3 Reasons your kids should not have school teachers

So many parents tell me they can’t homeschool because they can’t be a teacher. But kids learn much better without teachers, because teachers are largely there to restrict freedom. If you leave 30 kids alone, together, they will definitely find stuff to do. It’ll just be chaos. And, of course, many kids would leave the classroom. Teachers are there to keep kids orderly. In a world of self-directed learning, there is no need for teachers.

Think of it like bike riding. The kid needs someone to provide the bike but the thrill of the bike is going anywhere you want. And falling. And getting up. All the adult can do to help is yell “good job!” and “keep pedling!”

In a world of self-directed learning we need adults who are genuinely invested in the children enjoying their days. But we do not need teachers who are invested in telling the kids what to learn. Here are three reasons why kids don’t need teachers.

1. Kids are better at gathering and using ideas than teachers are.
We are in the midst of a knowledge revolution because we are shifting the way we acquire knowledge and how we leverage knowledge once we have it. The key to this revolution, of course, is the Internet, and kids are better at using the Internet than teachers are.

Once reason for this is that kids have more elastic brains, shaped by the Internet to better use the information through the Internet. And, at the same time, workplace experience – the purview of adults –  is becoming dated faster and faster. Did you know that you should never put more than 10 years of experience on your resume? That’s because industries change so fast that older experience is not valued in the workplace. (The two exceptions: lawyers and surgeons.)

I think you can apply this to teachers as well. There are many subjects—most of what is interesting to kids—that kids know more about than teachers. Especially since most of life today happens online. Kids know more about making connections, for example. Kids know more about monitoring their online behavior, and kids know more about creating content.

Take a look at Sylvia’s Show.  Sure, she’s a special kid, but she’s special because she has so much courage. Other kids know as much as she does and they are creative as she is but they are stuck listening to their teacher define the assignment.

2. Kids are more effective at hands-on experimentation if they don’t have teacher oversight.
All knowledge is not mental. Some is physical. And some requires both. And certainly, experimentation is key to child development. But true experimentation requires long periods of no oversight

People don’t need to be taught to dream up things to make, they need to be given the freedom to dream. If they are inclined to work with their hands, then they will use them to make something. But telling kids what to make is the opposite of experimentation. Experimentation begets failure, and why would you tell kids to do a project that would fail? The joy in failure is that you got to explore.

An overview of the maker movement and the book Invent to Learn explains:

Experiments are a way of learning things. They require self-guided trial and error, active exploration, and testing by all the senses. Experiments begin with important questions, questions that make you think or that inspire you to create. This process of exploring, testing and finding out is vital to children’s intellectual and psychological development—but opportunities to engage in it are fewer than they once were.

3. Teachers have too much pull over kids if they are together eight hours a day.
Can you spend eight hours a day with anyone? It’s hard. Most of us don’t even do it with our spouse. But we expect our kids to do it so the kids have to convince themselves they like their teacher. They have to convince themselves that spending eight hours a day with the teacher is fine, because no one gives the kids a choice.

I know a lot about this. I convinced myself it was okay that my parents were abusing me. If your parents tell you something is okay, you believe them. So if you send a kid to school and school is stupid, the kid figures out a way to make it feel not stupid. This is child-rearing 101.

What’s interesting to me, though, is that my husband and I are in total agreement about the information in this post. However if I say something to my sons, like, “The schools in our community are terrible,” my husband gets upset.

Believe me, it’s not controversial that our local schools are terrible. They are Title I which is a way for the federal government to target schools that are likely to be terrible, because they are severely low-income, and so the government funnels more money to the school.

I am not alone. Anyone who moves from out  of town acknowledges that the schools here are terrible. It’s the people who grew up here who can’t do it.

Today Matthew said, “I think my reaction to our local school is like Stockholm Syndrome.”

And I think he’s right. It’s nearly impossible to be in the care of the school for so many years and then turn against them. Heck, I was removed from my house for abuse and I was still, ten years later, thinking that my parents were sort of okay, not so bad. So I get it.

But we identify Stockholm syndrome – hostages empathizing and identifying with captors – as a disorder. And we identify kids who want to go back to their abusive parents as having a disorder. So I think defending schools even though clearly they are terrible is also a disorder.

I know, you will say that your kid’s school is different. Their school is good. The problem is that all parents say that. I know someone is Peoria who is saying that. If you send your kid to school you have to believe your kid’s school is different. Otherwise you couldn’t keep sending the kid there.

