How to convince a parent to try homeschooling

If you give a parent the choice between having eight hours a day of freedom from their kids, or spending eight hours a day forcing their kids to learn to read and do math at home, no parent will chose the latter. It doesn’t matter that homeschooling isn’t really like that. Non-homeschoolers think it is. So the key is to reframe the choice.

Do not talk about how great homeschooling is. Because the benefits of homeschooling are foreign to most parents. For example, watching a child manage his own learning. That’s amazing. But it’s hard to believe it works unless you see it. Spending the whole day, every day as a family. It’s a total joy. But no one would believe it if they haven’t done it.

So instead, the best way to convince someone to try homeschooling is to focus on how terrible the current system for schooling children is. Mainstream media is not generally positive about homeschooling, but mainstream media loves to rip on how schools fail to work, so the evidence is easy to find.

Here is some positively irrefutable evidence about schools:

1. If all the educated people who say their kids are in a good school were actually in a good school then we wouldn’t have a national problem with our schools.

2. To receive public funding, public schools must have test-based curricula. This is true for charter schools as well. They are public schools. They need public funding.

3. Test-based curricula is irrefutably ineffective and bad for kids. I’m not even providing a link, because it’s so widely reported. However no one can think of a better way to run such a large and diverse public school system as the one we have in the US, so test-based curricula will persist for a long time.

4. Schools do not have enough money to cater to your kid. The student-teacher ratio is way too high for kids to get individualized attention. At best, kids get one or two hours of that a day. So why do they need to go to school for eight hours?

5. School no longer provides opportunities for socialization, because of the focus on test-taking. And the hours of homework after school do not allow for time for socializing after school. (Or family time, for that matter.)

It’s pretty easy to see why school is terrible. And even though parents can’t imagine they’d ever do a good job homeschooling, it’s pretty easy to see that bad homeschooling is better than going to school. The kid has eight extra hours a day to figure out what to do with himself instead of being told what to do. How can this not be an improvement? Adult life is not about being told what to do. Why prepare a kid for that?

Parents tell themselves it can’t be that bad because so many parents send their kids to public school. Parents want to stick their heads in the sand. But here’s something to tell those parents: the truth is that the very rich do not send their kids to test-based schools. Those kids go to very expensive ($40,000 a year)  private schools that function more like homeschool. And the fastest-growing group of parents taking their kids out of school are parents with a bachelor’s degree and a household income in the range of $50,000 – $75,000.

So here’s the logic that I think sells homeschooling most effectively:

School is terrible. Educated parents are taking their kids out. You need to take your kids out so they don’t get left behind.

32 replies
  1. Daven
    Daven says:

    I just came across yet another article that shows that even teachers say the education system sucks, and that the only reason they stay in it (for a while, till they quit) is “to help the kids.”

    But if even the *teachers* say the school system sucks, and if even the teachers say that modern schooling harms children (except for the few students these teachers personally manage to help), and if even the teachers get burned out and finally abandon the poor kids to their inescapable fate, then why do we perpetuate it? Why do we keep doing the same thing — putting too many kids together with one teacher up front to make them do unpleasant things?

    We imagine that if only we can give the teacher the right “method” for standing up there and keeping order — exactly the right combination of engaging books and leading questions and math games and recess time (just enough, but not too much!) — then the system will finally not suck. And all the kids will ace their tests and love their teachers and sit still and not have to go to the bathroom in the middle of class and not bully each other and be best friends and go to college and get good jobs.

  2. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    Here’s the secret to a great education for your kids: move to the wealthiest area you can find.

    My kids go to a great local school and they do zero test prep and don’t need to because the kids can all read when they’re 5/6/7 — a decent number of them in 2 languages. Shoot, they’ve all had 3 years of 20k preschool before kindergarten ever began.

    They also have rooms for all kinds of “extras” — more than one every day including dance, drama and language — because the PTA asks for 1k per kid and they get it. That’s 750k. Then there are the parents who drop 20k a the auction, etc and .. well, they have all the money they need. Your kid comes up with a new, cheap idea for a green roof — the school can make that happen.

    Also — these are parents who work outside the home and really can’t be home with their 6 year olds. It may be true that we could all be doing better ourselves, at home, but then again I don’t want my kid growing up to stay home to educate their kids. Or thinking they have to do that. I think my husband and I are modeling very happy and healthy personal and professional lives.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Julianna. Here is some perspective: $20K per student for school is half of what a top private school in New York City or California costs per year. So if we are equating top schooling with top spending per kid, your kid is not getting top schooling.

