Don’t lag behind the mass exodus from school

The huge momentum behind homeschooling today is mostly fueled by the huge disappointment of public school. Academic research shows estimates that homeschooling in the US growing at up to 15% a year. Increasingly, competent parents see conventional education as an antique practice designed only to get kids out of the house.

But it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the fact that rich kids no longer have to suffer through the questionable goals and tactics of conventional education.

1. Educated families are pulling their kids out of school.
In North Carolina, the number of kids homeschooling has surpassed the number of kids going to private school. In New York CIty the middle class are fueling the meteoric rise of homeschoolers.  The most expensive, prestigious schools are implementing homeschool models to attract parents who are rich enough to outsource homeschooling to professionals. (The Avenues lets parents stay in school all day, The High School of Performing Arts has no school calendar, and Horace Mann focuses on grit instead of testing.)

It used to be that smart parents saw the inadequacies of public school but they tried to ignore it, because the only alternative was private school which is too expensive for all but the most wealthy families. Today those parents see homeschooling as an alternative, fueling a mass exodus of educated families from public school.

2. Social media makes ignoring reality too difficult.
Last week the public blew up over the National Football League’s inadequate response to ubiquitous violence against women and children. And, a few weeks before, the NFL was forced to admit that at least 1/3 of all football players would have compromised brain function due to workplace head collisions.

This is not news to people who follow the sociological and mental health impact of football. In the past ten years there have been more than 300 arrests in the NFL, and players have been suing the NFL over brain damage for decades.

What is new is that social media has made the story impossible to ignore. Players can circumvent media gatekeepers and take their mental health stories straight to the public. And stories of domestic violence are much more difficult to sweep under the rug when we have such easily-shared videos of violence.

The same is true for education. Social media allows kids to gain power in the classroom. Video gives us behind-the-scenes evidence of the absurdities of our education system–some that we might never really believe without the video to prove it.

In the same way that public uproar over the NFL reached critical mass last week, I hope for public uproar over education to reach critical mass. USA Today said that this week will be a turning point for the NFL: will we look at this as the time when things went downhill fast or will we look at this as a time when we overhauled our idea of football?

It’ll be the same for education when that time comes, and either way, public school will never be the same. The rich kids will be gone.

3. Public school is a tool for brainwashing. 
The rate of vaccination among rich people in Silicon Valley is the same as the rate of vaccination in rural Sudan.  Which is to say that rich people don’t care that the medical community says there’s no connection between Autism and vaccines. Rich people aren’t taking a chance, and anyway, there are a lot of things we cannot prove but we know that they’re true: Like, my menstrual cycle always matches the woman’s in the cube next to mine.

The medical community is in an all-out war with parents who do not vaccinate their kids. I know because I did not vaccinate my own kids and every single checkup, we receive fifteen-minute lectures about how important it is to “catch the kids up”.

And the medical community doesn’t stop there. School uses movies about how important vaccinations are expressly so that the kids put pressure on their parents. This is a blatant example of how the kids are in school to promote someone else’s agenda, regardless of what the parents want.

Maybe the parents are wrong. But there is no law in this country that parents have to be right about everything. Parents only have to do their very best at being good parents with no criminal intent. And withholding vaccinations certainly falls into the category of legal.

Public school was founded on the assumption that people are too stupid to take care of their own kids,  and we’ve come full circle, back to the idea that parents are incompetent and kids should look to schools instead of their parents for social and emotional skills and leadership.

81 replies
  1. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Whoa! You’re brave bringing up vaccines! Hope you’re prepared for the ridiculousness that will become of this comment section having very little to do with homeschooling.

  2. Lori
    Lori says:

    Pediatric naturopaths and family medicine docs are respectful and they typically don’t fire the patient as is common among pediatricans. I won’t go near a pediatrician’s office….what could be worse for my child’s health? Last time I saw one, he tried to force me to give my baby an antibiotic for a viral infection.

  3. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I accept your premise about public schools having a brainwashing component, although I’d call it “prevailing culture socialization.” But I don’t agree that vaccination is part of it. Go ahead and don’t vaccinate your kids. They aren’t in contact with 1,000 other kids every day. In the disease breeding ground that is a school building it’s not surprising that vaccinations are required.

  4. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    And here comes the ranting anti-scientific paranoia.

    Way to dispel myths about homeschoolers, PT.

    There’s little point in criticizing the logic of someone who disavows science in general as some complicated conspiracy (it’s dastardly how scientists agree with each other!), but did anybody else notice that the un-vaccinated children referred to in the Atlantic article are all public school children?

    The most fascinating thing about this post is how it demonstrates that rich people (and homeschooling parents) can be as stupid as anybody else.

  5. Tony
    Tony says:

    I will be the first to admit that the Medical Community is much more fad based then they care to admit. I cannot begin to count the number of things that the doctors are now telling people to the opposite of what they were telling people to do in the 70’s and ’80’s.
    That being said vaccines are not one of those things. Vaccines have been around since the 1880’s and have helped get rid of horrible diseases such as polio, smallpox, and a host of other nastiness. We have been blessed/lucky that here in the US we don’t have small children dying from these things (unlike other places in the World). I don’t really want to go back to some of the unfortunate things I read about in the history books.

  6. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    PT, I think you’re brave for including the vaccine story. I’m a MD and I hate vaccines though I understand the pros and cons. My paedi puts pressure on me to get them, a subtle guilt trip. Where I’m from it’s the hexavalent and mmr that are requirements for school admission. I am homeschooling mine as life allows. So far, so good. This blog has been helpful. I like that you take us on your homeschool journey and what you’re learning along the way. I use this blog to bounce ideas off from both you and your great commenters.

  7. Claire
    Claire says:

    I liked much of this article – but I don’t at all agree with your vaccination theory. But then I again I have an uncle who spent 6 months of his life as a baby in the hospital and has a maimed leg from polio. He now has post-polio syndrome in his 70’s. I know several other adults who suffered similar issues.

    This isn’t something I would wish on my enemy, let alone my own child. But hey, if you want to risk your child’s health, that is your business and not school’s or anyone elses.

