National nut jobs: homeschoolers put 6 kids in college before age 12

The Today Show just featured homeschool parents who put six kids in college before the age of twelve. These parents are a terrible representatives of the homeschool movement. They are just as bad as the parents who homeschool so they can intellectually isolate their kids from views that differ from their own. 

I’m unhappy to see that mainstream media is obsessing over these parents. But I’m equally unhappy to hear that people think this is a victory for the homeschoolers. This family is not proof that homeschooling works. It is proof that self-absorbed parents pop up in homeschool environments just like they pop up in all other family environments.

Here’s why I think it’s terrible for the kids that that they are in college at by age 12.

1. Kids need to play with peers when they are young. Every piece of education research in the world says this. And it’s not just advice for stupid kids, this is for all kids. In fact, my son who has autism was in a New York City classroom at age three where all the kids could read, and the teachers expressly forbid the early reading because it’s so detrimental to the social part of brain development. Those kids were forced to learn how to do pretend play because it’s so essential to child development.

2. If kids love to learn, they don’t need college. Let’s say that all the kids in this family love to read and memorize and learn new things. Why do they need to go to college to do that? What is the benefit to them? Have they not heard of the Khan Academy?

Pre-teens don’t need college-level dialogue with students twice their age because those kids look at them as circus objects, not as equals. And if the kids want access to teachers, they can email the teachers. Surely the teachers will answer any question that is not readily available online. Which is, probably, none. If the kids want one-on-one attention from a professor, they can get a tutor.

3. Child prodigies typically have emotional crises when they get older. This is because everyone says to a prodigy, “How old are you?” Because our culture fetishizes child prodigies. But there comes a point in someone’s life when the answer to “How old are you?” is not interesting.  Then the kid who has been special for being young is no longer special for being young. Then what are they special for?

The work of parents is to prepare a kid to feel special regardless of their age because that is so fleeting. Melissa owned a business when she was ten. She was on Oprah at age 12. She finished high school at age 13. When I met her, at age 23, she had no idea what to do with herself because she wasn’t special anymore for her age.

4. People who specialize in dealing with prodigies hold the kids back. My son takes lessons with a cello teacher who is a magnet for child prodigies. There she is up there in the photo. Gilda Barston. I adore her.

Here’s what she does: She forbids the kids to learn music she doesn’t assign because if they learn too much of the cello repertoire, there will be nothing left for them as they get older. She tries to slow down their memorizing of songs—in a similar way to the teachers in the classroom slowing down the process of learning to read—so that my son can savor the moments of learning each new part of the music and he has space to feel music in a way music relates to his heart.

The way to a care for a child prodigy is to help the child to experience childhood. The prodigy will be great if he is meant to be great. But he can’t intuitively protect his childhood from adults who want to steal it.

5. The media misunderstands homeschooling. This family of pre-teens in college is not proof that homeschooling works. This is proof that if you want your kids to win at the game of memorizing to get into college, you can win better if you take your kids out of school and do it full time because school is really inefficient at winning the game they are supposedly playing. But homeschooling is about taking your kids out of the test-taking environment and respecting the fact that kids only have fifteen years to be kids, so they should be kids.

6. Parents misunderstand childhood. It is not a time when your kids are emissaries to the world to show the world how great you are as a parent. Childhood is for exploration. There is no point in teaching kids to stick to rigidly linear paths because linear paths don’t work in adult life. And there is no point in celebrating your child’s prodigy in a way that will encourage people to ask, with an impressed voice, “How old are you?” Because this is not a long-term plan for someone who will be 20 and 30 and 40 and 50.

7. Full disclosure: At one point I dated the youngest doctor in Illinois. He was gorgeous and brilliant. He worked in the emergency room, and in between patients, almost every night, he had sex with nurses. He broke off three engagements and moved to a state where he knew no one. And he’s worked the emergency room night shift for the last twenty years because that’s a lifestyle that is most likely to allow for avoiding social engagement.

I miss him. He was so exciting to be around because he was so smart. But he was unable to sustain connections with anyone over long periods of time. It wasn’t interesting to him.

You have noticed, at this point, that I think the key to a happy life is one that includes good relationships. This is not a controversial conclusion.  Yet the odds of someone who exhibits signs of autism and who’s a child prodigy coming up with good adult relationships is relatively low. My life has been full of these people, and I study them obsessively.

It pains me that society celebrates kids who have obvious signs of autism in a way that precludes also getting the kids help. It pains me that we say homeschool works if kids can memorize more than public school peers. I’d like to see our culture acknowledge that kids who exhibit early signs of autism need help learning to socialize in productive ways. I’d like to see our culture stop celebrating kids for their age relative to their accomplishments instead of for their core personality.

One of the great things about homeschooling is you can take our kids out of an atmosphere where learning is a race with an end goal and external approval. I don’t want homeschooling to be represented by parents who steal their kids’ childhoods by putting them in college by age 12. You shouldn’t want that either.

93 replies
  1. Jane T.
    Jane T. says:

    The Khan academy is so boring. I would hate to learn that way!

    And a by-the-hour tutor is hardly in the same class as a college professor.

    Maybe the youngsters in this family want to be in college and it is part of their self-directed learning. (Your cello teacher, BTW, does not sound like she is engaging in self-directed learning with your son).

    I have to agree that some parents take advantage of their kids love and trust to push their own agenda,whether it’s academics or sports.

    • jordan
      jordan says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure how these two statements can exist in the same post:
      “Childhood is for exploration. There is no point in teaching kids to stick to rigidly linear paths because linear paths don’t work in adult life”

      “She forbids the kids to learn music she doesn’t assign because if they learn too much of the cello repertoire there will be nothing left for them as they get older”

      I understand helping a kid spend time with a piece of music so they can really develop artistry and feeling for the piece, but does that preclude letting the kid pick the pieces they want to work on? Isn’t that the best way to foster motivation to spend time with a piece? If forcing a kid to learn certain math at a certain time is bad for the kid’s appreciation of math, why isn’t this method of teaching music also detrimental? And the idea that you could run out of music to play is laughable. Tell that to jazz musicians.

      • Brynn
        Brynn says:

        You both sound like you are mixing gifted/prodigy behavior with high achievers. The two are totally different and those statements make lots of sense when dealing with giftedness. They do not if you are talking about high achievers.

        Gifted kids often tend to fall into tracts of perfectionism, singular thinking, and forms of functional fixedness which affect their lives. The specifically deter themselves from exploration of various things they are gifted at since their are normally A to D thinkers who do not go through the normal A, B, C, D process. If they explore, it is in a very specific way and often exclusionary. The teacher is attempting to force the gifted child to open themselves up while still young so they do not find the behavior detrimental as adults. This is the very essence of mentoring a youth prodigy because you are demanding they look at their weak points as well as strength themselves through discovery.

        You cannot kill self directed learning in someone who is gifted by the very nature of how their brain works. Those are high achievers who are extrinsically motivated. It is completely different.

        As someone who has dealt with this issue their entire life, this type of comment is extremely frustrating. Before you begin bashing someone about their child, or their behavior, you should research the topic enough to have a conversation.

        • jordan
          jordan says:

          I read P Trunk’s blog regularly because it makes me think, whether or not I agree with her, and I enjoy the dialogue she creates. I respect the intellect of everyone on this blog and I enjoy the conversations people have, whether or not disagreement exists. While I continually strive to find a way to engage in dialogue that doesn’t evoke emotional response from people, I think it’s also imperative that other people seek to control their own emotional responses to conflicting views. Just because I point out a seeming inconsistency does not mean I am ‘bashing.’ There wasn’t anything particularly hostile about what I wrote.
          On that note, I thank you for your response, because it provided an opportunity for me to learn something. I’m not sure I agree with you, but it made me think and research.
          I think it’s useful to separate extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. I am fine with the claim that high achievers can be extrinsically motivated (though not exclusively), but there’s a large body of research on how intrinsic motivation for ALL students can be eroded by extrinsic rewards. I’m not sure I see how the intrinsic motivation of gifted students differs from others. Additionally, being gifted and high achieving are not mutually exclusive. A review of the research (e.g. google scholar: gifted student motivation) confirms this, though feel free to link to something that contradicts. Melissa seems to have had an erosion of her motivation despite being a ‘prodigy,’ as Penelope says she didn’t know what to do with herself as an adult without praise. Penelope’s description of her younger cello-playing son (the non-Asperger’s one) makes it clear he’s social and a people-pleaser, so it seems to me he is susceptible to erosion of his intrinsic motivation. This cello teacher’s methods seem to be at odds with the views Penelope has expressed on how her children should learn other topics, and I’d love an elucidation of how “forcing” her child to learn certain cello pieces is not at odds with her self directed approach on other topics.
          To be clear: I am sure this woman is an excellent teacher. I also think it’s great and admirable that she is trying to help kids slow down and appreciate music as they learn it, it’s just not clear to me why “forcing” is a necessary element of teaching music appreciation. Being a great teacher does not mean one is teaching optimally, just as many great public school teachers can be excellent while at the same time teaching sub-optimally. If we do not trust schools and curriculums to dictate how a student learns then why should we trust this particular educator to dictate her own curriculum? I think many curriculums are just fine as long as the student chooses them and dictates the pace, and I believe that’s how P Trunk has expressed her views as well, so here we are at the seeming contradiction in how this cello teacher teaches. If prodigy children need a dictated curriculum then I need a more substantiated reason why this works for them and not other children.
          TL;DR Gifted children respond to ‘forced’ curriculum just like other children do (negatively). Discuss.

