Homeschooling shouldn’t be a private endeavor

I am in Las Vegas giving a speech. And, of course, I brought my son. I think, when I was deciding to bring him, that I remembered hearing that Vegas was becoming kid friendly. Apparently, though, that was a decade ago. And it didn’t go well, probably because people don’t spend a lot of money gambling when they come to Vegas with kids.

Hotels are tearing down whole arenas devoted to kids. And the one kid place we could find, Circus Circus, looked more like a ghost town than an indoor amusement park. I told myself it didn’t matter. He is learning a lot. For example: “Mom, all girls look good in their bathing suit.”

He has come with me to enough speeches that we have sort of a routine. I set him up with my computer and tell him not to go anywhere and then he does something totally unexpected which I then ban for the next time. For example, he took money out of my purse and went down the street to Starbucks and ordered a hot chocolate and didn’t have enough money and let the person behind him in line buy one for him and then he walked back. Before my speech was over.

During this speech, while he was furtively eating forbidden buffet foods and accidentally spilling Sprite all over my laptop keyboard, I was supposedly talking about bridging generational differences in the workplace.

But here’s what happened: I could not shut up about homeschooling. When people started asking me about future trends in the workforce, I jumped all over self-directed learning. I told people that 40% of homeschoolers are urban, educated, and think the idea of school is BS. You can no longer dismiss homeschooling as for only religious fanatics. Now, I told my audience, homeschooling is going to revolutionize the workplace because we’ll have a generation of kids who can teach themselves anything and they will make Generation Y look like slow learners, and if you don’t get your kids out of the system that spoon-feeds them to merely test their ability to memorize, then your kids will not be able to compete with their homeschooled peers.

It’s hard to say all that in a roomful of people who are, presumably, not pulling their kids out of school. After all, if they were pulling their kids out of school there would be other kids in the lobby with my kid, right?

One of the things that tears apart otherwise amicable adults is their parenting philosophy. This is so true of homeschooling. If a parent asks me why I’m doing it, I have no choice but to say it’s because I don’t believe kids need school. Which means, indirectly, that I think the parents are doing the wrong thing. I say this all the time and then watch the fallout, which is either hatred or defensiveness. (It’s such a fine line, isn’t it?)

After my speech, a few parents who homeschool came up to me and said how thrilled they were to hear me laying out for everyone why taking kids out of school clears a path of success for them in the workforce. But these parents would never dream of speaking up themselves in a venue of 200 people. Homeschoolers don’t want to face public wrath, so homeschoolers stay under the radar.

That’s bad for everyone. It means that the world underestimates how prevalent homesschooling is, but the world also has no chance to learn how sane the parents are. Because the sane parents, in this case, are the ones who are hiding.

We will all learn more by piping up when it’s appropriate. Homeschoolers should risk the wrath of people around us in order to make it possible to connect more freely with the parents taking the same leap of faith. Since the people who do best in the workplace are people who build a network by connecting with other people on common ground, parents should model that behavior. Come out as a homeschooler, give others the confidence to do the same, and connect.

16 replies
  1. Sara
    Sara says:

    Good for you, being open and upfront about your homeschooling. I know it’s challenging to talk about in mixed settings, even for me. And I have a pass on most arguments that people want to use, since I just point to the fact that I, and all my siblings, were homeschooled and “we’re all fine adults now”.

  2. priscilla
    priscilla says:

    i love this post, especially the second half which really speaks to a number of issues where sane people fly under the radar to avoid public wrath. for every 1 bold homeschooler, it seems there are 100 hiding. is this a generational thing? it seems to me boomers weren’t this afraid of public wrath. does it have something to do with gen x & gen y raising kids right now, and wanting to float along w/ the status quo?

  3. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    I am so glad that you said all this in a public speaking engagement. Every bit helps. Normally you only hear pro-homeschool arguments speaking at homeschool conferences or at other venues where the audience is a bunch of folks interested in homeschooling. I love it that you said this to a roomful of people who were NOT expecting this. You better believe it made them think, and maybe, just maybe you’ve planted the seeds of doubt in some of them. Preach on!

  4. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    Most of my teaching education in college centered around ways to maintain engagement of all students while teaching to certain learning standards/curriculum (national and district standards). Doing either of these two is easy. Doing both can be sometimes near impossible. Not every kid is going to be interested (or ready) for every pre-established standard.

