Thursday, June 01, 2006

Interview: Jennifer James - Director of National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance

Below is an interview with Jennifer James done via email. While doing the research for an interview I am always impressed by things the individual has done and is doing. Jennifer is no exception. She is doing a lot of good.


I hope you enjoy the interview.

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Brief bio:

Jennifer James, publisher of Mommy Too! Magazine, is a strong and vocal advocate for home education in the US African-American community. She is also the director of the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance. She has been interviewed by many news organizations, including CNN, Reuters, Newsday, and the Christian Science Monitor. She is a wife and the mother of two young daughters and blogs about home schooling and working at home at ClubMom.


Personal:

Tell us a bit about your childhood. What did you and your three brothers like to do? What kinds of trips did your family take? What are your best memories of your childhood?

I had a great childhood. I was always deeply immersed in some book or trying to learn something new. I was one of those children who enjoyed reading encyclopedias and the dictionary for fun. I still do that.

My brothers and I didn’t play together much because they were always out getting dirty somewhere. I didn’t like spending much time outside. I spent most of my time in my room reading, writing, watching TV (I’m a huge sports fan), or simply spent time with my family and pets.

Each summer my parents took us to the beach. I loved it. We’d spend an entire week just having fun as a family and enjoying the sand and surf. We also would take day-trips to the mountains or to a state park, walked trails and have a picnic. We did that more times that I can count. The summer before my 9th grade year my parents took us to the Bahamas. It was the first time I had been out of the country. It was an amazing trip and I learned a lot of history there. In all, I had a lot of fun during my childhood.

In The Mothers Movement Online (MMO) interview in 2003 you said you had originally planned on a career in international law. What attracted you to a degree in Asian Studies? What other careers had you considered?

In the early 1990’s I knew Asia was going to be a real hotbed of financial opportunity and cultural change. My concentration was specifically on China. At the time I wanted to be in the thick of all the changes that were soon to take place. I also planned on being a journalist. All of that fell away when I decided to get married and have children. My mother always stayed at home with us and I wanted to do the same for my daughters. I believe they deserved that from their mom.

Also in the MMO interview you said your mother was the only mother in the neighborhood which stayed at home. Was this the main reason you decided to be a stay at home mother?

Yes.


Homeschooling:

You have been homeschooling for a couple years now. What were some of your initial reasons for homeschooling? Have you found some more reasons?

My husband and I decided to homeschool simply because as products of public school ourselves we knew we could do a better job teaching our children. I don’t say this to take away from the job teachers do, but rather as a testament to the confidence we have in our ability to educate our daughters.

As time has progressed, we’ve decided to homeschool for a variety of other reasons. Raising black children today is not an easy task. We didn’t want to send our children to public school where they potentially could be heavily influenced by other children who have an inherent apathy for education and distain for being smart. We also didn’t want our children to feel they couldn’t achieve because they are black. When I was in school I was always in advanced, AG and AP classes. I also tended to be the only or one of a few blacks in those classes from kindergarten to 12th grade. We didn’t want our children to be put in that situation this early. Once we have instilled in them the confidence they need to understand they are indeed intelligent and to always strive for success and excellence, maybe our thoughts about this will change.

What are your typical homeschooling days?

Our homeschooling days are very relaxed. I’ve intentionally designed it that way. From early one, I’ve always made sure that our daughters are well advanced for their age (at least two grades) because it takes a lot of the pressure off of me since I’m such a busy mom. It also allows me to introduce advanced books, ideas and lessons to them.

After breakfast we’ll sit around the kitchen table and start our lessons. After that’s complete my oldest has to read for an hour while I read to my youngest. And then throughout the day they’re always learning about something new whether it’s a new bird that’s visited our bird feeder, or a new country they might have seen on Discovery.

What have been some of your unusual homeschooling events?

We haven’t done anything really unusual.


African-American Education issues:

Often when I read about blacks and education the point is made that when black students study hard they are accused of being white. Just over 50 years ago we had Brown v. The Board of Education, black parents fought hard so their children could have a good education. Yet now it seems like education is no longer valued. What happened?

Truly, I have no idea. There are so many theories about blacks and education that it would make anyone’s head spin. I don’t think scholars who have dedicated their lives to this very issue fully understand what happened. All I know is I don’t want our daughters to be a product of poor education and black educational apathy. My husband and I regularly teach our daughters about actions and consequences. We tell them if they’re smart they can attend a great university and attain a wonderful job. If they aren’t smart then they won’t. It’s all real cut and dry for us – smarts and intelligence equals success. Laziness and unintelligence leads to a rough time in life.

On the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. The Board of Education Bill Crosby chastised blacks for not making their children work harder. Thomas Sowell applauded Bill Cosby for having the guts to point out that at least part of the problem blacks have in America is of their own doing. Are things turning around? Are more black parents acknowledging their role, and stepping up to help their children get a better education?

