This is what education reform should look like

Since the 1930s Finland has sent each pregnant mom a cardboard box full of supplies they will need for the baby. In the 1930s the box had fabric, because most moms made their children’s clothes. Now there are onesies. In the 1950s disposable diapers were in, but by the 1990s they were replaced by cloth diapers in a nod to the environment. In the last decade the government removed the baby bottles to encourage breastfeeding.

It used to be you threw out the box after you emptied it, but now that babies do not sleep in the same bed as parents, the box comes with a mattress and turns into a bed.

What’s amazing to me is that everyone in Finland can agree on what goes in the box.

In the US, of course, there would be uproar about taking out bottles because Mead Johnson, maker of Enfamil, is powerfully well-funded. The NRA would try to put some sort of pamphlet in the box, maybe “Families that hunt together, stay together.” And there would be an all-out war over which children’s book is included in the box. Imagine what would happen if you put lobbyists in charge of Oprah’s Book Club.

The reason we could never do a new baby box in the US is the same reason we can’t do education in the US. Our society is not close to being homogenous. A friend originally from Europe is astounded by the lack of knowledge in the US about history and geography. My friend who is Israeli is astounded by the lack of community fostered by the schools. My friend who is Russian sees schools as a path to money.

So it’s clear that your cultural background affects how you want to educate your kid. And the huge cultural variances in the US make the idea of all kids getting the same education seem absurd. What is the point?

Well, actually. We know the original point: To make immigrant kids think like assembly line workers so the melting pot motif can swing into action and sustain the US as Earth’s great superpower.

But let’s pause a moment and notice the vapidity of both dismantling peoples’ cultural tendencies and also acting like policeman of the world. Both have been disappointing and probably destructive.

This is a big reason why I think we should scrap the idea of public school. Parents who can handle being parents should homeschool. Parents who are overwhelmed with being parents can send their kids to a social services program for eight hours a day of free parenting.

If we start calling school what it is—a substitute for parenting—then people who are capable of keeping their kids home will do it. And we’ll have money to support kids who don’t have adequate parenting. We can start thinking of education reform as family reform. Because at this point everyone agrees that we are not going to have effective school reform in the context of current schools.

It’s a huge change, but there is not really anything else we can do. In the US, there are families who need that box before their baby comes. The Finish death rate for babies declined rapidly after the box program began. And we can make good headway for the welfare of US babies as well. The arguing comes when we start sending the boxes to families who don’t need it. Then it becomes philosophizing instead of saving babies.

We know that if we launched the box program to every family in the US, lawsuits would ensue immediately, and we’d shut it down. So it encourages me that kids are starting to sue school districts for lying, cheating and wasting kids’ time. It’s going to be the lawsuits that finally do-in the school systems, and that’s good.

Our schools should be like baby boxes. A safety net that ensures that kids who wouldn’t have had resources get access to them.


65 replies
  1. Splashman
    Splashman says:

    Safety nets do not exist in a vacuum. Their very existence changes behavior, and not for the better.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      you mean it is not a good idea to have a safety net for people who get sick without any fault of their own? Or there should not be social security which has dramatically reduced poverty among seniors? Like social darwinism – if you are not up to snuff and supersuccessful, whoever you want to define it, you don’t deserve a helping hand?

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Redrock, you sound indignant that someone doesn’t share your values.

        Personally, I hate to be forced to contribute to a safety net for someone and not have a say so in how they qualify for it.

        If there was no safety net then there would always be social responsibility. Then you know what would happen? people would have to get really good at being good neighbors and making good connections, working hard, etc. When crap hits the fan then if they earned it their friends and family would come through for them.

        It’s how it works in countries without a safety net. And you know what? things are not much better there than here. Mostly because your family and friends are people that are as poor as you are. So when things go bad you may lose your home but you’re not homeless on the street. Food comes from family.

        And you know what? here, with all the safety nets, people just have gotten away from social responsibility because that’s what the nets are for. And the people who became dependent on the nets….well….they are not much better off than anyone who became destitute in those countries without any sort of nets.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          as I said – I am not for an unchecked safety net. But what you say also means: I am able to judge who is deserving. A safety net is (ideally) built on the consensus of a group of people and takes out the individual idea of how someone should lead their life. Strangely worker productivity in countries with a considerably better developed safety net is not lower than in the US (comparing similar economies here). One problem is certainly that families are smaller in the US and many parts of Europe than in Mexico – that requires us to change our approach as to how to care for people. Family is still the strongest support system independent of social security. I still think that social security has helped to mitigate a lot of misery – but I know that many will disagree, it is not a political discussion we will resolve here.

