School reform is dead. It’s about family reform.

The Aspen Institute is well-known as a place where the richest of the rich intelligentsia gather to hear each other talk about ground-breaking ideas. You can’t go, but you can read about it in newspapers.

This year Richard Elmore, one of the big education reform guys at Harvard, shook everyone up by saying what homeschoolers already know:  “I do not believe in the institutional structure of public schooling anymore,” Elmore said, noting that his long-standing work at helping teachers and principals professionalize their practice is “palliative care for a dying institution.”  Elmore predicted “a progressive dissociation between learning and schooling.”

It is disturbing that the education reform contingency agrees with him because it’s so self-serving. The education reform pundits put their kids into private school while they talk about how school and learning are divergent ideas.

Elmore stands before this room full of big-idea guys (it’s almost always guys) and says “The modal classroom in the modal school [in the United States] is exactly the opposite of what we’re learning about how human beings develop cognitively.”

Everyone nods in agreement and invites him to speak at break-out events. As they keep their kids in school.

The other dying institution in the US is work. Work and kids are incompatible. We are no longer able to believe the purpose of work is to earn discretionary spending money for take big vacations. We are no longer buying into the idea that work is for your ego and caring for your kids is a service industry job for low-wage sufferers.

Our society’s collective vision of work is completely incompatible with what we know about child development. We attack schools as in need of reform, yet we say nothing about families who can’t live off of $70K, which is a single income of a person who comes home at 5pm to be part of a family.

You know what? I’m guilty of this, too. A few days ago, we had a photographer at our house, and I was so checked out during family lunch that I didn’t even notice I put no food on my plate until I saw this photo. I’m in the process of giving up a big chunk of equity in my startup so that I can work fewer hours. I’m not doing the work I want to be doing—I’m doing too much work.

The good news is that my life is evidence that you can work ten hours a day and homeschool too. The bad news is that it doesn’t feel very good. In countries that are well past the Industrial Revolution and deep into the Information Age, cultural reform begins at home. Work and school are institutions that should serve the family. Right now they are destroying the family.

The first step toward reform is to stop spewing statistics about too-much work and declarations about the ineptitude of school. And instead, start taking action at home. Widespread respect for time with family is what’s missing from our culture.

70 replies
  1. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    The post is so unexpected from the title. I was expecting an exposition on self-reliance and change who you see in the mirror type stuff.

  2. karelys
    karelys says:

    Your hair looks pretty and soft in that picture.
    I’ve been googling images of expensive eyebrows so I can tell the difference but I can’t find anything of value. I have pretty good eyebrows so if I can find an eyebrow stylist extraordinaire I am sure it’d make such a big difference.

    And yes about everything else you wrote. Work to live not the other way around.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Omg I almost didn’t see the little dog in the photo! I was wondering what it was at first, lol! This photographer is genius coming from a former photographer here.

    I keep trying to visit the third link but I get a 404 error.

  4. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    Work and school are institutions that should serve the family. Right now they are destroying the family.

    Once again, Penelope, you get it. And you are able to articulate what so few people are willing to stand up for.

    Don’t stop!

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    The forum was actually in 2012, here is one excerpt that Jal Mehta who was also on that forum said about education reform (which sounds like an advocation to homeschool to me):

    A fifth possibility is that we gradually “dissolve” the existing system. The argument here is motivated by two observations, which run in opposite directions. The first is that schools are places that are frozen in time—still passing out textbooks in the age of e-readers; still using computers as screens for worksheets rather than connectors to the world of learning; and still employing committees of adults at the state, district, and school level to decide what should be learned rather than opening up the world of learning to the learners. The second is that the world of information outside of school is opening up faster than anyone can take it in: for example, Google is digitally archiving much of the world’s reading materials and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is giving away its lectures for free. It has never been a better time to be a learner—as long as one is not spending one’s day cooped up in school. As Harvard Professor Richard Elmore succinctly put it, “Learning outside of schooling is exploding; learning inside of schooling is imploding.”[7]
    Taking advantage of these possibilities would mean a far more radical shift than replacing in-person courses with online versions. Rather, it would suggest moving away from the restricted “portal” represented by the school—where a small fraction of available knowledge is certified by various committees of adults and passed on to the students—and instead directly connecting students to the world of knowledge. This more open world will not only give more people access to knowledge, it will also empower many more of them to be creators of knowledge, as Wikipedia, the blogosphere, and the rest of Web 2.0 have already shown.
    While presumably this vision would need to be guided by adults, particularly for younger children, the emphasis would shift substantially toward responding to student interests. This approach draws on students’ intrinsic motivation, offers them deep inquiry into subjects that are of interest, and links them directly to the web of knowledge that is ever-growing and accumulating around any given topic. This approach also has the virtue of being egalitarian in its conception—many of these opportunities are already offered to students in good private schools, colleges, and graduate schools; we should make similar options available to all students.

  6. Judy Sarden
    Judy Sarden says:

    My son told me today that he liked our old house better than the new house and he asked if we can we just move back into the old house. I told him that the only way for us to move back into the old house is for mommy to go back to work. So I asked him would he rather have the old house or would he rather have time with mommy all day. He said he would rather have the time.