    • Virginia
      Virginia says:

      The problem is that Penelope isn’t just putting her kids at risk. I have a baby who isn’t old enough to be vaccinated for everything yet. If her kid gets the mumps and goes to the doctor and exposes my child to it, then she is putting my child at risk. This is so selfish and idiotic that I wish it was illegal.

  8. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I think that its only been in the last few years that homeschooling as a movement has offered something better than traditional schools, which I think is the key behind the exodus. By this I am specifically referring to desired outcomes of graduates of homeschool.

    Per your opinion regarding immunizations, I know you won’t, but you might want to reconsider. Even doctors and medical researchers who believe there is a strong link between vaccination and autism only believe the link is strong only under strict preconditions such as high levels of testosterone (especially common in pre-pubescent african-american males), mitochondrial disorder, and compromised auto-immune disorders (and a few others). I think the presence of autism is also a precondition which I suppose causes your concern, but your kids may have outgrown their sensitivity to vaccinations.

    • mh
      mh says:


      I think homeschooling has always offered something better than compulsory schools, but up until the past few years, the “awkward homeschooler” stereotype was the dominant idea. With the rise of social media, most people can see for themselves that homeschoolers do better (in aggregate and as individuals) than compulsory schooled students.

      It is not that the results have gotten better for homeschoolers, it is that the stereotype has been disproven.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Exactly, mh! Homeschool has always been a wonderful way to educate your children, the only difference is everyone can see it now through blogs and social media.

      • Hannah
        Hannah says:

        I think there have always been individuals who have done homeschool very well, but even ten years ago when I was in high school, the majority of homeschoolers that I knew (which was a surprisingly high number) were essentially transporting school (desks, curriculum and all) to their houses.

        A lot of my friends ended up having big fights with their parents resulting in them getting “kicked out” of homeschool and coming to public school (This was in middle/high school).

        Now, I have a lot of friends homeschooling their kids, and even those who have adopted the use of curriculum are much less focuses on “grade level” achievement and much more focused on personal growth.

        From my perspective, this seems like a fundamental shift in the homeschooling movement that has happened pretty recently.

  9. marta
    marta says:

    As other commenters have said, you’re entitled to your own opinion on vaccines but comparing the issue with homeschooling is totally demagogical.

    Your kids live very sheltered lives but when and if they’re in daily contact with lots of other youths of all walks of life and all continents of the world in college dormitories, classrooms and canteens maybe it won’t be as safe to have them unvaccinated.

    Some crippling, killer diseases like mumps are coming back in colleges in the UK and the US because of the anti-vaccination legion .

    As a British friend of mine has once told me, the unvaccination fad is basically egoistical – I won’t give shots to my kids because everybody else will be doing it anyway so there is no risk of my kids catching anything.

    Well, it does not work like that.

    Thanks to centuries old vaccines, some killer diseases are – albeit slowly – being erradicated in the world. It would be bitterly ironical that the “rich”, “smart”, “techy savvy” parents of the West were bringing them back.

  10. marta
    marta says:

    When I wrote mumps I was intending to write measles. And whooping cough, of which there have been recent outbreaks in certain areas of the US…

  11. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Here’s how self-important people believe they are! they think that you need to hear (to the tune of 10 comments now) how wrong or right you are about vaccines!!!

    And since this is a homeschool blog and we just got done with a huge thread about how to slow down to become a one-income family, it’s your delusion that your opinion is oh so important that gets you kind of stuck in jobs and life situations that do not allow for other things like homeschooling, or more travel and fun, less money worries, just an easier and more interesting life all around.

    When you stop thinking that no one will tell a blogger how right or wrong he/she is about vaccines or some other life choice, and when you stop thinking that your comment is going to be oh so original and that it will change their mind, then you will start thinking in ways that get you around the mentality that you’ve carried all this lifetime that gets you stuck in the situation that you’re in.

    Newsflash everyone! you don’t HAVE to do life the way you’re doing it.

    If you want something more, something different out of it, quit saying you can’t afford it.

    Call it what it is: I have x income and I am choosing to use it in these ways that leave no room for homeschooling or traveling or having more fun. Even if that means putting my kid in school when I realize it’s terrible and when I realize that my kid would be better off at home. But I choose to convince myself otherwise because I don’t want to give up what I currently have.

  12. YesMyKidsAreSociaized
    YesMyKidsAreSociaized says:

    The Atlantic article is about wealthy LA school districts low vaccination rates. Silicon valley is in Northern Ca not LA.

  13. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    Statistical evidence of increase in homeschooling is easy to find, as are numbers showing a decrease in private school enrollment. The latter is based on cost, and the catholic church sex scandal, I think.

    Do you have any statistical evidence of a decrease in public school enrollment? I can’t find anything, either nationally or locally, to support the idea of a “mass exodus”.

    As a new homeschooler, I’m struck by how small the community is in my area. I’m on the yahoo group for every organization in the area, and I’ve been to several of their park days. I’ve been struck by how small the groups are, and how they skew heavily towards kids in the 3-8 age range.

    Meanwhile, the Berkeley Unified School District, close to where I live, is dealing with increases in enrollment and an overcrowding problem.

    Believe me, I’d love to see a mass exodus from public schools because then my kids would have more people to hang out with during the day. But I’m not seeing it.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I think the rate of growth in public school is like 1-3% per year, not an exodus, but statistically flat growth, while homeschool grows 7-15% per year. I don’t have the link handy but I have seen these stats at least a dozen times.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I haven’t signed up to any online groups for HS nor gone to an online organized HS meetup.

      We’ve met many families just being out during the time kids are in school.

      Also, I’d imagine you’d meet more older HS kids the older your kids get (social circles.)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You’re right – there is not a mass exodus yet. But I see it coming.

      What I see now is that the reaction that I most commonly get from people when I say I’m homeschooling is, “Oh, your kids are lucky. I wish I could do that, too.”

      And honestly, all those people can. So I think they will, shortly.


      • Jenny Hatch
        Jenny Hatch says:

        I see the exodus from school brewing too. Here in Utah I am part of several forums for parents on Facebook and I have quietly observed a huge influx of parents just over the past few weeks who are preparing emotionally to pull the children out of school.

