Deciding to homeschool is not about if you’ll do a good job

When you start a blog you have no idea what it will become. I thought this would be a place where I try to figure out what to teach my kids. But really, you are not learning that here. You are probably learning about farm life. And video games. And a range of other stuff that is not curriculum.

I had assumed that I was homeschooling to move toward some great, magical curriculum. But the truth is, I have not found that. No one has research that backs some great, magic curriculum. But there is plenty of research about how it’s insane to keep your kids in school.

There is so much research about how useless school is that you have to be in complete denial to put your kids in school. This blog ends up being about my discovery that the evidence is positively overwhelming, to the point where anything you do at home is better. Here are some examples:

Companies don’t care about a candidate’s education. Top companies are saying straight out that academic achievement doesn’t matter to them because school environments are artificial. Companies are more interested in the behavioral interview which, by nature, requires a person to have been in the real world, doing self-directed work, solving real problems that they care about. (Here’s info about how to ace a behavioral interview.)

But seriously, even Men’s Health, the most mass market of all magazines assumes we all know that school prepares us for nothing. It’s just we choose to separate this information from the decision process of whether to send our kids to school.

Outsiders can easily see how absurd the US public schools are. The Economist gives a good summary of the national curriculum standards from a European perspective. All factions are in agreement that public schools currently do not work. People are arguing about how to fix it. This means that the people reframing curricula think the current curricula is a time waste.

This means people opening up charter options more widely think the current system doesn’t work. (Newsflash: charter schools don’t perform any better.) So any parent putting their kid into the school system knows the kids are going into a broken system. The hope is that by using their kids as guinea pigs the reformers can fix the schools before the kids graduate. Which of course they cannot.

Private school is no better than public school. So many people tell me they think school is okay because their kids are in private school. If your kid is in one of the most selective private schools in the nation, then yes, this is true. But the Atlantic reports that if you’re paying for private school where 60% of the kids who apply get in, your kid’s education stinks. Sorry. You are doing no better than if you sent your kid to public school, so you should just save your money.

Also, we know that the best private schools are not teaching kids to take tests and are modeling themselves after homeschool. So unless you are super rich (those schools are about $60K a year) you are not doing your kids any favors by sending them to private school.

The evidence that private school is no better than public school is doing a good bit to fuel the surge of middle class families choosing to homeschool.

So here’s why my blog doesn’t bother with curriculum. Because it doesn’t matter. School is not working. There is no way to fix it. Your kids waste your time in school. So you are backed against a wall: you have to take them out. I’m fascinated by this reality because so many people choose to ignore it when it is so starkly true.

What really matters to me is living in reality and not using denial to get out of hard decisions. I have to homeschool. How I do it is another issue. But every day I tell myself that there’s no way what I’m doing with my curriculum decisions could be any worse than putting my kids in school. Given the evidence of how bad school is, what curriculum to use when you take your kids out is relatively inconsequential: all are fine and using none are fine.

Which works out well for me. Because I have a lot of great pictures of goats.



32 replies
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks. It’s weird, but now that we are home all day, and homeschooling is really just whatever the boys do each day, the goats have become an integral part of our homeschooling. So they deserve a spot on the blog! Plus, they are so social – like dogs but with more exploratory mouths.


  1. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    I enjoy the goat shots.

    However, I have to say that as my kids get older – especially as my oldest has decided this next year will be her last before “graduating” – I am challenged in my viewpoint of WHAT IS HOMESCHOOL. And honestly, I’m not certain as much about what it IS as much as what it is NOT…for us.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I like the title of this post – “Deciding to homeschool is not about if you’ll do a good job” – because it goes to the crux of your homeschooling philosophy. Many people choose not to homeschool from what I can tell because they believe it is their responsibility to do a good job – i.e. to teach a curriculum designed by themselves that they believe is in their child’s best interest with minimum input from their child. An environment and curriculum modeled similar to a school since the vast majority of children their child’s age is receiving instruction in this very manner. However, it is easy for doubt to creep in when their thoughts go to asking such questions as how would it be possible for them to do a better job than a teacher who has special training and much more experience. Additional doubt is heaped upon them when their family, friends, and other people question the very effectiveness of homeschooling itself. If homeschooling were such the cat’s meow, then everybody would be doing it, right? So getting back to the title, the good job (or the onus if you will), is really not on the parent as it is on the child who is being homeschooled. The parent needs to provide a safe and nurturing environment which the child can trust will be there at all times. It is the homeschooled child who needs to take charge of their learning and be productive without being spoon-fed any curriculum.

