This guy emailed me. He said his in-laws live near our farm. He’s CEO of a homeschooling startup. So I took a chance on him and invited him and his family over for lunch.

He hung out with me in the kitchen and told me his company helps schools do project-based learning and “experiential” learning.

I said, “That sounds like homeschooling to me.”

He said, “It is. But not every family can do that.”

I went nuts. I told him that every family that is in a school rich enough to indulge in his software package has the means to homeschool. And, I said, “Why is a family that believes in project-based, experiential learning sending a kid to school anyway?”

He said, “Not every parent can afford homeschooling.”

I said, “That’s total BS. Every family with two college grads for parents can have one parent work and one homeschool. They can make enough money. If they choose.”

He was silent.

So I said, “This reminds me of the families that say they don’t have enough money for the mom to take maternity leave. It’s messed up values.”

He said, “My wife didn’t take maternity leave.”

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65 replies
  1. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    In your enthusiasm and support for homeschooling you may be overlooking that it doesn’t suit most families’ makeup and temperament.

    The issue has not been primarily about money in my opinion. Some people make it harder than it has to be and, as seen in discussions, some feel inadequate for the task. Most people simply don’t want to do it.

    • Lori
      Lori says:

      whether it suits one’s makeup or temperament is kind of beside the point. monogamy doesn’t suit many people’s temperament but you can still advocate it.

  2. Someone in WI
    Someone in WI says:

    Well, this could be interesting in the comments.

    But your point is spot-on, Penelope. My husband used to get so fed up with women co-workers (earning professional salaries, and whose husbands also did) who said he and I were “lucky” that I could stay home with the kids. Luck had nothing to do with it! We cut our salary in half when I quit my job to be at home. It was scary as heck. But we had priorities — we wanted to raise our kids ourselves and not hire that job out — and we made it work. It’s all about priorities.

    Glad to see you’re back at the farm. :)

  3. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    One might say that someone who sacrifices their own happiness, emotional and mental wellbeing and the contributions they make to the world for the sake of their children has messed up values.

    Sacrifice everything for children, who then sacrifice everything themselves for their own children – so you are sacrificing everything for someone who is going to be miserable and a slave to someone not yet in existence. What exactly is the point?

    Of course, for some people it’s not such a big sacrifice – they enjoy homeschooling etc. – and that’s great! But the idea that parents need to sacrifice their lives for their children is IMO deeply messed up.

    Maternity leave doesn’t do anything for the kids – it’s having a loving caregiver with them 24/7 that does something for the infant.

    Trying to bully and shame women into being the ones that are that caregiver and then stating with confidence that “women want to stay home with children more than men” shows a certain disconnect. In today’s environment of “you have messed up morals” more women want to stay home than men.

    I’m always so tempted to tell some of the male (very involved!) parents I know whose wife stays home – doesn’t it bother you that someone else is raising your kids?

    • Lori
      Lori says:

      this argument doesn’t work.

      it’s simple math. you don’t give up your life or your career when you stay home with your baby. staying home until your child is 2 or 3 takes 2 or 3 years. since retirement age is being pushed relentlessly toward 70, you’re talking about 2 or 3 years out of 50 or more years when you can have a life and a career. if you can’t give up 2 or 3 years, you should rethink having children.

      homeschooling doesn’t require a 50s set-up with a full-time working dad and a full-time SAH apron-wearing mom. my husb and i have never put our kids into daycare; they are homeschooled. we both work. we owned our own business, we freelanced, we split shifts. it’s completely doable. it is about values. you care about it, so you make it happen.

      we had our kids late (in our 30s) and already (in our 40s) we’re back to being free to do whatever we want, because our hs’ed kids manage their own learning. hs’ing is not a lifetime commitment. certainly, staying home with a baby is not a lifetime commitment. it’s a commitment, but not a lifetime commitment, and it doesn’t cost you your career or your sanity. it’s just simple math. and values.

      • Victoria
        Victoria says:

        Staying home with a child till 2 or 3 only takes 2/3 years, okay. Except you can’t possibly mean that a 3 year old can be left home alone? Someone has to be supervising and if it’s not kindergarden or school it’s you – and you have to stay home (if, and it’s a big if, your husband also stays home you can probably freelance or have your own business). Plus you very likely may have more than one kid. Suddenly we’re talking more like ten years of staying home minimum. And that’s going to close off a lot of career options – not all of them, no but a lot and maybe one of the one’s it closes off is the one that makes your soul sing.

        You are right and Penelope is right that it’s about values. But my values are not your values.

