Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why We Homeschooled Our Gifted Black Boys

by Paula Penn-Nabrit, Parent & Author of:  Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League

Usually my answer to Why references Aristotle, All men by nature desire knowledge. As parents, we knew black boys were at the bottom of every measurement standard other than athletics and given Aristotle’s statement, we concluded the problem was 'process based'.  We were interested in how the process of institutionalized education shaped the psycho-social development of gifted black boys and the cultural implications of institutionalized racism on all inhabitants.

We began homeschooling after much prayer and the formulation of mission and vision statements derived from our Allegory of the Blue Cars. In our allegory everyone’s actively involved in automobile production, yet somehow many of the blue cars come off the line missing a wheel.  Some community members are convinced the missing wheels are evidence of a conspiracy to destroy blue cars, while others are convinced it’s evidence of a lack of commitment by the blue car segment of the community. Both are wrong. The missing wheel is evidence of a design flaw and emotionally charged accusations and problem repetitions will not fix it. Instead the design process must be re-tested and all cars, including the blue cars must be dis-assembled, re-examined, re-designed, re-engineered and then re-assembled.

Transferring Allegory of the Blue Cars to institutionalized education we determined Aristotle’s premise meant the absence of seeking must be a reaction to an external design flaw. Our homeschooling vision was our gifted black sons emerging as holistically healthy adults, contributing rather than merely consumptive citizens. Our mission was to create a space where holistic health would be nurtured and promoted as the telos or highest good.

The vision and mission were supported by three constructs with cultural components, namely that holistic health requires: i) acknowledgement and validation of the child as a spiritual, intellectual and physical being; ii) the study, growth and development of each aspect of the child; and iii) the child surrounded by adult versions of himself.
In traditional educational institutions 85% of teachers in K-12 are Caucasian/white women. This is part of the design flaw. It inhibits the ability of the gifted black male child to see himself mirrored in his exploration of the life of the mind.  We hired African and African-American graduate students, mostly male to teach Mathematics, Biology and French.  The history of global education speaks to the viability of single-sex education as an option.  As Caucasian/white women have benefited generationally from institutions designed for them, deductive reasoning indicates an equally specific environment designed for them would be beneficial for gifted black boys.

Our school year was expanded to a 12 month calendar to develop life-long learners committed to interdisciplinary, subject matter mastery and expertise rather than mere testing competence. Our curriculum was repetitive, deep and narrow with limited extracurricular options. Each year they studied Ancient & Global Literature; Biology; Global History & Geography; Mathematics; Philosophy & World Religions; and Politics, Governments & Current Events. Athletics including fencing, football, golf, swimming, tae kwan do and tennis were experienced through Columbus Parks and Rec Centers because gifted black boys must develop social skills to interact across broad economic sectors. Community service and participation in the arts also included. Our sons were active (if not always willing) participants in The Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith’s Bible Bowl teams, choirs, camps and VBS. (They are 5th generation members of this 100 year old congregation!) By “graduation” each had over 2,500 hours of volunteer service at Columbus’ COSI (Center of Science and Industry) where Charles and Evan developed operant conditioning techniques training rodents for Rat Basketball and Damon created an independent exhibit, The Physics of Juggling. Until his voice changed, Charles was a member of OperaColumbus’ Children’s Chorus performing in Puccini’s Turandot while Damon performed in Mozart’s The Magic Flute as a member of the Opera Guild. From age 7 Evan attended Saturday School at Columbus College of Art & Design and by 13 was working as a protégé with the acclaimed African-American artist Roman Johnson. They attended YMCA Camp, Space Camp, Engineering Camp and Oceanography Camp, traveled through 40 states, much of Canada, and parts of the Caribbean, Asia and Europe.

Our experiment spoke to Erickson’s 4th and 5th stages of psychosocial development with a specific emphasis on culture. The 4th stage, psychosocial conflicts around personal competence, was met by an environment designed for them, populated with adult versions of them and premised upon a quest for holistic health where their spiritual, intellectual and physical selves were nurtured. Each came to a deep knowledge of himself, his competence and capacity to determine, define, do and be good as a prime mover rather than a reactor.