But your kid is developing Stockholm syndrome. And you are too.

33 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    My brother ended up with an abusive teacher in the 5th grade. Ran roughshod over her students. Did it for years and got away with it. My brother didn’t talk about it until several years after he was out of her classroom.

    He knew her behavior was wrong. But going to school was The Right Thing To Do, The Thing That Was Expected Of All, and doing well in school was highly endorsed by our parents, and they went to all our extracurricular events — in other words, all of our world was set up to not only make school normal, but lauded and praised. So to his 5th-grade mind, this abuse must somehow be how it’s supposed to be. When he talked about it, he was even hesitant and apologetic about it, even though he was clearly still very angry. Such conflicted feelings.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      What is it about fifth grade? My mom didn’t figure it out (because I did not tell her, not directly) until my brother got the same teacher two years later. She was a person who should never have been allowed near children, let alone given power over them. All the time she was so emotionally abusive and horrible and I just kept trying to try harder to please her.

  2. M
    M says:

    I’d like to hear more about the decision on how the title went from from “The Farmer” to “Matthew”. I am assumeing that they are one and the same.

    Has this been discussed?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      What we discussed the first date was that I don’t date men who won’t let me write about them. I have had three long-term relationships and all three men have given me carte-blanche.

      I changed from the farmer to Matthew when I started writing about education. This community of people talking about education feels so personal to me, and we are all trying so hard together to make good decisions. It felt like I was putting up too much of a wall between me and you by not naming him. I want to feel like we are in this together. So I don’t want to feel like I’m holding back.

      Also, though, Matthew is a huge part of our homeschooling. It’s a billion times easier for me and the kids that he’s on board and he takes a lot of responsibility for the kids. Not as much as I do. But I think of him as my partner in homeschooling so I wanted him to have a name.


      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I can totally tell the difference and what you are trying to accomplish… being so open now. I like it a lot.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I have one child he is 8. We spend all day together. Some days I want to run away. It’s hard. I am not always the kind loving parent I want to be. I often wonder if he would be better off at school instead he is stuck at home with a very creatively frustrated mom. Is that fair to him? Speaking of Stockholm syndrome. I was talking to my husband about it the other day. I was I tears. I worry about being abusive when I yell, get angry and there is no one around to pull the plug. Maybe, school would be better. Homeschooling is hard. Spring break is here and I have signed him up for day camps so I can get a break. You say it’s hard to spend 8 hours a day with someone – crazy making! Isn’t that homeschooling? All day, day in and day out with ones children. I wish I could articulate this better in the five minutes I have to post this . . .

    • Jeff
      Jeff says:

      Hi Anonymous,

      Sorry to hear about your hard time.

      My two homeschoolers spend lots of time alone, sometimes just with each other, sometimes with mom and dad. Perhaps you can give your child some independent space so you are not always together.

      Not sure how large your living space is.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I really empathize with this. I signed my kids up for spring break stuff. And then I went there at lunch time and I was horrified – the kids were treated just like they were in school. No one could stand up when they were done eating. The bad kids got all the attention, etc. So we don’t do that now.

      I am taking anti-anxiety medicine so I don’t yell at my kids. I felt too terrible every time I did it. And honestly, I think when the kids leave, maybe I won’t need the medicine. I don’t know. Maybe I will. When I tell myself that I am inadequate for them to be with all day I tell myself that it’s not like anyone has a better solution.

      And really, this is a deep deep issue: that mothers love their kids so much that nothing is adequate for what we can give our kids. The job of a mom is not only to parent but to accept our limitations of parenting.

      The more we can talk about how hard it is to homeschool the more we can help each other to realize that the problems of homeschooling are actually problems of parenting. It’s just that we withdrawal ourselves from this very primal inner conflict by sending our kids to someone else all day – who is not attached to the kid enough to care that much.


      • kiki fairbanks
        kiki fairbanks says:

        I am an avid reader of this party of your blog and this is the first time I’ve felt I had to respond. Your comment, Penelope, puts it so succinctly. Problems of homeschooling are problems of parenting that hasn’t been hired out. And it’s absolutely exhausting. For me at least.

        I also sign my kid up for the “fun camps” so he can have a cohort and the baby and I can have a break. I checked one out last week when my kid asked me to go along and support him on an ice cream date since the last field trip had been so horrible. (That was a clue that I needed to go.) Terrible. Camp leader lording authority over twenty kindergarten kids who just wanted a damned ice cream cone. Two girls made the “minions” sound from a movie (not loudly, not repetitive) and had to go to the back of the line. That was it for me.

