I homeschool to model honesty and bravery to my kids

The impact of being part of a family that lives in a fish bowl is that I am a lot more conscious of when I’m lying. To other people, to myself, to anyone, really, because the more you lie the more you have to compensate for the lie. (I know you know that, but you probably don’t risk the wrath of popular sentiment like a blogger does.) So I end up thinking all the time about if I’m being honest with myself. 

I used to be a person who holds onto hope for our schools getting better. I used to hope that my particular school district is already an exception to the rule that US schools are terrible.

But blogging about the topic of school reform made me realize that it is so fundamentally wrongheaded, that there is no reason to believe we will see any school improvement in the near future.

The more I understand the absurdity of hoping for meaningful school reform, the more I see that homeschooling is something I choose because the alternative is complete insanity. In order to send my kids to school I would have to pretend I live in an alternative reality.

I homeschool because I want to model for my kids that I am honest and brave even when reality scares me. Here’s what I tell myself.

1. Be someone who’s honest about schools because you can’t lie to kids.
Schools do not really improve. Not even charter schools. This article is about the fact that most charter schools are no better than the schools they are an alternative to. But the most interesting part of the article is that you can tell if a school is good or bad after just a year of operation. Apparently research from Stanford shows that schools do not improve. The team of researchers says that the charter schools that are not good should close down. But in fact, the charter schools are just as delusional as the regular schools—they think they’ll improve.

What this tells us is that even the most earnest efforts to reform schools are not making headway. It’s too big a task.

2. Be someone who faces reality and makes changes instead of hiding.
Real reform is not something that most people can handle. It will have to be forced on them. Substantive school reform gets squashed by people who are overly invested in the status quo. Like teachers, who want to teach the way they know how to teach. And parents, who set up their lives around the free babysitting schools provide.

One example of an education reform leader being squashed is Jo Boaler. She does such outstanding research about how to teach math that she was awarded tenure at Stanford. Even so, there are math professors who take swipes at her research in ways that are so unacceptable that no journal will publish their critique.

So there is a huge online argument about why these math teaching naysayers should shut up. And what’s fascinating to read is how upset the professors are at the idea of teaching math a new way.

Even when the evidence is there—that self-directed learning is best, and new ways of teaching math are more effective—reform is squashed by people who have too much invested in the old, ineffective ways.

3. Live according to your values if you want your kids to respect your values.
There’s a fascinating problem in Finland right now. The schools are always rated high compared with the rest of the world. Wait. Do not think for one second that we could ever achieve that, because a big reason Finland is rated so high is that the population is homogeneous.  Notice number two is Korea, which is the exact opposite of Finland—tons of hours in school featuring rote memorization  The only thing they have in common is they are homogeneous.

So our schools could never be like Finland’s, but let’s pretend, for a minute, that they are.  There emerges a new problem in that case, that home life becomes less and less meaningful as parents give up more and more control to the school.

In Finland, parents trust the schools to the point that family life is becoming dull. Everything centers around the school. We could debate community vs. individuality. I have done that before, because where I live I’m surrounded by Amish families, and their commitment to the community over the individual is remarkable.

But the issue is that individualism is core to American culture. We absolutely do not believe in putting the community before the individual. It’s why we lead in things like start-ups and the arts and Nobel Prize innovation and we are relatively terrible at scoring high on tests. It’s American culture, and it’s not going to change any time soon.

4. Tell your kids who you really are.
The hardest thing for me was sending my kids to school but refusing to do the inane homework they had in their folders. It was a mixed message to the kids, which I tried to cover up, but in reality, it was a mixed life I was living: doing things that I didn’t actually believe in.

The real reason I started homeschooling was that I didn’t want my kids to know I had to tell myself a million little lies to send them to school every day.



29 replies
  1. Anna Louise
    Anna Louise says:

    The key to school success: homogenous culture, high functioning society. Maybe the kids are high functioning because the culture is high functioning and homogenous, maybe it has nothing to do with the school!

    I also had to pull my son when I realized I didn’t believe in what he was experiencing in the name of education, and I wasn’t willing to live the lie or subject him to it. I detested his teacher, didn’t believe in endless worksheets, and didn’t want the 5 worksheets of homework (plus studying for 2 tests every night) intruding on family life. Life has been good since and I love the freedom.

