Schools undermine parent confidence

It’s important that the schools remind parents how difficult it is to teach kids because then parents will keep putting up with the crappy education their kids are getting in school—and parents will be grateful for it.

Homework makes parents feel like they are unable to create a family-focused life because it will never feel as important as school work.

Family schedules take second-seat behind the school schedule. If the school decides kids need more school days and less summer vacation, families comply. If a snow day means school goes longer in the summer, families comply.

Schools offer free babysitting, but every once-in-a-while, they make the kids stay home and since parents are not set up for it, parents feel that they cannot cope with kids at home.

The education stuff is so easy compared to everything else, but the education stuff is what scares everyone from homeschooling. It’s so clear, once you are homeschooling, that this is true, but so hard to see until you take on the education yourself.

The school system has to constantly sell to the parents that teaching is too hard for parents. One of the ways school does this is tell you that national math curriculum is more important than playing in the snow. Because the teachers create a curriculum that caters to a classroom, and they downplay the value of things that cannot be done in a classroom. There are a million examples like this that add up to the schools telling parents they are incompetent.

When parents consider homeschooling and they think they won’t be good at it, that they aren’t capable of educating their kids as well as the school, that’s when school has won.

25 replies
  1. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    I am capable of teaching my little kids to poop on a toilet instead of in a diaper and how to clean their rooms and how to be empathetic and kind to each other…teaching reading is SO MUCH EASIER THAN THOSE THINGS!

    • Kimberly
      Kimberly says:

      Great point Becky. It’s often the things that you can’t grade which are the hardest to teach.

      It’s funny how school downplays everything but they can’t seem to teach kids the self confidence they need to not self-harm of bullying or how to not bully, at all.

      Schools are great at teaching kids how to make the grade but not the stuff that life actually requires of you when you become an adult.

      School may teach you how to get a degree and, in turn get a somewhat secure job. However, they don’t teach you how to stay at said job even if you want to go home and eat high-fructose-corn-syrup-free frozen yogurt all day.

      Parents don’t feel capable because what’s truly important has been deemed frivolous by the school board.

  2. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    When parents tells me they can’t homeschool due to their own lack of expertise or patience, I point out that if they have ever done vague and meaningless homework in the late part of the day with a very tired and bored child, then working with a child during the best part of the child and parent’s day when both are well-rested and engaged in the learning will seem so much easier and rewarding.

    • Gareth
      Gareth says:

      Any parent who imagines that homeschooling would be like trying to get his kid to do homework, but all day long, would likely never want to try homeschooling.

      But really it’s not like that at all.

  3. Todd
    Todd says:

    I am skeptical that most parents are deterred from homeschooling by the perceived difficulty of imparting academic knowledge to their children. It seems more likely that people are concerned about preserving their financial security with only one income.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      I was scared. I was scared I wouldn’t do the teaching as well as the school. I was scared we would all drive eachother crazy. I wouldn’t have done it had I felt like I had any other option at the time. The money thing was secondary.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Juile, this is true for me – it’s exactly how I felt when I started. Thanks for writing it so clearly and succinctly.


    • Jana
      Jana says:

      I just read The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard professor. She adresses this concern so well.

      I was much more fearful of teaching my children because I was not an “expert” so while I agree that for some, it’s a financial issue, for many it’s just as Penelope has explained.

      • Gareth
        Gareth says:

        For an intellectual one-two punch, you might follow up Senator Warren’s book with Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, by Bryan Caplan. It explains just what the subtitle says, “why being a great parent is less work and more fun than you think.”

  4. Bird
    Bird says:

    I completely agree with this in principle. In practice, I’ve asked teachers for help to figure out some issues. My kid is frustrated she can’t read her own writing (and so is everyone else.) My sister (a teacher) told me about dysgraphia. Once I knew it existed, I could research it and learn strategies, but I needed the help.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The idea that you need teachers to help you figure dysgraphia out is not entirely true. (For those who don’t know, here’s a link for dysgraphia. teachers will tell you, probably, that penmanship is important. Because in school there is not a laptop for each kid. So kids have to write.

      But in real life, there is, actually, a laptop or iPhone for each (middle class) adult. So your kid does not need to learn how to write. It’s an outdated skill (which you would find as the first result if you typed into google: “my kids handwriting is terrible”).

      So this seems to me it’s an example of where the school creates problems that the parent doesn’t feel equipped to solve. Talk to some adults with dysgraphia (I know a ton because it often goes along with Aspergers). Dysgraphia simply is not a problem for adults in the age of computers. And it wouldn’t be a problem for kids if they didn’t go to school.

      Dysgraphia is a poster child for disabilities that are created by school. Right up there with ADHD in six-year-old boys, I bet.

