Michael Apple Expert on “Black” Homeschooling Now??

7 03 2007

Oh dear, first Barack Obama goes all Generation Joshua on us, and now this. It’s enough to leave Thinking Parents not knowing WHAT to think –or what anyone else thinks! — anymore.
Black or not.

Home education advocates from NHEN trained at rarefied rhetorical heights to match wits with homeschool political critics Drs. Rob Reich and Michael Apple. If you weren’t there, read all about it here; it remains some of the best thinking ever imo, on the constitutional underpinnings of home and family freedoms as they relate specifically to home education.

After all this time, I was startled to see Dr. Apple pop up from his undisclosed subterranean battlehole, where he seems endlessly to plot “scholarly” strategies to defend public (government-controlled) schooling by discrediting and destroying everything else that might show it up as true-blue American education. Now he has apparently sold his work to the well-respected and widely referenced Columbia Teachers College Record online, as someone qualified to be scholarly about homeschooling.

“Black” homeschooling in this case, which in his view has more community cache and constitutional validity than regular homeschooling? That ought to set color-blind civil rights back a piece — oh dear, MisEducation may have to come out of retirement after this week of Constitutional unease . . .

TCR doesn’t keep its articles open for review very long so I am posting it whole here, specifically for analysis and discussion, for the “education” of younger Thinking Parents about what lies behind these insidious expert objections to home education, and kindred alternatives of various kinds. What all the suspect alternatives have in common is one thing only – they threaten the pet political tool of the Dr. Apples of the world.

So without further ado:

The Complexities of Black Home Schooling
by Michael W. Apple — December 21, 2006

There is now a (slowly) growing home schooling movement among traditionally oppressed groups—such as African Americans. Thus, unlike all too many white conservative evangelicals who arrogantly claim that they are the new oppressed—something that I believe does not stand up to serious scrutiny—a number of black parents are also rejecting public and even religious schools in favor of educating their children at home.

So many significant transformations in education are occurring so rapidly that it is often hard to keep track of them. They are often driven by political pressures and social movements that need to be understood if we are to make sense of what is happening in and to schooling in our society. And many of these transformations are more than a little conservative.

In Educating the “Right” Way (Apple, 2006; see also Apple, 2003 and Apple & Buras, 2006), I spend a good deal of time detailing the world as seen through the eyes of “authoritarian populists.” These are conservative groups of religious fundamentalists and evangelicals whose voices in the debates over social and educational policies are now increasingly powerful. I critically analyzed the ways in which they construct themselves as the “new oppressed,” as people whose identities and cultures are ignored by or attacked in schools and the media. They have taken on subaltern identities and have (very selectively) re-appropriated the discourses and practices of figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King to lay claim to the fact that they are the last of the truly dispossessed groups.

This claim to being the new oppressed has led many of them to withdraw their children from state-run institutions and embrace home schooling. Such a practice is meant to equip their children both with armor to defend what these groups believe is their threatened culture and with a set of skills and values that will change the world so that it reflects the conservative religious commitments that are so central to their lives.

What started out as movement that was made up largely by white conservative religious parents has now become one of the fastest growing educational reforms in the country. Indeed, while many educators devote a good deal of their attention to reforms such as charter schools—and such schools have received a good deal of positive press—there are many fewer children in charter schools than there are being home schooled. In 1996, home school advocates estimated that there were approximately 1.3 million children being home schooled in the United States. More recent estimates put the figure even higher. Given the almost reverential and rather romantic coverage in the national and local media of home schooling (with the New York Times and Time providing a large amount of very positive coverage, for example), the numbers may in fact be much higher than this and the growth curve undoubtedly is increasing. At the very least, more than 2.2 percent of school age children in the United States are home schooled.

My analysis of home schooling has not been positive. I warned that it was a form of “cocooning” and that it threatened to become the educational equivalent of “gated communities.” I also expressed worries about its ideological and religious commitments in which God is seen as only speaking to a very select group of people who see the entire society as largely a mission sphere. In the process, I also noted that all too much of these overall commitments seemed to be based on a clear fear of pollution, of having their children be too close to the culture and body of the “Other.”

I haven’t changed my mind about these things. But it has become clearer that there is now a (slowly) growing home schooling movement among traditionally oppressed groups—such as African Americans. Thus, unlike all too many white conservative evangelicals who arrogantly claim that they are the new oppressed—something that I believe does not stand up to serious scrutiny—a number of black parents are also rejecting public and even religious schools in favor of educating their children at home.

Their reasons are varied and understandable: the tragic rates at which black children are miseducated in or pushed out of public schools; the stereotyping that goes on; the loss of one’s cultural and political heritage; and yes, for some, religious motivations are also there. Let us be honest. For all too many children of color in this nation, their own schooling experience has been anything but effective and their parents are consistently marginalized by the bureaucratic and often racializing structures that pervade schools and the larger society. And again speaking honestly, as a parent of a black child myself, I have immense sympathy for parents of color who actively try to deal with these conditions and who often make considerable personal and financial sacrifices to counter the distressing conditions they and their children face.