        My values don’t include staying home with the kids as a good in and of itself. My values do include the idea that it’s not ethical to be a martyr. You have a responsibility to your kids to make sure the basics are taken care of and they are loved, secure and well educated are also good. But the argument that schools can’t produce someone well educated are bunk – too many counter examples around. And I actually agree that school is horrible in educating children but it certainly works fine for a lot of people.

        • Lori
          Lori says:

          i said staying home with a baby (referring to your bringing up maternity leave). once a child is 2 or 3, they’re no longer a baby.

          re: having another kid and 2 or 3 yrs turns into 10 yrs .. then don’t have another kid. that was my entire point. only have the children you’re willing to take care of.

          do you really think i’m a *martyr* because i didn’t put my kids in daycare? or because i shifted my work life around to accommodate homeschooling them? my husband made the same accommodations so i guess he’s a martyr, too. i have to tell you, i don’t feel like a martyr. i feel like the luckiest person on the planet.

          is this how the rationalization works? “if i did those things i would be martyring myself.” well, who wants that?! that’s not what it requires. it requires some compromising, that it. and i’d rather compromise on my ideal work schedule than on my kids.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I do think there’s a lot to be said for the messed-up-ness of giving up one’s life for one’s kids. I’m just not sure what’s right and what isn’t. I know mental health is there somewhere. There are TONS of women who take care of their kids all day and are overweight. That is not taking care of themselves. I don’t know if that’s messed up. I don’t know how to be a great mom, doing the homeschooling, and have a healthy intellectual life for myself. And a healthy body. It’s all very hard.


      • Victoria
        Victoria says:

        It is all very hard. But I also think we make it hard by stressing out over it as though there is a “one true answer” somewhere. Personalities matter for this and personalities differ.

        As long as you (general you) love your kids, aren’t abusive, and pay attention to your kids they are going to be fine. Just fine. So make the choices that make sense to you, adjust as necessary and try not to worry about it. And no need to tell other people that what they are doing is wrong.

        Random blurb – have you thought about giving the kids a map or a globe and having them stare at it for a couple hours? And research the places or something. I was just reading an article on how horrible lots of American’s geography is – somehow school always assumes some other grade is teaching that or that no one needs to know it. Seems a pretty easy topic to teach at home at almost any age and one that’s going to be valuable for all sorts of reasons like expanding their world view etc. (It’s probably already on your list… but I like to contribute :))

  4. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    What you say is true – mostly. Most people find a way to pay for what they value, but some people truly do not have the money for things and are just scraping to get by. It’s rare, as most people who say they don’t have money just don’t value it enough to divert the funds they do have away from something else they value more to this instead.

    Just found your blog, btw, and love it. We just started homeschooling our 5yr old this year, and we’re in smaller community in WI too, but on the other side of the state. Great to read. Wasted a whole morning on it yesterday. ;)

    And I come from a farm family, with two “home farms” (farms that have been in our family since our ancestors came from Europe, both my dad’s and mom’s side) so I understand the whole “can’t leave your land” thing. Interesting to read it from your perspective.

    Thanks for all your thoughts and for your candid comments. Love.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    It doesn’t appear to me as though he’s a CEO of a homeschooling startup – even though that’s how he is marketing himself and company. It sounds like he has an expensive software package that runs on an enterprise system with servers. The software is having the students perform ‘project based’ and ‘experiential’ learning in a school environment. Maybe an attempt to reform or enhance the current learning environment in a given school. That’s the impression I got from reading this post.
    I wish I was there when – He said, “My wife didn’t take maternity leave.” The expression on your face must have been priceless. :)

  6. M
    M says:

    I strongly disagree; not everyone can afford to homeschool.

    My husband and I are both college graduates and employed full time. We live in a run-down apartment and have pared down our bills as much as we can (no cable, no credit, no car payments, no eating out, etc.)

    I would LOVE to homeschool my child, but if either of us were to quit our job we’d be homeless within two months. We haven’t been able to find jobs with alternate shifts, either. We can’t relocate because my husband has a child from a previous relationship that he can’t move more than so many miles away from. Let’s face it: not everyone lives in a town with great employment opportunities.

    I would be very interested to hear more about your friend’s “supplemental project based learning” that we could do at home to enrich our child’s education.

  7. redrock
    redrock says:

    so, men can choose, and women have to stay home and homeschool? Not doing it means one does not care for the kids? My moral value as a person is tied to being a stay at home mum? One is a bad person if school is the choice? On a personal note: both my parents were certainly intellectually capable of homeschooling, but I probably would have killed myself in the process…. not all homes are socially, or intellectually better than school.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, I understand about wanting to kill oneself over homseschooling. Believe me. I mean, I’m supposedly homeschooling my kids, but I’m commenting here also, right?

