I don’t need to convince people to homeschool because people in my socioeconomic demographic mostly feel scared that they are not doing it. Most people are not big risk takers, but now, as homeschool grows in popularity,  it’s hard to tell whether it’s more risky to leave kids in school or take kids out.

Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond’s most recent book is The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn From Traditional Societies. Like so many books, it’s an inadvertent argument for taking kids out of school. (Here’s another book like that.)

Diamond shows how for most of the existence of humans, a parent, or parent figure, stayed very close to the child until adolescence. In different societies this scene looks a little different – hunting, gathering, building, farming. Parents kept their kids within watching distance, but they did not dictate to their kids how to spend their time.

If you want a tested solution, if you feel that your stomach for risk taking is low, then take you kids out of school, because that’s where our society tries child-rearing tactics with relatively little or no history.

But that’s so obvious, that the risk avoidance must run deeper. What we are really testing is the idea that parents have built a life that involves their kids. We have separated kids and parents for so long, but if you unlock the kids from schools, and let them all come home, you have at least one parent staying with kids all day long.

We know what homeschooling looks like. There is no risk that it’ll be worse than school. We are scared to give up our independent lives to do it. I write post after post about how school is terrible and homeschooling is the way to go. I am much less clear on how it’s to be done. I am winging it. And the risk to me is that my kids will get the best childhood but I’ll be lost the whole time they’re getting it.

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32 replies
  1. Natalie Lang
    Natalie Lang says:

    You are doing a great job Penelope! You should stop worrying about being lost or how it will turn out. We’ve all established in our minds that kids are better off watching paint dry than they are in schools…so feel great in that. What I see when you post pictures are two very happy, thriving boys.

  2. Anita
    Anita says:

    Penelope, from the perspective of having older children I wonder if the sacrifice is worth it. I feel like I’ve given up so much for that great childhood. I’m having one of those days: I’d rather be doing anything else but full time at home all day with my youngest. I want my life back. Please. I’ll come join your start up and I’ll send my 8year old son out to play with yours. I hate that there is no such thing as balance. I’m about ready to register for regular school in September. We all survived it, won’t our children?

    Tomorrow I’ll wake up and it will all be better again,for a moment, but today this feels like too damn much !

    • K
      K says:

      I did that. I said * it, and she went to school.

      And then I saw the flip side of that coin. Turns out that if I expected her to learn a single thing, I was going to have to teach it anyway. All I had really done was time-shift the homeschooling so that it coincided with dinner and bedtime. And I’d instituted a big commute to and from school, so I was wasting a lot of time and gas in the car. And oh yeah, I’d given up the ability to chose the curriculum, so we were working with stuff I hated and she hated.

      If that wasn’t enough, I also got the song and dance about how I needed to come in and volunteer every ten minutes, and participate in all the fundraisers.

      All in all, it was less work and more effective to homeschool, so…we went back to that.

  3. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    The “World Until Yesterday” link actually goes to a picture of “Z baking cupcakes.” Gotta get them affiliate links, girl!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for letting me know, Melissa. I changed it. I wish I could tell you that I make a gazillion dollars from those links, but i don’t.

      This seems like a good time to mention, though, that Ann Althouse (althouse.net) makes thousands of dollars a month from the Amazon affiliate program by encouraging all her readers to click that link at the top of her site before they buy ANYTHING at Amazon, and she gets a percentage. Isn’t that interesting?


      • Gwen
        Gwen says:

        It’s actually quite common – anyone can set that up with Amazon. I haven’t seen it used on many blogs, but Offbeat Empire certainly does it, and a lot of charities use it as a fundraising tactic. Doesn’t cost the user anything extra, but they can send a bit of money to the charity they care about.

        The other aspect is that the affiliate can see what you purchase… although not that it’s YOU purchasing it, just “Someone clicked your affiliate link, and bought this doggy swimming pool!”

        Could be an interesting insight about your readers. Offbeat Empire uses it to make gift ideas lists: http://offbeathome.com/2013/01/my-favorite-holiday-time-purchases-made-by-you

      • mbl
        mbl says:

        I’ve wondered why you don’t do that. I feel guilty getting so much from your blog and major effort and give nothing back.
        Sometimes I’ll search for a book link to amazon from a post and then use that to click through. But sometimes I’m too lazy–and I don’t buy all that much on amazon.