  2. Jana
    Jana says:

    I’ve always believed that homeschooling is more about the parents getting used to the idea than the kids. When we were new to homeschooling and we ran to the grocery store during “school hours” I would tell my kids to say that school got out early if anyone asked. I was embarrassed, so I told them to lie. I’m glad I’m not that person any more.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      More and more I’m thinking that education is about the parent. People send their kids to school because it improves the lives of the parents, and people are scared of homeschooling because it challenges so many of the preconceived notions of the parents.


  3. redrock
    redrock says:

    the Nobel Prize dominance is not truly that clear-cut. The US is in terms of sheers size in an place of dominance, which will be hard to keep in the future as investment in science decreases here and increases in other countries like Brazil, China and India. This trend is already seen in publication numbers in top journals. Also, about 30% of Nobel Laureates who receive their prize are foreign born and educated at least until high school.

    By the way, in most of their countries of origin homeschooling is not legal.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      redrock, homeschooling is not legal in Germany for the vast majority of people there. I didn’t know that until I read this article yesterday from Michael Farris at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) – http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/2013/201302110.asp .
      What was most disturbing, though, was the position of our DOJ and the AG on homeschooling based on their arguments against granting asylum to this German homeschooling family. Our basic liberties as individuals and a sovereign people will be compromised and trampled upon if we don’t understand our rights given to us by our creator and the U.S. Constitution. It’s the reason why I believe learning civics is crucial and in a limited centralized government with the most government (where necessary) at the local and state levels.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        homeschooling is not legal in the vast majority of European countries – it is simply not a point of discussion to homeschool unless you have deep seated religious objections. But schools and teaching and how to improve schooling and learning is nonetheless subject to debate. On average, the quality of schools also does not differ by such a huge amount as is the case in the US – there are differences but they are by far not as substantial. School financing is part of the respective states federal budget, not tied to local property tax, which accounts for many of the large quality swings here. And, homeschooling movements in the US are driven a lot by the high value placed on individualism, this is different to at least some degree in the many European countries.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        The Romeike case mentioned in your link is, however, a little more nuanced than depicted in the link. And I am certainly not defending legal action to force the kids into school, and very often this action is not taken in similar cases and some mutual agreement is reached. Not sure why it escalated here. However, the argument is not that kids need to be indoctrinated at school, but that their home environment is cult-like and thus they are not given the best care in the custody of their parents. So the reason for action is that the indoctrination happens in their home to such a degree that the welfare of the children was considered to be in jeopardy. I cannot judge whether this is true, but it is the argument made by the child protective services, and unfortunately police.

        • Mark W.
          Mark W. says:

          Thanks for your reply, redrock. I’ve read a few other articles on this case and haven’t seen any evidence of cult-like activities or jeopardy of their children proven. If there’s any nuance, it’s the “group think” vs. individualism you described previously when comparing Europe to the U.S.
          The Romeikes were granted asylum by a federal district court judge initially in 2010. But the Department of Homeland Security immediately disputed the judge’s decision. Last May, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) sided with the government. HSLDA has appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals where the case (Romeike v. Holder) will be heard.
          I don’t know why the DOJ is taking the position that they are but I don’t like it and the implications and the message it sends are not good in my opinion.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            ” group think” is by far too strong a word. It is rather less stress on the individual and a little more on the common good. And in the Romeike case, the report you mention is from a homeschooling group, and most reports will only reflect the US side of the story and not discuss the background as it developed in Germany. It does not reflect the long standing discussion of the case.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            One of the other articles I read as mentioned above is an account from Uwe Romeike where he describes his experiences in Germany which include police at this door and fines he had to pay – http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,511825,00.html dated 3/31/09. If you have links to discussions and reports in Germany, I’d be happy to read them as there are always two sides to the story.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            The story was mostly “hot” in the press a few years back, sth like three years or so. And unfortunately all my sources from that time would be in german. This is the only one I could find on short notice and it is more of an opinion piece, but with links.

            Also, this is discussed controversially in Germany – many people do not agree with the police action. However, I think the police had no choice since the actions itself were illegal – but as I said previously many parents who are opposed to public school just keep it quiet and some mutually agreeable solution is found.