        Kudos to you for not vaccinating. I am a vaccine damaged person myself suffering with lifelong allergies and asthma, deadly allergies that have sent me to the ER over and over. I made the decision early on not to vaccinate our five children and no other choice in our marriage has brought more scorn than the decision to keep the babies away from the shots.

        None of my five children suffers from any permanent illness like I do and if I had it to do over again, I would make the same choice.

        My son did develp a scary case of whooping cough during an epidemic when he was 2 in 1996 and I used oregano essential oil to very effectively treat him for a complete recovery.

        The shots give parents a false sense of security that the child will never get the illness if they get vaccinated and most of the time these epidemics are filled with children who have all been fully vaccinated.

        It is a total scam.

        Thanks for your passion for homeschool, it has been really fun to watch this side of your blog develop into something powerful and real.


  14. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I think the homeschool numbers are misleading. How many of us know someone who homeschools using or some local charter school? Well, those kids still count as public school kids instead of homeschoolers for these surveys. But they consider themselves homeschooled, so I wonder what the numbers are with them included?

    • Amy K.
      Amy K. says:

      I agree with you, charters are popular and it’s hard to parse brick/mortar enrollment vs. online enrollment. We’re about to leave for my kids’ weekly Parkour class. The owner of the gym is an enterprising fellow who is a vendor for just about every charter around. But still, the classes are small, 6-8 kids (fantastic size, don’t gt me wrong!). And many of us drive up to 45 minutes to get there.

      I guess what strikes me when I research homeschool statistics is that the numbers are fairly even throughout the country: Roughly 2.5-5 percent everywhere:

      (I just eyeballed these so I may have missed something). A relatively even distribution even accounting for higher religious affiliation, strictness or laxity of HS laws, etc. Some states have no charter option.

      YKMAS, as a fellow California you might find this article interesting, about spread of charters and troubles Catholic schools:

      I’ve also read about charter schools encroaching in to public school buildings in So. Cal. But I haven’t read about any public schools closing because of a mass exodus to homeschooling.

        • marta
          marta says:

          My son and his friends and most 11-16 year olds I know do parkour, all over town (even if they don’t call it parkour… only the older ones do, because they know it is cool). They don’t need any teachers, they just learn by trial and error, by watching others and youtubes… They do it whenever they feel like it.

          And, guess what, they go to school. And, guess what else, they do it in school too (plenty of architectural/topographical oportunities). I know because they’ve described all their antics. No, I wasn’t informed by the school. I guess no one was paying attention… Yes, I know it can be dangerous. But I trust them and so far, just a couple of bruises/sprains…

          I find it funny when homeschoolers go to “skate class” or “parkour class” or whatever… it’s just the kind of stuff any kid, schooled, unschooled, homeschooled, picks up if he/she is allowed to roam freely with friends around the neighbourhood without grown-ups chaperoning every single second of their existence.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:


            I agree with you. My kids do Parkour everywhere as well, including our house (we have the scuff marks to prove it.)

            We’re homeschooling because my older son was bullied in school last year and there was no workable school alternative. There are aspects of it we’re all enjoying enormously. For this year, homeschooling is just right. But I’m NOT one of these homeschooling-is-the-only-way people. I see definite potential downsides: Loneliness, expense and lots of driving are at the top of my list.

            We schlep to the weekly Parkour class because my boys really love it. But beyond that, it 1)gets them out amongst other homeschooled kids (mitigating the loneliness issue a little bit) and 2) They need the exercise. They have plenty of “recesses” when we’re at home learning, but they don’t get as much exercise in our tiny backyard, alone, as they did at school.

            I do let my 10-year-old wander the neighborhood in the afterschool hours, but there’s no point from 8-3 because there is a zero percent chance there will be any other kids to play with.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            I don’t think it’s “funny” that we have classes for everything. But you are right! We do have classes for everything, and if there isn’t a class for it yet parents huddle together to form a new class!

            I stopped doing classes and workshops a few years ago because there was no benefit for my kids. I did hire a well-known artist in my area to teach my kids and be a mentor to them. And we go places, if we are all feeling well, several times a week that last the majority of the day. No crowds since kids are in school.

            My three kids are all close in age (3-8) and are all the same sex and get along more like best friends than sisters.

            They days we are here is completely self-directed with unlimited screen time. They do brain teasers, math, physics, electronics, reading, writing their own stories, art and computer programming completely on their own with little guidance from me. I introduce new things by subtly laying new things about, talk about different topics to pique their interest… etc.

            On the flipside, my kids are NOT athletic. So, yeah, we would definitely need a class for any sort of sport activity because my kids need specific physical instruction for those kinds of activities.


            I really am enamored by parkour, it’s so amazing to me all the tricks you can do!

  15. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I am not seeing a mass exodus. I do see more homeschoolers, co-workers wives doing it mostly, but no mass exodus. I would love to see one real soon, as my county is getting ready to spend over 300 million on a new high school. Seems like a waste of tax-dollars.

    Plus there already has been somewhat of a mass exodus from urban public schools, and it did not change/help/revolutionize anything.

  16. JP
    JP says:

    I am so shocked and disappointed with your comments about vaccination – it casts everything else you advocate into serious doubt. If you can be so wrong about something so clear cut and science based, why should anyone trust you? Not only are you wrong to suggest reduced or eliminated vaccinations are unproblematic, you actually create harm and damage by doing so – to real children, of course, and also to your reputation.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      When deciding on vaccination for my children I read several books on the diseases themselves, vaccines and epidemiology. (This is without the scare techniques about autism, etc.) The information is eye-opening. One can still make a case for either side, but with all the information, it is not as clear cut as one might think.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        The synchronization of women’s menstruation has been proven with the same statistical methods used to dis-prove the link between vaccines and autism.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            it is admittedly a little cryptic. It has been observed (and analyzed with statistical methods used in medical research) that the menstrual cycles of women living together will to some degree synchronize. So this one is indeed a fact. Similar analysis has been applied to see whether autism is really related to vaccinations and despite the fact that both happen/emerge in a similar age bracket no correlation could be found in any well-conducted study. So if you accept the methods used for one study then you also should accept the methods and conclusions in the other study (it does require a decent understanding of the statistics and such).