      Anyway, this seems like a good time for me to say that I do think there’s a double standard for men and women and it’s a struggle for me to not be part of that.

      But, I do think it’s complete BS that men with big corporate positions (it’s almost always men) do not parent and we don’t care. For example, a divorced dad living in poverty gets slammed for never seeing his kids, but the CEO of GE works 120 hour weeks and we hold him up as a role model. It’s absurd. Here’s a post I wrote about it:


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        you got me wrong: I would have killed myself if MY parents had decided to homeschool me. Not me homeschooling kids.

        And there is a double standard, but why should we live up to it and listen to it in our life’s decision?

  8. Kim
    Kim says:

    I understand that, in large part, this is about your personal journey and questioning what it is you value and why. But the means of doing this paints with brushes so large that there is ceasing to be a picture.

    My husband and I could financially afford for one of us (which would be me) to homeschool our son. We would also probably end up divorced; I guarantee I’d have a severe mental health crisis; and I’m not at all confident that our son would end up with a better education. He goes to public school. We weren’t thrilled with the one in our neighborhood, but we were able to transfer to another, better (for us) public school. He’s in second grade and doing great. My husband and I are happy with the school and very involved. It’s not perfect, and we do our best to fill in the gaps. Of course there are some terrible public schools out there. I guarantee there are plenty of children who are not being served well by their homeschooling parent(s) — even parents with college degrees. But to say that parents who have the financial means to homeschool and choose not to have misplaced values is a statement not even remotely in touch with reality.

    Articles about failing public schools get tons of press because (1) OMG THE CHILDREN!!!; (2) a ton of money and resources go to public schools; and (3) yeah, many public schools could/should be doing a lot better. It doesn’t matter that your kids and my kid and every other commenter’s kids do well if the majority of American kids are in rotten schools. Rotten schools are everyone’s problem, no matter if you have kids or not. Homeschoolers too often take the attitude that it’s too bad for the other kids and not their problem anymore.

  9. nova
    nova says:

    So you are against schools, even if they offer what you are looking for?

    I can’t beleive you really meant it that way, but this is how your post comes through. That the value here is to homeschool, no matter what.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, to be honest, when I wrote the post I was thinking that everyone should homeschool or stop bitching about schools. But now I’m rethinking.

      I have not found any research that says that good public school is better than good homeschool. And I don’t think anyone has posted any research like that here in the discussion. But there are other factors at hand. Most notably, I am going nuts figuring out how to have kids home all day long with me. And I have a lot of empathy for parents who don’t want to homeschool because they don’t want that time/energy responsibility.

      So I am not sure what I think. I guess I am just stunned at how clearly all the research on education points to homeschool. It actually reminds me of how there is very very strong research that babies should be with a single, main caretaker for the first two years. (Search: Wikipedia on Attachment Theory). But no one writes about it because no one wants to be the bearer of bad news.

      The truth is not popular. And I’m not sure what to do with that.


      • Victoria
        Victoria says:


        Can you point me to the research that says it’s definitely better for an infant to have “a single, main caretaker for the first two years” and how they define “main” i.e. how many hours. Because I don’t see that in the Wikipedia article.

        A friend of mine that’s in graduate school focusing on childhood development (studying stress hormones in particular) tells me the research is that attachment in a baby or child is extremely crucial and key to everything – but also something that’s pretty hard to mess up if you are not criminally neglectful. If you are an “ordinary” parent your child will attach just fine.

        From Wikipedia

        Not Supported by Conclusive Research. Another criticism is that there is no conclusive or convincing body of research that shows this labor-intensive approach to be in any way superior to what attachment parents term “mainstream parenting” in the long run.[11]

      • Lori
        Lori says:

        the truth really isn’t popular.

        remember when your fellow penelope, baby and child expert penelope leach, said that people should stay home with their children for the first two years? there was such a huge uproar she, as i recall, ended up softening her stance or eating her words or just backing off. but it took a big chunk out of her popularity.

      • Jennifer Chase
        Jennifer Chase says:

        I teach at a large public university in Texas. I’ve had a number of home-schooled kids in my classes, and they are definitely better at critical thinking than their peers.

        BUT I wonder if the difference evens out after a few years? I believe I can think better now, at age 35, than I could at age 20 (and I was a 3.95 GPA kid).

        So *maybe* the advantage given by homeschooling is a relatively temporary one? I haven’t looked to see if there’s been any research on this.