          • JT
            JT says:

            Well, here are a few things that confused me:

            a. P did not say that gifted kids need forced curriculum. Why, then, is the cello teacher’s behavior OK? Her curriculum is extremely forced.

            b. Brynn says that gifted kids respond well to forced curriculum. Where is the proof of that?

            c. How can you even know whether P’s son is “gifted” or “high achieving” or just “hardworking” at the cello? Is there a test for such a thing, and a means to measure it?

            d. Why is forcing a child to play a certain piece, or practice every day, apparently OK? But forcing a child to read a particular book is a bad thing? And forcing a child to go to school is (according to an earlier post) so bad that it’s worse than genital mutiliation?

            I don’t understand why there’s a broad exception for parents to do what they want when it comes to music lessons.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I’m not going to engage in the discussion of whether I am consistent in my views. No one is. It’s impossible for a growing, thinking, brave and scared person to be consistent while they try new things in their life.

        But here is something interesting. There is a very limited classical repertoire of solos for cellos. So you run out relatively quickly. There is infinite amount of music in jazz if you count improvisation.


        • jordan
          jordan says:

          I’m not expecting you to be perfect and the point of our comments was not so we could pat ourselves on the back and elicit a “yes I was wrong” response. It’s disappointing that you won’t engage in discussion on a topic that seems extremely relevant. Isn’t that the point of this blog?

          • Jane T.
            Jane T. says:

            I have to agree. If someone is being inconsistent, it’s good to ask why? what is going on?

            Being consistent is important and does matter. As consistent as possible, of course–no one is perfect.

            Why *is* music the one area where you feel forced curriculum is OK? It’s a good question. Because you think music is important? That’s OK, but others might think physics is equally important. They might force physics curriculum on a child.

            Perhaps forced curriculum is the best way to teach the subjects that are most important to the parent. Perhaps “child-driven learning” is for the less important stuff.

        • Daniel Baskin
          Daniel Baskin says:

          I have a cello prodigy in my 8th grade orchestra at the moment. Because we cannot play music difficult enough to challenge him (even if he reads everything up an octave or plays everything on the lowest string!), I just let him learn all the other instruments. Then when concert time comes, he just plays cello again.

          Music is a fairly inexhaustible art. Even just playing one instrument. I wouldn’t get too carried away with being afraid of exhausting the repertoire.

          Also, there is a ton of cello repertoire that would take more than a life time to actually master, I don’t know what whoever said that is talking about.

          I do like the cello teacher’s approach though, in terms of going slow to focus on quality of knowledge. If you progress a student too fast, bad habits and immaturity become major issues.

        • Susie
          Susie says:

          I recommend that cellists learn Finale and write or arrange their own music.

          What I would love to see more of is cello quartets or cello octets. Check out the Portland Cello Project, they are divine.

  2. Brynn
    Brynn says:

    As a child prodigy, and someone who often wonders if they have Asperger’s issues, I applaud this sort of discussion. My parents shoved me at academics. I had a complete meltdown at 14. It was the number one thing I didn’t want for my son and why we homeschool him. He doesn’t even get to know his test scores (mandantory state testing) and has no idea of his gifted status. I honestly believe it is the reason he is such a strong ENP and doesn’t fret about his status with peers.

    I will say, my son wants to graduate high school with his A.A. at 16 because he just wants to get it over with. As parents, we weren’t necessarily thrilled with this conclusion and seriously wanted him to think about experiencing adolescence. His response was, “What do you think I want to get college done early for? It is pointless, but people often want to see degrees. Once I have one, I can travel the world and be a naturalist really learning something!” It was hard to argue with.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is what I was trying to talk about. Maybe you brought up a better example than I did. But I’m really interested in the fact that in the US we get so excited about prodigy and pushing kids to do adult things, but in reality this gets kids nothing. It gets them a complex that they are not worth anything unless they are doing something at prodigy level – which, of course, you cannot do as an adult. As an adult you have to compete on all kinds of other stuff, and the adult world cares nothing of one’s prodigy earlier in life.

      It’s this dichotomy that I think we don’t talk about enough. And school encourages our fetishization of prodigy because we can rate and rank kids from an early age.


  3. Julie
    Julie says:

    I don’t see a problem here. They aren’t going off to college full time at twelve. They are starting with classes they are interested in while living at home. The parents sound like they take a very child led approach to homeschooling. It seems to me that they prove a point you often make Penelope, that when parents support children in pursuing their own I interests those children excel. This family decided to try college classes as a part of providing opportunities for their kids to pursue their interests and it worked out well. They are also not viewing their kids as “gifted” but enthusiastic learners because they are following their own interests. It also sounded like the were continuing to socialize with kids their own age while taking classes.

  4. MC
    MC says:

    I haven’t watched the video, but I read the article, and it sounds like:

    1) the kids do play with friends their own age
    2) several of them are in fields of study that require college to get a job, like doctor, aerospace engineer, etc. If that’s what they want to do, then why not do it at an early age? They seem pretty happy to me.
    3) the parents are explicitly not identifying their kids as exceptionally brilliant, which suggests to me that they are not egotistically using their kids to demonstrate their own smarts like so many other homeschoolers.

    Your criticism that they don’t homeschool exactly how you do is just as silly as those who criticize you for not learning Latin. The whole point is for the kids to discover what they want to do, right? So they want to go to college instead of be fashion designers. Big deal.

    P.S. You really should not be criticizing people for putting their kids out for public display of their homeschooling skills. Glass houses and that…

  5. mbl
    mbl says:

    Oh dear lord this is a loaded post.

    Who own’s Z’s gift? (I don’t doubt for a minute his high level) I understand the brain wiring issue and the teaching of perseverance and danger of perfectionism and intrinsic/extrinsic minefield. But just because he has the potential to be a phenom, doesn’t mean he has to. Maybe he has agreed that her way is the best thing for him. And maybe his is willing to delay complete ownership and joy in his talent for the potential of greater proficiency. I don’t know. But I can’t help but see the side that relates to the “stolen childhood” element. Isn’t he forever giving up the unadulterated joy and freedom that comes from choosing one’s own path? There are some amazing string “lullaby” versions of Coldplay and Metalica, truly beautiful.
    How does slowing him down protect him. If he isn’t trotted out as a show pony, who’s going to label and traumatize him. I would posit that if a child is held back and not allowed to “be a prodigy” they could be effed up as an adult wondering what could have been. I think the nature of being out of sync with others is to constantly speculate about paths not taken.

    I read by 2, I am not autistic. My sister read at 2, she is not autistic. My husband read at 7, he has Asperger’s. My daughter read by 2, she has Asperger’s. I am pretty sure that my showing her the alphabet and reading to her did not do her major harm. No flashcards or drills, just reading. The nature of giftedness is asynchronous development. Often the more highly gifted the wider the disparity. (Which bodes well for “specialization is in, well-roundedness is out—not to discount the hardship that being completely out of step causes.) My daughter learned the alphabet, made some puns, learned to walk, and then when back to language. To say that we should have forbidden reading/language skills while we worked on coordination seems odd. Would it have helped with integration of reflexes, perhaps so. But is anyone suggesting that highly coordinated “late talkers” be strapped to a highchair until they talk? Not that I know of.

    I haven’t looked into the family you referenced because I know I would lose two days of my life delving into the minutae. However, I can think of a number of ways as to how that happened. They could be intrinsic/extrinsic or a combination, but I’m not going to judge. (Unless they horrific slave drivers with miserable kids, in which I say judge away!)

    Two days ago I saw the film “The Race to Nowhere” and got out the tissues before the opening credits rolled. How anyone could watch that movie and not homeschool is beyond me. It is astonishing that homeschooling wasn’t proffered as an option, even for kids who were ready to check out of life due to the pressure. I can only assume that HS wasn’t mentioned because the crux of the film is education reform.

    With the highly gifted, there is much documentation that radical acceleration is often the best, and perhaps only, real solution. Gifted kids often have a great deal of trouble relating to age peers and are drawn to those both older and younger. Intellectual peers with similar interests offer the greatest chance for social development. How on earth is a 3 year old who describes things as fuchsia or magenta supposed to comprehend that many of her “peers” don’t yet know what pink is? That kind of disparity can cause major rifts unless the child can figure out how to scale back their vocabulary. A useful skill, but likely incompressible at that age.

    Kids who are really different know they are really different a really young age. If strangers are constantly doing double takes and asking how old she is while she is going about her business, the knows something is up. Should she “go underground,” or do you just teach her that everyone has strengths and weakness and pray for the best?