    On the flip side, my husband works very long hours. So the kids are learning at a young age how work has no respect for family time. Of course you have to work in order to live. I sometimes wonder if I am ruining my kids’ future attitude towards work.

  7. Gretchen Power
    Gretchen Power says:

    Work and kids aren’t incompatible if you do it right. My husband and I both work mid-level jobs we enjoy and our child goes to school and a nice after school program she enjoys. There’s no precariousness in our financial situation…we’re maxing out 401ks, college funds, etc. and she’s thriving. I’m not sure how one of us dropping out and trying to do a job when we’re supposed to be “teaching” her would improve any of our lives. Am I the only one who feels like these posts are classic “Emporer’s new clothes” where people comment how brilliant and insightful they are but there’s no real substance that’s transferable to everyday people. I did the part-time from home consulting thing before my kid was school-age and it was great, but it’s not a forever thing for me to earn half of what I can and for her to be sequestered with me instead of learning how to navigate the world. The thing about forgetting to put food on your plate is about you…it’s not transferable to the general population.

    • The Homicidal Housewife
      The Homicidal Housewife says:

      Just wondering how being sequestered in a microcosm all day, 5 days a week, for 12 years more or less is learning to navigate the world? I thought learning to navigate the world was being able to participate in it, be a part of it, doing it.

      Also, me thinks your are being a bit obtuse. You don’t see how many people around you struggle with balancing work and family life? If you only look at your own plate, which seems great, than yes,it’s all great, but you are doing the same thing you accuse P of doing.

      • Gretchen Powers
        Gretchen Powers says:

        Yes, of course I do see how people struggle with work-life balance. And I know we are fortunate to have the jobs we do. However, one parent dropping out of work and attempting to be a teacher, I just don’t really think is the answer for most. Look at this country. Seriously.

  8. Gretchen Powers
    Gretchen Powers says:


    isolate or hide away (someone or something).

    That’s what would happen, figuratively, if not literally, if I was to home school her. And what I suspect happens to many who home school, their best efforts, those who make them, notwithstanding. Being me with, she’d learn what I chose to teach, or what she chose to explore. She’d meet who we chose to reach out to. Going to public school, she meets a wide variety of people, if “forced” (in an appropriate way) to try things that are out of her comfort zone and become more well-rounded and well-developed. I know Penelope says well-roundedness is dead and everyone’s got to “specialize” (that’s the NEW BIG THING!) but I don’t buy that. I also don’t buy mimicry of “rich people”… I still find the posts interesting, though, lest someone carry on about “why do I read the blog if I feel this way…” blah blah blah

    • Judy Sarden
      Judy Sarden says:

      I am surprised that someone who reads this blog and the comments would still think that homeschooled kids are isolated and hidden away. Every homeschooled kid that I know has a full schedule outside of the confines of their house and they interact with a much larger variety of people than they ever would if they were at school.

      At school, they are with the same kids and same teachers all day every day, year after year. Neither the people nor the routine change much. Kids choose their little circle of friends and only socialize with that small group. Just because they may be surrounded by hundreds of people doesn’t mean that they “socialize” with, or even meet, everyone.

      Homeschooling allows kids to interact with a much wider variety of people in varied social situations because they are not “sequestered” inside of a school building with the same people all day. They actually get to move about in the real world.

      As far as what the kids are taught, school teaches the kids what IT wants. The “standard” du jour is common core, who knows what the reformers will come up with in a few years. My homeschooled kids get to learn what I teach them as well as what they want to learn. I dare say that their education will have far more consistency and continuity than their traditionally educated counterparts. They also get to have fun learning and understand that learning takes place everywhere everyday, not just inside of a class room.

      As for a child being forced to try things outside their comfort zone, I don’t know of any public school that forces kids to do anything other than learn what’s on the year end test. Kids bluff their way through school memorizing answers to multiple choice tests. Most kids sail their way through public school, being forced to do nothing other than quietly occupy their seats all day and memorize what the teacher tells them. Besides, a parent is better suited to encourage a child to try something outside their comfort zone. I wouldn’t want some disinterested third party “forcing” my kids to do something for which they may not be ready.

      • redrcok
        redrcok says:

        this blog has a self-selected group of commenters – I doubt it reflects the majority of home schoolers. Also, if you homeschool in a certain way you are more prone to meet/work with others who have the same strategy. AS much as one cannot speak of “we, homeschoolers” it is not possible to speak of the “we, the kids who go to school” as a cohesive, easily identifiable group of kids who are the same, behave the same, do the same thing in their free time.

        • Gretchen Powers
          Gretchen Powers says:

          I’d have to agree with red as far as self-selection and that homeschoolers are also most likely to interact with other homeschoolers or those who would provide services to them…not actual real people who don’t owe them anything/aren’t providing a service to them. I think diversity is important, for example. My kid goes to school with kids from a wide range of cultural and economic backgrounds. The teacher comes up with things I wouldn’t…not to say I can’t come up with cool, interesting things for the child to learn, but more input and more variety is beneficial…and I also think it’s very important to have to learn stuff you don’t really want to. It’s called discipline and stretching yourself…and you don’t know what you don’t know. And parents don’t know what they don’t know.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Judy, this was a well thought out response to Gretchen. I wanted to respond to her thinly-veiled contempt of homeschoolers but my brain was spinning from her overuse of logical fallacies she uses to make her points, it’s hard for me to really know what her criticism is!

