How to unschool a kid AND send him to school

This is a guest post from Anna Keller. She wrote an earlier guest post here when she took her son out of school.

Last spring, my husband and I pulled our eighth-grade son out of a private, academically-focused school that he had attended since pre-K. While it was a major decision, it was also an effortless one. We had reached the end of our rope.

Immediately after the change, all the friction, drama and tension of the past 8 years melted away. And it kept getting better. Over the remainder of spring and into the summer my son & husband forged a deep bond, spending most of their time together hanging out, talking, doing guy stuff. Without school in the way, our family grew closer and our son regained his passion for music and art and athletics. As we neared the start of the traditional school year in late August, we had no plans to change anything.

And then our son asked us when we would be enrolling him in high school.

With just weeks left before the start of school in our area, he wanted to go to school. Not online school, not the partial day school for athletes. Regular, plain old high school. He was adamant. As a very social kid, he yearned to have ‘the normal high school experience” with other kids his own age. He missed the camaraderie. And he definitely missed the girls.

Once my son has his mind set on something, he will almost always get his way. He’s just that strong-willed. So, my husband and I scrambled to enroll him in a private school known for its art and athletics (but not so much academics). I can’t say we stopped to think much about what we were doing or the potential outcomes. He wanted to go to school, so it just seemed like the thing to do.

School started and we held our breath. Waiting for the tension, the fights, the misery. But also we held out hope that maybe this time would be different.

And it was. He came home every day invigorated, not depleted. He threw himself into his school work, studying nightly and not missing an assignment. He woke pretty easily in the morning and got himself ready and out the door on time. He quickly made friends and attended school events.

And then the first quarter grades arrived home. Straight A’s. A first for my son.

As if.

After receiving his first quarter report card, every grade took a nosedive. He stopped getting up on time, avoided all homework and academic obligations, and spent all his time drumming, working on his art and Facetiming with friends.

It wasn’t good. There was screaming, pleading, incentivizing, punishing—every crappy family dynamic we thought we had shed. We were pissed and we were stressed.

For two months, every morning started with a fight to get him up and to school on time, and every evening finished with tense conversation about homework, tests, and what privileges he had lost.

And then we realized that all the cajoling, fighting, begging, incentivizing, and punishing were literally not going to change a thing. We’d been having the same conversation since he was 7 years old. He didn’t want to put any effort in any academic area, and my husband and I could not influence that or change it. We could not change him.

We asked my son if he wanted to leave school (since he wasn’t putting in a drop of effort, we thought he would jump at the chance). He didn’t—he was the one who wanted to go back. But just because he wanted to go back, didn’t mean we had to go back with him.

We stopped begging him to get up, we stopped asking about homework, and we stopped checking in on his grades and assignments. We stopped having any conversation about school whatsoever. My son goes to school, but my husband and I are unschooling ourselves.

We have one rule about school: if he wants to go out on the weekends with friends, he needs to leave every weekday morning on time. This is so we have some sense of order in the mornings and don’t make the rest of the family late while he asks us to wait for him to get ready. So, he gets up and goes to school every morning.

I haven’t seen him open a book, or study at all. But he wasn’t doing that before either. He comes home from school every day and works on his art, his drums, eats dinner with us, chats with his friends, and watches a little TV. He’s a good son, a respectful grandson, and a trustworthy brother. I have no idea what kind of adult he will turn out to be, but he is a good family member and we enjoy his company.

For now, this is the way we unschool our son.

74 replies
  1. Dana
    Dana says:

    Wow! I could have written a very similar post myself, but (misplaced) embarrassment would have kept me from it. I have a senior in high school who will not be graduating with his class this spring. He goes to school every day (without struggles) and excels in the arts (he is in 2 band classes and 3 vocal performing groups). He gets along well with his peers and is a smart kid. And he is failing Algebra and English – not because he cannot grasp the concepts, but because the are not important to him, nor is graduating from high school.

    I don’t know what will happen this spring – if he’ll decide to go to summer school to finish up the classes he needs for graduation – if he’ll enroll in night school in the fall – if he’ll decide getting his GED is good enough.

    I do know that I have set FIRM boundaries and expectations of what happens in our home if he does not graduate (he will be responsible for 1/3 of the household bills and will be expected to work full-time). Beyond that? I cannot want a high school diploma for him more than he wants that diploma, and that is where we were.

    • Anna K.
      Anna K. says:

      Dana, It does sound so similar to our situation. Good kids, who just — for whatever reason — aren’t motivated by certain courses. Good luck!

  2. Mom
    Mom says:

    I’d love to see how this turns out in a year, 4 years, more. We’ve recently had this “epiphany” with my step-daughter. For the record, my younger son does go to & enjoy an alternative private school. BUT I don’t believe in our public school system, and if he ends up not thriving in his current school we’ll homeschool.

    Despite not believing in the public school my SD goes to, I found myself insisting that she had to do homework, turn it in, get good grades on tests, actually GO to school. Because that’s what we did. Then I thought, why? There are other, more important, things we are working on with her. She gets decent grades without trying. Why am I fighting this battle that I don’t even believe in? We’ll see how it all turns out.