    A friend let her daughter attend the Mary Baldwin program for gifted girls. That meant she moved across the country at the age of 12/13. Was it agonizing? You betcha! Was it the right decision? They’ll never know. But, the opportunity for her daughter to be with age AND intellectual peers made it worth the gamble. I will never judge them or second guess their choice. Would we go that route if it seemed appropriate. I don’t think so, but we aren’t there yet, so who knows. I think the secret to homeschooling is to be willing to constantly adapt to what the child needs as they need it.

    My husband’s father pushed him to start college at 13. He did well academically, but hated it social and left to attend a private high school where he had an amazing math mentor. He pushed himself to be super well-rounded and ended up burning out while finishing his Ph.D. at 21, but is okie dokie now. You never know how things will pan out.

    I just finished Raising Cubby by John Robison. I’m a pokey reader and read it in one day. Gripping! It is about raising his son, missing the signs of Asperger’s in his son and is wife, even though he had recently been diagnosed. Much of the story revolves around how that affected their choices. Cubby ended third grade at a first grade reading level and started fourth grade at a late high school level. Thank you Harry Potter. Cubby is a kid who might have gotten to miss out on starring in a Grand Jury trial if he had started college earlier than 17. Just a thought.

    I’m not sure how to reconcile that a parent’s job is to teach their child that they are special, but it is an adult’s job to buck up and accept that they aren’t special. How is Melissa’s being lost at 23 any different from any other 23 year old figuring out what makes her her. Pretty much anyone with her gifts is going to have a mighty hard time figuring out where they fit. The greater and more varied the potential, the greater the variety of missteps. Carol Dweck’s Mindset is amazing for dealing with perfectionism. It is a must read.

    PT, I understand that these are issues that you have given a great deal of thought on and most likely have a visceral reaction to given your history and experiences and research. But some of us have equally compelling reasons for our, quite different, reactions and conclusions. Now if I can just figure out a way for my brain and my fingers to shut up . . .

  6. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    It sounded like the kids did play with their peers even though taking college classes.

    My daughter never felt special because she knew several people before her who had done the same thing. She felt it was normal.

    The COMPASS test was to determine what level of classes a student could handle. There were 3 parts, math, reading, writing, so it was not dependent on memorizing. It’s not an achievement test.

    How can you tell those kids have signs of Aspergers? I can’t tell.

  7. Danielle Ali Shah
    Danielle Ali Shah says:

    What I am seeing here is a whole lot of people nit picking about the details of this post, but missing the big picture of it. Rushing kids through school like it’s a race does not help anyone and forcing kids to become high achievers is opposite to the essence of homeschooling.

    Penelope wrote a blog about her beliefs. The reason we read her blog is that she writes from the heart in what feels like a stream of brash, honest and crazy consciousness.

    Why are you picking a brash, honest and crazy piece of writing to pieces for ‘consistencies’ as if it is some kind of academic journal?

    Love it for what you can learn from it and reject what you can’t. Isn’t that what blogs are all about?

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      “Why are you picking a brash, honest and crazy piece of writing to pieces for ‘consistencies’ as if it is some kind of academic journal?”

      Because PT advocates very passionately with lots of conviction for a parenting/educating style that is at odds with the mainstream of American society. I appreciate this style and plan on bringing lots of elements of it into my own life when my child reaches an age where they are applicable.

      There’s nothing wrong with asking “hey, this doesn’t seem to jibe with the philosophy you’ve previously espoused, why?” Readers are always going to be curious any time it seems something dosen’t follow from a writer’s espoused principles. In this case the principle is “children learn best from self-directed learning.” Here she’s introduced an exception and everyone wants to know why. It’s really not too much to ask.

      • Jane T.
        Jane T. says:

        It makes me question the whole “child-directed learning” thing, if P drives 8 hours a week to get forced curriculum. I think it’s OK to ask about that.

        And Gilda Barston is a college professor. At a university. How is this different from what the parents in the article have done? I mean, you can probably learn cello online.

  8. Denys
    Denys says:

    My daughter did a master class with Gilda Barston in Delaware and she was wonderful. She has such a great way with children (and their parents!) – warm, consistent, and gives just the right amount of information. I can see why you drive so far to see her!

  9. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    They seem like a wonderful, happy family. So many children, all playing with each other and other kids joyfully, all learning whatever they want to, different things for each, intensely and as quickly or slowly as they want, with parents who understand and support them.

    The only thing that bothers me is their success. I think I’ll find some way to run them down because I’m jealous.

      • Juliet
        Juliet says:

        Little Man Tate was a film about a boy genius and his working-class mom trying to give him all opportunities that he needs. The movie reinforces the power of a parent’s intuition.

        • Tim
          Tim says:

          I’ve seen the movie, I know the plot and the themes. Perhaps you could flesh out what you mean and how you see the movie as relating to this in specific ways instead of being coy and cryptic.

  10. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    I’ve been chewing on this one. While I agree that I would not want my 12-year-old child in college (for many of the reasons you listed), and I agree this family hardly represents the vast majority of the homeschooling community, I’m not certain it is proof of parental self-absorption. Maybe their older children truly enjoyed academia and pursued it with fervor, creating a sort of “culture” the younger children mimicked. In our neck of the woods, kids can enroll in online community courses to earn credits toward college beginning at age 15.

    As far as point 1 is concerned, I agree and disagree. I am not genius. I’m smart, but my A’s were primarily the result of perseverance. That said, in Kindergarten I REALLY wanted to be able to read. My mother was raised on phonics, my dad on sight-reading, so they were afraid to teach me the wrong, “current” method. In first grade, I was so ravenous to read I ended up testing on a 6th grade level – only after blowing through the Dick and Jane books, of course. I don’t say that to brag, but to say I hated being held back to write my alphabet and play with blocks. I was ready for BOOKS! Yes, kids need time to be kids, but if there is something they truly desire, that isn’t detrimental to them, I say open the gate.

    Quick note: I’m not raising a child with Aspergers, so I’m not speaking to that particularly.

  11. JRW
    JRW says:

    Wow, I just love this community, of course PT’s posts for their ever thought provoking nature, but also the quality of comments they generate never ceases to amaze me. And with that said, does anyone have advice or resources they could link me to for ideas for how to start out introducing a child to music lessons? My five year old daughter has expressed a desire for piano lessons, but she is the sort that, shall we say, responds very, very poorly to being “made” (or coerced in any way, even rewards) to do something. I’d love to hear thoughts on how I might try to get the best chance possible of her sticking with it. I imagine the “Ok, I’ll let you take lessons, but if you stop practicing then no more!” but that sounds so negative. Or do I just say this is the time set aside to practice every day, if you don’t then you won’t learn much. Have fun at your lessons though :). Or, does anyone think this is a good thing to just get super firm on and sit next to her and force it? We don’t force hardly anything so far because every time we’ve gone to war (over anything that didn’t involve danger or large health consequeces) we’ve regretted it. This girl’s will is…impressive.

    • Juliet
      Juliet says:

      Suzuki would be a perfect fit for you. And go with your gut feelings about the teacher’s personal integrity. Word of mouth recommendations are the best.

    • Denys
      Denys says:

      My now 12 year old started with Suzuki at 8 years old on cello and I wish I had started her sooner. Also a very strong-willed girl and the lessons are less “I say, you do”, and more “lets make something beautiful together”. There is a Suzuki piano course.

      When our Suzuki teacher moved four states away, we took lessons from a traditional teacher for a year. Big mistake and my daughter almost quit.

      My daughter now plays in a pre-professional orchestra and loves it – 3 hour rehearsals and all. She found a tribe of kids dedicated to creating beauty and a caring and mentoring conductor.

      No one can force anyone to do anything btw. People will comply with orders, but their heart isn’t in it and nothing is learned except hate.

  12. JRW
    JRW says:

    Thanks for the advice on Suzuki, we live rural so that’s going to be a tough one. The nearest teacher I’ve found on an online search is almost two hours away. Ugh.

    And Denys, I’m totally on board with avoiding force. I have my BS in child development and my husband is an adolescent therapist and we were on board with that parenting philosophy before having children, (have you read Alfi Kohn, we love that man’s work!) and it’s a good thing too because daughter #1 came out preaching it as well. :)

  13. JRW
    JRW says:

    P.S. there is a sweet 15 year old girl that lives in my small town who plays piano beautifully (mostly self taught), do you think it’d be reasonable to start lessons with her, even though she knows nothing about how to teach? Or would you wait until we’re willing to make the drive for a Suzuki teacher? I’ve read about Suzuki before and know it’d be a good fit for her too, just trying to decide how much to sacrifice to get her there, and whether or not it’s important to make her first introduction to the lessons a certain way? Does that make sense?

    • pls
      pls says:

      I’d be careful picking a teacher on their ability to play (especially a young player). Teaching an instrument and playing it are very different skills and its oftentimes very frustrating for both parties if the “teacher” basically just says “do it like this.”

