I have noticed lately that the best writers about the homeschooling movement don’t even know they are writing about homeschool.

Danah Boyd, for example, ostensibly writes about the social lives of teens, but really she is writing about how kids are socially trapped and infantilized in school.  It’s just that Danah doesn’t address the next, logical step—people should take their kids out of school.

Clive Thompson also wrote a treatise on homeschooling without knowing it. His book title focuses on how we learn through technology. But the core of the book is neuroscience and he shows how technology changes our brain so we become more effective at both learning and synthesizing.

It’s a great argument for getting kids out of school. There is plentiful research to show kids do not need teachers to show them how to learn online. And Clive’s book is great analysis for why kids should be left alone to learn what they are interested in, rather than be lectured to offline and spoon-fed information by teachers.

Clive’s book is so clearly an argument to take your kids out of school that I found my interview with him deteriorating into me demanding to know why he wasn’t taking his own kids out of school. (That conversation went nowhere, of course, which is evidence that even though I went to school for 18 years, I did not get socialized in school.)

Which why Jen Senior’s phenomenally successful book,  All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, is also one that implicitly bolsters the homeschool movement. She tells parents the honest truth about why kids are so hard to raise—based on reams of data—and her bottom line is that kids don’t actually make us happy. They give us lots of other things, but day to day our happiness is not higher because we are taking care of kids.

This research is so influential that she recently gave a TED Talk about her book. But what really makes it resonate with parents is because it’s so difficult to understand how kids can fill us with love and boredom at the same time.

And this is, of course, the basic issue with homeschooling: Any parent that reads the school reform data knows their kids are better off learning independently at home. But the truth is that the very parents who are capable of seeing the realities of school reform data are also the parents who don’t want to spend their days hanging out with their kids. Smart parents worry about their own boredom. And so school becomes a national babysitting system.

Senior shows us how to gain a deeper understanding of what drives our seemingly dichotomous feelings of wanting to get away from our kids and wanting to provide everything we can for our kids. And I really believe that the more we can understand who we are as parents, the more likely we are to be brave enough to call a spade a spade and take our kids out of school.

Satya Khan is another author who addresses core issues of homeschooling. (That’s a photo of her up top with a husband and kids.) Satya’s book is the memoir, Meyer Lemons, and she publishes daily stores at Unfolded Note.

Satya writes gorgeously constructed half-page snippets of the life of a mom with two young kids. She is funny and observant and poetic. And she’s best when she writes about how to be a great mom and not lose yourself.

The issues non-homeschoolers always bring up are math and socialization and college. Those are all non-issues for homeschoolers. The real issue is how to not lose yourself as a person when you become a homeschooling parent.

I never ever intended to homeschool my kids. I only do it because the education research so clearly reveals that school is a waste of time and kids learn better on their own. I simply felt guilty putting my kids through forced curricula when even the top educators recommend letting kids learn on their own.

Which is why Satya’s book is the perfect homeschooling book for me.

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36 replies
  1. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    That was an insightful list of content to dive in… I’m currently reading Hacking Your Education by Dale J. Stephens, and enjoying it very much.
    Thanks Penelope!

  2. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I am not sure I want to say this online yet. I mean, many of our friends know but it’s such an uncommon concept that we still get funny looks.

    My husband quit his job to stay at home with our child and give other projects a try. We are so happy. Right now it feels like vacation.

    This morning him and our son put on boots and jeans and went outside to finish building the backyard. Lots of cement and stuff.

    It’s been two weeks since the change. And our son already demonstrates a connection, a love for his father, that just wasn’t there before. Because there was not enough time between them no matter how committed my husband was to fathering his son.

    My husband is not like me. He doesn’t get bored with the kid because it’s not all about the kid. My husband goes on about his day and the kid tags along (hauling the pieces of wood he can actually carry, playing in the dirt, 4-wheeling until the battery dies, playing in the dirt some more). I am ecstatic. I am so excited. We can finally see what unschooling will be like.

    Once we stopped letting fear hold us back and we took the plunge….now we can really see how it will be possible for us to unschool.

    For now my job covers our financial needs just fine. I feel like I am so lost career wise and I need to figure out the freelance thing. I am sure I will eventually. For now, parenting really is lots of joy and fun. Because we quit a job we didn’t really need and that didn’t bring much value to our lives.

