Addressing a Cultural Critique of U.S. Homeschooling With African American Homeschoolers' Perspectives

Addressing a Cultural Critique of U.S. Homeschooling With African American Homeschoolers' Perspectives

Lisa Puga
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6681-7.ch002
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As U.S. homeschooling families increase, there is growing diversity among homeschoolers that quantitative data often fails to capture. Categorizing homeschoolers can limit understanding of their often complex motivations, experiences, and views. Additionally, static categorical frameworks have contributed to dominant cultural critiques of homeschooling, particularly that white, religious, and politically conservative homeschoolers a) represent normative homeschooling culture and b) stifle both individuals' and society's progress through isolation and ideological indoctrination. Ethnographic research with 15 African American urban homeschooling families not only complicates the static portrayal of religious homeschoolers, but also showcases why rigid categories often do not reflect homeschoolers' daily experiences and pedagogies. This research calls for additional qualitative research across homeschooling demographics to further interrogate the labels often used to characterize and make claims about U.S. homeschooling families.
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The growth of homeschooling in the U.S. has become difficult to ignore. Additionally, the growing diversity of homeschoolers ethnically, pedagogically, and philosophically has started to appropriately demand a scholarly examination of the phenomena. Because of the relatively recent fact that homeschooling has become legalized in all fifty states,1 scholars debate the extent to which U.S. society might benefit from increased governmental regulation of homeschooling (Apple, 2000; Avery-Grubel, 2009; Bartholet, 2020; Cooper & Sureau, 2007; Fineman & Shepherd, 2016; Lubienski, 2003; Reich, 2002; Yuracko, 2008). Critics view homeschooling as antithetical to democratic ideals, wherein “homeschooling frustrates the state’s legitimate interest in the child’s receiving a sound, diverse education” (Fineman & Shepherd, 2016, pg. 57). Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet has recently advocated for a presumptive ban on homeschooling, arguing that: “Many homeschool because they want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy,” as well as arguing abusive parents may homeschool in order to avoid detection (Bartholet, 2020, pgs. 1-3).

My research study involved ethnographic observations and interviews with fifteen African American homeschooling families in a large northeastern U.S. city over the span of almost two years. I intended to investigate the variety of reasons that motivated the parents and youth in this study to homeschool, their views of education, and to glimpse their homeschooling practices. As is the case with the homeschooling movement across the United States, the Black families’ views and practices varied quite widely. Some families had homeschooled for years without ever sending their children to brick-and-mortar institutions, while some families were in their first experimental year of homeschooling (with others in-between.) Interestingly, several families of this study sent some of their children to school institutions while they homeschooled their other child(ren.) Religious beliefs varied among the fifteen Black families, as well as homeschooling approaches and philosophies of education. This chapter will focus upon some of the self-identified religiously-motivated homeschoolers of my study to add complexity and nuance to the debate about the cultural impacts of homeschooling on contemporary U.S. society.

By choosing to educate outside of mainstream institutions, homeschoolers are often criticized for undertaking a specific agenda with political and cultural repercussions. A common framework has been used to describe homeschoolers as either ideologically-driven or pedagogically-driven, where homeschooling families are often characterized by these specific categories (see Van Galen, 1987; Stevens, 2009). In this way, terms such as “Christian fundamentalists,” “Holt-ian supporters,” “cyber schoolers,” “unschoolers,” “school-at-home parents,” “Afrocentrists,” “secularized homeschoolers,” and “self-directed homeschoolers,” are commonly used to encapsulate and make claims about a homeschooling group’s practices and role in society. However, as was the case among the Black homeschooling families of my research, the categorical lines used to define homeschoolers are often quite blurry in actuality.

Black homeschooling families often transcend the boundaries of their “homes” by making frequent use of public spaces and resources, and engaging in friendships and collaborations with public school families. Beyond these more obvious forms of boundary-crossing, families in this study frame homeschooling in ways that transcend the private realm as depicted in much homeschooling scholarship. Embedded within critiques of homeschooling and pro-homeschooling scholarship alike are portrayals of “public” and “private” as self-contained spheres. While critics and supporters disagree on the educational merits and political implications of homeschooling, they mobilize a shared discourse that defines homeschooling in opposition to brick-and-mortar schooling. In this discourse, the “private” realm of homeschooling sits in opposition to the “public” realm of schooling, as each stems from different ideologies, serve different purposes, and function as two entirely different cultural processes. But the findings from my research with Black homeschoolers stretch these normative boundaries. Many Black homeschoolers’ attitudes, efforts, and “on-the-ground” experiences align Black homeschooling with the political and cultural processes of grassroot educational reform rather than the private education movement. I argue that continued reliance upon these tropes of homeschooling-as-private – whether to bolster one’s pro-homeschooling agenda, or to critique homeschooling as dangerous to U.S. society – perpetuates a problematic characterization of homeschooling and its cultural significance.

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