      Is this 15-year-old willing to learn how to teach? I’d want her to have a strategy and to have given some thought to the mechanics of teaching. For example, my 13-year-old is starting to teach a 5-year-old violin in the Suzuki method, but she’s working with her own teacher on how to do it (my daughter’s last violin lesson was almost completely devoted to teaching methodology). So, I’m not saying its impossible, but it can’t just be “this person plays well” so they’ll naturally be able to teach a young kid. Does this girl have someone who can mentor her as a teacher?

    • Denys
      Denys says:

      Read Starr’s book “To Learn with Love” and see what you think after that about a teacher. I think the Starr family and Dr. Suzuki’s approach would say that a child will repeat what surrounds them. One of the best very young violin players I saw was a 5 year old whose mom was a Suzuki violin teacher. The mom hardly spent any time teaching the child, but in her world she was surrounded by the music repertoire and watching other children being taught.

      I know several piano players who taught themselves. Not possible with the string instruments – too many variables.

      Perhaps you should also learn to play??? I took viola Suzuki lessons for awhile. Good brainwork for sure!

  14. Jane T.
    Jane T. says:

    “This is proof that if you want your kids to win at the game of memorizing to get into college, you can win better if you take your kids out of school and do it full time, because school is really inefficient at winning the game they are supposedly playing. ”

    In the video, they didn’t show the kids memorizing. They showed the kids acting out medieval warfare using homemade weapons.

    Interestingly, they didn’t show the kids using any video games or other screens (Of course, they might still do so).

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      But what they didn’t show was the kids being forced to eat a big honking bowl of SOUR GRAPES!

      I believe that plenty of kids would be ready for college in their teens if they didn’t spend most hours of their childhoods watching TV, playing video games, gossiping, and obsessing about clothes. Having so many kids means the family essentially created their own youth culture in their house, one which values study, learning, and creativity over peer conformity and consumption.

      College can be a lot of fun for some kids. I enjoyed it a lot (and yes, I did get my BA when I was a teenager). It’s common where I live for homeschooled kids to start taking college courses in their teen years, and I expect my son is likely to as well — depending on where his interests head.

  15. redrock
    redrock says:

    I have to admit that I fail to see the difference between an athletic or musical high performer and an academic high performer (or exceptionally talented kid or a gifted kid or adult ..). The academic performance which apparently is only teaching to the test? True academic performance actually is not – anybody who has achieved academically knows that there is very little memorization in the upper echelons of academic thinking be it history, or language or math. Everything before that might be considered “training”. But that is not different from a gymnast doing 500 repetitions of one move. Or a violinist playing the same piece 100 times to get it just right. The gymnast trains the muscle memory… So, why is the violinist child prodigy who is academically homeschooled a good example for homeschooling, but the academic prodigy also homeschooled is a bad example?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      My point is that there is no purpose in having the kid get a college degree early. The only purpose it serves is external validation. Which is not productive for a kid. And, of course, the parents get to say their kids went to college early. Other than that, I see no point in the kids going to college early. There is plenty of material and outlets for learning that do not require getting the degree. And once you get the degree, that’s it. You can’t go back and get it when all the other kids your age get it. And we have established, at this point, that college is largely social. There is no need to get a college degree unless you want to use it for work. And I don’t think these kids are going to work. I just don’t get it.


      • mbl
        mbl says:

        Did I click the same link? They sound like really caring parents with a great sense of who their kids are. I suspect, like someone else posted, once Hannah started on that path, the other kids saw it as an option and perhaps a personal goal, but I don’t get the sense that it was for parental external validation. Lots of kids take the PSAT or SAT at 12 in talent searches or just for practice, or (egads!) fun.

        It looks like the careers/life paths the kids are choosing do require degrees, at least at this point. As I wrote before, intellectual peers are absolutely vital to social and emotional well being. And these kids seem to be getting both. The only issues I have with the parents are the “we and our kids are just regular folks” (I tend to doubt that) and the fact that they couldn’t have adopted me (I may be older than they are.)

        I think there are two different things going on the post. The post addressed the exploitation of autistic children and I am totally on board with abolishing that. But letting kids soar, I really don’t see the harm. So often floundering adults are advised to think back to their childhoods and remember what their passions were then.

        These kids just never outgrow them. Seth, the 12 year old son who is taking classes on the Middle Ages is just following up on his passion from age 7. When not in class he is frolicking in the yard in armor made of duct tape. Having a blast. None of the kids struck me as having Aspergers and none struck me as stressed.

        From the text:

        Hannah was the first of the Harding kids to take college entrance exams — at age 12. “I didn’t expect to pass,” she says, “so I started crying, because I was thinking, ‘Now what?'”

        By 22 she was designing spacecraft. She holds master’s degrees in math and mechanical engineering.

        “If they’re going to be working at my kitchen table,” Mona Lisa says with a smile, “why not earn college credit for what they’re doing?”

        Mona Lisa Harding home-schools her children in the basics, but found that her kids learned more quickly (and got less bored) when they were allowed to study deeply — something they loved.

        “The expectation is that you’re going to have a fun day,” Kip says, watching his children play. “Not that you’re going to come home with A’s.”

        Each Harding has a different passion. Keith loves music. Rosannah became an architect — at 18.
        And Thunder James? Well, what’s in a name? The 3-year-old careens down the hall, scattering his brothers and sisters, driving a little electric car.

        “By the time you get down to number five, number six, they just think learning seems normal. We find out what their passions are, what they really like to study, and we accelerate them gradually.”

        “We didn’t limit their experience,” Mona Lisa says. “They’re taking college classes, but socially, they are just teenagers.” Who live at home, not in college dorms.

        “All our children would have to tells us is, ‘You know, this isn’t fun any more,” Mona Lisa says, “and we’d do something about that.”

        From the post, regarding needing higher level interaction. There is no way that googling or Kahn or emailing a professor can replace the magic of human moments. Face to face encourages and makes possible the shared, passionate exchange of ideas that is absolutely vital to a child whose interests have been ridiculed and dismissed by age mate peers.

        PT, I suspect that you believe this too. Aren’t there numerous youtube videos that explicitly map out fingering, bowing, and tempo for all of the greats? Even Skype could help to perfect intonation and any other nuances for a stellar performance. But without the energy of the participants, I suspect it would be unsatisfactory. Thus, worth the drive.

        Again, I think adding the element of autism does change things. As evidenced by many of the comments and examples here, there seems to be a pattern that early college worked for those without autism. Not so much for those with undiagnosed autism (as was the case with my husband.) I know numerous teens (both HS and PS) who are taking college courses and are having great success with them and so very relieved finally find a good fit. I know of no parents who would push the kids at all. Most worry about “letting” their kids do it. In my state a high schooler can take 2 years for free once the H S requirements are met.

        I know this can still come down to “is college still a waste of time even if it is free?” I do think, in many fields that will eventually happen, but I don’t think we are there yet. (certainly not in medicine and architecture)

        I’ve really been in a tizzy over this the last couple of days. It pains me to think of the Harding family seeing this without seeing commenters challenge the assertion that they are nut jobs exploiting their children. I understand the vilification of David Dellifield, he “came into your house.” But it looks like this family was included as one story in a book, Bob Dotson’s new book “American Story:A Lifetime Search for Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things,” and Dotson did the story to promote his book. (maybe the parents show pony their kids in other venues–but I didn’t see anything like that)

        I think that tiger parents can evoke the psychological damage that you refer to as a worry. But I think that can often come from forced “over-achieving.” But when the talent AND drive are there, I think many kids really do want to see how far they can fly.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Well said, mbl. Thanks.

          I think PT made it clear that her great animus is against the institution of college. She’s got some kind of point to make against college, and anything she sees has to be drafted into that. If this family was encouraging their kids to design clothes, play the cello, or raise farm animals at an early age she might be all for it. But college is a dirty word for PT.

          I suspect this has to do with her own academic failure (washing out of grad school) and her necessary subsequent choice of endeavors for which a degree is not required. She seems to think the path not taken is full of very sour grapes.

          I know that I like to believe that my choices are better than those other people make; it’s pretty common to feel that way. I also think, however, that if you have to do a lot of logical pirouettes (e.g. “I don’t think these kids are going to work”) to achieve your confirmation, it’s time to wipe your goggles. In this case, PT has gone a bit too far, and it looks worse on her than it does on them.

          I loved college classes as a teenager. I took tons of them. They were energizing and fulfilling for me, the absolute most fun I had. After getting a BA while I was a teenager, I did go on to get an MA and a PhD (on full fellowship), and I loved doing that even more. I had an absolute blast, and I don’t regret taking a single course. My turn to professional work after my PhD was instant, smooth, and remunerative. Academic study isn’t for everybody (and I agree too many people are doing it right now), but it works very well for some people.

          There were plenty of people who wanted to prevent me from advancing rapidly, who wanted to hold me back to the normal pace of things, and they had one thing in common: they all worked at my public school. I am not sure what lead them to do that, but I recall them as a very vocal committee of concern trolls.

          How wonderful it is for these kids to avoid people like that, and how sad it is that people like that have to pile on them over the internet.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            well said. College is also what you make it to be for yourself. Want to party for 4 years, sure go ahead. Want to engage intellectually? Plenty of opportunities to do so. Want a degree to get a job? Sure, just take a major which allows you do take that route. There is freedom of choice in a college career, although I think it is a pretty expensive route to take if you only party for 4 years…. but I have seen plenty of students who completely checked out for a year or two and then found their calling and dove into it.