  10. Bee
    Bee says:

    If you don’t want to take maternity (OR paternity) leave, why the hell are you having children? Seriously. You don’t have to homeschool them (although lots of people could if they wanted to but just think they can’t) but if you don’t want to spend time with them, why did you have them?

    Your value is not tied to being a stay-at-home parent, but if you both want to work full time and not look after them, DON’T HAVE CHILDREN. It’s like when you were young and wanted a dog and your Mum told you that you couldn’t have one unless you were willing to look after it properly and take it for walks every day and feed it and scoop its poop and take it to the vet. You have to do this until the dog dies, which could be a decade or two.

    It’s the same for having children. If you won’t walk your dog/children (or equivalent activity), DON’T HAVE IT/THEM. Children are for life, not just for Christmas.

    • Victoria
      Victoria says:

      For the same reasons that President Obama wanted and had children, or Einstein, or Madoff, or Sarah Palin or most of X generation’s fathers.

      What, you think any of the above people took six months or so to stay home with the kids when they had them?

      I want to “look after my kids” the same way that Obama wants to “look after his kids”. As in, yes of course I’m going to look after them but no that doesn’t translate to spending all my time on it.

        • Victoria
          Victoria says:

          Because they wanted them.

          Lots of theories on the reasons for wanting, my personal pet theory is that we all just love having someone to love that much who loves us back but other people lean on biology etc. etc.

          My father wanted me (second child) very much – he always worked outside the home and I’m pretty sure always wanted to. I’ve no complaints, love him, know he loves me like crazy, happy childhood, happy adulthood, know he’s very happy he has me in his life. Happiness all around – where is the bad that would cause someone to declare “DON’T HAVE CHILDREN” or i.e. my father shouldn’t have had me?

    • Cathy
      Cathy says:

      Bee, I would love to agree with you completely. I mostly do agree with you — I know that kids need involved parents. I myself wanted kids, loved having kids, now love having grown kids. I was that extreme of being with my kids: I stayed at home with my kids (shifting from working in an office full time to working part time from home), I did demand nursing and wore a Snugli, and I unschooled them til they were college age.

      But I still gotta say that people do sometimes have kids without the forethought necessary to going to a pet store and purchasing a dog. Although I wanted kids, I got pregnant while I was vigorously attempting not to. My husband and I wanted a year of marriage before I got pregnant – and I got pregnant TWO WEEKS after the wedding! (Loved seeing my friends counting to see…hmm…was she or wasn’t she?) We wanted to have a year between finishing nursing one child and getting pregnant with the second…and we had TWO WEEKS. Trust me, we know all about family planning. We used reliable methods. We were careful. I got pregnant on everything but the pill – if I was ovulating, I got pregnant!

      So… it’s just a bit careless to say, “If you don’t want to do XYZ with your kids, don’t have kids,” don’t you think?

      • kevin
        kevin says:

        Yeah, but the pill is cheap and readily available, so most people can take it and not get pregnant.

        I recognize some have ethical/health concerns regarding the pill and so then you do have more risk (though the pill isn’t 100% either)

  11. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    Penelope, lots of research about learning, cognition, memory, and such doesn’t seem to get reported as “education” research, and in education research, most of the comparisons made between schooled kids and homeschooled kids are made through test scores. Most tests aren’t going to measure the things that I find important. The things like “grit” and “optimism” that you highlighted in an earlier post. The things like, not “Can Johnny read?” but “DOES Johnny read, ever, now that he isn’t being made to read with a system of carrots and sticks?” Things like critical thinking and creativity.

    The things that most suck about public schools, IMO, are the systemic things that people like John Holt and John Taylor Gatto described in their books. Even good schools tend to make kids into praise-junkies and achievement-junkies who have never been allowed time to figure out what is worth doing. Even good schools tend to make kids passive, one-answer oriented, dependent on authority.

    Have you watched Ken Robinson and Sugata Mitra on TED talks? Have you heard Peter Gray?

    These people have done research that, to me, indicates that the public school system is ill-conceived at its most fundamental level.

    • kevin
      kevin says:


      Enlarge your thought of what ‘home-schooling’ is or isn’t.

      If all you are doing is replicating school at home, it may be an improvement (individualized custom curriculum vs. group teaching and factory mentalities), but I don’t think it is achieving the goals PT has for her boys.

      It’s more than being literate and functional at statistics. It’s preparing for jobs and careers that don’t exist, cultivating creativity, grit, social skills, handling boredom and failure, and learning how to become a life long learner.

      And that takes a lot less direct supervision than being a teacher in front of your kids at home for 6 hours a day.

      Plan for it. Let them do it. Then get out of the way and do what you want to do. Sleep. Repeat.

