This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.
LaNissir James began home schooling her children about 17 years ago because she says “we had a situation with a private school.”
The Prince George’s County, Maryland, resident is the mother of seven children ranging in age from 6 to 24. She said at first, she was reluctant. She said her husband wanted to know if it was legal. Then she says, “we found out it was legal and that home-school is a beautiful way to educate your children.”
Along the way, she says she began helping other families. James is the co-founder of Black Homeschool Co-Op, the Maryland based organization that serves over 3,000 families nationwide.
It connects Black home-schoolers with people in their area. It has co-ops, tutorials, field trips and graduations. Also, James is a consultant with the home-school Legal Defense Association. Her specialty is home schooling through high school.
The number of Blacks families home schooling their children has skyrocketed since
COVID-19. According to the latest Census Bureau data, the number of Black families home schooling went from 3% in 2020 to 16.1% in 2021.
James is hoping the number will get even larger.
“African American students, parents, families need choices in education. For too long they’ve tolerated educational choices that are not working for our children,” she said, also adding that home schooling gives parents flexibility.
“You can make it work around your situation. There is no home-school law that states your kids have to be in school at 7 o’clock,” James said.
She said she hears from parents and teachers around the country who are concerned that Black history lessons are going to be watered down. In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order on his first day in office banning the use of “inherently divisive concepts, including critical race theory” in grades K-12, despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in Virginia schools.
“I’m not fighting with curriculum. I’m finding the curriculum that works best for my family,” James said.
She said one of her favorite activities is teaching her children what she calls “living history.” Through home education she says “you have the ability to tell your story to your children. You are the historian.”
James and her husband Lorenzo, who have been married 26 years, say they’ve invested a lot of time in passing on their family’s rich history. She said Lorenzo owns a property in Virginia that his family lived in when they were slaves. They are currently restoring the home and using the project as a teaching tool in a variety of ways, whether it’s through painting, gardening, or simply sitting down talking to elder relatives.
“You can incorporate the values, the legacies, the things that are important to your into your home education,” said James.
The University of Maryland graduate is author of the book “Mom’s Manual: Life Doesn’t Come with a Manual, it Comes with a Mom.”