Alternative to homeschool debate

My son is learning to use a potter’s wheel. The woman who is teaching him is a potter (is that the right word?) and working with her is phenomenal. When someone knows their craft so well, their teaching is breathtaking to watch — it comes from deep in their soul where their passion for the craft lives.

I wanted to write about all this. I wanted to tell people that finding the right mentor for the right project is what makes life fulfilling. In unschooling or in work. There is no difference.

But then I posted about this topic on my other blog and the discussion was mostly about should people homeschool.

Suddenly, I have no patience for this question. It’s like the question, “Should people job hop?” The answer is unequivocally yes. If you job hop, your work is more engaging, you make a wider range of friends, and you earn more money. On top of that, job hopping makes for a stable career.

But people don’t like hearing it. Because hearing it makes it harder to pretend that staying in one place is really okay. I don’t want to debate about whether the hard thing is the right thing when it so obviously is. I want to talk about how it’s so hard to do what’s right all the time.

28 replies
  1. Angela
    Angela says:

    Penelope, the single biggest reason that I follow your blogs, actually read them, forward them, and utilize insights that I gain from reading them, is that you are never afraid to speak your truth. I can relate to that on so many levels. I’m debating the realities of working while homeschooling (currently my daughter is in the public school system), online education supplementation such as, or changing the system in my little corner of the world. It’s not lost on me that the minds and policies that created this public school system failure will not be the minds that fix the problems. I love this example of going to the “expert”, the potter to learn about pottery. Not an art teacher who may or may not have had more Many people who follow blogs simply lurk and many who comment either blow smoke up someone’s ass to get their attention—or argue because they’re trying to justify an action that they’ve taken in opposition to what the blogger is saying. I applaud you. I respect you immensely and I eagerly look forward to each and every post. Thank you for sharing your experiences and for helping me through this very trying time I’m having. Bless you!!!!

  2. Brianna Doby
    Brianna Doby says:

    I have a hard time with being open about homeschooling my kids because I have topic exhaustion: YES HOMESCHOOLING IS GOOD (or at the very least it’s a valid CHOICE) PLEASE JESUS STOP DEBATING ME.

    I find it hard to believe that people who read a fairly transgressive career blog have a hard time accepting (not loving, not even “supporting”) the concept of home school. Just like I find it hard to believe that in my own liberal, Western community homeschooling still initiates enormous controversy.

    I keep telling those who ask–I’m not talking to you about what I *don’t* want for my kids (i.e., not here to debate the costs/benefits of public and private schooling). That’s not a conversation I’m willing to have right now.

    I’m a consultant. I have researched and pondered and brainstormed and analyzed and I know what I DO want for my kids. And I can deliver that to them through homeschooling. I saw a problem for my family, I came up with solutions, and now I’m implementing them. And that means that my kids’ lives will look a little different from their peers–and I am completely okay with that (and they are, too).

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The current school model – teaching by subjects and a plethora of tests – is entrenched in our culture here in the U.S. It was designed during the Industrial Revolution and hasn’t changed much since that time ( ). It’s hard to change a system that’s been around for that long a period of time. There’s many people and institutions that have their identity and self-interests on the line here. As an example, people with college degrees which include myself. A big investment in time and money. The tide is shifting away from the current education model. It’s a question of how much time. I don’t think we have a lot of time because most everything today is measured and compared on a global scale. So this blog is a good place “to talk about how it’s so hard to do what’s right all the time.” – one step at a time.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I am starting to think that the standstill in education reform is not due to institutions being set in stone but rather, due to parents depending on school for babysitting.

      The revolution of women entering the workforce, for example, looks really different once we admit that kids should not be in schools all day. Because then where are the kids going to be? We already know that when someone needs to be home with kids, it’s the mom, way more than the dad, who chooses to do it.

      So what happens when everyone who is educated enough to read the research admits that kids should not be in classrooms?

      It is clear to me that homeschooling and working is, at least at this early stage in my efforts, making me crazy. So how could this happen on a national scale? I don’t know.

      But I do know that it’s the parents who are resisting. They resist by demanding things fo public schools that public schools simply cannot do — like individualized education.


      • Greg
        Greg says:

        My wife and I believe school is one of the worst places for learning, and yet we may very well end up sending our kids there. Mostly because school is free childcare. It will just be so much harder. Parents don’t like to say that they wont do hard things for the sake of their children.

        Our decision had been that we would send our children to school but if they didn’t want to go we would pull them out. Your blog has made us reconsider sending them to school in the first place.

