Ten things all homeschoolers should learn

By now you must realize that I have a huge bias about the purpose of homeschooling: I think we should be raising kids to go out in the world and figure out what they want to do with themselves. It’s a skill that I see so many people missing because they spent their life being told what to be interested in.

Almost all career problems are the result of someone not understanding what is interesting to them or what they are passionate about. And you can say that there’s more to life than your career, but there is not anything you will spend more time on than your career. So you may as well prepare kids to be good at managing their work life.

I want to say, right here, that I believe raising kids to have a career as a full-time parent is worthy and important. I’m not actually sure how to do it. Like, how do you tell a kid to pursue their own interests and when their interest is taking care of a spouse and kids, do you start preparing the kid to be good at picking a spouse? Do you teach them to take care of a baby? I just don’t know.

But I do know what kids need to learn in order to be successful at picking a career.

In fact, I have been publishing information about the uselessness of college for the last ten years, and one of the first people to open my eyes to how widespread this discussion is was Bill Coplin, a professor at Syracuse University. He made me see that questioning the value of college was going to be a mainstream discussion sooner or later.

So, here we are, many years later, and Bill has a great book titled, Ten Things Employers Want You to Learn in College. This book matters to homeschoolers because it’s stuff your kids can learn now. There’s no reason they need to wait for college to learn this stuff. And the list isn’t just stuff that makes people good employees, but also good spouses and good parents and good friends. Because all these parts of life are about relationships and being our best selves.

Okay, so here is an abridged version of Bill’s list. But this is a list that I find really helpful when I think about what is important, day to day, in my own homeschool house:

1. Taking responsibility. Be self-motivated to manage your time and your money.

2. Developing physical skills: Stay well, look good, and write legibly.

3. Communicating verbally: One on one, to a group, use visual displays.

4. Communicating in writing: Edit yourself. Proofread.

5. Building good relationships: Work in teams and teach others.

6. Influencing people: Sell successfully, politick wisely.

7. Gathering information: Search the Web, conduct interviews, keep and use records.

8. Using quantitative tools: Use graphs and spreadsheets.

9. Asking and answering the right questions: detect nonsense, pay attention to details.

10. Solving problems: Identify problems, develop solutions, launch solutions.

In case you don’t know, I have an editor for this blog. He used to edit my other blog while I had silent disdain for his ignorant, underachiever choice to homeschool his kids. Then, kind of overnight, I decided to homeschool and he became my homeschool mentor. Actually, his wife became my mentor, since, of course my editor works at a desk all day while she homeschools. And, just to be clear, he does not work on editing my blog all day. He has a very serious day job which he allows me to interrupt with emergencies like I can’t remember the link he sent to me that I said was too depressing to publish. (He found it. Here it is).

Okay. So, anyway, he says that this is not a good post unless I talk about an item on the list that my family is having trouble with. And because I am not a nice person, or because I am an insightful person (such a fine line) I decide to instead figure out what his family is worst at.

It’s number six. Selling and politicking. Because they don’t care. They do their own thing and they have strong values and if people don’t get it, who cares. That’s what his wife would say, I think. Although I don’t ever talk to her. I just talk about her. It’s sort of a separation of church and state thing in my blog/editor lifestyle.

But then I realize that I, also, am most weak at number six. And then I realize that all homeschoolers are most weak at number six. Because number six is about caring what other people think and adjusting because of it, and homeschooling is not caring what other people think so that you can do what you think is right.

So, I guess I will be working on number six. And so will you.

And I should probably start by deleting all the stuff about my editor’s wife, because definitely she has allowed me to interrupt their dinner with utter blog stupidity many times. And it would be good politicking to say something good right now. But all I can think of is that I like being around people who are bad at number six.

16 replies
  1. Rachel D.
    Rachel D. says:

    not nice + insightful = funny

    Comedians are like that.

    You probably don’t even realize you have a sense of humor, or is it irony… either way, you make me laugh

  2. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    This is such a helpful list! These kinds of outcomes are so much more useful to base our homeschooling goals around than subject-based learning. For us, anyway.

    My kids struggle with the first six, so we find ourselves naturally spending more time on the other things. I was feeling a bit lost about how to tackle ‘everything else’, so this has given me something to focus on. Thank you.

    Off-topic: Why do you have a blog editor, and what does he do? Interesting.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I started out writing for print, where you always have an editor. So I got used to having one, and I see how the best way to learn how to write better is to have someone constantly telling you how to make things better.

      When I began writing on my blog it was natural for me to have an editor. I am always surprised more people don’t have editors because if you are going to spend time writing, you may as well do it in a way that makes you better and better as fast as you can.

      I also need someone to tell me if I am being boring or whiny. I’m terrified of being boring and I think of my editor as a safety net. So, when you ask what the editor does, the answer is he tells me to throw out about 20% of everything I write.