          • mbl
            mbl says:

            I think this is one of the topics that PT has chosen to take an all or nothing stance. (that is sometimes “part of her charm” and often a major component of her success) My guess is that she had been ruminating on “don’t take advantage of Aspie prodigies” then saw the headline about the family, grabbed it as a “hook,” wove in some “college is passe” and was off to the races.

            I think this is one of the topics that is her “thinking out loud” and looking for a sounding board to start a discussion. Just like the impetus for the HS blog. I think she is trying to mesh music as an exception with self directed is always best and is having trouble. Unfortunately, she is, naturally, feeling attacked, when readers ask for clarification. I don’t see the questions as nitpicking given that she emphatically states her opinion, often as fact, brings up compelling topics that elicit debate, and gives specific examples via personal experience. I see it as a compliment that people remember what she has written, think about, reply, and synthesize the information. I totally agree with PT when she says that people change and grow. I just think readers want to hear more about how she is reconciling the seemingly disparate views she has espoused.

            FTR, it feels really icky to “talk about her” in this way. Especially as an anonymous (except to her) armchair shrink. But again, it a testament to the relevancy of her topics and her compelling nature.

            I agree that, for many fields, college is on its way out. But for others some standards need to be upheld. Although I don’t understand why, if someone needs to pass stringent “boards” and certifications for medicine, law, architecture, accounting, and the like, why does it need to be so regimented as to how? I am completely certain that there are self taught people in all of the those fields that are far more knowledgeable and suited for the actual practice of these professions than some who are able to jump through the hoops, but do not have a gift for field. I think the whole “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” gets lost with some smart, academic oriented kids (especially with pushy parents and cultural expectations.) And others who are just not cut out for the rigid structure of academic hoop jumping aren’t allowed to play without soul-crushing effort.

            I think I would have been like you, Commenter, had I had the opportunity to attend college early AND had an ADD diagnosis with the supports that are available today. But my parents, against school recommendation, wouldn’t let me skip even one grade. My mother regrets that now, but felt she made the right decision at the time. What can ya’ do? I think it suckity sucks when there are articles about the psychological dangers of radical grade skipping. Parent driven seems like a horrible idea, but with student desire and support, I think it is often the only solution. As I have said before, prodigies and other super duper gifted people are often likely to end up effed up no matter what path they take. It kind of comes along with the territory of being so very different. I think safely supporting the child in their passions it the very best route. It sounds like you had supportive parents and that made a wonderful difference.

            Again, I think we are headed away from the college as a requirement model, and I truly think we should. But we are not there yet, and decisions have to be made based on the most viable route to attaining one’s goals or chosen life. If the most expedient route is college, so be it.

            Redrock, I agree that college, as it is, is ideal and not to be missed for certain types. As long as they understand the costs, monetary and temporal, etc. be my guest! But having it arbitrarily mandatory for many jobs seems like a really expensive and time consuming gate-keeping policy. Should be exciting to see where things go!

  16. Toph
    Toph says:

    You do get the most interesting commenters, Trunk. It appears that the point you’re most interested in expressing but seem unable to state directly is that: parents who homeschool their kids into college at the age of 12 (as an example) are primarily doing so to prove something to/about themselves rather than do what is in their kids’ best interest. Is that about right?

    If so, I agree. This is “education” focused on the finish line, rather than the quality of the experience of learning. This is also what’s happening in our test-obsessed public schools (and Universities), though, so it’s easy to see why home educators would believe that’s how success should be measured. It’s selfish behavior at its worst, and it’s the behavior of untrained children’s educators at best. Have any of these parents taken child psychology classes? Most professional educators have (if they’re teaching children).

    Home educators like these seem to begin from a premise of: parenting is harder than teaching, so if they can do that, they can certainly teach.

    The flaw is that good parenting is very hard and is not about reaching a finished product. Good teaching is also very hard and also not about a finished product. And good parenting involves good teaching (imagine multi-color Venn diagram here).

    As a home-educator, how hard is it for you to separate your roles as mom and teacher to your kids? Or do you not think about it?

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      you mean parents with kids in high-level gymnastics programs tell their kids just to have fun doing cartwheels?

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          so it is ok to have the drive to succeed and learn in gymnastics but not to have the drive to succeed and learn in academics? And it is ok for parents to push their kids to succeed in gymnastics, which by the way rarely pays off in terms of a profession later on, but it is not ok to push in academic aspects of education?

          • Toph
            Toph says:

            The language you chose is interesting: “the drive to succeed and learn.” As though they are synonymous. People who succeed often do so not out of learning but out of being good-looking, ingratiating themselves with their supervisors, or just being born into the right family. Actual real learning (sadly) often doesn’t lead to achieving what we now consider “success.”

            But more to your point: of course there is nothing wrong with parents pushing their kids to succeed in academic pursuits or in athletic pursuits. The definition of “succeed”, however, is different for each of those. In athletics, there are winners and losers at every tournament. Athletics is defined by competition. In academics, there is no competition (apart from Jeopardy perhaps). Traditionally, academic success was defined by learning a subject, then building on that to learn more, and so on. At this moment, though, academic success is being pushed further and further towards being defined by test scores and potential future income levels.

            There are a multitude of reasons this is a mistake (it excludes the arts from having value, it makes “teaching to the test” the norm, it encourages memorization and not actual learning, etc.), but most people seem to agree that the competition aspect has very little to do with learning. Instead, it makes education a hurdle that must be passed to “achieve success.”

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I meant success if you want to use that word because it is more synonymous to a sports competition, and because it can be interpreted in many ways: success in solving a problem, success in understanding concept, success in reading a 500 page book for the first time. Success as in “succesfully completing a task be it intellectual or music or athletics” – it is just easier to measure in athletics. This phrase “succeed and learn” is inclusive to those who define themselves by the completion of a task and those who define themselves by the process of doing a task. Success is in this context not the driving of the big car and owning of the large house or being the CEO of a big company. The mistake is to set academics to be synonymous to earning lots of money – it is not. Academic development is a good thing, whether it leads to a lot of money is a different aspect of life. Although I somehow doubt that any of the fortune 500 CEO brings a low level of academic abilities to the table.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          This is so well said! I need to talk like this more. This is exactly what I mean to say – that academics is not competitive. Thanks, Toph. And I do think it’s an American thing to think it’s a competition. I should write about that…


          • mbl
            mbl says:

            I’m truly hoping that you are able to write about this, because I am utterly perplexed. And not for lack of trying!

            Per Toph:”The language you chose is interesting: “the drive to succeed and learn.” As though they are synonymous. People who succeed often do so not out of learning but out of being good-looking, ingratiating themselves with their supervisors, or just being born into the right family. Actual real learning (sadly) often doesn’t lead to achieving what we now consider “success.”

            Isn’t it all semantics? What does “succeed” mean? What does “learn” mean? If learn means to apply new information and make different, hopefully better choices, then how is capitalizing on societal perks not due to learning? A good-looking person learns to dress for the part, where the right hairstyle, and even, per PT, get plastic surgery. Bulking up with muscle mass is not a good way to succeed as a Pilates instructor. Success via sucking up is applying social savvy as to whom to suck up to. Per PT, business success is about social skills and not I.Q. or degrees. Doesn’t one need to learn how to do that? Being born in the right family might require a level of sucking up. I was a nanny for a man who, along with his siblings, refused to suck up to their father and lost out on a 1 billion (yes billion) dollar fortune.
            What is “actual real learning?” (I view it as some sort of creative synthesizing from myriad sources.) It can lead to academic success and may well be the ONLY route to innovation.

            I am still at a loss as to how to process there is no measure of success through competition in academic or intellectual pursuits. I listed numerous things that I think qualify. They are not the regurgitation of facts. Even spelling bees can require educated guessing based on etymology. I think the whole mathletes thing is a perfect example. A 9 year old that I know recently held on to attending school until the math tournament was over, and then refuse to go after that. He was so disappointed with his team at the tournament. I don’t remember how they placed, but his disappointment was that his teammates could only solve problems that followed formulas they had been given when it was, well, formulaic. The joy in it, for him, was the art of problem solving. You can bet that there were clear winners in that competition and those who could truly problem solve, had a distinct advantage. Aren’t there “unsolvable” proofs that are challenges that require creative, innovative methods. I would certainly consider those who solved them to be winners. I would also expect them to be classified as academic, if not academics.
            My husband is on a ton of sports teams and really likes to win, but I wouldn’t consider him “competitive” because it is all about the physical exercise and camaraderie. I had thought he was just laid back in temperament. Until he told me the story of his high school math team. He was not able to get into a magnet type school for math wunderkinds. The SAT requires for language were super high. Even though is math scores were perfect and good enough for acceptance to Harvard et al, but not this school. He took enormous, huge, really great pleasure in leading his formally not award winning school to victory every year that he was captain (I think it was sophomore-senior years.) I had no idea he was that competitive. I can’t see this in any other light than academic “success” and competition with a very clear winner and definite losers.

