Between 1999 and 2016, the percentage of U.S. K-12 students who were homeschooled rose from 1.7 to 3.3 (850,000 to approximately 1.7 million children), according to data published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). While the overwhelming majority of those children has consistently been white, increasing numbers of Hispanic and black families are also opting to educate their children at home.   

Parents are making this choice for a variety of reasons. Poorly performing schools that fail to properly educate their children is an oft-cited factor. There are some who think public education has become too secular, and want to independently incorporate religious principles into their children’s learning. Others are unhappy with many of the cultural trends filtering into schools from the broader society nowadays, and want to shield their children from them. And then there are families, particularly from black communities, who are motivated by what they see as a racist education system that demeans their children.

A group of black parents profiled in a recent Seattle Times article lamented the racial disparities in the Seattle Public School system, where, according to a recent districtwide assessment, black children fared poorly on all student-performance measures relative to children from other racial groups, were six times more likely to face expulsion, and had a 15-percent lower rate of high-school graduation compared to white students. However, their decisions to homeschool their children appeared to have been largely influenced by the racism factor. The parents were “opting out of traditional education in favor of a customized home-school environment that emphasizes blackness,” according to the author.

One common worry among parents who homeschool their children is that the lack of social interaction could lead to inability to relate well to others in adulthood. Indeed, most families find ways to provide that crucial social engagement for their homeschooled children, and there is evidence to show that a great majority of them do become successful adults. They attend college in significant numbers, do well there, and later transition smoothly into the workforce.

Although that is an encouraging sign, it is worth taking a closer look at those isolationist practices and their potential long-term negative effects on some groups of children. Religion is widely considered a deeply personal matter so many segments of society, including the business world, are often willing to make necessary exceptions that allow people to practice their faith. A child who has been schooled at home for religious reasons can therefore reasonably expect such accommodations by society later in life. The same applies to a variety of cultural practices.

Race, however, is an entirely different issue. Any explicit request by someone to be given special treatment because he or she is black or white, for example, is likely to be frowned upon in most circles. That is why separation on the basis of race is particularly troubling, in my view. If some black children are somehow made to believe that the world outside their immediate communities is too hostile for them to survive in, they will naturally carry that mentality into adulthood. The problem, when they get to that stage, is that the accommodations that society is willing to make for some groups will not be available to them. They will be forced to learn how to cope within those new environments, but it might be too late.

I have worked for a number of companies and institutions in various parts of the U.S. for nearly three decades. As a black male, I have always been part of a small minority group within the workforces of those organizations. The racial, gender, and other biases that are currently popular topics of conversation in the media and elsewhere are things I have observed in many of my workplaces. They are unfortunate realities of life for people of color, women, and other victims of those biases, but the one thing I do know is that retreat is never an option. Anyone who is unable or unwilling to work with people from other races and backgrounds, in a broader socio-economic environment that is increasingly becoming globalized, is doomed.

It is quite sad that there are people who do and say hurtful things to make some black families think it is best to keep their children out of traditional schools. Some of those people openly harbor racist views and knowingly cause harm. Well-meaning people everywhere in America, regardless of their race, should strongly condemn such people and their actions because they do not belong in any civilized society.

But, it must also be said that there are those who offend others out of insensitivity. It is important for all of us to make that distinction, and work collectively to encourage such people to be more thoughtful in their interactions with people from marginalized groups. Due credit should be given to the many corporations, institutions, and organizations that provide various forms of training to their employees and members in furtherance of that objective.

Race relations in America had been improving steadily in recent decades, as any objective observer will admit. Unfortunately, there has been a rapid reversal of some of those gains in the last few years. That trend is partly responsible for the political polarization for which all Americans are now paying dearly. As a society, we urgently need a renewal of that effort to achieve racial harmony. That ideal can become reality only when we strive toward integration, not isolation.