Opinion | When Virtual School Means a Respite From Racism


To be sure, the informal survey’s sample size was small and the respondents aren’t necessarily representative of Black parents across the country. (The private Facebook group describes itself as “a safe, supportive space for BLACK parents of Black children to openly discuss how racism, white supremacy, and systemic oppression impact our parenting choices, how to work to overcome generational traumas, and how to be a more conscious parent in order to raise culturally, socially, and intellectually liberated children.”) Still, the sentiments expressed track with anecdotal evidence and other research that links Black parents’ motivations for home-schooling to perceptions of racial bias in schools.

Cheryl Fields-Smith, an associate education professor at the University of Georgia, studies why Black families choose to home-school. “I’ve never had a parent tell me it was one particular factor,” she said. “It’s a multitude of factors, and a lot of them revolve around what I would just plainly say is racism.” Dr. Fields-Smith said this pattern can be seen in curriculum that fails to teach about Black Americans beyond slavery and the civil rights era, and in many teachers’ negative preconceptions about Black youngsters.

She said she had also seen it firsthand observing elementary school classrooms. “If Black children so much as wiggle, it’s ‘Keep still!’ White kids are wiggling, and they don’t say a word. It’s nothing but misgivings, misinterpretations, mis-whatever about Black people moving,” she said. “They feel like they’re being picked on.”

A 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and American University found that when anticipating a Black student’s academic future, white teachers were less likely than Black teachers to predict the student would graduate high school and less likely to think the student would earn a four-year college degree. It’s no surprise that Black children are underrepresented in gifted classes and under-enrolled in honors and Advanced Placement courses — or that a Black student at a school with few other Black children is more likely to have a diagnosis of learning disabled than a similarly performing child at a predominantly Black school.

Virtual learning “is an empowering feeling for parents,” Dr. Chapple-McGruder said. “We realize that these negative things that our children experience aren’t just going to disappear. But if something is going wrong,” she said, “we can advocate immediately.”

One mother who responded to the survey reported that she’d intervened in real time when her son’s teacher threatened to withhold participation credit because his noisy siblings made it difficult to hear his answers to her questions. The teacher told the child — who lived in a one-bedroom apartment — to find a quieter space. The mother explained in her survey response that she spoke directly to the teacher, suggesting that her son be allowed to mute his mic and type his answers in the chat box. Problem solved. “The fact that the teacher was willing to dock the child’s grade, instead of coming up with a creative way that the child could answer and still participate, these are the things that I feel happen often to Black children,” Dr. Chapple-McGruder said. “If they can’t conform to the exact way that the teacher wants, they get graded harder.”

It is little wonder that about 20 percent of the Black parents who responded to her survey said that if virtual learning was an option after the pandemic is over, they would choose it over a return to brick-and-mortar schools.



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