Black boys need credentials

This is a guest post from Judy Sarden, a homeschooling mother of two, business advisor, writer and attorney. This is a photo of her son.

As the homeschool movement gains social acceptance, more black families are pulling our kids from underperforming public schools and even from private schools where our bright kids are losing their way.

But once we get them home, there is much debate about whether kids should be allowed to simply do what they love.  The premise for Penelope’s blog is that kids should not be forced to learn things in which they have no interest, that kids don’t need to go to college to create a fulfilling life.  Many of her readers are in agreement with that position.

But I wonder if that approach is feasible for black families. I think it’s great that some homeschooling parents can allow their kids to do what they love.  It’s wonderful that some people don’t make their kids do what they don’t what to do.  It works for a quirky white kid  – with no college degree but a passion for “X” he might still be able to get a job or even raise money to start a company doing “X”.

That strategy will not be so easy for my little boy who will grow up to be a black man. My little boy is adorable and everyone thinks he’s so smart and wise beyond his years.  But when he grows into a black man, people will not think he is adorable. No one will care that he grew up middle class, with two parents, each of whom hold advanced degrees.  No one will care that he plays violin, loves to learn and has a passion for anything.

When my grown son walks into a room, people will see him just like they do any other black man on the street:  some with dread, some with apprehension, most with a stereotype that is nothing like the man that he is.

As a black man, my son will need a base line of credentials before anyone will even consider him in the professional world. He’ll need something that says he belongs to the club. What kind of job can a black man with no degree get?

Without the degree, my son would be just another uneducated black man with a hustle.  A statistic.  Possibly even a hoodlum. Wouldn’t it be irresponsible of me not to encourage and prepare him for college? A college degree may be a waste of time for some but it’s never a waste for a black kid

So while I agree that kids should be allowed and encouraged to follow their passion, I think that black homeschooled kids must study subjects that the new homeschooling middle class has decided to eschew. Doing without those subjects is simply an extravagance that black kids cannot afford.



70 replies
  1. Alexis Trass Walker
    Alexis Trass Walker says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m a black mother of four–two girls and two boys. I decided to research homeschooling my children and I made the decision to officially start in August 2014 when my daughters will be in second grade and kindergarten. The boys will be not-quite 3-years-old then. The reason I’m taking the year is because I taught school for 10 years before becoming a SAHM, and I realized I have a lot of de-programming to do.

    You’ve articulated one of the things I struggle with as I think about this journey we’re going to start next year. As attractive as unschooling is to me, I’ve wondered how practical it is for my kids, but particularly my sons. Like you, Judy, I know they’re bright and naturally inquisitive, and I’m raising them to make positive contributions to the world. With every fiber of my being, I know they will be happy and productive people. I also know that they won’t necessarily be seen that way when they step out into the real world.

    So as much as I think about my boys (and girls) following their dreams and doing what they want to do, I wonder if I would be making a mistake to actually let that happen. Can I afford to say, “That’s fine, son. You’re not going to use much algebra in life so you don’t have to take it”? Can I afford to let them truly be free?

    My children will be homeschooled regardless; I’m willing to see how things play out as they age. In the back of my mind, though, I keep thinking they need to be on a college track because they will not enjoy the same privileges as others.

  2. mbl
    mbl says:

    Judy, thanks so much for another thoughtful post. PT, thanks again for this platform. I hope this post gets a number of responses. But it is such a big and daunting topic that it is so easy to shy away from—IF it isn’t your life.

    In my response to your last post, I suggested that schools will take notice when high testing brown students leave and create a financial impact that cannot be ignored. I think college is the next step. College may well have become a Ponzi scheme and those that continue to buy in will be left holding the bag. (Of course, things do change if minority scholarships are factored in–so you are looking at the temporal/experiential cost–but at some point, who is considered a minority in a college could change.)

    I think the crux of unschooling as a successful model requires finding and pursuing one’s passion. That is the whole point of it. It also depends upon how one defines “success.” Will every white unschooler land a cushy, high-status job? Absolutely not. Will some white unschoolers need to go to college to pursue their field? Yes. Will some use their time as an adolescent to obviate college by discovering/doing something so outstanding that progressive companies will not give a crap about credentials (or will consider their CV to be their credentials)? Absolutely. Will a lot decide continue on their entrepreneurial path having grown up unaccustomed to having been told what is most important? I think so.

    Will people of color, perhaps be held to a different standard? Probably. But I don’t think it will be negative across the board. I think it will depend on the ones doing the hiring. Because we are not color or gender blind, (stereotype alert!!!) those of us with a liberal bent fall all over ourselves hoping the minority will be the best candidate. I think females in STEM fields might be somewhat analogous–not sure, just speculating.

    I think using Bill Gates as the “quirky white kid” example might require factoring the fact that he dropped out of Harvard. I’ve forgotten a lot of the data that I read from links from PT’s post on merely applying to name brand schools as an indicator of future success–but think a better example would be one who didn’t go the college prep route to begin with. Again, a kid can do something so outstandingly novel that college becomes moot–or schools will fall over themselves to fast-track the kid making exceptions for intro classes (I’m guessing.)

    I don’t think any amount of letters after your son’s name or deep grasp of algebra will protect him from prejudice. Obama’s amazing, tear-jerker speech after the Trayvon debacle directed a blazing spotlight on that plight, I think. If your son is trying to hail a cab while dressed in a tux, he may still be at a disadvantage, but less so than a white kid in a hoodie. Am I making any sense?

