Homeschool will go mainstream

The New York Times mentioned this blog yesterday and said: “Proof that homeschooling often works.” (Hooray!)

I am convinced that homeschooling is about to go mainstream. The biggest evidence to me is that I’m doing it, and the New York Times is noticing. Because I don’t want to do it. I want my kids in school so I can work all day, in peace, and make a lot of money so I can buy the stuff I want and then be a great mom after school. I was geared up for that and then looked at all the evidence and thought it was completely dishonest to ignore all the evidence and put my kid in school.

Also, mainstream media is starting to paint the picture of a school system so broken that it will not be fixed in our lifetime. But in addition to that, mainstream media is starting to ask the question when else, besides in school, can we learn?

And finally, I have argued in other posts that Generation X is the iconoclast generation, and we do not have trouble bucking the educational system and pulling their kids out of school. And, just like in the workplace, what Gen X sets in place, Gen Y puts in motion. Gen X are the risk takers and the ground-layers, and Gen Y are the ones who have the demographic force to instigate massive change.

So, as the homeschool movement goes mainstream, it will change in at least a few ways:

1. Catfights will be over.
Less than a week after I discovered Sandra Dodd, and heard that she’s a leader in the unschooling movment, she commented on this blog in a way that I would expect at a school playground. Sandra has been unschooling for more than a decade, and writing about it for a big audience. So I can’t believe she still feels like she has to defend her actions to naysayers. She should have bigger fish to fry. People who are leaders do not stoop down to the level of defensive in-fighting. It’s totally uninspiring. The future of homeschooling (or unschooling, or whatever we are going to call it) will be created by people who inspire like it’s their job, and put defensiveness aside, because it doesn’t serve anyone.

2. Information will be professionally presented.
The difference between professional and unprofessional is respect for time. The work world measures things by time and productivity in a way that the childcare world does not. When you take care of kids, it’s difficult, illogical and unpredictable, so there is often little point in thinking about getting to the next thing. Often, you just want the current thing to take as long as possible. Also, when people who take care of kids get together, they are excited to see other adults. They want that moment to last because they don’t have adult connections during the time they are alone with kids.

A great example of this is the podcast people have recommended to me. So I listened. Sort of. I listened to ten minutes and there still was not the podcast. There was BS introduction, administrative, boringness that I didn’t need to hear. And I shut the podcast before the promised interview even started.

The idea of productivity will change when homeschooling goes mainstream. There will be more respect for time, because a wider range of people will be reading and listening to homeschool material—not just people who are with kids all day long.

3. Mailing lists will have big value.
I joined a few mailing lists of moms (it’s always moms, at least right now) who are homeschooling. I am shocked that even though the list is private, people post ads for non-members. Like, “Free Math Resources!” that link to some math supply startup trying to sell stuff.

Obviously, homeschool lists don’t understand their value: They are a purchasing powerhouse.

A list of people who homeschool is a list of people who buy tons of stuff for their house and their kids. You can tell these lists are very valuable because mommy bloggers have so much clout among advertisers. So those homeschool mailing lists are going to become much more useful to members, and the members will start understanding their value in the marketplace.

And really, each of these three items is about homeschoolers moving away from the fringe and toward seeing themselves as valuable influencers of mainstream society.

40 replies
  1. redrock
    redrock says:

    My impression was more that Sandra Dodd is communicating rather than justifying herself. However, calling out another commenter unprofessional might also be grouped under “unprofessional” by some. And maybe a mailing list is by some used to communicate rather then find a way to shop… but that one is personal preference. I personally would be really annoyed if my professional mailing lists become swamped by advertising, thus making it hard to find the information and communication for which I actually subscribe to a mailing list. You might therefore actually loose people when a mailing list becomes a shopping adventure. Maybe other avenues are better suited to cater to the homeschooling shopper.

    • Brigid
      Brigid says:

      Agreed, redrock. Having worked for 15 years in ad agencies (now 11 years removed from that heinous environment), it sounds like Penelope still has the mindset of a marketer. Just changed the venue to homeschool families, who were trying to escape all the marketing go on at schools in the first place! Leave ne alone!

