Homeschool is a how-to-live decision not a how-to-learn decision

NPR did a segment on the book Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feilier. His premise is that we should look at what happy families do and then copy that for our own families. Feilier says that happy families have shared values and spend time together expressing those values in their actions.

On the NPR segment, Feilier explains that a problem is that he and his wife have big jobs, so he has to jump through hoops to show that two parents who cannot make it home for dinner regularly can still, somehow, be a happy family. So he suggests they have meetings where they talk about their values.

Okay. So look, this is so ridiculous that I am not even going to bother talking about how stupid he is. Well, except I want say that it’s like if you can’t play, coach. If you can’t make time to have a happy family, tell other people how to do it.

What I learned from his NPR segment, though, is that homeschooling is a huge family decision. It’s not a schooling decision. It’s a decision about what the values of a family are.

I have a friend who decided to homeschool her third-grader. They planned all summer, and he was really excited and so was she. Then she had her son go to back-to-school night with a friend, and her son, of course, decided he really wanted to go back to school. So she let him.

Ridiculous, right? A third-grader is too young to know if they should homeschool. And most kids—even much older kids—do not have the ability to withstand the constant brainwashing that school does when it markets itself as fun and experimental. (Hey Mom! Come to back to school night! Bring your kids to reading night! Come to everyone-is-creative day!) Of course back-to-school night is nothing like school. That’s the point. Kids hate school so you get them excited about school by doing something that isn’t school.

Kids can’t choose school or homeschool the same way that kids can’t choose if your family lives in Vermont or Arizona.

Location is a family decision. The adults decide what is best for the family. And schooling is a family decision, and the adults decide what is best for the family.

Independent learning doesn’t mean the kids decide which house you’re going to buy because there is a good playroom in the second house. Independent learning means that you set the parameters for the learning environment and the kids decide what to learn. Self-directed learning doesn’t mean the kids rule the family.

Deciding to homeschool or not is a fundamental decision about family life. There is a point when kids can decide for themselves, but it’s when kids are independent enough that schooling is not so much a family decision.

10 replies
  1. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    Family meetings where they can talk about their family? That doesn’t sound fun at all. Taking advice from someone who writes a book like that but doesn’t even follow their own rules, just shows how gullible and ridiculous people are if they can’t see through that. NPR having an interview with him about it, eesh…doesn’t sound like he made a very good sell for his book.
    Sarah M

  2. Stephanie Thomas Berry
    Stephanie Thomas Berry says:

    This is from the author interview on the book’s Amazon page:

    “A.J.:I absolutely love the idea of weekly family meetings. I’m going to start holding them this week. Any tips for keeping kids from zoning out?

    Bruce: Holding weekly family meetings is the single best improvement we made to our family. My wife adores them. Tips: play a short game at the start; have your kids pick their punishments; stop after 20 minutes. Oh, and give allowance at the end; that keeps ‘em interested!”

    That’s happiness for you. A game. Your Punishments. Then, dollar bill, Y’all.

  3. mh
    mh says:


    Homeschool is freedom — freedom to learn what interests you, in a way that interests you. Adults choose to do this all the time, but school denies children their chance to do likewise.

    No adult ever sat through a semester of lectures to learn how to use a smartphone. Why should a child have to sit through lectures on fractions or cell mitosis?

    No child ever learned to walk or ride a bike by filling out worksheets as group work. Why should they have to learn about the US Constitution under such tedious conditions?

    No interesting person would agree to work in a mentally unchallenging environment surrounded by dullards. Why subject children to that? Because children are small and powerless?

    What does sending children to compulsory school say about adults and their values?

    Children are natural learning machines. Just get out of the way.

  4. sarah
    sarah says:

    Well said. We seem to be scared to keep kids in their place ~ by letting them be kids. The single best thing about being a kid is not making huge decisions in life!

    If you have family meetings about values ~ but dont live them your kids will hate you. Why do you need to have meetings about values? Shouldnt your values be seen in your behavior daily? Unless of course your kids never see you, which is a whole other problem…..

  5. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    I’ve heard of this Bruce Feiler guy on the NYT Motherlode column. He wrote a post where he told of how he had to interrupt his wife during an international business meeting to help him coordinate a playdate. Not someone I would listen to about anything…………

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Gretchen, your example of his piece in the NYT makes me realize that he is reporting what he feels is the inevitable realities of parenting in today’s society. But in fact, he is reporting scenarios from the 80s when parents were totally self-involved and thought of kids as secondary to their busy, important work lives.

      It doesn’t have to be like that, though. And it feels totally un-creative that this is all he could come up with in his family so that everyone could have engaging lives.


  6. cian
    cian says:

    Thank you for articulating this. I have, in the most meaningful ways, always been a homeschooler. And I did, I unschooled my kids for several years and it was kind of soft edges idyllic (the odd horrible, shitty days or moments notwithstanding).

    (Trying keep it short and not quite succeeding). I had to put them in school because I became unwell. Then I took a job teaching and they came to that school. After two full school years of schooling, I’ve finally found my way back. We are not going back to school.

    And yes, it is: it is a decision about our whole lives.

    Thank you for articulating this for me. Now I will write about it too.

  7. Alicia
    Alicia says:

    My younger daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the time that my older daughter was in pre-k and we were looking at schools. This immediately changed our search parameters for a school to one that would be right for Ainsley’s medical needs. We chose the best option and enrolled our older daughter and were promptly horrified by the utter disaster that unfolded. Still, I don’t know that we would have seriously considered homeschooling at that time if we weren’t also realizing that we would never achieve our care goals for Ainsley in the school environment.

    It’s interesting to me now that, a couple of years of homeschooling later, as she turned 5 this year and was saying that she wanted to go to school, we didn’t tell her no because of medical care – we told her no because homeschooling has profoundly changed our experience and trajectory as a family.

  8. BBRobbins
    BBRobbins says:

    I will be printing this post and hanging it in my house where I can read it every SINGLE day… Because it is awesome. Thank you so, so much.

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