    I think a number of those of us who consider ourselves to be unschoolers in theory–are more unschooler-lighters when it comes down to perceived “deficiencies” in certain “core” areas. I don’t force rote math on my daughter even though I know she, perhaps, “should” and most certainly could pick up the pace on that front. But, I also have test data that shows that she is on par on that front and way ahead on the concept front. So while in my heart I would love for her to be more speedy on the application front, I have a cushion to keep me from really having to “walk the walk” in testing my commitment to unschooling. Just like, in theory, I would like to think I could withstand the pressure of a “late reader,” I don’t know if I could. Since I had an “early reader,” I’ll never have to test it and can keep my possible delusions in tact. I fear I am rambling, but just want to say that I most parents on here worry about screwing up their children’s future options–but just cross their fingers, pray for the best, and trust that their kids will have the wherewithal to learn what they need to (play catch-up) to patch any barriers to fulfilling their dreams.

    Side note: I totally respect your decision to maintain a level of your children’s anonymity by not posting a photo. However, on your other post, the side angle of son indicated that he is absolutely beautiful and I was dying to see your daughter’s face as well. If they are gorgeous—rightly or wrongly—that will counter a ton of prejudice against skin color. I’m not sure how that might fit into this discussion and truly am not trying to discount the very real impact of racial prejudice.

      • mbl
        mbl says:

        For some reason, the photo didn’t come up in my browser when I wrote my novella. And, clearly, he is gorgeous. Of course that comes with its own baggage. If he is also charming, he’ll need to ensure he doesn’t coast on his ability to his way into or out of anything that comes his way!!!

        I’m always raving about Carol Dweck’s Mindset and am currently re-reading it. It discusses fixed vs growth mindset and I truly think it is far more important to instill a growth mindset into our kids. Particularly the gifted ones who can so easily derive their self-esteem via pride in things coming easily to them. Even if you don’t praise them for the results, they will hear it from other people and may balk at your attempts to praise their effort if it actually was easy for them. (Personally, I have a crappy fixed mindset and fizzle in the face of obstacles. Too bad there isn’t some book I could read to help me work past that and develop growth minded strategies….?)

        • mh
          mh says:


          You read interesting stuff — that’s the second book recommendation I can’t wait to get. What else are you reading?

    • Marie-Eve B.
      Marie-Eve B. says:

      I understand the article’s point of view of minorities having to take up lots of education capital to be on par. Living in a white anglo saxon world, anyone who doesn’t fit (be it by gender, “race”, or even language) seems to come second.

      But I love your comment. I gave myself capital to sail in this world (my first language is French, I’m a woman), I don’t trust any other person/teacher to do it at my place. We have to trust that children will know how to navigate better in the world of their time. At this time, college might not be the way – we don’t know. The elite of the time might discard it as it will become more for the masses with online education. What we can instill our kids is a love for learning what it takes to be competent, among the best of their field, any way it takes. I think it’s done best with unschooling, because we can distill what we need to learn at the pace we need it. It can also be done with apprenticeship, or with 10 000 hours of practice. When we’re the best at what we do, not necessarily with college, we have this competence capital to make capital and enjoy what we do.

    • Marie-Eve
      Marie-Eve says:

      I understand the article’s point of view of minorities having to take up lots of education capital to be on par. Living in a white anglo saxon world, anyone who doesn’t fit (be it by gender, “race”, or even language) seems to come second.

      But I love your comment. I gave myself capital to sail in this world (my first language is French, I’m a woman), I don’t trust any other person/teacher to do it at my place. We have to trust that children will know how to navigate better in the world of their time. At this time, college might not be the way – we don’t know. The elite of the time might discard it as it will become more for the masses with online education. What we can instill our kids is a love for learning what it takes to be competent, among the best of their field, any way it takes. I think it’s done best with unschooling, because we can distill what we need to learn at the pace we need it. It can also be done with apprenticeship, or with 10 000 hours of practice. When we’re the best at what we do, not necessarily with college, we have this competence capital to make capital and enjoy what we do.

  3. CL
    CL says:

    This post makes me wonder if un schooling is an advantage afforded by being white. I intended to unschool my unborn children, but now I’m questioning that. There’s a stigma if you are not white and don’t have a degree for sure. And I find it telling that in Michael Ellison’s book on millionaires where he talks about millionaires without degrees, they are all white. My kids will be homeschooled anyway, but the method may need to shift.

  4. brooke
    brooke says:

    i am a 30yr old white female who was homeschooled in high school, before that i was in a public school. my two younger brothers where homeschooled longer than i was & my two younger sisters will be homeschooled completely (k-12)
    I’ve gone back & forth regarding what i might do with my own children & based on my experience i prefer to homeschool my kids if given the opportunity. i have been married 5 years but we have not started a family yet……
    while i do agree homeschoolers have the option to choose what they teach, i disagree that we should give them the choice to only learn what interests them.
    when i, say homeschoolers should be able to freely choose what they teach i mean curriculum from certain companies maybe more religious based or secular, i also mean based on a Childs level of learning- kids learn at different speeds & you could have a 7 &9yr old working our of the same text book or “grade” level, i also mean the learning method -hands on or visual, maybe one child learns better with textbook work & another kid needs more of a hands on approach

    i do agree with this post that there are many times where a colored person may not be looked at the same as a white person. i hope that over time those statistics & judgments fade.
    it should not be that a color of skin determines opportunities given to someone. i certainly make sure i don’t fall into that trap.when it comes to my own businesses (my husband & i are self employed & own a few businesses, neither of us graduated from college)
    i do feel that with homeschooling you can customize curriculum to fit each child differently but i disagree with the notion of skipping subjects that a child may not be interested in.
    especially in the younger years basics such as math, history (u.s. & world) science, ect are fundamental just like reading & writing.
    i also think even into jr or high school years there are still classethat should be taught while they might be extremely boring i still think its important (even for those not looking to go to college)

    one reason being is that of having a well rounded knowledge -even if we think we won’t ever use it

    for those going on to college many of those boring classess will make am easier transition to college courses – i have taken courses off & on through my 20’s & found those boring classes to be a Benefit

    also its good for those not going to college, at different points in life (no matter who you are) we all have to work on something we aren’t interested in, or care to do….. studying & learning, teaching ourselves to be focused & educate ourselves in something that we don’t have excitement for can prepare us for those life moments where we have to apply ourselves even if we think its boring or not interesting

    that’s just a little part of my thought on the matter :)

