Today in America, our nation has changed in so many ways. One of the most notable differences is the fact that more black families are choosing to send their children to public schools.
There is a power in the people. And they are not afraid to use it. Black people have been fighting for civil rights for years—through demonstrations, peaceful sit-ins, and violent protests. But the fight continues, and with it, the need for education.
As a homeschooling mom, the idea of my kids being stuck in a failing school is the most palpable for me. But some misconceptions about black homeschooling families also get on my nerves.
First: The media coverage of black homeschooling paints us as an anomaly. Our numbers began to grow long before the pandemic and have grown rapidly since. Black homeschoolers are not eccentric. We share many of the same concerns and values as our black families who chose public school.
The second misconception is that black homeschoolers are the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education reject. We’re not here to separate the kids again. We black homeschoolers are expressing our right to self-determination, which has deep historical roots.
If no one could or would teach us, we would learn it ourselves
Black home run hitters have always existed. We taught our children when there were no official schools and when they could not go to school. When no one was willing or able to teach us anything in formal educational institutions, we found other ways to learn.
Take the example of Frederick Douglass, who learned to read in secret as a young slave. When his teacher was ordered to stop teaching him to read, he gave the bread to white boys who tutored him and continued his education. As an adult and free father, he decided to send his young daughter to a private school before trying to desegregate the public schools in Rochester, New York – about a century before Brown’s decision.
Compare this historical experience with the experience that too many public school children are going through now: They don’t learn to read properly, they are locked up in special schools or don’t get taught at all, they are considered bad and disproportionately punished. Fear of abuse in public schools is a factor often considered by many black homeschooling families.
Children cannot be expected to learn and thrive in an environment where they are not accepted, are not taught properly and are not treated with the most basic respect. Removing children from these environments often becomes a matter of protection and safety rather than restoring the segregation of the past.
When we had trouble adapting, we still had to learn on our own
The parents’ fears are not unfounded. History shows us this, as well as the reaction of black families to government attempts to deny their children education, through the experience of the Little Rock Nine, nine black high school students who volunteered to desegregate Little Rock Central High School.
The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of integrated schools was not an immediate cause for state and local governments to follow the law. Three years after the Brown decision, opponents of segregation forced President Eisenhower to issue an executive order calling on the U.S. military to protect the Little Rock Nine from life-threatening violence at Central High School.
Let’s also not forget that only one of Little Rock’s nine – Ernest Green – actually graduated from Central High at the end of his terrible year. Subsequently, the remaining eight students were unable to attend any of the local public high schools when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus closed all Little Rock high schools for a full year.
What happened next? These eight students continued their high school education at home, in correspondence courses, or in public and private schools outside of Arkansas. Once again, black students and their families have found a way out of a desperate situation by pursuing education outside the local public schools.
What about our children today who are constantly discriminated against in school, without armed troops to protect them?
Instead of Brown vs. With the Education Council hanging over our heads, we need to learn from the effect it has had and move forward. Real segregation still exists and the forced integration of generations of children has not produced the expected results: high academic and social-emotional performance.
While the courts and legislature hesitate, we will set our own course
Years later, the Supreme Court issued another ruling that largely laid the Brown case to rest. The decision in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez hasn’t gotten as much publicity as Brown v. Council, but she should. In that case, the court held that the State of Texas was not required to equitably fund all counties in the state. While the Brown case established the right to equality in education, the Rodríguez case effectively overturned Brown and held that such a right is not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Judge Thurgood Marshall, who was the NAACP’s attorney in the Brown case, dissented in the Rodriguez case. He acknowledged the reversal and the consequence of this decision by majority vote and said:
In my opinion, the right of every American to an equal start in life when it comes to the provision of so important a public service as education is too essential to allow the state to discriminate on such flimsy grounds as those outlined in this report. Nor can I share the view that it is sufficient to leave these complainants to a political process which, contrary to the opinion of the majority, has proved totally inadequate in resolving this discrimination. I myself am not satisfied with the hope of a final political solution in the uncertain future, while in the meantime countless children are receiving unnecessarily inferior education that may affect their hearts and minds in ways that are unlikely to be remedied. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S., p. 483, 494 (1954). So I have to respectfully disagree.
Lawmakers and courts continue to argue over what constitutes equal opportunity in education, while states across the country continue to allow school districts with a majority of white students to appropriate $23 billion. In the midst of this chaos, black parents must defend the self-determination of their families.
Self-determination means making choices about what is best for our children and families, while working toward justice and equality for all in the long run. Our quest for civil rights in education did not end at Brown, and our children cannot wait for the benevolence and will of the system to ensure that they learn and develop.
This article was originally published on the Forever Free Project website.
Photo: bernardbodo, Adobe Stock-licensed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is public education a civil right?
How did the civil rights movement impact public schools?
The civil rights movement impacted public schools in many ways. One way was that it led to the desegregation of public schools. Another way was that it led to the creation of magnet schools, which are public schools with specialized curricula and instruction for students who live in a particular area or have a particular interest.
Why is public school better than homeschool?
Public school is better than homeschool because public school has a curriculum that is designed to teach students the skills they need to succeed in life. Homeschooling does not have a curriculum and can be very difficult for parents to find the right curriculum for their child.
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