  12. Juliet
    Juliet says:

    The assumption that every family with two college degrees can afford to have one of those degrees not being used is just that – an assumption. The corollary that families with one or no college degrees can’t afford it is equally false. Penelope, you assert over and over that college is often a waste of time and money – how can you now assume that one person with a college degree can support a family with kids?

    Also, don’t you think that as a homeschooling parent you will overemphasize your strengths and gloss over your weaknesses? There’s no way I could teach any child advanced math, because I don’t understand it myself. I could easily teach a child to love reading and experimenting and exploring and writing … but what if my child is gifted in math? Just because I’ve built a life that accommodates basic math skills only doesn’t mean my child should have to.

    • Lori
      Lori says:

      my son is learning calculus. it doesn’t mean *i* have to teach him. i don’t have to relearn it, either, which is nice because i got an A in calc in high school then failed the math entrance exam for my college and was told i’d have to go back and do remedial math if i wanted to take any math classes. thanks, high school math teacher!

      hs’ed kids don’t have to learn everything from their parents. they take classes, they join co-op, they have tutors, they learn it themselves from books + online. penelope, you need to post a big FAQ for non-hs’ing people so they can get past this wrong idea — and the socialization issue.

      • Someone in WI
        Someone in WI says:

        Exactly!!! In some ways, the h’s parent is the general contractor for their child’s education. You don’t have to do it all yourself — I’d say you shouldn’t — but you decide the general scope and sequence, as they like to say in the text book biz, the general goals, and then decide the best way to reach those goals. It’s beautiful!! Though not perfect. What is?

      • Juliet
        Juliet says:

        So if my kid is going to enrichment classes or a tutor or whatever for every class that I’m not qualified/willing to teach, how is that different than a public school? Or, why can’t said child go to a public school plus enrichment activities catered to his/her interests (many of which are conveniently offered at the school)?

        I know that a public school teacher can’t give each of 30 children one-on-one time to grow that child’s unique interests, but are there really enough qualified specialty math/art/music/reading/science teachers available (and accessible and affordable) for me to give my child a totally customized education?

        • Someone in WI
          Someone in WI says:

          There’s such a HUGE, exciting difference! As the parents and “general contractors”, we get to choose the classes, teachers, schedule, methods.

          Which history should we study this year (i.e. Greek, Roman, Medieval, U.S.??)? Which science (physical science, chemistry, botany, biology, astronomy, physics, etc.)? What field trips should we take?

          We get to design the entire curriculum — and there are so many wonderful choices.

          We get to choose the books and authors (no sappy, politically correct revisionist history, no indoctrination from the Bill Ayers camp of textbook writers, etc.) and then we get to choose who teaches it. Most of the time, I am the teacher (for English, math, history, science, grammar, penmanship, etc.)

          But sometimes we do something different.

          Drama? A theater group for the very social child, or sometimes we read plays aloud aloud (including Shakespeare and the Greek dramatists), taking multiple parts within the family, or sometimes the support group puts on a play together. And then there’s always Spring Green, WI, for the American Players Theater!

          Music? A local piano teacher, a DVD series on Understanding Music, a guitar teacher at the instrument store down the street. Various options for various children and years.

          Art? A local art teacher who does a class for homeschoolers, or maybe a friend who was an art teacher and now homeschools, or maybe Mark Kistler’s book or online classes.

          Math? Usually it’s me teaching at home, but maybe we go with the local high school for calculus, or maybe the Dad or Mom in our homeschool group who is a mathematician and offers tutoring, or maybe the Teaching Textbook series which is awesome.

          So yes, there are plenty of options, and plenty of affordable ones, and it is WONDERFUL to be able to guide and direct your own child’s education, using the many fantastic resources available.

    • kevin
      kevin says:

      The point is that if you don’t understand advanced math yourself, then does your child need to learn it?

      Maybe, maybe not. But do you need to check off the box of advanced math if they won’t use it? And if they won’t use it, will they really have learned it? And if not, what’s the point in wasting the time teaching it?

      Now, if Sally wants to be an astronaught (and has shown a commitment to that goal through work and time), then maybe you do need to find resources for advanced math. Maybe a tutor, a community college, open source MIT online classes, a textbook. Lots of options.

      • LY
        LY says:

        As a child, I wasn’t very interested in math. I didn’t have problems learning it in school, but it wasn’t an interest of mine. Under a self-directed program I would have no doubt left it out. On my own devices I read literature, politics, and history voraciously. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer.I’m so glad someone made me get the basics of math when I was a child, because in college and as an adult I developed a passion for economics and ecology. The application of statistics and math help me solve problems as a biologist and administrator, everyday. Children don’t always know what they will want or need as adults.