  3. Robin Hayes
    Robin Hayes says:

    Yes, I fretted more about curricular decisions when we first began homeschooling. Now, 2 years later, my children are telling me what they’d like to learn: French and SolidWorks. I wouldn’t have come up with those on my own and we wouldn’t have time to explore them if they were in public school. Homeschooling truly does have a way of working itself out.

    Could you provide the link to the Economist article?

  4. Tearri Rivers
    Tearri Rivers says:

    “I have to homeschool”.

    I couldn’t of said that any better! Perfect and exactly why we do it!

    This is why following the child is crucial in parenting in general. This is how kids learn, and no curriculum or school can stand up to this passionate attitude.

    Love this! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Joy
    Joy says:

    When we told our families that we were going to homeschool, my husband’s family was adamantly opposed. We ultimately choose to distance ourselves from them. My family was not exactly enthusiastic, but my Mom said something I will never forget … “You couldn’t possibly do a worse job than the public schools, even if you never taught them a thing!”

    So whenever I’m stressing out about unschooling, that’s the comment I remember. I taught the kids to read, and am insisting on basic consumer math (life skills — balance checkbook, not get taken by financing, square footage for painting, doubling or tripling a recipe). The rest is pretty much up to them. All I do is stand back and prepare to be amazed. :)

  6. cortney
    cortney says:

    of course, i thought of your blog when i read the corner office article with lazlo bock, and, here, you’ve already written it up. google seems to be leading the field in hiring research, and they don’t care about college gpas or transcripts anymore (for the most part). and 14% of hires never graduated college. it’s refreshing to me because whenever people seem to care about what university i went to or want to see my transcripts, my faith in them plummets.

  7. kristen
    kristen says:

    Ok. I’m going to homeschool.
    HOORAY! My children will now be so far ahead of all those poor school kids.
    But, wait…what if I’m not aiming to just beat the unwashed masses?
    What if I really want to see how well I can prepare my kids to have a fantastically satisfying life? Aren’t there a few things I should teach them? A few places we should travel to? Maybe learning an instrument or language?
    I’d like to think I can do more than just clear the incredibly low bar of “better than school”.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      “What if I really want to see how well I can prepare my kids to have a fantastically satisfying life? Aren’t there a few things I should teach them? A few places we should travel to? Maybe learning an instrument or language?”

      I should imagine that you and your children can accomplish those things more easily once they are not spending all day in school.

  8. Mariana
    Mariana says:

    What about democratic schools? You mention Peter gray but you never say anything about them, good or bad…

    I think democratic schools are homeschooling without mum’s sacrifice…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The schools I think you’re talking about are for high schoolers. When kids are not needing so much from a parent anyway. So if you are looking to do homeschooling without having to give up time that you have to yourself then you should earn enough money so that you can pay someone to be with your kid.

      I just realized, the big issue here is that homeschooling means that parents don’t have the luxury of doing a job that doesn’t make a lot of money – because then your kids are making up the difference. They suffer in school so you can do a job that doesn’t pay well.

      Okay. The other thing, though, is that kids really want to be around their parents. So it’s not so much about homeschooling, per se, but rather it’s about being there for your kid. Your kid can teach his or herself. But your kid can’t create that secure sense of knowing a parent is there without a parent being there.


      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Glad to see you back.

        When Mariana says “democratic schools,” I take her to mean it in the sense in which it is in most common usage, to refer to schools modeled on the Summerhill School or the Sudbury Valley School.

