Renown attorney and author Paul Penn-Nabrit rebuts call for ban on homeschooling

As a matter of policy, I try not to critique someone’s work without addressing said someone directly. Here are my posted comments about the recent article which centers your opinions about homeschooling. 

I never cease to be amazed by how the very word “homeschooling” seems to work as a “cease and desist” order of critical thinking. And nowhere is this adherence to absolutism and dogma more prevalent than in the U.S.  In the years since my last book on this topic was published, Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League @2003, Random House, I have done book events and discussions in Amsterdam, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Paris, and Singapore. Virtually all of them addressed and wrestled with the tension between the rights of the parent, the interests of the child and the rights of the State. Discussions were intense but rational and well-thought-out. They stood in  sharp contrast to similar discussions across the U.S. [I think our really scary and uncontrolled pandemic continues to be shedding stupidity!] 

But more than emotive responses, here are my thoughts about this article and the ideology driving the conflict it generates. On the one hand, institutionalized education, whether public, private, parochial or charter is rife with structural supports for systems of white supremacy that are internalized in pedagogy, policy, and curriculum development. The school-to-prison pipeline and the so-called “achievement gap” are but two areas where quantitative support of that premise is readily available for analysis. Equally disturbing is the mythological ideal of parents as perfected educators. Just as there are good teachers and bad teachers, there are good parents and bad parents. The biological or adoptive reality of parenting does not magically bestow a disciplined willingness to educate a child any more than buying or being gifted a piano bestows the disciplined willingness to practice and learn to play it well. Currently, one of my biggest concerns in the midst of this pandemic is what I am sadly certain will be a sharp uptick in domestic violence, and yeah, a bunch of it will be directed to children and many of the perpetrators will be their parents…some of whom will justify it. and happily post videos on various social media platforms.                            

So, I am hard-pressed to draft a clear rebuttal to this sophomoric article that seems clearly written and titled for maximum outrage, i.e.  “ways to monetize controversial ideologies.” An absolute ban on homeschooling is not tenable nor can it be balanced by the state’s vested interest in an educated citizenry and there are several U.S. Supreme Court cases that speak to this.                                                                                                

Example #1: SCOTUS’  1972 unanimous opinion in Wisconsin v. Yoder, “The Court held that individual’s interests in the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the State’s interests in compelling school attendance beyond the eighth grade. In the majority opinion by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, the Court found that the values and programs of secondary school were ‘in sharp conflict with the fundamental mode of life mandated by the Amish religion,’ and that an additional one or two years of high school would not produce the benefits of public education cited by Wisconsin to justify the law.”                                                                        

And for maximum outrage at the hypocrisy of this article, I’m looking at San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez..  “The Court refused to examine the system with strict scrutiny since there is no fundamental right to education in the Constitution and since the system did not systematically discriminate against all poor people in Texas. Given the similarities between Texas’ system and those in other states, it was clear to the Court that the funding scheme was not ‘so irrational as to be invidiously discriminatory.’ Justice Powell argued that on the question of wealth and education, ‘the Equal Protection Clause does not require absolute equality or precisely equal advantages.’ “

Yes…there’s NO FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO EDUCATION  in the U.S. Constitution and NO, this 1972 decision has not been overturned. Ergo, the question should be, if there is no constitutionally declared fundamental right to education, how can a state assert standing to procure it or protest how it is provided?  Further, if the cited authority, Elizabeth Bartholet, was genuinely concerned with access to all the benefits of institutionalized education for all students, she would be directing her energy to de-coupling property tax revenue from school funding, thereby creating an equitable economic base to provide said benefits.                            

Elizabeth Bartholet received her JD from Harvard Law School in 1965 so she was fully grown when both Yoder and Rodriguez were decided. I don’t know what her deal is here, but the kindest thing I can say is it seems disingenuous. My historically-based and admittedly more sinister hypothesis is this move to regulate homeschooling is directly linked to the rise of Black families as the fastest-growing demographic cohort of homeschoolers in the nation.

Ms. Bartholet, in conclusion, please feel free to contact me if you think I have misunderstood your intention or my analysis has missed the mark.


Paula Penn-Nabrit

Editor’s note:

Attorney Paula Penn-Nabrit’s rebuttal was made in response to the following article:

Homeschooling: Parent Rights Absolutism vs. Child Rights to Education & Protection

About the author

A 1972 graduate of Columbus School for Girls, Paula Penn-Nabrit completed her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College, Class of 1976, honored as Student Senate President and a Wellesley-Washington Intern in Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s office. She married Charles Nabrit in 1976 and earned her law degree from The Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University with a set of 13-month old twins and the Order of the Barrister in 1981. Two years later, after the birth of their 3rd son, she worked on AT&T’s divestiture project until she launched PN&A, Inc., in 1986, a family-run demographic research and organizational development firm, currently 15 years into its 2nd generation.

Paula has presented various papers including A Comparative Analysis of Value Conflicts in Diverse Professions, University of Oxford; The Significance of Intent in Declaring a Violation of IRC 482: Ethical Analysis of U.S. Transfer Tax, University of Florida; and The Impact of Color on International Business and Public Service: The Global Phenomenon of Herrenvolk, University of Siena. She has also authored several books, most notably Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League, Random House@2003.

Along with her eldest sons, Paula continues to run PN&A, Inc. as well as The Charles Madison Nabrit Memorial Garden, a small, biodiverse and organic, 5K sq. ft. space sited in the rear of The Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith, home to a congregation formed 110 years ago by descendants of formerly enslaved Africans in America. Her sons are 5th generation congregants. The USDA Economic Research Service identifies the zip code as a low income/low access urban food desert (Paula says urban food apartheid) so the produce is sold for $1.00 a pound at their onsite Farmer’s Market.