        • Lori
          Lori says:

          the bulk of my sons’ hs’ing is self-directed, but they learn math because we require it. my husband is an engineer and feels strongly that a foundation in math is imperative in case they want to pursue a math-, science-, or engineering-based career. i have a background in school-based project-based learning and i know that math must be taught separately from organic projects. you can use and practice math concepts in a natural way but you can’t learn it without rote memorization.

          hs’ing can be anything from school-at-home to loosey goosey unschooling — you can’t assume anything. many people cobble together an eclectic mix of self-directed learning and some required subjects.

        • kevin
          kevin says:

          Don’t attack a straw man. I was speaking about ‘advanced math’. Obviously basic arithmetic skills are required.

          My view is that everyone should have a functional understanding of math to operate in the real world, and to deepen that understanding with appropriate course work when the goals of the student deem it necessary: i.e. computers, science, whatever.

          These interests and desires will manifest themselves long before the need for advanced math, and math learned at the student’s own learning speed and for the student’s own goals and reasons is learning that will stick and occur more quickly than in traditional settings.

          How many people use even high school level math on a daily basis? Are there lessons to be learned outside of the knowledge basis from tackling tough problems? Sure. But there are lots of tough problems, and I’m guessing some of them line up with the student’s interests, regardless of how much math they have.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            unfortunately your logic is flawed. The question whether you should learn something cannot be made on the basis whether we use it daily. If I use this yardstick, then learning a foreign language is pretty useless: you are not going to use it on a daily basis…. until you decide to travel the world. But on the other hand… you might not decide to travel the world if you do not know another language. If we only learned based on usefulness humans would still live in caves.

      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        Like memorizing poems, learning advanced math is a cognitive exercise. You can get by without it, but the development gained by studying it has effects throughout your life beyond mathematics.

        • kevin
          kevin says:

          @redrock: I concede the point that ‘daily use’ isn’t the appropriate metric for deciding whether to include a subject in the curriculum.

          But I disagree that A) you have to learn a foreign language to travel the world, and B)deciding to travel the world is exactly the type of decision which can make learning a foreign language easier and faster. Because there is a goal and a motivation. And if you are learning the language through immersion or through a tutor, for your own reasons (to be able to operate in a foreign culture) the student is more likely to retain the information.

          And of course, the best way to learn the language is simply to suck it up and go abroad. Nothing is more motivating than not being able to communicate. See: how babies learn to talk.

          Also, your comment that ” If we only learned based on usefulness humans would still live in caves,” makes no sense. Your contention is that learning useless information allowed humans to leave the caves and build civilizations. But clearly, any information that allowed that was useful, and worth learning.

          My contention is not that a lot of these different subjects shouldn’t be learned. It is that when a subject is learned when the student wants or needs the information, learning occurs more quickly and is more likely to be retained long term rather than simply regurgitated on a test and forgotten.

          And if little galileo likes to work on math problems and science because he finds it intrinsically rewarding and fascinating, then that is it’s own reward and let him or her go as far as their interest allows.


      • Teri S
        Teri S says:

        It’s not the actual mathmatical computations that we use in later life but the problem solving process that is important. Can I take information from one lesson & apply & adapt it to a variation. If I can’t, then how can I learn to? In addition, you may not like math but want to be a career field that requires you know something of it. Most science, technical & financial careers would seem to require more than a basic knowledge. It’s much easier to have it than to have to go back and acquire it as an adult.

  13. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    On a brief google search, an Indiana professor whose focus seems to be studying homeschooling says this on his website.

    2. Claims that the “average homeschooler” outperforms public and private school students are simply not justified.

    This is not to claim that homeschoolers underperform, either–the simple fact is that no studies exist that draw from a representative, nationwide sample of homeschoolers.

    If I was starting to homeschool I’d read the studies and books he cites but don’t really have time or inclination right now.

    Of course I don’t know how reliable he is but the statement seems right to me – if it is right – the research you’re asking for in support of public school is impossible to produce. Those studies have simply not been done.

    • kevin
      kevin says:

      Here’s a question- What if their scorecard is wrong?

      I don’t care how my kids test on anything that can be tested. I test very well and the more experience I get, the more I realize A)what was tested has little correlation to my personal and professional goals, and B) There are a lot of people a lot smarter than I am in areas that can’t be tested.

      So if my kids can be masters in subjects I deem important that aren’t easily testable (Grit, ability to deal with ambiguity, risk assessment, personal finance, fourth dimensional thinking) and fail at trigonometry, A+ for their education.

