- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

Black families are turning to home-schooling in increasing numbers, a trend seen in the Washington metro area. A frank discussion of why and how home-schooling can create a more holistic and supportive education can be found in a wonderful book, “Morning by Morning: How We Home-schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League,” by Paula Penn-Nabrit.

When Mrs. Penn-Nabrit and her husband, C. Madison Nabrit, chose a prestigious private preparatory school for their three elementary-aged sons, they were unprepared for what they perceived as racism underlying much of the school’s atmosphere. As graduates of excellent universities themselves, following a long familial history of academic and professional achievements, they were stunned by incidents in which faculty members believed the boys were lying, plagiarizing or belligerent. The boys also were sent to a psychologist for testing — often because the teacher could not believe their reports or work was their own.

The final straw was the summary expulsion of all three boys, on the pretext of late tuition payments. The incident allowed the Nabrits to realize they were as educated, or even more so, than any of the teachers involved and that they could do a better job in teaching their sons.

Conscious of the strong censure from others — especially within their circle of professional and highly educated blacks — for risking their children’s educational future by home-schooling, they set a goal for themselves: All three sons would enter Ivy League colleges. Were this not challenging enough, they also decided they wanted them to honor and absorb their family heritage, so Christian and African-American values were intrinsic elements of their instruction.

They used a combination of standard subjects and classical and ethnic studies, and they employed tutors for areas requiring special expertise. They also taught multicultural and comparative religious studies, and covered the philosophers who have shaped much of Western civilization.

They held rites of passage for their sons, honoring African tradition, and they encouraged participation in athletic, volunteer and service efforts within their Ohio community.

All three of their sons entered top-notch schools, two attending Princeton University and one Amherst College. This, in itself, is impressive. But the most beautiful part of the story can be found in the events that took place after the book was written.

After a successful book tour, Mr. Nabrit got an infection from a puncture wound in his foot. The infection spread, and his body reacted badly to intravenous antibiotics, affecting his kidneys, heart and lungs. Hovering between life and death, he lay unconscious as machines breathed for him and cleaned his blood.

His three sons, though immersed in their hard-fought academic careers, dropped everything to support their parents and help in their father’s recovery. Damon took over the family business in demographic studies and ethics consultation. Charles ran the household and physical support for his dad, and Evan joined in at the end of his semester to help with his father’s care and the family’s other practical needs.

“When he got sick, it was perfectly natural for them to drop everything to help, because he was the ‘go to’ person for them in their lives,” Mrs. Penn-Nabrit said in a recent interview.

If other college students would not have responded to a parent’s illness with such care and loyalty, it may be because, “it has gotten to the point where dysfunction is normative,” according to Mrs. Penn-Nabrit. “Even Princeton expressed concern that my sons were ‘too close’ because they roomed together. If siblings are best friends, people think it’s odd. But there’s no such thing as a family that is too close.”

The Nabrit family is unique in many ways: entrepreneurs, public speakers and home educators. The two oldest sons, Damon and Charles, have taken the lessons they learned in education and are bringing them to some 80 at-risk teens through a charter school they founded, the Urban Youth Academy in Springfield, Ohio, in conjunction with Michael Ward. Evan is an accomplished artist, and his works can be viewed on the family and business Web site (www.nabrit.com), which also features the professional and educational works of the family.

Not only is home-schooling liberating for the family itself, asserts Mrs. Penn-Nabrit, but also for those who see such a family being successful and, thereby, can envision better options for their own lives.

“There is a liberation that comes from observation; once you can visualize yourself living free, you can get there.”

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.

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