            Per Toph:
            “There are a multitude of reasons this is a mistake (it excludes the arts from having value, it makes “teaching to the test” the norm, it encourages memorization and not actual learning, etc.), but most people seem to agree that the competition aspect has very little to do with learning. Instead, it makes education a hurdle that must be passed to “achieve success.”

            I’m not sure who here is saying that test driven education is a good model. But the real issue is the definition of “success” in our culture. Why is it just a problem in education? Why is the ultimate goal of athletics a multi-year multi-million dollar contract? In music, a recording contract–with or without creative control? And even in art, solo exhibitions in “the right” galleries and astounding prices for works that were mainly done by worker bees? I think “quality of life” is becoming more admired, but to single out academics as different doesn’t seem right to me. Heck, TED talks seem to be a new cap feather for professors.

            The other issue is competition and the need for winners and losers.One could say competing with oneself for a personal best should suffice. Or look at the things accomplished and the raised bar that competition can inspire, even in academics and the arts. It astounds me that winning times in things like marathons come down to seconds. Over 26 frickin’ miles. the need to declare winners and losers in sports

            The film The Race to Nowhere addresses these a little bit, but doesn’t take it far enough, in my opinion. I have read that a number of universities are finding that super-achieving math students from Asian countries sometimes collapse when faced with non-formulaic problems. Thus far, they have noted that many top U.S. educated students can handle them. I hope that that remains the case. But think that that can be achieved via competition that rewards creativity.

            Ugh! There is so much here and I don’t understand this seeming divide between posters whom, I suspect have similar underlying aspirations for society. I’m sure this whole post is a hot mess. Sorry about that.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      In academics, there is no competition (apart from Jeopardy perhaps).

      I am at a bit of a loss as to how to categorize:

      Quiz bowl, competitions for mathletes, debate, moot court, valedictorian, honor roll, National Merit Scholar, numerous scholarships, even chess tournaments and lego robotics competitions have elements of academic competition.

      And let’s not forget reading contests. They suck. If you go by number of books, the work around is short books. If you by number of pages, large font. Number of minutes, dilly dallying.

      Regarding: parents who “homeschool their kids into college” at the age of 12 (as an example) are primarily doing so to prove something to/about themselves rather than do what is in their kids’ best interest

      That may be true. But just because a child enters college at 12, it does not follow that the parents pushed them into. It may well be that the child lobbied the parents into allowing it. In my circles homeschooling is a whole lot more about what the child needs, often at the expense of the parent, and not so much about parental ego.

      “Have any of these parents taken child psychology classes? Most professional educators have (if they’re teaching children).” I don’t even know what to do with that tidbit. Many parents take their children out of school as a last resort to save their children from these very teachers. Teachers may well take some child psych classes, but they are primarily utilized in the name of crowd control. I, for one, have not bought into the “school knows best” when it comes to individual children. And if it so happens that parents are at a loss as to what it best for their child, it may well be because the schools have completely overstepped regarding when and under what circumstances (dealing with homework/projects) the family interacts.

      Thanks rr, I know I would have to have looked them up.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Nonsensical statements like “academics is not competitive” are amusing, aren’t they?

        I think those who would like to claim that academics isn’t competitive are probably those who lost the competition and now want to pretend they weren’t competing anyway. It’s a nonchalant strut on the way to the elevator.

        It’s such an odd thing that folks might like to get engaged in children competing with each other in sports like gymnastics or soccer and then say ‘oh, but (robotics, chess, debate, publishing…) isn’t competitive.” No, it’s just not something _you_ can win a competition in. Other people do. It’s not unfair just because you lose. That’s a disturbing double standard that ought to cause any reasonable person to reflect.

        Maybe the confusion is about vocabulary. It’s reasonable to say that learning isn’t competitive; one can learn all sorts of things, and comparing them doesn’t even work much of the time. But academics is not the same as learning. Academics is a kind of defined intellectual endeavor or study in particular fields that happens at schools and especially at universities, and schools and universities are inherently competitive places. The difference between learning and academics is similar to the difference between play and sports.

        Academics is and has always been competitive. Academics are some of the most competitive people I’ve met. (As they say, in academia the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low). If academics is a focus of your life, you’d better be competitive about it or you will be left behind. It starts with battling for position in grade school or high school (e.g. competition to make valedictorian), proceeds through college admissions (i.e. competitive admissions), and continues in college with fellowships and publications and the like. Then some move on to the most brutal competition of all, which is getting one of the very few tenure-track jobs in academia.

        It’s not unreasonable to say that academic competition is meaningless, irrelevant, or even despicable. And it’s certainly fine to say you don’t want your children to compete in academics, just as it is fine to say you don’t want your children to compete in sports. But to pretend it doesn’t exist and doesn’t start in grade school just because you don’t do it is counterfactual and absurd.

        I think it is more use to me and to my family to engage and, when necessary, compete, in good faith in those things that interest us the most, and to accept our losses or celebrate our victories in a spirit of sportsmanship, than to pretend that competition is evil or doesn’t exist.

        We’re not going to pretend that there is no competition at conservatory prep, for example. We’re just not going to obsess about it. Of course auditions are competitive, of course evaluations are competitive. Competition is part of life, it’s normal human behavior and can be a useful teaching tool, and it doesn’t have to be terrible. We’d be worse off if we went out of our way, or stopped doing things, to avoid competition.

        Is this what someone who believes “academics isn’t competitive” does? Does one only do things to the extent they can be done without competition? Play with NXT, but never do a First Lego League. Study music, but never attend a conservatory. Only play freeze tag and never soccer.

        Sure, people get carried away with competitiveness. But people might get carried away with avoiding it also. And it remains blatantly unfair and mean to accuse the Harding family of arriving at their chosen lifestyle only because they are carried away with competitiveness.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          well said. “Then some move on to the most brutal competition of all, which is getting one of the very few tenure-track jobs in academia.” this probably explains why I fail to see the difference between an athletic competition and academic succes…..

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      It’s always people who don’t homeschool who talk about parents as unqualified child educators because they don’t understand what it is like, particularly for families who don’t do “school at home.”

      What I’d love people to realize is that when you remove the obstacles of compulsory attendance and curriculum it doesn’t take much (if any) teaching for kids to learn. If you want to go through a curriculum then yes, you may need to help the child, and you may or may not be good at it. But a lot of parents, as it sounds the ones in the interview did, leave these behind in favor of following the child’s interest.

      If teachers have studied child development, they are not applying it to educating in the schools as demonstrated especially in the early grades, which I think is probably more important developmentally.

      If the kid plays for 12 or 14 years and isn’t doing school, a college class can be fun and stimulating and a welcome change of pace. There is something about being in a class and doing the same work as college students that gives some kids satisfaction, more than getting a psychology text and reading it alone or hunting online for psych articles.

      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        When children are allowed to play and experience childhood fully, adolescence is a time when they are ready and wanting to begin taking on adulthood. Nature dictates it.

        They still have maturation to go through, but they are capable of taking on responsibility and making decisions and appear mature compared to peers, even though in younger years they may have appeared immature comparatively.

  17. Toph
    Toph says:

    I agree with you that success is more easily measured in athletics. I see a danger in using that easy metric (“winner/loser”) to define success in academics. In the example that you give, “success in reading a 500 page book for the first time,” there is certainly success–the reader accomplished a goal. But there was no competition, and therefore no winner or loser. That takes nothing away from the success, though.

    So I think we’re perhaps in agreement on academic development being a good thing, and you seem to be agreeing that “success” needs to be measured differently in that realm.

    As a side note, there are plenty of CEOs that are not academics by any means: Wal-Mart’s CEO Michael Duke, Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, Nordstrom’s CEO Blake Nordstrom, etc. And the list is even longer if we look at Boards of Directors for Fortune 500 organizations, where electing directors is typically a matter of politics and family affiliations.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      I did not mean academics in the traditional sense – I meant educated at a relatively high level – academically literate

  18. Toph
    Toph says:

    I got your meaning; the four people I listed are not academically literate and/or educated at a high level, and there are plenty of others.

  19. redrock
    redrock says:

    Every single one of them went to college, which is more then a basic level of education. I would consider that education at a relatively high level – I would not consider graduate school a requirement if you take a more business path.

    • Rhea
      Rhea says:

      Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were college drop-outs.

      And more from TIME’s Top 10 Drop Out’s list –,28804,1988080_1988093_1988082,00.html

      Anyway, in Academics I think children need to learn how to compete against themselves – how to be the best me? I think kids get distracted in traditional schools and the focus becomes too much on the social – what they are wearing, who they are dating – and lose focus on the learning aspect. It is no wonder bullying and teen suicides has increased because this attitude that “learning is your job” (job as in focus) is not being reinforced at home. The learning environment at most traditional schools is force-fed – lecturing without time for debate or questions. Memorize or get left behind. That is why I am homeschooling my daughter – so that she doesn’t feel like there is a time limit on a certain subject.