      Because studies are paid for and conducted by established educators, I doubt there is much that would address my concerns.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I have the impression you are comparing apples and oranges: grit, kindness towards strangers, personal finance and such are character, personality and life skills. Trigonometry is a scholarly activity and what I would group under school/education. Should not both aspects be part of upbringing? I doubt that one would substitute well for the other, they are however complementary.

  14. Smiley
    Smiley says:

    Hi Penelope!

    Do what my parents did – start a school! Your reading assignments include the following:

    Little Men by Louisa May Alcott


    the entire ACE Christian curricula.

    Except, don’t do what my parents did and make your school Christian. Make it more brazen like you. :)

  15. Ron
    Ron says:

    thanks for a great, honest article, Penelope. I got here from a BNET article you wrote, good job! I’m on the “Dad” side. Why does everyone think their perspective is supposed to be universally applicable? We homeschooled for 2 years for our son who is now an Army Ranger. He still says “I love you guys!” checks in often. Public school didn’t completely corrupt his psyche. Neither did home school. But after 2 years of homeschooling, he said “Mom, I need to go back to public school. I want to love you as my Mom and not hate you as my teacher.” the homeschooling question isn’t just about finances or time; it’s what works well for you. Relax. Enjoy your kids. Stop listening to what other people think about home schooling. It’ll work out just fine. You can Google that if you want to!

  16. L (another Lisa)
    L (another Lisa) says:

    Decisions are the hardest moves to make. Especially when it is a choice between where you are and where you want to be.

  17. Jay
    Jay says:

    For us the issue isn’t so much whether we can afford to live without one of our salaries (although it would be nervewrackingly tight as opposed to very comfortable) but that neither of our jobs are especially secure at the moment and it looks like it could be hard to find alternative work if either us were made redundant. So I did take as much maternity leave as my employer let me, but it would be a big risk if either of us quit my job completely especially as we both work in a field where re-entering the work force is hard after a long gap – seen some of my friends try and it’s near impossible.

    The basic problem I guess is that property prices here revolve around what people can afford on two people’s salaries so if only one of you works then it is hard to live somewhere remotely suitable for bringing up a family and there’s plenty of research I believe that cramped conditions are not great for children’s learning either.

    So maybe we could find a way to homeschool by moving to some other part of the country where property is cheaper and both changing career but that’s a big sacrifice to make and risk to take when we both enjoy our jobs and like where we live.

    • kevin
      kevin says:

      Remember, PT walked the walk here. She moved from NYC to WI for a variety of reasons (I gather) and one result is that she can support her family on much less $$ than in NYC.

      Everyone can make this choice (Lots of land available in the Central Time Zone!) but most do not prioritize what they would gain (time, lower cost of living, slower lifestyle, etc, etc) above what they would lose (cultural opportunities, restaurants that aren’t franchised, job opportunities, excitement, people, etc, etc)

      That’s why PT can say what she says. She did it. Was the initial move for these reasons? Maybe. Maybe not. But it can be done. You are not locked in the city you live in. Move to Texas. Everyone there loves it anyway.

  18. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    So, this guy’s got a program that could theoretically transform schools for the better–in the way you think kids should be educated–and you’ve got a problem with that?

    Penelope, I think you don’t know what your priorities are yet.

    • kevin
      kevin says:

      Even if the school was teaching exactly what you want, you still have the systemic issues of school, i.e. group based teaching and learning.

      It can be done well, but it is extremely challenging in and of itself, not to mention the political and market challenges.

      So I’m guessing that the school that does that still isn’t as good as what could (theoretically) be sourced by the type of parents PT describes

  19. kathy
    kathy says:

    There has been a running theme to your comments lately about feeling overwhelmed having the kids around all day, not knowing what or how to teach them exactly. I get that your local school is not great and the example of your son’s math worksheet was appalling. But, given all of your emotional issues and instability of life with the farmer, and your lack of preparation for hs, might the boys not be getting what they need? And where is their father in all of this?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes. Of course they might not be getting what they need. Every kid in the whole world is probably not getting what they need. That’s why we have therapy. In the meantime, as parents we have to take action. We have to do what’s hard and scary and use our best guess.

      Labor is hard and scary. Having a new baby with no instructions is hard and scary. Everything after that is not life or death. We just try our best. I happen to do that in public, on my blog :)


    • Lori
      Lori says:

      the beginning of anything new is hard — the great thing is that penelope is exercising her grit to work through it, and she’s letting everyone come along for the ride.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      I’m not worried about the kids. It looks like the main challenge will be finding other kids. The young one will insist upon getting that need met in time. Penelope may wear herself to a frazzle trying to get time to herself and give her kids the best education there is, but all the while they will be flowering before her eyes.