  2. Laura Parrish
    Laura Parrish says:

    The thing about Sandra Dodd is she’s not self-serving.

    It’s important to have someone willing to speak up about what unschooling is and what it isn’t, especially as it “goes mainstream” where many distortions and inaccuracies are likely to occur. I’m so grateful for her message and glad she’ll be around to continue to write about unschooling and unschoolers.

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    I clicked the link and read the comment by Sandra. It didn’t strike me as “catfight” like at all. Several previous commenters had dissed her in personal ways and she spoke up and said that they didn’t know her or her family and that fact should be considered by you and your readers.

    I’ve been reading Sandra’s writings for many years and her words have changed me and my entire family’s lives very much for the better. I’ve met her and her entire family on multiple occasions and they are exactly how she represents them in writing. She enjoys being with her family and they enjoy being with her.

    You’re just a couple months into homeschooling and already you’ve announced to the world that you don’t want to even spend time homeschooling your kids every day — you’d rather be a good after-school-mom.

    Tell me again, who is being of service to homeschoolers?

    • Lisa Velmer Nielsen
      Lisa Velmer Nielsen says:

      You state in your post that your blog appeared in the New York Times and at the same time say Sandra should have bigger fish to fry. I’d say she picked a nice-sized fish. I agree with Chris that her comment didn’t seem “catfight” like. It was a reasonable and factual response to a false accusation.

      Regarding the podcast, as a listener to that particular series ( I can say that the audience enjoys listening to the host. She has a large following of home educating parents and her listeners are interested both in who she interviews as well as more insight to her thoughts. Similar to if you had a podcast. I believe the audience would want to gain more insights into your life from your mouth as much as they’d want to hear about your guests.

      As far as home learning going mainstream, I hope you’re right. There will also need to be options for children who don’t have parents that can go this route that are more favorable than traditional public school.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        I can understand what Penelope was saying regarding the podcast. Why would anyone want to listen to audio (or watch video for that matter) when they’re only interested in a certain segment? Why not make it possible to skip ahead to a certain segment or make the information available as a transcript? The media shouldn’t dictate the message. It should be the other way around so as to be the most time efficient and productive and thus professional.

      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        I felt more like Penelope when I listened to a couple. The intro stuff was not interesting and the interview had quite a lot of the host talking when I expected to hear more of the guest.

        Her comment on professionalism crystallized what I was thinking as I listened. I guess it’s different audiences.

        You’re right, I would listen to more of Penelope.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I don’t think homeschooling will go mainstream anytime soon. It’s not because I think homeschooling is untenable. The committed, responsible homeschooling parent(s) will make it possible for their child to learn with flying colors. This is the thing – homeschooling is hard work and most parents will take the path of least resistance. They will send their kids off to school. It’s the accepted and easy thing to do. The people who are doing education reform will point to their accomplishments. Parents who send their kids to school will echo these accomplishments and feel good about themselves. Homeschooling will continue to grow at a rapid rate but I don’t agree with aligning it with the term mainstream – at least at this point.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      this has been said repeatedly and is really a point I do not understand (and it will also not help to improve homeschooling reputation or spreading the benefits of homeschooling): the assumption that parents who send their kids of school simply do so because they want to take the easy way out. Which says that parents who do not homeschool do so because they feel their kids are not worth the effort for whatever reason. ANd I think this assumption is simply wrong. Parents can decide consciously in the favour of school because they think that it is the BEST solution for their child. And because they want the best for their child. Not because they want a nice day, or are obsessed with their careers. But I realize the premise of this blog is that homeschooling is always the best and only solution and nothing else comes even close. This is a view that is in my opinion not correct. Schooling is a highly individual choice, and is not solely about socializing, but can also be about academics. One has to accept that children who went to public school do not automatically become blabbering idiots who only wait for their clues from teachers.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Redrock. I think it would help the discussion a lot if you could point to some research that helped you decide that school is best for kids.

        After doing my own research, I found wide consensus that schools are a mess right now. And wide consensus that the best way to teach kids were ways that require extremely small teacher-student ratios that few parents in the world can afford outside of homeschooling.

