Suzuki camp. Again. I am by the pool. Next to a mom.

There is a girl who is a great swimmer. She is doing butterfly across the length of the pool. With straight arms and perfect double-kicking toes. I say to her mom, “She’s a great swimmer.”

“She’s on a swim team.”

“How many days a week does she swim?”


“And she plays violin? How does she have the time?”

“We homeschool.”

“Oh. I’m going to homeschool too. We’re starting this fall.”

There it is. Just like that. I decide that I’m doing not just one kid, but both. Because that girl is great at violin and at swimming and I think maybe that is all you need to be in order to have a fulfilling childhood.

I get a report from my nine-year-old son’s overnight camp that he is largely unable to read the nonverbal responses kids have to his humor. And, unfortunately, those responses are very negative. And, unfortunately, this is a camp for kids with Asperger’s so the bar was not very high to begin with.

I am sad.

I have been through school districts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Madison, WI. I have hired lawyers, I have spent tons of money to win everything I want. I have been through enough hearings to know that in our current school district I would have to spend loads of money to enforce my son’s IEP and then I’d win and then everyone in our town would hate me.

Being right is not as important as being a good mom. So I decide the first kid I’m taking out of the schools is my nine-year-old who needs special services and it’s easier for me to spend my time earning the money to pay for services than to spend my time fighting the school systems to get services for free.

I am nervous about telling my son. I am worried he has already been sold on the idea of school by the school. I plan out what I will say and I rehearse. I worry he will not trust me to teach him. Or he will miss his current teachers. I worry he’ll call my bluff on the whole idea that you can learn from home.

At the end of dinner I say to my son, “We are going to do school at home this year. No going to school in the mornings for you anymore.”

He says, “What will we do for recess?”

Public education is a complete mess in the US. A deep, structural, crisis kind of mess. Anyone who does not see this is totally out to lunch. Fortunately there are a lot of very smart, very well funded people working on that issue.

In the meantime, I don’t want my kids to be part of the fixing process. I want my kids to do the best thing for them right now. This is not a new approach to schools. Bill Clinton took this approach when he ran for President on a very liberal platform and then sent his daughter, Chelsea, to a very elite school in Washington DC. The same elite private school that the Obama girls attend now.

It’s not that I don’t care about fixing public schools in the US. But I care about it like I care about ending the war in Afghanistan. Both are really important issues and lots of peoples’ lives are being ruined but I don’t want it to affect my kids’ day-to-day life if I can help it. And being a parent activist definitely takes it’s toll on family life (these people actually quit their jobs to do it).

Remember the opening scene of Sex, Lies and Videotape? The woman is talking to her psychiatrist about world hunger or world garbage or some other world problem, and she sounds like a nutcase because she’s not taking care of the problems that are close to her.

I think that’s what parents sound like when they talk about school reform. We should just take care of our kids. Right now, today, is it better for your kids to be at home learning or in your particular school learning? That’s the issue that interesting because that’s the issue we can really act on.

During the industrial age, when parents moved from farms to factories, it became more cost-effective to put kids in school than put them to work. So parents bought into the idea of state-run school. At that point, school became the most expensive babysitting operation on the planet.

In the pre-industrialized world, only the kids with a governess got an education. And those governess types were so quirky and fun because it was an alternative choice to be a governess instead of stay in the town you were born in, get married and have kids of your own. (Think of going airborne with Mary Poppins, or singing with the von Trapp kids and Maria.)

In today’s school system teachers choose teaching because it’s safe and predictable. You can generally get a job teaching where you were born, and (before Scott Walker busted unions) teachers could rely on a lifetime position.

The problem is that today’s workplace rewards risk takers. It rewards entrepreneurial thinking and people who are trained to think independently and creatively – information synthesizers. Why is it good to have people who took a safe route training people for an inherently unstable workforce?

The parents most willing to stay home and teach their kids all day long are probably the parents who do not fit in well in corporate America. That’s why they are willing to leave and stay with kids.

What if we had only the workplace geniuses running homeschooling? Would that be better? Are we aiming to train our kids so that they can successfully navigate the workplace that dominates adult life instead of leaving the workforce? What is the best type of person to teach children given the world they will need to navigate?

I love the elementary school principal. I wonder if she will continue to have monthly lunches with me after I tell her I’m taking my kids out of school.