        • karelys
          karelys says:

          maybe if you encourage the kids to come up with their own projects to make the community or school (if allowed) better, they’ll have the opportunity to think outside the box and try something of their own creativity.

          not quite homeschooling but still an opportunity to be creative.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        maybe people get stuck on the thought that homeschooling has to be done by a parent. and when women want to have their own career outside the home the sacrifice is way too much. and then personality and then earnings and yadayadayada.

        some moms continue working because their earnings are not washed out by daycare expenses. so it’s worth to keep working outside the home.

        maybe with homeschool we got it all wrong. you can pay a nanny that is educated enough and that you like enough…maybe someone that can be a mentor to the child or something like that. and so the kid can still be homeschooled.

        i know this only applies to people who earn enough to cover those expenses. but still, it’s the beginning of looking at homeschooling differently.

        so far, when we hear homeschooled we think of stay at home parent that puts up with the kid 24/7.

        poor kids, maybe they hate being around the parent(s) for so much time. that shouldn’t keep them from school.

        this thought is sort of incomplete but i wanted to post it before it goes away cause i’m at work.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I have experimented with finding a nanny to do this sort of solution, Karelys.

          Here’s what I’ve found: That creating an environment for kids to have opportunities to learn what they are interested in is actually a full-time job. Especially until kids can drive and make phone calls and maintain a budget for specialists, etc.

          I live in a very low-cost of living market, and I have found that any nanny willing to take less than $50K a year cannot do the job. Because any nanny taking less than that does not understand that educating the kids is a more-than-full-time job, and you don’t want someone coming into the job who doesn’t know that.

          Now, when you add the $50K/year for the nanny, on top of the other expenses involved in a great education program for a few kids, you have a huge cost. This cost is large enough that it’s safe to say that very few people can earn enough at work to cover the cost of giving kids the same quality education at home that a parent would give.

          (This reminds me of the data puts out every year that shows that you’d need to pay $170K a year — or something like that — in order to pay someone to do all the stuff a housewife does.)

          Anyway, my point here is that the nanny solution is a no-go except for the very high-earning, and I have to admit that this equation has made me contemplate returning to my very high-earning career so I can outsource our unschooling.


          • Latha
            Latha says:


            I love your blogs and posts. But sometimes, you tend to conflate desired outcomes with proxy measures. Yes, I agree that getting a nanny with qualifications to be a school teacher can be prohibitively expensive for most families. But your assumption here is that a nanny of that caliber is equated to how expensive they are.

            I am at the top of the economic heap in the region I live in, but it is not saying much in a community which has been economically depressed for over thirty years. So there is no way I can afford a 60K/pa nanny. Instead, what I have found very helpful is hiring a homeschooling teen who is enthusiastic, creative, and can gel with my son as part time babysitter/companion. I hire this person on a contract for the whole academic year (since I work in the university, my family rhythm is around the academic year). Although they may not have the requisite academic qualifications, they are enthusiastic and being homeschoolers themselves, understand the process of homeschooling. Even the most regimented ‘school at home’ stye of homeschooling allows a lot more time for free play and unstructured activities.I found that for a minimum wage (I pay state minimum wage plus gas money), they are happy to join him in projects, activities or just play if that is what he wants to do any given day.It is a win-win situation because since they are still living with their parents, they have no overheads and can put the money away for college. Our most recent one worked with my family for two years and saved money for cosmetology school. Currently, I have another eighteen year old who is taking classes at the local community college and putting money away for moving to a regular four year college in the near future. But I had to get to know the families and the kids to select the right people. Because my son was already familiar with these teens through multiple homeschooling gatherings and activities, the transition is a breeze.

            Instead, I invest the money that I would have otherwise spent on a nanny who would educate my son, on learning resources (much of which is available for free on the internet and local libraries) and hiring experts in the areas of his choice to mentor him.

            For example, my son has always been interested in music and art. So I hired a local artist/musician for a weekly one-on-one session and educated him on my approach to education. They have had a four year teacher/mentor-friend relationship and they have explored different facets of art including traditional paintings, drawing, sculpture, usable art, 3D art, storyboard, comic books etc. My nine year old sold his first artwork at a local gallery when he was seven. He has also written his own songs, composed music, and performed at the local homeschoolers’ fine arts/drama event.

            So hire experts for really necessary aspects of the education, but most of the every day care aspect is about engaging in whatever they are interested. I have found the two homeschooling teens that I have employed have done the job more than well.

          • karelys
            karelys says:

            I respect that you do all that research. I’m not sure what kind of people you’re coming across but my goodness! 50K/yr is the salary of both my husband and i together. we live in a very low cost of living area.

            here’s the thing i’d do if homeschooling was my situation: i’d look for a college graduate (or simply a person) that is super passionate and has the same mentality about education as you.

            sometimes you get a unemployed college grad or someone underemployed at starbucks.

            they’d kill (I WOULD) for half of that to get to make a difference, learn and even build a resume.

            maybe i’m oversimplifying things. maybe it’s because i’m not in your situation.

            but reading your blog has got me to think that i want to homeschool/unschool my kids badly when i get them. but that i’d go nutty without help.

            also, i know many young people making minimum wage on crappy jobs to get through their child psychology degrees or whatever.

            if i had a career where leaving would be a huge sacrifice i’m sure i’d be able to form a team.

            i’m not saying it’s easy. it’d take lots of interviews and lots of searching for the right person.

            but it’s doable.

            expensive education doesn’t equal high quality education. not always.