          And with respect to addiction: the word seems to be out still on whether it should be considered and treated as a disease, with a genetic predisposition making some much ore vulnerable, or whether it is just weak willed people who get addicted. Our conception or misconception of a certain outcome can lead to incorrect assumptions about whether a person deserves support or not. For example, the majority of lung cancer patient were not smokers – but nonetheless a friend of mine with lung cancer who has never smoked in her life is still judged. What I am saying is that it is difficult to make a correct assessment whether a person deserves the help according to your individual standard.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            You are right, this definitely isn’t the place for this and opinions won’t be changed. I just don’t see how it’s right for someone else to take my money because they need it, but it’s really small beans compared to the real issue of corporate welfare. Anywho… sorry for your friend. I hope they make it through ok.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Opinions won’t be changed and yeah, maybe this isn’t the perfect spot for an extended convo about safety nets. But it does make me happy to the conversation get more political here, because in order for things to change, you kinda have to go there. Seems like everything is super political these days, education included.

        • Julia
          Julia says:

          So, you advocate throwing millions of people into poverty in exchange for a family network structure common in third world countries? I’m 110% for finding ways to increase social responsibility and stronger communities in the US, but how about finding a way to support those things that doesn’t throw our social development back a hundred years? You’re romanticizing — “Being in poverty together” actually doesn’t sound that great.

          And you do have a say in who gets what safety nets, as long as you vote. I assume you weren’t actually expecting a personal say in how tax dollars are spent. That would be awesome though.

        • Gretchen
          Gretchen says:

          Surely by “here” you don’t mean America! There’s not really that much of a safety net here compared with other rich, developed countries…

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I am for safety nets. I am also for personal responsibility and people being allowed the freedom to make their own choices. I just don’t want to have to be paying all the time for people’s bad decisions.

        Social Security is a glorified Ponzi Scheme.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          I am not a supporter of an indiscriminate safety net which is like a self-service store and you can just take without giving. How to construct and maintain a social safety net has to be an ongoing discussion with constant change and adaptions. So, who deserves to be helped – those you deem worthy of your help? Those who have in your eyes and opinion made the right decisions in your eye? Isn’t that quite judgmental? Their is a benefit to having a more anonymous set of rules – it takes out one’s personal opinion whether the guy around the corner deserves my help. And many countries cited here with high levels of happiness often have a well developed safety net. Not sure Finland is a good example since it is a small country and consensus is easier to achieve; Switzerland on the other hand is highly heterogeneous – juggling 4 languages has lead to an intense culture of consensus building (and there are 20% foreigners in the country). Who says that if you are in need your neighbor will think you are deserving? Few of us are perfect and never screw up, never make a wrong decision which job to take, or to which city to move, or which disease to acquire. Are social safety nets abused? Sure they are, humans are not perfect, but that is why safety nets need continuous attention, discussion and renewal.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Here is what I mean from a libertarian standpoint. I think that drug laws should be repealed. People should be free to choose how they want to live their lives. Within this example, I don’t want to have to pay all the time for the drug addict to get better. One time, maybe yes, the second, third, fourth, fifth??? Not really… I don’t want to pay for their bad decisions. Of course people mess up, I am by no means perfect!!! Everyone is deserving of help. But there has to be limits and they should be some conditions.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            Yeah, no one is an island unto themselves. I don’t understand or agree with the anti social services crowd.

  2. Sarah m
    Sarah m says:

    Your comparison makes complete sense.
    I love the links about kids suing the districts. Usually, I’m baffled by their situations, and how it even got that bad in the first place.
    Sarah M

  3. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    Penelope, how does a family qualify for public education in your scenario? Do you self-report your inability to parent? A financial threshold a la stamps or Medicaid? Or some kind of state sponsored psychological evaluation?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think self-report. Once the government stops saying that kids need to go to school for their education, I think most parents will be too embarrassed to tell their kids they are sending them away eight hours a day five days a week.


      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        So we’d have many fewer schools, but they’d get better, right? More resources, you’ve said. Presumably that’d mean smaller class sizes, better supplies and equipment, more tutoring, etc.

