How I talk to friends about why I homeschool

When my friends ask about homeschooling I say, “All the data and research says that kids don’t need to be in school. I realized that it would be totally irresponsible and self-serving of me to not take my kids out of school.”

I say this and that’s probably why I have so few friends.

Pretty much all my friends came to Swarthmore for Passover. One was Lisa Nielsen. She’s the person I called every time I thought homeschooling wouldn’t work and I should send my kids back to school.

Lisa is one of the most effective advocates for self-directed learning in the world because she is so influential in the New York City public schools. She trains teachers. She decides if kids can use phones or publishing platforms like Verst. And she has created tons of resources for kids to opt out of school. It’s remarkable, actually, to have someone like Lisa so entrenched in public schools and also so open to new ideas that directly compete with the assumptions in her established career.

I was excited for her to tell everyone they should be homeschooling too. I’m tired of people not thinking I’m right.

When she arrived, she brought me a gift from her boss: toffee matzoh. Lisa said, “My boss loves your blog.”

Really? I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy I wanted to save some toffee bits to frame.

Lisa’s a handful to manage. For Lisa to get things done she has to not offend people and she has to stay out of the news. She needs to instigate change but not be seen as a trouble maker. Her boss is the person who provides guidance, advice, and cover for Lisa in order for her to do her best work.

Each person who instigates huge change has someone working right alongside them clearing paths. And each person who is leading change has early followers who make the leader a leader and not just a crazy person screaming in the streets.

When you are a parent choosing to homeschool, whether you like it or not, you’re a revolutionary. But revolutionaries come in many forms. You don’t have to rant in blog posts like I do. You don’t have to create political nightmares like Lisa does. But you need to know what your part is in the movement you’re part of.

Being able to answer that question for yourself goes a long way toward answering questions when your friends ask you about homeschooling.

34 replies
    • Litsa Grace
      Litsa Grace says:

      No. She meant “kids don’t need to be in school”. As in – school is not the only way children learn.

  1. terese hilliard
    terese hilliard says:

    I am a grandmother who takes her grandchild to school in the am. This morning I stopped to tell the principal how happy I am that the school has such a family atmosphere. Parents and grandparents all over the school in the morning, having breakfast and socializing with teachers and each other. The kind woman said that this will all be ending next year. They will be locking the school down in the morning and children will only be able to enter – absolutely nobody else! If a parent needs to come to the school they will come to the front office and speak to staff “through a glass, like in a bank”. Nobody can get past the gates or glass. I mentioned to her that this is how prisons are managed. She assured me that, “It is only for the protection of the children” and she doesn’t think anyone will mind. I believe that it’s time I retire and homeschool the child! How do we make her feel safe in the world when everyone at her school tells her that the world is so dangerous she must be “locked down” to be safe?

  2. jessica
    jessica says:

    75% population of students in NYC public schools are classified as coming from low income families. Only 40% of the students district wide read and write at grade level.

    I did an interview with abc while visiting Dallas recently talking about womens rights and choice, and the part I left out is that in that city 40% of students live in poverty.

    The income opportunity gap is far and wide, and I think educational choice is a sideshow in relation to that issue.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I think we have discussed quite a bit that socioeconomics and parenting will play a larger role in children’s outcomes than how they receive their education. Which is an argument for homeschooling but really an argument that kids from high income backgrounds will be fine no matter if they are in school or homeschooled. I think we just want the best environment for our kids to thrive.

      We recently toured the local elementary school by our new house just to check things out. I felt like I was on a private school campus. This was a rich school where only a sliver of kids are on free lunch. A beautiful, expansive, open campus. Teachers for everything and extras. Personal follow up by the principal who encouraged parents to opt out of standardized testing. Compared this with the prison like setting of our last neighborhood school with 50% on free lunch and it’s like two different worlds. It’s hard to believe unless one sees it with their own eyes.

      • Bos
        Bos says:

        You’re too right, YMKAS. This is case where incommensurate choices are presented: high SES kids will be fine in their high SES schools or homeschooling with their high SES parents. Low SES kids will be ill-served by their low SES schools and probably can rarely be homeschooled by their low SES parents (you can’t work from home or even control your own schedule in low-wage jobs). Homeschooling as panacea is a bit of a myth, and a heck of a privilege.

        If the low SES kids could go to the high SES schools, or be homeschooled by the high SES parents, maybe that might make a difference.

        The differences in schools are striking around here also. The public schools in the city are like prisons. Parents aren’t welcome. You would need a CORI check to volunteer in the classroom, and you only get in by buzzer. Some schools here even have metal detectors. Meanwhile, the suburban schools are beautiful nine-figure complexes, and you can just walk on in. And then there’s the private schools; I still can’t get used to how welcome we all are at my daughter’s school. It’s like going over to a friend’s house.