    • V
      V says:

      JP: I too am sitting here stunned and disappointed regarding PT’s stance on vaccinations. I have always admired PT for following the data, regardless of whether or not the conclusion from the data was controversial. Sadly, this most recent post makes it seems like PT is just a spin doctor and casts serious doubt on all her other “research based” posts.

    • Sacha (@zigged)
      Sacha (@zigged) says:

      This is EXACTLY how I felt when I read this post, as well as those replies to this comment that agree. So sad to see you, Penelope, rejecting proven science with real results that are beneficial to the world. I thought you prided yourself on seeing patterns in society…?

  17. MBL
    MBL says:

    I don’t understand why the vax debate is either/or when it comes to environmental/genetic causes. My understanding is that type 1 diabetes presents when a child who is genetically predisposed to type 1 is exposed to a virus that then activates it. The diagnosis of “Autism” covers an enormous range of characteristics and not just one presentation, so why would there be just one cause? I have read that some people with autism have a compromised ability to process acetaminophen. If a typically developing child has this issue and is then vaccinated and develops a fever, the parent is told to give the child acetaminophen to reduce the fever. Then the child’s body would be further taxed trying to process the acetaminophen on top of the vaccinations. There can be so many combinations of genetic and environmental factors that I don’t see how one could possibly “prove” that there can be no environmental component to the cluster of behaviors that is autism.

    The Atlantic link is based on which is much less sensationalist and is more informative. (What happened to The Atlantic? It has gone seriously downhill!) A major thing that is mentioned, but being glossed over is that they do not know how many students with PBEs (waivors) are unvaxed, selectively vaxed, or fully vaxed but on a different timetable. Also, the stats for percentage of unvaxed children that contracted measles doesn’t state what percentage of those were under 12-18 months, thus indicating nothing about whether or not the parents were fully vaxing or not.

    My understanding is that the only reason that kids receive so many rounds of the same vaccinations is that 5 (in most cases) is that number that statistically works for herd immunity. Compliance and costwise, it is far easier to state that everyone needs to follow the schedule than to do actual titres which is the only way to know if antibodies have been produced. I understand “for the greater good” but I don’t see parents of un-adversely affected kids lining up to provide respite care for those who were.

    My daughter received vaccines (not hep) at 2 months and 4 months because I was too tired to either fight with the pediatrician or research enough to feel comfortable enough to decline. After we switched practices and I started following the CDC page and decided to allow another Hib when meningitis was on the rise in our area. Verbally and in writing I only authorized that, but the nurse attempted to do the full schedule. Had I not been vigilant, there would have been no recourse. I noted the lot number of the Hib and periodically tracked it. It was later recalled. Awesome!

    My in-laws have a farm so I wanted to also get just a tetanus shot but I think in children under 7 you can only get a DT without the P. The pediatrician stated that it would have to be specially ordered and acted like my having to make an extra trip to her office would be enough to make me reconsider. In a non-confrontational manner she asked why I didn’t want her to have the DTaP. I told her that I had had a nasty reaction to Dtap and she let it drop.

    In my experience, parents who selectively (or don’t at all) vax spend a LOT of time before making their decisions and don’t make them willy-nilly based on sensationalist headlines. Last spring my daughter had a cough for over 10 days. There was a pertussis outbreak at the time. Her cough sounded nothing like whooping cough (I listened to tons of audio files) and the only symptom that matched was 10 days or more. Because I take my decision to opt out of the schedule so seriously and know just how devastating pertussis can be to young children and elderly people, I erred on the side of caution and took her to the doctor. He immediately concluded the same thing that I had–that the cough had become kind of an affect rather than any indication of a lingering illness–but tested anyway (it was negative.) He said that anyone, even if fully vaccinated, should be tested if a cough goes on longer than 10 days.

    But again, I hate the whole either/or thing. Our bodies are far, far too complex to try to pinpoint or rule out many things.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      People are very irrational about believing they are making science based rational decisions.

      If you don’t do as they say then they will believe that you just read People Magazine to make such a strong decision like not vaccinating your kids.

      You will never convince anyone who has decided to deny your intellect when you dissent with their opinion on this kind of thing.

      It’s best to just let it roll off your back.

      Personally, I think, I just don’t want to engage my precious time in conversation with people who believe what others say without doing the research themselves. They say that doctors and scientists have proven certain medicines, vaccines, treatments, etc. work or don’t work. But they have never done the research themselves. They are just rehashing what they’ve been indoctrinated about. They cite “doctors” in general when a quick look to history reminds us that doctors were totally okay with women smoking during pregnancy so they would have smaller children, it was doctors who would advocate all kinds of outrageous things.

      I don’t even care to listen or engage with anyone who is an extremist on either side of the spectrum. I don’t think they are making unbiased and rational decisions. So it gets pretty boring.

    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      Exactly. You may be genetically predisposed but controlling the environment can do wonders for what does genetically come out and what does not. It has been scientifically proven in regards to gene recession and environmental factors

      just 10 years ago they didn’t think brains could heal…….. so I take autism research with a grain of salt.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I remember (cringe) arguing with my mom about how it wasn’t wrong for my friend to be gay and be a christian.

        She defaulted to the normal “what does the bible say!?” that she normally does when she gets frustrated that her word is not being taken with weight. She has to use god to back her up.

        I was furious.

        Especially because I had researched the issue to death. But I digress.

        I feel like many people use the word “science” and “Science says so…” or “it has/hasn’t been scientifically proven” the way my mom uses god and the bible to back up what she wants to believe is true/untrue without looking behind the curtain either because of laziness, fear, or lack of skills to understand well.

        I think science is beautiful. The common public takes science as this hard fact that is blind and perfect. But in real life, science is messy. A lot of “we don’t know” is at the table and a lot of gray area and a lot of bias is in it.

        So even with “science” i take everything with a grain of salt.

        Like Penelope said, sometimes you know it’s true even though the science is different.

