The children sat placidly in their chairs, elbows on the table, eyes forward. One munched on a clementine. A group of younger children, ages 3 to 5, colored quietly in the back.
“We lost a woman who was very important to us,” announced Afrika Porter-Ollarvia. “Dr. Margaret Burroughs.” What do the students know, she asked, about Burroughs? Several hands shot up, and answers popped out: “She was an artist!” “Her poems were famous!”
Welcome to the classroom of the Indigo Nation Homeschooler’s Association, where the curriculum is centered on African-American history, culture and language. The 12 families who participate in the co-op meet once a week at the Grande Prairie Library in Hazel Crest, where they learn about the ancient art of African storytelling, lace their lessons with words in Swahili and talk about important role models in their culture, such as Burroughs, the co-founder of Chicago’s DuSable Museum who died in November.
“Families feel like the American education system does not teach African-American children,” said Porter-Ollarvia, a mom of three. “A lot of times in textbooks, you’ll see ‘Dick run, Dick go,’ Jane and Jack and Jill. But you won’t see African-American names like Zarifah and Muhammad. And a lot of times our children need to see their names and have a point of reference and see themselves in the books.”
Home-schooling experts say more African-American families are choosing to school their children at home, opting out of public schools, which critics say may be not only failing their children, but also in some cases shortchanging them of their history.
“That is the number one reason … the black curriculum,” said Joyce Burgess, who with her husband founded the National Black Home Educators organization, based near Baton Rouge, La. “They’ve taken black history out. It wasn’t just Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth … and Harriet Tubman. It was also Condoleezza Rice, Shirley Chisholm; it was also Marian Anderson and the Tuskegee Airmen. They’re heroes, and our children need to learn about our heroes.”
Minorities make up nearly 15 percent of the approximately 2 million home-schooled students in the country, according to the National Home Education Research Institute, whose founder and president, Brian Ray, has been studying home schooling for 27 years.
Although numbers reflecting the trends and demographics of home-schooled children are hard to come by, experts and leaders in the field say there is no doubt that minority participation is growing.
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