    • avant garde designer
      avant garde designer says:

      Any reason why you don’t capitalize the beginnings of your sentences? I realize this is aside from the conversation, but considering homeschooled children still face the stigma of not being properly educated, it seems important to follow correct rules of grammar and writing. As a graphic designer, I can vouch for those rules – they actually do serve a viable purpose in aiding the reader’s eye to flow across the content with the greatest ease, which then ensures your audience will stick to reading what you write.

      • Marie-INFP
        Marie-INFP says:

        Avant Garde Designer, you read my mind and what you described is exactly what I did – skipped the comment because I was annoyed by the lack of grammar and proper writing, and thought poorly of her as a homeschooler.

    • Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
      Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

      Hello Brooke,
      I was willing to overlooked your lack of sentence structure because this is a blog comment. But did you say “a colored person?” I don’t believe I have ever heard a young person refer to an African American using that term in my entire life. Interesting.

        • Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
          Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

          I dont think the name of an organization founded during the time when we actually used the term “colored people” counts as being out of touch. I am a member of the National Council of Negro Women, but I dont call myself a “negro.” Context and intent is important. As a person who was homeschooled (which is her claim) I am a little surprised that she would use the term “colored people” in 2013. Who does that, really?

  5. Ann N
    Ann N says:

    I am a white mother of two and am thankful for your post (and for Penelope for hosting this discussion). The kind of choice limitation you describe crosses both race and class lines. Parents who challenge the status quo are great for education and I love the freedom offered by homeschooling. However, it’s important for people to be mindful that it takes a certain amount of social or financial capital to eschew the credentials that traditionally open doors.

  6. Discovering Montessori
    Discovering Montessori says:

    Nice post! I am also homeschooling my son who happens to be African American as well. I am al\so African American. It was a struggle at first for me to just stop comparing academic achievements of others no matter what their ethnicity was, It was also a difficult thing to not do even among siblings.

    What personally helped me was allowing my children to follow their passion,find their hook, and I hope this will set them a part from everybody else who may have a degree in the field. I strongly advocate entrepreneurship starting at the earliest age possible, because if you are passionate about something, and follow your dreams. You can create your own career path in which you do not have to have a college degree.

    So I think it is even more important for the African American family to ditch the traditional path and academics that have no interest to the child and focus on what they are passionate about so that they can stand out and make a difference.

    – Tearri Rivers

    • Judy Sarden
      Judy Sarden says:


      I am working through my initial need to have a school at home environment. I realized pretty quickly that a canned curriculum was not going to work for any of us. My kids are young so I am now trying to expose them to a variety of experiences. It’s amazing how much highly technical information they can absorb and understand when they are interested. They are beginning to seek out information on their own and I love seeing how different our school looks now. They are doing so much self directed work that when it is time to focus on math facts, they don’t see it as a burden. Of course, my hope is that they can do whatever they want in life but I still am a believer in having a Plan B. I believe that a college degree affords not only the credibility that my kids will need but also an ability to execute a Plan B.

  7. Sarah Pierzchala
    Sarah Pierzchala says:

    Very interesting post! It’s brave of you to go against the culture and do what you as a parent believe is best for your precious kids.

    I’m wondering if you’re not maybe putting too much of a burden on your son? I’m tempted to do a bit of this myself sometimes when I think my family “represents” white, Christian homeschoolers. We don’t, actually. We represent ourselves and our own standards.

    Your son is an individual, not an entire population. He has his own gifts and talents, and should be encouraged to develop them.

    We aren’t entirely unschooling at our home this year, because my kids themselves recognize that they need a bit of structure, but I am definitely allowing ample time to pursue their interests and hone their skills.

  8. Koren
    Koren says:

    I agree with CB.

    Although as a black mother I recognize there is a thin line between preparing black sons for the reality of life and crippling them by the fear and burden of simply being black.

    Kudos mom for making thoughtful choices and much happiness and success to you and your son.

  9. Judy Sarden
    Judy Sarden says:

    @ CB – No insecurities here. Just a mother who is aware of the kinds of challengesmy kids will face as they become adults.

    @ Koren – My husband and I intentionally do not talk about race “stuff” in front of the kids because we don’t want them to pick up on the burden of being black. Our hope is that they will develop their sense of self and worth without having to take into account what society may think about their race. Sure, they’ll have to deal with it eventually but we don’t want them to automatically look at the world or themselves through other people’s bias.

  10. Mary
    Mary says:

    I’m also wondering if the same can be said for females — or any group of people that has been marginalized in our country? I appreciated your perspective on this, and it makes me sad to think that in our “enlightened” country your little boy, with his charm and so much intelligence, will still be discriminated against because the color of his skin.

  11. channa
    channa says:

    Your thoughts make tons of sense and even parents without prejudice working against them can’t find it easy to feel confident that their kids will be every bit as well-off without college as with it. Homeschool families are advantaged in many ways when it comes to college anyway, so why not just send them? More time for test prep and extracurriculars, the at-home parent can go back to work so tuition’s not as big a burden, and most importantly your kids are likely to be independent, motivated and great communicators beyond their years so they can actually take advantage of the research and learning resources that college provides. When you’re really engaged in what you love there is nothing like working with brilliant professors at a world-class college. You might not grow up to be them but it’s exciting just to hear what they have to say. Just another part of the world to learn about.