      • Hannah
        Hannah says:

        This is 100% on the money. This is what it all really boils down to. In the end, some people will choose to homeschool and bite the bullet and their kids will reap the benefits. Others will decide that the personal cost is too high and will not homeschool. Their outcomes will be varied.

  4. Darlene
    Darlene says:


    Another corporate mom and I were having this very discussion yesterday. “I want to talk about how it’s so hard to do what’s right all the time.”

    It is SO hard. And it is ALL THE TIME.

    Another really great post, thank you!

  5. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    Well, of course homeschooling should be a valid and often-utilized option. And a parent being “scared” (I heard that one today) shouldn’t keep them or their kids from it. Parents need to get over themselves.

    But I really wanted to agree with you on this one: our music teacher is himself a musician (and youth minister). His love of music means he can’t contain it to the teaching relationship, and that is great for us all to be a part of. Yes, I took lessons, too, for three very productive years. And our riding instructor is a competitor herself, but more importantly she loves the horses above everything else. It is marvelous to learn from someone who really has those animals’ best interest at heart. By comparison, most of the other instructors we have had aren’t as good. In my family it is reflected in what we really DO: music and riding. Maybe if an art teacher had been as excellent of an artist…

  6. redrock
    redrock says:

    The discussion is raging on because it is not clearcut but a situational decision. Job hopping is good in some professions and for some people, but not for others. Job hopping leads to more wealth in some cases but not all. Homeschooling is good and feasible for some kids but not all. The world is not black and white how ever much you would like it to be so.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      But for Penelope, she has already decided homeschooling is the best thing for her family at this time, but people can’t get over that to continue a discussion of how it might be done. Their disagreement prevents them from engaging in relevant dialogue.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        well, if you say it like this then everybody who is not homeschooling should get out and not offer any personal stories. Which is what most people here do in the comments. And discussing which topics are important to kids is relevant. In homeschooling and in school.

        • Zellie
          Zellie says:

          It’s more like if I decided to give birth at home and people say how great their births were in hospital and it’s necessary that I have mine there, or how it was lucky that their awful scary births were in hospital and a home birth would be much more dangerous. And more, that it is selfish to birth at home and not keeping the child’s best interest a priority.

          Once I’ve decided I don’t agree with these, I can’t entertain discussion on whether it’s right or wrong any more than those who disagree with me. So we wonder what useful discussion can be had now?

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            that people are discussing an issue does not mean that you cannot make a decision for yourself. Just because you make a decision which is right for you does not mean everybody else has to shut up; and it does not mean all other decisions are now automatically wrong. This blog started as a discussion about homeschooling. And now one decision has been made and all discussion has to cease?

          • Zellie
            Zellie says:

            Nah, Penelope was referring to the raging discussion on her main blog. That has a much different tone than this one does.

  7. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I think you hit on something a few posts back when you said you expected to discuss educational theories at a gathering of homeschoolers. It seems to me like that is where the really interesting discussion is. The debate about whether to homeschool is boring–the debate about how children learn best, and how to best prepare them for adult life, is fascinating….to me anyway. Reading about the Sudbury Valley school model has really been thought provoking for me.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. You’re right, Jennifer. I love the debate on my homeschooling blog.

      There is something similar going on at my other blog. When a commenter says something like, “You should all shut up and just work 9 to 5 and stop bitching so much!” Then all the commenters jump all over that person for completely misunderstanding what’s going on in the workplace.

      I am thinking, now, that the best blogs are those with a topic that the community has a basic understanding of and passion for learning more about. You need both.

      Revelation for me, today: There is no good blog without a good community. I used to think if a blog is good, the community will come. But now I see that the community here really steers the blog. It’s my job to respond with the right types of posts.


  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Potter – A craftsman who shapes pottery on a potter’s wheel and bakes them it a kiln. But your description of this woman makes her much more than just a potter.

  9. Homeschooled
    Homeschooled says:


    I don’t have kids, but I was wondering if there is room in the debate to talk about school safety.

    As a slightly paranoid person, I can’t help but be unnerved by what seems to be an upward trend in public shooting incidents, especially in school settings. Is school even a safe choice? I’ve heard enough tales over the past ten years and if there is even the slightest chance of danger for my future children – I’d rather not send them.

  10. gwhehrhgreg2
    gwhehrhgreg2 says:

    Poor, poor kids. I don’t see how your husband approved of this — and, by the look of it, he makes no appearance whatsoever in this discussion or others.

    You may have to eventually admit to your kids that you did this because you could not afford the expensive prep school you dreamed of for them when you first became a mother — this is your way of pushing that out and coming up with a “new” and “better” way, which only time will tell what will happen.

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