        Because I published the research I did to make my own decision to homeschool, this blog is heavy on research that points to homeschooling. Mostly because I didn’t find anything else. And believe me, I would have liked to, because I had kids in public school while I was researching.

        So, this is all to say: Can you tell us your research process for deciding that school is best for your kids? I’d be happy to read it.


        • Jim Capatelli
          Jim Capatelli says:

          Actually, Penelope, can you show us YOUR sources that claim “wide consensus that schools are a mess right now.” What sources? In what way, specifically, are our public—and, presumably, private and parochial—schools, “a mess”?

          Is it due to the “teaching to the test”—which is the outcome of the “Educational Reform” movement of people like Michelle Rhee, and billionaire funders?

          Is it the very large class sizes due to the constant attacks on our schools by those politicians and their allies who just hate the idea of a community working together to educate our children, instead of doing so in isolation?

          Is it the shrinking funding, the elimination of rich content for fear of political backlash—which happened, for instance, when states tried to develop history standards in the early nineties?

          So, what is it, exactly, that makes them “a mess”? And, are you able to consider the possibility, for even a minute, that children can still get a good education in our public schools?

          My 7 year old goes to a wonderful public school located just blocks from our home. He loves it. And we love the other kids we’ve met in his classes. We’ve bonded with many other families, made new friends, and greatly admire the principal, the faculty and the staff at this fine public school.

          He couldn’t possibly be in a better place. And I will defend this school—and all of our nation’s public schools—to the death, if that’s what it takes, to keep them from being destroyed or gradually “privatized” by essentially the same interests that devastated our entire economy in 2008.

          Schools aren’t factories. And they aren’t “Job Training Shops”. And they aren’t about “Return On Investment”. Those are BUSINESS terms—NOT educational ones!

          Are you able to understand the difference? Is your own level of education adequate enough to make those fine distinctions?

          • socatel
            socatel says:

            Mr. Capatelli,

            Whatever credibility you might have had with any readers, you’ve lost through the tirade you displayed in your reply to Ms. Trunk. That was a juvenile display of emotion.

  5. redrock
    redrock says:

    I am not saying one is better than the other, I am saying it is an individual choice. It depends on the quality of the public or private school in the area (note that many parents actually move to a better school district), the kid, the other family circumstances, the education level of the parents. Nowadays the homeschooling population is skewed in comparison to public school population, homeschooling parents are on average more educated, parents who can barely read functionally are usually not a good choice for homeschooling parents, and rarely homeschool. I am not suggesting what any parent should choose, but that there is a choice, and that it is good that there is a choice.

    and do me the favor to not use information such as my name in answering if it is not offered as freely available information.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      These two statements – “I am not saying one is better than the other, I am saying it is an individual choice.” and ” … the assumption that parents who send their kids of school simply do so because they want to take the easy way out.”
      The first one I agree with. The second one I would say “the easy way out” is not the only factor in sending a child to school but rather a major contributor. As you say, there’s much to consider and the final decision rests with the parent … and at least to some degree the child because their input is important.

  6. Amy Lynn Andrews
    Amy Lynn Andrews says:

    Not sure whether or not I’ve mentioned this site before in any of my comments, but have you seen Joyfully Rejoicing? It is definitely one of the most helpful (perhaps the most helpful) resource I’ve found on unschooling to date. She addresses so many common unschooling questions/issues in her sidebar.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the link, Amy. I liked Joyfully Rejoicing from the first click, when I read this:

      “Don’t drop all your parenting rules at once. Just say ‘Yes!’ more.”


  7. christy
    christy says:

    The thing I find most interesting about both this post and the responses to is that your world view/experience appears to radically differ from that of those who are disagreeing with you (some of them vociferously).

    Penelope, you’ve lived/worked/fought/cried in the commercial world. The “corporate world.” The world in which time = money and success is often measured in minutes (or less).

    Were the comments you referenced petulant? Yes, absolutely they were … if you look at them from the commercial world standpoint.

    Is a podcast with an overly-long introduction unprofessional? Again, yes, if you come from the commercial side of the world.

    And, like it or not folks, mailing lists have not (for years and years) existed for the sake of communication. They are commercial tools. Yes, the best lists are built on valuable information delivery/sharing. But in the end, they are commercialized in order to either support the existence of the list monetarily, or else to extend its reach (via software upgrades, advertising, etc.).

