There are 200-odd houses in Durham's Eno Trace, but the Smiths'
home, at 13 Warbler Lane, is a bit unusual. The first clue: a wooden
school desk in the middle of the den.
While other kids stream to bus stops on Monday morning, the two
oldest Smith girls - Courtney and Erika - head out to babysit:
lessons in physics and American history often wait until nightfall.
Meanwhile, E.J. and Cassie, the two youngest, sit back on the couch
and fill their notebooks with essays. When they get into trouble
with composition, they yell one word: "Mom!"
It used to be predominantly Southern whites who taught their kids
at home rather than sending them to integrated schools. But today,
what's happening in this well-groomed, mostly black subdivision
points to a new reality: Thousands of African-American parents are
home-schooling their kids in a growing backlash against America's
public-education system - schools that many parents deem too
dangerous, too judgmental, or just bad fits. And they're confronting
Pythagoras and Shakespeare in venues far beyond the living room: De
facto districts are springing up from suburban churches to YMCAs.
But while many point to black home schooling as a means of
empowerment, others say the trend turns its back on a major victory
of the Civil Rights struggle: equal access to public schools.
"What our fathers believed in the 1950s is that if it was a white
school, it had to be better," says Joyce Burges, who has home-
schooled four children in Baker, La. "But in the last five years,
more and more black parents are saying about those same schools:
'I'm not going to sacrifice my children to a system where they're
A fundamental wrinkle
The total number of black home-schooling families remains small:
While roughly 9.5 million African-Americans are enrolled in public
schools, about 120,000 are learning at home. But that's up from just
a few thousand in 1998 - a fundamental wrinkle in how minorities are
educated in America. In 1997, about one percent of home-schooled
students were African-American. Now, that figure is closer to 5
percent. Within a few cul-de-sacs of the Smiths' house, for
instance, a dozen black families home-school.
"African-American families are increasingly looking at their own
environment and asking a difficult question: How can I give my child
the opportunities for success and achievement?" says Charles
Christian, a sociologist at the University of Maryland at College
Park. "They're simply taking a stronger and stronger leadership role
over their families."
In the new black suburbs of Atlanta; Richmond, Va.; and Prince
Georges County, Md., the home-schooling movement is burgeoning. And
a bevy of new groups and resources is feeding it: In Maryland, a
group of black housewives-turned-home-schoolers has banded together
as the Mocha Moms, and in Atlanta, a home-schooling organization is
a hub for tips and tutors.
In Chapel Hill, N.C., stay-at-home mom Jennifer James got so
excited about home schooling that she started a national association
of black home-schooling families. "Right now, it's all so new - and
people are looking for a lot of information," says Ms. James.
The scene here in Durham may be the most typical: It's in this
enormous swell of the black middle class, in particular, that home
schooling is taking off. …