    • Anna K.
      Anna K. says:

      It is so easy to get sucked in, right!? Teachers saying “turn this in” and we feel obligated to push to ensure our kids are doing it. I realized this year that so much of my pushing him was out of embarrassment. How do you explain to a teacher that you are fine with your kids performance when he isn’t doing the work. It’s not easy! But it got easier once I decided to swallow the embarrassment.

  3. Splashman
    Splashman says:

    Ugh. Are there any adults in this narrative?

    Well, if nothing else, this account makes me feel better about myself. Was that the point?

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    How is this unschool? Everything you described sounds like regular school with a teenage boy in most households.

    I’m glad you’ve found some family harmony. I agree that school was the culprit to the unhappiness based on your own assessment. But this is kind of like sweeping it under the rug, regular school that is.

    • Dana
      Dana says:

      Wait … so the author’s definition of “unschool” doesn’t match yours (said generally to a few of the commenters), so you question her right to call it that? And imply her parenting is not “adult” in nature? I thought you homeschoolers were supposed to be so open minded.

      Strike that stereotype!

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Please don’t put words in my mouth. I didn’t say or imply any of the things you said there.

        Most people’s definition of unschool means there no traditional school like classrooms and curriculum in brick and mortar environments.

        I thought encouraging family harmony was supportive, which is what I am glad she was able to do.

    • Anna K.
      Anna K. says:

      I understand why you can see it as sweeping it under the rug. I don’t feel that, because we aren’t pretending it isn’t happening. He knows we want him to be an educated contributor to society and he also knows there are many ways to become educated and that the concept of ‘educated’ may even be very open to interpretation. I think in many families with a teenage boy who isn’t putting in effort at school there is punishment and consequences. Schooling becomes forced. And philosophically I have a hard time forcing something on a 15-year old who has displayed many years of good choices and being a good family member.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Thanks for your response. I remember reading your first post and how awesome it was. I’m sorry things didn’t work out to continue homeschool and sincerely wish for the best for your family. I know you only are telling just a sliver of your story, I guess I just wish this had been about how you kept homeschooling anyway and found ways for him to hang out with his friends.

        Anyway, I’m anti homework as well. It’s an infringement on family time. I’m also PRO BYOD and Lisa Nielson has tons of info that I would be sending to the school all the time to get them to change that policy forbidding devices.

  5. karelys
    karelys says:

    Every time I try to explain to someone the idea of having an “unschooling school” every one flips and start suggesting other things.

    So essentially an unschooling school would be like a daycare for grown up kids. A place with lots of resources and intelligent adults that make sure there’s peace and respect among the kids and when they have questions they can help guide them. Of course, in the time of the internet there’s not as much need for a well stocked library. But books are still beautiful and nice to touch.

    The perfect unschooling school could have a lab, a place for the arts, and competitive sports. Most kids want to go to school to socialize and prove that they are good (the star) of something, like competitive sports.

    Yet, no one gets it. Or I am so bad at explaining myself. Or I am talking to people who’ve never convinced the idea of unschooling as a viable option. These schools exists. They are private schools and that’s how they get their funds to provide those nice things. But also, I am pretty sure that parents who would send their kids there are pretty well educated and high earning, so if the kids wanted to go (like Jeffet) on a paleontology dig that costs $1500 plus travel and lodging, the parents would take the kid or pay someone to take them there.

    Sounds like this kid would thrive in a school environment minus the academic pressure.

    • Kim
      Kim says:

      The problem with this is the herd mentality that goes on when you have a large amount of kids and a few people responsible for them. There’s a desperate attempt to create order and completely neglect the individual needs of each and every child.

      Also, people have different interests, to accommodate each of those interests fully, would be almost impossible in the type of setting you described.

      What you’ve described is a public library with Internet. If you’re looking for babysitting or daycare for an adult child…I’m not even sure if that makes sense.

      Come on, educating your kid at home isn’t that hard. I’m sure you can cut costs somewhere to afford the paleontology trip if you feel he really needs it.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Penelope’s older son is the one interested in paleontology, I think karelys was just referencing that to make her point.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        After reading your blog I see how content you’re at being a stay at home person.
        I hate it.
        It kills me inside.
        So you really sound super smug when you say “Come on, it’s not that hard to homeschool your kid at home.” Or something like that. For some people it’s hell.
        If I was a man and said to you “come on, it’s not that hard to be the breadwinner of your family and provide them a luxurious lifestyle” you’d get all your panties in a bunch.
        Some people just don’t like the only options they have so they try to make a new way.

        • Kim
          Kim says:

          I’m not sure how much you want to pull from my comment but I’m not sure how you relate a hypothetical situation of creating a school simply to help pay for expensive trips is smug.
          Certain aspects of homeschooling are both easier and more difficult than putting kids in school.
          I’m not homeschooling for the benefit of myself so I do have reason to be content. I’m sorry you find it hell, maybe you shouldn’t do it if you are that miserable.
          If you’re insecure about homeschooling, that’s you being insecure not me being smug.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I think there are a few things here, probably most people don’t understand unschool. But something like this would be incredibly expensive, would require student/teacher ratio 5:1, and really it’s just admitting that school is a daycare service. I’m not certain that public schools would be able to accommodate this with all the resources needed to make it happen. Private schools make this happen, but it costs $50,000 a year without financial aid, and there is still academics required.