    I am amazed at how my husband handles parenting. If I could only figure out to do it that way I think I would be an excellent mom and not get lost in it.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I love this and I love your vulnerability. I almost teared up reading about your husband and son forming a new bond. You are in WA right? Last time I looked (almost moved there) there were many homeschool groups to connect with. It’s nice to have some people to connect with who don’t think you are weird.

      But actually I love getting weird looks from people, it gives me so much joy because they think I’m this highly ambitious woman who doesn’t invoke “homeschool” when they see me, let alone UNSCHOOL. I like when I get the “double take” after I tell people. I love the questions. Because I think when people start asking me questions, I think they start to believe it’s something they can do too… friends who never considered homeschooling before now tell me they are inspired and are homeschooling their own kids. I think we are all inspiring in our own ways, and I love your story Karelys. :)

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        aww thanks! But really, thanks to my husband. More than ever we feel like a unit. It was scary but liberating to “throw away” (as people would put it) more income in exchange for a better life. And it’s not like we were or are rich ha!

        It’s a new chance for us too. Yes, we are positioning ourselves for homeschooling or unschooling (there’s quite the homeschooling culture here!). But it’s also about our OWN education as adults.

        My father in law passed away too early from cancer. Since then all my impetus of giving it all for a career has kind of died off. I want to make sure that my life is interesting but also joyful. More money doesn’t equal a more excellent life always. So we’re trying this out. And so far it’s going great.

        Also, the pictures I took this morning of my two boys in jeans and boots ready to work…ah! heart melting!

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      Wowza!! Usually I can recognize your posts before I get to your name. This time I was blindsided! :D I am so happy for you three.

      “We quit a job we didn’t really need and that didn’t bring much value to our lives.”

      I love this. What it says about value and that you say “we” quit.

      Thank you sharing this, even though weren’t totally ready to.

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    Thanks for the list of non-homeschooling books about homeschooling, lol. I’ll check them out and see what I think. I’m really interested in Clive Thompson’s book since I have a background in psychology.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I am at the place where I am rediscovering who I am, and I don’t think homeschooling takes away my identity anymore, it’s just like the color of my hair now… a part of me, just like traditional school parents don’t “identify” with their schooling choices.

    I’m starting to find ways to bring yoga back into my routine, gardening, and photography. Still working on my business ideas for later… but I am rarely bored, I think because I have started to reconnect with myself… or something. Locus of control… perhaps I will get there soon, perhaps I never will. Anywho, I won’t ever forget that first year of homeschool/unschool dread, honestly after I got through the hyperventilation phase everything fell into place, like my two oldest kids teaching themselves to read at 6 and 4…

    I always like your titles to your posts, they throw me off. :)

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I am so happy to read that this is normal.

      I think that (and it has been a post here before) when going against the grain we feel the need to always project an image of “we’re doing perfect! nothing could be better!”

      It can be hard to own up to the fact that the road less travel can suck too at times! But whatever, as you said, locus of control. It’s an internal thing now.

      For us, it just became very apparent that even though there’s risk in doing something new and different there’s also a chance that things will be better. But if we stayed on the track we were at, it was a for sure that we’d end up somewhere we didn’t like. And that we were dying a little everyday.

      As frivolous as it sounds, we’re shooting for more joyful lives. And I think that living through hard hard days has given us that.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      I am still in the “identify myself as a homeschool mother” phase. I am trying to shed that, but… I’m sure I’ll get there someday.

      Our state requires annual testing, although it doesn’t have to be reported unless some area is lower than the 30th percentile. We tested 9/12 and will test this month 5/14. Basically, I am about to get a “report card” for my past two years. I purposely waited until the last minute for the second test because I know that I am prone to drooling over testing data. And I know the likelihood of my making decisions in the best interest of fulfilling my needs rather than hers. (talk about admitting to being a sucky parent!)

      So far I have resisted the urge to resort to math worksheets and timed tests. However, in the last two weeks I have encouraged her to find some math apps that she likes and have given her free reign as to when or if she plays them.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Are the tests she’s required to take timed?

        I get what you are going through, and I just think it’s a natural part of being an involved and caring parent. At some point it’s good to slow down and reconnect with our pre-kid selves, because eventually our kids will be off living their own lives so we need to build our lives and rediscover our interests, as well as being invested in their homeschooling. And I don’t think that makes you a bad parent at all. I try to assess progress every few months with reading comprehension, now that my oldest is taking off in that area. It’s just natural to be curious especially since we are unschooling.

        • MBL
          MBL says:

          She is taking the Peabody. It is not timed. I’m not worried about how she’ll do, per say. Just how she’ll do relative to where she was two “school years” ago.