        The Sudbury Valley School, the oldest democratic school in the US (1968), and on which most democratic schools in the US are modeled, has kids ranging in age from 4 to 19. It is thriving and well-regarded locally.

        It is true that in some other places, there may be no democratic schools except high schools, but that is not typical of the model. Most democratic schools have children from Kindergarten through High School.

        The atmosphere at a Sudbury School is probably a lot closer to unschooling than you imagine, and probably closer to unschooling than hiring a nanny to unschool for you would be. I think you would find some research into the subject interesting.

      • Mariana
        Mariana says:

        I was talking about schools like Sudbury Valley School, they accept kids from 4 to 17 years old. Peter Gray wrote a book about them – “Free to Learn”. It is not a pricey private school.
        The thing is kids need more than their parents, they need other kids, they need young adults, they need adults that are different from their parents. Homeschooling is great, but democratic schools are probably better. Read the book!

  9. Warnerharmer
    Warnerharmer says:

    I enjoy reading your blog. You don’t mince words and explain your viewpoints clearly. We homeschool as well. I wish we could have some goats (they won’t even let us have chickens where I live :-(

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Theresa
    Theresa says:

    I agree with you 100% on all of this, but everyone I talk to has said their corporation won’t even interview someone without a college degree. I get that maybe college and public school are different, but I wish I could believe we are working toward a world where, once again, people go to college if they need it for a job and the vast majority of corporations realize that school really is artificial.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      Not only will most companies only interview candidates with a bachelor’s degree, many will only interview candidates with degrees from elite universities. My DH’s employer only recruits at a handful of schools, and anyone who doesn’t have the “right” school name on his/her resume is S.O.L. unless he/she is a nepotism hire and can bypass the normal recruiting channels. So for those of us who aren’t part of the 0.01%, education matters more than ever. Companies today often receive hundreds of resumes for every opening, the competition is that fierce.

      • Beautiful life
        Beautiful life says:

        Even if that is true today, I believe the trend is changing as I write this. I’ve been job hunting for three months now and what I see are many companies asking at the entry level for either the education OR some experience or a combination of both. What Penelope probably also knows but isn’t spilling is that we can start these trends ourselves, or at least feed them. It’s known as ‘fake it til you make it.’ This blog gets a ton of traffic. She career counsels people from high and low echelons. If enough people like her say this is the way it is, the trends will, to some degree follow.

        I don’t purport that cult-like institutions such as Exxon and BP will follow. But the up and coming and trending startups that are not science and researched based are much more flexible. The rags to riches college dropout- highschool millionaire has always been amongst us. Penelope’s just shaking things up by pointing out that many of us have this type of potential. My daughter, who is sixteen, wants braces. I think her teeth are fine. She started her own business to pay for them. Some people think she’s deprived and we’re mean.

        I say I have something money can’t buy: poverty.

        And nothing else teaches kids where their bootstraps are quite like it.

  11. Jamie {See Jamie Blog}
    Jamie {See Jamie Blog} says:

    I don’t comment often but I love reading your blog. I don’t agree with 100% of what you write, but I love your no-holds-barred tell it like it is approach. And actually, I do agree with the vast majority of what you say; I’m just too chicken to say it the way you do.

    Plus, I really like goats. ;)

  12. Cory
    Cory says:

    I am so happy I stumbled across your website! We pulled the kids from regular public school and joined a 1x/week, curriculum at home, classical charter last year. We are continuing this year and we all have been struggling. I use to love teaching the kids based on their interests. And they loved learning. For some reason I thought we needed more and joined this charter. Now we have “learning” time where we sit at the table and trudge through, sometimes yelling and crying to get it all done… cursive, classifying sentences, coloring overly detailed pictures. Nothing is fun anymore. Information from your site has encouraged me to go back to our own style and flourish. Thank you.

  13. liz
    liz says:

    I really love the idea of homeschooling. The loud voices in my immediate circle are telling me that I need to send my kids to school for “socialization”. I want to send my kids to school to learn, and learn how to learn what they want to learn. What are your thoughts about sending kids to school to socialize them? Can’t they be socialized in other ways?