  20. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    Penelope, I think what you are missing here is something very fundamental about family psychology; people self-select for what they are capable of being good at, on the basis of who they are, what they believe in and how they feel about it all. And this is essentially a good thing. Parents cannot and should not sacrifice everything in their life “for the sake of the children”. Children want to grow up in a reasonably happy, stable, functioning family, and every family’s functional-ness is going to be different, depending on where they are in lots of ways.

    What I’m trying to say is that individual families need to make individual decisions about what is best for them. We should not all try to fit ourselves to the research, because research can only ever demonstrate *generalised* information. All rules have exceptions, and it is not rational or scientific to make choices as if all research necessarily shows us what is best for our individual families. There are so many factors that just don’t go into the research.

    What I am saying is definitely not that people should think they are “special” and common sense or factual information does not apply to them. And I am not saying that people don’t make bad choices, or that more people could not homeschool if they chose to, or that homeschooling is not a better system, overall, than schools.

    But families have their own values, and parents have their own needs, and these should be taken into account in everything they decide, as well as possible. Children with a reasonably supportive family to come home to are resilient enough to learn and grow and, most importantly, learn how to learn (a major benefit of homeschooling, self directed learning) *however* they spend the daytime hours during the week. It could make a huge different to the family’s overall success, functionality etc if parents are vastly happier working out of the home, or if they have enough money to feel comfortable (yes, *feel* comfortable). The compromise of school, whether it is recognised as such or not, could well be worthwhile in the context of the bigger picture.

    Penelope, you are someone who immerses in what you believe, and I think that is a wonderful quality. I believe that kidsbenefit enormously from having parents who put their money where their mouth is, and that all parents should communicate their values by living them every day. But we all have our flaws as parents, and we all hope that our children can, with the good tools and emotional support we have given them, resolve any issues that arise from our failings later on, and turn them into assets. This applies to less than perfect emotional environments at home, and to our ability to progress in the world, constantly learning and growing.

    Children definitely do not need “the best” in everything. Some of their most important lessons are going to come from being challenged. We may not choose, or even recognise, those challenges, but they are not necessarily bad things, they are unavoidable and normal.

    My advice to parents considering homeschooling would be the same advice I used to give expectant mothers when I was a breastfeeding counsellor- how do you feel about doing it? If you believe in homeschooling, and feel you want to do it, then you can do better than any school. But if the very idea makes you cringe with stress, you should not do it out of a self-sacrifice that is goingto compromse your wellbeing and- very importantly- send mixed messages to your children. Kids do not need to have “the best” when the price is a parent forcing herself to be with them when she is having a bad time. They would rather have second best and make up the difference later, and parents who love being around them and show it in their happiness.

    It seems like you are doing what you need to do, because you believe in it passionately. That gives your kids the gift of learning how to live one’s values by dealing with the challenges, which is a great lesson. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to argue that *everyone* should be doing X or Y parenting/education method, because any education system has to function within the context of people’s real lives and dynamics, and those are very deep and powerful things: context changes meaning.

    Homeschooling has proved itself in research. And homeschooling families have chosen to homeschool because of their values. The two are connected, and that’s what research does not reveal.

  21. marc jacobs
    marc jacobs says:

    I have a colleague who was home schooled. She’s been at the same company for 13 years. In the same position for 9. She’s got an MBA. very smart woman. Can’t get a promotion. People respect her, and she gets things done, and you wouldn’t know that there’s anything wrong with her.
    But she sucks around people. It’s not obvious. She’s actually good in small crowds, but very unnoticeable. She’s not socially retarded, but I think that home schooling did that to her. It’s hard to substitute the value in working within groups and people of all different backgrounds. It takes a lifetime. And, you have not mastered that yourself. How do you suppose your sons will? To each their own, but home schooling is not the end all be all. I think you care about your sons and that is beautiful. But one is not better than the other. You take risks on both sides.

    • JustMe
      JustMe says:

      I respectfully disagree. Is a promotion what your colleague wants, or is that what you think she ought to want? Are you qualified to judge if she is socially or otherwise “retarded?” A lot of kids have problems which are not addressed or which are made worse by the public schools; home school is a wonderful relief where they can concentrate on learning without worrying about being harassed and assaulted. Maybe your colleague had a disability in addition to what you seem to regard as the disability of a homeschool education. Maybe she is extremely introverted (it sounds likely) and would experience great distress if promoted into a position requiring more social maneuvering and people management. If she is functioning where she is, why invoke the Peter Principle?

      There are many different kinds of success.

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