            The article makes also an interesting case (not related to the Romeike situation) about school as a right for children to experience the freedom of expression in school, rather then only the environment and opinions parents present them with. The author makes the argument, that school limits the absolute power parents can exercise by providing an independent environment.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            .. and I honestly have in all my life never heard anybody express the sentiment “They have this notion that homeschool creates this parallel society and they deem that as dangerous.” which is written in one of the links you provided. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,511825,00.html#ixzz2L0p6s2kW

            No idea where this one comes from it certainly is not a sentiment expressed with any frequency, and I doubt much conviction by many but the most politically extreme in Germany.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            The following two paragraphs are from this article ( http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/high-tide-and-turn/2013/feb/12/deportation-german-homeschool-family-affects-us-ho/ ) –
            “In 1938, the practice of homeschooling was outlawed in Germany by Adolf Hitler and the infamous Third Reich. It was a rough period in German history, as thousands of young people were being pried from their parents’ direction and authority and drafted into the Hitler Youth program, where they were supposed to be trained as Aryan supermen (and women). In a few short years, vast numbers of these youth would be bleeding out on the battlefields of Europe, on the wrong side of the war for the soul of the world.
            Sadly for freedom and for many families, Germany has never lifted this archaic and totalitarian ban on homeschooling. On the contrary, the German government seems to have stepped up its opposition to homeschooling over the past decade, forcing several families to flee, and others to enroll their children in state-approved schools against their will. The German Supreme Court has stated that the purpose of the homeschooling ban is to, “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.” It sounds like they aren’t really big on religious or philosophical diversity over there.”
            Fortunately, for me, my grandfather emigrated to this country from Germany in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, my uncle (father’s brother), died in battle in March 1945 about 30 miles from where my grandfather grew up. I read the translated article and don’t share the views of the author. It’s too skewed towards the “nanny state” where they hold the trump card on your children in the name of looking out for the welfare of your children. What is Germany so afraid of if they can do such a good job of education in their schools? And I very much hope that in the case of Romeike v. Holder that Romeike is granted asylum (again).

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        my apologies for taking the discussion so far of track. I only cited sources in my previous replies to illustrate that the complete story of a particular case might no be presented in the press or some of the posted links. Personally I don’t think homeschooling should be prohibited, there should be a choice – what you do with it is something else entirely. Many Europeans certainly share this view.

        However, Germany today is fortunately a very different country from the 1900s or the later part of that century. I am deeply ashamed by my countries terrible role in history. Not all laws in Germany have their roots in an ideology which I deeply abhor. Democracy is deeply rooted now in life and politics, as is freedom of speech and religion. Whether the state is based on individualism as strongly as in the US is a very different question, and many scandinavian countries follow a much stronger line of what is called here sometimes the “nanny state”.

        But returning to the homeschooling discussion; I dug out the original wording of the ruling on the Romeike case, and am unable to find anything remotely resembling the above mentioned statement of “.. that homeschool creates this parallel society and they deem that as dangerous.” Maybe this was published in an interpretation of the ruling. The ruling itself ascertains explicitely that the state has no right to infringe on the right of parents to teaching and embedding their children in the religion and teachings of their own choice. It expresses that the state does not have the right (and should take care to stay away from ) any indoctrination.

        • Mark W.
          Mark W. says:

          Thanks redrock for apologizing for going off track but the fact is I was willing to go off track with our discussion so no apology necessary. That last link I provided that mentioned the Nazis and the banning of homeschooling in 1938 really got to me. As you say, many things have changed in Germany for the better since that time. That’s what I hear from my niece who knows German and spent a semester over in Graz, Austria. She loved it there and my brother and her did some traveling in Germany and other countries while he visited her there. Thanks for the discussion and the links.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            Mark, the paragraph you cite does sound impressive, however, it is unfortunately historically not particularly correct. In Germany, Sweden, Liechtenstein… you have the socalled “Schulpflicht”, meaning that unless there are any mitigating circumstances your child has to attend school for a certain number of years, in France, Switzerland, for example, they exercise the law refers to the obligation to teach children for an extended period – while this mostly happens in school, it can be done at home, but like in many states in the US is to some more or lesser degree supervised/spot checked by social services/school authorities. The origin of all these rules lie in the idea that children have the right to an education, and should not be deprived of an education by sent to work in factories at a very early age. The duration of schooling was increased over the years from an initial four years to now 9 years.

