Cheryl Fields-Smith Reviews Mazama and Lundy, “African American Homeschooling as Racial Protectionism”

Record: Mazama, A. and Lundy, G. (2012). African American homeschooling as racial protectionism. Journal of Black Studies, 43(7), 723-748.

Summary: Mazama and Lundy conducted a study of homeschooling among 74 African American families representing metropolitan communities across the South, Midwest, and Northeast regions of the U.S. Unlike the limited previous research focused on Black home education, the authors apply a purely Afrocentric lens to the phenomenon. The authors demonstrate how Black home education represents a practice of agency, which they refer to as racial protectionism. Through this piece, the authors effectively address the distinctions between African American families’ motivations to homeschool and White families’ motives to do so.

Review:  Mazama and Lundy state two primary objectives in their study of African American home education. First, they aim to address the issue of limited geographical focus and small participant sizes found in the handful of studies of African American homeschooling. Second, the authors intend to investigate the motives of African American families’ decisions to homeschool their children as a form of agency in a way that identifies the uniqueness of the African experience in of itself, without comparison to the European American experience.   Both objectives have been realized with rigor.

Mazama and Lundy’s study represents the first published homeschool research representing African American families across multiple regions of the U.S.; with 74 families represented, the study also includes the largest qualitative participant pool among African American homeschool research.  Expanding the participants geographically and numerically, the study corroborates the findings of Fields-Smith and Williams-Johnson (2009) and Fields-Smith and Wells Kisura (Forthcoming) in terms of the tremendous diversity that exists among African American homeschool families. Both studies noted that a relatively significant portion of participating African American home educators do not have a college degree, and single African American parents find ways to homeschool their children.

This new offering provides a major contribution toward understanding the motivations of African American homeschool families from their perspective by employing an Afrocentric lens for data analysis; thus representing a radical departure from the tendency to compare African American homeschooling to White homeschooling. In this study, one out of four (25%) African American families cited quality of education in traditional schools as the number one reason they decided to homeschool, which substantiates findings from previous studies regardless of race. However, African American families in this study ranked racism faced in children’s schooling experiences as the second highest (23.9%) reason they decided to homeschool their children.

The authors refer to African American home educators as “Racial Protectionists” meaning their decisions to homeschool represent a desire to rescue their children from racist experiences in school both institutional and individual. Previous publications focused on Black home education have captured similar sentiments of parents’ need to protect or guard their children from perceived destructive forces experienced in traditional schools such as low expectations. In this study, racism was enacted through multiple sources as well. For example, the school curriculum represents a source of institutionalized racism because its narrow scope could lead children of all ethnicities to believe that African American history begins with slavery and ends with Martin Luther King. Black parents in this study also cited teacher racist interactions and racial insensitivity, both overt and covert, as experiences homeschooling protected their children from. These teacher interactions included, as has been seen in the previous research as well, suggestions that African American children required special education services.

African American history points to the significance of this work. Mazama and Lundy, as do some of the African American home educators in their study, situate the phenomenon of African American homeschooling in the post-desegregation era as a form of agency and a representation of the failure of Integration mandated by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. However, a careful review of history would reveal that African Americans have always been self-taught, particularly in the South (i.e. Vanessa Siddle Walker’s Their Highest Potential: An African American School Community in the Segregated South, 1996; Heather Williams’ Self-Taught: African American in Slavery and Freedom, 2007). Therefore, contemporary African American homeschooling is a continuation of a cultural legacy of self-agency and self-determination as a resistance to schooling experiences, which do not provide the uplift and edification we expect and desire for our children. It is clear that these racist experiences in traditional schools play a key role in contributing to a persistent Black – White achievement gap by fostering negative self-identities and inferiority within our African American children. Homeschooling enables African American families to overcome the impact of racist interactions and institutional factors on behalf of their children.

Appraisal: Mazama and Lundy’s work contributes tremendously toward our understanding of African American families’ racialized decisions to homeschool their children. The use of an Afrocentric lens provides a much needed, culturally relevant and coherent approach to research on Black home education. Comparisons between White and Black home education are meaningless unless we understand and take into consideration the unique and complex historical context of African American families’ decisions to homeschool today. Given the relative success of African American homeschooled children, African American home educators are an untapped resource toward understanding what works in the schooling experiences of Black children. Much more research of this type is needed.

Cheryl Fields-Smith

University of Georgia

 

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

 

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One Response to Cheryl Fields-Smith Reviews Mazama and Lundy, “African American Homeschooling as Racial Protectionism”

  1. M. Rick Turner says:

    I’m thrilled that this wonderful educational effort is being made by a growing number of African American families. For those who can’t for whatever reason cannot participate in this effort try a Saturday School with a group of parents.

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