This is a picture of me and the boys at the music workshop we went to in Boston. You will notice that there are no instruments, and no teachers. This is because after two hours we left the camp and just did a trip to Boston.

In the past, this would have been a hard decision for me. We had been planning to do the workshop all summer. It was a week-long program that we flew half-way across the country for, and we were already in a hotel for a week whether we wanted to be or not. On top of that, it’s scary to quit stuff that everyone else is saying is great.

Now that I’ve gone through the process of taking my kids out of school, quitting other stuff is much easier. But even though I’ve built a career on bucking trends, going against social norms is never easy, no matter how many times you do it. Here are three ways I build confidence to buck trends.

1. Tell yourself you’ve already bucked this trend.
The truth is, the workshop was terrible. But it was terrible in ways that kids who go to school would be used to. For example, my older son’s group had a teacher student ratio of 1:30. Which might be fine if the kids all knew what they were doing. But the teacher was attempting to teach kids with a wide range of ability a new song, by ear.

My younger son was in a group with four other kids who didn’t want to be there. Believe it or not, my son has never been in a group of kids where they were being forced to do something they didn’t want. He was shocked that the kids would be doing something they didn’t want to. “They should just go home!” he said. He was also shocked that they did pranks on the teacher (setting an egg-timer to go off in the middle of class) and that they flat-out refused to play some songs.

2. Tell yourself you don’t have a choice.
A big reason for the generally poor behavior is that parents dropped their kids off. In most of the music programs we go to for young kids, the parents are there. Which is a subtle way of saying to the kids: “this class is worth your time because it’s worth my time.” In most of the music classes we go to, the kids and I learn together, because I’m learning how to help them practice. They know this, and they feel how important it is.

It was good for us to see how kids who go to school are used to learning new material. It was good fortification for how we are not choosing that path.

We spent a lot of time bike riding in Boston.

3. Accept that it’s too hard to buck trends all the time.
We biked through Boston University, where I went to graduate school for English and dropped out early when I realized there are no jobs for humanities professors. And we biked through Cambridge, where I spent most of my time as an undergraduate escaping to bookstores where I could read what I wanted instead of what my professors assigned.

But in Cambridge, I wavered. In Harvard Square, I got excited about the idea of my kids being traditional high performers. So I said, “This is a school you come to if you do something really special by showing intense commitment and talent  for something you love to do.”

I chose my words carefully because I know I am not yet brave enough to give up the idea of getting my kids into to a “good college”.

My sons looked at me. They could tell I was making a point. Then my older son said: “Let’s just go back to the hotel room and have a pillow fight.”


13 replies
  1. K
    K says:

    I was listening to a couple of homeschool moms talking 2 weeks ago at church.
    One said to the other: “So-and-so is leading that group because her kids were all homeschooled and they all went to college, so you know she did it right.”

    and I thought. hmmm. Does that mean she did it right? Homeschoolers still see college as the end goal, if for no other reason than to prove something to the public school kids.

  2. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    I love that the first photo makes it look like you made your kids wear bike helmets at the playground :)

    It’s ridiculously hard to act outside of norms. I get confidence by telling myself that I wouldn’t be any happier following the trend.

    It would be so much easier if you could be left alone to be non-conformist in peace, but everyone is constantly on your case when you don’t follow the line.

    Also, pillow fights rock.

  3. Lynn Lawrence
    Lynn Lawrence says:

    for me, the key is to always be prepared with options if something doesn’t work out. The world is not perfect, so sometimes it’s ok to experience that, within certain parameters. However, especially when the adults I’ve allowed in charge of my child are making mistakes with my child, that’s when I pull the plug and pull out an option.

    In this way, we are also teaching our kids about their own soverignity, and the soverignity of the family vs. an institution. At the very heart of of some of our nation’s biggest problems are so many of the logical outcomes resulting from never bucking the institution. “I’m just a cog in a wheel’, “It’s not MY problem” ” I’m not responsible”.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is so true! It’s such an important lesson to tell kids that if adults are doing something sub-par, the kids don’t need to partake.

      So, hooray that it never once occurred to my kids that we would stay in a program that is stupid.


  4. P Flooers
    P Flooers says:

    I never miss an opportunity to stress to my children they should not tolerate poor teaching. Hard teaching, yes. Poor teaching, never.

    Your son’s shock at the behavior of the other students is familiar as well. My kids have often been aghast at the behavior of their schooled peers who are, in their words, “so bratty, gosh!”

  5. cris
    cris says:

    You hit the homeschooler perspective on the head here, Penelope. This is why it is so important to have access to a forum of fellow homeschoolers who can give you their experiences with any program/class you are interested in before you shell out the money or waste your time with it. Too many programs are too similar to the traditional school model and slap on a “homeschool friendly” label simply because it’s offered during school hours or because they will accept payment with charter school funds. The further you get away from the school model, the less you’ll be able to stomach such programs. This is attested by the fact that the homeschoolers who are the most school-y are the ones who are most likely to rave about them.
    As for bucking trends: yes, this is one of the biggest dilemmas of hsing. How far are you willing to step away from convention, even as it seems more and more ridiculous the farther away you get and the more evidence you personally witness with your own kids to support an alternative? How much do you trust that your choices will still allow your kid to find happiness in a world that points to the very system you reject as the best, most efficient way to success? Most people cannot homeschool because it requires a constant consideration of this very question.

  6. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I love the picture you chose. I have one sibling, an older brother about the same age difference of your sons. I don’t know how much they like to rough house or beat each other up (as long as it’s outside), but I see it as having been an essential component of our bonding. Anyway.

    The great thing about bucking trends and choosing your battles of bucking trends while bucking others, is that eventually, that quiet resilience–if it is sturdy / inert–then it becomes a counter trend, even if you don’t mean it to be, because it encourages others to question. I guess the irony might be is that it works best when you aren’t worried about anyone but your own decisions.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s really comforting to hear that you saw the rough housing as a way to bond. Because their constant fighting is a source of anxiety for me. I have read a lot of books that say I shouldn’t stop it, but honestly, I can’t stand listening to it. So I decided that if I take pictures of it for my blog then maybe I’ll be able to tolerate it. It’s like I’m not really there, I’m just taking pictures :)


      • Daniel Baskin
        Daniel Baskin says:

        You can’t always be there when your kids fight. You can’t always know if they are being too rough. I mean, don’t not put your foot down just because it’s normal for them to fight. But it’s also valid to let them know that it’s not okay to fight in genteel company (you).

  7. lhamo
    lhamo says:

    I love that your kids were more interested in the prospect of a pillowfight than the prospect of attending an elite college.

    A very brave and talented friend of mine just posted a link to this on Facebook and I think you will like it — another brave and talented woman who does not let people put her in unhealthy boxes, and who has lots of interesting ideas about education:

    I came here hoping I would find an appropriate place to share this, and here it was. Complete with your link to the post about how you quit grad school. How cool is that?

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Your story of a much anticipated and planned music workshop that turned out for you and your sons to be a disappointment was for me more a lesson in flexibility and adaptability than bucking trends. Maybe it’s just my perspective since I’m often more concerned about practicality than trending. We have only so much control in our lives regardless of the amount of planning we do. Couple the control factor with constant change and adaptability is a key skill for any child to learn.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *