Educated parents take their kids out of school

Here’s this week’s photo from the GAP. It’s not my favorite. This one is. But now that my son has convinced me that we should go to the GAP each week after cello, I decided that I’ll document the new outfits. Maybe GAP will sponsor the blog or something. I should email them.

A mother came up to him and said, “Are you taking the day off from school?”

Which really means, “If you’re too sick to go to school you’re too sick to model new clothes at the GAP!”

My son gave the homeschool spiel, of course. And the woman said to me, “Oh, I really admire you!”

People say that to me a lot about homeschooling. But really I feel that if they read the research about education and school reform they would homeschool, too. It’s not even a decision with options. There is no way that educated parents are going to continue sending their kids to school. School is not anything that middle class kids need today.

Parents perceive that homeschooling is a choice to make. I don’t think that’s true. I think that soon parents will feel peer pressure to take their kids out of school. Here’s why:

The growth in the homsechool movement is among the middle class. The top earners of the world can do whatever they want with their kids. They are not looking at school vs. homeschool. They are looking at whether they should have the governess travel with them to Barbados for three weeks. The homeschool movement is largely the purview of the middle class who can see that the rich kids are not going to regular school and that their kids will get stuck on the wrong end of a class-based society if they go to a test-based school.

Educated women are most likely to stay home with kids. We already know that the most educated mothers are the ones who opt-out of the workforce. This is because they know they can afford to, and also they understand the risk-benefit analysis of keeping the kids in school.

Also, though, we know that women who choose to leave a high-paying job to stay home with kids tend to have high self-confidence. This makes sense since the only person who really sees all the woman does is her partner, so she has to make the decision because she is honestly doing what she thinks is best for the kids. The key way to boost a sense of self-worth in our society is to have high achievement at work. You have a to have a high internal sense  of self-worth to forgo that path in favor of raising kids.

(Of course it’s a different story if you do not give up a big career. Many women have low self-worth and stay home with kids because they think that’s all they can do. But I’d argue that those women, for the most part, cannot attract a partner who earns enough money to support a stay-at-home spouse.)

The real world increasingly penalizes kids for following the school rules. Colleges are unimpressed with good grades. And colleges reward kids for leaving high school to pursue their passion. The workplace is reticent to hire kids with multiple degrees because it’s unclear if even one degree is necessary. The workplace also gives huge weight to internships and little weight to GPAs, so kids are, in effect, encouraged to spend their college years working rather than studying.

This means that kids who are in school are moving up the ladder that has nothing at the top. Unless you can get into an Ivy League school—which is sort of an intellectual seal of approval—there is no benefit to going through school to get to the top of the ladder.

Most kids have no shot at the Ivy League. But let’s pretend yours do. (Let’s just say you’re not lying to yourself about that.) Why make your kid slog through school just to get that Ivy League seal? If your kid is really so great the kid doesn’t need that seal of approval. The kid’s achievements will speak for themselves. The seal of approval is for people who don’t trust their ability to navigate the adult world.

In the last decade, we have come to terms with how there is no more corporate ladder, and people who try to climb it become gravely disappointed for all their wasted time and energy. The same is true today with the educational ladder. There is nothing at the top. And we are about to have a generation of people who are going to say they refuse to climb. And they will be right.

Today only the underpriviledged people still believe there’s a corporate ladder. Everyone else is taking responsiblity for their own career trajectory. Tomorrow, only the underpriviledged will believe in the educational ladder. Do your kid a favor, and stop the climbing now.


34 replies
  1. Karen Loethen
    Karen Loethen says:

    Yeah, I’m one of those moms with high self esteem…

    Also, I have a son who puts together “outfits” too. Somehow he works some cool costume pieces in too…his favorite costume piece that he wears often and gets lots in comments on: aviator glasses. LOL

  2. JT
    JT says:

    Homeschooling is rarely a choice for the single parent. It is rarely a choice for the uneducated parent, or the disabled one, or one who has a special needs child, or a sick family member. To say it is “never an option” is wrong.

    • mh
      mh says:

      JT, you may be right.

      And then again, homeschool puts so much less pressure on the family than traditional school. I know a family where the mom is homeschooling her children and travels to another city two-months-on, two-months-off with her kids to be the caretaker for her mother, who in cancer treatments. Homeschool is flexible.

      And I know a family whose husband tragically died in his 30s of cancer, but at the time of his diagnosis the mom pulled all the kids out of school to homeschool them. The family all went to MD Anderson together. They all spent the last year of his life together. Homeschool is time.

      I know a family whose fouth child and only son was born with severe disabilities — retardation, deafness, heart condition. They homeschool, because homeschool lets them learn what’s important.

      Families homeschool because they want what’s best.

      In this post, Penelope is talking about the children of the middle class, married, educated parents. The habits, choices and life circumstances that produce middle class, married, educated parents make the constraints of traditional compulsory school seem increasingly unappealing to those families.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      Regarding special needs, I guess it depends on the need. So very many of the kids that we meet are HSed precisely because the child has something going on that makes things particularly difficult for them. Tons of Asperger’s, sensory issues, and giftedness (which is seldom adequately accommodated in PS.) It is practically unheard of for a profoundly gifted child to come through PS intact and unscathed.

      I just met a couple in a SENG group that mentioned a few things about their son. I immediately suggested homeschooling. He was in Montessori K and they said the school was REALLY working with them and they would figure it out (big smile.) I let it drop, but . . . A couple of weeks later they had their son evaluated and were shell-shocked to find out he was profoundly gifted. (I was not surprised.) The school moved him from primary to elementary, but it was soon clear to the parents that that wouldn’t be enough. All the school could do was to let him learn on his own, without the facilitation and resources that the other kids get. Why pay for that? By the last meeting, the mother was asking me about HSing. The sticking point is that their insurance is through her job and they, at this point, can’t justify her husband quitting his College teaching job after spending a gazillion years in school to get it. Oh the irony. But I really think they will come around for the very reasons P lays out. I think their inability to justify a choice will switch from the father to the son.

      i do agree that it just isn’t feasible for many people. But the demographic P is talking about here, I think will continue to flee PS.

  3. mh
    mh says:


    I have had encounters like yours with people who demand to know whether this is a SICK DAY for my children. I let my kids answer, too. Usually this happens at the pool, where it’s clear we are all in glowing good health.

    But more often, I meet the women who look longingly at us and sigh how they *wish* they could homeschool. I just nod and smile.

  4. Kenya
    Kenya says:

    My husband works for his families business and at the time we were married business was booming, well with walmarts, amazon and the rest of the Internet growth the business took a hit. I wanted to homeschool from day one but my husband was so set that traditional school was the answer. Fast forward he finally decided to support our choice, meaning myself and the children. Money can be tight, but budgeting and working our plan gives me the confidence that we can and will continue and our kids have everything the need and a lot of wants.

    • mh
      mh says:


      That’s so great. Are you finding that homeschool is less expensive than you thought? I sure do.

      Not counting the cost of lessons/clubs (archery, music, swim, and drawing) (which I would pay for anyway, even if my kids were in traditional school), I can homeschool my family for under $1,000/year.

      One of my best resources was one I was most reluctant to tap into: the librarians. My impression of the librarians was that they were sniffily disappoving of homeschool — and also, they are invested in the public schools, because they all have education degrees and belong to the education union in my state. So, I wasted time not talking to the librarians.

      But they are able to do great things, like open up my account for extra-long borrowing of materials, find me e-resources for special projects, and call my kids by name.

      I think the librarians are operating under the misimpression that ALL homeschoolers want this, or ALL homeschoolers do that. So I recommend asking for a meeting with a librarian. Maybe you can also work in a behind-the-scenes tour of the library for your kids — very cool!

  5. Cris Hayes
    Cris Hayes says:

    Wow, Ms. Trunk. You laid it all out with this one. This post is almost word-for-word what I am thinking when I discuss homeschooling with my fellow well-educated moms who send their kids to the “good” public schools that justify their outrageous mortgages. Of course, most of the time I want to keep the friendships of these women so I don’t actually say what I am thinking (learned that early on!)

    And mh’s comment bears repeating: “The habits, choices and life circumstances that produce middle class, married, educated parents make the constraints of traditional compulsory school seem increasingly unappealing to those families.”

    Here, here.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      Cris, I am finding it really hard not to ‘testify’ and try to convince the ‘I wish I could do that’-ers. I usually brightly point out that I was terrified of that much time with dd, but let them know that it is mainly transitions and dealing with her after she has had to contain herself for hours, like in school, that she is the most challenging. Now we control the amount and time that we are on the go. I explain that there is still difficult behavior to contend with, but now I get to share the ‘good’ behavior too,not just deal with the fallout.

      It is soooo hard to talk to someone without coming across as implying that “I’m a better parent than you.” I especially encounter people trying to fit their gifted or ‘2e’ (twice exceptional–gifted + something like Asperger’s, ADD, sensory issues) into the school mold and it just isn’t working. Especially for the 2e kids. Schools might attempt to address giftedness or the other e, but not both. It is really, really hard for the kids and the parents are frantic and anguished over their plight, but not willing to consider HSing. I want to help, but don’t want to dump additional guilt or stress on the parent. But then I feel extremely guilty for not pushing harder, since I firmly believe it would truly save their kids from and often tragic situation. sigh

      Oh, and within the HSing community I find the same thing when I talk about our unschooling. Since “what curriculum do you use?” and “what grade is your child in?” are typical icebreakers.

  6. Faith
    Faith says:

    First I want to say that Those that Home school I think that is great, my Sister Home schools her 6 kids And I support her 100 percent. That is her CHOICE. I am Highly offended However that you say Uneducated woman don’t Home school their kids. That’s like some far left liberal saying they are to informed to vote Republican, Just because someone else has other opinions. I Graduated from High school and went on to College and got My AA Degree. It may not be as Fancy of a Degree as others but it is a Degree non the less. I think your comments such as “(Of course it’s a different story if you do not give up a big career. Many women have low self-worth and stay home with kids because they think that’s all they can do. But I’d argue that those women, for the most part, cannot attract a partner who earns enough money to support a stay-at-home spouse.)”are shallow and narrow minded. I had an office 5 day a week Job until my first son was born and then I became a stay home mom. No it was not easy financially. My husband had a management job in retail and not some high corporate executive position. You see I married for Love not Money, My boys do go to a public school and they do very very well. My one son is a STEM student and makes honor roll every semester and my other son excels in his tech classes. All kids are different just as all families are.. so don’t tell me that what’s right for your family is right for mine You’re right not everyone is going to reach the top of that ivy league ladder,, but it doesn’t mater if they are Home schooled or not .. Will my stem student end up in some high corporate position? I don’t know. Will my tech savvy son end up some high payed building contractor for a big executive company ? I don’t know that either, But I do know that they are getting challenged everyday and growing in many ways. They treat their elders with respect and are kind to others . They are growing into fine young men that I can be proud of. You that choose to HS … you go… I think it’s awesome, But don’t be shallow minded and think any less of those that don’t.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I’m confused, Faith. Are you arguing that PT’s thesis statement, “educated parents take their kids out of school,” is correct or that it is incorrect?

      For what it’s worth, I encourage you to keep your children in school if that works best for you all.

    • mh
      mh says:


      It sounds like your husband is one lucky guy.

      When I read this post, it seemed to be more about trendspotting than about “these people should/will always this”

      I live in a BIG area for homeschooling, and the percentage of children disenrolled from traditional schools is still under 10% — so Penelope is analyzing still-small trends.

      However, I agree with the gist of this post, that people who are well-educated, married, and financially secure have more incentive and inclination to opt out of typical school arrangements in order to create something more customized for their kids.

  7. Lizarino
    Lizarino says:

    I love the GAP photo, I love all the photos of your kids though.

    I totally fit into what you wrote. We are both well educated (husband has genius IQ), financially secure (6 figure income) and I stay at home and homeschool (because we cannot afford 40k tuition for the best of the best private schools… we could afford those schools after all the scholarships they give to help reduce the tuition, but I don’t want my kids to be the ones that are “on scholarship” and be looked down on.)

    Our school district is in the top 5 of our state (CA) and they have an abundance of extra-curriculars for those kids. But…. it’s still public school. It’s still teaching to a test. It’s still built on factory worker model type of education setting.

    I want my children to have a future and that’s why we unschool and specialize in their talents. It’s like I’m sitting on this great secret and I almost don’t want to tell other people who do send their kids to public school what a wonderful alternative it is… because most of those kids will end up being the worker bees and not the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. The industrial age is over and has been for some time now… but our public and even private education model is still stuck in that age…

    However, I usually try not to talk about school when it comes up with the other moms at swim practice and art school…I don’t like making my friends feel bad about their choice to send their kids to public school (even when they could totally afford to homeschool).

    Also, all my homeschool mom friends are college educated, some with masters degrees in education from ivy league schools.

    Thanks for this blog Penelope, I love reading what you write.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      I completely agree with everything Lizarino wrote. I fall into the exact same demographic, homeschool for essentially the same reasons, live in a top five NYC suburban district, and try to avoid school talk with other mothers as well. I also teach in one of the top districts and know that it is districts like the one I teach in that would obsess the most about teaching to the test. Teaching a high school-level regents course (the sole purpose: get the students to pass the regents exam) is so soul-sucking, mind-numbing, and further destroys what interest–if any–was left in the subject. I do my best to spice things up but the district has pretty much set the curricula for me.

      My only regret was having bought a home in a very expensive district shortly before fully understanding the inner workings of such esteemed public schools.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Jennifer, you bring up a point that I think about a lot: living in an expensive school district.

        I live in a very poor school district, but I grew up in a really rich school district. And I think about the cognitive dissonance I’d have around homeschooling if I had bought the house my parents bought. It’s such a huge investment in schooling when you buy a home in a district like that. I give you a lot of credit for overcoming the feeling that you are paying for something you are not using. I think it’s really hard for lots of people.


        • Jennifer
          Jennifer says:

          Thanks, Penelope. I haven’t completely overcome the uncomfortable feeling about serious buyer’s remorse and paying taxes for a school district I’m not using. But we find some peace of mind in that our home was probably still a decent investment for when we sell later down the road. In addition, there is still the possibility that our kids may attend public school later on, for middle and/or high school. That decision would be a mostly financially motivated decision, but we’ll see.

          At the very least, I’m hoping my kids will still enjoy learning even if we homeschool only for elementary and/or middle school. I used to teach in a really exceptional manhattan public high school and each year, I’d have a small handful of students who were homeschooled from kindergarten through eighth grade. The homeschooled kids I taught blew me away with their love of learning, ability to think outside the box, and overall maturity. Even thought it was a public school (a hyper competitive one with a brutal work load, at that) those kids intrigued me with how well they could handle it, not get beaten down by the system, and even thrive! I know it was a very small and self-selecting group of kids I taught, but it certainly opened my mind to the possibilities and benefits of homeschooling.

          These are the things I tell myself to ease the pangs of buyer’s remorse. :)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, true! One of my favorite studies is that you get the same benefits of an Ivy League education from applying and going. This is because the differentiator is having big dreams and big self-confidence and drive to reach those dreams. To me, that says a lot about how incredibly important those personality traits are.


  8. redrock
    redrock says:

    It is an interesting study, and it does make sense even from personal experience only that application to Ivy Schools goes hand in hand with a well expressed self-confidence. However, the study seems to compare Harvard and Princeton applications (and earning power from attending) to places such as Penn State, which is not a super top school but still one of the top places in the country. So, the comparison in earning power is not between applying to Harvard and not going to college, but between applying to Harvard and going to another good school. How does this argument support not going to college (as was mentioned in previous blog posts) is preferable? Maybe it illustrates that it is more important to choose according to personal choice then to adhere to college reputation?