        It’s not just a difference in facilities, it’s a difference in freedom.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Thanks for finishing my thoughts, Bos. ;)

          I was typing that one up on my phone and it felt incomplete to not address the low SES families. I haven’t read a ton on the topic, but I have read a handful of articles describing where low SES students went to high SES schools, both public and private, and they had a really really hard time adjusting. They felt out of place at school, and alternatively felt out of place back at home with their family and friends.

  3. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    The Prussians invented modern schooling to raise up an army to fight the French. That’s why “kindergarten” is in German.

    Horace Mann invented the US “common school” to reduce the crime rate by 90%. That’s what he promised.

    By 1900 the schools were intended to train good conformable factory workers.

    What are we trying to do with today’s schools?

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Answer: nothing good.
      I know I wrote this on here before, but I love that I was reading a book written between the wars, discussing language issues on the continent, referring with astonishment to this new social control tool, compulsory schooling
      I like to remind people compulsory schooling is brand new…I’m just old fashioned (-:

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      What are we trying to do with today’s schools?

      I’ve toured dozens of public and private schools and my kids spent a few days at Elon’s school, our previous local neighborhood school, various private schools, learning centers, and toured our new neighborhood school in MN… and really the answer is “it depends”. It depends on geography. City, rural, suburbs… and it depends on arbitrary boundary lines. It depends on school philosophy.

      For example, in certain cities in Texas school is quite literally a pipeline to prison, with judges in schools who hand out sentences that become criminal records. This is outrageous, and yet nothing changes! When I lived in the LA area, we were in a good school district, not rich, but good. However, the residential street right across from ours was in a horrible school district. Schools are used for many purposes, babysitting, free meals, a place to be during the day, learning the basics, and for some it may provide a leg up to have more than their parents had. But for the majority of students school won’t help them. We have read on this blog multiple studies that indicate school cannot pull kids out of poverty.

      Alternatively, rich public schools and non-sectarian private schools have a different vibe, and are similar to homeschooling but with all the resources for a group instead of individually. It’s meant to develop critical thinking and collaboration. They focus on aptitude, abilities and the whole child. Different pedagogies inspire different curricula. So it’s hard to paint them with one broad brush (except when pointing out the extraordinary differences in schooling that money gets you).

      Homeschooling is different for each person. It is a highly tailored education based on your own child’s aptitude and abilities. I hope that mainstream education follows this direction. I hear a lot about personal learning plans… Lisa might know a lot more about this.

      My personal opinion is that I think parenting and education go hand in hand. I choose to raise my children with mutual respect, and they have a say in their education. They asked to be homeschooled, I respected and valued their decisions and gave them agency. They may one day choose to go to school, I have to respect that decision if it comes. They know what is available to them, they are fortunate to have such great options. My oldest wants to go to MIT and be an engineer, she’s wanted this since age 4 or 5, and now at 10 is asking me to get the path started for her. For her it may involve going to school. School for us would be a tool to get her where she wants to go.

      I don’t think this can be oversimplified like your question suggests.

    • Bos
      Bos says:

      The word “kindergarten” is in German because the visionary who came up with it was German. Friedrich Froebel was disenchanted with the severe upbringing he had, and saw a different way to treat children than as miniature adults who needed to be whipped until they did things right. He renamed his “Play and Activity Institute” as a “Children’s Garden” because he thought of the adults there as gardeners rather than as teachers, presenting play, games, songs, stories, crafts, and gifts for children to encounter and grow with. Froebel believed that children learn best through play, and developed his kindergarten around that belief.

      The practice retained the name “kindergarten” in the United States because the first kindergartens here were started in the midwest by German emigrees, and were first held in the German language. In some areas of the Midwest and Pennsylvania, public schools were taught in German into the twentieth century. The decay of kindergarten’s original purpose began at the same time as the campaign to eradicate German as a public language in America, during WWI.

      Kindergarten has gone way downhill since Froebel. At many schools the original purpose has been entirely lost, and it’s just prep for first grade, with endless worksheets, lines, lessons, and drills. But that bears no relation to its original creation and function. As originally created, it was more like group unschooling than like today’s schools. Some few kindergartens manage to maintain this spirit today.

  4. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I don’t know. I chose to begin homeschooling while living in a rich European country with only fancy schools– free Waldorf schools highest math scores globally all kids trilingual organic vegetable gardens…Maybe I’m crazy…

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      You are clearly doing what you believe is best for your kids. Again, I don’t know how old they are because I have asked in the past and you have declined to provide the information. So I can only assume you have very young children by the way you present information. Waldorf schools have their limitations anyway. I love the focus on arts and mythology, but making up names for math is a little out there.