        • Karen
          Karen says:

          Gretchen isn’t criticizing, she’s justifying her choices for her own piece of mind. Her arguments are the ones you hear from parents who are reluctant to admit that they don’t want to give up their jobs and their income in order to stay home with kids. Her unwillingness to homeschool makes her feel like an inadequate parent. That’s unacceptable therefore it simply must be true that her child is better off in school despite the uncomfortable truth that none of the research or data supports that conclusion. It’s a defence mechanism.

          • Gretchen Powers
            Gretchen Powers says:

            I am not one who feels I have to justify my choices. I also don’t feel like an inadequate parent. Do you not understand that I think I would be doing my child a *disservice* by homeschooling? If I thought it would be better for her, I’d do it. For example, if I lived somewhere that didn’t have good schools. I am also not making any “ad hominem” attacks, if someone thinks I am, that’s kind of an “if the shoe fits, wear it” thing. Anyone coming at the topic from a critical view, ie, not a Penelope fan or sycophant, would critique this particular post as not really being substantive. Of course, if you adhere to the notion that schools suck and homeschooling is superior, period, well, then you’re going to think it’s wonderful. What’s so annoying about it is the assertion that all kids from all families would be better off homeschooled…or (worse!) “unschooled”…people can choose however they want to live there lives, but frankly, I would find PT’s life unbearable and preposterous. Many of us have different values…

          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            Karen, I agree with your assessment. There is no way a parent can commit to sending their kids to school every day and also process the data about how useless school is. Some parents just ignore the data. Some fight back – like they have to justify that they are sending kids to school.

            I think we all do that to some extent — we all justify the choices we make. The difference is how flexible you are in those choices and changing choices. The more flexible you are the less you find yourself justifying complete stupidity.


          • mh
            mh says:

            Some ignore the data, some fight back… and some are credentialed teachers, with a stake in maintaining the status quo.

          • victoria
            victoria says:

            Do you believe that every single parent who sends their kid to school believes that homeschooling would be a better situation for their child?

            I send my kid to school. We have friends who homeschool, and we strongly considered the idea ourselves before kindergarten. I work during school hours only, and the only reason we really come out ahead financially after school tuition with me working is that we save a bundle on health insurance doing it through my work and not my husband’s.

            Why not homeschooling? In my case, because I have an only child who is off the charts for extraversion, and because we have a school situation that is, at this point, working exceedingly well.

            She does go to a private school, very small classes, lots of free time and physical activity, lots of age mixing, heavy emphasis on art and music, freedom to go at their own pace for math and reading. I can honestly say that we have never had a day where she wasn’t excited to go (unless she was bona fide ill) or thrilled when I picked her up. I’ve asked her a few times over the years if she would rather homeschool, and the answer has always been a vehement ‘no.’ I fret about needing to work over the summers even though she enjoys camp, but ultimately I don’t fret about her being in school the rest of the year because it is blindingly obvious to me that she is thriving.

            Why read this blog, then? Well, personally I don’t spend much time reading things that confirm what I already think. I’d rather spend my time on people who advocate different points of view from my own. And because it is entirely possible that we will end up homeschooling someday. I have a feeling that our current situation will work really well through middle school but I have no idea what we’ll do for high school.

  9. redrock
    redrock says:

    “Besides, a parent is better suited to encourage a child to try something outside their comfort zone.” and I have to admit that I really doubt this is generally true. It depends very much on the specific family – my parents, for example, could have cared less about me trying new things outside my comfort zone, they were only annoyed if I did not want to do what they thought I should do. School did leave me much more freedom to explore.

    • Gretchen Powers
      Gretchen Powers says:

      “Besides, a parent is better suited to encourage a child to try something outside their comfort zone.” and I have to admit that I really doubt this is generally true.

      And I doubt this too. Lots of times, kids feel that home and their mom is the haven where they can just chill and relax and so my kid might give me flak about pushing here, whereas if someone not as intimately close to her pushed her, she’d just buck up and do it because it’s not worth the trouble to resist and the rest of the class is doing it, etc.

      Now, mind you, if the school’s a shitty school, all bets are off. Whatever. But not all public schools are bad.

      All this private stuff and mimicry of what the rich do seems like so much excuse-making of privatization and monetizing education.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        certainly not – but it always permitted to give an example. An example to throw out the idea that one thing is good for everybody. Because if you state an absolute you actually only need one counter example to show it is not an absolute.

  10. Gretchen Powers
    Gretchen Powers says:

    I also don’t see a lot of value in ONE working ridiculous hours to enable the OTHER parent to homeschool. What of the working parent’s relationship with the child and family? Where’s the balance. It seems healthier for both parents to work average, non-demanding jobs so that both can contribute, setting a good example for the kid and both can be engaged in family life.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Another logical fallacy? I can’t see the value in it therefore it doesn’t exist. Really? Where is the family time, weekends? Between the hours of 6-8:30? Summer break? Oh wait, you still work during the summer, right?…

      Gretchen, I fail to see where you’ve made a reasoned argument. You can’t use ad hominem and non sequiturs to make a point every time. A lot of us homeschool because we follow the research that says children learn best with an individualized plan. We follow the research that says self-directed learning is better for children. This is proven research. Yet you choose to attack the person, Penelope and my fellow commenters, instead of the premise.