    Loved these guest posts – keep them coming.

  12. mh
    mh says:

    I think about this all the time.

    While I think things are not >hopeless< for middle class black children, things sure aren't easy. And as parents, we try to pick our way through, try to imagine a future and prepare our kids for what we imagine. And in that way, all homeschool parents are alike. Schools do a bad job preparing kids for the future; here are the skills people need to live productive lives; how do I want to teach those skills?

    Is it better to be a black middle class child OUT of school than IN school? Yes, definitely.

    Is it better to infuse a parent's own values and ideas into a child, or is it better to trust — TRUST — that the schools will accurately transmit my culture, my values, my ideals to my child? You know the answer.

    But it's so hard to raise black boys, because black men face two hurdles of suspicion. There's the violent young black man stereotype, and there's the affirmative action stigma.

    There are other ways to get the credentials and for your children to show their stuff. So — really — teach them standardized testing skills, and teach them to write and communicate.

    And there's the cultural change that comes when your family and friends understand your decision to homeschool, come to accept that, and (some) decide to do likewise.

    It's just hard to be an activist every day, instead of just a parent.

  13. Lisa S.
    Lisa S. says:

    Another wonderful post! In theory, i really believe in the concept of unschooling. However, i also feel that black children cant afford the luxury of unschooling because at the end of the day, i dont have the money or the connections that P.T. has to “help” my kids when it comes to finding a job as an adult. My kids will need something to help open doors for them.
    This year will be my first year homeschooling my middle school age kids. I am torn between two worlds. I’m black and as a mother, my practical side agrees with Judy, like it or not, black kids need credentials in this world. Are there exceptions? Sure, but who wants to gamble with their child’s future like that? On the other hand, my intellectual, carefree, creative ENFP side believes my kids would absolutely thrive as unschoolers who spend their time finding their passion. This duality is playing itself out right now in my house. I am struggling with trying to decide between choosing a canned curriculum or going out on my own and make up my own “curriculum” with lots of input from my kids.

    I’m a big fan of this blog. Kudos to P.T. for giving some of your space to Judy. Its comforting to learn that there are other mothers like me who are thinking of and dealing with the same issues.

    • channa
      channa says:

      How much “canned” curriculum do you need for the SATs or ACTs? Isn’t it basically reading and math? I don’t remember… the GMAT and GRE were just the basics. Really seems like there is plenty of room for self-directed learning and also reading and math. After all those are only about 1/4 of the time spent in school. And not bad skills to have.

  14. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    I do appreciate the idea of college being important for minority families, but it seems the comments’ authors equate unschooling with not going to college. The question seems to me to be, “How can I pressure my child to go to college (should he decide not to) if he has spent his whole life determining for himself what is relevant to his life?”

    This might be approached like any middle class family that wants the children to go, by assuming every child will go and talking like that within the family and discussing what it will take to prepare for it. Children who are unschooled tend to get “antsy” in adolescence about what they know, can do and how they compare to others. They will take on subjects that they will need to reach their goals. And it will all be fresh and interesting because they haven’t been bored by it for their entire lives.

    You could have a couple practice achievement tests to see how it goes, but I wouldn’t teach test taking unless it is shown to be a challenge for the child. And everything in double-digits ages so as to leave the young child intact!

  15. Jenifa
    Jenifa says:

    Whether an 18 year old decides to go to college is entirely up to them. They can fill out their own forms and apply for their own loans.

    If they have been not going to an accredited public/private school for the previous 17 years, then they should know themselves and how they fit into the world well enough to understand if they want a college degree.

    Either way it isn’t the parents decision anymore. An 18 year old makes their own decisions. Black or white or whatever.

  16. Judy Sarden
    Judy Sarden says:

    Lots of good points in this discussion. I agree that wealth and/or social status can overcome the need for a degree for pretty much anybody who is privileged enough to have one or both.

    As for testing, I have finally come to the point where I am ok with not teaching to the state test. My kids are learning so much that is not going to be on the test. My 6 year old is learning about Newton’s laws of physics because he’s trying to build a fast car with his lego set. He’s learning geometry and more physics through his golf lessons. We carry magnifying glasses, rulers and a note book with us on walks so that we can observe anything of interest and take a note of things to Google when we get back to the house. We incorporate so much “academic” work into figuring out how to do fun stuff. I feel like this is a much more organic way of learning than what they could ever get from school.

    On the other hand, I still think core language and math are necessary. With those as a foundation, everything else falls into place.

    So far I have resisted having the kids tested, despite pressure from my family. I am trying to let them develop at their own pace and not get into the habit of comparing them to other kids. That is hard. Unless I think we are having problems, I will put off having them tested until it becomes compulsory in a few more years.

    I do believe there are other traits that lead to success and that these traits are ideally suited to be acquired in a homeschooling environment: becoming an independent learner, the ability to socialize and get along with all kinds of people and finding and pursuing a passion. If you’re good looking, then that’s a bonus.

    My first job out of law school was at a Fortune 100 company. While interviewing for summer associates, most top tier law firms and corporations are looking for the top ranked students. If you’re not in the top 10-20%, your chances of even getting an interview at such a place are slim. So while the hiring committee analyzed the applicants’ academics, the senior litigator spoke up and said his only criteria for hiring was whether he would want to go out and have a beer with the applicant. To vocalize this attitude was shocking at the time (1996). Of course the only applicants with whom he wanted to have a beer looked like him. But it illustrates the point that many have made here, which is that it takes more than academics to be successful.