      It’s much more cost effective to unschool your own kids in your home, save the $$ to do a nice field trip somewhere and send your kid away to camp in the summer. It’s also probably cheaper to hire a nanny during the day to supervise while you work.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Yes, it’s cheaper. But if you unschool/homeschool then your kid misses out on something that is incredibly important to them.

        Long before I even knew about Penelope’s blog I found some information about, I think they called it natural learning, these schools in Psychology Today. I was intrigued and it sounded interesting but to me, at the time, it was impossible that kids would learn without crazy amounts of pressure and being forced into things.

        I respect what the commenters have pointed out. Normally, I come across people who tell me things can’t be done because “look at X Y Z!” instead of taking a minute and thinking “how could it be done?”

        I am not saying this wouldn’t be incredibly expensive. It may. It probably is already for those parents who pay for it.

        What you’re wrong about is that teachers have to maintain some sort of order. From what I’ve researched that’s not the case – forcing order. Maybe it’s another story in real life.

        I am a fan of finding a way. Maybe I will find a way. If I wanted to homeschool my kid and torture him and myself in the process while living on a tiny budget I wouldn’t be looking at alternatives or making a different way. If I wanted what’s already in front of me I wouldn’t worry about making something other than what’s in front of me. And guess what? I hate the options I have. So unless I don’t find any other way I just won’t take them.

        If my family had look only at what we had in front of us and tried to make a life out of that I’d still be stuck in Mexico living in a house with no running water, no floors, no real toilet or shower, and constant shootings/kidnappings by our neighbors. We made the trek thousands of miles away from everything we knew and everyone we loved. So far, our lives are a thousand times better. I can’t just take what’s in front of me because that’s my only option. I’ll just dig for new options.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I didn’t say anything about enforcing order. That was someone else.

          I’m just talking out of the business side of my brain that says it’s not scalable. Of course it would be nice to have this option. Something that is similar is a homeschool co-op. Parents volunteer for certain things, take turns, and sometimes experts come in to speak, but mostly the kids would just need a place to have unstructured time. There is a small library, some computers, an art teacher, there is still a semblance of order but only because the group keeps growing and now there is an administrator and it’s starting to actually look like regular school but without curriculum.

          • karelys
            karelys says:

            So I’ve thought of the co-op aspect and I think it could work. And it would be great because there are not many parents that know what unschooling is and we live in a place where LOTS of people have acres and acres of land. So it could be really cool to do this.

            The part I don’t like about the co-op is that sometimes I feel like things could be unreliable. That’s why I thought that the equivalent to having a daycare for grown (not adult) kids would be good. I am talking up to 16 when they can’t drive yet and go meet their friends or go places for special things they want to do.

            Normally, in WA State, daycare goes up to 12 years old. And of course it’s just a place to be and get help with homework for that time after school programs are over and parents are not done with work yet. I’ve known kids who are old enough (13) to stay at home whose parents have to work and they want to homeschool. It workout for the right personality.

            If daycare for grown kids sounds like too much to handle, just think of it as a …. I don’t know…nice place to be while parents are at work and it’s safe, it’s got intelligent people that can help with projects and answer questions, and there are labs and rooms to explore. I think it could be done. I know Sudbury is as close to unschooling as a school can get but it’s not unschooling.

    • victoria
      victoria says:

      What you’re talking about does exist — it’s a Free School (or a Sudbury-type school — they’re very similar). No required curriculum, etc. Unfortunately they tend not to be cheap and don’t exist everywhere. I think you’re right that for a student who has strong interests they want to pursue but also wants the social routine of school, a place like that would make tons of sense.

      • victoria
        victoria says:

        I’ll also note that while these schools aren’t cheap they’re not $40K – $50K either. The Harriet Tubman Democratic School in NYC is $8000/yr with part-time tuition available for homeschoolers; Sudbury Valley is $8200 with discounts for siblings; the Philly Free School is $12K/year. And all the ones I’ve seen offer need-based financial aid.

        • Gayle
          Gayle says:

          Reading this discussion of an “unschooling school”, I want to share about a homeschooling center outside Portland, OR where I taught for five years. (I now live in CT and am planning to unschool my 2.5 year old). Here is their website:

          It may look a lot like a school (there are classrooms and classes and teachers and students), but it is fundamentally and radically different from the inside: students choose each course they take, there are no tests, no grades, no credit. Teachers submit proposals for each course they teach (which are selected or not and may not run if enrollment is too low). I loved it as a teacher. I taught Shakespeare for 18 terms (all different plays) and built up a math program (pre-algebra to trigonometry) with devoted students returning term after term, as well as individual courses that interested me (Cryptography, Math as Art, a class where my students learned to program RSA in C, etc.). I was blown away by how engaged, curious and motivated my students were, and my husband and I decided that of course we would homeschool when we had children. I am now spoiled for teaching in more traditional settings.

          From the kids’ perspective, I think it is even more appealing than from a teacher’s. Because they choose every activity and course and the set-up is completely modular, they can of course just choose the courses that interest them or even just choose to go to activities and field trips and make it purely social and not at all academic. Also, this model accommodates so many styles of education: from absolute unschooling to very structured/academic etc. I feel that these kids are wildly lucky and get the best of homeschooling without having to sacrifice the natural teenage desire to have a strong social cohort.

