Record: Ama Mazama and Garvey Lundy, “African American Homeschooling and the Question of Curricular Cultural Relevance” in Journal of Negro Education 82, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 123-138 [abstract here]
Summary: Mazama and Lundy have recently published several important articles on the motivations of African American parents for homeschooling, all based on interviews with a sample of 74 such parents from seven U.S. cities. In a 2012 article they first articulated their concept of “racial protectionism” as a defining motivation for many African American parents who want to rescue their children from the institutional and individual racism they experience at school. In a 2013 article they added the concept of “educational protectionism” to the mix, which they characterize as an effort on the part of African American parents to replace the boring, unchallenging, and rigid curriculum of schools with higher expectations, relevant (often Afrocentric) curriculum, and student initiative. In a 2014 article they explain how a small subset of their sample, about 15% of the overall group, did not identify with the racial dynamics expressed by everyone else. For this small subset the motivation seems to be more exclusively religious (they call it “religious protectionism”), very like the motivations of the much larger group of white fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers. In another 2014 article they explore how homeschooling is especially attractive to African American parents of boys given the discrimination black males regularly experience in public schools. In the article before us today they examine how some African American homeschoolers are using the method to escape the Eurocentric curriculum that permeates public schools.
Mazama and Lundy begin with a solid historical orientation to the efforts of African Americans before and after the Civil War to obtain literacy. They stress especially how even higher education for blacks that was not narrowly vocational was still saturated in the curriculum of white supremacy via the classical liberal arts. Despite the efforts of standouts like Carter G. Woodson, Marcus Garvey, and W. E. B. DuBois, most well-educated African Americans of the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries imbibed this Eurocentric curriculum. Since the Black Power movement of the late 1960s, Afrocentric approaches to education have been tried in various places, but it has been difficult to bring them to scale. Mazama and Lundy provide a rich account of the development of Afrocentric educational theory, explaining how current white-dominated curricular models contribute to the prison-like atmosphere of public schools for black children, with the result that black children often receive “too much schooling and too little education.” (p. 128)
Mazama and Lundy next explain the basic contours and demographics of their sample, which I have summarized here. In this article they combine two categories of parental motivation (a desire to impart African American positive cultural messages and a desire to avoid racism in schools) into one “racism” category, which allows them to assert that racial concerns are the second most frequently mentioned motivation African American parents cite for homeschooling, after concerns about the poor quality of education in brick and mortars. This racial motive is cited by about a quarter of their 74 respondents. Within this group, Mazama and Lundy see individual parents falling somewhere along what they call a “Protectionist-Culturalist continuum,” where protectionists want to develop in their children a positive self-image by exposing them to positive black role models, and culturalists want to socialize their children into the pan-African community.
Mazama and Lundy provide several engaging quotations from their subjects expressing their critique of bias against African and African American history and culture found in schools. Most of these quotes pertain to public schools, but some are expressed about private Christian schools as well, which have a tendency “to soft-peddle” slavery, “like it was almost a benevolent field trip to America, and Robert E. Lee was a great Christian man,” as one respondent put it. (p. 133) In contrast, these Afrocentric homeschoolers can offer an alternative narrative. For example, one mother described how “we had a course once on astronomy, and we talked about Benjamin Banneker’s contributions in a very natural discussion.” (p. 133).
Again, some parents are motivated to utilize Afrocentric curriculum to promote a positive sense of self and pride in their children (the protectionists) while others are motivated largely by a felt need to promote in their children a sense of belonging to the broader African community as it exists around the world (the culturalists). As Mazama and Lundy unpack the distinction it becomes clear that protectionist families are focused more on their children as individuals, and culturalist families are focused more on the collective. As Mazama and Lundy put it, “The ultimate goal, for [culturalist] parents, is the ‘Afrikanization’ of their children through proper socialization.” (p. 136)
Mazama and Lundy conclude by suggesting that future research should emphasize longitudinal outcomes of these efforts, both in terms of their academic and economic consequences and their socialization results.
Appraisal: Like their article on conservative Christian African American homeschoolers, this piece hones in on one particular subset of African American homeschoolers and does a wonderful job of providing a rich account of why they do what they do. When read in conjunction with their other articles this piece is very helpful. But if read in isolation this article might mislead some. The powerful Afrocentric motivation in either its protectionist or culturalist manifestation described here, it must be recalled, only applies to about a quarter of the homeschoolers in their sample, which means that the great majority of black homeschoolers are not motivated primarily by these impulses.
I have one final tidbit I’d like to say about Mazama and Lundy’s collective work. As I’ve been reading their various articles over the past couple of years I’ve been impressed with their ability to adapt their rhetoric and thesis to the journal they’ve chosen for publication. Scholars often call this ability “code switching,” and these authors do it very well. Their savvy rhetorical adaptations provide aspiring scholars with a great study in how to know one’s audience and tailor one’s presentation to it. In a publication like the Journal of Negro Education, Mazama and Lundy allow their own Afrocentric proclivities to shine to great effect, but in works they’ve tailored for a more general audience their rhetoric is more conventional. Their other work is good, but in this piece I felt like Mazama and Lundy had let down their guard a bit and were speaking in their first language to people they knew would get it.
Milton Gaither, Messiah College