        I wouldn’t venture out to say that the science says different. I’d say the interpretation that has trickled down and presented to the public says different. Science may be a lot more frustrating than we care to admit because it doesn’t give ultimate answers.

        People used to look to the gods and spirits for ultimate answers. When we moved away from that we shackled science with the responsibility to remove ambiguity from our lives. And people get very pissy when that is not afforded to them.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          The rub is that you would have been on very good grounds countering your mother’s argument on the basis of Scripture.

          The real sin of Sodom, made explicit in Ezekiel 16:49-50, was lack of charity.

          The only clear statement that homosexuality is an abomination appears in Leviticus – along with the kosher dietary law, sequestration of menstruating women, prohibition of mixed fiber clothing, etc. – which Christians understand to have been superseded by the appearance of Jesus.

          Jesus himself never condemned homosexuality or homosexuals. He healed them and forgave them (Matthew 19:12) like he did everybody else.

          Next time somebody argues to you that the Bible condemns homosexuality, ask them to show you where. Perhaps they will learn they’ve been misled.

  18. Teryn
    Teryn says:

    Penelope, this is not a quote directly related to this post but something I am curious as to how you would answer. What do you say to parents who have children who have both gone to school and been home schooled and they have a child who wants to go back to school? Would you ignore your child’s wishes and home school anyway because you believe it’s better for them or would you let them go back to school and hope that they figure it out themselves?

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      P’s younger son wants (‘Ed?’) to go back to school.

      She does not let him.

      I follow mrs money mustache and their schooling situation. They pulled their son out last year to HS, and as far as I can tell he is now back in school this year. They haven’t updated (and perhaps she is reading this?) but i think they put him back in because they like having close ties to their local community. (This is just a guess)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have a kid like that. My youngest son. But the reason he wants to go back to school is for lunch and recess and because he is always the most popular kid in the room, whatever room he’s in, so he likes a big room.

      I told him forget it. I think it’s like a kid buying a dog. Sometimes kids think they want a dog but the parents can see that obviously the kid will not take care of the dog or train the dog, so the kid cannot have a dog. Sometimes parents have to make the decisions.

      This is not consistent with my other ideas about homeschooling. I know.

      But, hey, my reliance on bad science for abstaining from vaccines is not consistent with my insistence on following the research.

      So I think I am consistent only in that I am inconsistent :)


  19. Anna M
    Anna M says:

    I also don’t understand how there isn’t room for any nuanced view in the vac/don’t vac debate. I didn’t understand the need for the chicken pox vaccine, especially since it doesn’t seem to last forever, chicken pox isn’t that dangerous… The pedetrician told me that as a society we save a lot of money by parents not having to take off work to care for their sick child for a week. Pro vaccine people always bring up polio and small pox, but never bring up the more questionable vaccines- like the hpv vaccine- any questioning puts you into this nut job camp, when it seems that there are real concerns.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      Actually chicken pox can lead to severe neurological complications and hpv is clearly linked to highly increased likelihood of cancerous mutations. Tetanus vaccines prevent many deaths each year – the reason not many people realize how horrible tetanus can be is due to the fact that a tetanus shot is standard for open cuts and injuries. And since tetanus is not transmitted by people contact the crowded school argument does not apply.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        My oldest kid got chicken pox before the vax schedule. It was so heartbreaking for me to have to take care of her skin to ensure that she didn’t pick at the scabs. She does have a few scars on her chest from it. But she is perfectly fine now and has built in immunity. I got my younger kids the vax for chicken pox after that experience.

        I just don’t understand the extremism on both sides. I chose to do a different vax schedule with my kids and we never do flu shots. My husband came with me to the pediatrician and showed him the math proving to the doctor that the flu shot actually gave my husband the flu. The pediatrician smiled and said he’s not used to talking to smart people like him and agreed with my husband based on the math that the flu shot was responsible for my husbands flu, we never get them now.

        Our government says gmos and food coloring are safe, but I disagree. Based on my own lengthy research. Scientists have been paid to give testimony on Capitol hill proving that leaded gasoline was not harmful. We knew better than that and eventually leaded gasoline was done away with. The pharma industry pays scientists the same way. Don’t just trust the information, do your research and make informed decisions.

        I’m not shocked at all that P doesn’t vaccinate. She has way more shocking posts, like the one with her naked bruised bottom!!

        Besides, she wasn’t trying to convince anyone about vax stuff, she was making the point that schools indoctrinate students to get to their parents. There are probably less controversial examples. And I certainly would never call someone stupid over this.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          it is also a lot easier to test and study some connections (like vaccinations and their impact on disease appearance) then others. Diet related studies are in general a lot more difficult since parameters are not well controlled, and usually also not controllable for a large enough sample. Biology and medicine is also incredibly complex and thus there are mistakes. Some only become apparent after a relatively long time with a large enough sample population. On the other hand, the leaded gas was not uniformly endorsed by scientists in general but hey, scientists are only human, and if someone is paid for a study by industry the tendency is not bite of the hand which feeds you. This is also an endorsement to have also significant research funding supported by government with less interest in a specific outcome.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            I prefer the European model. They have all independent food testing so that companies can’t be in bed with the government when it comes to food safety. Have you ever wondered why European butter and american butter look and taste so different?

            I agree, scientists are human and humans make mistakes! Hence, do your own research! Research doesn’t mean reading the loudest opinion out there, it means reading the studies that have been released or summaries of them.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Don’t get me wrong here, I am pro-science! I’m sure I have demonstrated that in previous posts, but I’m also very much a freethinker, I don’t accept the “facts” just because someone says so, I research, sometimes obsessively, until I either prove the facts or find something different. It’s part of my own scientific process, so to speak.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          YMKAS, there’s a big difference between choosing not to do flu shots or seeking exposure to a minor illness like chicken pox rather than a vaccine, versus refusing to have your children vaccinated at all for previously common childhood diseases that kill or maim.

          There’s a scale of seriousness among diseases for which children may be vaccinated. One step up from chicken pox, you find measles (now on the comeback thanks to the anti-vaxxers). It’s untreatable, 90% contagious, and causes death in only about 2 out of 1000 sufferers with the best medical treatment and no immune compromise (i.e. here, now; previously here, and in the developing world now, mortality about 20%).