      • Gretchen Powers
        Gretchen Powers says:

        FTR, I didn’t say “I can’t see” I said “I don’t see” and by saying “I don’t see” I am not saying “it doesn’t exist” YOU are saying I’m saying that. I’m just giving my opinions about the kind of life I prefer.

    • Judy Sarden
      Judy Sarden says:

      I agree with you, Gretchen, if that could actually be achieved. But I think the balance is extremely difficult to reach based on how the corporate world operates and the fact that little value is placed on the family in general. This is understandable because employers have businesses to run. In my case, we both worked ridiculous hours due to the nature of our professions and no one had time to spend with the kids. Now, at least the kids have consistent access to one parent. When my husband is home, he has more relaxed time to spend with the family. It works for my family, much better than when we were both working. But I know of homeschooling families where both parents do work, they just arrange work around the family instead of arranging family around work. Homeschooling arrangements tend to be quite diverse. It’s not all or nothing. Look at Penelope – she works.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Judy, I agree, and in my case my husband works crazy hours and travels a lot for work to climb the corporate ladder, but there are many weeks where he is home at 5 for dinner and family time, and can finish work at home when the kids are in bed. We choose to homeschool even though we can afford private school. The research is just overwhelming in support of homeschool, but that is too radical for education reformers to come out and say, so they talk about ways to make public school like homeschool but it can’t be done without dissolving the current system (see my post above). But you know what, my husband would still work the same hours whether or not I homeschool…he is internally wired to be in a leadership position. This way, as you’ve stated, at least one parent is available all the time and not just a few hours at night, weekends and holidays.

        • Gretchen Powers
          Gretchen Powers says:

          School-age kids don’t need “at least one parent…available all the time”…I’d agree that infants, toddlers and preschoolers do, but it’s OK for older kids to stretch a little. It really is OK. It’s disappointing and sad that so many don’t feel there’s any place or any other people in their community they can trust with elements of their children’s growth.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Gretchen Powers, you say,”…but it’s OK for older kids to stretch a little. It really is OK. It’s disappointing and sad that so many don’t feel there’s any place or any other people in their community they can trust with elements of their children’s growth.”

            Hoo boy.

            You do realize that… You know what, nevermind. I’m going to go get my kids ready to participate in their homeschool theater company, where they interact with two dozen other children and five adults. In our community!

            Later today they will play with a racially diverse group of neighbors and friends. They generally play nerf war or basketball. In our community!

            Tuesday afternoons we join other community-minded families, go into the inner city, and read books aloud with homeless children. We have to — gasp! — leave our community to do it. The horror!

            Gretchen Powers, it occurs to me that you have made the correct choice for your child. Leaving the rest unsaid.

          • Gretchen Powers
            Gretchen Powers says:

            That sounds like a great situation you have there and I am glad for you. That doesn’t sound like the kind of “infrastructure” most communities have, though. For example, most community things during the school year where I live take place AFTER school and on weekends, cause, you know…the kids are in school doing schoolwork during school time. My comment was really responding to the idea that a school age kid need all-day access to one of their parents, which I just don’t think is true for developmentally normal children.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Gretchen Powers, you’re absolutely right. I live in a community that is just about on that tipping point. We are thick with homeschoolers. The Asian immigrant moms with engineering and professional degrees whose husbands work at the major nearby technology companies are insulted by the poor standards of American schools and the way their children are treated as ESL. Private schools are expensive and unnecessary. With so many well-educated moms and dads living within a 20-mile radius, the balance has shifted.

            Why would we park our kids for 8 tedious hours every day and conform to the disruptive school schedule, when we can band together to bring our kids wonderful education opportunities? Why not take advantage of all those daytime hours when regular kids are having their initiative stifled in classrooms? We get the best athletic coaching, music instruction, arts access, community volunteer opportunities, and we do it with cheerful children who get to make plenty of choices over how to spend their time.

            After all, we just want what’s best for our kids. There’s really no reason that a motivated parent in almost any area of America can not find ample resources to bring their child a demonstrably better education than what is available through compulsory schools.

            Homeschool is freedom, and it’s catching on.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            But the thing is a lot of us did give the community a chance and it wasn’t good enough for our kids or our families. It’s not like I always planned to homeschool! I probably would have sounded just like you, Gretchen just a few years ago. It just turns out that homeschooling ( even unschool ) has been the best thing for us! But how would I know that it was best if I didn’t at least try it so then I would at least know that homeschooling was not what was best? How can I proclaim something the best for my child if I haven’t tried all the options?

            The only thing that you’ve said that I agree with is the part of having to give up your job that you love, which some of us here have done, but I have friends that think it’s ridiculous because they love their job so much. But they actually are willing to admit that homeschooling would be best for their kids but they don’t want to give up their jobs they worked so hard for, they so far have never said that traditional school is best for their child! They say to my face that giving up their career isn’t worth it to them. Which is fine, at least they are honest. Different priorities is what it boils down to.

