For all she knows, it may be an isolated incident, but a guide at an Ohio state park is still troubled by an interaction with a home-schooling family.
One day, as an African-American child entered a park classroom, a home-schooled child said, “ ‘I don’t want no n———sitting next to me,’ “ the guide recounted. “That was the worst,” she said.
She is cautious and doesn’t want her name used because home schoolers frequently visit the park.
“There are some very bright individuals. You can see that their parents are able to teach them more on an individual basis. It always falls back on what the parents know,” the guide said. “If the parents are well-educated, it’s great.”
Home schooling has a strain of racism running through it that may reflect similar ideas held by others in the broader society. There are no studies or numbers to put racism and home schooling in perspective, but home-schooling laws that ensure that parents have the freedom to make socialization choices for their children also allow some families to completely withdraw from society.
In Texas, a librarian told the Beacon Journal that some home-schooling parents objected to the book selection on the shelves. They lobbied the library to bring back older editions—books that depicted the United States in the 1950s, prior to the landmark 1964 civil rights legislation.
That idea is espoused on a number of racist Internet sites, where people who have a common hatred of minorities—especially of African-Americans and Jews—converse.
Stormfront, a white supremacist organization, has a Web site on “education and home schooling.” The overriding theme is to home-school to avoid exposure to other cultures.
Among the discussions is one in which a member suggests stealing and destroying books from the public library—a popular resource for home schoolers—to eliminate material that portrays the United States as anything other than a white, Protestant culture.
Another discussion suggests that parents find vintage “Dick and Jane” elementary reading books from the 1950s because they have only white characters.
Black home schooler
Paula Penn-Nabrit, who wrote Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled OurAfrican-American Sons to the Ivy League, said racism among white home schoolers is the principle reason that black home-schooling groups have organized.
She and her family have attended home-schooling conventions and felt out of place because of the paucity of blacks, she said.
“There are people who are calling themselves fundamentalist Christians—and maybe they think they are—but they are really what I would call ‘white Christians,’ and being white is a much bigger deal than being a Christian,” Penn-Nabrit said. “They use this religious banner as a cloak for a lot of racist ideologies.”
Penn-Nabrit studied the various factions among home schoolers and wrote her first book on the subject, As For Me and My House.
She called survivalists—people who remove themselves from society and reject any government intervention or oversight—the “scariest sector.”
Penn-Nabrit is the rare home-schooling parent who believes that government should be more involved in monitoring families.
“A lot of this behavior and a lot of this ideology being espoused has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. These people never have anyone tell them, ‘You are grieving the Holy Spirit because everything you are doing and articulating is antithetical to the message of Christ.’ They already know that because they are really just using this as a ruse to something else,” Penn-Nabrit said.
Scott Somerville, an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, acknowledged that there are racists in the home-schooling community.
“They are not welcome here, and they know it,” he said. “We’re trying to build a strong, unified, intelligent and effective home-school movement so that the crazies feel very much marginalized.”
He acknowledged that fringe elements of society—such as unreconstructed Confederates and militia members—home-school, but he said they are a small percentage of the overall movement.
“That’s the challenge of trying to advance a vision of liberty where parents have the freedom to do what’s good for their children,” Somerville said.
Racist and extremist home schoolers are almost invisible until an event thrusts them into the public’s consciousness.
The infamous Kehoe brothers, Chevie and Cheyne, were home-schooled white separatists who fled their native Washington state to lead police on a nationwide manhunt that ended after five murders, two robberies, a kidnapping, two police shootouts and the bombing of the Spokane City Hall.
The Kehoes’ mission was to destabilize government and form an all-white army. They were caught on videotape when a State Highway Patrol officer in Ohio approached a van they were driving and became involved in an exchange of gunfire.
In 1994, Gordon Winrod, an avowed anti-Semite and racist, kidnapped his eight grandchildren from their home in North Dakota and took them to a remote area in Missouri for six years and home-schooled them, sometimes hiding them in caves. When the children were found in 2000—two had escaped and helped authorities locate Winrod—they were hiding in a bunker in a basement.
In focus groups the Beacon Journal conducted, home-schooling parents said extremists are an insignificant part of their group, no larger than the share found in the rest of society.
Focus group members who don’t home-school were wary of parents removing themselves from society because of extremist or racist views.
A public educator said many home schoolers are reclusive and want to control their children’s ideas. “I think those are the ones that fall under the radar,” the educator said.