How can we homeschool if my son puts no effort into school?

Kids put no effort into school because at school the teachers tell kids what to think about, which forces kids to stop being creative and curious and just focus on passing tests. As this opinion becomes more and more mainstream, more and more kids will stop wanting to try hard at school.

When it comes to cartoons, Rick and Morty is the show to watch. Critics love the show, and its ratings are incredible. I bring it up here because one plot line of the show is that the grandpa, Rick, takes his grandson, Morty, out of school all the time because, as Rick explains to Morty’s dad:

I don’t want to overstep my bounds or anything… but I’ll tell you how I feel about school, Jerry. It’s a waste of time. Buncha people running around, bumping into each other. Guy up front says, ‘two plus two.’ The people in the back say, ‘four.’ Then the—then the bell rings, and they give you a carton of milk and a piece of paper that says you can go take a dump or something. I mean, it’s not a place for smart people, Jerry.

This is all to say that kids who are not paying attention at school may be paying attention to the bubbling sentiment that school is not the best use of a kid’s time.

We also know that if you take an unmotivated kid out of school, they’ll become motivated to do something they want to do.But at first, your kid is traumatized from school and they’ll probably need time to decompress.  What that’ll look like is different for each kid, but undoubtedly, it will drive parents crazy.

After the decompression time — maybe 3 months, maybe 5 months — your kid will find something to do. After all, he’s not going to stare at the wall. Whatever your kid does, he’ll start getting good at it, because we get good at stuff we spend a lot of time on.

Eventually, he’ll decide he wants a high school degree. So he’ll spend five months studying for the GED. Because it does not take four years of studying to get a GED. If your kid wants more than a high school degree then he’ll do more work. Maybe he’ll spend an extra year getting his act together before he goes to college. Look, Malia Obama took an extra year, so if it’s okay for her, it’s okay for your kid.

The most important thing is telling your kid that you trust him to find what he is interested in doing. Support him in whatever he wants to learn, and it’ll be as good or better than what he’d learn in school. And there is probably intrinsic value in a kid simply realizing their time is better spent away from school.

As Rick says: “School is stupid. It’s not how you learn things. Morty‘s a gifted child. He has a special mind. That’s why he’s my little helper. He’s like me. He’s gonna be doing great science stuff later in his life. He’s too smart for school.”

13 replies
  1. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I agree with this post in general terms, but of course it takes recourse to PT’s perennial schtick, hyperbole, which annoys me like a picture askew. All kids who attend school do learn some things there; some kids who attend school learn a lot there.

    I like to talk about school not in such black and white terms at PT, but rather in terms of different versions of efficiency. Any time you are being efficient, you are throwing something out that you deem less important, in service to the goals you deem most important.

    In school, the efficiency is institutional. Getting X number of children the same age together facing one direction and having a series of teachers back up and deliver their freight of knowledge is much more efficient, from an administrative viewpoint, than a roll-your-own educational experience for each child.

    Conversely, from the perspective of a child’s own learning, always engaging with those things that truly interest a child, and always addressing them at the level that best fits their zone of proximal development, is the most efficient way to learn. Learning can be so much more rapid, and more permanent, under these conditions.

    Homeschooling can be a great remedy for schooled kids who have become dispirited, bored, and detached. Conversely, I believe school can be great for homeschooled kids who want a different challenge. There is some degree of continuity between the skills addressed in school and those skills necessary for college and professional work, so it’s worth considering that experience may be valuable for kids who intend to go on to such. A GED may not be the best entry credential for some careers, or some universities.

    I have been talking with a fellow conservatory parent who decided the best fit for his family was to alternate years: one year school, one year homeschooling. The father is an engineer, and believes (in my view, rightly) that our school system fails most desperately in the subjects of science and math. It sounds like it’s going well for them, though I know my district would not be so easy to work with.

    My son is doing very well, at this point, with his return to school after six years of homeschooling. He is racking up achievements and awards, and developing a large group of friends. Many of the subjects (hello again, math and science) are taught at too basic a level to be truly engaging for him. But others have really caught his attention in a way they wouldn’t have if he were still homeschooling with me. I feel certain, at this point, that not only was his choice to go back to school last fall the right one, but that he is happy with it and it is a productive use of his time.

