Associate professor studies growing unschooling movement
Cheryl Fields-Smith, an associate professor of educational theory and practice in the University of Georgia's College of Education, was recently quoted in the Christian Science Monitor about the growing unschooling movement among African American families.
According to the article, the number of children being home-schooled has skyrocketed in the past decade. Education experts say this is because "unschooling is becoming a less risky choice for parents and increasingly represents a viable alternative to a public school system that has received a lot of bad press in recent years."
Specifically, many parents are dissatisfied with the public education system's focus on standardized tests and believe their children's education should be guided by their own natural interests and inclinations.
This is particularly true, says Fields-Smith, among a growing number of minority families. Although home-schooling has the reputation of being a predominantly white enterprise, new statistics suggest that African American and Latino families make up a rapidly growing number of unschooling families.
In her study, Fields-Smith discovered that "many black families believe it is a greater risk to keep their children—particularly boys—in school than to take them out. These reasons ranged from the perceived quickness of administrators to label black boys as 'troublemakers,' to potential violence at schools, to a desire for a more holistic education at home."
Essentially, "black families saw home-schooling as a way to protect their children and give them a better future. And although many black parents started out with more rigid curriculum plans— 'there's not as much freedom in black families, because they know the odds are stacked against their children as soon as they walk out the door,' said Fields-Smith—they tended to move toward unschooling as they went along."
Initially, this trend surprised Fields-Smith given the long African American history of fighting for quality public education. "But when you dig, you see that we've always been determined to be self-taught," she said. "When we were denied resources for school we did it ourselves... I see this as a new iteration of the long history of [African Americans] fighting for education."
Fields-Smith, who was recently selected as a Service-Learning Fellow, is currently developing a service-learning course in education focused on emancipatory and place-based pedagogy for both UGA students and Athens-area families.