Mainstream media is delusional about homeschooling

The people who argue against homeschooling focus on an argument that requires them to ignore obvious education trends. What we end up having is a discussion about homeschooling on a national level that assumes the readers are idiots.

1. They report that homeschoolers are evangelicals. 
The New York Times wrote about a book that encourages parents to beat their kids to the point of injury. Obviously, the book is for crazy people. But the Times reported that it is “popular among Christian homeschoolers who praise it on their web sites.” This sentence implies that homeschooling is somehow related to beating kids. Which, of course, it is not.

What if the Times wrote that it’s popular among Hispanic Christians? Equally as informative – as in useless information – except to let us know that the writer is racist. Somehow, it’s okay to criticize homeschoolers as childbeaters. That, somehow, gets past the Times editors.

Maybe because equally highbrow publications, like the Atlantic, also report false, unsubstantiated truths, like, “It’s no secret that the majority of homeschoolers are evangelicals.”

In fact, only 38% of all homeschoolers choose it for religious reasons. (And this includes the Lutherans, Hindus, Jews, etc.) So why, when I am quoted in the the New York Times do I get two fact-checking calls about my marriage, but when people write about homeschooling, there is no fact checking?

2. They ignore the trends driving the homeschool movement. 
Recently there was an absurd discussion of homeschooling in the New Republic. It illustrates the fact that mainstream media completely misunderstands homeschooling and therefore is incapable of reporting well on the issues of homeschooling.

For example, the author assumes that most parents who homeschool are religious nutcases who want to shelter their kids from reality. But the majority are middle class parents just trying to get their kids out of a broken system. People who have no understanding of what really goes on in homeschooling have no ability to reach the necessary level of nuance required for an intelligent conversation.

3. They ignore the realities of day-to-day homeschooling.
Seth Godin’s ebook on education reform is a great opportunity for him to blast through popular misconceptions, but instead, he joins those who miss the boat on homeschooling. Godin assumes that parents who homeschool are teachers. And he argues that it’s not a great use of most parents’ time to be teachers. Because, among other reasons, most parents will suck as teachers.

I agree, that most parents will not be good teachers. But the reality is that kids don’t need their parents to be teachers. Kids need their parents to be parents. And kids are born as natural learners. They don’t need a teacher to make them a learner.

So the way homeschooling works is that kids are home, learning, and parents are there for support. Kids need tools, or suggestions for how to get what they need, and parents are there to do that. Self-directed learning requires an adult to be very present, but not very intrusive. It’s why self-directed learning works great at home, and is nearly impossible at school.

4. Mainstream media doesn’t report news that will make readers want to kill the messenger.
The Center for Policy reports that only one in eight mothers wants to work full-time. So you’d think there would be a massive push in the media to help mothers drop out of the workforce and take care of their kids. But instead, everyone is fawning over Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, which help mothers win top corporate spots with 100-hour work weeks.

The way we romanticize Sweden is ridiculous. We report that the adults are happier there than anywhere else. We report their tourism spots are the best. And we turn their well-funded, Ikea-style schools into education porn: Look! Up there at that picture! Those kids are so lucky!

But the Telegraph reports that Sweden’s great universal childcare experiment has been a failure. Because (newsflash) kids like to be with their parents.  Jonas Himmlestrand, expert in Swedish family policy, who reported that his homeland, where 90 per cent of children are in subsidized child care, has seen a serious decline in adolescent mental health:  between 1986 -2002 adolescent mental health in Sweden declined faster than in 10 comparable European countries.

The US media, as a rule, does not publish any data that says kids should be with a parent when they are growing up. In the US we perceive this as sexist, or elitist,  or I don’t know what. Instead, we label people who stay home with their kids all day as crazy, because if people who stay home with their kids all day are not crazy, then what are the people who send their kids away to someone else all day?

5. Mainstream media supports homeschooling without admitting it. 
Here are quotes from this month’s Parents magazine. In the US, 65% of parents would like to ban all homework. And 65% of parents would like to decrease time for English, science and math in order to make more time for playing outside. Parent magazine recommends that parents eat lunch with their kids at school, “if they are allowed to,” because that’s the only way to know if your kids are eating right.

Parents magazine also quotes Mike Assel, associate professor of Pediatrics at the Children’s Learning Institute at University of Texas. He spends half a page explaining that young kids learn on their own. They are born to learn and don’t need to be told things or spoon-fed information in order to learn what they need to learn.

It sounds like they are recommending homeschool, right? But they would never be so radical as that, because then they’d sound like those Evangelical Christians who beat their kids.


