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'Schools are not built for our success'

EDUCATION AT HOME: Homeschooling can give parents more freedom in what children learn about – which is one reason why the concept is growing in popularity stateside and could soon be a booming trend in this country

ONE OF THE most important choices a parent or guardian makes is where to send a child to school.

And an increasing number are deciding not to send them at all, instead educating them at home.

Over the last two decades, the number of black children in the United States has more than doubled, from 103,000 to about 220,000.

So it’s no surprise a growing number of those who feel that homeschooling is right for them are African Americans.

Among them are celebrities such as Hollywood couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.

The actor and his wife homeschooled their kids, Jaden, now 20, and Willow, 17.

They also went on to found the New Village Leadership Academy, which was developed as a private home school for their children and those of several other families.

In an interview with Essence magazine, Jada Pinkett Smith said: “The school system in this country – public and private – is designed for the industrial age. We’re in a technological age. We don’t want our kids to memorise. We want them to learn.”

Singer-songwriter Erykah Badu is also an ardent supporter of homeschooling.

She said she felt compelled to homeschool son Seven Sirius, now 21, through the early years of education.

In an interview with Babble she said: “I wanted to give [him] special attention academically, to give him an advantage,” adding that Seven “learned how to solve problems in a nontraditional way” which served him well after he enrolled in a traditional school.

“He developed an edge in his schoolwork. He enjoys challenges… He pushes himself… He does his homework voluntarily,” Badu added.

“He does not want to miss school or be late or be untidy or not have his things in order because that was a big part of how he was brought up.

“I don’t have any idea what Seven is going to choose to do, but he knows how to be disciplined and how to learn.”

Another well-known couple who decided to opt for homeschooling is Matthew and Tina Knowles, bottom left, the parents of superstar Beyonce. She and her Destiny’s Child bandmates would record their albums during breaks from tutoring.

But according to the book Becoming Beyonce: The Untold Story by J Randy Taraborelli, there was another important reason behind her parents’ decision to homeschool their daughter.

Taraborelli writes: “Beyonce has said that her school years – grades one to eight before she was homeschooled and tutored from about the ninth grade onward – were problematic, that she was targeted because of her light skin and hair.”

Tina Knowles confirmed: “Sometimes, in the black community, it’s the lighter girls who are picked on. It’s a shame but it’s a fact of life.”

University of Georgia professor Cheryl Fields-Smith, above, has been studying the motivations, habits, and characteristics of black families who elect to educate their children at home since 2006, when she conducted a study of 46 African-American parents who homeschooled their kids.

According to Fields-Smith, the reasons why black families have turned away from traditional schools can vary.

“In my study, it was resegregation that was an issue. A lot of these families that I interviewed lived in communities where schools had become predominantly black.

Their question was, how does my child get a diverse perspective on the world if everything is black? That was some of the rationale, but there were a lot of reasons,” she told The 74 news site.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith homeschooled their kids, Jaden, now 20, and Willow, 17

“One of the predominant themes was a sense of wanting to protect their children from being labelled a troublemaker, or suggestions that they should be in specialised schools, or even [schools not] acknowledging the intellect of their child because they are so focused on the behaviour.

“Every single one of my families knew people who were homeschooling before they decided to do it. If you have people in your social network that are homeschooling and you get to interact with those children and you see how well they are doing, that could be a motivating factor as well.”

She added: “African-American identity is really critical. If you send your child to public school and do not do anything at home with them to teach them the contributions of African Americans and what it means to be African American, then your child’s identity can suffer.

“I know I had to supplement that with my kids, had to make sure that they knew their black history, because it’s not really being taught in public school. We get one month, and usually it harps on the same people. We have a very rich legacy of contributing to this country, and more than just in entertainment and sports.”

There is a small but growing number of black British families who are also opting for homeschooling.