      Also, I went to New Trier, in Illionios, where spending per student, according to Wikipedia, is “more than $15,000 per student.” And I can tell you that when I went to college on the east coast and compared my high school education to the education of kids in east coast private schools (that are upwards of $40K a year) the quality of my schooling was not even close.

      So look: you are deluding yourself that your per pupil spending is solving the problems of the education system. And, on top of that, the Gates Foundation has already released about a gazillion pages of reports to say that per pupil spending is not the problem with schools.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m not done. I have more to say. The idea that the kids in your district do zero test prep is preposterous.

      They all take AP classes, and they all take SAT IIs, and those are all subject matter test prep that kids who have self-directed, passion-based learning don’t bother with.

      In well funded public school districts, all of high school is test prep. And all of grammar school is preparing for that.


      • Julianna
        Julianna says:

        I never understand if you are saying you got a good education at New Trier or not?

        I’m not equating top money and top education, but since I’m familiar with the financing of Avenues, one of only two schools in NY that charge 40k this year, I’ll tell you public grade schools spend 16k plus in the classroom and Avenues spends about double that PER CHILD which is completely different because nearly half that money is in financing the building and facilities

        Also, better school districts means an rich population which, in general, means an educated population. St Ann’s can select their student body kid by kid, but the public zoned grade school for Brooklyn Heights/Dumbo ends up with a student body ready to learn by the fact that they’re parents can afford $1000 per sq foot apartments.

        As for our local grade school, there is a weekend of test prep offered if people are interested. Geared towards the middle school exam. One weekend. In the poorer neighborhoods, where annual test scores are poor, test prep is ongoing.

        Down the road, AP classes are completely voluntary and while I suppose they could be considered “test prep”, they’re also just simply advanced classes for kids who want that. And they routinely shave a semester off of your college tuition bill — which I realize you don’t care about or are planning for anyway.

        • Crimson Wife
          Crimson Wife says:

          I grew up in an affluent suburb and live in one now. The schools may look good on paper, but really they are mediocre.

          What public school has done away with age-based grouping of children in favor of grouping them by where they are in the curriculum?

          What public school tailors its curriculum to the needs of the students rather than following what some committee of bureaucrats hundreds of miles away in the state capitol or thousands of miles away in D.C. has dictated all children in a particular grade should be learning?

          What public school is allowed to incorporate the students’ faith/values into the curriculum so that they are reinforced rather than undermined?

  3. victoria
    victoria says:

    I’m someone who is open to homeschooling and would’ve been able to do it financially, but I have to say, none of those points would persuade me because none of them apply to the schooling situation I’ve chosen for my child. She goes to a progressive school, for less than 10K per year. No curriculum-based tests (they do Iowa tests after a certain point, but many of the homeschooling parents I know use those too — they’re norm-referenced and not criterion-referenced. No high-stakes testing). Strictly limited homework. 12 kids at most in a class, mostly individualized curriculum, lots of age mixing, and almost half of her school hours are outdoor recess or free time. The time that isn’t free is mostly project-based, aside from art and music instruction.

    There are other reasons for homeschooling that would be more appealing to me (I would love to spend more time with my kiddo, and I’d love to not be constrained so much by institutional scheduling!) but for now I think she’s happiest in her current situation and that is the absolute bottom line for me.

  4. Heather Caliri
    Heather Caliri says:

    I’d disagree with you here, Penelope. I don’t think making choices for your kids based on fear is ever a good idea. Choices based on fear is a really splendid way to risk burnout, bitterness, and a martyr complex. Homeschooling is an exercise in freedom, in discovering that there’s less to fear than we think. Starting it out in a cage of our own making is folly.
    People will try homeschooling if they see homeschooling modeled in healthy ways. It’s gaining more momentum–there’s every reason to believe people can have mentors.
    Sorry to disagree :)

    • MC
      MC says:

      I’m planning to homeschool my kids, and fear has plenty to do with it. Fear that they’ll be pressured to be just another conformist, grow up too fast in all the wrong ways and too slowly in all the right ways.

      We make rational parenting decisions based on fear all the time (“put on your seatbelts kids”). If the fear is a rational one, rational parents will move heaven and earth to prevent it.

      • Heather Caliri
        Heather Caliri says:

        There’s a difference between making a short choice out of fear (seat-belts) and feeling trapped at home with your kids all day because you are afraid of the public school system.
        I know I’d never last for the long haul if I were primarily motivated by fear. In the same way, I wouldn’t recommend starting a small business or making a work of art out of fear (I’m sure some do it, but I wouldn’t bet on the long-term sustainability of it). Educating your kids at home is every bit as much of a creative act. And it brings joy. A much better motivator.

        • Mary Kathryn
          Mary Kathryn says:

          I don’t think fear is what Penelope is talking about here. Wisdom and perhaps caution, yes. And honestly, if a parent feels that being in her own home during the day is being “trapped,” then she probably shouldn’t consider homeschooling, because her attitude toward her own home is an unhealthy one.

  5. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I always thought that the entire point of having kids was for the kids to be your own. If by educational results, or, “it’s working for us,” is your standard, what does that even mean? If by graduation, your student is bi-lingual, finished Calculus II, and can speak intelligently on world events, well, that’s wonderful. What about passing on your own life lessons, or finding activities that you can share with each of your children? There are many others who can populate the planet. If you have children, why not make the most of them?

    • JRW
      JRW says:

      Is there a way to have Daniel Baskin’s comments emailed to me? I have such a crush on him! (you know, the happily-married-with-three-children kind of crush)

    • Lindsay
      Lindsay says:

      Love your statement. I cringe when I hear parents talk about how much they love their babies, but at 2 are scrounging around for an all-day Mothers Day Out program that lasts 4-5 days a week. At TWO years old. Goodness. Little kids are a lot of work, but I thought that’s what I signed up for when we decided to start a family.

  6. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    I know you’re writing for an American audience, but I wonder if you have advice for parents in other countries. I’m an American living in the Netherlands, where homeschooling is only allowed in very limited cases if the parents have an extreme religious disagreement with what the kids learn in Dutch public school. I read that there are only about 200 families homeschooling in the whole country.

    My 6-year-old started Dutch school this year, and so far I’ve been very happy with her school. I was homeschooled myself, and I would be homeschooling my daughter if we lived in the US, but I’m not sure if it’s worth putting up the massive fight here with our city government to get an exception to mandatory education to homeschool our kids. Any thoughts?

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      Is your husband a Dutch citizen? I’m trying to figure out why the Dutch laws would apply to you as an American.

  7. Lori
    Lori says:

    i’m fuzzy on why we want to convince other parents to homeschool.

    and “focus[ing] on how terrible the current system for schooling children” is would be a great way to severely tick off your friends and family members.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The following commentary is related to this post.
    I heard the following news on the radio today regarding public schools in New York State.
    “A commission tasked with finding ways to improve New York’s public school system on Wednesday recommended longer teaching days and academic years, teacher competency exams, more pre-kindergarten, district consolidations and the recruitment of top high school and college graduates as educators.” – as reported by the WSJ ( ).
    So I thought of the old saying – “You can’t fix stupid”. These recommendations don’t address the root cause of the problem. In fact, I think making the school day longer will exacerbate the problem.
    “Gov. Cuomo organized the commission of business leaders, educators and parents in April 2012, noting that New York spends more money per student than any other state but ranks 39th in high school graduation rates. About 73 percent of New York’s students graduate from high school.”
    Newsflash for the Gov. – these recommendations will require more money to implement and you’re measuring the wrong metrics!

  9. Julie
    Julie says:

    I have noticed a definite shift when talking about homeschooling to parents with kids in public school. Now instead of questioning how homeschooling could possibly be better, they focus on why they personally couldn’t do it. It seems like this has been a change over the past year. I don’t get socialization questions or questions about how am I going to teach high school math anymore. I get reasons why for their individual kids, school is better, how their kids need it. They need the structure or the IEP services or the other kids because they would so terribly lonely without them.

    I never try to talk anyone else into homeschooling though. I usually just say something about how it is good that parents have choices and homeschooling has been a good one for us. It seems anymore that all the public school parents I talk to have kids who just love school. I tried to tell someone once about how the togetherness part of it changes everything, in a good way, as far as family relationships. I couldn’t explain it without sounding preachy so I just stopped.

  10. Julie
    Julie says:

    Convincing parents to homeschool based on how crappy schools are might work with some parents who have not yet sent their kids to school. I can’t see it being effective with anyone else. If you try you run up against cognitve dissonance. And unless things go very badly for their kids, very few parents will question their decision to send them to school.

  11. Bird
    Bird says:

    Just a quick note about charter schools in WI: students have to *take* the tests, but there’s no requirement that the curriculum focuses on them in any way. I know of some charters that actually subvert the test, telling their students “We just need to do well enough on this thing that they leave us alone.”

    There’s also no requirement that WI charter schools adopt common core standards.