      You never know what your kids will want in the future. I was a reluctant homeschooler because that’s what my kids needed. Then unschooling sort of became my thing, it works really well for my kids and it suits our family. As my kids have grown and figured out what they want to do, which also matches their aptitude, I act as a facilitator to make things happen. When my kids were younger, it was easy to make broad assumptions of how things would be. I didn’t know I would have a kid who wants to go to MIT and Harvard, and another who wants to be an actor… I was just happily buying books and art supplies. Try not to stand in their way. Be a facilitator. That’s good advice.

      • Cáit
        Cáit says:

        Oh my kids are 7,4,2, and baby..So yes they are really young.
        One of the most interesting studies I ever read, I don’t think it was linked here, had Japanese Chinese and American education professors critique videos of preschool classes in all three countries. The basic idea was that the ‘experts’ all
        had conflicting ideas of what was “age correct” reflecting their respective cultures, and that school was really about socializing children into the wider culture, for better or worse.
        I guess my reasons for hom schooling are really about issues I have with the wider culture.
        Harvard and MIT! I would love to be back in Cambridge. I met my husband at in a dorm at Harvard while my sister was at MIT. I miss it.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          The main benefits to homeschooling, for me, is being allowed to see my kids grow right literally in front of me. To watch them explore, discover and find what they love and help them achieve what they want. Having this community (Pt’s blog) has really helped re-shape my unschooling to be less dogmatic and more open to other possibilities.

          I don’t come from Ivy league crust. My dad was an immigrant from Eastern Europe who went from poverty to solidly upper middle class. My kids really wants this and I see all the potential options available to her. But, I feel like an outsider who is filled with ignorance on the reality of her getting into her choice schools. I have people volunteer to mentor her all the time but I never follow up with it. How fortunate for you, your sis, and spouse to go to such wonderful institutions.

          That being said, homeschooling isn’t going to work with my youngest. I can’t pretend to be as warm, caring and motherly as many others here obviously are, and my youngest and I clash like a pair of cymbals. I am so glad to have other options that are better than what I can offer her. Not many have options like I do.

          • Cáit
            Cáit says:

            I bet your daughter will get into the school of her choice. People in Boston can have an anti Harvard thing, so I would hear on the train “oh Harvard, daddy paying for it?” I wanted to explain, as a point of information only, that my own observation was that students at Harvard had most in common not extreme wealth but very supportive parents. And I just meant emotionally and socially supportive, not divorced etc. So as your daughter is not only supported in a warm family but actively coached in a hands on way toward her goals and interests, she’s ahead of 999/1000 of her peers anyway, in my opinion. Yehey homeschooling!

          • Bos
            Bos says:

            People have vastly different reasons for homeschooling, and will reach different outcomes. People who homeschool for humanist reasons are doing a very different thing than people who homeschool in order to inculcate a fundamentalist religious outlook.

            I have relatives in a charismatic religious cult who homeschool for these reasons – they believe doubt is of The Devil, and encountering ideas like evolution or people from other cultures could lead their children to Sin. They want total control of their kids all day every day, and they freaked out when one of the kids went away to college for a while. But he came back to the compound, and is filling his quiver now, making his wife wear a sack dress, and beating his kids like the mullah says to.

            There really is no way to find common ground in a theory of education between an unschooler and a cultist.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Is someone here in a cult? I’m actually sickened to my stomach at the moment.

            Homeschooling for total control and brainwashing is disgusting. I feel like I maybe missed a conversation somewhere….

          • Cáit
            Cáit says:

            Who in this forum is in a cult? Or homeschools for creepy reasons? I know there are sad cases of all sorts, and it seems you may know some, but I think it’s a myth that homeschoolers are more likely to be abusive.
            I also don’t think it’s fair to draw a strong line between religious and “humanist” homeschoolers. Many share the same aims and education philosophies. I’m not an evangelical, but I have gotten some great homeschooling ideas from their blogs, etc. most homeschoolers in America are religious, and I don’t agree that en masse they are controlling ignorant nutcases. I’m sorry you had other experiences in your family.

          • Jennifer Burton
            Jennifer Burton says:

            “…my youngest and I clash like a pair of cymbals. I am so glad to have other options that are better than what I can offer her. ”

            Thank you for your self-awareness and honesty. In these discussions of homeschooling, everyone seems to agree that not all schools are created equal, and different kids have different needs. However, I don’t see much acknowledgement of the differences among parents.