          It is also quite inexpensive. Check out the website for exact numbers if you wish but when I was teaching there, it was something like a $300 annual member fee and then $100 a class (for a ten-week, once a week class) and discounts for families who volunteer.

          If any of you live at all near Portland, OR, certainly check it out. For the rest of us, I’d still encourage you to check it out because to me it is the best model of education I have seen and I hope to see it replicated in many, many places!

          As I said, I now live in beautiful, rural Connecticut and I am thrilled at the prospect of homeschooling my 2.5 year old, but of course I think and wonder about what social opportunities he will want and have access to as he gets older. I trust that we will figure these issues out as a family as well as we can. Given my son’s age, I don’t feel that I have advice to offer addressing the real meat of this post, but I did want to chime in (this is my first comment on this blog!) on the idea of an “unschooling school” because I didn’t see anyone mention anything at all like Village Home.

  6. Kim
    Kim says:

    I agree Splashman, this was sort of convoluted and didn’t have much of a point. Bottom line, if you unschool your kids they will get kicked out of school, if you take them out of school, you will need to unschool them.

    I’m not sure if the author understands that if he doesn’t play by the rules he will be put out of the game. The school isn’t going to just let you unschool him for long.

    I’m not sure what the point of sending him to school was, I understand he wanted it but why? If he was looking for more friends couldn’t he have joined a team or club? Also, he seems just as aggressive and borderline as he did before. I’m glad to see someone explain how much of a babysitting service school really is.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      I totally get why this kid would want to go back to school for his friends. He probably wants HIS friends – not just any old new friends. Imagine how hard it would be to build a group of friends and then not get to be around them at all. Joining some teams / clubs might expose you to new friends – but as a teenager – thats not always what you want or need. they need their ‘tribe’ so to speak. I so wish their was a homeschool/unschool “track” within the standard school system that would give a little of the best of both worlds.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I actually think this is perfect. It’s hard sometimes to negotiate with teenagers. The kid will get kicked out of school if he doesn’t play by the rules. OK.

      If he does, and then there’s a hint of a second chance then he’ll have to decide if he really wants to stick with it.

      If he doesn’t want to then the parents can unschool at home.

      I think it’s an incredibly valuable lesson for the teenager to have to choose and do something he doesn’t enjoy in order to get what he wants. And school can be a lot like the work place in the sense that you have to navigate the social dance of everything and everyone around. And there’s a bare minimum that you must do to get by and there’s a specific rhythm you must adopt if you want to excel. And he’ll have to decide.

      • Anna K.
        Anna K. says:

        Karelys – you really hit the nail on the head. If this is what he wants, he will need to figure out what needs to be done to not get kicked out of school. If he ends up opting out to the degree that he no longer can stay in school, then he will be homeschooled and he will work. This is his journey and these are his lessons to learn.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      But it’s not a babysitting service. These people are USING it as a baby sitting service, or rather, a social club. If it was a babysitting service there’d be no consequences for him not doing the work. As it is, he gets bad grades…may get kicked out (?) or held back? Or not. I would say the way this could work was if school was SO EASY for him that he could knock out the work and still have time to do his own thing, but that’s not what we’re hearing. There’s value in having the discipline to do things one does not “feel like” doing. This kid will be living with these people FOREVER, so it’s a good thing they enjoy his company.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        I always enjoy Gretchen’s contrarian views.

        I don’t think the parents will necessarily be stuck with their kid living at home forever. Failure to launch isn’t the end of the story. And it looks like they’re going to save a bundle on college. Many kids drop out in place like this only once they are in college, and it costs a lot more that way.

        He’ll probably end up working as a waiter or barista. So what? At least he won’t have student loans to pay off. If all you want to do is pay the bills while you make music with your friends, it’s better to figure this out before you mortgage your future for a liberal arts PhD.

        • Gretchen
          Gretchen says:

          I went back and read the earlier post after some of my comments. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d have done with a kid like this. I always like to search for reasons or “blame” and so I want to say something should have been done differently with this kid before it came to this, like…what happened when he was very little? But, the truth it, I only know girl children who are “normal” (or who can pretend to be normal enough to do all the things it takes to do well in the current system) so I really don’t know what I’d do if I was in this woman’s shoes.

          I guess I’d hope for the baseball thing to happen!

      • Anna K.
        Anna K. says:

        I don’t agree Gretchen. My son does many things he doesn’t want to do, and has shown the ability to start and complete many complex projects on his own independently as well. He also already works, selling designs on 99Designs and other similar sites. Just because I don’t believe in forcing him him to complete academics doesn’t mean he won’t be a very valuable contributor to society and an independent adult. To jump all the way to that conclusion is a very big leap.

        • beth
          beth says:

          Part of the “issue” with these online “discussions” is that a blog post (or any article) can only tell one small part of the overall story. It’s always going to leave a bunch of unanswered questions (especially if it’s thought provoking or controversial).

          I greatly appreciate your responses Anna about how your child is really exploring and advancing his art and music. I certainly hope I did not coming across like I was insinuating your child was lazy. I when think I read that “…he comes home from school every day and works on his art, his drums…” I wrongly assumed the worst in that he didn’t do anything other than that.