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      I’m wondering if it holds true for grad school also. Within a 15 mile radius you can get an MBA at #6 Duke for $109k, #17 UNC-Chapel Hill for $66k, or #63 NC State for a paltry $37k.

      It is hard for me to tell from the article, when the comparisons were made. Was it right out of the gate, or after a certain amount of time had passed and an early career boost might have leveled out. The more recent study did have a link, but the study has been deleted.

      Interesting stuff. gives a bit clearer picture. The original study was about 15 years after graduation. Here too, the link to the second study has been pulled–from the Princeton site. Weird.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        Those studies are hard to do – if only salary is used as measure of success it can be misleading. Salary as a professor is certainly lower then salary for an engineer in industry – but I would not say one or the other has a more successful career. Differences can be due to preferences in majors or preferences in employment for certain majors at a certain time. I think graduate school is much more dependent on what specialty one is looking for, much more important to know where you want to go in life.

  9. JT
    JT says:

    It’s kind of funny, because the educated parents you speak of have all gone to . . school! . . to get educated.

    They have gone to the public schools you dislike so much, and the colleges you feel are a waste of time. Many probably went to the grad school you feel is useless.

    Yet there they are, educated, high income, with kids and family. Not so bad off, really.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      Perhaps. But some of us went to school for a degree–not an education. Just because things turned out okay, doesn’t mean that we don’t want something better for our kids. And the world is ever changing. So there’s that.

      Love this: “I’ve never let my school interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

      • Lizarino
        Lizarino says:

        No… we are not well off BECAUSE of public education, we are well off IN SPITE of it… there is a difference.

  10. MC
    MC says:

    I think it’s pretty amusing how Penelope turns East Coast status anxieties (“all the smart/rich people send their kids to School X”) on their head in favor of homeschool. I mean, no one should homeschool just so they can think of themselves as “educated.” And yet I concede that this may be precisely the right way to persuade them to do so.

  11. Kate
    Kate says:

    I am in my early thirties, and was homeschooled back when it was illegal in the state where we lived. I went to a local private school at 16 for my last two years of high school. I also have several younger siblings who were homeschooled and/or attended both public and private schools across the country (my family is large & has relocated twice).

    Overall, I think that homeschooling can be very underrated and stereotyped, and is a great choice for most kids. Learning can be such an interesting thing when you are able to efficiently focus on your weaknesses where needed, and spend the rest of the time catering to what you’re interested in. To this day I find it sort of appalling that younger kids are in school for 7+ hours per day, plus homework. When you’re on your own, you finish your schoolwork by noon or 1pm on most days (in grade-school at least). I contrast my experience with my youngest sister’s – she is bright but has been in public school her whole life (including the “best” in Massachusetts). She literally has been bored every day in school since day one.

    On the other hand, I do think that sometimes homeschooling isn’t for everyone. It’s a big generalization, but I’ve seen families that are wildly undisciplined and unorganized, and where the parents have zero control or authority over their kids. And where homeschooling just turned into everyone lounging around in front of the tv until 10AM, with mom screaming at kids to finish their workbooks. Bad idea. The families where I noticed it worked well were those where there was a pretty strict routine, and where the parents didn’t tolerate disobedience much, and where the tv was usually off. In those scenarios there was little friction and the days ran more smoothly. For what that’s worth.

    I do think that it is important to retain some socializing opportunities, because some kids definitely need it. Also, some kids need to be monitored for cheating (look who found the answer key is on mom’s desk!), and some personalities respond well to competition, which is lacking in homeschooling. That was one of the reasons I enrolled in school at 16 – I was getting bored and wanted the challenge of going to a difficult school.