          She enjoys taking that type test, and since it is “conversational in tone,” it will probably take 2 hours instead of one. My only fear of it not being an accurate reflection of her abilities is if she just decides she doesn’t care and starts in with “I don’t know.”

          My daughter is a binge learner, so assessing every few months would alternately look staggering and pathetic. :)

  5. cris hayes
    cris hayes says:

    I, too, have noticed many, many books are pro-homeschooling without even realizing it. Fictional authors from Harper Lee to Mark Twain have used their stories to express attitudes about the nature and policies of schooling. These expressions have ranged from disappointment to disrespect to disgust, but have never blatantly come out for any particular alternative.

    And yes, many more authors who write books about technology and parenting seem to really get at the core of alternative education without even realizing the parallels. Seth Godin and Daniel Pink come to mind. And even Sir Kenneth Graham is committed to reform, not rejection of the current system.

    But my favorite example is the PhD/MD duo of Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. I bought multiple copies of their book, “Hold On To Your Kids”, to hand out to my closest friends and family members as a back door into getting them to support my own choice to homeschool. The sad fact of the matter is that people still must to be willing to open their eyes to the connections to be able to recognize them as such. While their book is among my top 3 parenting books of all time (and I’ve read a library’s worth!), the authors themselves sent their kids to traditional school.


    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Time will tell with your friends. Everything is changing so fast you; even have public school online through k12. There isn’t just khan academy anymore, there are mooc’s, MIT opencourseware it’s just evolving into the future of education being available at home through amazing resources. You just need a computer! I personally wouldn’t distribute books to convince people unless they asked me for a recommendation, it’s kind of like passing out religious material to someone who really isn’t interested. But *I* personally loved the book recommendations. Thanks!

  6. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    You never address why the kids not having to waste time in school is more important than the parents not having to waste time supervising their kids.

    There’s a trade off in homeschool, a benefit to the kids and a cost to the parent and you treat it as self evident that all parents must make that trade off. I don’t see why.

    Like you say elsewhere most everything about the outcome of a kids life is determined by genetics and who the parents are not what they do. So it doesn’t seem like the cost is so terrible to the kids even if you accept all of your research. If the cost is terrible to the parents I think the parent should “win”.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Um, hi there. Just curious why you think parents supervising their own children is a waste of their time?

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Well, homeschooling, unschooling, jailschooling, paidschooling is not a child versus adult situation in functional families. What ever anyone’s decision in regards to education choice for their children should be win/win.

      Genetics and parental upbringing affect a child, but once that child is an adult they can educate themselves and reverse gene expression as well as fix unwanted behaviors and underlying issues- harder than someone raised in a great environment, but still completely possible.

    • Victoria
      Victoria says:

      We use “waste of time” to describe sleeping, meetings, grocery shopping and all sorts of things that are arguably useful, and necessary and enjoyable. It implies that the person has other things they’d rather do. While I can’t speak for all, very many parents have other things they’d like to do with their time rather than supervise their kids during some portions of their day. So some times supervising the kids is a waste of the parents time. The parents aren’t doing interesting, productive, enjoyable things they would rather be doing.

      I was using that particular phrase because it’s the one Penelope uses to describe school.

      I would argue that the benefit to the parent of the 10th hour spent supervising the kids on a particular day is very very low if not zero.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I really think it comes down to how you do it. For some reason my husband can do parenting without making it all about the kid. Of course he makes sure diapers are changed and the kid is fed (our son is only 19 months). But most of the time he goes on about his day and the kid finds a way to conform to it.

        I can’t do that. I think I worry too much that I am doing it wrong. So I cater my day to my kid. I don’t think this is a healthy balance for us both. I can’t get my things done, it’s not fulfilling for me, and the child doesn’t seem super happy either. But when he’s working with his dad (he carries pieces of wood light enough for him, plays in dirt, “helps” with the projects) he’s happy and feels useful and my husband doesn’t feel like he has to cater to him.

        Also, kids do not need constant supervision. If the place you’re in is safe enough your kids can run around and once in a while they’ll be right up in your armpit because they are in need of connection that hasn’t been satisfied. But other than that, kids like to do their own thing too.

        Maybe it’s harder for parents who lived couped up in an apartment up in the third floor and it’s rainy out so the park isn’t an option. But even then, if your city allows for places like an indoor kids gym with wifi there’s a lot that can get done and the kids don’t need the parents attention constantly.