        So, with self-reporting, what’s to keep a parent from re-enrolling their kids in a school that their neighbors are reporting is much better than it used to be? Shame? Embarrassment?

  4. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    “Parents who can handle being parents should homeschool. Parents who are overwhelmed with being parents can send their kids to a social services program for eight hours a day of free parenting.”

    Isn’t this what we have now?

      • Julia
        Julia says:

        Well, I agree that we might, as parents, all be overwhelmed, but I don’t understand the assumption that parents would need to be overwhelmed to choose “babysitting” schools over homeschooling. I work because I enjoy work and it’s important to me, and so does my husband. And the work we do requires us to be out of the home and not with one eye on our child all the time. Because we both really want to work, we don’t consider homeschooling an option. It has nothing to do with whether or not we can handle being parents, or financial need, or any of the other assumptions being made about circumstances that would drive an otherwise sane parent to choose school. So, yeah, I’m having trouble with the safety net argument for scrapping public school, much as I’m strongly in favor of a safety net approach in general. I’m INTJ though, so maybe I’m that very rare woman who happily trots off to work and has no qualms leaving my kid in school all day.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          You’d be surprised how many INTJ women follow PT’s blog AND homeschool. I am one of them.

          • Julia
            Julia says:

            Not really, I didn’t say anything about homeschooling INTJ’s. I said that INTJ’s (according to PT, and I see it in myself) have an easier time going to work and leaving a child in someone elses care.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          So, would/do you pay to send your kid to school with the income from work?

          This is really a family and parenting choice. School is a social service, but ironically does a disservice to the families that use it.

          The idea of school being a safe place for kids and a social services program being unsafe is a mute point as it already coexists.

          Once put in that context does it embarrass the parents that choose to send the kid, and or not pay for higher specialized care?

          Once put in context it then becomes a parenting issue and I don’t think parents really want to face that.

          • Julia
            Julia says:

            Well, I disagree that public school inherently does a disservice to children. Not all of them do. The current policy environment makes many public schools bad for many children. But also, many public schools are excellent, and many children thrive regardless of how mediocre the environment. “Public school” is actually a very broad category and there is a lot of variety. There are even public schools that are homeschool co-ops, and a lot of alternatives that don’t look at all like the institution that gets demonized here. Now, this is terrible for kids who are stuck in situations where they have no choice but the public school in their neighborhood and/or don’t do well in the current typical school environment. There are public alternatives, but not enough of them in the places that need them. To me, that’s the biggest problem. But that isn’t the same thing as saying that public schools are by definition harmful to children. And that makes the rest of your point irrelevant, I think, because as I read it you’re suggesting that parents should be embarrassed if they choose to send their child to public school if they don’t have to. We choose public school because we’re lucky enough to live in an area where there are public alternative schools (and aside from that, I don’t see a big difference between private schools and public schools, other than the price tag and affluent social network). I’m definitely not embarrassed about that.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t think it’s what we have now because the government and media tell parents that school is essential to a child’s education. Many capable parents are rule followers and tradition enforcers. Someone would need to “officially” tell them that school no longer has education as it’s goal.


      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        Every state wants kids to be in school so they can indoctrinate them. No heavy handed government is going to tell parents that if you’re high functioning then please homeschool. Once we can not service our debt, once we lose reserve currency status, or once oil is depleted, then perhaps the gob will shrink and become more local. But the country is moving headlong towards being a police state. So this is not happening anytime soon.

      • CristenH
        CristenH says:

        It is possible for the ISTJ types to let go of established systems without external permission. A hallmark of my fellow rule followers is that the rules must make sense to us. I am most definitely an ISTJ, and have been living counter-culture my entire adult life, just very quietly :)
        I think the convenience factor is a bigger obstacle, more types of people tell themselves homeschooling is too hard.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I do agree that one of the main issues in our public education system is that we are a vast melting pot. We are not homogenous. Hell, we are a conglomerate of religious/non-religious views, political views and cultural values. How is a standardized public education going to be good for everyone of us? It isn’t.

    I am not sure we can even call our current education goals “educational”, when it is just teaching to a test! Teachers have to teach this way or they risk losing their jobs. Students in these environments typically don’t have any other options. So the supposed goal of “college and career readiness” is accomplished how when all we are doing is teaching kids to take tests? What occupation has enough openings for workers that is just them studying for tests and passing them?

    As for babysitting, we can’t even call it that right now! 30 kids per babysitter? That’s just chaos.