In 2012, Karen Allen and her husband Len spent nine months carrying out research into what homeschooling involves, networking online with other UK parents who home-schooled their children and researching the emotional, financial and social costs. After embarking on their homeschooling journey, the couple decided to homeschool their four children.

They taught their children between four and five hours a day, using a flexible schedule that included both study and physical activity, devotion and personal development – which involves character building, people skills, life skills and financial coaching – as well as the traditional core subjects.

Although their boys were initially concerned about being homeschooled because they felt they would lose contact with their best friends from school, the couple scheduled things so that they would regularly see their friends.

However, it was a decision that involved a lot of sacrifices which included early morning starts to get the children ready for school.

“Being a mother of four black boys, I know that the education system is not designed for boys to succeed in general, and in particular black boys,” Karen said.

“I don’t think a class with one teacher and 30 pupils is designed to bring out the best in a child. Having said that, I don’t think homeschooling is for everyone, not all parents have the grace to do it. And, of course, there are black boys who do well in school.”

As a committed Christian, her approach to education was inspired by her faith. “I believe wholeheartedly that everyone has been created for a purpose,” she says.

“Our greatest role in life is to discover our purpose. The education system is not necessarily designed to help individuals achieve their purpose. I am now a speaker and writer who failed English at school and was told to keep quiet.”

A May 2017 study looking into the growth of home education in England has revealed a 361 per cent increase in the number of children being taught at home over the last 10 years.

The research, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Oxford Home Schooling, part of Oxford Open Learning Trust, reveals the number of children registered as home educated in England between 2006 and 2016 increased from 8,361 to 38,573 children.

Mental health issues and avoiding exclusion are two reasons parents gave for removing children from classrooms and opting for home schooling.

Other reasons included “dissatisfaction with the school environment”, lack of school choice, unmet special educational needs and the “rigour and limits” of the current school curriculum.

Dr Nick Smith, principal at Oxford Home Schooling, said: “The growth of home education in England reflects the country’s changing educational needs.

“One school structure doesn’t fit all and online home education providers like Oxford Home Schooling enable people to access alternatives much more easily.”

There is no legal obligation for children to attend school but the law says they must receive an education. They can be taught by parents or private tutors and the guidance from both the English and Welsh education departments is that it must be a “suitable education”.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) in England wants parents and carers who home-educate to be obliged to register with their local authority and for inspectors to be able to take action if they find a problem.

Councils should have resources to ensure homeschooled children receive “a good standard of education, delivered in a suitable learning environment and that they are safe,” the ADCS said in a report in December 2017.

Safety of pupils was also raised in a study by Norfolk County Council.

Its children’s services reported an “unprecedented year-on-year rise” in homeschooling with 1,309 (1.1 per cent) of its school-aged pupils being taught at home during the 2016-17 academic year. “Given that children by the nature of being home-educated can be essentially ‘invisible’, an inability to make timely and appropriate contact with these families has an inherent risk attached,” they said.

In December, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman found that overseeing the growing number of home-educated children was “becoming a challenge for local authorities”.

The education watchdog also observed the numbers of children with special educational needs or disabilities guided towards home-education “was typically high”.

Dr Carrie Herbert, the founder of a charity for children outside mainstream education, said the rise in homeschooling suggested “something quite tragic about the state of the education system”.

She said she was concerned some parents might also feel pressured into home-schooling their children to avoid exclusion or prosecution over poor attendance.

“I’m not sure it’s very useful anymore to put 30 children in one classroom with an adult all doing the same thing in the same way at the same time,” said Dr Herbert, of The Red Balloon charity.

“We should really be thinking more 21st century and outside the box about this and teaching online in real time can help do this.”

A bill seeking more powers for local authorities to assess children receiving home education recently went through a second reading in the House of Lords.

In parliament, education minister Lord Agnew said many parents home-educate for “positive reasons” and it should be allowed to continue “with a minimum of fuss and bureaucracy”.

The Department for Education, which covers England, and the Welsh Government will both consult on ways to improve home-education guidance for parents and councils.

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