          Side effects short of death can include pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness, retardation, paralysis, and deafness.

          If you had a hard time with seeing chicken pox on your kids, you’d probably still be having nightmares if they’d gotten measles.

          Parents here may make the judgment call that their child is most likely to survive measles without permanent ill effect. It’s true that the odds are good. It’s not my call, or yours. And the increasing frequency of this call is reintroducing measles into the population of developed countries, with the predictable result of the death of children and immuno-compromised adults. The other previously ubiquitous childhood diseases – rubella, mumps – fall into this low-mortality category. Two generations ago, virtually all kids got them, with relatively few fatalities.

          Pertussis has only about 0.5% mortality. Is that an acceptable individual risk? Maybe it is, and people who made that choice have returned pertussis to endemic status in California. The choice not to vaccinate one’s kids for pertussis is more likely to harm someone else.

          So what about polio, then? Anybody my age or older probably knew somebody with a gimp leg from polio, because about 1% of suffers end up with paralysis. It is currently experiencing a comeback in the third world. Is it rational to take that risk with one’s kids?

          The problem is that the list goes on. Diphtheria? 20% mortality. Smallpox? 30% mortality. Tetanus?…

          Each individual risk might be contemplated, but add them all together and it’s quite simply an uncaring and stupid choice to foist a global opposition to vaccines upon one’s children.

          I’m pretty free-range with my kids, but I don’t let them play in traffic.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            I’m not sure why I’m the one getting the lecture, since I vax, but are you seriously saying that there are zero circumstances where not getting your child a vaccine is justified?

            This is what I mean by extremism. On both sides, it’s either all or nothing, no exceptions. I don’t work that way. Sorry.

            Maybe the best fix is to stop letting pharma and government be the ones giving the information, and instead have a designated independent firm who can be the ones to dispel the fears. Because that’s all this is, fear. An independent party of scientists that aren’t on any pharma or government payroll would more easily be trusted by some of these parents.

            Also, it can work the other way by manufacturing a crisis to increase flu vaccines so these companies don’t lose money they spent creating the vaccines. Every winter it’s a national emergency to get a flu vaccine and every winter the rates of sickness and death are insignificant. In France people developed narcolepsy from the h1n1 vaccine. That’s not made up.

            I have the ability to read information on all sides with an open mind. I still ended up in the vax camp, although on a different schedule. I don’t come to the same conclusion you do, that people are stupid. Fear is stupid, and people are afraid. Just look at what happened to that group who was trying to help a village in Africa be informed on Ebola! They were stoned to death just for showing up! People let fear control them, they don’t understand all the information.

            I don’t think being critical is helpful. I think my independent party solution could help.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            YMKAS, I’m sorry you feel like you’re “getting a lecture.” I chose to respond to you because you are rational and usually have something intelligent to say. You’re also typically a good reader. You brought up good points, and what I felt like saying was relevant to your points. It’s clear now that you’re upset about an imagined perspective you impute to me, but it’s unclear whether you disagree with what I said.

            I am seriously saying what I said above – that withholding all vaccinations from one’s child is stupid, selfish, and abusive.

            Working downwards from that height of stupidity, there are many more (e.g. baby is sick; vaccine is ineffective) or less (e.g. I’m feard it will give him th Autism) legitimate reasons for delaying or refusing individual vaccinations for less-fatal diseases. The choices you detail, as well as many of those detailed by some other parents in the comments, are in that range. I don’t get the flu shot either.

            But if a kid cuts himself on a rusty nail and his parents refuse to allow him a tetanus vaccine shot, they’re lousy parents and that’s all there is to it.

            I think your ideal of an independent party to provide balanced information on medical decisions is wonderful. I also doubt it’s possible in this country, where so much money rides on medicine and so many people get caught up in conspiracy theories and woo-woo. This country is not improving in that regard.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            My posts are “usually intelligent”… hey now!?! Play nice! :) They are always intelligent…. after coffee.

            See this last post you wrote to me, it’s really the best of all your posts on this thread. The difference between criticizing a parent for having fear in basing their decision to not vax vs explaining why fears are irrational and even detrimental are huge and make a big difference in convincing someone to consider another perspective.

            And, sadly, I have to agree that we could never have a third party system, at least in my life-time. Too much politics, and big money keeping that from ever happening. I really think we do need one though, for medical reviews and recommendations as well as food safety, just like Europe does.

  20. Gina
    Gina says:

    I don’t get it. You’re obsessed with research but ignore all of the vaccine research? Honestly, it makes me question all your other research based posts.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      What’s that?

      I read it as her views on her life. I think it’s interesting how she makes decisions for herself and kids. I think she tries her best to do right by her kids.

      And, I would read your blog if you had one. Are you leaning towards HSing? It seems to be something you’d be willing and excited to do based on your recent comments.

  21. MBL
    MBL says:

    I wonder what percentage of people who know there is autism in the family vax completely by the book.

    Does anyone know if they ever alter the schedule or dose to account for size? If they don’t, I can’t see how it is a good idea to inject the same amount into a 4 or 5 pound premie as a 10 pounder. Also, wouldn’t the decreased development/gestation period of a premie be of significant concern? I really hope that these things are taken into account.

  22. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I didn’t realize that vaccine thing would be controversial, but I’m going to take a risk and write a bit about it.

    First of all, my brother is a chemist and he worked in a lab at Columbia University that generated a high-profile controversial piece of research about the link between autism and vaccines. The data was bad, probably made up, and my brother is adamant that there is no research to support the link between vaccines and autism.

    Okay. Fine. I assume this is true. My brother is smart and was in the eye of the storm over this sort of research.

    But I also know that parents have non-scientific hunches that autism set in right after vaccines. I have no data. Just tons of reports of hunches.

    We know that autism doesn’t come from one single thing but a mix of things.

    So here’s what I had when I was deciding to vaccinate:

    I had a two -month old baby who had a brother, mother, father, both maternal grandparents and both paternal grandparents all with Aspergers.