          Unlike some other posters here I am definitely not judging or criticizing your approach – but rather hoping to gain some insight for making my own decisions and sharing the questions and concerns in my head. And I only have my own history to compare against for now (my child is only 4)

          It takes a lot of guts and parental restraint to do what you are doing. Keep up whatever it is you need to do and ignore those on here who can only ridicule and criticize.

        • Gretchen
          Gretchen says:

          Thanks for the reply. I guess we all have to figure our way through this world and through parenting. Your story sounds really challenging and, again, I’m not really sure what I would do. The universe gives us what we can handle, they say, and all I’ve got is a kid who is pretty much just like me, fits in the school mold. It’s eye opening to read about so many whose children don’t.

      • Kim
        Kim says:

        School is a babysitting service. It’s simply a glorified one. Also, not many institutions exist without some sort of order. You can even get kicked out of daycares for bad behavior, like I did.

        Parents were getting too guilty about sending their kids to school, so they encouraged boards to create arbitrary rules for success in school, which clearly doesn’t translate in to success in real life.

        Bottom line, the rules and “academic rigor” of schools are just smoke screens to make school look worthwhile.

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post makes entirely good sense to me … after re-reading the earlier guest post. I think it’s a critical introduction to this post.
    “My son goes to school, but my husband and I are unschooling ourselves.” also rings true. However, it seems to me that you, your husband, and family will not be able to easily work through the problems described. You may want to consider some sort of family counseling if you and your family are not satisfied with current conditions or they don’t appear to be changing for the better. Good luck to all.

  8. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Thanks for sharing Anna.It hadn’t occurred to me that the social pressures parents might succumb to in a school environment might be the primary reason to unschool. I would like to imagine my contrary streak renders me immune but will have to see. Good luck letting go and staying that way. I wonder if it is now your job to run interference with the school for your son so he can keep doing what he wants while taking advantage of the social scene. My mum had great techniques for paying lip service to my school or for that matter anyone trying to get us to do something we didn’t want to.

  9. Beth
    Beth says:

    Wow – this is a very powerful – and brave post. Sharing what is turning out to be a very difficult process is not easy (especially with some of the criticism I am reading here). But it is so important to all of us who are considering homeschooling / unschooling but havent yet decided.

    Homeschooling / unscooling cant be all roses all the time – and you can run into major difficulties like this. Knowing about the potential risks are critical to this process of deciding. So thank you.

    I love the “idea” of unschooling – its the real world impacts and risks like this that scare me to death. I suppose if your son gets decent grades without having to study and wont get kicked out of school it might work out fine. But I must say that would scare me crazy.

    How in the world are you supposed to know when your child is just being lazy and not leaning any discipline vs. he/she just hasnt yet found what really gets them going? Or is having emotional issues that need to be explored? How do you know he will be fine just practicing his music/art without applying it to some sort of measurable “SOMETHING.” Im probably just rambling but this post left me more confused about unschooling and concerned about this family. And impressed with your willingness to share lessons learned – even hard ones that arent figured out.

    • Anna K.
      Anna K. says:

      I guess part of it is that I don’t believe in “Lazy”. Lazy is someone uninspired who hasn’t found what makes them tick. Seeing my son drum for hours at a time, practicing a piece over and over until he perfects it, or working for weeks on a large-scale complex art project demonstrates that to me. He may be ‘lazy’ at school but that is because what is being presented to him isn’t done so in a way he finds meaningful or valuable.

      • victoria
        victoria says:

        I have to say: my first instinct when I see something like that would be to encourage him to get his GED as soon as possible so that he could go to somewhere like Berklee or another pre-professional school in the arts where he’ll meet talented collaborators who share his interests.

        That would neatly solve the problem of his schooling not seeming relevant to him. But it wouldn’t solve the problem of “he wants to be around these particular people, and the cost of doing so is to spend a bunch of time somewhere that has no intrinsic rewards for him.”

  10. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    Well, this was a great post to really cement for me to take everything on this blog with a grain of salt. I kind of thought y’all were whack, but this seals it. It kind of illuminates what unschooling is, too…letting a kid fuck around and do whatever they want. I think I’ll stick with regular school.

    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      The most important thing I’m taking away in reading across these posts and across the comments is that everyone wants better. Is there a lot of fear and mistrust with the schools, private and public, around us? There are infinite ways to do things ‘better’. Homeschooling life, to me, seems primarily successful dependent on the HOME environment.
      That said, I have to agree that it *looks* as if the author is just throwing it to the wind with her kid. And you know what? This kid is 14 ish right? So this kid knows exactly what he’s doing. If there are already problems with the kid listening to the parents (prior to HMschooling) and being respectful then putting him in because he says he wants to gives me the feeling that he is able to get away with what he pleases all the time. He knows he can do whatever he wants to the tune of his parents not knowing how to give him what he needs or show him the ropes to adulthood which at 14 does include doing things he doesn’t want to do. I would suggest getting him employed early on and not make it optional.

    • Dana
      Dana says:

      Oh goodness! Of course we should not let kids decide what is important to them. It’s better that we … wait … a large group of over-paid, bureaucratic administrators who know our children as well as we know the President of Uruguay, decide what is important to them. I mean … D’UH!!

      Look, I don’t know how old your kids are Gretchen, or even if you have kids, but teenagers are an odd breed. It’s actually possible (and highly likely) to have a “normal”, engaged toddler, elementary school child, middle school child that suddenly “looses it” in high school.