        But that tends to happen after they’ve satiated their need for connection.

  7. Satya
    Satya says:

    Thank you so much Penelope. I’m really honored. I didn’t know what I was doing when I started writing but I was just trying not to drown. And now it means everything to me to have something of my own when I’m with my kids all day. I wish that for every at-home parent. It’s not perfect but it works.

    For anyone thinking of starting a creative practice or an endeavor of your own, you should totally take one of Penelope’s classes. The writing one was a huge turning point for me. And they are fun.

  8. Emma
    Emma says:

    Hey Penelope,
    Informative as well helpful post.Thanks a lot for introducing us with such great authors.This is fact that schools can’t teach a kid completely, that’s why homeschooling books are the best way to make them perfect at home.

  9. marta
    marta says:

    Just two things:

    The fact that some of the authors mentioned by both Penelope and the commenters send their kids to school clearly illustrates that there’s more to learning and life than the importance of the schooling environment(including homeschool). Einstein was a mediocre pupil in traditional schooling – if he had been homeschooled would he have been who he was? Probably yes, probably not. The relevant thing is that he was who he was, immaterial of the fact that he failed in elementary or middle school or whatever…
    School (or lack of) cannot fix all the complexity of life’s challenges, and shouldn’t. Life’s challenges exist. It’s called life.

    Which brings me to the second thing.
    Teenagers are infantilized in school, yes, but everywhere else as well – including in the all-catering, super-involved, über-facilitators homeschooling families I read about on the internet.

    In my country homeschooling is practically un-heard of (though not illegal). Interestingly enough, you meet all sorts of different and diverse people.
    I wonder why that can be.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Public schooling in the USA is abysmal and is actually hurting our societies’ children. I found a better option once i started reading about how kids learn and after my son being bullied (at 5!). Yes there are life challenges, but we have a responsibility to do what is best for our children and now that information is so wide reaching why wouldn’t I educate myself for my child’s sake? Just one thing- most of the commenter’s on here did not plan to homeschool. That ‘life experience’ brought us to this point.

      What country are you in?

      • marta
        marta says:

        Hi Jéssica,

        I´m in Portugal.

        Public schooling here is the norm. Upper-middle and upper class families in big cities send their kids to private schools – Catholic or international – but that’s about it.

        Although public schooling has many flaws, deepened by the economic and social crisis we’re living in, it still is the main safety net, social equalizer and essential structure/institution in social (upward) mobility. Data shows that publicly educated youths do better in university than their privately educated peers – either national or foreign universities – and the rate of unemployment in college graduates who had previously been educated in public schools is the same as in those previously educated in private schools.

        Of course education, learning and “schooling” does not end in traditional school. Nobody in the public system says it does. On the other hand, a lot of homeschoolers assume that the learning occurring in trips to the grocery store, videogaming, nature walks and so on are exclusive of the homeschooling community! It does puzzle me…

        As a commenter said, genetics and parenting are the key to who you are, and even those factors can be inverted or “diverted”. Indeed, we do that all the time, consciously or not – specially when we ourselves are the parents ;) !

        I’m really interested in the educational content of Penelope’s blog but it does bug me that it has such a strong anti- public school, public school educated children and their parents bias.

        The fact that some homeschoolers agree that public schooling is free babysitting where most children are entrapped and miserable and that unlimited time videogaming is NOT free babysitting but rather a learning experience for unschooled, free-spirited, adjusted children just makes me… well, laugh.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          I wrote the comment about genetics and parental upbringing.

          We’ve been over this several times on the comments, the EU vs US education. They are vastly different. The us education system does not act as a great equalizer. What most of us have come to realize is that intistutionalized schooling is a waste of time; our children can learn more and in a better, safer setting without it. Please read Seth Godin’s manifesto on schooling to understand the specifics.

          Penelope ‘ blog can be somewhat sensational, but that shouldn’t deter most from getting to the root issue and solution.

          I just want to reiterate that in the US nothing is handed to you. We have to work for our vacation time, our healthcare, and our children’s futures. We do not have a system that we can rely on to provide equalization scenarios for our kids. So the best way for us to take care of our families is to do what will not harm them but enhance them, and our solution is homeschooling/unschooling.

          • marta
            marta says:

            Thanks for your mindful reply, Jessica. That’s exactly it – schooling also depends hugely on context… no wonder in India, Africa and other developing nations and regions people fight for the right to go to school-the institution.