I’d like to think so. Since so many black parents around the country are inquiring about home schooling, I think it’s starting to stick that as black parents they have to do more; that they have to take some initiative in the educational success of their own children. Even if they can’t homeschool, I believe some parents are starting to wake up to the notion that they can’t rely on other people to successfully teach their children. They have to have a steady hand in the process as well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Bill Cosby’s lectures and ideas will seep into the collective consciousness of those blacks who have traditionally allowed their children to fail in school.


National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance:

You started up NAAHA almost three and a half years ago. You have a good collection of resources and articles. What are the typical things you do as the NAAHA director?

Since there are so many black families who are just starting to figure out that homeschooling is an option they can also use, I spend most of my days responding to email inquiries and talking to the media. That’s all I have time to do right now. I want and need to write a book specifically for black homeschoolers and am looking for a publisher.

What is the need for an organization targeted at black homeschoolers? What issues do black homeschoolers face that other homeschoolers might not worry about?

This is a great question because many who aren’t black don’t understand why a NAAHA exists.

A group specifically for black homeschoolers is essential because there are issues that need to be addressed to the black community that don’t necessarily pertain to others. For example, NAAHA assures blacks that it’s perfectly fine to homeschool. Many blacks feel guilty for homeschooling or even entertaining the notion of homeschooling because it took so long for blacks to attain equal access to education. They feel it would be a direct slap in the face to what the Civil Rights Movement achieved. Additionally, public school advocates and educators tell these families that they are the precise families who should stick around in the public schools because they can help repair it. We always maintain that we don’t have time to help fix public schools. We have our children’s lives to think about.

Plus, as a black homeschooling organization we stress the need for parents to rid their home of the idea that “acting white” is an okay attitude to have. We also emphasize the importance of building a home library and curbing TV time, two factors that if not done increases the chance that a black child will not succeed in their education. In this regard, a group for black homeschoolers is extremely necessary.

What do you think will happen in the future with the black community and homeschooling?

I hope the black homeschooling community continues to grow and thrive. That is my ultimate wish. It’s hard to think of what might happen in the future. I just go day by day and watch.


Thank you for letting me interview you.


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6 comments:

Lostcheerio said...

Very interesting, particularly the last few questions. I think we spend so much time focusing on how we're all individuals that we forget how different groups of people do have issues in common, that they really don't share with the rest of the population. It had never occurred to me that black parents might think they were being disrespectful to the civil rights movement if they take their kids out of public school. That is very interesting and I can really see how that would affect someone's decision. Thanks for the Q&A.

christinemm said...

Thanks for this great interview. I was just re-listening to a 1997 GWS homeschool conference tape with Donna Nichols-White (a black unschooling mom). I wanted to contact her and went all over the Net to find her online but only found her newsletter The Drinking Gourd and a snail mail. Anyway while doing this search I came across a Georgia African American Homeschooler organization and also this national organization.

I began wondering why an organization was needed for African American homeschoolers. I understand more now that I read this interview.

I also didn't understand why an African American breastfeeding support organization was needed since La Leche League is such a huge grassroots organization which is open to anyone and everyone who is breastfeeding.

Anyway, thanks for another great interview!

Anonymous said...

Is there a new address for this blog, with new content?

Henry Cate said...

Anonymous - I assume you are asking about Jennifer James' blog. (You can find our new content at: Why Homeschool.)

It looks like Jennifer is mostly blogging about issues relating to motherhood now. You can find her Facebook page at: here, which has links to her various blogs.

Anonymous said...

I have been living in North Carolina for 5 years now- raised in Southern California. Each day it has broken my heart that my children are in such a segregated culture. The south is still shedding the scales of bigotry. At first, I was delighted to see that NC had a fair amount of diverse people but over time I see that it is very difficult for me to socialize my children with people who don't "look like them".
It is difficult for me to give an objective opinion of NAAHA - from where I sit, the organization also contributes to the social segregation that aches my heart. In California I never experienced this darkness - I want my children to be comfortable with people of all colors and cultural background. I have not found one homeschool group that have diversity here is the south. Does anyone know if there are organizations promoting unified diversity among homeschoolers?

Anonymous said...

I have been living in North Carolina for 5 years now- raised in Southern California. Each day it has broken my heart that my children are in such a segregated culture. The south is still shedding the scales of bigotry. At first, I was delighted to see that NC had a fair amount of diverse people but over time I see that it is very difficult for me to socialize my children with people who don't "look like them".
It is difficult for me to give an objective opinion of NAAHA - from where I sit, the organization also contributes to the social segregation that aches my heart. In California I never experienced this darkness - I want my children to be comfortable with people of all colors and cultural background. I have not found one homeschool group that have diversity here is the south. Does anyone know if there are organizations promoting unified diversity among homeschoolers?