    • Linda Lou
      Linda Lou says:

      My 9yo intense ENFP boy goes to Boys & Girls Clubhouse several days a week over 3-4 hours each day – it is much like a democratic school with gym, arts/crafts room, computer lab, robotics, game room etc with children moving freely about. He also has 5 hours of pottery per week and either a class at a nature center or soccer. I was going nuts and he was very bored when he was with me 24/7. Recently I hired a tutor to work with him 12 hours a week – because I need to work right now and he responds better to her for academics. So I’ve got him doing other things, without me, for 6-7 hours a day, but those things are open-ended and flexible and a good fit for him. It is working better than anything we’ve done before.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    When kids are ready to learn something, they will teach themselves. My daughter just turned 7; I stopped trying to teach her how to read about 6 months ago because there were too many tears and frustrations, but I have hundreds of books about stuff she is interested in like My Little Pony, various puppy stories, princess fairies, they are marked grades 3-5.

    I told myself I would wait until she is 8 to teach her how to read since she’s so obviously right brained and is several grades ahead in math, at least that’s what I was telling myself and my husband (he agreed to wait). Most of the time she is working on her snap circuits kit, making up plays with her sister, or hand drawing.

    The other day she was looking at one of her books, there are no pictures in it because they are chapter books so I was wondering what she was doing and so I asked the question. She says “I’m reading.” I ask her to read to me, and she does. It isn’t beautiful oratory, but she’s reading 4th grade chapter books correctly. She taught herself to read… all I needed to do was step back and make things available to her.

    Forcing kids to do things all in unison doesn’t benefit anyone but the teachers. Some kids just need to wait a little longer or move faster, the home is the best way to accommodate this type of learning.

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    I learned very early on when talking about homeschooling that the best way to ensure that I’d get a negative reaction would be for me to criticize our local public schools. My now standard response is that I homeschool so I can give my kids a customized education and the response from people is uniformly positive. I live in a rural area and most of the people who live here grew up here – we don’t get a lot of newcomers and the school my kids would be going to is the same one I went to as a child. I wonder if that response would be different in a city where maybe there would not be as much personal attachment to a particular school.

  6. Eric
    Eric says:

    Many parents I speak with believe schools help keep kids safe. This safety is something we value. As teachers, our care-taking role tends to be top priority. Job incentives tend towards predictability and control, the abusive influences you speak of.

    These incentives (testing, calls home, report cards) make administration the nature of the job. In many ways, teachers are exposed to the same dehumanising experiences as students. The resulting culture is one of compliance, so all participants become either institutionalised or apathetic.

    To my mind, the challenge is in shifting away from culture of compliance towards cultures of trust. This is challenging work, but I believe schools are well positioned to take on this task that hovers over all of our society. When teachers serve as mentors, learners benefit from examples as they themselves learn to navigate the open waters of the world. Teachers flourish when we’re encouraged to do the things they do best, which is often loving to learn and caring about kids. At the moment, we’re expected to be content experts and efficient administrators.

    Can teachers learn to be both custodians and mentors? I believe we can, and we’ll need the support of our communities to make this ambition a reality.


    • sheela
      sheela says:

      What would be the road map for what you suggest, a move away from a compliance culture and towards a culture of trust? There is no aspect of the current school structure that would encourage, support, develop or even suggest that this would ever be possible. Schools are a place where children are stored, usually more or less safely, as you say, for 6.5 hours a day (not 8, Penelope, that would be too logical), usually against their will, and sorted and tested and judged and monitored and pushed through a system that doesn’t really have a vested interest in the end whether they are literate or not.

  7. Jay Cross
    Jay Cross says:


    What do you say to people who concede that schools aren’t doing a good job, but justify their existence on the grounds of “someone has to be there for kids from screwed-up families.”

    My best friend and I debated this last week. It was his response to nearly every point I brought up.

    My response was “there will always be screwed-up families and schools aren’t making them any less screwed up or reducing the number of families that are screwed up already.”

    Isn’t the “think of the needy kids” objection really just a way of changing the subject? It’s not like schools were created for that purpose, so citing it as a reason for keeping them is kind of weak.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      It can be difficult to have a constructive conversation with someone who uses logical fallacies to make their point… I don’t necessarily see it as our job to change our friends’ minds through debate… let them see it with their own eyes through all the wonderful examples out there.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thank you Penelope for you kind response. You truly have a gift for hitting the nail on the head.