            I guess the homeschooling option in the US is on par with most aspects of American culture Europeans cannot understand – the right to bear arms, the constant uprooting, the virtual non-existence of a welfare state system… (I’m generalizing here – Europe is very diverse, but as a whole it’s core institutions and social systems are very similar, and very dissimilar from the US)

            It is generally a cultural, historical phenomenon, more than a different view on how learning and education take – and should take – place.

            Nevertheless, and even with all Penelope’s and most commenters’ views on public schooling, I’ve been learning a lot with this blog. I’m always coming back.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            it is incorrect to think that you don’t have to work for the things you desire in Europe. If you want to go for holidays – you better work hard to have the money, you want to give your kid violin lessons – same thing, you want to live above the poverty level? Work hard and get a good job. Indeed, nothing is just “handed to you”.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            Of course in all nations you generally work to your extra desires. But in the EU very real things (needs not desires) are handed to you as a member of society. You may not take a fancy vacation, but you get the mandatory 20-45 days off per year to spend quality time with your family, without risk of being fired, and without discrimination of status (ie postal service worker or VP). Women get handed the opportunity to stay home with their babies for their first year without threat of losing their job, added bonus, they get paid!

            A very real example is my sister in law. She did not have an education or job when she fell pregnant. The state set her up in her own town home and provided her income while she stayed home to care for the baby, in a safe affluent neighborhood. She had desires to start supporting herself so the state paid for her daughters nursery care while she went to university. The state will now pay for that same scenario ‘ tuition. Eventually she moved on and bettered her situation even further, because of the safety net she was provided without question or descrimination. This is just one scenario in which things are handed to you without you having to per say work for them.

            And I have to add, even people on benefits go on ‘fancy holidays.’ I’ve met them on my own paid holidays.

  10. Geoffrey
    Geoffrey says:

    Thanks for sharing this info! Although I am no where near being a parent just yet, I am finding so much inspiration from reading your blog and the wonderful people you find like Satya.

    Do you think mentors for children would make for a good in between in the meantime for parents who can’t quite do homeschooling just yet?

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I think that homeschooling is about changing your mindset. Parents who need their kids to go to school so they can work away from home can also homeschool during the off hours.
      Of course it’s not the same. Not the same freedom. But I think homeschooling or unschooling is about instilling a different mindset and approach to education and self management.

      Once you treat it from that angle you realize that the opportunities are endless. Just because you go to regular school doesn’t mean that you can’t homeschool. Many kids and parents have realized that they need regular school for different reasons and they do the minimum to get by. In the meantime they take advantage of what they really like (maybe sports, the art program, the debate team, etc.). But since their approach to life and education is different they carry their lives differently. They coincide with everyone in the track but they are not going to the same destination.

      • Geoffrey
        Geoffrey says:

        That’s a really good observation in changing mindset. Just because you may only have time for a few hours, doesn’t mean you can’t slack off and not be apart of their world.

        Even if it’s a little bit of your time, I’m guessing it can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

  11. marta
    marta says:

    Nobody is saying that in Europe people mustn’t work hard to get what they want.
    But what does exist in most countries in Europe is a welfare system where you get decent public education, your main health needs are met (either by the State healthcare system or by a private system heavily regulated by the State so that is does not leave anyone off) and sick+maternity leave and 20+ vacation days are, generally, paid.

    Of course what we need to discuss is how catering for the general population, “normalizing” and tending to equalize it, is a good thing in Education, in countries where the basics are already covered (ie, virtual zero illiteracy, virtual 100% school attendance among 7-17 year olds, no sex or income discrimination, etc).

    This is the million dollar question.
    And I guess everybody should be looking for answers.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      sorry Marta,
      my comment was not in response to your comment but to another further up in the list. It has come up repeatedly that in europe you get everything done for you but in the US you have to work for it – having seen both sides this kind of statements just started to bug me.

  12. cris hayes
    cris hayes says:

    Another book recommendation with no reference to homeschooling at all (and I even checked the index): Teach Your Children Well by Madeline Levine. (Did someone mention that one here? Ah, well…)

    It’s a really great call to step away from the current culture of “grades, trophies, and fat envelopes” for not only the health of your child and family, but for the success of our future as a society and a nation.

    I actually appreciate books like this, ones that don’t actually come from homeschooling roots, because it doesn’t limit the audience to homeschool supporters. Homeschooling is indeed growing, but not at a fast enough rate to address the problems we face. So a book like this, that doesn’t consciously
    wave the homeschooling flag, is a more broadly effective call to action. Change has to be an inside job.

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