      • Kimble
        Kimble says:

        Judy, Penelope revealed on her career blog that lately she starts drinking at 8am, often straight from the bottle. Exaggeration? Hard to know–she’s known for telling it like it is. Either way, her situation is a really bad example of working while home/unschooling.

  11. mh
    mh says:

    Homeschool parents, traditional school parents, we’re very tribal about this, aren’t we?

    It shows the importance of getting this right, the education of our children. Because the consequences of getting it wrong … will fall on our kids.

    Every family is making the decision that seems best to them. Life is about these trade-offs, and rarely is there a perfect solution. For most of us, our parenting years last long enough for us to try out one or two (or maybe more) different approaches to educating our kids. And when we find the one that “clicks,” we stick with it.

    This is a golden age of education experimentation. Aren’t we fortunate to have so many, many choices?

    What I’ve learned from talking to parents is that we all value having options. We genuinely all want what is best for our kids, in the short term and in the long run. We all pretty much agree that a customized education is better for the student and the family, but a standardized education is easier for government to deliver.

    In any case, our kids will have to deal with the consequences of our short-sightedness, our good intentions, and our habits/attitudes toward education. That’s the way of the world.

    Money and time give parents more options.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      So true, mh. What I struggle with is if I were to agree with someone that their child is better off away from them and being taught in schools, for instance other commenters here, if I say for instance, ” hey Gretchen, you are right. Please keep your child in school because it’s better for her to be with other people rather than being with you all day. ” It just is difficult for me to say that to someone because it sounds mean spirited. But it feels like that’s what she wants to hear, she’s even said it herself and yet I just can’t agree with it.

      I do appreciate contrarian views that can go after the premise of what Penelope writes like Commenter does, but not one that disparages homeschoolers or doesn’t at least acknowledge the research.


      • Gretchen Powers
        Gretchen Powers says:

        It’s not that there is anything wrong with me that I think my child is better off at at school. I am a staunch believer in not sending infants, toddlers and preschoolers to day care, for example…but at 5 or 6, they are capable and ready for other environments. There’s nothing wrong with homeschooling, if it’s done well, just like there’s nothing wrong with school, done well. Just like you can’t believe we have decent schools here, I wonder how many homeschoolers really do it right. Penelope is cool and interesting and I think has a lot to offer, but, reading the blog, I’m not sure I am sold on the situation being what’s ideal for her kids. The beauty of it is they’re her kids for her to “experiment” with as she wishes. It just seems like so much hubris, the authority with which many homeschool advocates speak.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Belief is what you’re left with in the absence of evidence.

          I also used to believe that one shouldn’t send kids to day care. But circumstances (two careers and a nanny on sudden vacation) dictated that we send my son when he was younger, and he loved it. Now with my daughter, she at two asked us repeatedly to send her to daycare. Now at three we are sending her two days a week and she also loves it. This evidence has required me to change my belief.

          I homeschool my older boy, and he sees other kids around his age several times a day. He’s somewhat introverted (and extremely sensitive), and that’s enough socializing for him.

          My daughter not so much – they’re mostly in school and there aren’t so many classes or activities for three year olds as there are for nine. She enjoys socializing with other kids near her age when she can, and she also seems to enjoy just being away from her parents and having a new group of people to boss around. We’ll probably keep sending her to daycare part time (and integrating with homeschooler-oriented activities for the other part) until she comes up on school age and then see what she wants to do.

          She’s likely to be reading by then, and I could see it going either way – her wanting to go to ‘real school’ or her wanting to pursue her interests at home. She appears both more extroverted and more tough than my boy, so I think school would work better for her than it did for him.

          Either way, we’ll support her, but if she chose to homeschool, we wouldn’t be the only family I know who uses daycare for the little ones and homeschool for the older ones. This is entirely consistent with a child-centered educational philosophy, as daycare and preschool are mostly playing and self-directed learning, and the annoying part of institutional education (curricula, tests, competition, huge classes) make their appearance in ‘real school.’

          • renaem
            renaem says:

            This is an awesome post, and one that considers what is best for each child. At my house, we factor in our children’s response to school, the quality of education provided, and our own involvement with the community. In my house it’s not as simple as “kids do best with their parents most of the time.”
            There are others who are much better skilled at teaching than I am, and I am fortunate enough to be connected to these people.Admitting this is not a failing on my part.

  12. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    The almighty god “research” is sure worshipped mightily on this blog. However, PT only links to research that supports what she already thinks, similar to Rush Limbaugh. You never see him put forth data that contradicts him, however, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I happen to like PTs links but that doesn’t mean I don’t realize that many of them are mere expert opinions or rather shoddy research.

    I often wonder…what is the point? Particularly for those of you with girls. Do you hope to homeschool your daughters so they can find a husband that makes enough money to homeschool their own kids? Is it possible they might not want to do that and will you think less of them for putting their own desires before the welfare of their children?

    I think most of your dissatisfaction with work over home life is the work you do. That may be one of the biggest problems; corporate work is so meaningless. What do you actually achieve and make? Of course, video games seem like a good primer for such lifelong nonsense. The goals are just as arbitrary and worthless, the mistakes just as trivial, the reboot – effortless.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Kristen, here’s another way to look at things: I wonder what is the point of sending kids to school. Is it so they can grow up and send their kids to school? I think there is more to life than that.