        But I totally think you should do. You wouldn’t have to plug it, but just have it as a user friendly convenience.

  4. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    “And the risk to me is that my kids will get the best childhood but I’ll be lost the whole time they’re getting it.” – So really, the parents are the lab rats, not the kids. Right?

  5. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I am all for what you are doing, Penelope! We were pregnant two years ago and sadly lost our daughter. We had planned to home school her for many reasons. Although my mother (whom I love and respect very much!) was an elementary school teacher for 40 years and was very unhappy about this idea, we knew it was right for our family. Bravo!

  6. susan
    susan says:

    I would enjoy reading your thoughts on a hybrid homeschool education.

    Our daughter is a few years off from school, but I’m interested in keeping her home part of the time and possibly sending her to a homeschool campus/group/class part of the time to learn subjects that interest her. I’ve heard some public and private schools allow homeschoolers to participate in some of classes (not sure if that’s worthwhile or not) but it’s a thought.

    I really don’t know enough about homeschooling yet, but I don’t really see why it has to be all or nothing.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      We have a great charter school … the education coordinators are mostly both teachers and moms who homeschooled their own kids. We have classes in the morning one day a week for part of the year, we have field trips, community … I also think we could do fine on our own. I think this sort of hybrid option is a great thing though, and may help make it possible for more people (perhaps more of us not in Penelope’s bracket ;) — I’m not complaining) to homeschool.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        I should say also, that we are still able to be quite loose and unschooly — which is good bc it suits us!

    • Mominvermont
      Mominvermont says:

      We did hybrid homeschooling with our four daughters. Once my girls reached 9th grade they took roughly two classes per semester at our public high school–driver’s ed, Spanish, Latin, Psychology, art, etc. One daughter was on varsity basketball and track and went to college with a sports scholarship. Another daughter joined chorus and did musical theatre. Taking classes at a “real” school helped them learn to meet deadlines and learn from different teachers. Mixing public school, homeschool group co-ops, and lots of learning at home has definitely worked for us. The three older girls were successful in college. My youngest will be taking college classes this coming year.

      We live in Vermont. I’m not sure access to public schools is available where you live, but if it isn’t, you could petition to change that. That’s what some previous homeschoolers did here.

    • Brynn
      Brynn says:

      In my experience, the “all or nothing” aspect comes from the kid. We have friends who part-time school it with their kids, but it doesn’t work with ours. He is too intense and definitely doesn’t fit the box enough. The part-time became a place of stress, and he felt far more isolated than included. However, our friend’s child LOVES it. Like much of homeschooling, it is one of those try-it-and-see sorts of situations because every family and every kid is different.

    • Shanna
      Shanna says:

      This was one of the first thoughts to pop in my head, “hybrid”, when I started leaning toward homeschooling my kids. I consider myself pretty sacrificial toward childrearing and have never been interested in a career, but one human woman can only take so much, moms need to be practical about this! I just want to drop the whole pack off somewhere for about 6 hours once a week to maintain my mental health. I want to just pay for it too, not be obligated to be in some coop or whatnot, just free me time to recharge, ALONE in my own house, without having anything hanging over my head. The kids are happy away from me taking a couple classes with some lunch and hang out time and everyone loves each other more when I pick them up! I think it would be great for marriages too. Anyhoo, if I was the personality type I would already have a business like this, SAHM “daycare” except waaaay better.


  7. Bec Oakley
    Bec Oakley says:

    This is so interesting. I’m finding that I’m stuck in this constant cycle of doubt – all the evidence is so clear that homeschool is the right thing for us and my kids are absolutely thriving, but then some days the pressure to be solely responsible for their education is almost crippling and I need to bolster my confidence again. To be okay with having no curriculum or limits on screen time, to listen to my inner voices (I have several) and trust in the progress I see right in front of me every day. Those are the days I need to read your blog the most :)

  8. Louise Taylor
    Louise Taylor says:

    One solution is for homeschooling families to share overseeing the children. Or in some families, grandparents, aunts, or uncles can help out. I have my son go to Boys & Girls clubhouse for 3 hours a day, and in the summer he’s in full time nature camp, so I get a break and he gets exercise and a social outlet.