    I don’t necessarily like it either, but Penelope can write for her two blogs most days of the week because she’s supported by advertising that pays her bills. The advertisers come because of her lists. Whether or not names/addresses are shared, the list is the thing, as it were.

    I do hope you are right in calling this trend. My little one is still too little for this to be an imminent issue, but I know it’s coming. Learning for life and learning as life is what I want for her, and I’m pretty sure she won’t get the full package in a typical school.

  8. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    When I see the title “homeschool will go mainstream”, I cringe. And it’s not because I don’t see the value of homeschooling, because I do and I think its great. But I also don’t see it as a scalable solution to a very big problem. I’m with everyone else in that I want the best education for my kids, but I’m not interested in my kids becoming adults in a world where good education continues to be reserved for lucky kids.

  9. LJM
    LJM says:

    Penelope, you’re too smart to not see how hypocritical you’re being.

    In a recent post, you’ve called people “arrogant” simply for recognizing the objective fact that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. You’ve accused those same people of being liars.

    You titled a more recent post “Your School Sucks,” despite, again, the objective fact than not all schools suck.

    And now you accuse a woman who has directly helped countless parents, who has many times your experience in this field, and, unlike you, with no history of hyperbole and personal attacks, of commenting like she was on a “playground.” And nobody agrees with you about that.

    Penelope, sometimes you seem very self-aware. And other times you seem the exact opposite. You need to work harder at stepping back and examining the way you communicate and whether or not you’re being constructive.

    • Lori
      Lori says:

      sandra dodd has a rich history of attacking people, and *i* agree with penelope, so you’re wrong when you say nobody agrees with her.

      • LJM
        LJM says:

        I stand corrected. Of course, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing in the linked comment that could reasonably be described as “playground” type discourse, which would explain your minority status in regards to your opinion of it.

        And, needless to say, that the accusation comes from someone who has recently called people with differing opinions, “liars,” and recently titled a post, “Your School Sucks,” reinforces the fact that one should be sure that one isn’t guilty of a specific type of negative behavior before accusing others of engaging in it.

        If you have examples of Ms. Dodd “attacking” people, I’d be very interested in seeing them. Of course, if you consider the linked comment in this post to be an “attack,” then we’ll have to come to an agreement on what that word means.

        For instance, disagreeing with someone does not equal “attacking” that person. It’s reasonable to say that listing reasons why you disagree with someone’s point of view is to “attack” their arguments, but that’s what happens in all debates, friendly and otherwise.

        I’m sure we agree that people who argue that homeschooled kids aren’t prepared for adult life need to have their arguments attacked, as all objectively untrue assertions should be attacked.

        • Lori
          Lori says:

          i debated with myself about how far to wade into this, but i’m going to let it go. anyone who wants to google “sandra dodd” and “bullying” or “attack” or similar can get the flavor of what she’s like in a “discussion”.

          even better, join an unschooling yahoo group and hang around and watch the discussion for a week or two.

          • LJM
            LJM says:

            Generally speaking, when you make an assertion, or in this case, an accusation about someone, it’s only fair to be able to provide some evidence to support it.

            Even if this wasn’t about accusing another human being of negative behavior, it’s a good idea to have evidence to support any assertion you make.

            Be that as it may, I did google and found no examples of Ms. Dodd bullying anyone. Again, just as it isn’t an “attack” to disagree with someone, neither is it “bullying.” Certainly someone can feel bullied or attacked, but that does not make it so.

            Now, since you’ve already described the perfectly reasonable and level headed comments by Ms. Dodd as the kind you’d find at a “playground” (while inconsistently ignoring Ms. Trunk calling people “liars” and telling strangers that their school “sucks”), and since I’ve been unable to find any examples of Ms. Dodd “bullying” or “attacking” anyone, it’s not unreasonable for me to ask for evidence supporting your accusation before accepting it as the truth.

            If you are unable to provide these examples, why would you make the accusation? Certainly, if someone accused you of negative behavior, your first response would reasonably be to request evidence and/or examples of this behavior. In a civil society, it’s important to treat others they way we’d like to be treated (this rule, of course, excludes masochists).

