By Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.
Gifted children live in every community, every city, rural areas, and in small towns all around the world. They are children of every cultural background, every ethnicity, from every income group. Many gifted children are exposed to intellectually challenging experiences on a daily basis. These students are served in accelerated programs in schools, and others in their homes with parents who understand their needs and have the courage and intellect to work with them everyday. Sadly, however, a great number of bright children and youth are not as fully engaged and their intellect is not being challenged and developed. Many who are not being challenged are in public schools where they are overlooked and thus, underserved. The vast majority of those who are overlooked and underserved are African American. Currently, Black children represent approximately 17% of the general school age population nationwide. However, the only represent 8% of those students identified and participating in gifted education programs (Ford, 2010). This tragic indicator of under-representation of Black children in gifted programs has led many African American families to begin looking at their options for educating their children.
For Black families who have not seen the public school system respond to their child’s gifts in a favorable way, one of the best options for educating their children has been independent schooling supported by private funds. An increasing number of these families, however, have found that homeschooling is an even better option. In writing my book: ‘Bright, Talented & Black: A guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners’, I conducted research to discover the varied ways that black families were coping with the lack of attention their gifted children were being provided in public schools.
It was through my research that I discovered the magnitude of homeschooling in the Black community. While the general public is aware of homeschooling among White and Asian families, little is known about this educational option being utilized by the black community. According to a report on homeschooling, just over 10 years ago, a few African Americans began a “pioneer journey” of homeschooling their own children. An estimated 15% of students being homeschooled across the nation are African American (Ray, 2009).
I first contacted the founder of the Black Home Schoolers in the fall of 2009. She was very inviting and welcomed my inquiries about their organization and the possibilities of supporting their work through my book and future collaborations. To gather more information about the families and their reasons for homeschooling, I developed a brief survey. In the survey I asked about their concerns for educating their children with high potential, their instructional practices, some personal demographic data about their level of education, the number of children they have, and the length of time they had been homeschooling. Survey respondents indicated that the practices used in homeschooling closely matched what the educational community has come to know as evidence-based practices for educating gifted children. The specific comments indicated that the homeschooling parents are engaging in individualized instruction, constructivist teaching, teaching critical thinking skills, providing opportunities for problem solving and experimenting, focused on character development, and the use of culturally relevant materials and resources. These parents are well-educated and have made the decision to do what they believe they are better equipped to do than either public or private institutions—teach their children at home.
In addition to my survey, I read other reports about homeschooling in the Black community. As with other families, Black parents decide to home school for many reasons. Research studies and personal memoirs tell the story of families making deliberate decisions to teach their children at home providing what they believe to be higher levels of educational interactions, access to resources that are richer, more diverse and thought provoking. Most often, parents choose this route because they believe that they believe that they can offer higher quality of instruction, safety for their children, in the context of culturally responsive environment which includes open discussion of racial, religious, ethical, and moral issues. Those parents whose children were already identified as gifted indicated that they were not comfortable with the type of programming being provided in the public school and felt that for their high potential child, in particular, they needed to teach them in a secure environment, safe from worries and concerns about their child being discriminated against and in a setting where they could be sure to challenge their gifted child on a regular basis. For highly able and gifted children Black children who need more than what is traditionally presented in regular school programs, homeschooling offers an opportunity to learn at a faster pace, in more depth, and with a focus on their areas of strength and interest.
Home school networks involving African American families exist nationwide. National conferences for homeschooling report an increased number of African American and other culturally diverse parents attending and presenting at their conferences. Black parents who have opted for Homeschooling are networking and connecting with families around the country with children and youth of high potential and sharing a multitude of excellent resources for homeschooling instruction. Most recently, Black Homeschoolers reported almost 5,000 members on a popular social networking site. Without a doubt, interest in homeschooling within the black community is growing.
And the outcomes are good. Consider the young boy who began attending four year college at tender age of 11 with a triple major in: pre-med, math and computer science. This young African American boy was homeschooled by his mother until he entered higher education. The world has marveled at the accomplishments of Venus and Serena Williams, the ‘dynamic duo’ who shocked the professional tennis circuit as teenagers and have since astonished sports aficionados worldwide with their power, energy, skills, and genius on and off the court. These Black gifted youngsters were homeschooled. And then, there’s the three young men whose mother published a memoir entitled ‘Morning by Morning: How we homeschooled our African American sons into the Ivy League’ (Penn-Nabrit, 2003). These examples of giftedness among Black youth are just a few of the many who are homeschooled across the country everyday.
I wrote ‘Bright, Talented & Black: A guide for Families of African American gifted learners’ to draw attention to the intellectual and affective needs of African American gifted learners nationwide (Davis, 2010). As mentioned earlier, Black students are tragically under-represented in classrooms and programs for gifted children. In the absence of fair and appropriate identification protocols and instructional interventions, Black parents like so many others in the majority culture, have chosen to take matters into their own hands.
As a public school educator for over 30 years and now a professor at a public university, however, I remain deeply concerned about the thousands of Black children attending public schools whose gifts are unrecognized and therefore, are left languishing in classrooms with low expectations, limited funding, and teachers who have little or no training, knowledge or respect for how they express their gifts. In these settings, a tragic loss of talent is occurring daily. As I have interacted with the Black Homeschooling group over the past two years, however, I am more encouraged. I am encouraged because I witness these parents reaching out to other families and sharing their superior insights and courageous advocacy that enables them to continue teaching their children at home, some even in the midst of very challenging economic circumstances.
The Black Home Schoolers are a group of families who clearly understand the need for culturally relevant high-end instruction that include opportunities for hands-on learning, and experiential and critical thinking skills development, supported by opportunities for students to engage in real-life learning with mentors and professionals from a variety of career fields. These parents ‘get it’, they understand that what they are providing represents the hallmarks of excellent instruction for culturally diverse gifted learners (Castellano & Frazier, 2010). I believe that the Homeschooling families also have potential to serve as role models not only for other parents who become teachers through home schooling, but for educators of African American students in other venues as well. The materials and resources created and disseminated by the Black Home Schoolers also have the potential to enrich the experiences of more and more high potential Black students in other educational settings (public and private) through partnerships with community organizations and others with a vested interest in equity and excellence in education for Black children and youth.
Whether being homeschooled, attending private school, or public school all gifted learners need nurturing and challenging instruction by adults who care about them. African American gifted learners have these same needs and then have needs unique to their daily experience as a cultural minority in America today. If schools are not able or unwilling to provide the type of nurturing and cultural responsiveness needed by gifted Black students, then many of their families will do so whenever and however they can. The gifted potential that these students have is a precious resource for their families, communities, the nation, and the world. Underdeveloped, these gifts will be lost- as will the potential their intelligence and creativity have that could benefit humankind across scientific, artistic, and humanistic fields. These precious minds and spirits deserve better and they are looking to the adults in their environments- parents, families and educators to make tough, but deliberate decisions to choose what is best for them now and in the future.
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Castellano, J.A. & Frazier, A.D.(2010). Special Populations in Gifted Education: Understanding our Most Able Students from Diverse Backgrounds. Waco,TX: Prufrock Press.
Davis, J.L. (2010). Bright, Talented & Black: A guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Ford, D.Y. (2011). Reversing Underachievement Among Gifted Black Students, 2nd ed. Waco, TX:Prufrock Press.
Penn-Nabrit P. (2003). Morning by Morning: How we homeschooled our African American sons into the Ivy League. New York: Villard Books.
Ray, B.D. (2009). Homeschooling: More ethnic minorities, lower-income families and parents of moderately high formal education. Retrieved Nov 22, 2009 from www.nheri.org