    In order to overcome this difficulty, I realize now that what we were being taught is how to spoon feed. In order to create the type of lessons that can spoon feed while maintaining total engagement, it takes A LOT of work/thinking/planning/trial-and-error while requiring basically no initiative from the student. This is meant to be a fool-proof method of teaching content.

    Now I see the method in a new light: All of it is no more than learning to make the very best of an incredibly dysfunctional situation in which the only way to make it work is to simply just work extra hard.

    Of course, it is a great skill to have to be able to hold engagement while causing attendants to learn specified content; that is what you do when you do your speaking gig. But now that I’m in the real world of teaching, that amount of work for non-universally suited curriculum, for such a broken system (and for such a lack of compensation) isn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be.

    Even some small changes (like teaching by proficiency rather than grade level–which is stigmatically tied to age–, or having more electives and less requirement) would make my work so much more effective and make me feel like I wasn’t walking a mile to get a foot of progress. If only our Federal Dept of Education would stop tying idiotic strings to money, or would stop these incentives, or that our school districts would stop bowing down to these gods for federal aid.

    The worst part of all, is that despite all the work a teacher must do to teach to certain pre-determined content and teach to a test, inspiring students to pursue their interests in self-directed learning is choked out by the assignments, tests, and homework needed to teach the curriculum.

    • Kristin
      Kristin says:

      This is really sad — and it doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. This is precisely why I am going to start homeschooling in the fall. Thanks for telling us how it is from the point of view of an educator.

  5. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    I felt like doing a cartwheel when I read this {runs off to self-learn how to do a cartwheel…}

    I spend so much time – WASTE so much time – explaining and justifying and rationalizing my decision to homeschool. With the school, other parents, the lady at the post office, anyone who sees my kids during the day… For someone who doesn’t do well with social interaction to begin with, this is a nightmare for me.

    It’s by far the hardest part of homeschooling for me. I don’t understand the level of defensiveness that I get, why my choice to homeschool is seen to be disparaging any of their choices? It’s been hard enough for me to make decisions about what’s right for my kids, I would never dream of trying to decide what was right for anyone else!

    And you’re absolutely right about this ‘coming out’ notion. It really does feel like a courageous act to be open about how we choose to learn. I do it because (a) there’s nothing to hide and (b) I want people to see that homeschoolers are not religious nuts. But I resent how hard it is to do that.

  6. CJ
    CJ says:

    Just yesterday at my sons bday party, I told another mother that we are a homeshool family. She lit up, asked quickfire questions, like how do you plan? What about the laws? She was so eager and full of joy to figure it all out and was visibly relieved that she met someone else that really does this, it was clear she needed someone/anyone as real evidence. She is emailing with me to arrange a playdate for the boys and for she and i to talk more. I never had that before. I felt like a celebrity, where usually I get those saddened, judgmental, your poor kid- stares or eye rolling or deep breaths- the deep breaths are the worst!

  7. K
    K says:

    Homeschooling is mainstream in the southeast where I live now.
    It’s so common that I don’t think I would have any trouble making this decision for me and my kids — if I could figure out how to homeschool while simultaneously working full time outside the home!
    I am exploring homeschooling anyway. Maybe there’s a way to do it for my oldest (4th grade) without quitting my job? If there is, I’ll find it

  8. GE
    GE says:

    I was front and center at your talk in Vegas and would have to say that it was one of the highlights of my week there. I’m 31 years old and in upper management and was attending the conference with our company president. I am one of the youngest in our organization and definitely the youngest in management. As a homeschooled kid for 10 years and now a homeschooling parent of 3, I was overjoyed when you started talking about self-directed learning. I always tell my staff to look for ways to improve and learn. It’s frustrating when there are so many that don’t take the opportunity to do so. My boss was more than happy to tell his peers during the conference that we had younger staff in our company and that we were already mentoring, training, goal-setting, etc. Most importantly, we are seeing success because of it. I always tell people about how much homeschooling made me a life-long learner and how that has helped me succeed in my work. Thanks for being another voice for those of us who were/are homeschooled.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s so fun that you were in the audience and you commented! I feel like my life is so integrated. Maybe we will discover, down the line, that actually fifty percent of the audience were homeschoolers…


  9. Lillian Weston
    Lillian Weston says:

    At the risk of causing a major uproar, I wanted to make a comment regarding the statement: “if you don’t get your kids out of the system that spoon-feeds them to merely test their ability to memorize, then your kids will not be able to compete with their homeschooled peers.” This type of broad statement is equivalent to saying the majority of the homeschooling population are religious zealots and makes the assumption that homeschooled children are actually getting more than public school children. Making these types of statement is simply inappropriate. I was a public school teacher for many years (oh, I know – that is a nasty term). I worked in a middle school where higher level thinking, differentiation and product-based learning was the norm. It was not about the test, it was about learning and taking your content higher, which by-the-way leads to higher test scores, far more than memorization does.