    This post is just making my mind think of all the what ifs, and how did it end up this way…

  6. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    This is an excellent analogy.

    As PT says, we couldn’t have a “newborn box” program here because it would end up being full of corporate crap and religious nonsense in masquerade.

    Just like our schools, come to think of it.

    If our schools could be more like the Finnish baby boxes, with things that are truly useful to a broad range of people, that would be a great improvement.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I was thinking about this before you wrote your comment. How could we do a baby box for a broad range of people in our country? I just don’t think you can once you get past clothes and diapers.

      After that there are too many differences in cultures. Then you could have baby boxes that are culture specific, but that would be offensive to some people.

      And that’s just a baby box! Something simple. It really can’t be done for schools, just go back to basics of math, reading, and writing? Beyond that if you were to try to do something different for one group of kids you get called racist. What can be done? This feels too complicated.

  7. Ali Davies
    Ali Davies says:

    I deeply admire how you stand up for what you believe and call it as it is. As a parent whose child suffered at the hands of the school system for 5 years and just removed him 7 months ago to homeschool it is wonderful to find people like you and a community (great homeschooling community where we live) who are saying “not on my watch” with their kids and therefore creating awareness of the need for change in the way society approaches educating kids.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That makes me really happy to hear, Jennifa. I think the core of parenting is how to enjoy our kids while keeping them engaged and interested in life. So in that respect, I think it’s a parenting blog too!


  8. karelys
    karelys says:

    Imagine the uproar if the government gave a voucher to families for food but dictated how exactly they must eat?

    Most of us would say, keep your voucher, I’ll find a way to afford my own food even if I am poor, but I’ll decide what to eat and how to eat it because I know what’s best for me.

    Others would welcome it.

    But ego and dignity are a strong thing so we’ll have to call that preference by something else. Maybe we’d call it “the right way to eat” and we’d scorn and wrinkle our noses at those who do something different. Then we’d pretend to be concerned about the health of the children whose parents take their nutrition into their own hands.

    It’s the same with schooling. It’s just that we’ve been doing it long enough a certain way that everyone thinks it’s the right way.

    • UnschoolingMama
      UnschoolingMama says:

      The government does this already. Schools and daycares get government dollars to serve “healthy” (in the government’s terms) meals. Poor families’ kids eat for free or very cheap. That’s the school lunch program!

      I am a home daycare provider, and my families have to submit packets of paperwork if they’d like to deviate from the standard menu format I must follow. Then I have to be counseled by my food program rep to be sure my other families don’t all hop ship and start eating crazy food… Like protein for breakfast (food program prefers carbs) or 2% milk. Because that’s not “the right way to eat”.

      Side tracking here, but it’s a personal annoyance of mine, this level of government control extending to food.

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        Wow I had no idea it was that way. Some people I know are in the WIC program so I know the voucher dictates what you get. But I had no idea people had to submit paperwork to opt out of the food plan preset by the government!

        I just figured how crazy it’d be if the voucher thing was nationwide just like how people have to pay taxes out of their income.

        This is why I’m annoyed when people whine about maternity leave and stuff like that. We’re too many too different people to just outright compare to smaller countries who do it a certain way. Most of those countries are more homogenous or the laws have been in place for so long they’re part of the culture and pretty hard to change since it’s ingrained in how people do anything.

        People don’t fight education much because it’s a system that’s been in place so long we just can’t even fathom doing away with it. People want to improve it but can’t even imagine removing it.

  9. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    “the original point: To make immigrant kids think like assembly line workers” etc. was actually Round Two in US education. Round One with Horace Mann was to cure the Irish of their Catholicism.

    The Germans started universal education to educate a generation to become soldiers and beat back the French. The French did it to get French children away from the Jesuits. The Brits didn’t do it for decades because they feared the lower orders learning to read.

    Nobody was interested in what was good for the children. They all wanted to draft children into their grand political plans.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      yes, and the farmers resisted that their kids learn to read and write in the 1700 or so because they could then not work in the fields all day. And hey, which farmer needs to read and write? I am sure that one was also for the best of the children.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        My kids didn’t need school or teachers to learn how to read, they taught themselves.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Yes, of course! Since birth. The desire to learn to read came completely from them when they were ready, on their own terms.

        • marta
          marta says:

          If it were that easy there wouldn’t be illiteracy in the world… ever since writing was invented.