Having said this, is my largely negative evaluation of the white conservative home schooling movement generalizable to black home schoolers? This is not a simple issue. Even though there have been hard won gains in curriculum and teaching in public schools, as I noted earlier, anyone who is sanguine about what is happening to all too many children of color in America’s schools needs to get a grip on reality. Because of this, we need to deeply respect the immense sacrifices that some African American parents are making to school their children in difficult and trying circumstances. Such sacrifices and commitments are visible in the accounts by African American parents who have home schooled their children (Penn-Nabrit, 2003), for example. However, I do not think that these individual sacrifices will ultimately lead to lasting changes for the majority of children in our schools.

Thus, I ultimately come down, just barely, on the negative side. There may indeed be short-term gains for a limited number of children—and this should not be dismissed since we must do everything we can to prevent the loss of even more children of color. However, just as in the case of the support of vouchers by organized groups of people of color, in the long run, this is not an adequate response to the crisis (see Apple & Pedroni, 2005). Since we know it is social movements that are the driving forces behind lasting educational change (Apple, 2006; Anyon, 2005), individualized atomistic decisions to school one’s child at home—while thoroughly understandable—cannot build momentum for the large scale transformations that are necessary. That home schooling also requires immense financial and emotional sacrifice may also make it an unrealistic option for the majority of black parents.

We should not criticize black parents who home school their children. But a more powerful response in the long term requires that we redouble our efforts to create more responsive, democratic, and critical educational institutions for those children who are all too easily seen as the “Other” in this society and its schools. There are multiple examples of such critically democratic schools whose processes of administration, curricula, teaching, and evaluation are closely connected to oppressed communities and their needs, cultures, hopes, and dreams (Apple & Beane, 2007). Can these be extended and become more widespread in the face of the reductive tendencies embodied in such policies as No Child Left Behind with its “push out” effects (Valenzuela, 2005)? This question is no easier to answer than the issues surrounding black home schooling. But we will only know the answer if we continue the struggles to do so. If we do not continue and expand our engagement in such organized and long term struggles for a system of public schooling that is worthy of its name, more and more black parents will seek alternatives, be they vouchers or home schooling. The way to demonstrate our respect for such parents is to make it more likely that they will not have to leave public schools.

I would like to thank Quentin Wheeler-Bell for his assistance on this commentary.


Anyon, J. (2005). Radical possibilities. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. W. (2006) Educating the “Right” Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality, 2nd

edition. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. W. (2003). The state and the politics of knowledge. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. W. and Beane, J. A. (Eds.). (2007). Democratic schools (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH:


Apple, M. W. and Buras, K. L. (Eds.). (2006). The subaltern speak: Curriculum, power, and

educational struggles. New York: Routledge.

Apple, M. W. and Pedroni, T. (2005). Conservative alliance building and African American

support for vouchers, Teachers College Record, 107, 2068-2105.

Penn-Nabrit, P. (2003). Morning by morning. New York: Villard Books.

Valenzuela, A. (Ed.). (2005). Leaving children behind. Albany: State University of New York


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 21, 2006
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12903, Date Accessed: 3/7/2007 2:18:08 PM



12 responses

7 03 2007

Just to be snarky – if he’s such an expert, one might expect him to write “homeschooling” as one word or at least hyphenate it, instead of the obsolete two-word usage. . .

7 03 2007

[…] UPDATE” JJ tears him up here. […]

7 03 2007

Anybody know who this guy is, or care to sleuth around and find out? 😉

“I would like to thank Quentin Wheeler-Bell for his assistance on this commentary.”

Too much to hope that it’s a homeschooling dad, I suppose?

7 03 2007

This is some hard thinking Apple has done here. He has to acknowledge that public school is not all it’s supposed to be — for black kids. Now, for whiter kids, things are hunky dory so he still hates the idea of white kids hsing. But he’s going to go ahead and admit parents are not complete idiots for wanting better for their black children. (Parents of white kids should, apparently, be happy with what you’ve got and shut up about it.)

But really public school is best — it’s just that it isn’t. And it can’t be unless we all sacrifice our kids to the cause.

But just the white kids have to be sacrificed now. The black ones get a pass until things improve. (What about the mocha colored? Hmmm. . .)

And then we should all — if we are white enough — make the public school system so wonderful that no parent would want anything else (read: less) for their child.

I say: “Go for it!” Make the public school system all democratic and responsive to my family’s “needs, cultures, hopes, and dreams.” That would be terrific! I might give the system another look.

Of course, my kids are tween and teenagers now so time is fleeting. While we’ve been waiting and waiting, we’ve gone ahead with learning, btw.

Maybe somebody could send us the memo that it’s good and safe and nourishing to body and mind to return again — put us on the list with the black families. We’re not black — I’m so white I glow 🙂 — but do let us know when everything is just peachy.

Or Mr. Apple and others could put their efforts into figuring out what else all that time and effort and money could be spent on — something that might serve the needs and dreams of kids and families sooner, rather than later, on some promised but never quite achieved glorious day.


8 03 2007

Homeschooling (ALL schooling) gets “used” for politics.
That is the bottom line.