      • Rhea
        Rhea says:

        And I think the Harding family is doing well to support their children’s endeavors. I think we should focus more of specialization of our country. Why not have more experts instead of average workers? These kids have the luxury of time to change their minds too if they want to go for another field. How many people have mid-life crises in the world? These kids were raised to go for their dreams. I doubt they will have many regrets in their lives.

  20. Lizarino
    Lizarino says:

    I am an unschooling homeschool mom who will not be sending my children to college early (if at all) unless they want to be an engineer or physicist… My husband who is an engineer works with another engineer who homeschooled his child (they are millionaire hippies… like hippie hippies… he doesn’t even have to work but does so anyways because that’s what engineers do *rambling*).

    His daughter is in her mid-20’s and has like 7 degrees!! Yes, 7! This is not a good thing… she started college early like these kids and had absolutely no clue what she wanted to do in life until her 20’s … just like most young people… so all that wasted money on several bachelor’s and masters degrees…and she works in a field where she will never make that money back, so it’s a good thing her parents are so wealthy because if she financed her education like most kids she’d never be able to pay those back.

    I agree with Penelope that college should not be the goal for homeschoolers… research shows that for Generation Z and Generation Alpha that 65% of the jobs in 2030 don’t even exist now… and that generation will be least likely to have a 40 hour a week desk job, will most likely be freelancers with niche skills… I’m just saying… homeschooling is the right way to educate our children… and unschooling even more so… unless you want your children to have an archaic factory worker education and have mountains of debt that they can never pay off. I’m not saying they won’t succeed if they aren’t homeschooled, but they will have to work harder and longer to have the same opportunities that we give our homeschooled kids.

    Not sure if this made any sense, but just wanted to give a real story to back up P…

    • Rhea
      Rhea says:

      I think the difference is that your friend’s daughter wasn’t focused on a passion and perhaps her family lifestyle made her feel like she had the luxury to dabble in her whimsy. These Harding kids know what they want and they are going for it. How can you knock that? Their family is single income so it seems that the family background is a major difference in perspective for the children you are comparing.

  21. MaryAnn
    MaryAnn says:

    The only thing I am going to speak on is the fact that idiots who have no F’n idea what they are talking about always like to say homeschoolers are isolated and un-socialized!!! This is SOOO far from the truth. We have homeschool soccer, homeschool bowling, park days, homeschool skate….and more. While your kids are getting yelled at for talking in class our kids are actually encouraged to speak and can speak freely! People need to stop spreading the rumor that homeschoolers and un-socialized!

  22. Joe
    Joe says:

    I just saw a special on this family on TV and I have to take issue with Penelope’s review and conclusions. The Harding’s appear to be a loving family and kids are well adjusted. In addition to their academics, they all are engage in social activities commensurate with their age. Penelpe’s “national nut job” label tells me more about Penelope then it does about the Hardings.

  23. d
    d says:

    Interesting that its your own personal opinion on how “you would like to learn” fact is, from the interviews, the children enjoy it and want to do this, they have goals and want to achieve them, obviously you haven’t read the e-book which clearly says they are “Self taught” once they are old enough to read they are free to study and learn whatever interests them. If they master the cello in one year and they want to master the flute the next why not let them, parents need to step out of the way and let their children soar. You assume they didnt have a “childhood” or “play”. Far from it, the kids are in extra cir. activities, sports, drama, ect. and also hang out with eachother paying building ect. you assume they sit and do school all day everyday non-stop. I find Jealousy is your problem

  24. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I feel as though your assessment on this family is based on your own cynical beliefs. It does not adhere to what you think is right and a norm so their family is nuts? I was very intrigued by what they have all accomplished and so quickly. The children all appeared to be very well mannered and much more respectful than almost all of the children I see today. Just because something is different does not make it strange. If you took a step back you would realize that there is so much to be learned from this curriculum and type of concentrated academics and how and what they have taught there children. We all now that the US education system is falling behind and is not able to teach children in a way that works best for that individual so it takes longer and longer for the kids in the class room to get through the curriculum. There are also many things, events, theories that our schools emphasize that are either not historically accurate or have hardly been proven.

  25. Laura
    Laura says:

    I found this article while researching this family because I am looking into what curriculums and stuff we will use for next year (my second year of homeschooling). I have not found anything on them yet as far as what their particular methods are or what their beliefs are (apart from some statements about God I’m not sure).

    Anyway, this article comes across as being very much based on assumptions, generalizations, and bias from your own past experiences. It comes off as a knee jerk reaction instead of being well thought out.

  26. Christmas
    Christmas says:

    I think what bothers me the most about this post is, I think the best thing about homeschooling is that we as parents have the freedom to do it the way we want. This post just calls parents who do it differently from herself as “National Nut Jobs” and talks as if her way is “the only” way. Now, I actually do homeschool in a similar way was PT but saying other ways are bad is just as bad as them saying that our way is bad. I also have a gifted child who read early on her own (no flash cards, no drills, no phonics, I just read to her and answered her questions when she asked what each word read) and I was told I need to take her books away from her environment (come again?) so she could learn to play just like PT wrote about her experience. But she already spent plenty, and I mean plenty, of time playing. She was very bored in school and one of the reasons we homeschool is so she can learn at her pace (not pushed by me but not held back by school either). Isn’t that what homeschooling all about, at least according to PT? It does not seem fair to say it’s good to go slower because the child needs more time, but it’s awful to go faster even if the child is ready for it.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      Thank you for posting this. Your children seem delightful and well-spoken across the board. The interviewer, less so. I was really hoping that your 5 year old would inform him that while she did indeed know the word “jealous,” she did not understand his inane question. Alas, she seemed far to polite for that.

      Again, thanks for linking. I would have loved for the kids to have had more screen time, though.

    • Cheryl Sims
      Cheryl Sims says:

      Thank you for posting the link to the interview. I had not seen it prior to today but I have downloaded and read your e-book. I have to tell you, I was ready to give up on homeschooling my son (ages 10 and 13) because it was such a battle to get them to do their work but when I read what you had found out in your research about kids getting bored and checking out around age 12 or so, it all made sense. So, we will soon begin a “delayed” version of the acceleration process and see if that helps them at all. I believe it will help immensely.

      Thank you again for sharing your experiences with us and for being such a great example of how to graciously respond to “nay-sayers” such as you did on this person’s blog post.

  27. laura spilde
    laura spilde says:

    I see education as being similar to child birth. If one woman wants to home-birth her own kids and she can so that the child survives……let her alone.

    If one woman wants to home- educate so that the child can read, write and function with mathematics in the real world…..leave her alone.

    When the public catches up to the facts that stats are showing healthier babies in home birth environment and more rounded educated non-sin-bondage forming children in home-education environments….then leave the stats speak for them selves.

    Just because the entire community buys purple poka dotted pink pajamas for all children in the family and purposefully pushes the children to dance in front of grandma Lillian, doesn’t mean the entire community needs to follow in the same footsteps.

  28. laura spilde
    laura spilde says:

    I would hate to see the judgment that comes back from one who writes “national nut jobs” about another human being and another family. One must remember to take the log out of ones own eye before taking the sliver out of thy neighbor. Scorn has its consequences they say. I really wouldn’t want to be the person writing this post.

  29. Ashanda
    Ashanda says:

    After reading your article I felt the need to comment. With all due respect, I totally disagree with you. These parents talk about the fun of education, their children playing with kids their own age. Not pushing them to take college courses unless they’re interested. I don’t think you properly presented their position. If a child shows interest in a particular subject at an early age then flowing with that and encouraging them is a good thing. As a homeschool parent I am greatly encouraged by their accomplishments.

    BUCK NAKED says:


  31. sad
    sad says:

    Some interesting arguments, though I feel that you are judging this family without knowing them or their children. It is rather inflammatory to call them, “nutjobs.”
    I think that this family is an example of the success of homeschooling, because it proves that children can learn and succeed at a much faster rate than we currently expect or demand. That is important information, and the fact that all of their children were able to do so is instructive.
    My child easily passed the “Praxis” teacher certification test when she was only 11. She is smart, but not a genius. This makes me question the rigor of our existing school to college system. I think it is not challenging at all for bright children. Why not do more? Maybe the problem is NOT that these children are going to college at age 12, but that college is at the level of a 12 year old. Maybe every child should be at that level by age 12. How much intellectual capital are we WASTING because we expect too little?
    There is no evidence that these children are not having fun or being normal kids. They just have a higher bar set for them. The bar should be higher for everyone. Maybe this is why my oldest has still not found a “challenge” level even at university. How disappointing.

  32. Christian
    Christian says:

    I was never “homeschooled” but I loved to learn on my own after hours — indeed, most of my academic learning was outside of school. After 4th grade, I was given the offer to go to college. In 7th grade, the University of Washington asked if I wanted in. I had learned everything I needed to know, from an academic perspective, to go to college at either juncture. I refused to play along with their wishes. Why? I wanted to have friends and develop a normal social life like my older siblings. Did I learn much at all after 6th grade? Not academically in the classroom. I learned a ton about life: friendship, competition, leadership, etc. I never regret foregoing the big opportunity to be one of the youngest ever to attend college. As a professor today, I feel sorry for the occasional kid I see who starts college at 12 or 13 or even 14…..