          You need opportunity, a certain affluence and free time to learn how to do it – all privileges of part of the developed world’s middle and upper classes.

          In my view, the problem with most homeschooling families and advocates is the highly individualistic, parochial bias of their approach to education…

          That is certainly not how you build a community – on a national level, at least. Maybe that is the problem of the US public education system: too many individualistic needs to cater for, instead of a true basic, common ground. It seems the common ground interests that gave birth to the US have turned into everyone’s own backyard whims.

          From an European perspective, the US seems to get more segregated in so many ways every day…

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            Yeah, we don’t have any uniting culture here (except consumerism ;) ) .

            The thing is most of us seem to be secular parents who went with the flow didn’t question the American schooling, some of us paid for private, some of us tried public (I did both) and we come from all corners of the usa. On this blog we all experienced putting our kids in school and said no more and took them out, we’ve all met tons of people in our cities that homeschool too. So it’s definitely a growing culture and the benefits are huge for our kids.

            In the us, you have to find your place- no one will find it for you!

  10. jessica
    jessica says:

    You know what I like about this post? The plan of action.

    Also, pointing out that America doesn’t have a cultural guidance, as most other countries, really makes the point that standard schooling makes zero sense.

    Question though, what about single or divorced mom’s who need to start working for their household. Do we clump their kids into social services? Are there tiers?

    Good friends of mine arE chilean. They send their kids to private school because the public schooling is terrible. I imagine that the US will just go that route really. School will exist because of tradition, but better off families (middle and up) will stick to the alternatives.

    I think within 5 years we will see big changes in the landscape. It’s being talked about publicly too much for most parents to not take notice….

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      It already is that way. Those who can afford private school are in private school.

      Common Core is designed for the masses. For the 90%+. The elite go to private schools. Gates does not send his kids to the public school that uses Common Core which he supports financially. They go to private school. As with all the others. Obama’s children go to a Friends’ school. The people who are behind Common Core are little impacted by it personally. Some private schools may follow the CC standards but they don’t use the tests, and it is the tests that are so foul and driving what happens in the classroom.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        But the gap is key here, middle class still sends their kids to public school in the us. This is not so in chile. Middle class sends their kids all to private. The gap will worsen and the middle class will have more alternatives soon.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          You know how middle class Chileans can afford better schooling for their kids?

          They don’t buy stuff like crazy like our middle class. They prioritize.

          So our common culture is holding the general population back.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Chile has a voucher system. A small number (7-9 percent) go to purely private schools, which is similar to the US.

            The bulk go to private schools that take government vouchers. It sounds pretty complicated. Some kids go for free while others go with partial govt. funds and partial tuition. These schools seem to have arbitrary admissions standards so they get to pick and choose who can come on the govt. voucher.

            And then there are traditional public schools which cover the poorest and lowest performing Chileans, and those are the ones middle class Chileans are avoiding.

            But students have been protesting in the streets because they think the system is so segregated and unjust. Michelle Bachelet is back in office and has proposed nixing the current system in favor of something that looks a lot like Finland’s.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            This is response to kim-

            Their system is not great. This is from my knowledge of being close friends with several families from santiago. The lines there are pretty drawn between conservative and liberal, rich and very poor.

            My friends are from the upper class. It’s apparently known in chile that if you want your children to get anywhere you pay for private.

            I’m not sure how Finland system would he duplicate in chile. I’m not sure due to the class warfare difficulties that Finland does not have as it would be much of a success.

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        “Those who are in private school are in private school.”

        I don’t agree. I know plenty of people who could afford private school but chose to move to tony, poverty-free suburbs to access public schools.

  11. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    I agree Jessica, I’m really fascinated by the details of all of this, and as I said elsewhere I don’t think you can talk details without going deeply in to politics.

    What is interesting is that PT’s views are part libertarian (education up to parents, not government) and part progressive (strengthen those safety nets!). Under her system, families would self-report so any family regardless of income could still access public school.

    Schools in the US are already more segregated than they were 50 years ago, at the time of Brown vs. Board of Education. So there’s also the issue of educational apartheid that exists now and would certainly exist even more w/a dismantling of the public school system. I don’t have any answers, but I just don’t think you can have a serious discussion about education in America without addressing race.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Yep, you know it’s a sad fact too. My husband went to an exclusive public school in Southern CA, the borders were drawn so strict it was only affluent kids attending the school. After he graduated (a long time ago) they started a new program to bus poor kids into the better school districts for diversity. You know what happened? The rich kids went to private school after that.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        I got bussed to a low SES neighborhood school across town in the 1970s. Parents agreed to it because that’s where the tag program was held. My experience in grades 4-9 was living hell. In grades 10-11 I went to high school in a college town with zero busing. What a relief. Then to college, joy!