            I did well in school, but I wasn’t challenged. I sometimes think in an abstract way about how much more I could have learned if I had been homeschooled. And then I think about my actual parents and siblings and realize that it would have been a disaster.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Thanks, Jennifer. It’s all about doing what is in the best interest of the child and following their lead. I fail to see any difference in forcing a child to be homeschooled when they don’t want to be and forcing a child to go to school when they would rather homeschool. Child-led, passion-based learning is what is important. Respecting their choices and giving them agency will go further than controlling their education decisions. And after the past year and a half, touring and shadowing schools they are not created equal….at all!! That’s a travesty in and of itself.

  5. Claire Webb
    Claire Webb says:

    Hi I’m starting to homeschool my son who should have been starting reception in September this year and would like some advise please thankyou

  6. Bos
    Bos says:

    I don’t mean to imply that any particular commenter on this blog is in a cult. I am certainly not referring to Cáit, who I assume by the name and previous comments is Irish and Catholic.

    I guarantee you, however, that someone on this site is in a cult, given the frequency of such, and I also guarantee you that person would swear up and down that her church isn’t a cult. People who leave cults think they’re cults, not people who stay.

    Most people in America are religious, and therefore most homeschoolers are religious. However, most people who homeschool in America do not do it primarily for religious reasons. That share is about 40% and dropping (despite the best efforts of my extraordinarily fertile relatives).

    I have a lot in common with many religious people who homeschool; many of my homeschooling friends and associates in my area are religious, of various Abrahamic faiths, and we had a lot to share with each other. However, if you have not encountered the “quiverfull” homeschooling I’m talking about, you’ll be stunned to learn more about it. No, they have nothing in common with me in terms of how we view education – or in common with Jesuits, for that matter.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I’ve never outright said it but I am not religious, I am agnostic. If someone here thinks that brainwashing and indoctrinating their children is beneficial then I will tell you that I think you are abusive and cruel. Seek help.

      I haven’t seen any comments reflecting that sort of twisted ideology so you must personally recognize someone, B.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      In a previous comment, I mentioned I was ahead in school by four years when I went back after two years of homeschooling.

      My mother was apart of the hyperreligious homeschooling abecca crowd. Her reasons for taking me out weren’t even religion-related necessarily; simply, she had too many children and did not want to do the daily driving.

      I attended many outings and group meetings with the hyperreligious crowd, and they were all wierd, unsociable, kids. Even as a young child myself I knew something was off with the whole situation and it made me very uncomfortable. I went to cult like meetings and Evangelical situations. It wasn’t my thing, so I didn’t see advantages in the situation or with the people I met. I remember thinking it was a huge waste of time and I would dutifully sit at my desk two hours a day and crank through the books, because I had nothing else to do.

      That said, and with my personal experience, I never thought I’d homeschool or unschool.
      I now do it for entirely different reasons that are child led and involved. It was an epiphany for me several years back that homeschooling can be for non religious reasons.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Bos, you sound triggered by something, I just can’t see what that is or how quiver whatsit came up. Email me!! Fill me in on what I’m missing here.

      • Bos
        Bos says:

        Sorry, YMKAS. I have relatives in what I (and people who have left) consider a cult. And it’s not at all uncommon. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are in this sort of cult, and millions in some kind of cult.

        No, you’ve never met folks like these in a homeschooling group, because they don’t associate with outsiders very much. You’re much more likely to hear about them from people who have left.

        But when folks start talking about how they’re homeschooling for God, or young women should be focusing on motherhood, these are the people I think of. And then I start wondering if the next time I hear from my relatives it’ll be because they went full on Jim Jones.

        Sorry for derailing the conversation.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I see, and for those people P’s message could be seen as a reinforcement of their abuse. Although, I don’t recall her ever saying she homeschools for religious reasons, I can see how you would feel that way, because you know people like that. Where I get mildly irritated you are reminded of people who are actually abusive to women. I’m so sorry you have family stuck in that situation. I’m related to my own set of weirdos who want a compound for other reasons… no more holiday get-togethers for awhile with that side.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Cáit, neither do I. I’m not even remotely familiar with this type of homeschooling. It doesn’t even sound like homeschooling, really, it’s abuse. I prefer to think that I have a lot in common with various types of homeschoolers, including those with varying belief systems, in that we all want what is best for our kids and that’s how we came to homeschool or unschool. There is more in common than there are differences between us…I choose to believe that!!

      • Rayne of Terror
        Rayne of Terror says:

        Have you never seen one of the Duggar shows? 14 kids and counting, 19 kids and counting? That’s the community she’s referencing.

  7. Young Americans Overseas
    Young Americans Overseas says:

    I homeschool because we travel often. I do not want a school dictating my schedule. Classroom sizes are way to large these days and young people can be brutal. In Texas teachers are worried about test scores.l and teaching styles often reflect the pressure for high scores. I’d rather have a direct say regarding what my children are learning. My decision to homeschool has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with freedom, protecting my children & encouging them to be world citizens.

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