      I think the point of life is so we can find out who we are and then grow up and be the best version of that person. We know that school doesn’t accomplish that – you would be hard pressed to find any research that says school is actually working right now. So since we know school isn’t working, it’s not a big leap of faith to think doing something that is not school is worth a try.

      The world is not binary: you don’t have to think school good school bad. You could do school’s not working so something else probably works better.


    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      What’s the point for those of us with girls? For me, it’s the same as the point for my boy. I should help my children find out who they are and what they’re best at, and develop themselves so they can put their strengths into practice.

      I believe my boy and my girl have very different personalities and strengths, and are likely to follow different paths in life. If one of them is more likely to stay at home and take care of children, and the other more likely to charge ahead with a difficult career, the boy is the former and the girl the latter (just like dad and mom). Perhaps the most important thing I can do is show my son that it’s all right for a man to be compassionate, like he is. That’s not something the boys at school were teaching him.

      I was dissatisfied with my career, but my wife is not. She helps to create tangible things that help people greatly, and values both the process and the outcome of her work. I am more satisfied with my role now, and I believe that she could not excel at her job without me backing her up and taking care of her. Our children view examples in us in how to live life in different ways.

      There was an interesting article in this Sunday Times called Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers that talked about the growing trend of female executives having stay at home husbands. My daughter is a hard-headed, hard-charging dynamo, and maybe someday she’ll be in that role.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      What’s the point for those of us with girls? We’ve heard this question posed by various commenters before. But I’ll answer again for you.

      I am mother to three girls, no boys. I homeschool my girls. My oldest daughter is nearly 7 and she wants to be an engineer. What this means for me, is that I give her lots of math, science, and technology at home, and she gets art class through a local artist. We’ll do circuits next month. This could never be accomplished at any school or after school program. After the circuits program I do with her we’ll build and program a boe-bot. Open source programming!

      See the point? This isn’t radical thinking. This is revolutionary thinking.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Basic electronics is fun. I recommend picking up a copy of Forrest Mims’ book on the 555 chip. You can easily breadboard some fun little projects that flash and go boop and beep for next to nothing in parts costs. But plan to spend more than a month playing with it!

      • kristen
        kristen says:

        Nobody is more of a feminist than I am, I’m in a very high end profession which is very much male dominated. However, by PT’s many posts on the path to happiness 2 lines of thought are recurrent…
        1. Most women prefer to stay home and care for their children so it is important to pick a spouse who will support you in that
        2. Homeschool so your children can get a quality education.

        So my question becomes if most women need preparation for their preferred career (which for most will be child rearing and homeschooling) what is the point of the “boe-bots” and the circuits? Sure, she wants to be an engineer at 7. But at 27 with 2 kids, PT can show you the research that your daughter will want to stay home. And certainly many of you have argued that she should stay home and homeschool your grandkids. So are you really preparing her for her life? According to PT’s references…no. I’m not arguing against all this it just seems like there is an illogical dichotomy that runs through this blog. And I really do understand that this doesn’t apply to all women (I am one of those to whom it is inapplicable) however, as PT has recurrently pointed out, most of us are average. So, by all of these arguments, shouldn’t we be homeschooling our daughters in a way that will most likely benefit them the most…find the right partner and know how to homeschool?

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Hey Kristin, your questions are thoughts that I have had myself! Fears, doubts, am I doing the right thing? etc. Obviously, I feel that I am, and we are a family of engineers and PhD’s on both sides so I’m fairly certain she will be an engineer, she’s been saying it since she was 5! lol…

          But of course I think about them meeting their lifelong partners who will love them each unconditionally. Whether or not they homeschool their own children will be totally up to them and I will be supportive of whatever choices they make. But that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing their interests even if they plan on putting them aside when they have a family.

          Here is what I know … research again! Homeschooling is growing at a rate of 7% a year while public school is growing at a rate of 1%. The 7% doesn’t include those who use k12 online public school, or public charter school that lets you do school at home, this number is only for families like myself who homeschool privately and I really don’t know how many families are switching to or charters to homeschool, because they still “count” as public school students. My point is, that in twenty years we don’t know what resources will be available for homeschool children as fast as it’s growing. And we also don’t know what sort of jobs will be available for mothers who want to work and homeschool their kids.

          With a career, Penelope has posted on her career blog suggesting that women who want to have a career first and family later freeze their eggs, this is not bad advice. Other women who have been in the news recently have suggested that women should marry while in college, because they will have the most access to intelligent men and if a woman waits too long to get married they will lose out to younger women.

          Also, I still don’t know about my younger girls. I only know my oldest wants to be an engineer and I plan to get her into a top school by the time she is 17. In CA she can take courses at junior colleges at the age of 15.

          As a woman who has made it to the top in a male dominated field, maybe you have some advice to give me? Maybe you can help start a path where mothers who want to stay home and raise their families can also be part of the corporate world should they want to do both. Can it be done?