  9. redrock
    redrock says:

    Childhood as a time to explore what ever you like is a new invention – until a hundred years ago children were expected to work as early as they were able to. They also learned the trade of their parents and that was it. Writing was considered a luxury and unnecessary because it took the kid away from what was considered important in life – to learn the trade of the parents. Should we really go back to this system?

    THe argument could be made that all information is now available on the internet somewhere (no, google itself does not provide information – it is essentially an algorithm which allows to search for information) – availability of information somewhere is nice, what makes it useful is the connections between the information. In order to make those connections a very solid foundation in writing, reading, math and a smattering of history or languages is indeed necessary. And, indeed, you should acquire a good foundation of knowledge to be able to use the information. Learning in online classes is a disjointed experience – it is considerably harder to push through boring and challenging parts then in a classroom (or together with others working through the problem). This is not just my idea, but comes from all the students I have taught over the years in distance learning classrooms.

    How and where you learn – I don’t care, there are so many different possible paths to take that I would not venture out saying one is so much better for everybody then the other. Choice is a good thing.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      It’s quite possible to find one’s vocation and build a sustainable life outside of school.

    • Mark Kenski
      Mark Kenski says:

      Penelope mentioned Jared Diamond’s take on learning from history, and I think he would point out to you that the history you describe as the way things used to be is also a “new invention.”

      For all of time humans have existed, except the momentary flash we call “civilization,” children grew up with their family, within a rich web of extended family and friends–all with diverse skills and knowledge. They did not go off to work, they simply lived life, as best they could. As they grew they lived life more fully, and eventually knew enough to become a full adult member of the group.

      We can’t go back to the savanna, or the forest. But we can use trial and error to discover, or re-discover, what works for us now, and base our choices on that, rather than authority or hearsay or tradition or fashion.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You know what? I couldn’t make that link work, either. And now I’ve forgotten what book I meant to link to. So I deleted the link. Blah.


        • mbl
          mbl says:

          It’s weird in that the link worked for me both times I clicked on the 5th. I looked into the book and some people recommended starting with one of the author’s earlier books to ease into his theories. But I’m wondering if, since most of us (I think) have already made a paradigm shift regarding the implications of status quo, it might be okay to jump right in.

  10. SA
    SA says:

    What about the British and New England boarding schools? They completely separate kids from parents. Or is your argument relating to us commoners?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t actually understand the boarding school thing at all. So it’s hard for me to comment on it. I would miss my kids so much that I can’t even imagine considering the option. I don’t understand the benefit of boarding school beyond not having the responsibility of raising kids. So I figure I must be missing something.


  11. Napoleon Nalcot
    Napoleon Nalcot says:

    Considering the traditional way of getting schooled is only to make schools functioning as “filling” stations to drive up young people to receive the knowledge they need for a working lifetime, then this method you were introducing is not only good but necessary.

  12. mh
    mh says:

    The title of this post would make a good fill-in-the-blank.

    Traditional schools treat kids like…

    1) prisoners
    2) asylum inmates
    3) imbeciles
    4) annoyances
    5) obstacles to the goal

    But more fun would be: Traditional schools treat PARENTS like:
    A) Annoyances
    B) Unpaid interns
    C) Probable child abusers
    D) Obstacles to the goal

  13. Hilary Baxter
    Hilary Baxter says:

    I am a single mom of two little girls. I work online and homeschool my kids.

    I am also a certified teacher and have worked in classrooms. The accusation that schools test out popular theories on the students is completely true, and openly discussed.

    Schools, and universities that teach the teachers, view the education system as a means of social conditioning.

    There are days that it makes me tired.
    I know that my house would be cleaner, I could make more money, My kids’ behavior would be somebody else’s problem for 6 or 8 hours.
    I could eat lunch with other gown ups, and not talk about octonaunts or the magic school bus.

    But I know that even if I outsource their raising to someone else. I am the one ultimately responsible for my kids, the safety, their morals and their educations.
    …..and to be honest, I like my kids. Being with them almost 24/7 is tiring but it is in no way a burden

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