      The bottom line? If it is “whacked” to consider that I know my child and what s/he needs better than those over-paid, bureaucratic administrators (and you) who seem to think all children are the same, and deviating from socially acceptable norms is the devil incarnate, then I’ll choose “whacked” every time!

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        All kids are different. Right. This is true. Honestly, this kid just sounds really spoiled to me. And I am no a big “authoritarian” parent either, but basically it sounds like he’s nice to the family when he gets his way. I don’t understand this notion that’s popular among posters here that it’s so noble to not have to do anything one does not want to do (or at least to not make one’s child do anything they don’t want to do). A big part of growing up is doing things you may not want to do and…finding the mental and emotional strength to eek some enjoyment out of those things. It is a weak mind that can only find satisfaction in doing what it THINKS it wants to do and nothing else.

        • Dana
          Dana says:

          I think you might be confusing allowing/encouraging a child to engage in self-directed learning (doing the things, educationally, that s/he has interest in and specializing in the things that s/he has a definitive aptitude in) with “doing whatever they want whenever they want” at all times.

          In my case, my son does plenty of things he doesn’t want to do – take out the trash, drive the speed limit, get up at 6AM so that he can attend before school rehearsals for his performance groups, clean his room, etc. He’s not running wild, neglecting responsibilities and acting a fool , and I get the impression the author’s son is similar.

          Is the author’s solution right for every kid and every parent? No, but “traditional” schooling is not right for every kid and every parent either. That’s all. Your making this far more complicated than it really is.

    • Rachel G
      Rachel G says:

      Gretchen, why are you here? If you think everyone here is so crazy, why don’t you just go away? Surely you have better things to do with your life than troll homeschooling sites telling people they are stupid and wrong. Really. It is offensive.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        Because I actually don’t think homeschooling is crazy or wrong and I am interested in it and in education in general, as a parent. If you can’t take someone challenging your ideas, and that “offends” you, then you have a weak mind. You need to know that even people are not wholly mainstream and who do appreciate doing things differently think that brands of unschooling such as what is described here are indeed “whack” and probably not what’s best for the kid. I’m not claiming to know what is, thank goodness this is not my child…but I don’t see how just letting a child do whatever they want is ultimately going to be helpful for them in becoming an independent adult.

        • Dana
          Dana says:

          If you can’t take someone challenging your ideas, and that “offends” you, then you have a weak mind. You need to know that even people are not wholly mainstream and who do appreciate doing things differently think that brands of unschooling such as what is described here are indeed “whack” and probably not what’s best for the kid.”

          If you actually attacked the idea instead of the people who have the idea, calling them weak-minded and whacked, your opinion might matter. But? Well …

        • Kirsten H
          Kirsten H says:

          Gretchen, you don’t really seem all that interested in education. You’re adamant that your own kid’s experience is fine, and seem perturbed by the fact that P-Tru says it isn’t. She’s a provocateur; that’s what they do.

          You admit here, and earlier comments illustrate that you’ve extrapolated a very narrow experience (your N=1, maybe 2 if we’re being generous) and aren’t willing to truly investigate other options. I doubt anyone here cares that you don’t want to, but it isn’t fair to criticize this guest writer for her choices, when all you’ve done is open the door a crack and slam it shut again.

          The reason I follow this blog is that a long time ago I opened the door — and guess what? More doors.

        • Karen
          Karen says:

          Gretchen, the problem is that you don’t challenge anyone’s ideas in a manner that is in any way contructive and conducive to furthering the discussion. All you seem to do is condescend and snark and it’s really unattractive.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Actually, I think starting this younger teaches kids how to self-regulate a lot sooner and not waiting until your 30 to figure things out. And just so you know, I do use curriculum for math… I just do, because math is math there are no arguments or agendas with 1+1=2… everything else there is khan academy, experts that I utilize, hands on activities, field trips, plus sports and music. But there is LOTS of free unstructured time as well, self-regulation is already happening here… I see it.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      “I kind of thought y’all were whack, but this seals it. It kind of illuminates what unschooling is, too…letting a kid fuck around and do whatever they want.”

      This was rude and unnecessary. If you’re here to add constructive contrarian views to the discussion, you failed here. Do you agree?

    • mh
      mh says:

      Gretchen, if I recall from earlier posts, you are a elementary school teacher with a kindergarten/first grade daughter.

      Perhaps the perspectives other people have on schooling are just as valid as yours.

