Do you ever hear parents who send their kids to school talking about curriculum?

No. Right?

Do you know why? Because it doesn’t matter. If you use curriculum or you do not use curriculum, that is a very big question. Riverdale is a school that is following child-directed learning: no set curriculum. Most public schools are to-the-test learning: established curriculum. That is a huge difference. Beyond that, if the kid is doing well on the test, the curriculum doesn’t matter.

So why are homeschool parents obsessed with curriculum? It’s a red herring. There are huge, enormous questions for parents to be asking instead:

1. Why are we teaching to a test? My son visited my friend Melissa in Austin and they played in a gym all day. Is that better?

2. Is it a good model for girls to see moms making their life revolve around their kids? Should dads be more involved?

3. Should kids focus on learning languages and music? The benefits to learning these at a young age are huge.

Of course those are not the only three big questions, but those are three of the 300 questions that are way more important than choosing what curriculum you use.

I think parents use the choice as a way to bury their heads in research. As if that will somehow make them a “good” homeschool parent. But the more time you spend trying to figure out curriculum, the less time you are spending figuring out answers to really meaningful questions.

I notice that lots of people use college admission as evidence that homeschooling works. Here’s an example of a mom who says college is proof of her homeschooling success.

This is shocking to me. While homeschooling is controversial, ditching college is much less controversial.

There are lists of wildly successful people who did not graduate college. The New York Times is publishing essays about how starting one’s own business is more important for lifelong success than going to college. And because of the insane costs associated with higher education, the topic of how useless college is has entered the political debate as well. Read more

The state of New Jersey is considering a bill that would require a state-mandated annual medical exam for all kids who are homeschooled.

I understand why homeschoolers get upset about this. The implication is that all homeschoolers are child abusers. And this is, in fact, a problem.

Take this New York Times article by Erik Eckholm. The article is about some a priest who has sold 670,000 copies of his book, To Train Up a Child, which advocates spanking kids with a rod and other implements. And kids are dying. The article is important, for sure, because the priest’s ideas are gaining traction, and as a society, we care a lot about making sure kids are safe. The problem with the article is Eckholm’s gratuitous mentions of homeschooling. The parents who beat the kid to death “were home schooling their six children.” To me, this mention seems tantamount to the gratuitous mention that someone is Jewish. Or black. The implication that the information is relevant is damning to the whole group, whether the group is blacks, Jews, homeschoolers, whoever. Read more

At some point, maybe when I decided to let the kids spend their school days playing air hockey, I started to panic that my blog is mislabeled as homeschooling – it should be unschooling.

Finally I emailed my editor to ask if I should change it. He is used to these sort of crises. For example, I have another on-going crisis about what to do about how my bigger blog, or career blog or whatever it is,  has headlines without capital letters and my homeschool, or maybe unschool, blog uses conventional capital letters in the headlines.

We settled on the homeschool term because it’s much better SEO than unschool. And also I thought I’d attract more interest from corporate types. But I’m seeing that that doesn’t really matter. Because I’m lucky enough to have Federated Media selling ads on my blog whether it’s unschooling or homeschooling (I cannot stress enough how much they do not care about this debate) and the corporate types I have attracted have mostly been trouble. Read more

Here is my son at an empty pool. So many places we go are empty because we go in the middle of the day. This photo happens to be at the University of Iowa, where my brother is getting a PhD in chemistry. But the photo could be anywhere. As someone pointed out in the comments section here last week, people are not used to seeing kids in the world. At least during the school day. Kids are missing from the world during that time.

I never realized how creepy that is. Everyone notices us walking around because kids are not supposed to be seen during the day.

There are so many things I did not notice about the world until I started to notice school. Which reminds me of a study by Roy Baumeister. He had people walk with books balanced on their heads for a few minutes each day. And it turns out that making someone mindful for just a few minutes a day actually makes them more mindful about things all day long. Mindfulness snowballs.

I think this is true about school as well — being mindful of how our society teaches kids has made me more mindful about how our society does lots of things. And I’m shocked by how much I had been missing.

We are in NYC for the weekend. Usually when we come here, my preparations are finanical. For example, perparing for the inevitable $8 hot chocolate (pictured above).

But this time we were going to a wedding and I knew we had to prepare for the questions about school.

So, the first thing is, I’m done telling people I  homeschool. Because look, if you think worksheets, and national-non-customized curricula is best for your kid, then really, school is great at that. School is great at teaching to the test, and you don’t need to homeschool.

So I am unschooling. I am trusting my kids that they can figure out what interests them and it will be my job to help them learn what they are curious about. So we are doing self-directed learning.