33 replies
  1. Taylor @ Wise Family Living
    Taylor @ Wise Family Living says:

    Very interesting Penelope. I am a Christian who homeschools one of my kids. The other is special needs and attends a very expensive private school, bc as you have written before, public schools don’t have enough funding or resources to provide everything that my child needs. So we send her to private school. And my oldest stays home, bc our public school stinks. And it works fantastic for us. I never thought I would homeschool, but now I can’t imagine putting her back in school. It seems like it would be such drudgery, for her and our family. I like your blog so very much because I feel like you give everyone a fair shake, despite your own personal politics and beliefs, and that is very rare quality these days, at least in the media, as your blog post clearly demonstrates.

  2. Francesco
    Francesco says:

    The book you mention encourages parents to beat up children as much as hook-nosed Jews spread the bubonic plague in medieval Europe, or as much as Jesus encouraged the crusades.

    I know the author of the book, his adult children, and grandchildren. They are some of the happiest people you can ever meet.

    We live in a post-christian society that has no greater joy than to treat Christians as mental basket cases.

    • Daven
      Daven says:

      Please see number 9 in this link. The person answering these questions is one of the authors of the book in question (Debi Pearl). She says, helpfully, in response to a question about how to “use the rod” on children:

      “You use something small and light to get the child’s attention and to reinforce your command. One or two light licks on the bare legs or arms will cause a child to stop in his tracks and regard your commands. A 12-inch piece of weed eater chord works well as a beginner rod. It will fit in your purse or pocket.
      Later, a plumber’s supply line is a good spanking tool. You can get it at Wal-Mart or any hardware store. Ask for a plastic, ¼ inch, supply line. They come in different lengths and several colors; so you can have a designer rod to your own taste. They sell for less than $1.00. A baby needs to be trained all day, everyday.”

      Perhaps you see nothing wrong with this; I see a lot wrong with it. I am glad to hear from you that the whole family is happy. I still don’t plan on purchasing a designer spanking rod specially measured and colored to my own taste.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        Perspective. On that same link she also says: “Don’t ever hit a small child with your hand. You are too big and the baby is too small. The surface of the skin is where the most nerves are located and where it is easiest to cause pain without any damage to the child. The weight of your hand does little to sting the skin, but can cause bruising or serious damage internally. Babies need training but they do not need to be punished. Never react in anger or frustration. If you loose it, get your self under control before you attempt to discipline a child.” This does not sound like abusive behavior to me.

  3. Jessica Smock
    Jessica Smock says:

    Have you read about the new book Home Is Where the School Is (2013) about homeschooling mothers? I just interviewed the sociologist who wrote it for a discussion on my website. Penelope, I would love your take on this book and her conclusions about homeschooling and motherhood. I think this would be such an interesting discussion about motherhood and education!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Jessica, I really appreciate that you bring a sociological perspective to the mix.


  4. Tony
    Tony says:

    One thing I can appreciate about parents who home school is that instead of reading or listening to the media whine about how bad schools are, they are actually doing something about their kids education.

  5. Tim
    Tim says:

    Heads up, you cited an “absurd discussion in National Review” but the link is actually an article from The New Republic.

  6. Meg
    Meg says:

    I love Angry Penelope! Right on. And that’s amazing about the Swedes, I want to learn more about that.

  7. Greg
    Greg says:

    From the New Rubublic piece:
    “The only form of knowledge that can be adequately acquired without the help of a teacher, and without the humility of a student, is information, which is the lowest form of knowledge.”

    It’s a good case for unschooling if the writer actually believes that statement.

  8. Jane
    Jane says:

    Why must public schools be bad for homeschooling to be good?

    Unless you have been in every public school classroom, you cannot make blanket statements about public education with any accuracy.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Public school needs to be bad for anyone to homeschool because public school is free babysitting. Outstanding free babysitting would be hard to pass up. So parents have to evaluate the cost to their kids of using the free babysitting vs. the cost to the parents of staying home with the kids.


      • kb97
        kb97 says:

        My problem with your statement that

        “Public school needs to be bad for anyone to homeschool because public school is free babysitting. Outstanding free babysitting would be hard to pass up. So parents have to evaluate the cost to their kids of using the free babysitting vs. the cost to the parents of staying home with the kids.”