    • Brynn
      Brynn says:

      Judy – You might find a great bit of helpful information in looking at what unschooling has meant over the last 30 years. I consider myself an unschooled high schooler, and have an unschooled kid, but it doesn’t look like many people consider unschooling now. Both styles were/are much more late 80’s unschooling.

      I “make” my son learn Latin because he wants to be a linguist. I do this, because based on my experience as an adult, I know that learning Latin will greatly help him in half a dozen other languages he wishes to learn. I have openly told him that a 2 year degree (at least) will probably help him in this venture even if I think it is rather meaningless when it comes to what he is actually going to learn in class.

      As an adult, (whom I am assuming is black based on not only your child’s skin color but the authority with which you write), you are using your experience with the world to ask certain things of your son so that he can succeed however he may choose to. That doesn’t mean you can’t unschool; it means you might guide and mentor your child differently. He may need to go to college to be taken seriously (which sucks, but as a female who works in academics I hear you on the discrimination thing). As long as college is expressed as honestly as possible, we can hopefully begin to get real about what it really means.

  17. mh
    mh says:

    As far as teaching test-taking skills, it doesn’t hurt to look up the SAT or the ACT and teach your child the process of elimination, estimating, and whether guessing is penalized.

    The content on the state tests is worthless, it can not be shown to accurately demonstrate a child’s learning/growth, and I still meet people all the time who obsess over every test day.

    Quick way to end the testing nonsense is for parents to organize and keep their kids home from school on testing days. Testing helps bureaucrats and justifies higher taxes, and that is ALL.

  18. Ann N
    Ann N says:

    Hi again, Judy.

    I think you are smart to seek alternatives to the standard school environment. As the mother of an atypical kid (mild asperger’s/social anxiety), I fully appreciate how important to question the status quo, which is why I like this blog. (I’m not a home-schooler, but have invested years in supporting my kids in an alternative educational curriculum that’s been slow to gain acceptance in the U.S. (IB)).

    So as a mother, I am excited to see you blazing your own path for your son. As someone who thinks educational “authority” must always be questioned, I’m happy to see you bucking the trend.

    But, this is coming from a white woman. And although I’m aware of class/skin-color privilege more than any other white woman I *personally* know, I am very careful when trying to give advice to black women when it comes to taking risks. People are very rarely aware of their own privilege/invisible backpack and how it colors their perceptions.

    So, for what it’s worth, I think you’re on the right track with respect to homeschooling and core math and English language arts. Math skills, for example, can be measured and demonstration of mastery is a great equalizer.

    I also think your son is lucky.

  19. Aimee
    Aimee says:

    Judy, thank you so much for this post! As a young African American woman who hopes to one day have kids, and to homeschool them, you have brought up an important question and just opened room for dialogue in this topic that I think is so major. The truth you talk about saddens me because it is true, but it also excites me to see how far black homeschoolers will be able to stretch the norm and to bring out the ingenius, boldness, and the innovation that a black child has the ability to have if given the right circumstances and given room to find this talent that he/she has. I feel homeschooling is a way to find this. I also believe that when a kid is amazing at whatever he/she is interested in, they are just that-amazing- and there is little anyone can do to stop them if they put their mind and behind to it. Is loads of experience important? Of course! But if your black son holds the degree in his hand and only has the degree to show and not any results for his talent, brains, and just overall greatness in his area of interest than I feel that the degree you speak of may not be all that important. I just graduated and I feel like I may have just wasted my time. lol. I’m still trying to figure it out. Thanks again for this post, and I would like to talk to you more about your lifestyle and how you raise your kids.
    And thanks Penelope for this guest post!

  20. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    This point was made to me when I first started unschooling, about a quarter of a century ago. My kids and I are white, and several black friends told me that they would not be able to unschool their kids, and their kids would not be able to choose whether or not to go to college – they would HAVE to have normal, formal credentials, and probably better credentials than most, in order to have opportunities. It is sad that this is still true, for sure.

    I would point out, however, that parents of black kids can still choose unschooling up until high school age. I am pretty sure that almost all motivated teens who have led full, interesting lives can learn what they need to know (for transcripts, placement tests, SAT II tests, and so forth) in a few years rather than for more than a decade.

  21. Marisa
    Marisa says:

    I pulled my black son out of an east harlem middle school 3 years ago. It was the best parenting decision I made (aside from nursing him). Aside from his *allergy* to math, he has read more; learned more…than he ever did in school…I do unschooling-light…he needs to do math…I’m eclectic… ;)… but I also don’t think he needs a “base-line” credential…he paints; he’s working towards his black belt (he has a brown belt now)…he aspires to compete in Golden Gloves (ack!!!)… he works 3 days a week…next year he’ll start taking classes at community college (art and music)… he’s living his life…not mine, but his…he’s 15; 6’4″; we live in East Harlem…I dunno…I don’t think he’s going to go to college when he’s 18…that’s fine…he’ll probably go when he’s 20 or 21…so???

    • mh
      mh says:


      Great job, and your son sounds excellent. In a way, I envy you your location, because I am much less geographically connected to a city. It sounds like you (and your son) are wringing a lot of opportunities out of the city.

  22. Holly
    Holly says:

    Thank you so much for this post. How delightful to spend hours reading old posts of PT’s, to then click on her home page to find out what her more recent posts are about, and find a great guest post by a black homeschooling mom who chose to write about an incredibly relevant issue. Even though my local homeschool group is very diverse, with open-minded people, I wouldn’t even think of bringing up this topic with 99% of them. As a white mother to three young black boys, I am very confident in my decision to homeschool my boys. This post reminds me of the concerns I think less often about–what sort of things will I not know to teach my boys because I did not grow up with the experience of being black? My husband may also miss them, being not American, and having a very different approach to the issues of race in our country.

