For Some Black Parents, the New Home Room is Home

Public schools are failing black boys, say a growing number of parents who are homeschooling

After 9/11, Green took Talon out of his Greenwich Village elementary school, a school with good resources and an inspiring environment, to P.S. 11 in Clinton Hill. She considered it a good school, but not up to the level of the Manhattan school. Meanwhile, as Talon entered the second grade, she took a full-time job. When she was later laid off, she returned to volunteering at his school as he completed his grammar-school education.

When it came time to decide on a junior high, she looked at two schools and found problems with both.

"The first, Satellite East, was just too far by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and I didn't like the area," she says, pointing out that the Farragut Housing Projects were across the street. Her next stop was P.S. 35, the same school that Robinson's students, Tau and Deion, have opted out from. Talon didn't last a year. She pulled him out and began teaching him herself.

Deion Terry Rhoden, P. Aurora Robinson and her son Tau Issa Robinson-Farrar holding class in Bread-Stuy, a Beford Stuyvesant café.
Stacy Kranitz
Deion Terry Rhoden, P. Aurora Robinson and her son Tau Issa Robinson-Farrar holding class in Bread-Stuy, a Beford Stuyvesant café.

"I believe if you make a child, you raise that child," says Green. "Before kindergarten, he'd never been to a public parks—germs." She's unapologetic for what she understands others might perceive as a smothering nature. "If you have child, do you want them socializing with psychopaths?"

Green is petitioning the Department of Education to provide more materials and support for homeschooling families of limited means. "I can't afford a $250 program to get books and lessons," she says. "I'm in the process of writing a letter to [Schools Chancellor] Joel Klein to get products and books."

One of the few extracurricular programs that Green found for Talon recently was last year's New York Association of Journalists high-school journalism workshop. In a writing exercise, Talon revealed his thoughts on school in an essay entitled "My Life in the School System":

As of February 2006, I became a home-schooled student. My main career goal is to become a successful graphic artist. I also have interests in astrophysics, oceanography, geography, and biology. I also have a yearning to learn about prehistoric creatures, mainly dinosaurs, which I believe is called paleontology . . .

When I initially began school for kindergarten, I was 4 years old. I was the youngest student in my class (which at that time bothered me). I attended the Greenwich Village Elementary School, P.S. 41, located on 11th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan . . .

Due to the events of September 11th, I was soon transferred to P.S. 11 on Waverly Avenue in Brooklyn. My first response was fear because it was a new school and I had to make friends with people that were unfamiliar to me . . .

During the middle of sixth grade, my mother decided to take me out of the public school system in order to home-school me. The reason she took me out of the public school system is the debauchery that would take place on a daily basis at JHS 35. Many of the students would disrupt the class, often begin fights with each other, use profanity towards the teachers, etc. This she felt was immoral, and she choose to remove me from an environment that was not conducive to the manner in which she wanted me to be taught in . . .

Tau and Dieon want folks to understand that just because they are homeschooled, it doesn't mean they are freaks. "I hate explaining that I do get to do activities," says Tau. "I am not in the house all day working."

"I hate explaining that I do get to socialize," says Deion. Next fall, both boys look forward to attending high school. It's not exactly what Robinson wishes for them, but she is willing to defer to their wishes. "I think that I have learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and being able to handle different problems as they come to me," Deion explains.

"I'm interested in filmmaking, and I found a new school in Long Island City that specializes in careers in film and television," says Tau. "I will be one of 108 first-time students in this school—a wonderful opportunity."

Would they homeschool their own children? Deion answers, "I had never thought about homeschooling before my cousin told my parents about it. I looked at it as a relief from the pain I was having at P.S. 35, Decatur Middle School. If my children have any difficulty with school, I will make sure that I find a good place for them to learn and grow. I have been in private school also, and that doesn't always work either."

"Since I felt uncomfortable with the middle-school system, I felt pushed out, pushed upon, and very disappointed that people could be so rude and unfair," says Tau. "If my children in the future have the same issues, then I will have to make the learning experience comfortable and best for them. If homeschooling is the only option available, then I will give that to my children."

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