          • Lori
            Lori says:

            try to follow what i am saying. there is a rich history. you can get the flavor of it on the google. and that’s as far as i’m going to go. no screen grabs, no quotes – that just opens up a whole can of back-and-forth arguing, which accomplishes nothing – why bother? many, many, many people have experienced this; it’s well known.

            try reading the comments for this post:


          • LJM
            LJM says:

            Lori, I think I’m following what you’re saying perfectly well.

            You’re saying “there is a rich history” of Sandra Dodd “bullying” and “attacking” people on the internet. You refused to provide examples and so I used google to look for examples of such behavior by Ms. Dodd. I couldn’t find any. Now, you’ve provided a comments section to support your accusation that it’s “well known” that Sandra has bullied “many people.”

            But while there’s another commenter accusing Ms. Dodd of bullying, the author of the article says she’s not, and there’s Ms. Dodd herself, responding in a direct, yet polite fashion.

            So, here we are. You accuse someone of negative behavior without providing any evidence, outside of a person making similar, baseless claims, to support your accusation. In my opinion, this isn’t nice.

            Of course, you may feel that for someone to look at another person and say, “I completely disagree with that,” is to “bully” or “attack” that person. In which case, I can only say with as little irony as possible, I completely disagree with that.

    • Rick
      Rick says:

      I certainly agree with her, as do many others outside the cult, and yeah it’s a cult.

      I was unschooled myself, my kids are all unschooled. The word existed before the cult came along, and the practice existed before the word came along. The cult doesn’t own words, and I find the business of professional unschooling advocacy with overpriced conferences to have little to do with learning. It’s about conforming to the cult, and punishing those who question its doctrines.

      • Kayla
        Kayla says:

        I absolutely agree. I find her list to be among the most narrow minded, chastising, unkind and unsupportive of any I have ever read. It’s unbelievable.

  10. Jon
    Jon says:

    It is almost always moms, but I know a few families where it’s the dad doing the home schooling. Even with mom as the primary homeschooler, a lot of families like ours will still have dad handle a subject or some events.

    We, especially my wife, no longer talk about homeschooling with most people, even other home schoolers. We’re just sick of defending homeschooling as a whole and even more tired of defending our own choices or enduring people that want us to validate their own choices. Homeschooling is a big umbrella with a lot of choices. Find what works for you and your kids.

  11. home care
    home care says:

    Wether it is mom or dad doing the home schooling, I think it is the way to go. Current schooling system is in shambles and to keep kids on track would be at home by parents. Also Amy, Thanks for sharing Joyfully Rejoicing link.

  12. AW
    AW says:

    This won’t happen until generating income from home goes mainstream. It’s happening more and more, but it will take a while.

  13. says:

    Wow, Penelope,
    You both attack and completely mis-characterize the tone of Sandra Dodd’s comment, and accuse her of being defensive.

    I didn’t find her comment to be defensive at all. Yours certainly is, though!

    Why are YOU trying to create a “catfight” out of nothing???

  14. Travis
    Travis says:

    Love the article!!!!

    My wife and I unschool our three kids – and the last three years have been while I was living on a school campus and working for the school as a mentor. Most people thought we were a little crazy.

    I have been in the midwest and have not seen evidence that homeschool will go mainstream – but I don’t see us turning back. I know everyone can’t do it – but we can…so we are sticking with it.

    Yes – I would love to have 6 free hours every day to work in peace and quiet, but that is not the case. Yet, I don’t want to sacrifice the growth of my kids potential for my own peace and quiet.

    I recently left my job with the school – and my wife and I are getting ready to take our kids on a road trip across the country. Here is my blog about my we are doing it:

    Thanks again for the article!


  15. Falls Church
    Falls Church says:

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful article. Is there a “one-stop-shop” from where I can get information or how to plan package. I have a son and planning on to home-school but don’t know where to start from.

    I would really appreciate your help for the guide, on how to plan, from where to get the material, and how did you started? What were the challenges? How did you deal with those? What are the Do’s and Dont’s?

    Greatly Appreciate it.


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