Home schooling options are especially important when considering the state of the public education system, said Erica Stephens, an organizer in the African-American Home School Network and founder of the Gadsden-based regional support group Black Home Schoolers of Alabama.
“Public school provides a single approach to education,” she said. “If your child doesn’t fit that approach, he or she is deemed unfit to be in a mainstream educational classroom or labeled a troubled child.”
Home schooling provides a more diverse approach to learning that is needed in the black community, Stephens added.
“Our communities are lacking originality,” she said. “We are the only group of people who are unaware of our origin. We have adopted everyone else’s culture and have no idea what our culture even looks like. Home schooling provides this window of opportunity for our children to learn and grow, and to adopt their own understanding of who they are through learning.”
Many parents don’t realize the advantage home schooling provides, said Thomas “Divine Mind” Davis, founder of the African-centered community activist group One House.
“It is hands-on teaching from instructors with classroom experience and field experience,” said Davis, a leading supporter of Forestdale’s Black Star Academy Home School Co-Op, believed to be one of the first culturally centered home schooling collectives in the state. “For instance, different business owners come in [and discuss the business world] when we teach about business. Gardeners and farmers come in when it comes to teaching agriculture.”
Community activist Bennie Holmes, another who helped to establish the Black Star Academy (BSA), said he also believes many aren’t aware of the benefits of home schooling.
“Many African-Americans don’t realize that there’s a need for an African-centered school system, and some people feel we should work toward inclusiveness,” he said. “I think we should work toward building an African-centered consciousness within our children.”
Asked how African-centered collectives would benefit black students more than public school, Holmes said, “We give them a sense of pride in their personhood, in who we are, and a sense of responsibility for their own learning. Those are key missions in our collective.”
As a parent, Erycka Birchfield “wanted to have a full-time, all-inclusive role” in her children’s education, and she became the BSA’s first parent volunteer educator.
Home schooling is ideal for the Black community, Birchfield said, because it teaches everyone involved a greater awareness and sense of self. And the BSA’s philosophy of everyone pitching in with the education helps to provide additional nurturing.
“Most moms have to work to provide the most basic essentials for their homes, and that rarely leaves time for anything else,” she said. “The BSA has an it-takes-a-village mentality. Once we can operate from that standpoint, we can function in a more natural, holistic way.”