    The pediatrician told us our son had more than 80% chance of having Aspergers.

    At that point, I don’t want to take any chances. Yes, forgoing vaccines is bad for the community. I get it. But I think it’s fine if all the kids who are at insanely high risk of having autism forgo vaccines. It won’t be a huge number of kids. And until we know what the magic formula is for making a kid autistic, we can understand if parents take irrational precautions.

    I think many of you in my position would have done the same thing.


    • MBL
      MBL says:

      I feel certain that if I had known enough about Aspergers to see it in my husband’s family, I would have found the wherewithal to tell the pediatricians to back off for the 2nd and 4th month visits.

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        I have a sincere question for those who think not vaccinating their children is unconscionable.

        What would you do if you saw your child “fade before your eyes” immediately following a vaccination?

        The first time I heard about a possible vax/autism connection was after visiting some good friends of my husband. This was before I got pregnant. They had fraternal twin boys in the mid 90’s, just after they increased the number of vaccinations and they contained more antigens than do current vaccinations. They were both developing typically and speaking. Immediately after receiving their vaccination at 15-18 months (I’m not sure which) they “lost” one of them. He regressed and has full blown autism that requires a great deal of supervision. I don’t know about their family history regarding autism, just that my husband’s friend and his sister are in IT.

        After their experience they chose not to allow the twins nor any of their later 3 children to receive any vaccinations. None of the other 4 children show any signs at all of autism.

        Would you consider this couple to be irresponsible? Knowing that they would forgo ALL vaccinations, should they not have had more children? None of the 3 youngest were “accidents.”

        I am not trying to stir things up. I sincerely wish to know what people in the few/no exceptions camp would do. Would seeing this happen to friend’s child give you pause before following the recommended schedule without fail?

        • MBL
          MBL says:

          Whoops. This was not meant to be posted under Commenter, but, of course, I am interested in his thoughts on this.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Knowing that the number of people who drown each year from falling into a swimming pool correlates closely with the number of films Nicolas Cage appears in (see tylervigen) wouldn’t make me want to cut up his union card to save the drowning.

          Children may appear to develop autism around the time they get vaccines because whereas the typical clinical onset of autism (first incidence of symptoms) is between 6 and 12 months, the average age of diagnosis is 3.1 years. The time between 12 months and 3 years is when most childhood vaccines are given, as well as when people start to notice there’s ‘something wrong’ with their kid.

          It would be equally absurd to imagine that toilet training causes autism. “That first day I told him to pee on a Cheerio, his eyes glazed over.” But that’s the way we rewrite our histories. Because most people have heard the vax-autism connection canard before, that’s the first simple explanation that comes to mind. Recollections of the kid acting weird before the vaccination are suppressed; in parents’ minds, it all starts at one specific time, because that is how we provide an explanation. Recently, home video has served to falsify such explanations, as kids who are diagnosed with ASD at three display distinct and measurable symptoms at one.

          We humans are pattern-making machines. We see patterns even when they aren’t there. We see faces in the moon, imagine conspiracies, draw conclusions of causation from mere correlation, and rampantly exercise confirmation bias. We have great difficulty understanding the lack of a specific reason for something, or things that happen on a probabilistic basis. That is why we gamble, although it’s blatantly irrational. That is why we prefer a bad explanation to no explanation at all.

          Yes, I would consider this couple to be irresponsible. They are gambling with the health and lives of their children based on superstitious explanations of past events. I’m sad to hear about it; if I knew them, I might try to help them educate themselves, but they’re probably too traumatized and committed to an explanation that gives them the magical power to prevent autism in their other children to want to listen. I hope their kids stay away from rusty nails and don’t travel outside the country.

          • MBL
            MBL says:

            Fascinating! Thanks for taking the time to respond.

            I appreciate how different we humans can be. It would never occur to me to equate full blown regressive autism with temporary confusion over toilet training. ;)

            I love, love, love logic puzzles and games, but can’t see discounting intuition and observations that have not yet been scientifically proven. I also simply can’t understand why the idea of a tipping point is not considered a viable trigger for autism or the increasing pronouncement of symptoms.

            The body can only process so much at a time. What if someone is mildly allergic to three things, but able to handle them individually and only shows symptoms when the three allergens are encountered in conjunction with one another? Had they not encountered that third allergen in the presence of the other two, they would have gone their entire lives without suffering from the symptoms of combination of the three. As I have stated in other posts, why is this an either/or thing. No one is saying that vaccinations cause autism in all people. But why is it inconceivable that they can contribute to the manifestation of it in some people predisposed to it? That there can be a tipping point in some genetic make-ups, to me, seems extremely rational.

            From the vaccination schedule, it looks like there are up to 25 given in the birth to 6 month range out of 35 total recommended by 36 months. Up to 32 of those can be given within the first year.

            Again, thanks for sharing your views.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            I am also fascinated by other people’s decisions. I see our host chose not to vaccinate her first child, for fear he would develop autism as a result. He then went on to develop autism (which it’s not a leap to conclude she would definitely have blamed on the vaccine, given her predisposition), and she then didn’t vaccinate her second child. That’s like going double for nothing. Perhaps she feels that withholding vaccines from her second child finally worked its magic.

            mbl, there’s the same amount of evidence that potty-training causes autism as there is that vaccination causes autism: none. Yet you think it’s preposterous in the first case and plausible in the second.

            Such a link has, far from ever being proven, been disproven both scientifically and individually, and only retains a hold on popular imagination because of the effectiveness of a colossal fraud perpetrated by Andrew Wakefield, then in the pay of lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers.

            “According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism.”

            It’s always a shame when otherwise intelligent people are affected by fraud, hysteria, and mass panics, especially when their consequent choices harm people.

          • MBL
            MBL says:

            I see PT as a woman in an untenable situation doing the best she could given the fact that vaccination couldn’t later be “undone” and that she didn’t have the luxury of waiting for science to catch up with what may well be a very real concern.

            I’m not going into the Wakefield thing–I mean, a researcher with a financial conflict of interest….(yes, I know there are other allegations.)
            However, the family to whom I was referring made their observations prior to Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet paper.