Read more

My son is learning to use a potter’s wheel. The woman who is teaching him is a potter (is that the right word?) and working with her is phenomenal. When someone knows their craft so well, their teaching is breathtaking to watch — it comes from deep in their soul where their passion for the craft lives.

I wanted to write about all this. I wanted to tell people that finding the right mentor for the right project is what makes life fulfilling. In unschooling or in work. There is no difference.

But then I posted about this topic on my other blog and the discussion was mostly about should people homeschool.

Suddenly, I have no patience for this question. It’s like the question, “Should people job hop?” The answer is unequivocally yes. If you job hop, your work is more engaging, you make a wider range of friends, and you earn more money. On top of that, job hopping makes for a stable career.

But people don’t like hearing it. Because hearing it makes it harder to pretend that staying in one place is really okay. I don’t want to debate about whether the hard thing is the right thing when it so obviously is. I want to talk about how it’s so hard to do what’s right all the time.

This is a guest post from Kate Fridkis, whose family did homeschooling when she was growing up. She blogs about body image at Eat the Damn Cake and she blogs about homeschooling at Skipping School.

When you’re homeschooled and interested in something, you don’t go to your mom and say, “Mom, teach me more about this.” You try to figure out how you can gain more exposure to that thing. You might ask your parent/s for advice on where to start. And then you go out into the world and learn some more.

If you want to be a poet, you contact the most famous living poet in your area, and you ask if you can hang out with him/her. You join poetry workshops and groups and you sign up to compete in poetry slams. You send your poetry out to magazines and competitions. You start a poetry club. By the way, by this time, you are learning a lot more than poetry. You are learning how to organize people, compete in a public arena, and manage what is beginning to resemble a small business.

When you learn naturally, on your own, it’s hard to cut the world up into subjects. If no one tells you that this particular thing is called science, and in science you learn biology, beginning with the parts of the cell, and then you learn about genes, and eventually you get to chemistry, then you might find yourself doing science by accident, for fun. Just because you want to.

Which no one ever believes, because people think that kids are lazy.

“If I left my kids alone,” they always say, “They’d just play video games all day.”

They would definitely do that some days. Because video games are fun. But if they were homeschooled, they wouldn’t have learned that work and play are two totally different things that you’re supposed to do at different times. And the part where you’re supposed to be learning is over on the work end of the spectrum, while the video games are all the way on the other side, under a big sign that reads “play.” Work is an activity that you can be bad at. You might fail at any moment. You know it’s work because it’s required, and because your progress is always being measured. Play is when you can relax and be yourself.

It’s sometimes hard for people who went to school to imagine living in a world where work and play are the exact same thing. But guess what? That’s this world. And for kids who grow up out of school, learning is the same as being alive.

You don’t exactly need a teacher for that.

I went to a meeting of homeschoolers. In rural Wisconsin, of course. Because that’s where I live.

We talked about that the group is a safe place to talk about the things we’re having trouble with. A leader pointed out, “If you go to church and tell someone you are having trouble teaching algebra, the person will say, then put your kid in school.”

Everyone nodded.

Then no one told about any problems they have.

Instead we talked about what there is to do. Where you can take your kids: The zoo. The children’s museum. The science fair at the local college.

I expected to talk about educational theories. Does project-based learning make workbooks irrelevant? Does child-driven learning mean no algebra for dancers? Who among us would qualify as an unschooler?

But here people are proud that they can teach their kids to national standards. They talk about Algebra 1 and they worry about getting the right answer when someone asks what grade their child is learning at, saying only “between 8th and 9th.” And I think, “Really? At that age, who cares? What does she like to do? Where does she want to go?”

There is a pattern in my life. Where I try my best to do what is right. I go with my intuition and follow my heart. And I realized that, once again, I have driven myself to the fringe of the fringe.

This guy emailed me. He said his in-laws live near our farm. He’s CEO of a homeschooling startup. So I took a chance on him and invited him and his family over for lunch.

He hung out with me in the kitchen and told me his company helps schools do project-based learning and “experiential” learning.

I said, “That sounds like homeschooling to me.”

He said, “It is. But not every family can do that.”

I went nuts. I told him that every family that is in a school rich enough to indulge in his software package has the means to homeschool. And, I said, “Why is a family that believes in project-based, experiential learning sending a kid to school anyway?”

He said, “Not every parent can afford homeschooling.”

I said, “That’s total BS. Every family with two college grads for parents can have one parent work and one homeschool. They can make enough money. If they choose.”

He was silent.

So I said, “This reminds me of the families that say they don’t have enough money for the mom to take maternity leave. It’s messed up values.”

He said, “My wife didn’t take maternity leave.”