        is that home school is not the best choice for all students. For example, some kids don’t learn well without the structure and social interactions at a public or private school. I’m not by any means saying that home school can’t or doesn’t have structure or encourage social interaction, but some kids just don’t learn as well in that environment. Some do, and that’s great, but for kids like my brother who have trouble focusing on school or feel that it doesn’t count as much to do well because their parent is the “teacher,” home school is not a good option. This says nothing about how much time my parents want to spend with him. It says that he did not learn well in home school. we had issues getting him to do any work and not just act like it was an all-year summer vacation, and, in addition, he already had issues with depression which caused him to want to completely withdraw from any social setting (which made the depression worse) and home school made it harder to get him to spend time with other kids. Though home school is a great option for those who learn well in that setting and enjoy it, public or private school may be a better option for those who don’t. I have gone to both public and private schools all my life depending on where we lived at the time. For example, my dad is a professor and got a Fulbright Grant in 2007 when I was in fourth grade to teach in Ukraine for a semester. We lived near the center of Kyiv in an apartment from January to June. Because we didn’t speak Russian or Ukranian, we went to Kyiv Christian Academy, a private school that teaches in English but has students from many countries. In seventh grade, we were in New Jersey for a year because my dad was part of the James Madison Program at Princeton. I went to the public school for that year. I started Kindergarten a year early because I could already read. The private school wouldn’t let me start early so I went to the public school (Littleton, CO) that year. By the end of that year I could read at a sixth grade reading level. First grade I was in a great private school. When we moved to California I went to the same private school (connected to our church) from second grade to fifth grade (minus that one semester in Ukraine) and again in eighth grade. We tried homeschooling the year I was in sixth grade. I started high school at a public school, moved to a charter school when we moved five minutes away to a cheaper house in a different district halfway through my sophomore year (I didn’t want to start at a school where I didn’t know anyone halfway through the year and I knew people at this charter school which focused on visual and performing arts, which I happen to like anyway). Now I’m in a private school for my junior year which is an amazing kind-of sort-of boarding school (there’s not enough boarding students to have them all live together, so we stay with host families) in Colorado (It was expensive, but my parents thought it would be good for me and I really wanted to go, so we’re doing without some stuff, I’m getting a job this coming up summer and will hopefully have one next year, and my grandma helped us.) I will be back in California next year because this is designed as a one year program for juniors, though if we could afford it (we can’t) I could technically come back next year. I don’t know what type of school I’ll be at next year, but I know I’m not trying homeschooling again for my senior year because I want to be at graduation and go to prom and all that stuff. The public schools I went to were great for me. The private schools were mostly great, except my eighth grade year there was a new principal (who was later fired) who messed up the school. I personally like going to school more than I liked being home schooled. I was miserable the whole year in home school and it just lead to more fights with my mom and a drop in my grades (thankfully this was before high school, so it didn’t affect grades that colleges will look at). If a kid does not like homes school or do well there, is it really fair to force it on them just so the parent can spend more time with the child? The same goes for school; if a child is unhappy and not doing well in a school setting, and they would do better in home school, is it fair to force them to continue going to that school if it is at all possible to home school them? Another scenario in which school could be good is with special needs kids whose parents cannot provide as much support in learning as a school, which, in the case of my friends sister, was able to provide a program on a tablet which helped with her speech and vocabulary. Her parents would have been unable to provide this for her, and, though some special needs kids like my cousin definitely do better in home school, others may have better opportunities in a school setting. School is not always good or bad. It depends on the situation and the child in question.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      I think homeschooling and school schooling have both their advantages and disadvantages. But the commenters to the article you link to do not appear to me particularly open minded or the critical thinkers homeschooling is supposed to develop.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        I don’t think you understand social media and the “new” media on the Internet. If you don’t like what the commenters are saying about the article, you should direct your comments to them.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          I was merely commenting about the contrast between the article (in the spirit of freedom for educational choice) to the comments, which are vicious. It seemed like people want to have a freedom for their choice but are not ready to give it to others. Merely an observation.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            I agree, there are many vicious and hateful comments. I think the article covered many different aspects (political, religious, etc.) of homeschooling that “left it open” for commenters to speak their prejudices freely. Some commenters can be respectful and intelligent while others are most comfortable with their hate speech. That’s how they feel they are most effectively communicating. Reading the comment section can be enlightening and add to the conversation. Other times, it’s like going through the garbage to get a few morsels but you still feel slimed.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            redrock, I’ll add a link here to a book I found while trying to get a general consensus of the reporting of homeschooling in the mainstream media. I don’t think it directly applies to the content of this post so I didn’t include it. However, you and other people may find it interesting. The name of the book is “Homeschooling in America:Capturing and Assessing The Movement”. It’s written by Joseph F. Murphy, the Frank W. Mayborn Chair and associate dean at Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University. The link is .

  9. Jana
    Jana says:

    I love reading your homeschool posts Penelope! You are so right on every time. We started homeschooling because we wanted more family time and more time for our kids to play outside. Although we didn’t unschool, it was still an awesome experience and I would never trade those years with my kids!

