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My teachers had low expectations for me. Home-schooling changed everything.

“I realized I finally had the freedom to learn as a Black male student.”

Jennifer White-Johnson

My academic journey began with a head start. In preschool, I received a lot of individual attention in small classes. When I started kindergarten, everything was a review with no challenges.

But I did face challenges early in my education that, without enough support, threatened my success. As I got older, I experienced discrimination and a persistent lack of resources, as well as a lack of support — conditions that often lead Black male students like me to drop out, and conditions that drive Black families to seek better options for learning.

Until I left public school for home-school, I had few options or autonomy on my educational path.

In pre-K, my parents and teachers saw early signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, but I was too young to diagnose. When I was ultimately diagnosed with ADHD at age 6, I had some trouble with reading. My psychologist wasn’t sure whether I had dyslexia or if my difficulty focusing hurt my reading ability. When I was in sixth grade, it was confirmed that I was not dyslexic, but I had trouble focusing on reading when I was disinterested. More about that later.

Freedom means that I can learn at my own pace and in my own learning style, ask questions freely and openly, learn subjects that interest me, and get more learning opportunities outside the classroom — all while doing so in a safe environment.

As a kindergartener, I also kept getting in trouble for my behavior at school, and I was repeatedly sent to the principal’s office. My school counselor noticed I would misbehave after I finished my work, while I waited for the other students to finish their assignments. By second grade, she noticed a pattern in my behavior and recommended to my parents that I be tested for giftedness. A test confirmed my advanced ability, and when I was in third grade, I started working with a gifted specialist for an hour once a week. They gave me busy work that was supposed to be challenging, but it wasn’t.

I was in sixth grade when I was diagnosed with dysgraphia, a neurological disorder that affects handwriting.

Having ADHD, dysgraphia, and being identified as gifted meant that means I am “twice exceptional” (2e). The Davidson Institute explains it this way: Twice-exceptional children “may be more emotionally and intellectually sensitive than children of average intelligence,” but because of their learning disabilities, they also struggle with what other kids do easily.” They also “need a special combination of education programs and counseling support,” according to the institute.

The thing about being 2e is that it is often hard to find the proper accommodations for a student. For example, my elementary school had the resources and behavior accommodations for ADHD but it didn’t have a writing specialist who could offer support for dysgraphia. As a Black gifted student, it becomes extremely hard to succeed in an environment where you’re expected to fit into a system that does not see or support you. I have numerous examples of teachers assuming that because I was identified as gifted I must know everything or always be correct. In reality, I had no idea what I was doing many times because I needed accommodations such as written and verbal instructions and repetitive reinforcement — support my parents had to constantly advocate for and ensure my teachers provided.

Some teachers would openly question my academic ability and had low expectations for me. I often felt I could not win, so why try? This led to teachers treating me unfairly, and openly criticizing me during class for asking questions. Some teachers tried to embarrass me by making me try to solve advanced math or science problems in front of the whole class instead of helping me understand the material in the way that my Individual Educational Program stated. My parents were at the school so often that all the administrators, teachers, and support staff knew them by name. These issues would occur on a daily basis.

It was hard enough trying to learn in an environment where I was almost always one of the few Black students in the room. Eventually, I resorted to not asking questions in class, not engaging or participating, and not turning in work. My grades dropped. The mistreatment by my teachers continued into high school. I left to be home-schooled.

When my parents proposed home-school to me, I was skeptical. I had only attended public schools, and the things I heard about home-school were not positive. But I was tired of teachers not understanding me as a Black student who was also 2e. I opted for home-schooling.

At first, home-schooling was weird. I kept trying to operate as I had in public school. I soon realized I no longer had to wake up at 6:30 every morning to go to school. Instead, it was OK to sleep in until 8 a.m. I could get a full night of sleep without being stressed about due dates and project timelines. I no longer had to worry about teachers criticizing me in front of the class or class distractions, when I would be able to use the bathroom, or where I would go if a fight broke out in the hallway.

The biggest change with home-school is sensing that all of my teachers at the cooperative and my tutors are passionate about the subjects they teach and are not burned out. They are able to spend more time on certain subjects or units because they are not teaching to a standardized test. They focus on ensuring that I understand the lessons.

With the flexibility and resources of home-schooling, Ethan Greene has had the freedom to hone his photography skills.Ethan Greene

I realize that I finally have the freedom to learn as a Black male student. I take classes that interest me such as photography, business management, and government. I read any book I want without worrying about whether the school district has banned it. I have in-depth conversations about the books we are reading without fear of expressing my opinions. I take day trips to museums and historical sites where I get comprehensive and accurate information instead of filtered views.

Another major advantage of being home-schooled, for me, is my flexible schedule. I can do internships year-round and go to enlightening speeches. These opportunities help strengthen my college applications and resume. Before I left public school, I did not know there were hundreds of other home-schooled kids with stories similar to mine, so seeing other kids at the home-school co-op who look like me is an added bonus.

My educational journey has been tough. But if I had known then what I know now, I would have chosen the freedom of home-school much earlier. Freedom means that I can learn at my own pace and in my own learning style, ask questions freely and openly, learn subjects that interest me, and get more learning opportunities outside the classroom — all while doing so in a safe environment.

All students deserve freedom in their education. They deserve the resources to meet their needs, even if they learn differently than the majority.

Ethan P. Greene is an 11th grade student at the Cultural Roots Homeschool Cooperative. He aspires to have a career in business and law. His hobbies include Tae Kwon Do and photography. You can follow his photography at @epgphoto_graphy on Instagram.