    Back to the homeschooling approach used, though–I have so often wanted to move towards that temptation of unschooling, wondering if I am inhibiting my children’s opportunities to learn how to self-teach, be more self-driven, etc. with our very rigorous, semi-CM approach. But, mainly, my own personality does not allow me to unschool them, at least at this stage. So, thank you for adding another very relevant, and great reason to know that I am doing the right thing for them.

  23. Marisa
    Marisa says:

    “As a black man, my son will need a base line of credentials before anyone will even consider him in the professional world.”

    my son will be a black man too…what does this mean??? My hope for my son is that he will be a loving, good man… what is the “professional” world?? my husband ( who died 9 years ago) was a lawyer (I am too)…he hated every minute of it…he would much rather have been a high school basketball coach. He was a black man too. He had his *credentials*…and I am beyond proud of what he accomplished…but *he* the human being…was unhappy… so I’m not sure what your point is…I want my son to learn math—yes. absolutely. but I’m not going to adhere to Common Core, or any other nonsense…the first book I had my son read when I pulled him out of school was People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn…he read the first three pages and said “we never learned this…)…

  24. Lisa Nalbone
    Lisa Nalbone says:

    Oh, gosh I have so many things I want to say! If you have the opportunity to unschool, go for it. Unschooling does not mean a child can’t go to college if that is what they want. Unschooling does not mean no structure, or no focused learning. I think the ability to give your child the confidence and space to self-direct, follow interests, set goals and complete learning projects that are meaningful will only help him. There are lots of other ways to get cred, that are really important even if one gets a college degree. Having a child unschooling where they can be creating and documenting their work, with a website, blog, they can start attending conferences or communicating with experts in the fields they are interested in- the world is already different than when we came out of college and looked for jobs – I am sure I am much older than you, but there are so many more new ways to demonstrate competence and develop a network outside of an alma mater. Which is worth doing whether or not one decides that college is the right path to pursue. And as your child is older, discussing the frustrating realities of our world will help him choose what is best for him. Our family had the benefit of white middle class privilege, My son, Dale Stephens unschooled and won great scholarships for college. He dropped out since he felt like he wasn’t learning nearly as much as when he unschooled for high school. He is a Thiel Fellow, founded UnCollege and wrote Hacking Your Education. I used to teach in our local, rural and predominantly hispanic and low ses public school. I wish all the children could have had the benefits that I see resulting from unschooling: motivation, confidence and love of learning. I wish we had started sooner than we did. Good luck, whatever you decide.

  25. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Black boys need genuine “employment at will,” so employers take less of a risk when they employ blacks. No credentialism, no EEOs, no fights about discrimination.

    Right now a small business — where all the jobs get created — would be mad to hire blacks, because blacks are the “little darlings” of the ruling class. And that means trouble.

    • Hamidah Sharif Harris
      Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

      This is the problem with this entire conversation. I AM NOT and WILL NEVER raise my Black son to be an employee. I am raising a man to be self-sufficient not dependent upon anyone to validate him or his credentials. If you are in need of validation, surely you will eventually find yourself a little short.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Christopher, I’m not sure I agree that small businesses would be mad to hire blacks.

      I think it’s clear small businesses are still suffering mightily in this economy and having trouble hiring ANYONE, but one thing about the black community is economic solidarity. Black entrepreneurs who are looking to hire are very often looking to hire other black self-starters. So that’s more of a a leg up.

  26. Jaime
    Jaime says:

    I haven’t read through all the comments to see if this was already posted, but I think it is worth noting that by the time our kids are grown, the world will be run by a younger generation. Hopefully (I think inevitably), by a more open-minded, less judgmental generation. In a computery, internetty world, we already accept that you absolutely don’t need credentials to show your skilled at something. Some professions will maybe always require schooling, but I think this (my) generation of young adults is open to the wide world of possibility.

    • Judy Sarden
      Judy Sarden says:

      Jaime – I support your very optimistic view of the future. In fact, its what has allowed me to relax my original ideas about what form our homeschooling will take. With Gen Y and melinials in charge 20 years from now, I expect the workplace, and how we go about getting work done, to be very different. Perhaps some of the artificial hiring constructs will be gone and replaced with more emphasis on who can get the job done. In the later scenario, the person who spent years focusing on their passion will win out over someone with a college degree but no practical experience. I get that. But, since I KNOW what we’re dealing with today, I feel like I need to prepare my son for what the world is like today. We can always make adjustments along the way.

      • Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
        Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

        This article is confusing for so many reasons. The thesis statement is based on homeschooling, but the supportive facts is based on unschooling. What are we discussing here?

  27. Anna
    Anna says:

    I know a Nigerian family who immigrated here about ten years ago. The daughters are just totally sure that education is the ticket to a middle class life. I am a supporter of college, but when one of the daughters told me she was planning on taking out more loans to go to law school, I definitely cringed – Does she know how bad the legal market is right now? Does she have any clue that going to law school doesn’t guarantee a good income? Does she understand how this debt will likely limit her future choices. I know that the original poster didn’t mention debt, but going to college without any debt is in a worse case scenario a waste of time. With a huge pile of debt it can be devastating for many more years down the road. I tell my children that your father and me enjoyed college and found it useful- but the key to a good career is finding something that you like, something that you are good at, and something that someone will pay you to do (preferably a good amount of money.) I think by talking with your kids about choices and seeing your life, they have a pretty good chance of heading down a similar path.

    • Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
      Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

      The pursuit of education is never a bad investment. So what if the legal market is bad right now, once a lawyer always a lawyer. My family is full of them. There are still many possibilities in law, entertainment law, corporate law, tax law, etc. I think its best not to discourage anyone from pursuing higher education. Yes loans are a burden, but whatever you thoughts are on my President, this is one area he has done very well with. There are many programs to remedy the student loan debts from conducting research to making payments based on your income. I encourage all those who are brave enough to continue to pursue to the ends of the spectrum, as far as their imaginations and tenacity will take them.

    • mh
      mh says:


      I think one thing a law degree MAY be useful for is navigating the legal pitfalls surrounding entrepreneurship/business development. Entrepreneurship is a big key to success in America; a legal background in many ways prepares a person to head an organization.

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        My husband is a entrepreneur, and he just fought a brutal patent lawsuit, so I think I know something about those too things together- and the one thing that will stop you from pursuing entrepreneurship is debt. We made 40,000 dollars a year for several years, and are now making a lot more. It just takes time to ramp up a business. And most of what I have heard is that the legal education doesn’t give you many practical skills.
        And Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris- I don’t think that you read this blog very often, because higher education CAN be a bad investment. Just read some of PT’s blogs on graduate school.

  28. Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
    Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

    @Anna, I beg to differ. My husband AND I are business owners, employers and entrepreneurs. So I am not merely reporting what someone else has told me, I live this everyday. I attended an Ivy League graduate school and left with a mortgage in debt. Not only has entrepreneurship provided me with the profit needed to repay my debts but also to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. Debt does not stop you from building a business, poor planning does. Secondly, the argument of whether or not higher education could ever be a bad investment is certainly a cultural one. As an African American woman, whose family was prevented from ever opening a book by law, my perspective is education is never a negative idea. Perhaps from your worldview, education is optional. It is optional where I come from. And as I tell my children, the earth is spacious. America is not the only place in the universe, where there are no opportunities here, there are certainly opportunities elsewhere.

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      I obviously don’t know your case Dr. Harris, and that is wonderful what you and your husband have been able to do with your education. I realize that I am assuming and I could be totally wrong, but are you a medical doctor, or a dentist? Because that is quite different than being a technology entrepreneur- i.e. – really starting a whole new idea/product and proving its worth in the marketplace. That usually does take a while to get of the ground. I hope that point isn’t belittling to you- I don’t mean it like that- but it is different than putting out your shingle as a doctor, dentist, or lawyer. I am sorry if it is so offensive to report on my husband’s business like I don’t have a clue, but someone has to homeschool the kids :)

      • Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
        Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

        @Anna, actually I am not a medical doctor or practitioner. By training I am a Behavioral health scientist, in practice I work with corporations to reduce disparities in health among their workforce. Which is a consulting firm that I built from the ground up without precedent from any other company. We are still the only company with this sole mission on the east coast. So I know very well about creating a company’s vision, systems, and tactical products. I reiterate, debt does not stop anyone from achieving any life goal. The mindset that it does speaks more to the feeling of inferiority than the actual impact on your life. Companies exist with debt for years, their is good debt and bad debt. Having debts related to poor spending and a lack of control over impulses is bad debt. Having debts related to acquiring knowledge or tangible assets that appreciate over time are good debts. Back to homeschooling I go…

  29. Janelle
    Janelle says:

    Judy, I am loving your posts. I’d have to say your words are my sentiments exactly while homeschooling my five sons. (I also have 2 daughters). My model for homeschooling was a “delight directed” education. I focused on the basic knowledge that all kids need to have for life skills, and higher education. I also required that my kids have “delights”. That could mean playing an instrument, involvement in a sport, a hobby, starting a home based business, etc. They needed to find something to be passionate about. We explored, investigated, tested and pursued interests. However, my view is that everyone needs basic education regardless of what you do in life. And yes, especially my black children. My sons are college educated, but also creative, curious, innovative, etc. I have several framed artworks of one child’s work on the wall that I bought at his art show, while another’s pottery is displayed else where. Still 2 more kids had a website building endeavor at one point that they made money from. Jewelry making for one, photography and pencil art for 2 others. All play instruments. I see no need to choose between structure and learning through freely discovering. Both have served my kids well. (BTW, when I say college educated, I mean that 3 have AA degrees, of those three 1 has a BA and MA, the other 2 are currently working on their BA, while 2 more are still earning their AA. My sixth child will begin college this year.) Similar to your view I am unwilling to take a chance on my sons lack of college education being an obstacle to their future goals. But what I love about home schooling is truly having the freedom of choose the type of education that works best for them

  30. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    While I understand where the writer is coming from, I do not agree.

    Homeschooling an African American boy does not put him at more of a disadvantage than a white American boy. Stereotypes are just that and we have a duty to continue to knock those down, it’s an unfortunate task but it’s a way of life (same with gays, Hispanics and sexism, just to name a few).

    The beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor it however you see fit. You can have it more structured or less. More curriculum focused or at the other end of the spectrum with unschooling. The choice is the parents.

    I will not base what I do or don’t do for my child based on worldly stereotypes, if so I am subconsciously teaching him that they hold value. I understand the authors thought process but I think it comes from a insecure place. Credentials may or may not make my child look better in the eyes of someone else, but what I teach my child is not to become co-dependent on others perception, only on your perception of yourself.

  31. Lacy @ Push Play Learning
    Lacy @ Push Play Learning says:

    As a mother of biracial children, this thought of unschooling not being beneficial due to their ethnicity had never occurred to me. My area of schooling is right now with very young children. Playing games and using technology, I have brought up a bright group of children. My youngest has just turned 2 and is already reading early readers with ease. We are 50% below the poverty line, and college is the objective. I think that poverty should be taken into account when considering unschooling. I don’t think people who homeschool that are below the poverty threshold should seriously consider unschooling. I think more families that unschool should talk about the beneficial opportunities that stir their children to learn independently and if these opportunities are related to their income levels.