    I have no problem with homeschooling, in fact, I know work with homeschooling parents on enriching their curriculum and I would say that parents focus just as much on memorization as your perception of public school might.

    At the recent Cincinnati homeschooling conference, I had the opportunity to speak to many parents about what they feel are their greatest frustrations and concerns – top of the list? boredom! Their children are bored – I was shocked. Isn’t that one of the big reasons people homeschool? To avoid the memorization (using your term) and boredom of public school? I brought up higher level questioning, going beyond the curriculum they have purchased or piece together, how to make the curriculum part of their daily life. All I observed were amazed looks, they had never thought of that. To me, that is what education is – be it public, private or at home – child-centered, focusing on making all educational concepts their own.

    So, in getting off my soapbox, I am not sure that making such a sweeping analysis of public education is the way to go. If I made a sweeping analysis based on the over 150 homeschooling parents I talked to at the conference (including one who said “I just took the year off, it was easier – I suppose I should start doing something with them soon”) I am not sure my deduced statement about homeschoolers would be accurate (i.e. their children are bored, and they do not understand anything about going beyond exactly what their rote based curriculum states), and I would never presume to state this in public, let alone infront of a large crowd of people. It is biased and simply incorrect as I believe you would defend. Not all homeschoolers are this way. The entire school system is not about memorization, some districts maybe, but I was not part of that – and anyone from my school district including the highest up in administration would be greatly offended to know that people had that opinion about their district.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      There is a lot to address in your comments, maybe someone else will hit on others. The quote you start with though, Penelope is right about it. Just about every great mind in education agrees that this system, our way of doing things is beyond broken, that it was an incorrect system to begin with for books and books full of reasons. That shouldn’t take away from the career of a teacher that tried. Here’s the thing though: the kids from factory schooling are already losing the competition to the homeschooled kids, and to the high iq and adventurous drop outs. Don’t take my word for it, the info is easy to find. Watch John Gatto’s speech on Weapons of Mass Instruction or any number of beyond the Hole in the Wall project, or Ken Robinson videos, website like Pat Ferengas, etc.

      The real issues for just me, one homeschooling mommy, with your perspective are two major, 1. You won’t get far lecturing unschoolers about curriculums. As Steiner, and later Einstein so famously both said, play is the work of children. Thinking in terms of curriculum is like a pilot telling all people you need a GPS and a yoke to drive your shopping cart. Simply won’t compute and actually doesn’t need to 2. boredom is a flippen amazing gift. Children should get bored a lot. And i mean every single day of their lives. This is when they get the chance to get lost in their inestimably massive imaginations. If these parents told you their kids are bored with curriculum, well that is because they are just imitating the public school model in their house. And then the natural response is why bother? I leave my kids to get bored regularly and they are exploring the Safari plains, or turning my landing into an ocean full of Whale sharks, or having intergalactic tea parties…

      As humans we are programmed to learn and seek. We aren’t programmed to be idle, talked at for hours on end about things that don’t interest us. In one of robinsons talks, I think it is 2010 tedtalks? He tells a fire fighters story- take a look. Peace, CJ

  10. Renae
    Renae says:

    Your son left for SBUX, ordered, figured out how to pay and came back, which is awesome. I also have super independent kids, and being specific up-front works. I say: see this wall? See this row of chairs? and define the radius they can be in, trying to make it big enough for a little independence. Then I have them walk the radius. Then I tell them that’s where they stay. Then I tell them who to talk to and how to get to that person if they need to use the bathroom. Then I define emergency. Then I ask them, if you’re hungry, what do you do? If you need to the bathroom, what do you do? Can you go into another room (the answer from them is usually yes, so I redirect them to the area I’ve carved out.)
    It looks horrible in print, but it’s a quick conversation that has saved my life in airports, malls, conferences… you get the idea. And of course, they’re safe, not staying there too long and have some entertainment.

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