    I like this post… well, first of all because it’s the second post in three days, which gives me hope that this blog will become active again after its recent convalescence… but also because it points at something both important and counterintuitive: the very best reason to homeschool a child may be his failure to thrive in school. Homeschooling is not just good for kids whose academic ambitions are apparent and outstrip the means of the school; it may be even better for kids who would otherwise drag themselves through the gantlet of grades with ever less spirit.

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I appreciate the title question of how one can homeschool their child if the child puts no effort in school.

    Simply, expectations and results are different while one is homeschooling vs sending their child to school. A parent shouldn’t view their child’s lack of effort in school as precedent for how they would do with homeschooling. With homeschooling one has a highly individualized and possibly entirely self-directed education. School is its own system, as Bostonian points out, based on pedagogies and efficiencies within a very tight framework. Homeschooling is freedom from those limitations.

  3. CAL
    CAL says:

    I’m also very happy to see the blog postings appear again. I’ve really missed it. Especially as we approach a real launch date to our homeschooling adventure. They are always thought provoking reads and the comments super-valuable.

    I hope more veteran homeschoolers post a comment to this. The title brings up a real worry that I have about when we begin homeschooling next year. It takes a great deal of faith to believe that my kid will be motivated enough to follow an interest long enough to learn meaningfully from it. I remember myself as a kid — and as an adult — with idea after idea after idea, and never enough follow-through to complete them (or sometimes even start them). That is probably my INTP-ness. I’m attracted to the camp creek/project-based homeschooling espoused by Lori Pickert but I haven’t seen myself “finish” too many of my own projects, and that’s such a foundational piece of the approach — being a creator, not a consumer — to that approach and probably most of the other interest-led homeschool approaches.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Your comment sent me down a rabbit hole exploring that lady’s website (-:
      I am a really different homeshooler than advocated here. I use workbooks. Christian workbooks. But this is my favorite homeschooling blog by far.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a great comment, CAL. Because you’re hoping that your son is not like you, right? You’re hoping your son sticks with things longer? But there is no rule in life that says that’s the best way to learn. Or the best way to live.

      I think so much of what makes parents think their kids are failing at the beginning of homeschooling is because the kids are just being themselves. Usually kids don’t get to show their true colors til after college (which is why parents get so anxious watching their kids navigate post-college life).

      Very few kids are going to grow up and be focused and driven and earn a lot of money. So let’s just stop telling kids that’s the best way to be. And very few adults will obsessively turn their energy to their passion and make a difference in the world, so accept more human and realistic results from your kids.

      Most adults are interested in lots of things, most adults don’t want to take big risks to get big rewards. And most homeschoolers make choices that mimic the types of choices adults will make.


    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hi CAL! Congrats on your soon to be homeschooling adventure. I look forward to more comments from you!

      My advice is to keep expectations low, and be prepared so switch things out several times before you find what works best for your family. Having a prepared environment will be ideal to project-based learning. Maybe a more Reggio Emilia type philosophy would be beneficial and complement what you are hoping to achieve.

      My kids’ interests have gone from just surface level to intense. Knowing when to invest in something will depend on your child’s temperament and interests. Good luck to you.

  4. jessica
    jessica says:

    P, since your son is an INTJ, do you anticipate he may end up working with your business in the future?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have tried but he’s not interested. He sees science as doing something big and complex and he sees entrepreneurship as a sort of banal substitute for science.


      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Interesting, thanks for the response.
        I started my career working for my father in finance, my sister’s best friend works for her mother who owns a 150 person engineering firm, and a few friend’s doing the same in different industries with the goal of taking over down the line. It seems logical and financially beneficial to me that he works alongside you considering your personalities, but I can see that being completely uninteresting to a 14 year old!

  5. ruo
    ruo says:

    sometimes the education blog is so much more fun to read than the careers blog
    maybe because i’ve come to terms i dont want to care about my career that much anymore

  6. Dav
    Dav says:

    There are many studies about multiple talent and individualism, that there are kids who are good in memorizing with their brain, and there are kids who can memorized things that they need to do by practicing the action repeatedly like an athlete. There good in music and arts too, but does not like Math. There are good activities in school that they can show that their good at it. Kids will put their heart, effort and focus if it is within their interest, all you need to do is find it, and use it as an avenue or the reason why they need to go to school.

    please try also this book

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