    • Michelle
      Michelle says:

      Lacy, you bring up a very valid point. I didn’t think about the level of income. I agree that poverty would play a huge role in deciding to unschool, as would other extremes. While I am fortunate to be in the upper-middle class and am choosing a more structured curriculum, far from unschooling, I do think those that choose to unschool and are in poverty should strongly reassess their situations. Great point.

    • Judy Sarden
      Judy Sarden says:

      I think the premise of unschooling is that you provide your kids with many and varying rich life experiences so they can have enough exposure to find their passion. The ability to provide those experience likely comes with more financial resources than someone at or below the poverty line has.

      However, I know a woman who at one time lived in public housing and who was determined to homeschool her grandkids and provide them with a world class education. Granted, she didn’t unschool. To the contrary, she ran a very strict household and homeschool. But she found a way to provide her grandkids with the same opportunities that higher SES people provide to their kids.

      I know the family personally. Here is a link to their story:

    • Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
      Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

      Unlike what the media has told us about poverty, their is no causation between poverty and education. My mother raised six of us on welfare in the projects of Harlem while fighting breast, thyroid and lung cancer. She held two degrees one in English Literature and another in Nursing. Despite her education, we were poor, very poor. She educated us without any curriculum and all of us have completed college with one attorney, one doctor, three business owners, and one educator. Just because someone doesnt have money or income does not mean they are ignorant or even uneducated.

      • Lacy
        Lacy says:

        You have a very unique case, but its not the media who tells us the poor is less educated…statistics tell us this. You are right though. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they are less educated. My only point is that to unschool you have to be able to provide a rich environment with rich experiences and these can be a financial barrier to a poor person. While I provide a rich learning environment at home, it is with focused intentions. I plan it. From what I understand of unschooling (the best kind that is), the child has access to experts and high quality resources. This saturated environment of higher learning creates natural opportunities for learning. I also don’t think that I, as a poor person, have the luxury of taking a chance on unschooling. Poor kids need grit to make their future better, and I don’t think unschooling can provide that kind of grit.

  32. Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
    Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

    Judy that is an interesting question. We are a product of the 1980s NYC Public School system so yes we were homeschooled. There was absolutely no teaching and learning that took place at our schools. We learned in the libraries at Columbia University (which became two of our alma mater’s), we learned at the Museum of Natural History, and the Guggenheim. We learned on the buses and trains downtown to Wall street and Staten Island ferry. We didnt learn anything in the dilapidated buildings with crack vial playgrounds and lunch time shootings. So yes, again we were homeschooled.

    • Janelle
      Janelle says:

      Dr Harris, Forgive me for not being quite clear about your personal homeschooling experience. Are you saying that you were pulled out of NYC public schools completely by your mother and only home schooled thereafter, or that your mother supplemented what was (or was not) being taught at your public school via her own resources? Either way, it shows how important parental involvement and care about a child’s education is (and can be). Kudos to your mom. Since I home schooled all 7 of my children I love hearing the stories of those who had a similar upbringing. I think the results are in for those who are now adults and were home schooled. They can speak of their own experiences for themselves.

  33. Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
    Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

    I just wanted to make sure I was clear, lack of education is a reason not to unschool in my opinion NOT poverty. We cannot equate the two. Its just ridiculous. You can’t unlearn what you have learn but you can loose your income. On another note, as special as my mom is to me she was not different from the other moms in my community. We were all poor and every mom I can remember was doing her best to educate her children in spite of the lack of educational resources available. Statistics dont lie but interpreters do. We often speak of the Black children who 1 out of 3 life in poverty. Why? Dont we mean to say the vast majority of Black children don’t live in poverty (66%). Or the 70% of Black children who are born out of wedlock. Why is that highlighted without discussing the large percentage of black couples who raise children in long term monogamous relationships without the cost of the marriage license. Do we really think the piece of paper makes a suitable home for children? So I am cautioning this conversation to not engage in broad and sweeping stereotypes about any group. According to the media single mothers on welfare in ghettos are only interested in two things get more “free” benefits and “laying on their backs”

  34. Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris
    Dr. Hamidah Sharif Harris says:

    There are so many typos in that previous post please charge it to my eagerness to press “post” and not my training

  35. Tanya A
    Tanya A says:

    just don’t even know where to start with the issues that I had with this blog post. The author seems to suffer from an inferiority complex and feels the need to constantly prove herself to others. Once you move past that need to prove yourself, then you can understand how letting a child pursue their passion is feasible for children of any race or nationality, as long as that pursuit is guided by responsible parenting. A Black man does not require a college degree to be successful, he must have a plan for his future to be successful. That plan may or may not include a college degree. Getting a college degree just to prove yourself to other people is an absolute waste of time, energy, and resources. Help your children to develop a plan and work towards that plan.

  36. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    I think this topic hits a soft spot in the homeschooling community because there are so few minorities involved.

    As a minority homeschooler, I can identify with this. Though, I think, at the heart of it, it undermines the other options that are available, unjustly.

    My father, African American/Native American, worked his way up for over 20 years, at a large power company. He barely had any credentials and he is doing work that most college grads would dream of.

    The whole problem with the degree myth is that it undermines those who can stick through the menial work and through dedication and hard work, make their way up in a company.

    College grads believe that they can skip that, through spending time in a classroom. Though, it’s like vinegar to the teeth of an employer, who needs employees to start at a low position in order to become an asset to the company and work up to a higher wage position.

    What a black man, looking for a career opportunity, needs in today’s society is hard work, honesty and diligence. The color of his skin will fade into oblivion and those who judge him by his initial appearance would do so whether he had a degree or not.

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