  10. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I was at a teacher workshop today and we were talking about how many responsibilities, from 1900 to present, by decade, were hoisted onto public schools–what was beginning to be expected of schools to compensate for the uncertainty as to whether kids were getting these needs fulfilled at home.

    The list was pretty staggering as to how many impossible-to-fill-all-of-them services there were.

    Anyway, a colleague made the side comment, “We’re moving toward school-home-ing.” I thought that was a great comment.

  11. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    You know, the big tent of homeschooling can handle many types of people. Name-calling does not help the cause of homeschooling or freedom. I am an evangelical Christian who homeschools her three kids. I do not, nor have I ever, beaten my children. I resent the not-so-subtle suggestion that Christian homeschoolers are strange, nutty, and abusive. In a *very small* minority, that description might fit, as it would in any large group of people. But in an effort to distance themselves from “those people” do homeschoolers really need to paint Christian homeschoolers with such an unfairly broad brushstroke? We homeschoolers need to stand up for one another, even when we don’t agree, because all of our freedoms are on the line when the media tries to undermine us as a movement by highlighting the fringiest of the fringe.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I agree absolutely, Hannah. I am not an evangelical Christian, but your right to homeschool is exactly the same right as mine. If you are a kook for that, then I am a kook too. I expect that you are teaching your children to focus on the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us, just as I am.

      • Hannah
        Hannah says:

        Thanks. My worldview profoundly impacts the way I teach my kids. In fact, every parent’s wordview has that effect on their kids to one degree or another. It’s hypocritical to think otherwise. My husband and I encourage our kids to think for themselves while passionately articulating and living our faith in front of them and with them. The fundamental issue is not whether a religious person has the right to homeschool but whether parents of all stripes have the right to influence their children in direct ways and profound ways. If they don’t, then we are all in a world of hurt. If they do, then we all do–not some more than others. In addition, name-calling, suspicion, and contempt among homeschoolers–of other/different homeschoolers–does nothing but weaken and compromise the movement from within. Thanks again for responding.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      What I took from Penelope’s post, is that this is how homeschoolers are portrayed in the media. I don’t think she was doing the same thing. People who homeschool for religious reasons are portrayed very negatively. The media zeros in on that “very small” minority. They continue, for the most part, to focus on people who homeschool for religious reasons, ignoring people who do it for other reasons. There are “nutcases” who send their kids to school or who are secular homeschoolers, but the media focuses on the ones who are religious homeschoolers because that is the most effective way to denigrate homeschooling in general.

      • Hannah
        Hannah says:

        True. And I guess my issue is that there *are* many who homeschool for religious reasons–and they are not nutcases. The “very small” minority are not those who homeschool for religious reasons, but those who claim to homeschool for religious reasons and then abuse their kids. To conflate the two groups is intellectually and morally dishonest. And it is what the media does routinely. My two cents.

  12. Jeremy Stuart
    Jeremy Stuart says:

    Penelope, I love your blog and really appreciate your insights into homeschooling. I agree completely that the mainstream media totally misunderstands and misrepresents homeschoolers of all persuasions. As a secular, middle class homeschooling parent myself, this really bothers me. So much so, that for the past 2 years I have been making a documentary about homeschooling that I hope will shed light on the reality of what homeschooling is about and break down some of the stereotypes that the general public have about homeschoolers. I don’t know if you’ve heard about my project yet, but if not, here’s a link to a teaser trailer:

    Feel free to share it and thank you so much for all you do.

    • Hannah
      Hannah says:

      I watched the trailer and it looks fascinating and professional. Please let us know when the project is finished so that we can watch it and send to people who might benefit from seeing it! Thanks for your hard work on this.

  13. Tonja Pizzo
    Tonja Pizzo says:

    Very profound post. I love how people think I’m crazy for WANTING to homeschool my kids. In fact, I’ve even had someone tell me I’m crazy when I mentioned it to them. Crazy I am, I guess, FOR WANTING TO BE WITH MY KIDS!!

    No one loves my kids as much as I do–no wants them to be successful, productive adults more than I do. I’ve been paying THOUSANDS of dollars to send my kids to an upscale private christian school–and STILL, my kiddos are not getting what they need. I signed withdraw from school papers this morning, and tomorrow, we are going to the beach!!! WHOO HOOO!!!

  14. Richard Howes
    Richard Howes says:

    Great article. And classic closing paragraph:

    “It sounds like they are recommending homeschool, right? But they would never be so radical as that, because then they’d sound like those Evangelical Christians who beat their kids.”


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