            However, the starting point of compulsory schooling does not lie with the Nazi regime, they however did change the law and the reason was a sinister one and as the article states more born out of the desire to exercise control.This is expressed clearly in the first sentence of the law, which was the reason to change the prior formulation of the compulsory schooling in the constitution from 1919.
            All other parts deal with the organizational aspects.
            This law (“Reichsschulpflichtgesetz”) was voided in 1949 with the signing of the german constitution (well, it is officially not called constitution but “Grundgesetz”)

            Compulsory schooling was first introduced in 1592 (which was not more then a short lived experiment), Prussia followed in 1717, Saxony in 1835. 1919 it was introduced in the whole country and anchored in the constitution. While compulsory schooling existed, there was a lot of resistance in rural areas, where sending children to school was considered a drain on the workforce. Only with the beginning of the 20th century it became possible to build enough schools, and really include all of the population in schooling.

            As an interesting tidbit: the first country wide compulsory schooling law was apparently Liechtenstein.

  4. Cindy Gaddis
    Cindy Gaddis says:

    Your last line is something I experienced a couple times when a couple different children of mine tried school for a short period of time for certain reasons. We were trying to use school to meet a certain objective for our homeschooling, but I just couldn’t embrace the lifestyle of conformance. I also couldn’t enforce homework, so, inevitably, the school idea failed for us within weeks or a few months.

    That said, I’m really wanting to help affect change in schools, so if your belief after all your time researching it is that it can’t be done, then what IS to be done? Too many children struggle in school as it is now, especially right-brained learners who need a different scope and sequence, and I can’t just sit around and let it continue to happen without sharing what I know to parents. Is homeschooling really the only option? Since I know some parents won’t feel they can do that, what’s another option?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Cindy, that’s a good question. What else can parents do if they don’t homeschool…

      I think it’s a lot like sugar for me. In my house we have no artificial color or flavors, no gluten and no dairy. I struggle with sugar, though. We have stuff with sugar in it. I know it does not serve any purpose except to give us poor eating habits, and tax each of our storages of willpower. But still, we have stuff with sugar.

      So I can agree that there is no reason to have sugar in the house and think about why I have it, and not take action to remove it. I think this is what many parents are doing now with school. It’s okay. I mean, what else can you do if you are in between the new knowledge and the ability to take action on that knowledge?


    • Anna Louise
      Anna Louise says:

      People can hire someone – a student, a homeschooling mom, a retiree, to homeschool their kids if they can’t do it themselves.

      School is becoming more and more oppressive and dysfunctional. It’s shocking what parents will put up with. They don’t realize they have options!

  5. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    I enjoyed this post Penelope, but for now I want to zoom in on one point you made: comparing Finland to the US is like comparing a cocker spaniel to a polar bear, and saying one makes a somewhat better house pet.

    Finland is comparable in population, population density and GDP not to the United States, but to a single US state like Colorado. If Colorado was an independent nation, and had similar taxation to Finland, could they then achieve what Finland achieves, even without the cultural homogeneity? I find that at least plausible.

    But you would have to look more deeply at why Finland is really so comparatively successful. In my cursory research this evening, I noticed that there is only one mandatory test in Finland, and that is administered when kids are finishing secondary education. There is less time spent in school than other EU countries, so they are partially home-schooling. There is a cultural emphasis on literacy–it’s not just that it is a homogeneous culture, it is that this homogeneity allows an overall cultural focus on academic achievement.

    And most importantly, schools in Finland have far greater (local) autonomy and authority over curriculum and teaching methods than US schools do. In this last category there is no comparison – unless you think a sports car is comparable in maneuverability to a locomotive.

    I agree with your pessimism as long as we are forced to accept a single monolithic centralized bureaucratically-controlled model for education. The pendulum has to swing back in the opposite direction, and municipalities have to take education back, before schools in the US can begin to function properly and perform better. This swing will be a good first step toward improvement, and is in fact a prerequisite in my opinion.

    I just hope I see this in my lifetime. In the meantime, I would advise people able to homeschool to do so.

  6. Gareth
    Gareth says:

    There is a lot of controversy over constructivist math, but it is not well encapsulated by a photo of your son playing video games.

  7. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    It is consistent that the blogger should be a fan of constructivist math. She has said here she does not care if her children go to college and does not want to teach them math. Constructivist math, such as that championed by Jo Boaler, is consistent with this in that children suffering through it do not learn math, and this will not help them go to college. The practical effect of constructivist math on a district is to create huge gaps between poor and middle-class kids as the middle-class kids end up learning math at home and the poor kids end up learning nothing.