    Anyway, these are just some of my opinions based on my family’s experience, and those of other families I’ve witnessed. It bothers me when people generalize either way, and insist that homeschooling is either always a giant mistake, or that it is the only way to go for everyone. My family had good success with deciding what to do based on each individual child. And in general public school has been the worst option by far.

    I would just want to encourage parents to look into homeschooling and not be too intimidated or wonder if they are limiting their kids’ future opportunities (you’re not). My mom had only a high school education, but was a big reader and a disciplinarian when necessary, and was willing to not homeschool anymore if a child’s personality needed the change. Especially with the availability of the internet, I think its much more doable now than back in the 80’s!

  12. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    your claims are specious and ridiculous. i hope you’re not teaching your children to make arguments this way.

  13. Elaine
    Elaine says:

    I’ve been home educating for 20 years. There are many home educating working class and single parents. You too can discover you can do better than a school, despite not having a degree. You can do it without ever laying eyes on a curriculum. My oldest daughter has graduated, despite being dyslexic and having dyscalculia. Although I tend to think a degree is not the be all and end all of education. Your child can sucessfully follow a non academic path without being pressured by a system that only acknowledges academic success. Yes you can home educate if you’re disabled, yes you can home educate if your child has special needs. There are many parents who home educate because their children have special needs and those needs are not properly met in the school system. There is plenty of peer support. There are plentiful free resources.

  14. Elaine
    Elaine says:

    One other thought. If school has been successful, as far as the aims it sets out with our concerned, then surely most people should, at the very least, be able to give their children a primary education themselves?

  15. Janelle
    Janelle says:

    Finally! A mom who does not have an apologetic tone about homeschooling. I kind of stumbled onto this blog. I home schooled all seven of my kiddos – 22 years. I really didn’t give a darn who cared. Honestly it’s not for everyone, and so what! It worked for me and my husband and kids. Did it, and done! (Actually I’m down to the last two, aged 13 and 15). I put my kids in community college at 16, they are about done by 18-19, then move on to 4-yr. Thus far the oldest will be done with his masters by the end of the summer. 2 more have an AA and are almost done with their bachelors. And, 2 others are still in community college. No ivy league schooling of course. With 5 boys and 2 daughters, and on top of all of that being an African American family; that is supposed to be a deficit (to some, lol). I’d say we’re defying the odds (expectations?) or whatever. It just never made sense to me to send my kids to a place where they tell me at the front door not to expect too much, so I just didn’t. Yes, I’m college educated and didn’t have my first kid til 24, kept working til about 28/29ish and started homeschooling the oldest while still employed. I still model part-time, run 1/2 marathons when time permits, and sing in a jazz band among other things. I say that because while I home school and stay at home, I still do my own thing because I get to make my schedule and well, because I want to! Although I’m a big proponent of teaching my kids our culture, I also get to teach them about diversity by putting them in diverse arenas. Don’t think that would be possible if they were in the local public school 24/7. I do utilize the public sports program. (I used the community leagues when they were young). I’d say we are mid to lower middle class, but I still found a way for my kids to take horseback riding lessons, play ice hockey, learn to program a computer (and get paid for it) take and perform in local theater classes and productions, etc. Most of all I got to create a positive environment that focused on basic education, exploration, common sense values and of course a healthy dose of a good sense of humor. I guess you could say that having a husband who could provide a home and the financial support made it easier for me to choose home schooling. However anyone with 7 kids in this day and age will have financial challenges along the way. We are at the tail end of this journey, and I’m sure I’ve heard every line in the book that is pro or con about homeschooling. I just kept my nose to the grind, kept at it, and retained a tad bit of sass! Love your stuff Penelope!

  16. Jaywan Evans
    Jaywan Evans says:

    I just came across your site today. I have read many articles about homeschooling and unschooling. I’ve also read many blogs and this site has to be the best! I love your candid point of view. You’re not afraid to talk about this issue in a realist and also simplistic manner. You’re posts are very encouraging as I have just began my homeschooling journey. Thank you for your openness and honesty.

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