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Why more Black families are opting to homeschool their children

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The early part of the pandemic created an educational divide in the U.S. between parents who wanted their kids to stick with remote learning and parents who wanted their kids physically back in school. Over the last two years, more and more Black families have chosen to home-school their kids. Now, this trend did start before 2020, but the experience of remote learning at home led more families to make that leap.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DOIN' IT OUR WAY")

BEVERLY HOPGOOD: He was like, she's not paying attention to me. My time is almost up. He was trying to understand the actual question so he could answer it. I guess it just wasn't explained to him well enough. And so after my meeting, I went into the view of the screen, and then all of a sudden she was like, Andre, you had a question? Sweetie, if you saw my son raising his hand a while ago, you should have answered him a while ago. Don't ignore my child.

RASCOE: That's a parent featured in a new Saint Louis Public Radio podcast called "Doin' It Our Way." Marissanne Lewis-Thompson is the creator and reporter behind this miniseries, and she joins us now.

Good morning.

MARISSANNE LEWIS-THOMPSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: So we just heard one of the parents you talk to, Beverly Hopgood. Tell us a little bit about her and her kids.

LEWIS-THOMPSON: So Beverly is a mom to three kids, but when she started her homeschooling journey, she was actually pregnant with her third child. And her two kids who, you know, were elementary school-age at the time were in classroom settings that were pretty chaotic, partially because they were remote. And she was able to see what was going down in her kids' classroom in real time. Like, you had kids that were constantly screaming and yelling and the teacher trying to get order from her computer. And then, of course, she witnessed her own son being ignored for 15 minutes. It got to the point where Andre was crying all the time, was really frustrated, and he just kind of lost his love for learning.

RASCOE: Were her concerns similar to the other parents that you heard from, and did they feel like their children, because of race, were having more specific issues than, say, a child who was not Black in school?

LEWIS-THOMPSON: I think it's important to note that the reasons all varied for these parents. You know, there was one who - ZIP code played a factor in where their kids could go to school, which was cause for concern - you know, limited Black representation in curriculum that centered around Eurocentric narratives. Another parent based her decision on her own experiences in the classroom. And then there was another due to one of her kids being bullied and her oldest not being challenged in the classroom. And this kid was pretty advanced for his age. And when his parents pushed for him to be put in classes that reflected that, they were shut down by school administrators. But then there are things like teacher biases, racism in the classroom that have also played factors into why these Black parents, but also other Black parents, have said we have to do it our way.

RASCOE: So, you know, more than 16% of Black families were home-schooling as of 2020. And that's a huge jump over recent years. Like, what were some of the challenges that the families that you talked to - that they were having taking this on? You'd mentioned earlier growing pains.

LEWIS-THOMPSON: I think some of it you have to break down and accept the fact that even within the same household, there will be kids that do not like the experience. And no matter what the parent does, puts in activities that they like, connects them with other families who are home-schooling, trying to find the right curriculum that best suits them - even doing all the things necessary to make sure that their kid's experience is a positive one, sometimes that kid still just won't like it.

RASCOE: In one episode, you talk to the kids, and they were telling you what they thought about it.

LEWIS-THOMPSON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DOIN' IT OUR WAY")

ZIANNE: I want to go to regular school because, actually, at my regular school we actually did more fun.

RASCOE: And so I think that was a 6-year-old.

LEWIS-THOMPSON: Yes, Zianne.

RASCOE: For the families that you talk to, does it seem like the home-schooling will be sustainable for them, that it's going to be something that they do throughout their, you know, education?

LEWIS-THOMPSON: So for the Gates family in particular - and I don't want to say too many spoilers here - but they are open to having a hybrid learning situation for their kids so that they can thrive in those spaces. But, you know, there's a family - the Young family - that's featured in the second episode, where the kids have never experienced traditional schooling, despite the fact that their own dad is a public school teacher. And, you know, that was also intentional - right? - because that was something that she never wanted her kids to experience because she knew what it felt like to be othered.

RASCOE: Was part of this about showcasing families who are maybe different from the stereotypes that people may have about what home-schooling families look like, that home-schooling families are maybe white people, maybe conservative or religious white people and not Black people?

LEWIS-THOMPSON: When I set out to do this, I knew Black home-schoolers throughout my life, and I knew about some of their experiences. And I found this was an opportunity to center their voices in this conversation, because, you're right; there are stereotypes and certain ideas of what homeschooling looks like. And I think in this podcast it shows that all of the reasons why they choose to home-school, what their experience of home-schooling looks like - they all vary.

But I think it all comes down to they want their kids to succeed academically. They want to make sure that what they're learning is reflective of their identities so they know who they are, their ancestry, all those sorts of things that make them special and beautiful - and, you know, the aspects of culture that are missing in the textbooks that are, you know, relatively relegated to the same people. You know, you always hear about Martin Luther King, Jr. You will also learn about Rosa Parks. And you will learn about segregation. You will learn about slavery. But what goes beyond that? This is an opportunity for parents to give their kids that.

RASCOE: That's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson, creator and reporter behind "Doin' It Our Way."

Thank you for joining us.

LEWIS-THOMPSON: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE DURUTTI COLUMN'S "SKETCH FOR A SUMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.