We all believe in freedom. That’s why we take our kids out of school. We take them out because we want the freedom to raise our kids the way we think is best.

Many of us also want our kids to have freedom to learn in a self-directed way. After all, the data is nearly universal that self-directed learning is the most effective way to educate kids. But of course that’s only feasible in a home environment, so the data never drives a discussion in a world that insists on sending kids to school.

Defining self-directed learning isn’t easy though, even for homeschoolers.

I told my older son he could quit gymnastics but only if he ran up the hill to our farm three times a week instead. “It’s good to be breathless sometimes,” I tell him. We compromise and now he takes a rest in the middle of his gymnastics lessons.

I wonder: Is this self-directed learning or making only slightly less bad choices?

I told my younger son he should get a website at 1&1.com because it’s free to start, and it has everything he needs. But he wanted money to put his site on an overly complicated portfolio type site.

I wonder: What is the line between freedom to learn and a bottomless bank account?

I made my older son go to a cello concert because kids who get along with siblings in adult life are happier people. I decide I will instill in him that you support your brother even if it feels like suffering.

I give him my iPhone to record the concert, but afterwards, instead of watching the next kid play, my son is reading about how to write new material on the SCP Foundation wiki, which is, as far as I can tell, a creative writing site where you write about a pretend problem that occurs in this video game.

Regardless of my inability to understand the site, the writing is detailed and careful (here’s formatting guidelines for footnotes). And the advice is great, like dangerous does not always equal interesting, and take feedback to heart, even if it’s blunt and direct. It’s advice I would have given to the writing class I taught at Boston University.

If I told my son to read a how-to-write-well book he would die of boredom. If I told him to sit at the concert with nothing to read, he would die of boredom.

So I give up the idea that I can control what he learns, and in fact, he knows a surprising number of cello concertos for a violinist who hates sitting in concerts. And he has a surprising grasp of what makes good writing for a kid who has never had a writing assignment in his life.