        You know where my kids have gone to school? Private independent school, followed by homeschooling since Common Core was rolled out.

  12. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    There is a misunderstanding of what school is for. It has nothing to do with what is good for the child or what is good for the family. It has everything to do with what is good for the state. Look at history. Consider your experience.

    We parents get all worked up at how backwards and upside down school is in meeting the needs of our children and our families. It’s not about us and it’s not for us. It’s about and for the state. And it’s a jobs program for the adults in schools and at textbook and testing companies etc so there are those vested interests as well.

    And if you think medicine is designed to benefit the patient….well that is another conversation.

  13. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:


    When you say that Finland’s society is fairly homogenous, what aspects of the Finnish people are you including? I’d argue that Finnish people are ok with these baby box recommendations because they are so accepting (accustomed to?) of the government intervening in their lives. I don’t think it is surprising that so many Finns would share similar parenting views when they all agree government should be so involved in their lives.

    The reason we can’t “do” education in America is because we start out with the wrong premise. Almost everyone accepts the premise that education is a right. When you say education is a “right” for kids, then that implies someone other than the parent is responsible for their child’s education. How does that make sense? The parent(s) chose to have a child but they didn’t think about how they would provide for their child’s “education” other than forcing someone else to pay for it. That’s wrong. And that is why public education is inherently wrong. It rests on the premise of force – even if others don’t see/realize that.

    One fundamental aspect of unschooling that was a real draw for me when I first heard about it (in 2002/2003) is that it rests on the idea of freedom – not force. Children should be free to use their independent judgment to figure out their values and the best way to attain them. I think many of the unschoolers and unschooling supporters (such as myself) would agree with that.

    The same thing should apply to adults. We should be free to use our independent judgment to attain our values while respecting the right of others to do the same; which rules out using force to do so. I should be free to open a learning center of my choosing; free from government rules and regulations. I should be free to hire the best possible staff; free from labor and anti-immigration laws. I should be free to offer to my clients (teens) the ability to roam around my shopping center and the surrounding areas; free from truancy laws or minimum curriculum requirements. I should be free to make as much money as possible and keep it all since it was earned through voluntary exchange; free from taxes, including the forced support of public schools.

    I don’t think the idea of unschooling will spread to the mainstream until my fellow Americans realize we all deserve to be free.

    – Aquinas Heard

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      Interesting comment. Finnish are reported to be the best educated people, and their (public) schools are considered the best in the world, so I’m thinking about how that fits in with what you’ve said here. I think, as Penelope said, they benefit from having a relatively small and homogeneous population. They can find relative agreement on what public schools should provide.

      You know, you can open your own learning center based on your own vision. If you want government funding for it, it’s called a charter school. If you don’t want government funding, then you are welcome to do so privately. True, the purist libertarian vision you describe isn’t possible (reminds me of Peter Thiel’s libertarian island), but really, who wants to go back to the dark ages before labor laws and licensing laws that ensure the people we hire to educate our children aren’t convicted pedophiles? Who really wants to live in a society without taxes? No thinking person who’s being honest wants to live in a society completely without taxes (unless they live on a speck of land too small to need massive infrastructure and run entirely by mega-wealthy people, sure, they don’t need taxes). There’s plenty of need for reform in how the government regulates education–plenty–but you don’t get those reforms by being unrealistic.

  14. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    There is always a “risk’ of receiving this on a blogsite but justice demands an appropriate response to this – an insult:

    “No thinking person who’s being honest wants to live in a society completely without taxes (unless they live on a speck of land too small to need massive infrastructure and run entirely by mega-wealthy people, sure, they don’t need taxes).”

    Let’s look at how this thinking person takes apart all of Julia’s commentary.

    Julia states Finnish citizens as being the best educated people (in the world?) but provides no links or facts to back it up. She doesn’t include what she means by being educated. This is important because this is an education/unschooling site. Our (Penelope’s audience) views could vary widely on what constitutes an educated person. Most people who are highly-educated are mostly just “credentialed” in my opinion. In fact, Julia’s whole response to my post is what I often encounter when talking about education/child-rearing with educated people: all emotion.

