American Males in Education 5, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 53-74. [Available Here]

Summary: Mazama and Lundy have recently published several important articles on the motivations of African American parents for homeschooling, all based on interviews with a sample of 74 such parents from seven U.S. cities.  In a 2012 article they first articulated their concept of “racial protectionism” as a defining motivation for many African American parents who want to rescue their children from the institutional and individual racism they experience at school.  In a 2013 article they added the concept of “educational protectionism” to the mix, which they characterize as an effort on the part of African American parents to replace the boring, unchallenging, and rigid curriculum of schools with higher expectations, relevant (often Afrocentric) curriculum, and student initiative.  In a 2014 article they explain how a small subset of their sample, about 15% of the overall group, did not identify with the racial dynamics expressed by everyone else.  For this small subset the motivation seems to be more exclusively religious (they call it “religious protectionism”), very like the motivations of the much larger group of white fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers.

In the present article they again use their rich study of 74 African American homeschoolers to focus particularly on boys.  They begin with a compelling summary of scholarly literature that has described four ways African American males are discriminated against in the public school system.  First are the diminished expectations teachers (mostly white and female) have for African American children, especially males.  Part of this is due to racial and sexual dynamics, but part of it is class-based as well, as affluent white communities are able to attract more talented teachers.  The second handicap faced by African American males is their disproportionate placement in special education programs, which itself is largely a consequence of the diminished expectations of less effective white teachers, who refer African American males at far higher rates than any other group.  Third, public schools are often venues for violence between students, and much of that violence is perpetrated by and directed toward African American males.  Finally, for a disturbingly large number of African American males the school becomes a pipeline to the criminal justice system.  As Lundy and Mazama put it “public schools in many American cities have deteriorated to the point where they operate as institutions of confinement whose primary purpose is not to education but rather ensure ‘custody and control.'” (p. 57)

Next Lunday and Mazama describe their study and provide demographic information for their sample, all of which I have covered in my summaries of their earlier articles (here, for example).  Though earlier articles hadn’t emphasized it, as Lundy and Mazama analyzed their data they found repeatedly that parents would emphasize the threats of schooling to their sons more than to their daughters.  About 10% of their overall sample explicitly listed concern for sons as a primary motivation for their homeschooling, but many more noted concerns for their sons in the qualitative interviews Lundy and Mazama conducted.  Analyzing all of these statements, Lundy and Mazama emphasize three push factors leading parents of African American boys to opt out of public schooling: the school’s poor ability to handle rambunctious and active boys, the low expectations of white female teachers that often lead to high rates of special education referral for African American boys, and the fear that attendance at failing schools today very likely means prison tomorrow.  As one mother put it, “I’m the mother of a little Black boy.  These schools here, at best, turn out idiots.  At worst, they turn out criminals.” (p. 64)

Homeschooling for these families, however, is not just a retreat from school.  It is also viewed as a positive, empowering experience.  Boys are removed from the school peer culture where African American males often “feel the need to project the image of a tough angry Black man” and instead can cultivate a masculine identity premised on academic success and a positive self-image.  (p. 65)  Parents also repeatedly stressed a desire to ensure that their black boys become attracted to black women, avoiding the “white or bright” stereotype that pervades school culture.  As one mother put it, “I try to instill in him the beauty of black women…who are darker in complexion, with natural hair.” (p. 65)

Lundy and Mazama conclude by situating this move toward homeschooling within the longer tradition of the African American struggle to obtain a quality education in the face of enormous obstacles.  For them, homeschooling is not just a consequence of bad urban schools but the latest in a long line of creative efforts on the part of African Americans to subvert the structures of power that maintain white supremacy.  Future work, they hope, will engage in longitudinal study to see if the new homeschooling strategy is successful, especially for African American males.  If so, schools too could benefit from this knowledge and try to re-integrate the family into school life.

Appraisal:  When I saw that this article had been published my first thought was that Mazama and Lundy were stretching their data too thin.  This is now the fourth article they have published using the same original data.  But to my surprise and delight this piece is just as fresh and provocative as were their earlier articles.  Taken as a whole, these articles have given us all a much more complete and powerful explanation for African American parental motivation than we had in the past.

Having said that, I do think it is time for Mazama and Lundy to move on.  Given their interesting paragraph on future research needs I gather that they do too.  I have frequently said in my reviews that what homeschooling research needs more than anything are longitudinal studies.  It would be wonderful if in a few years Mazama and Lundy could return to the families they interviewed and get an update on what has become of their children.  Did homeschooling produce the “lifespan consequences” for which parents had hoped?  How did the children of these families compare with demographically similar children who attended public schools?  Lundy and Mazama are uniquely poised to be able to provide answers to such questions in a few years.  I hope they will.


Milton Gaither, Messiah College, author of Homeschool: An American History.

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