    I picked my son up from his spring break camp. The first thing he said when we walked out of the gym was: I hate this . . .They made us sit and do crafts. I hate crafts. And mom, we all know how to play hockey I don’t know why they had to tell us how. That was dumb. I don’t know why they didn’t just let us play. I’m not going back”

    *sigh* you’re right. This is why I pulled him out of school in the first place.

    I have thought often abut medicating so I can be calmer.

    “And really, this is a deep deep issue: that mothers love their kids so much that nothing is adequate for what we can give our kids. The job of a mom is not only to parent but to accept our limitations of parenting.”

    Thank you for saying that. Thank you for saying it all. I love reading your blog.

  9. The Unwed Mother Agenda
    The Unwed Mother Agenda says:

    There are teachers out there working really hard to create student-led classrooms built on curriculum that is hands on and relevant to kids’ lives. It’s hard, 30 kids at a time, but it’s a worthwhile effort. We should support these teachers. They’re not the enemy.

    There’s a very narrow socioeconomic class of families that could even consider homeschooling. Until that turns around, it doesn’t hurt to throw teachers some support. The good ones have a lot of work to do/undo.

    • Splashman
      Splashman says:

      “They’re not the enemy.”

      Strawman alert.

      This isn’t about good vs. evil; this is about better vs. worse. If you want to spend your time and energy supporting and promoting an indisputably worse educational system, knock yourself out. But don’t pretend to be shocked that others choose to spend their time differently.

      “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, is dependent on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw

    • mh
      mh says:


      You write, “There’s a very narrow socioeconomic class of families that could even consider homeschooling. ”

      I don’t find that to be true.

      I find it to be one of the many stereotypes that people hold about homeschooling families.

      Most parents homeschool because they want what’s best for their children. Full stop.

      Once they start homeschooling, families realize how much more freedom (time, money, laughter, enjoyment) the format allows them, and how rigid and confining the school demands were.

      Where I live, I see a lot of white two-parent families homeschooling, sure. And I also see many East Asian and South Asian families beginning to homeschool — because the way their children are treated in public schools is insulting. I see many lower SES families deciding to try it, because how long do the schools expect them to wait? How could their results be WORSE than what the schools are offering? And 5 out of 8 new homeschool families I have met are African American. It’s the new trend.

    • Ellen
      Ellen says:

      Common Core will completely obliterate any “student-led classrooms built on curriculum that is hands on and relevant to kids’ lives.” Innovation and standardization are polar opposites. Relevant? No such thing with 30 kids in a classroom. Hard, but a worthwhile effort? That is homeschooling.

      It is not the job of teachers to undo the very system that hands them their pay checks. It is their job to conform.

      We have homeschooled for 10 years with our family-led educating ranging from birth to age 18, and during that time we have met homeschooling families from a very wide socioeconomic range. Income is not the determining factor in homeschooling success, unlike public school, where income has a much greater impact on how students succeed, both in academics and extracurriculars.

      Attending school is very costly; we tried this route. We were constantly being drained of money. Now we spend it on resources that will fuel our goals.

  10. Linda Lou
    Linda Lou says:

    This hit home because a psychologist used the phrase Stockholm Syndrome to explain why families stay at the private school I pulled my son out of. Staff and parents alike treated like garbage by the administration, everyone living in fear, wackiness all around, yet parents lay out 10k per year. Parents hated to go into the first grade classroom in the morning or to volunteer because the vibe was so negative….yet would drop their children there each morning to spend the entire day. How messed up is that!!!!!

    Such regret I have I didn’t pull my son sooner – and the damage was great. But it led us to homeschool so I am glad for that.

  11. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    I don’t think the school is a problem because of the teachers. I think the teachers are a problem because of the school.

    Many kind, well-meaning, and even intelligent people become school teachers. The school environment and bureaucracy and unhappy student body then beat them down until the kind turn a blind eye to abuse, the well-meaning become cynical, and the intelligent become repetitious.

    That said, I believe, and so does PT, that kids do need teachers, at least some of the time. Her kid wouldn’t be studying music without a teacher, and neither would mine.

    What kids don’t need is the teachers assigned to them and thirty other kids in a school to teach the things some curriculum committee decided they all need to learn. They need the teachers they choose, to teach them the things they want to learn. They also need to be able to walk away from the teachers they don’t want, because it’s a huge waste of everybody’s time for a student and a teacher to spend the day outboring each other.

