About a week ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott nominated a homeschooling advocate to chair the State Board of Education.
The appointment was clearly more than a nod to the growth of homeschooling in the state. The Texas Home School coalition estimates about 300,000 Texas children are taught at home, most often by parents. Of that number, a rapidly growing proportion are Black. Keffrelyn Brown, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. Brown has done extensive research on Texas textbooks and standards for revisions.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute there are 220,000 children who are Black currently being homeschooled nationwide, and the numbers are growing.
“They are dissatisfied for a host of reasons with how their children are being educated in traditional public and perhaps even private schools,” Brown says. “There are other more pervasive concerns in the African-American community primarily around race … how race is addressed and not addressed in public and private schools. There is a pervasive belief that schools are not educating African-American students as well as they are educating other students.”
Parents are not just concerned with what is in the curriculum but what is also left out, Brown says. She says curricula is “whitewashed;” both the positive and negative experiences and contributions of Black Americans in the U.S. are downplayed, and sometimes nonexistent. On top of that, Brown says children are often treated differently in school settings than their white or Hispanic peers.
“In test scores, graduation rates, representation in special education classes, disciplinary infractions — and the list goes on — there is this sense that African-American students are not treated as fairly in schools due to what you call subtle behaviors,” Brown says.
There’s also the not-so-subtle ones. In the Fall 2015 school year, Texas schools will begin using new social studies textbooks. Within those pages, there is little about racial segregation. Curricula guidelines for American history classes in the state do not include any mention of the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws, and call the Civil War and conflict of “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery,” written in that order. In fact, Pat Hardy, a Republican on the State Board of Education, said the Civil war was over states’ rights, not slavery, back in 2010 when the board approved the standards.
“Parents are increasingly becoming more aware of these issues and they’re concerned,” Brown says. “The story of African-Americans does not begin with enslavement within the U.S. That’s not the first story a child would hear and that is not the last story.”
Brown says what Texas schools need are positive portrayals of Black Americans in curricula materials.
“The last story would not end with simply African-Americans being positioned as victims in the narrative. It would be more affirming,” Brown says. “It would address a…wider perspective on who African Americans are; the rich and important communities that they come from as well as the ways in which they have fought in trying to create a life that is well lived.”