  11. Anna M
    Anna M says:

    My parents wish they had backed off my brother while in high school. My older sister was very “smart” and did well in school, and then my brother came along- just as smart- but only cared about water polo, and his friends/girlfriends. He didn’t do anything all semester and then would cram for the final, and pull out a C. He was always on restriction when progress reports came out, and all the fighting and power struggles really took a toll on their relationship. Well, how did everything turn out? He graduated from high school, moved out a started a company. That went under after a few years, and then he worked construction during the housing boom in CA, and did really well, and earned great money. When work slowed after that housing downturn, he thought of another idea for a different company- quit his construction job, and now if very successful and employs a dozen people. Everything turned out fine with my brother, but my parents can’t get back those critical years when tension filled the house when this boy was trying to figure out how to be a man. People talk about learning how to do something you don’t like is critical in adult life- and Penelope agrees- she has talks about that for careers often enough. But I think that the lesson this boy is going to learn at an early age is that Mom and Dad aren’t going to “force” him to succeed- that is going to be up to him. Many kids don’t learn this lesson until college or later. Their parents have taken their kids through life, making sure they cross all milestones to an acceptable level, and the kid doesn’t know what it is like to fail. And when this kid fails as an adult they might think it is their parents fault, or the governments, etc… I do hope this boy doesn’t have an allowance, because the need for money helps lots of kids that don’t like school to “Do things they don’t want to do.” Just like it works for adults. Gretchen and parents with only younger kids sometimes think that they can always force their kids to do what they want them to do- but as they get older your relationship and the culture of your family matters much more than “the rules”.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I always think that I missed so much by trying to please my parents by being “good” in the way that adults stated was “good.” But I try to not lose sight of the fact I am an immigrant. My behavior was appropriate for the time and place I lived in. And then it wasn’t anymore when I moved to the States.

      I always tried to play by the rules: “study hard, work hard, be good.”

      It didn’t get me in trouble but it didn’t catapult me to what I think, now, is success. For a while I wanted to get it back. I mourned for all the time loss. Now I just see it as part of my life and try to salvage what I learned, the systems that I used that were good for me to get past hard times and hard work. Like learning English from scratch with almost no help.

      There is a big standardized test in the State of WA for all highschoolers and even though it was my first year in the US and I hardly spoke English I passed all four seccions: reading, math, science, history. That’s how dedicated I was. I pulled straight A’s because I put in tremendous amount of work. I’ve always liked being number one.

      It saddens me that all that never got me anywhere. But I try to not see it as a waste.

      I forgot where I was going with this but I can tell you for sure that your post brought something out in me. ha!

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      I already know you can’t MAKE kids do whatever you want them to, but some things are non-negotiable and in my “family culture” doing one’s best in school is non-negotiable. College=non-negotiable, and yes I am paying for it.

  12. Amy
    Amy says:

    We have approached school in the same way as you are. My kid is just a normal 15 year old guy who isn’t that interested in doing worksheet after worksheet to get As and Bs. And, as a family, we have made a decision to not fight or worry about it.

    My son isn’t involved in the arts or sports and will likely enroll in a community or technical college when he graduates (both of which are non-selective in our state). He’s unsure about what he wants to “be” but we’re working on figuring that out.

    The difference between our situations may be that we are not enrolled in a private school. My son, being polite and well-mannered in regular public school, does not have to worry about getting “kicked out” if he gets less-than-good grades.

    He does thoroughly understand the difference between a “D” (credit will count toward graduation) and an “F” (credit will not count toward graduation). He has had classes he gets “A”s and “B”s in because he is interested in them at the time, and he has classes he doesn’t enjoy and barely passes. Either way, a credit is recorded on his transcript.

    Your son will be just fine. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Oh my goodness! check your state’s rules regarding running start! he may very well get two years of college education for free! and a lot of technical schools have two year programs that have people ready for cool employment opportunities. So he can still hang out with his high school friends by going there part time and part time to the technical school for free. Then graduate either with almost a degree/certification or completely done and ready to roll!

  13. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This whole thing is ridiculous. A family scenario with an ‘unschooling parent’ and a kid taking up space in a high school classroom been field tested numerous times. What is really going on here is a ‘nice middle-income’ family is trying it.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      My comment sounded mean and it was not intended that way. Schools are the last line of defense for so many kids, I wish they were better. I wish they didn’t push kids out.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Actually, I thought it was an astute observation and I’d been pondering the many children who WISH they could go to a nice private school…or have the resources this family has (access to baseball camp, computers, musical equipment), that this boy partially shuns (good school in good neighborhood). This outlook is extremely privileged.

  14. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    The main takeaway for me is that home/unschooling can be a lonely business for kids who have been in school for awhile. We are planning to try out homeschooling next year with our kids, for 3rd and 5th grades. We don’t seem to have a ton of homeschoolers in our area and friendships seem to be very school-based. I anticipate the social element to be our biggest challenge.

  15. Anna K
    Anna K says:

    Just wanted to post some responses here to the comments from earlier today:

    Jennifa – Thanks for clarifying. And I understand where you are coming from with your first comments. I would just say that school doesn’t have to be for everyone. The idea that mainstream schooling would be a fit for most kids is crazy. There can’t just be one mold. So, I wish there were more options. I would be very happy for my son to self-educate and unschool, or even do an online curriculum. But he wants to be in a school environment.

    Karelys – Thanks for the tip! And for sharing your story.

    Amy – we sound like we are in similar situations, thank you for commenting and sharing! My son, too, is very respectful and an active contributor in classes. Teachers “love” him and are baffled by his lack of effort outside of the classroom. I wish the best for your son. So many kids these days know what they want to “be” at an early age, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with a teenager not knowing what they want to do when they grow up.

    YesMyKidsAreSocialized – thank you for all your very wise comments throughout! You have a great perspective. I, like you, wish the post was to share his success with homeschooling – perhaps the next post will be. Most of all, what I want for him, is to be fine taking the road less travelled and ‘own’ his own journey, no matter how different it is from the mainstream.