  12. Laura
    Laura says:

    Speaking from a former public school teacher from Oklahoma, when in college I was told that if lucky, the child would receive 20 minutes of one on one a day. With all that lining up and marching to and fro the 10 million things on our agenda. Even then.. 20×25… yah no way did a kid get that much per day.

  13. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    I love this post. My son told me he wants to homeschool. I said okay. Build a good case. You can talk to anyone, use your phone, email, or any resource. I am going to send his to this post. This was our first excercise in using resources. When, he overheard me talking about bloggers, he recomended your website to our friend. He knows you talk about homeschooling. He sees you as an ally. BTW, this was the same kid that smuggles his eggs to Martha Stewart and Jaque Pepin (at food and wine, he got a nod for his egg business) So, I guess you are in good company. If you can think of any better eight year old referals, let him know. He would loose his mind if he had a nod from you.

  14. Karen
    Karen says:

    I think that finances are a concern you are not addressing here. I would love to understand how I could afford to do this for my children. My kids are in parochial schools, which is already a very large financial sacrifice. Compared to the education they would’ve received in the public system, I am pleased with this choice. That being said, I would love to be the one who is with them, facilitating their individual growth, watching them develop… I know I am intelligent enough and intuitive enough to be successful in that role. But I have to financially support them. When I consider the energy and time I have at the end of a (financially necessary) work day, I am concerned that would not be enough.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      Homeschooling is FAR cheaper than what it would cost to send my kids to private school even taking into consideration the foregone income. I’d have to be NETTING $75k after taxes and the costs of employment. Maybe if I were some highly-paid doctor or lawyer, but I just had a regular office job so it makes no sense from a financial standpoint to choose private school over homeschooling.

    • Rebekah
      Rebekah says:

      Homeschoolomg is MUCH less expensive than private school, oe the taxes I pay for public for that matter. I pay less than a hundred dollars a year for my four children, provding a high quality, classical style education but utilizing free resources online and at the library. The idea that education costs alot is a lie that needs to be dispelled. We do not make a lot of money, and I have read many articles that show that most homeschooling families and not rolling in the dough, and are definitely not high or double income.

  15. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    I live in the New Trier school district and homeschool our son. There is absolutely no way we will ever send our kid to New Trier. The level of cutthroat competitiveness is extreme…among faculty as well as the student body. The curricula at all of the area schools–government, private/independent, and parochial is exactly the same, i.e., Univ. of Chicago Everyday Math, whole-language reading instruction, environmental fear-mongering in the sciences. The schools all teach the same things because they want to compete for enrollment (“we do the same thing better than they do”), or the parents don’t want their kid to be “left behind” by an alternate curriculum. There are so many fantastic choices for homeschool curricula; it took a while, but when you are able to stop mid-stream when something is not optimal and switch to another book, method, or curricula that is truly individualized for my kid, well it’s a no-brainer. Oh and the private tutoring market here is booming. I made a lot of money teaching other people’s kids what they couldn’t learn in eight hours of school.

  16. Janet
    Janet says:

    I am about to make the decision to home-school my 9 year old daughter (after agonizing over this for some time). She is very gifted (particularly math & science) and also mildly Aspergers, which mainly manifests with (lack of) social skills. She has been begging to homeschool – finds the day “too long” and is very bored in most of her classes. I am very nervous and somewhat excited. Unfortunately, 3 years ago we moved from a hopping urban area to a more rural/suburban area, hoping for better schools, which didn’t work out as we’d hoped. Homeschooling would have been easier and more social back in our old (urban) town – it will be more challenging out here in the country. But we will give it a go.

  17. Celia
    Celia says:

    I framed the question a little differently, ” Do I want to work with a tired child in the evening, explaining things she didn’t understand at school and helping with home work, or would I rather work with a fresh child in the morning?” Fresh child won in my mind.

    After a bad year in kindergarten I thought I’d only home school until she got the basics down, say 5th or 6th grade, but she stayed home until she started college part time at 16 and full time at 18. The second child followed the same path and the third is on schedule to.

  18. Jane
    Jane says:

    Why would you want to convince other parents to homeschool? Why not have respect for their choices? No one knows their child like they do.

    I think you’ll just come off as one of those parents with young children who think they know it all. After all, your kids are not grown and successful yet. The jury is still out (though I wish them well). Why pretend you have all the answers, when you are still in the middle of childrearing?

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      I completely agree. Those who have children not homeschooled ARE aware of the options and don’t appreciate anyone trying to convince them to do otherwise- whether out of fear, obligation or pressure from homeschooling activists.

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