      • Bec Oakley
        Bec Oakley says:

        A big hearty hell yeah to all of this! My son’s dysgraphia is a non-issue in homeschool, and in turn his sense of utter failure from not being able to prove his intelligence through written work has vanished. He’s no longer scared to pick up a pen, since now he only has to do it to communicate something that’s important and meaningful to him.

        Today he summed up his memories of school as “Blah blah blah write this down, blah blah blah good job, blah blah blah recess”. And I thought why the hell did I ever worry so much about not being able to live up to THAT?

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        interesting…. but it appears that dysgraphia (as described in the wikipedia article) is caused by a faulty wiring in the brain. Most likely everybody has some faulty wiring going on, it is just expressed in different aspects of our abilities. So, it is not school which causes the dysgraphia but it rather brings it to light. I am certainly not a fan of extended practice of writing beautifully (and it clearly bypassed me in school if you look at my handwriting), but writing per se is still and important skill. Or do you mean to imply writing is only for the poor who cannot afford a laptop? But how do you explain the success of all those tablets or apps you can use to write rather then type?

      • Hazel
        Hazel says:

        My kids independent private school didn’t really teach handwriting. They did label my kids dysgraphic and just made sure they used a computer for their work. The small setting and individualized attention helped make sure they could keep up with the intellectual part of the school work even though the physical expression of what they learned was messy.

      • Bird
        Bird says:

        The bad “chunky block letters” she describes in that Slate piece on cursive would be totally great here. My homeschooled kid would just like to be able to write words in a speech bubble over a character she’s drawn so her friends can read them. She may be able to do everything she wants on a keyboard later, but she wants something different now.

        I really agree with your main point. I’m just not black and white about it. Sometimes help is just helpful and doesn’t undermine me. My sister suggested lined tablets with a raised line my daughter can feel, which she loves. Ira Socol, a public school teacher, blogged recently that 1:1 anything – computers, textbooks, whatever – doesn’t work because our first job is to put together the toolkit that works for us as individuals. Lined tablets and typing are in my kid’s toolkit now, and it’s good.

  5. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    My boyfriend and I have been discussing homeschooling for a while now and how I would stay home and do mom stuff, and initially I thought I’d never be able to do it. Here’s why: I think that most people like me who have never been exposed to homeschooling and know nothing about it (I have no friends, family, or neighbors who ever homeschooled) think that it has to be exactly like school.

    Like you have to have a classroom and all these books and worksheets and lesson plans, and you have to have the same qualifications that the teacher does (bachelor’s degree, Praxis cert, etc.).

    I think more people need to hear about how you’re doing it though and realize that their kid is going to learn what he wants to learn, and nobody is going to stop them from seeking information or playing their instrument. If people didn’t have drive like that we wouldn’t have community theater or rock stars, and more kids would have straight A’s if they only had to take classes they wanted to take.

    • David LaPlante
      David LaPlante says:

      Exactly! The point isn’t transfer of facts and information. It’s not Jedi/Padawan. It’s about creating an a learning environment…where everyone is learning. from within that you can curate their ability to love to learn. Learning how to learn is so much more valuable than just stuffing knowledge into their heads.

      The epiphany we hit was that our children mirrored our actions. The more they witnessed us learning and trying new things the more open and engaging they were to doing the same.

      If they grow up in an environment where the norm is learning and development (at any age)…they don’t know any different.

      Best thing is you get to grow and develop with them!

  6. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I homeschool my 4 children ranging in ages from 17 to 4. People ask me all the time if I am former teacher or if I am “certified”. I often tell them that I have all the same education, minus the classroom mob management courses.

    People are also very worried about whether or not you can teach Chemistry of Physics. I tell them I don’t need to know how, because I can hire someone to do that for me if they need to take it. Isn’t that what they are doing when they send their kids to public school, hiring someone to teach them?

    When I started 4 years ago, because I had no choice but to save my 13 year-old daughter from hell, I worried that I didn’t have what it takes. The system had me convinced, but only until I unschooled myself.
    I don’t want to minimize what some great teacher do, but I think more of their time is spent learning to control a mob than actually teaching.

  7. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Even talking with too many other home-schoolers can bring on a mild panic for me. They are running hither and yon, getting kids into every class, into “Homeschool” programs offered by public schools (valuable state dollars to gain!) and planning for college in 7th, 9th, and 9th grade. Oy.

    The competitiveness –with others, with ourselves– is enough to tempt me–just tempt me– back to public school because I don’t like that kind of pressure. I’m not good at forcing people into what they don’t want, and I don’t do well at the mind game of convincing them to like and do what they don’t like/don’t want to do.