    Victoria – Agree! I hope that is the path he chooses, because I think it would be great for him.

    Anna M – thank you, thank you for sharing your brother’s experience. Your comment “but as they get older your relationship and the culture of your family matters much more than “the rules”” is exactly what enables my husband and I to forge this new path with my son. We would rather come out of the other side of this with a very strong family dynamic and we believe this is the route to get there.

  16. LInda
    LInda says:

    A 14 year old is essentially an adult. We lock them up for our own convenience and our own purposes, but let’s face it, they are physically adults, and this is why many of them rebel from their situation. K-12 schools are designed by women for girls (something a retired education professor told me) so there is no big surprise that boys find it repulsive and would rather be elsewhere.

    I try to encourage my teen boy towards productive work of his choice that makes a contribution and even puts him in a position of authority: refereeing soccer games, cooking dinner, hunting, web design for our family business. He chooses to go to school and can maintain Bs by showing up, but it is PE and sports that make him happy to be there and to go without complaint. He insists on PE every term even though the school requires 2 semesters total in 4 years.

    I let him drop his freshman English class which he detested (what boy doesn’t?). He will take college writing classes online at the community college. Hopefully will have a trade or an AA when he finishes high school. He will take a lot of interesting electives of his choice at the high school, and science and math, and at the college he’ll take English, health, and history, for which he’ll get high school and college credit.

    I believe my son will get better grades in his college writing class than he got in freshman English. Less micro managing, fewer but more substantive assignments, the class lasts 11 weeks rather than the entire year, logistics are simpler, and no analysis of literature which surely is an activity suited more for girls.

    So I feel by being in high school and community college at the same time, he can feel like he has control over his life and he can pick and choose a schedule that works for him. I homeschool his younger brother for whom school was a train wreck. But for my older son K-8 school was fantastic for him (incredible electives throughout and cohesive peer group) and our plan for high school is a good fit for him.

    Long story short I wonder if your son’s high school allows for some flexibility. If there are specific classes he hates, could he opt out, or take them at community college or online? An 11 week class at community college, which meets once a week for 3 hours, is counted as equivalent to a YEAR LONG class at high school. They get both high school and college credit for it. As long as the child can test into the college class, it can be a sweet deal. Best wishes on your journey.

  17. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    I could have written this post last fall when our oldest wanted to go to school. I too found myself insisting that he do his homework and do everything his teacher expected of him. Finally though I did take a step back and realize that I didn’t believe in what the school was doing and if he wanted to go I would support him by packing his lunch and driving him there but that was it.

    By the way, I felt that letting him try school was absolutely in line with self-directed learning. He was choosing to go. Not letting him go would mean forcing him to continue the education model I had chosen for him and that was causing a lot of strife. He needed to try it for himself. Thankfully he’s back to homeschooling (again, his choice). Just like I don’t think forcing formal academics on a kid always works, I also don’t think forcing homeschooling on a kid always works. It’s important to stay flexible (much harder than it sounds for many of us).

  18. Jim
    Jim says:

    My parents took this approach with me in high school (I’m 45 now). It was the disconnect that I felt between what I had to do in school and the real world that sapped my motivation. I don’t know if there was much that they could have done to motivate me, but I do wish that they had tried harder because I kind of resent the fact that when I look back on high school now it was basically four lost years at a critical time of my life and really affected the choices that were subsequently available to me. Now it just feels like they didn’t know how to deal with me. I suppose that thirty years ago their options were more limited, but today the options are pretty plentiful. I’ve substituted musical subjects for just about everything except math and reading in an effort to keep my homeschooled kids school-life connected to the real world and the world they will live in after high school. It’s still hard, but they do make their own connections to it.

    Your son still needs direction. Trust me.

  19. Cathy Earle
    Cathy Earle says:

    I have a friend who unschooled all of her children, but one of her sons wanted to go to high school (but not necessarily to jump through their hoops). The school of course expected the mother to help them enforce their rules and their hoops (schools really do set up structure that they expect to reach into, and be buttressed by, homes, don’t they?) — and when she didn’t, the school personnel were shocked.

    For example, an administrator called my friend because her son had skipped a few classes. She asked, “And what are you going to do about it?” The administrator was nonplussed — it was HER kid, he said, so SHE should do something about it. But she pointed out that it was his school’s rule that the teen had to be a certain place at a certain time, not hers.

    The administrator rallied and said, “Okay, if I don’t have your cooperation on this matter, I will be suspending your son.”

    “Wonderful!” she said. “I will love having him at home again!” The administrator could see from her attitude that he had no power over her — he would not be able to reach into and disrupt her family with his expectations and rules.

    On the other hand, my friend’s son also saw that, if he really wanted to be in school, he was going to have to play by their rules to some extent, or they would send him home. So he started going to classes.

    I admired my friend and reflected on the idea that school officials only have power over us if we give them the power. (Maybe. I suppose that CPS or someone like that could be called in.)

  20. Susan
    Susan says:

    I’m sure his first boss will pay him money to do whatever he wants with no accountability to measurable outcomes.

    —said no Human Resources person…EVER.

    I think you are doing a great job at teaching him that laziness = you get to do whatever you want in this life. I can’t wait to read the update at age 25 when you discuss how awesome it is to have your adult children living in your house while paying no rent. It’s called “unlifing.”

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