    Julia doesn’t identify what she considers to be the essential “characteristics” that make it so we can call the Finnish people homogenous. She just offers the statement: “They can find relative agreement on what public schools should provide.” Yeah, but that doesn’t tell us why they do.

    I offered my own view: Finnish people accept and agree with a certain amount of government intrusion (violation) into their lives. It is this general acceptance of government into their lives that makes it so it is not surprising that they would broadly agree on how a public school should operate or what should be included in the infant’s box.

    Oh, and how does the “smallness” of their country’s population factor in? I don’t see how that applies. A family unit is very small but that doesn’t mean all of the family members will have the same view …… on almost anything. So again Julia’s comment offers no new insight, just an unsupported statement.

    Now if Julia was honest she would begin most of the next part of her response with “I don’t” instead of “who”:

    “but really, who wants to go back to the dark ages before labor laws and licensing laws that ensure the people we hire to educate our children aren’t convicted pedophiles? Who really wants to live in a society without taxes”

    But this would imply taking responsibility for her views. By the way, the Dark Ages are usually ascribed to the time period from the fall of the Roman Empire to just before The Renaissance. Child labor laws (in America) did not come into effect until the 1900s. Also, I employ people who work with children. I don’t need government sacrificing my judgment for their arbitrary decrees to make sure I don’t hire pedophiles.

    I, that’s a big I (full responsibility), would love to live in a society without any taxes. You mean all interactions would be through voluntary consent – awesome! – and moral.

    However I might come across on this post, I’m not too worried about it.

    I do want to acknowledge how much value I get out of Penelope’s posts. She is almost always interesting, often informative and always, at the very least, makes me think. I usually read the full discussion (in the comments) of a post that I find either very interesting or highly provocative. I am on the lookout to find people who share my views on education/child rearing and I am very thankful that Penelope provides a place for a high likelihood of that happening.

    I know there will be times when discussion with me could lead to an eventual disagreement with the other party. But I also know I will be civil with that person as long as they don’t directly or even implicitly insult me.

    Aquinas Heard

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      please provide the data to support this statement:
      “Finnish people accept and agree with a certain amount of government intrusion (violation) into their lives.”

      I would go out on a limb and say that everybody living in a state and not on an isolated island (or in the woods far from roadways) is to some degree connected to some kind of government. So, nearly everybody has to some extent to deal with this fact. Some governments are better then others but they are a way how humans organize their lives in large groups in more or less densely packed space. You can suggest to return to tribal communities – but it is unlikely to happen in a time where communication and transportation are as highly developed. You have fortunately in many societies nowadays the freedom to disagree with the government opinions and ideas – you have the freedom to homeschool and to adopt any religious belief you fancy, for example. You say that you can judge for yourself what is right and not right – you will know always what is good to do, labor laws (for example) are only for those who can’t reach this status of knowing. Without any proof and data to link to – I think there are few people who can claim rightfully such incredible insight in all aspects of life.

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      “Julia states Finnish citizens as being the best educated people (in the world?) but provides no links or facts to back it up.”

      Some researcher thoughts on why:

      In picture form:

      Oh heck, here:

      “Oh, and how does the “smallness” of their country’s population factor in? I don’t see how that applies.”

      Consider coming to consensus in a family of 5. Now consider coming to consensus in a family of 300. Find the difference in difficulty there and then multiply by a million.

      ” I employ people who work with children. I don’t need government sacrificing my judgment for their arbitrary decrees to make sure I don’t hire pedophiles.”

      With respect, I wouldn’t let my child near a gymnastics program that relied on one person’s judgment (and confidence in their own judgment) to determine if the teachers were pedophiles.

  15. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:


    Let me start out by saying that I view all of these actions/agencies by/of the US (or state) government as intruding (violating individual rights) in our lives:

    Income Tax, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, The Federal Reserve, OSHA, FDA, SEC, compulsory attendance laws, regulation of private schools, forced funding of public education through taxation (income, sales, and property).

    There are many more examples I could which I think are examples of government intrusion.

    When I said: “Finnish people accept and agree with a certain amount of government intrusion (violation) into their lives,” I meant that as a comparison to the amount of intrusion for which Americans feel comfortable with in their lives. The Scandinavian countries are fairly well known to be “welfare states” and I was using that understanding (known?) as the basis for my comparison.

