Each day I receive one or two books from authors and publishers. I want to tell you I give most of them away, but most of them are terrible. In a lot of cases even our local library will not take them.
A lot of career books I receive are self-published. I used to take a look at every self-published book that came to my front door. I stopped because every book sucked.
So I stopped getting the self-published books about business and careers. And I started publishing photos of my garden, hoping people would send me gardening books.
But soon after that I started writing about homeschooling, and the education books came pouring in. Most of those books from mainstream publishers dance on the edge of homeschooling without crossing the line. For example, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson. (Kids find their passion out of school, not in school, but he doesn’t tell anyone to homeschool.) Or How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough. (School teaches sticking to a curriculum and getting the right answers, both the opposite of grit and curiosity, but he doesn’t tell anyone to leave school.)
I grew frustrated with how every education reform book made a great argument for homeschooling but stopped short of recommending it. So I started skimming the self-published homeschooling books. And guess what? Some of them are great. By far the most honest, genuine and helpful books on education reform are self-published books on homeschooling. Because those are the books that present real solutions rather than just the problems.
Here are three that I really enjoyed:
Rise Above School, by Jeffrey Till
This book is a guide to making the decision to homeschool. Till makes an interesting distinction between intellectually knowing that there are better ways to spend childhood than in school and conquering the emotions that prevent you from taking your kids out.
He talks about having empathy for children and he writes a lovely chapter about the turning point in his own heart: “I realized that we had to homeschool because there was no way I would send myself to school understanding what I knew about school. If faced with the choice, I wouldn’t make myself unhappy, I wouldn’t waste my time, I wouldn’t put myself through the torture of school. With any empathy, how dare I send my children? How dare I treat them in a way that I wouldn’t treat myself?”
Hill deftly lays out the reasons why school doesn’t work. But increasingly I’m talking with parents who know the data about how bad schools are, but they still can’t get themselves to take the next step. It seems too scary. That’s an emotional barrier that needs to be met with an emotional answer to why homeschool, and this books provides that.
The Working Parent’s Guide to Homeschooling, by Robyn Dolan
Dolan is not just a working parent. She’s also a single parent. She gets child support, but not enough to cover family expenses. Still, she takes her kids out of school because there’s nothing else that works. (She tries a charter school that is terrible — not surprising.)
The book goes step by step through Dolan’s initial approach (homeschool recreates regular school) to her decision to jettison that plan for a more unschooling approach. She is honest about her missteps, making her story relatable to all parents, not just single parents or dual-career parents.
I have always thought that the best way to have a career and homeschool your kids is to move away from curriculum. The kids are happier and easier to manage if they are doing what they like to do, and the parents feel success sooner, both in career (there’s more time for that) and homeschooling (kids thrive when they do what they want to do). Dolan shows how this transformation happens and I really like that she shows, at the same time, that homeschooling is possible for a single, working parent.
Radical Homemakers, Shannon Hayes
In the 1970s defining one’s work in terms of being a wife was not cool. “Homemaker” was the solution. As a kid I saw the world this way: every time I filled out a form that asked for my parents’ professions, I was lucky to say my mom was an executive. Homemaker is what kids put in the form when their mom did nothing.
Today I have a more mature view of stay-at-home moms, but I confess that I still think of “homemaker” as a desperate attempt to feel meaningful.
Until I read this book. The book blew me away in terms of how differently Hayes sees taking care of a home and a family. It includes homeschooling, of course. But by after the first ten pages I felt totally out of date as to how I saw the homemaker role. She paints a visionary, new and shockingly logical picture of what the role can be.
And I think that is why the self-published books on homeschooling are so exciting: they are at the forefront of new thinking. Too new to be mainstream enough for a big publisher. But those are the most exciting ideas, and among these three books, there is at least one, new, exciting way to see the world for everyone.