    This is why I am not in sales or a manager. It’s amazing I do well as a mother. Well…we’ll see. Taking care I can do. Getting wrapped up in checking off boxes because someone says I have to makes me cranky.

  8. Mel
    Mel says:

    I’m always a little surprised when people tell me they think homeschooling is really hard. If you are trying to recreate school at home, then yes, that does seem hard. But, if you are letting your kids lead and providing resources, it’s no big deal.

    My kids still drive me crazy sometimes, but I am the kind of person who needs a lot of time alone. You don’t get that so much when your kids are home. At least not when they are 4.5 and 6-year-olds. On the other hand, I can plunk us down at the library for a couple hours so I can work while they read and play. That’s not hard at all.

  9. Karen
    Karen says:

    I worried about whether I could teach and whether I could do as well as a school, but only until I started reading the homeschool literature. Then I realized that beyond the 3 R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic), it doesn’t really matter what you teach – the kids will forget 90% of the factual stuff anyway. The stuff that’s really important, learning how to learn, values, and figuring out who you are, isn’t taught by schools now anyway.

    I do worry about getting them to learn, but only because I know I can’t/won’t use some of the major tools used by schools to get kids to do what they want them to do: punishing, labeling, “failing,” etc. I love the concept of unschooling (or at least some type of “relaxed” homeschooling, as I can’t imagine being a radical unschooler), but I just wonder what happens to kids who don’t want to learn anything? Or kids who can’t keep focused on a project enough to get below the surface and really learn something?

    What I am terrified of, however, is the finances. I’m worried we won’t have enough money if I quit my job. Can I really make up 10’s of thousands of dollars working on sid (by freelancing) while concurrently or simultaneously trying to teach 2 young children? I generally worry about money anyway, so maybe that’s why it scares me most. Hopefully, I can get beyond that so I can homeschool.

    • David LaPlante
      David LaPlante says:

      Without a doubt economics weighs heavy. Admittedly, when we made our decision to homeschool I was pulling in an exceptional income that allowed my wife to go full-time at home without any hit to disposable income.

      Things change. I sold my business. The acquiring firm ended up going BK and defaulting on the sale. We ended up on the backside while in the midst of getting another pre-revenue startup going.

      What this has taught us, unwillingly I must point out, is that we can still pull it off homeschooling with a HHI of under $75k. Yeah, things are really thin. But that has actually forced creativity upon us and made us collectively get very deliberate in our choices.

      All in all there’s really been no loss of quality. If anything, quality has been enhanced because we can’t “just write a check”. Every bit of the education experience is decisively earned. And that feels really good…and we appreciate every bit of value we can suss out of it.

      Looking around our peers who are homeschooling I can see that the folks having to manage a limited HHI are seemingly getting the most bang for their buck…and the quality of their experiences are not defined by their economic purchasing power…but by their commitment and engagement.

      While it would be a slippery slope to imply that a high HHI detracts from the experience, in casual observance of the many families we homeschool with it does seem that money can get absolve yourself from having to really lean into it fully committed.

      That saying of necessity is the mother of invention…that’s held up as well. In the last year our kids have attracted over $10k in scholarships and in-kind revenue through their activities. Previously we would have just stroked a check. Now they are having to leaning into it to get what they want and are getting the benefit of feeling like they are working for their education. That’s huge.

      I guess what I’m saying is there’s no doubt in the comfort that having disposable income brings to the homeschool endeavor…but if willing to make the sacrifice, in our experience the reward has been tremendously more satisfying then when we could just whip out the AMEX and make the effort painless.

  10. Julie
    Julie says:

    I have never been a big one for thinking I can’t do things, so this didn’t especially bother me. But I do have a lot of people in my life, like my mother and stepfather, who are really, really skeptical about doing stuff outside the system, so I have been concerned about sort of managing their judgments.

    I think what you have written here about the ways that families allow their lives to be co-opted by the state (the school system in this case) is very true. I decided to homeschool in large part because I deeply resented the school system’s attempts to control our family life. My older son really wanted to go to first grade in public school, so I let him, but on school days we had so little time for family fun, for teaching him to do chores, for letting him help cook (which he loves). Because he had been used to homeschooling and because we have a close family, he could see how much time school was taking away from what was really important. Now we don’t get testy notices from the school about how many times he’s been absent or anything like that, and he has time to make French toast for everyone for breakfast if he wants to.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m thinking that most homeschooling parents are like you — they have more confidence in themselves than the average person when it comes to making decisions that go against the grain.

      I guess this is how it is with all early adaptors – people who do things first are more confident in that area. And I think we each have our areas where we are brave. Like, I am very comfortable being an early adapter for education and work but not for technology. I’m a follower when it comes to trying new technology.


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