    I should have been clearer with my earlier post. Whatever ideas were accepted by the majority of the Finnish people in the early 1930-50s, and which would eventually lay the groundwork for their welfare state, are the same ideas which are ultimately responsible on why there is a general agreement on what to put into the infant’s box. I don’t think the smallness of the country explains their general agreement on this issue. Also, for me to judge the homogenous aspect of the Finnish people (culture?), I would need for the people using this term to expand on what they consider the essential characteristics of the Finnish people.

    I would never want to return to a tribal community. I love industrialization.

    I said I can judge what is right in relation to my values. If I misjudge and somehow violate a person’s individual rights, then they have recourse through a civil court or a criminal court. I don’t need an alphabet suit of government agencies declaring me guilty until proven innocent.

    Private agencies can take on the role of “certifying” the efficacy of different businesses. Parents (in the case of child related businesses) can then use their judgment to determine if these agencies are forthcoming and trustworthy or they can do the investigative work themselves.
    The original point I wanted to make regarding Penelope’s proposal was that it could not be implemented because it rests on two opposing ideas, freedom and coercion.

    She says: get rid of public schools. This view would imply parents should have complete freedom when determining where or whether to enroll their child in school. This view is something for which I wholeheartedly agree (so much so that I started a foundation several years ago F.L.I.R.E. – Foundation for Individual Rights and Liberty in Education). But you can’t get rid of something if the majority of people think of this, education, as a right.

    Penelope has usually based her opposition to public schools: on their conformity, their one size fits all approach, misunderstanding (non-understanding) of how children learn, and violence. I know she has other reasons for her objection of public schools but I can’t recall them all now. I agree with her objections and have many more of my own. However, the fundamental for me is that they violate individual rights. They steal my money (try withholding the portion of your taxes that goes to public schools and see what happens) to fund something for which I am adamantaly opposed. You can’t get a good “service” when you start on an immoral premise. The only way you can get rid of public schools is by challenging this immoral premise, that it is ok to steal my money. I get the sense, based on all the articles I’ve read by Penelope over the years, that she would not agree with the identification I have made: the immorality of public schools.

    Penelope’s suggestion of social services for parenting still rests on the idea of force. Unless she is talking about setting this up as a private foundation – something like a red cross for parenting, it would still involve stealing my money. Based on that premise, it would be doomed for failure.

    Our “schools” should be like cellphones, or gymnastics centers or dance studios or learning centers. Their individual offerings tailored to their potential clients and at all kinds of price points and payment plans. Parents should factor in the potential price of their child’s “education” prior to having children. Those who do not and want something other than what they can afford will have to rely on charity, which I’m sure would be abundantly forthcoming by those who earlier had thought it was okay to steal my money. I might even be willing to contribute to a scholarship fund, if it was in alignment with my values.

    Aquinas Heard

  16. redrock
    redrock says:

    We do agree on some aspects: I also think that there should not be a “higher court of parent judging” to assess whether someone is able to homeschool. One can currently opt out of school and homeschool in most states in the US without too much trouble. While I don’t think homeschool is the answer to all and everything, the right to choose is a good one.

    However, I consider taxes my contribution to our society – they are used in many ways I support and in some I don’t. In my opinion social service programs are important (and let’s not get into a discussion whether they are harmful to people – no program is perfect and there will always be some misuse but I accept a certain degree of misuse if the general outcome as I see it is beneficial – my opinion). I do think there is a place for government and I don’t take the stance that I know best in everything. Regulations for safety standards are useful, and ideally regulations governed by a state/government or such should (ideally) try to function independent of industrial/private company interests. Again, my opinion and I am very certain you differ.

    Paying taxes does not take away my freedom of expression and speech. And I am in the odd situation of paying taxes in a country where I cannot vote, and voting in a country where I do not pay taxes.

  17. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    This post, and subsequent comments, have given me much food for thought.

    Question for PT or anyone else: Does any other country have as robust a homeschooling culture as the US?

  18. VegGal
    VegGal says:

    I have two comments for this one:
    First – How about a school for parents like me who just need babysitting available once in a while. Maybe just two days a week for 6 hours a day?
    Second – We cannot assume that everyone in Finland likes what in the box, we can only assume that the government sends a box and you either use what is there/discard it/or give it to a neighbor that does use the items.

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