As a mother of five, Atyia Martin felt like she couldn’t be surprised by her children anymore. But one day last spring, her youngest, 10-year-old Sonja, asked to speak with her.
“She said, ‘Mom, I need you to sit down and I need you to listen to what I have to say,'" Martin said.
Martin searched her memory for a reason she might be in trouble with her daughter, but couldn’t pinpoint anything.
This is how Sonja remembers starting off: "People have been teaching kids the same way for centuries, and the world is changing so quickly, yet the way people are being taught to survive in this world is still the same. And even though school is supposed to prepare kids for the future, it seems like they’re preparing them for the past.”
“She just went on this whole monologue about the education system that I was totally unprepared for her to present,” Martin recalled.
Sonja had more to say about that system. “School isn’t very engaging. And they could do a lot to make it more fun for the kids, but they don’t. And it makes them not want to learn," she said.
At the end, the monologue ended in a pitch: “This is why I should be homeschooled," Sonja told her mom.
“I didn’t see that coming at all,” confessed Martin, who didn’t think her daughter knew much about the practice.
She did know, however, Sonja was bored in school.
The fourth-grader, who enjoys art and drawing cats, often said she already knew what was taught in school on any particular day.
“She’ll tell me a couple of factoids, but it’s not satisfactory,” Martin said.
Sonja got into a Boston Public Schools program for advanced students, but she didn’t want to change schools, according to Martin.
Not all schools offer the advanced work classes. The administration has been expanding similar courses into more schools.
Martin had another complaint. Sonja wasn’t learning about who she is “as a black person. And what that means in terms of our contributions to history and to society.”
Martin is not alone in her concerns. Studies show black parents cite race as one of the reasons they’re taking their children’s education into their own hands. They complain about what they perceive as low expectations for black children or teachers’ lack of cultural awareness. Now black students make up about 8 percent of the homeschool population, according to Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute.For context, African-Americans are about 18 percent of school students nationwide.
But for Martin, this was a little more complicated because much of her professional work focused on improving the experience of black and Latino children in Boston's schools. She was the Chief Resilience Officer for Boston, focused on promoting economic and social equity in the city. And here she was considering abandoning that school system.
“It was a medley of all types of emotions,” Martin said. “There are some amazing folks in Boston Public Schools trying to address equity issues.”
The Question for Parents
“On the flip side, for that stuff to trickle into culture, into systems and how people practically teach our children takes time. The reality is I don’t know what that means for when things are going to change,” Martin added.
Martin did what a lot of parents would do.
“I had to ask the question, what makes the most sense for my children, for my daughter who came and made this impassioned speech to me? It’s definitely with mixed emotions, but I have to do what’s best for my family," Martin concluded.
For unrelated reasons, Atyia Martinlefther job with the city of Boston. She and her husband will homeschool Sonja starting this summer. They plan to draw on their network and existing homeschooling groups for help.
Our coverage of K-12 education is made possible with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.