  33. Syed Wasim Ali
    Syed Wasim Ali says:

    I know parents who are pushing their kids beyond their maturity level. Though this particular story is different where the parents note,

    “All our children would have to tells us is, ‘You know, this isn’t fun any more,” Mona Lisa says, “and we’d do something about that.”

    I have two kids that take interest in advanced activities. If they want to play, I facilitate access. And it just happens to be that they are way ahead of the other kids around them. But, they are having fun. There are other activities that they share with kids their own age. Why is it that gluing to the TV playing video games more fun for a 12 year old than developing your own games in a cloud-based environment? For some parents, being a kid means more free time to do as the Jones do. And that is fine, I suppose.

    The bottom-line is that as long as the kids are having fun and they show the drive to push forward with learning bigger and better things, this is a natural path to growing up. Choosing a different path for them in this case will lead them to settle for a different activity that may or may not be conducive to their growth.

    Again, there are no absolutes in life. You cannot describe “normal” by grouping all the kids with traditional upbringing alone.

    Author’s experience with a young doctor in Illinois is just one example. No one knows what would have happened if this doctor was forced to follow the “norm” in going through grade school.

  34. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    All of this comparing, labeling, and judging isn’t productive or positive; and is far more damaging than children taking college courses. Parenting has it’s challenges, but those who assume full responsibility of raising their children are worthy to be praised; regardless of their methods, unless it’s intended to cause physical or mental harm. We all possess unique abilities, gifts, and/or talents; and, while some may be present earlier on with ease, others may need a bit more coaxing and encouragement. But, what is the most important factor in all of this? Well, mine is to respect my children; what’s yours?

    I AM WHERE I AM, SO THAT I MAY GROW. – James Allen

  35. Ashanda
    Ashanda says:

    We actually have a lovely lady who I met the other day coming to speak at our homeschool meeting. Her eldest, 17, just graduated from college and her two 16 year olds will graduate in April! God has great things in store for those who put their trust in Him!

  36. MissB
    MissB says:

    I actually purchased the book that the family wrote and read it in entirety. Be careful criticizing these people. They are not pretentious. The children are very, very average. They score 17 or 18 on the ACT, including the one who is now a physician. She goes into detail about how challenging it was getting into medical school with her average MCAT scores. Their homeschooling methodology involves allowing the child at age 11 or 12 decide if college courses in his strongest subject and then the child only takes what is needed for that time. The child is not dumped onto a college campus for four years as a prepubescent young teen. Mom sits outside and waits or walks the baby in the stroller while the youngster takes a history class. It’s not that big of a deal. Meanwhile, mom still homeschools her/him English, math and whatever coursework is still junior high/high school level.

    The interview sensationalized the whole family but in reality, they are very serious about allowing the child to determine what she/he wants to become, and at what time she is ready to attend a college class. The children wrote chapters of the book (including an 11 year old son) and their writing is insightful. They are more of a testament as to what hard work and determination on the part of the child can accomplish, rather than what you can make your average 100 IQ-level child do by force or coersion.
    And as a side note, many of our nation’s founding fathers attended college in their mid teens and were working in professions in their early 20s. It seems that even we as maverick homeschoolers get caught up with the prescheduled school ages as “5-18” with college after that. As long as the student is pushing to accelerate, we should not judge those who seek to pursue a goal on their own timelines. College is simply a means to an end, not the finish line of childhood.

  37. A
    A says:

    At least I can openly admit I’m envious rather than knocking the obvious superior success of these amazing parents! Way to go – those kids will have a lifetime headstart, whether or not they waste it.

  38. A
    A says:

    Getting that much of a head start is phenomenal. If you don’t know who you are or what you want at age 23 then I’d say thats completely normal. Only this person has their degree already and if they want another one it isn’t too late. These parents are amazing. We are just seeing the first generation of such children. As it becomes commonplace I think we will see just how ass backwards the US education system is. Go get a real job and you’ll see that there is no end to learning, and picking that love of learning up early will give these people security in their ability to pick up whatever skills they need whenever they need them.

  39. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    I don’t understand why parents, even homeschoolers, are so obsessed with an above average level of academic success. Their view of the world must be so twisted.

    I’ve met many gifted children in my life, I’ve only met one who had the proper social skills to treat people with respect, kindness and humility. Needless to say, he hated college even though he was easily passing graduate level math courses during his sophomore year.

    The world is filled with poorly socialized, reckless individuals, smart or dumb. Why isn’t there more esteem for children showing kindness and humility rather than how fast they can read Dick and Jane. Oh wait…you can’t put that on grandma’s mantle!

    • Ashanda
      Ashanda says:

      I don’t think that it’s solelt about advanced academics for us homeschool parents, especially with the currents changing in education to make room for the implementation of Common Core. As a homeschool parent, I find that children have a much greater capacity to learn and thrive if their environment supports that growth. Social health and stability is usually not a factor in the homeschool structure because, unlike in pubic school, children are taught in a loving atmosphere. As a former public student who was teased and taunted on a daily basis, I can personally attest to this. I hope that this has helped to clear up some of your misconceptions of homeschoolers. May the Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and prosper you and your family with life everlasting life! God be with you.

    • Rhea
      Rhea says:

      A lot of smart, talented people are socially awkward. Just talk to a very good computer programmer. It is hard for some of them to imagine why you can’t think like they do and not understand what they are saying without dummying it down. I think it is worse to not allow a child to reach their full potential and enable mediocrity. It is okay to be proud of our children and grandchildren geez.

  40. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I actually have met some of the Harding family that was featured on CNN and other channels. Several of them attended and currently attend the school that I attend. I don’t think of them as circus freaks nor do any of OUR peers. We treat them as if they are one of us. They speak and interact on the same level that we do. I think its great what they did and as long as they are happy with it people shouldn’t criticize them for their decisions. They never said EVERYONE has to send their children to college by 12. It was just something that happened.

  41. BRatliff
    BRatliff says:

    I find your article to be rude and disrespectful. I know the family personally and have taught the youngest 3 in our AWANA program at church when they were 3/4 year olds. The kids participate at the same level that their peers do, they run and play, they can’t wait to have snack, they dress up in costumes for Fall Festival and eat too much candy, and yes, they even get cranky sometimes. They are sweet, adorable and are just as normal as anyone else’s kids. If you were just hanging out with the older (over 12) kids, you would never know they are in college. I would recommend that you not disparage people that you do not even know. There is no difference in your article than public school parents calling the homeschoolers a bunch of crazy isolationists. Rather, perhaps you could learn something from Mona Lisa that would aid you in raising your own children, because she has done an excellent job with hers.

  42. will
    will says:

    Parents have every right to screw their children up! Do you hear me? What is the incarceration rate in America? Guaranteed MOST of them went to public school! I guess they NOW get along with their peers!

  43. Rayshell
    Rayshell says:

    I just got the Harding Family book “The Brainy Bunch” on Friday and I’m halfway through. Reading the book, the family sounds very loving, nurturing, and allow their children’s education to be driven by the child and the child’s interests. It seems like they are allowed to play with peers freely and are very happy children. Also, I don’t get your statement of, “If the kids love to learn, they don’t need college . . . Why do they need to go to college to do that? What is the benefit to them?” If they love to learn and understand the material, my question is “Why NOT earn college credit.” Seems like a simple no brainer to me. College degrees aren’t just about going into a career that requires them, just ask Shaquille O’Neal. It’s about accomplishing something that no one can ever take away (no matter how hard you try). Lastly, it’s amazing that you can speak so negatively of such a wonderful and close knit family. One would think that you just saw an interview of Amy Chua and not the Harding Family. I think all of the negativity in your blog post says more about you than it does about the Harding Family and their success.

  44. Kenneth Schortgen Jr
    Kenneth Schortgen Jr says:

    Unfortunately, your article here is limited to a perspective of the late 20th and 21st century societal programming.

    For thousands of years, young children were sent off to apprenticeships and educational opportunities, as seen in the history of Leonardo Di Vinci and many of the great masters of the Renaissance. Additionally, most Americans who built this country did so with less than an 8th grade education, and it was not until post WWII that the modern day education system was born, and aptitude scores on a national and global level fell off.

    In the time of Jesus, the Jewish children were taught Oral Torah by age 5, written Torah by age 10, and at age 12 they passed a Bar Mitzvah. From there, the parents gave up responsibility of their child to mentors, and the children began their career path in apprenticeship. (the missing years of Jesus from age 12 to 30).

    The truth of the matter is, social interaction has hindered educational learning FAR more than it has helped. Bullying is still rampant, as is the fear in many schools of drugs, violence, and peer pressures.

    Perhaps this family is a LESSON in realizing that children will learn better if they find what they WANT, than what the cookie cutter 30 students to a teacher education mill tells them they have to do.

    But we can look at all the studies in the world, the fact is, this family is a living example, while ivory tower wonks primarily do their observations from laboratory settings.

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