          • kristen
            kristen says:

            I’ve wanted to be a surgeon since I was 10 and now I am…which is why I know nothing about the corporate world. But your daughter may certainly become an engineer.
            We all spout the unconditional love for our kids while at the same time condemning other women’s schooling/parenting choices. It’s kinda like how Cheney supported his lesbian daughter while being anti-LBGT politically.
            Something we’re told in medicine all the time regarding “research” – “If you torture the data enough it will, eventually, confess to something.” The fact that public school numbers are stagnant while homeschooling numbers are growing is not that surprising. The number of people who have cars in the US is also pretty flat. Everybody has a car so there is no room for growth…public school is similar. However, people are gradually realizing that public school is not what they want it to be so there is growth in homeschooling as people try that on for size.
            I met my husband in college so I have to agree with that one and had my kids at 31 and 33. I confess to feeling a little rushed by the 35-is-advance-maternal-age deadline.
            The only advice I can give to young ladies is don’t let other people define success for you. If you run with the “horsey set” they judge people’s success based on the quality of their horses. Well, for most of us that is completely irrelevant and a ridiculous definition of success. The way a good chunk of the world define success as a high powered job and a lot of money may be just as irrelevant. Sometimes I look at my peers and think I should be doing more but then I look at my kids and decide I’m right where I should be.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            you cannot plan for all contingencies – your daughter might be lesbian, unable to conceive, not meet a good guy, not want to have kids or thrive in a corporate or high powered engineering firm. Who knows… so if you plan her life now as if she is going to be a homeschooling, stay at home mum you severely limit her choices of profession, passion and goals in life. Some of us don’t just work to work but are deeply fascinated by what we do. Many engineers and scientists are that way – do you want to stop that to teach your daughter that she has to plan now for being a homeschooling mum? Probably not. Being a scientist is like being an artist in a way – the deep fascination with science and engineering as deep as the fascination of a violinist with his/her music. It is not solely a means to make money and a career. There is a very interesting book “the Marie Curie complex” which looks at the life of many different renowned female scientists – and as many different ways to live a life carrier by their deep interest and inner need to pursue their scientific endeavors and how they worked it out with their families, or some of them never married.

            For many of them science and engineering was/is a calling rather than a carrier choice. That is certainly not valid for everybody, but for some and it should be accepted – the loss to society if we do not permit women in the same way as men to pursue these passions is considerable – I know many will disagree and say the most important thing is to raise children and do not want to play here one life plan against the other. I am saying that there should be more flexibility, both by individuals and by society.

            There are many different ways to combine family and “calling” for men and for women. It is more the expectation we have that women have to have a family and have to get married which is imprinted on everybody at an early age which makes it so difficult.

  13. Jen
    Jen says:

    The heartbeat of this post is the last paragraph: “The first step toward reform is to stop spewing statistics about too-much work and declarations about the ineptitude of school. And instead, start taking action at home. Widespread respect for time with family is what’s missing from our culture.”

    I think the same could be said of homeschooling parents or any families choosing alternative education for their children. If you are succeeding — if your life is really WORKING — start showing us your paradigm as a model from which we may succeed. Stop judging (a lot of the above comments sound so very preachy!) I have been in almost every kind of “work/life” situation you can imagine, save for homeschooling — SAHM , WAHM, part-time at home, part-time at the office, full-time. And you know what? They ALL SUCK. There has been no magical formula in the 11 years that I have been a parent. And you know why? Because our society set us up for failure. We exist within a system that sets up parents for failure — not for success. The only way to come close to success is by trial and error; and typically by sacrificing one priority for the sake of another.

    • Tracy
      Tracy says:

      After reading through this post and all the comments (lots of passive-aggressive and sometimes not-so-passive ones coming out) I was glad to read your comment Jen.

      Yes, if the essence of this post if about respect for family time, then that’s not particularly to do with homeschooling. You can a family with kids in school and have great family time (think quality not quantity) and you could also have a homeschooling family with poor quality family time if one family member is absent too often. It is about making it work for your particular situation – and then not feeling like that needs to work for everyone else.

      It was refreshing to hear your take on work/life situation – I’m still working through the iterations so it makes me smile (They ALL SUCK :) and have a better attitude as I experiment and error along the way. It’s always nice to have various case-studies like Penelope’s and other commentators to compare and contrast with.

    • Gretchen Powers
      Gretchen Powers says:

      I agree…” If you are succeeding — if your life is really WORKING — start showing us your paradigm as a model from which we may succeed.”

      And that’s what I did. We have *midlevel* jobs (neither is a superstar that is required to work more than 40-50 hours a week). We *live in a good school district*…we *found a good after school program*…we *have only one child*…we are *both highly engaged with the child*…we *waited til we were well-established financially and in our jobs to have the child*… we *stay together* (i.e., not get divorce)… I *stayed home when the child was a baby/preschooler* and did a lot of pre-school laying the groundwork of good learning habits, critical thinking and our family’s values…. there’s our model. Not too flashy. Doesn’t involve ripping apart the school system like I know so much more than anyone else. Doesn’t involve thinking “the rich” are the be all and end of how to live life. Doesn’t involve anything radical, really. It’s something many people could do. I guess the problem is that it’s actually not very sensational or exciting.

      But, it is working for us. We don’t feel frazzled. We’re not in any precarious situation. Our child is smart and loves to learn, would be sad to be yanked out of school, etc. There’s not a lot of “drama.”

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Gretchen, I’m beginning to think your obstinacy is admirable. I still find it odd that you like to hang out here and sling back-handed compliments at people you disagree with, but I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to return them a la “it’s best _your_ kid is in school.”