  3. Discovering Montessori
    Discovering Montessori says:

    I would disagree with you on number 6. Your goal of this blog may not be to sell the idea of homeschooling, but you do a very good job of doing this. Your editor definitely plays a role in this so this means he does too. Since the wife does all of the homeschooling I am sure she greatly influences his role of editor on this blog, and all the things he says you should add or take away from the post. I will admit I read your blog because you are so opinionated. If you continue to work on number six then I will continue to learn more from you. Thank you for sharing.

  4. P Flooers
    P Flooers says:

    My first thought about this piece arrived when I glimpsed the picture. I noticed your dear boy’s hair, unkempt and wrangly. And I thought to myself, Penelope’s dear boy’s head always looks like that, unkempt and wonderfully wrangly, and I love it! So, number 2, look good? Eh, highly subjective goal… :o)

  5. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    It’s funny that you mention his hair. I think about my sons’ haircuts a lot.

    My older boy’s hair is always neat — well I try — because he doesn’t care. So I tell him all the time how important it is to care.

    My younger son is positively obsessed with what he looks like — he changes clothes two or three times a day — so I think, he doesn’t need me to tell him to worry about his hair. He’ll do it naturally.


    • karelys
      karelys says:

      oh I am sure the hair is on purpose! it’s just looks styled that way. Perfectly messy. He looks like he popped out of a manga novel!

      ps. The popped collar gives it away. He really cares :)

  6. Lisa P
    Lisa P says:

    It sounds to me like your blog editor’s family is good at #6 if you went from hating homeschool, while you knew them, to liking it and then wanting them to mentor you. They probably influenced your decision, even if it was subtle.

  7. Gregory
    Gregory says:

    Unless you are an INTJ, ENTJ, or an ENTP you shouldn’t politick. That’s how you do it wisely.

    The other day I read piece about about how to play in someone else’s band. It’s some of the best general career advice I’ve read–again, assuming you are not INTJ/ENTJ/ENTP.


    Basically, two rules.
    1) Be great at what you do
    2) In all things, be easy to deal with

    With the underlying principle that your number one job, above all else, is to make your boss sound good, look good, and feel good.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I just love that post, Gregory. Thanks for the link. Also, I love rules, so it really resonates with me how you explain that the only people who should do selling or politicking are ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP. It sheds light on so much for me.


  8. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    If a kid wants to focus on getting a good catch and being a good future spouse, and possibly parent, I would say that is a very noble ideal, as long as it is (god help us) not automatically centered on home economics–which are skills that are paid minimum wage to do (if one wanted to really study tailoring, or the culinary arts, that’s entirely different). Finding a good catch is about attracting, then being a good catch, and then being a good parent. There are many skills in this domain that are indispensable and transferable to nearly any career. If you can encourage someone, and make them feel at home, then you have the world in your hands (you can sell).

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      oh my goodness! so true!

      I chose a job in sales because I hated sales and didn’t know how to do it. Also, I felt that if I could conquer sales then I could do pretty much anything.

      Came to find out it’s pretty much about making people feel great. It’s kind of like poker though, part of it is the cards you get (if the price is way out of range it won’t work) but part of it is skill. And I learned that what is in your hands, what you can do to close the sale, is very transferable to every area of life!

  9. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    This list is posted on my fridge.

    It’s my psychological Kryptonite against the naysayers who imply my kids will not be ready for The Real World and College because we do not replicate school-at-home.

  10. Jared
    Jared says:

    This is a great list to contrast with John Gatto’s “14 Themes of the Elite Private School Curriculum” when trying to evaluate which skills are deemed important to teach children to succeed in our society. Both similarities and differences are enlightening. Neither list is seriously included into the public school or college curriculums in my opinion.

    1. A theory of human nature (as embodied in history, philosophy, theology, literature and law).

    2. Skill in the active literacies (writing, public speaking).

    3. Insight into the major institutional forms (courts, corporations, military, education).

    4. Repeated exercises in the forms of good manners and politeness; based on the truth that politeness and civility are the foundation of all future relationships, all future alliances, and access to places that you might want to go.

    5. Independent work.

    6. Energetic physical sports are not a luxury, or a way to “blow off steam,” but they are absolutely the only way to confer grace on the human presence, and that that grace translates into power and money later on. Also, sports teach you practice in handling pain, and in dealing with emergencies.

    7. A complete theory of access to any place and any person.

    8. Responsibility as an utterly essential part of the curriculum; always to grab responsibility when it is offered and always to deliver more than is asked for.

    9. Arrival at a personal code of standards (in production, behavior and morality).

    10. To have a familiarity with, and to be at ease with, the fine arts. (cultural capital)

    11. The power of accurate observation and recording. For example, sharpen the perception by being able to draw accurately.

    12. The ability to deal with challenges of all sorts.

    13. A habit of caution in reasoning to conclusions.

    14. The constant development and testing of prior judgements: you make judgements, you discriminate value, and then you follow up and “keep an eye” on your predictions to see how far skewed, or how consistent, your predictions were.

    “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
    ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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