Public school ideologues such as Apple/Reich use smoke and mirrors to project one threatening political image (a fearful spectre) onto homeschooling, and then rally their own base to attack that illusion.

Reading the NHEN forum reflects a true picture, not a projected ghost, of how diverse we who home-educate really are, parents from far left to far right across the vast and murky middle, atheists to fundamentalist southern Christian HSLDA advocates, economists, college professors, researchers and scientists, public school administrators, military men and women, musicians, authors, journalists, stay-at-home moms and dads.

One thing we all had in common was mutual support for each other’s freedom to home educate however we individually see fit. The other was mutual support for each other’s striving to THINK.

But I see the same exploitative politics Apple et al indulge, when homeschool ideologues project a threatening spectre onto charters, onto books in the library or vaccines in the clinic or preschool other families need, onto public school and government generally, or worse yet, onto individuals by label (schoolteachers? atheists? Mormons? helpmeets? charter schoolers? social workers? Democrats?) and then attack their own illusion en masse.

I suppose the rest of us — not ideologues? — must bear the burden then, in this battle between Reason and Running Roughshod OVER Reason. We need to step up and mount meticulous, credible and effective challenges to all exploitation of all education, by all ideologues.

If not us, who?
If not us, who will be left, to be right?

8 03 2007

This isn’t just about protecting independent home education — it’s about protecting any and all public school alternatives, protecting the very idea that diversity and freedom are connected and standardized state monopoly is its enemy.

This from page 7 of the forum debate prep:
Pam (herself a researcher-college professor but also a radical unschooling mom) asks a question about what Apple and Reich “want” and JJ responds —

Sorry to be so far behind and not reading their books, etc., but exactly what do Reich and Apple really want? Do they want us to be required by law to put our kids into government schools? Do they want us to use some kind of approved curriculum? Do they want our kids tested? Or– ??

Pam asks what this citizenship debate is about, what specifically it wants from homeschooling.

I believe this debate’s challenge to home education is just one chapter in their playbook, as Nicky described the one homeschool chapter in Apple’s book. I believe it’s one prong of a coordinated effort to annoint unionized public schools as the “sole source of good citizens.”

So what they really want isn’t any one policy or bundle of homeschool citizenship requirements, but to turn every possible public opinion and policy strategy –whatever works– toward that PS (public school) end.

I think it doesn’t matter what mild-sounding legislative in-roads to home education they claim would satisfy their “citizenship concerns” — it would be a mistake to entertain any of them or to take them at face value. They’re all meant merely to reinforce public schooling as the sole legitimate source of good citizens.

Like Microsoft or Ma Bell, public schooling thrives to the extent it can create and maintain monopoly/sole source status, formally or informally, real or illusory.

Sole source status allows a 500-pound gorilla to anchor one side of the seesaw with the other end in the air at a perpetual disadvantage. A sole source can write its own specs and evaluation measures, set its own price and performance demands of others, and basically do whatever it sees in its own best interest, without checks or balances or market forces like competition, with taxpayer money guaranteed and the force of law behind it!

In state government we understood sole source status as a euphemism for “having everyone over a barrel.”

I suggest that’s what they want and need, if those who control PS would rule us all.

But PS knows it’s losing that special status. Vouchers and charters are a bigger threat than home education, but we’re all part of the problem for PS. Its academic credentialing lock has been eroding for decades. It’s not the sole source of a classical education, nor of practical career preparation, of controlling the next generation’s access to the future, nor even of training its own teachers. PS did a sorry job as societal arbiter and as tolerance touchstone, and a worse job as the way for every individual student to develop personally and “self-actualize.”

So what’s left but trying to justify preferred government status for PS with this citizenship argument?

8 03 2007

In fairness though (to remind myself and everyone reading) most of us stumble over our own ideology sooner or later, like a crack in the pavement of our principles. 🙂

10 03 2007
Using and Abusing Kids as Education Politics « Cocking A Snook!

[…] and Abusing Kids as Education Politics 10 03 2007 Whether you defend homeschooling or public schooling, no matter what greater good you intend to serve, name-calling and emotional triggers like this […]

9 10 2007
“Homeschool” Becomes Hot New Record Label « Cocking A Snook!

[…] probably deserves more credit than any “schooling” he got at home OR school. Even the anti-homeschool ideologue Michael Apple might […]

15 10 2007

To “Ahnyah” whose comment got spam-filtered and sought an assessment of Michael Apple’s Knowledge in the Curriculum:

Sorry not to be more specific help. An assessment of his work that I personally find compelling, is this long discussion among home educators preparing to debate his ideas for the American Educational Research Association. Maybe it will give you some leads? Good luck.

31 10 2007

I had a teaching degree and absolutely NO CLUE about homeschooling. Zip. Zilch. Nada. It wasn’t even mentioned in any of my certification classes.

My idea of homeschoolers six years ago was, in a word, ignorant. . . . You can only be that dumb when you’re young, I suppose. . .

1 02 2008
Apple and Reich are SQUELCHERS, Oh My! « Cocking A Snook!

[…] and this time with art, of Apple at least. He said he was raising “black” children so I wasn’t sure about him until I saw this picture (still can’t be sure, but why not […]

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