            Regardless, I simply do not think that it is outlandish to suspect that there can be a synergistic effect when it comes to genetic and environmental variables that may contribute to autism spectrum disorders.

  23. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    When our younger son was a baby he had terrible allergies. He barely ate anything besides breastmilk until after his first birthday because of hives and eczema.

    I remember taking him in for his 9-month appointment. His cheeks were beet red and scaly, he’d thrown up some basic homemade baby food (carrots?) earlier that day. I was nursing and was on a very limited diet. I told the pediatrician that we were going to skip the shots that day because I’d read that it’s a good idea to do so if the child is sick. So, I do sympathize with the idea of operating on hunches that might not concur with “the data”. Sure, he wasn’t sick with a fever, but he clearly wasn’t well, and I wasn’t going to allow any shots that day.

    The pediatrician was supportive and thus began our journey of vaccinating on a delayed and spaced basis. I signed a Personal Belief Exemption when enrolling him for kindergarten because we weren’t 100 percent caught up at that time [he is now, at 8]. It’s incredibly easy and I never felt any sense of pro-vaccine indoctrination while my kids were in school.

  24. callmecrazy
    callmecrazy says:

    Just wondering if anyone has researched exposure to newly-vaccinated people (are they contagious)?

    Are people trusting of the government pertaining to is in the vaccinations? Are people questioning if there is human experimentation going on? (Reference SV40 in polio vaccine in the years 1955-1963.)

    I was pumped with vaccinations when in the US military (pre-athrax). I wouldn’t be surprised if I was part of some science experiment.

    I don’t argue with people about vaccinations. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Do to your own kids as you will…

  25. scientistmom
    scientistmom says:

    As background, let me say that I am a PhD biochemist, as well as a mom. One of my PhD classmates — who is now a biochemistry professor — has a daughter who is severely autistic. We have both looked very closely at the research.

    There is still a lot we don’t know about autism, but the one thing the science is absolutely crystal clear on is that there is no measurable link between vaccines and autism. Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet paper that started this whole craze has been retracted as fraudulent and it has been shown that it was written in cahoots with a lawyer who made his money suing the vaccine industry.

    What is becoming increasing clear in the research is that the beginnings of autism are clearly present in the brains of affected children while they are still in utero, and most likely it is a combination of genetic susceptibility and some sort of toxic environmental exposure during gestation that produces autism. (For example, one study found an increase in autism in Europe in the homes of people who had vinyl flooring in their bedrooms while pregnant with the child.)

    As for regression, brilliant studies that studied video tape of children who had “suddenly” regressed in their verbal abilities clearly found that those children had had recognizable developmental deficits long before the regression. The defect just became more pronounced as the brain hit a developmental milestone.

    Finally, maybe I just don’t read the right sources but I’m entirely unaware of any evidence that vaccinating an otherwise normal 8 or 10 or 12-year-old has ever suddenly caused their mental function to regress in any noticeable way. So while I can understand caution about vaccinating the very young, I don’t understand why you would hesitate to vaccinate a school-aged child.

    If you weigh no evidence of harm to vaccinating an older child weighed against the very real cases of children growing up and, for example, getting pertussis while pregnant and then losing the baby as a result, I don’t know how you can reasonably come down on the side of not vaccinating.

    I’m as paranoid about the government and industry as the next guy — maybe more so. But if you want to know what you should be worried about, vaccines should be way down the list. What you should be worried about is the BPA in your food and environment, the phthalates in you soaps, cosmetics and scented household products, the fire retardants in you furniture and the untested, undisclosed additives in your processed food. When we find the cause for autism it will most likely be one of these environmental issues or something similar. All the current scientific evidence is pointing in that direction.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


      This post was brilliant. It was the right mixture of thoughtfulness, genuine care to address the heart of people’s fears, and a very rational, logical yet heartfelt response to help sum this all up.

      I’m certain that we will get better information regarding autism in the years to come. There were studies conducted on mice with autism that had favorable results in reversing it, unfortunately it was only temporary and there were some side effects. I’m hopeful that as our medical knowledge expands we will find a way to treat autism.

      Hope to see more posts from you in the future.

  26. Amy Axelson
    Amy Axelson says:

    It seems like the main parental concern regarding vaccinations being ‘attacked’ in this post’s comments is the concern of autism. I think there is more than just autism to be concerned about when having mysterious concoctions **injected into** our children.

    Raise your hand if you created children in order to fulfill a social obligation and to pass the youngsters on to government or whomever to experiment with as they please.

    Just like with homeschooling, those who choose to not vaccinate aren’t doing it for shits-and-giggles. They are being intentional and they are taking full responsibility for their choices–I take full responsibility for my children’s education. Though, it’d be much easier to pass the buck to someone else; and if my kids were screwed over at whatever level, I could say, “The school system did it, not me.”

    That said, I find it absolutely fascinating that this post is about this:

    “…the kids are in school to promote someone else’s agenda, regardless of what the parents want.”

    Yet, most of the comments are about vaccinations and ridiculing parents who choose not to vaccinate.

    What a perfect example of use of a ‘red herring’ to divert the attention away from the real issue.

    The real issue is the rights of parents being taken away and the attempt to brainwash our children to turn away from us parents. That’s beyond disturbing and people ought to take this very seriously.

  27. Jenny Hatch
    Jenny Hatch says:

    I just finished reading all of the comments after posting a reply above.

    Have none of you pro vaccine commenters heard about the #CDCWhistleblower these past few weeks?

    Oh, right, no one in the press has mentioned him, and just a few alternative sites have bothered to cover the story. Please, take a few minutes to read about William Thompson. It saddens me to read so many articulate comments from so many people spewing bogus data bought and paid for by Pharmaceutical companies.


  28. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I didn’t expect to run into the vaccine debate tonight when I decided to catch up on Penelope’s education blogs. The topic of vaccination and the way the mainstream media has covered it most recently fascinates me. A few weeks ago, I decided to look for Andrew Wakefield’s side of the story. Although more recent information exists, I thought the interview was very interesting:

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