  14. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    This is an interesting way to put it. I taught HS physics for 3 years before my oldest was born. This year she started kindergarten and I’ve been really struggling with it. She reads at a level where we are constantly consulting the librarians for books that are content appropriate but still introduce new words. She recites math facts as we ride in the car (why? I’m not sure, probably a brain like mine that never stops). She loves to ask questions, and then I try to find books that can give her the answers. We love to spend time outside when it isn’t freezing.
    Here’s my hang up… she says she likes school. She likes to be included and interact with the other kids. Going to gymnastics and other athletic classes doesn’t seem to meet her needs. But she also LOVES to just be home and play with her younger brother. He’s 3.5 and already trying to read because we just have a ton of books around.
    My husband also isn’t on board. I already work from home, and bringing my daughter home wouldn’t change that ability. I can’t believe it’s January and I’m still struggling with this idea. I love the idea of just letting the kids be and fueling their natural curiosities with trips to nearby nature preserves and occasional park district classes. But I’m not sure how to meet her social needs. I have looked online for homeschooling groups in our area (Chicago North Shore suburbs) and just can’t find anything. Any ideas?

  15. melissa
    melissa says:

    I like your blog, but it seems kind of one-sided. I am searching for information that supports either side so I can make an educated decision about my childrens’ schooling. I was a little disappointed that you seemed so angry with the school system.

  16. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    The ending of this post was great! I agree your kids are learning way more with an imperfect or non existent curriculum working on the farm than they are in public school. And having more fun and are healthier!

  17. Faith
    Faith says:

    I feel sick with anxiety about how to homeschool. Your article helped bring me some peace. My son is 3 now but I’m brainstorming how homeschool is going to pan out. I don’t have to have it all planned, its just that I’m so scared of doing a bad job. I love education but I have never taught anyone anything… and I’m both absent minded AND analytical… I don’t know how my brain handles that. I’m scared I will criple my son’s education. I can’t imagine if I have more children. The stress is eating me up. But like you said, I’m also even more nervous about public schooling. I just need a magic chill pill. Thank you for this article. It helped me with perspective.

  18. jun vazquez
    jun vazquez says:

    Thank you for this perspective. I have pulled out my son from both charter school and public school when he was in kindergarten. Both just don’t work for him. He was tested and his reading skills, vocabulary and comprehension was just way too advanced. In kindergarten, his peers were just learning to read – he was tested to be reading in 3rd grade level. His teachers comments were “he is spaced out,” “he does not listen,” “he is always daydreaming,” etc. I had to take him out of public school into charter school as I feel the teachers just did not understand him – he is bored! In the charter school, the same comment, and there were just too many kids for one teacher (30 kids!) to handle that I feel my kid did not get the proper education that he deserves, given his advanced skills. I put him back to public school again for lack of better option until I finally stumbled upon homeschooling and it just fits! Like pieces of a puzzle – the 1000 pieces!
    At first grade, my son has 5th grade reading skills and he is now going to 2nd grade this fall. He loves history, literature and science – subjects that are just not offered in traditional public schools. In one of the tests online, I watched how he quickly typed the spelling of words in a game that was designed to be interactive and to pique his interest, not just test his spelling acumen. He is a great speller and he would sometimes bungle up spelling of easy words to know what would happen to the fisherman if he spelled wrong. He could see real pictures of the Parthenon, a clip of how King Tut’s mummy was hidden in the Valley of the Kings, how Queen Hatshepsut’s fake beard looks like, and how Native Americans reacted when the Mayflower reached the shores of Plymouth . He did science experiments at home with the kit that came. He has sculpted and painted with the art kit.
    I can say his world has opened up since we did homeschooling and I would never have discovered all these wonderful things about my son if I did not pull him out of traditional school and put him in homeschool. My neighbors and some relatives do not understand but I feel like I do not owe them any explanation. I can see my son’s sense of wonder and eagerness to explore the world around him unfold before me and that for me, seals the deal.

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