THE SEARCH FOR SCHOOL SAFETY: African American Homeschoolers

Record: Garvey Musumunu and Ama Mazama, “The Search for School Safety and the African American Homeschooling Experience.” Journal of Contemporary Issues in Education, 9, No. 2 (2014): 24-38. [Full Article]

Summary: Musumunu is a professor of sociology at Montgomery County Community College, and Mazama is an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University. In this article they discuss the motivations of Black homeschooling parents and, more specifically, how parental concerns for safety are leading African American families to homeschooling.

While White children still represent a majority of homeschoolers, a growing number (8% according to the latest data) are African American. As with all minority groups, little research has been done to investigate the motivations of African American homeschooling families. In fact, according to the authors, there continues to be an implicit assumption that African American homeschoolers are motivated by similar factors to White homeschoolers, even though African Americans may place emphasis on different factors, such as the safety of their children.

While parents of all races may believe that schools are unsafe (e.g. because of school shootings), discussions on school safety tend to focus narrowly on physical safety and not on emotional, intellectual, and cultural safety. While these conceptions of safety are more abstract, they are equally significant in ensuring a student’s success. African Americans, although not the only group affected by school violence, are particularly vulnerable to it because of past and present-day racism and inequalities.

Musumunu and Mazama interviewed 74 African American homeschooling parents (mostly mothers) in 2010 over a wide geographical area. A snowball sampling method and active recruitment from homeschooling associations produced the majority of respondents. Approximately 95% of the respondents identified as Black/African American (as opposed to Mixed Race, Caribbean, etc.), and 95% were native-born Americans. These families had an average number of 3 children, and approximately 80% of the mothers and 60% of the fathers had an undergraduate college degree or more, which is a significantly higher amount than the 19.4% of Blacks nationally with college degrees in 2010. The incomes of the families ranged widely. While 25% of the households had an income of $100,000 or more, another 25% was living under or close to the poverty line.

The primary factor that motivated these families to homeschool, cited by 25% of the respondents, was a concern with the quality of education provided in traditional schools. While consistent with findings on homeschoolers as a whole, unique to African Americans is that the second largest motivation, mentioned by about 24% of the participants, was a concern with racism. Among other motivations, safety was given as the primary motivation by approximately 8% of the respondents.

In the interviews, parents were obviously aware of and concerned about the physical safety of their children while at school. Drugs, gangs, bullying, and sexual assault were mentioned as real and daily threats to students in their neighborhood schools. However, physical safety did not take the forefront of most parents’ minds. Instead, emotional safety was the primary concern of many parents because of the racism and white supremacy that they still see in the country. In some cases, parents even adopted war-like terms for the current racial dynamics in America. For example, one parent is quoted as saying, “Why would I have my children instructed and taught by the enemy? I’ve always seen white teachers somewhat as the enemy, white school establishments, institutes, as the enemy. Why should I give my children to the enemy to be taught?”

In addition to physical safety, parents noted that intellectual and cultural safety for African Americans is often lacking in traditional school environments. For example, the achievements of Black people in society are often invisible. In one case, the second-grade son of one respondent was “severely punished” for asking his White teacher why Benjamin Banneker, the distinguished African American architect, had not received any recognition for his accomplishments (p. 33). In another case, an 8th grade son received an F for selecting Marcus Garvey in a writing assignment about one of his heroes because the White teacher did not know who Marcus Garvey was and therefore he did not accept him as a legitimate choice for the project. While some would call these isolated incidents, collectively they represent an intellectual and cultural intolerance towards African Americans.

Overall, the notion of “safety” for the African American parents of this study referred not only to physical safety, but also to the emotional, intellectual, and cultural safety that one would expect from a safe space in which children can thrive. Homeschooling for these families, Musumunu and Mazama explain, is a form of counter-storytelling as suggested by critical race theory, which means, in other words, that homeschooling allows the marginalized voices of the Black homeschooling parents to be heard. Therefore, the authors conclude that race is central to the experiences of homeschooling African Americans. Just as enslaved Africans and African Americans during segregation went to great lengths to educate their children, African American parents are homeschooling today, hoping to create better learning conditions for their children.

Appraisal: We have reviewed numerous studies in the past about African American homeschoolers, and not all of the studies reach the same conclusions about the importance of race in the decision-making process of African American homeschoolers. For example, White scholar Brian Ray argues that African Americans homeschool for largely the same reasons as White parents. Musumunu and Mazama seek to refute these claims (again) in this study by discussing how the effects of racism are wide-reaching. When Ray boxed the effects of racism and safety into the single motivating factor of “The desire to avoid racism in public schools,” he ignored how race may have impacted his respondents’ take on the other motivators. Musumunu and Mazama do an excellent job in this study of helping us to remember that race plays a large role in how African Americans (and possibly other minorities) view their homeschooling practices.

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