    Constructivist math leaves students unable to do basic arithmetic, and in need of remedial coursework or tutoring to be ready for high school or college math: (http://tiny.cc/q63hsw)

    A comparison of the same material, same grade level address in constructivist and traditional math: (http://tiny.cc/i73hsw)

    An example of how arithmetic is addressed with constructivist math: (http://tiny.cc/i83hsw)

    Many of us have different perspectives about how to get along in our society than does the blogger. Unlike her, I have a real graduate degree and it helped me greatly by leading directly to remunerative employment I would not have had without it. My mother has a real graduate degree, and had a very long and happy career (and now a secure and peaceful retirement) that would not have been possible without it. My wife also has two real graduate degrees, and her current employment would not be possible without them. My wife would not have been admitted into her degree programs without strong competence in math (GMAT scores). My mother would not have been admitted into her PhD program without strong competence in math. I would not have been able to perform at my job without excellent math and statistics skills. There has been a direct link in all of our lives between competence in math and satisfying and remunerative employment. This is a fact we share with our children.

    I do not believe my son is the most charming man since Johnny Depp or the greatest musical prodigy since Itzhak Perlman. He is charming and talented, and has a strong orientation towards logic; he will probably not be a superstar in film, stage, politics, or sports, but likely will be successful in law or engineering. He can engage in neither career without going to college. He cannot go to a good college without having good math skills. He cannot acquire good math skills in our local public schools because they use constructivist math programs. For this and other reasons, we are homeschooling.

    We are not alone in homeschooling in part because of constructivist math in the schools. My son’s interest in math far outstripped the pace of progress in school. He was fascinated by exponents in first grade. When does TERC Investigations get to exponents? I believe the answer is never.

    Constructivist math is driving other parents to homeschool: (http://tiny.cc/xb4hsw, http://tiny.cc/gc4hsw)

    Now, my son may groan at times when I drill him on his times tables, but he loves to attack new topics in his math books and is very pleased when he sees the effect of drill on his competence. The commutative property is meaningless if you can’t do arithmetic in the first place. We are both looking forward to taking college-level math at extension school.

    We are honest with our children about schools. We think most of them are terrible and would be, at least at this point, a waste of our son’s time. We don’t think this of all schools or all colleges. I believe that an important fact to face in our honesty with our children is that lack of a college degree, and innumeracy, are more likely to lead to a career in retail food service than superstardom in the arts or entrepreneurship.

  8. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi Penelope! While I think that people who can homeschool should homeschool, a great majority of parents can’t do that. One, they probably need to finish school themselves. Many people dropped out of elementary or high school to work. Two, they have to work full time, or the family would starve. Many parents are single mothers with a relative who take care of children when they work. Three, they are not emotionally ready to parent, much less homeschool.

    So school is the next best thing for them. They have professionals who are trained to teach and care for children. Never mind that there are fifty to sixty children in a room, or that there are three shifts in a day. So maybe homeschooling is a middle class option, not available if you live on less than $5 a day.

  9. D
    D says:

    The link to “a huge online argument” is to a seemingly-unrelated image. I suspect you intended it to point somewhere else.

  10. Julie
    Julie says:

    When my younger daughter was in kindergarten she got into a huge power struggle with the school staff. It was a rule that if you did something hurtful or inappropriate you needed to apologize. The teacher would tell the child to apologize and they would say, “I’m sorry” and then everyone would move on. She spent quite a lot of time in the principal’s office discussing this issue. Her position was that if she wasn’t sorry she wasn’t going to say it. The position of the school was that she needs to apologize when she is told to do so. This whole thing became huge, ridiculously huge. I kept thinking that the problem was that she was not sorry, not that she wouldn’t say it. But in the end I was telling her, “Just say it so you can go outside!” Anyway, not sure why this post made me remember the whole apology thing, but as soon as I said that to her I knew it was over, her going to that school.

  11. Jrw
    Jrw says:

    I’m just “finishing” my first year of homeschooling. The apostrophes are there because we have embraced the life-learning philosophy and we won’t make any drastic changes when June 1st hits. But I just had to write, because I was so scared to start homeschooling. So scared. And now after just one year I will never, ever, ever quit – it is so fantastic, I can’t imagine ever considering school again. And this post I’m linking to is why I am so grateful that I can model honesty and bravery to my children, ’cause otherwise I would be writing exactly what this woman did. GOD BLESS HOMESCHOOLING! :)


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