        You said something more of us should notice: “It is working for us. We don’t feel frazzled.” I think that’s our goal too. In my case, we have also reached that status.

        My wife and I have given great consideration to how to make things work in a family, and you describe what is, as you prove it and as it works for many, a workable model: midlevel jobs without great time requirements, a small family involved in the local school in a middle-class neighborhood.

        This is not a model that works for everybody. It might have been our life, but it would have had to be in a different place than we’re in now, and it wouldn’t have been the best life for us.

        My wife and I both prefer to live in a city. This choice brings with it certain opportunities and certain limitations. For one, there’s no neighborhood school; there’s a lottery system, a roulette, a constant churn of kids in and out of schools in different parts of the city, and a demographic of mostly impoverished kids with a thin layer of privileged kids. To have the possibility of our kids staying in the same school for more than a few years we’d have to go private, which costs more than 30K a year here.

        Houses are also quite expensive; for an old house in a modest neighborhood like ours, you’ll pay half a mil.

        Adding up those costs, you’ll see that two modest salaries would only cover the bills with difficulty, especially if you want more than one kid. We’d have to move elsewhere to pursue that route. I grew up in a lot of small towns, and the lack of opportunity I saw in those places convinced me as a young man that I had to come to the city. I will not move back.

        I had a good career for a decade. I was at an inflection point where I could either take the low path of a modest time commitment for a lack of advancement and lower compensation (~100K) or the high path of greater commitment and greater compensation (250K+). I saw proven then one very important fact about careers, which is that the compensation for a very committed career can be several times that of a moderate career.

        I could have taken the low path, but it would have required my wife to scale back her career ambitions as well. I could have taken the high path, but it would have required my wife to abandon her career ambitions. We chose for me to stay at home and for my wife to pursue her career ambitions, which were greater than mine anyway. She now makes more than twice what we both used to together, though sometimes she has to catch the 6:30 train.

        PT has a model for structuring your work/home life that does not convince me. I am not convinced that working from home and leaving your kids to play video games all day is a good model of parenting, or even available to many. I follow a different model (call it the traditional model, though in my case backwards), where one parent works at a demanding career out of the house and the other stays at home and takes care of the house and children, homeschooling where necessary.

        The paradigm we have works better if one has greater career ambitions, works better if one wants to live in a city, and works better if one’s children need to be out of school. As you say, it is not sensational or radical, it doesn’t leave us frazzled, and it’s not precarious. It’s a sensible and traditional model.

        I am glad for you, Gretchen, that your child is thriving in school. My boy very much did not. I will wait to see what my girl wants and likes to do; perhaps she will want to go to school and perhaps she won’t, and I will be here to support her needs and choices.

        • Gretchen Powers
          Gretchen Powers says:

          If I had to live in a city, I’d probably totally home school.
          See, it’s all about the quality of the school to me. The data everyone likes to tout so much here is an aggregate thing…which, of course, includes a lot of underfunded, crappy schools with kids from families that are poor and broken. I feel sorry for them, but they’re not really my problem in the day to day (I support being taxed or contributing to some other social program to help). My point in all this is that it’s not really school that’s bad, it’s how it’s executed and home school can be executed just as poorly. My specific point in the comments to this specific post is that it doesn’t really make a case or say a lot and the comments about her pretty fluffy hair or empty plates are just kind of stream of consciousness and artful–as was the post—which is why I read, because that’s interesting–but certain not “advice” I am going to base life decisions on. I think PT is totally interesting, but it’s very curious to me people who would come here looking for advice on how to live…

  14. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Just had a good look at the photo and what sprang to mind was an image of Penelope grabbing the wine bottle and downing it after more thoughts of giving up equity in the company. (Or actually maybe even Matthew grabbing it and downing it after more thoughts of PT giving up equity in the company :)

  15. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    Gee folks, can’t we encourage one another?
    If everyone logs out feeling frustrated and stressed, how will it benefit our children?

  16. Ellen Pitts
    Ellen Pitts says:

    Penelope, last year we had a conversation about schooling and I asked your opinion about the Sudbury valley school model. (My husband is an educator, recognizes that the model is broken, we homeschool our own children and he really needs a new line of work!) anyway, I noticed that Gary Houchens, the blogger you linked to in this post, addresses some comments about the Sudbury valley schools. I think this is a really good model to pursue (and Houchens seemed intrigued by it) as an alternative for parents who can’t homeschool. Lets face it, the average household income in the US is $50k. A national model of homeschooling isn’t possible. Recognizing problems is great but useless without solutions.

  17. Benny
    Benny says:

    Such a good dissection of this issue. We can “reform” school all we want and we can log into corporate networks with VPNs from home all we want, but until we start to ask the bigger questions, only a small minority of people will see their lives improve… and not by much.

  18. liskelly
    liskelly says:

    I’m excited to hear that you work as you do and are still able to manage homeschooling. I’m just starting out with my 7,4, & 2 year old….it’s overwhelming at times.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      liskelly, I’m homeschooling with kids the same ages, all girls. Fun times! But I don’t work. At least not until all my kids are over 6. That would definitely be overwhelming, but I would still do it if I had to.

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