Their movement through Erickson’s 5th stage, identity and confusion, also was enhanced by homeschooling.  One of the greatest challenges for gifted black children is moving beyond what I’ve coined The Myth of the Exceptional Negro.  This myth takes the normative status of institutionalized racism and creates a neurological pathway internalizing it-convincing the gifted black child there are no others. When a black boy is identified as gifted, he’s relegated to conspicuous other status, standing alone as he’s told You’re not like them, I don’t even think of you as black.  Coming on the heels of the ever-present, I don’t see color, this requirement to stand alone is poignantly conflicting. This stage also presents challenges for non-black children affected and infected by institutionalized racism. How is an Asian or Caucasian/white child (or their parents!) to process the results when a black boy excels beyond the group? How do teachers and administrators cope with such an outcome? Too often the gifted black child is expected to navigate that complex maze while acting as spirit guide for classmates, teachers and administrators. Homeschooling allowed us to deduct this variation of the so-called black tax from our sons’ educational revenue stream.

It was not always a particularly pleasant experience, but I am very thankful we had the opportunity to homeschool our gifted black sons.


Guest Writer's Bio: Recently widowed after 36 years, 8 months and 24 days, Paula Penn-Nabrit is 58 and still challenged by the struggle between power and submission. She married Charles Madison Nabrit in 1976 and after law school helped raise and homeschool their sons, Charles, Damon and Evan. Paula’s written several books, including Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League and The Power of a Virtuous Woman, lectured extensively around the world with her consulting firm, PN&A, Inc., teaches Sunday School at the church where her family has worshipped for over 100 years and is passionate about her501(c)(3), Telos Training, Inc. Visit Paula and Telos Training, Inc. @ and on Facebook.  


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  3. This is right on time! I was just speaking with my good friend and his wife about their decision to homeschool their two children. What a refreshing and fascinating reality to read about Paula Penn-Nabrit's experience with homeschooling her gifted Black sons, and her discussion of family engagement in light of educational systems where institutionalized racism is pervasive. Penn-Nabrit represents the growing number of concerned and empowered Black families who are taking action to bring out the best in their gifted children when they fail to thrive in traditional school settings (See e.g., Upstander Parents Choosing to Homeschool Gifted Black Students or copy-paste link in browser: ). As a parent of Black sons who participate in a predominantly White gifted program with few others like them, Penn-Nabrit's insights compel me to continue to pay attention to the impact of institutionalized racism and to be more proactive in my family deliberations about homeschooling. My boys are approaching the stage when Penn-Nabrit decided to homeschool their sons, which gives me pause. Should my wife and I find that our boys' intellect and spirit cease to grow and we need to homeschool, I'm more at ease knowing that we have one roadmap of success that can help us navigate homeschooling decisions. Thank you for sharing this information.

    1. Thank you so VERY much!! WE appreciate your understanding and passion for this cause. There are others Black Homeschooling communities who are actively pursuing excellent education for their children. Thanks much for sharing the article from the recent issue of Parenting for High Potential. Will share with others!!

  4. Dr. Davis, thank you for posting this article! You are coming to speak in our county (Howard County) next week and I am truly looking forward to it. I have two gifted sons, 3 and 6, and in their short time here on earth, I already feel exhausted from fighting for them at every turn. I just took my 3 year old out of an elite school because the teachers determined he need to be evaluated by our county because he wasn't progressing. After 21 days in their classroom, because he was having trouble buttoning his pants and opening his lunch box, they determined he was a problem. He just turned 3 in July! I visited the school and I was heartbroken to see their hyper-vigilance about his behavior. The minute he uncrossed his legs in circle he had two teachers yelling at him to cross them again. What was even more shocking was that they didn't even seem to realize they were doing it! My husband and I pulled him out immediately but as two working attorneys - we feel "forced" to put him in another place. I am so worried we will keep on facing this problem. I am so happy you are coming to our county and grateful you put up this article! I am ordering Ms. Nabrit's book. I also recently started a Facebook Group called Celebrating Black Boys - we are a group of educated, concerned parents looking to take a proactive look at the education of our boys. Feel free to request an add to the group! Your voice would be a great addition to the conversation. All the best! I will certainly introduce myself next week.

  5. Dr. Davis, I love your article. I find it inspiring and informative for parents of children who are gifted. My question to you is how does parents or a parent of a gifted child with limited resources begin to process of getting their child home schooled?