    My kid has lots of teachers – more than PT’s kids, and more than the average schoolkid. He has two different teachers for music, four different teachers for sports, two different teachers for drama, teachers for programming, science, math, chess, art… But if he decides he doesn’t want to work with a teacher anymore, we do something else. He’s not in any class he doesn’t want to be in, and neither are any of his peers in those classes. As a consequence, he’s got great teachers. He loves his classes and lessons. He comes out energized. Or he wouldn’t go.

    There should be a name for the process that affects those good people who become bad teachers through the influence of school. Call it “teacheritis,” a “ludogenic illness.” I’m sure I’d suffer from it too if I taught school. So I have sympathy. But that doesn’t mean I’ll let my son suffer from its sequelae.

  12. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    I don’t mind criticizing your public school or a day camp if it’s awful. Every example you guys list are awful. Abuse, no doubt. How did you ever decide to enroll after touring?

    But truly it has nothing to do with ALL public schools. Is there a single school where kids spend 8 hours a day with a single teacher (other than home school)? My kids spend 4 with their main teacher. Then they have clubs: bridges (the build bridges), yoga, chess, drama, pottery. They choose their own clubs. Parents cant pick (parents dont even know choices til pick day is done). What we called art, gym, music in the old days but better. The kids in 5th actually build a boat. Each kid = 1 boat. And they do it all in two languages. One day English/ next day Spanish or French. Lots of these kids also speak mandarin at home. It’s a public school.

    Spring break might be spent at the pixel academy or construction kids or brooklyn robot foundry. Look em up. Tell me they sound awful.

    People make life choices about schools. Sometimes it’s to homeschool. Sometimes it’s to find a school you and your kids love.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Jamie, the fundamental problem is that kids can only pick from what the school offers. So if your standard is how good is your school compared to the other schools in a system that is widely seen as failing, then your school is better than the bad ones.

      But it’s not realistic to think kids find their passion and their interests in this world by having such a narrow choice as what is offered in a school. It’s a big world out there. Schools cannot possibly provide self-directed learning. They provide buffet learning. You can choose from what’s there.

      Also, it’s not realistic to think kids learn to manage their own learning by getting to choose what they do in school. School – even drama class – has schedules, and proscribed curriculum and grades. That’s not what life is.


  13. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Your kids can only choose what you offer them too. This is also life. Do your kids have a kiln in their house? A person who can help them make a new skate board every 3 weeks for a year? And even in they do, is this what YOU want to spend your days doing? I know, you think it’s okay to be online all day. You and I disagree here.

    (Here’s a good topic: do you want your homeschooled kids to homeschool their kids? I don’t. I want them to have that option, but I expect they might have a career where they’d need to be with other adults a lot. Like mine to be honest. I love my job.)

    I’d also argue that I’d make different choices based on age. For me, language is key. That window will close.

  14. Eric
    Eric says:

    I feel for (most of) today’s teachers because they’re forced to stay within the lines of the bureaucratic educational system and “educate” 30+ students of all levels the same thing at the same pace. Setting everyone up for failure.

    However, I feel it is not the teacher or the parents responisibility to educate the child. It is their (our?) responsibility to teach by inspiring, mentoring and leading by example and then letting the student educate themselves. Giving them the freedom to experiment and the positive reinforcement to allow them to fail and not be dissuaded.

    I’m curious, Penelope or any other readers, have any of you read any of Oliver and Rachel DeMille’s books regarding a Thomas Jefferson Education (Leadership education)? Super intriguing and eye-opening stuff.

  15. Hilary
    Hilary says:

    I taught first grade for two years in a Title I school. As hard as I tried to make the time my students and I spent together be interesting and thought-provoking and worthwhile for them, I often feel my role in the classroom was summed up by a single exchange with one of my six year old boys.

    Exasperated one day I asked him why he never seemed to listen to me. He replied, equally exasperated, “because every time I want to do something awesome you just say no!”

    He was so right. My job, in fact, depended on me shutting down all the awesome things he and his classmates wanted to do. It wasn’t a lot of fun, for any of us.

  16. Lori
    Lori says:

    When I pulled my son out of school in the first grade, other moms were surprised. We live in a well-off district that wins all kinds of accolades year after year. Several felt compelled to state their happiness with the school. Luckily for them, their children are compliant, typical learners. I learned to tell them it was not the right fit for my son. That way they didn’t have to believe the school wasn’t failing to “provide a meaningful and challenging academic program that connects all students to learning and honors their differences.”

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