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When kids are little, they believe what you tell them. They go with the flow. But the longer you homeschool your kid, the more curious that kid becomes about what’s really going on inside school. So I started looking at all news items about school as potential points of discussion with my kids.

School defines normal kid behavior as a medical problem

I was filling out a form at Boston University’s child psychology program, and there was a list of mental disorders to choose from. One of them was school refusal. That’s a disorder? I feel like it should be a disorder to want to go to school. Like, seriously, is your kid so unimaginative they can’t think of anything else they’d rather be doing?

School defines normal parent behavior as mentally challenged

The hardest thing about sending my kids to school was that I could never do enough to make the teacher happy. I missed a paper or a signature or an event. Every day at school is a test for the parents, but the requirements of parents are so pointless that they seem to be there just to drive parents crazy.

The poet Sara Holbrook found her poem in a test for 7th graders. The commentary from Holbrook is great. First, she points out that the material is totally inappropriate for kids. Then she shows how the person who wrote the test misinterpreted the line breaks and therefore one of the questions had no right answer; Holbrook cannot answer the test questions that refer to her own poem.

School defines normal human curiosity as disruptive

School requires everyone to conform to the program — whatever that school’s program might be. Children have a natural ability to find activities that interest them, but there are relatively few activities available in a classroom, so kids force themselves to just choose something that’s offered. Kids get used to the idea that if it’s not offered at school they won’t learn it.

So when my son was 10 and asked to go to regular school, I told him he would have to give up his music lessons. “You won’t have energy for four hours of cello practice and three hours of piano practice. The school days is too long.”

“Other kids do it,” he said.

“No they don’t. They don’t practice as much as you do.”

“I can do it! I can do it!”

I relented and he danced and dabbed everywhere in celebration of his upcoming school day.

I dropped him off at school at 7:45am. I picked him up at 3pm.

He said, “I did it! I told you it would be fine!”

I gave him a snack and he sat down at the piano.

piano

I ran errands and got him another snack, just in case.

When I came back into the room this is what I saw:

after school
Stop asking me questions about homeschooling that you'd never ask about school.

Schools decide the priorities of non-school time as well. In Newton, MA there is an extra period in the day so the school can require kids to try extracurricular activities that will make the kids more appealing to colleges. In Darlington, WI, there are half-days of school when the football team has a home game so all students can spend the afternoon preparing for the event. In Winnetka, IL kids in jazz band frequently travel during school breaks.

If you send your kid to school, the school board chooses the parenting philosophy for your household. If you homeschool, you decide what the point of childhood is. You decide what the goal of family time is. You decide what your role as a parent is.

These are questions we are not accustomed to answering. For most of history children were small workers – in fields and then in factories. Then children went to school where they learned to be good adult factory workers. We have not given much thought to what is the point of childhood because we have not had so much freedom to decide for ourselves.

No one asks the school board to defend it’s parenting philosophy, but homeschoolers end up doing this all the time. Because if you talk about how you make decisions about education you cannot avoid talking about what you think is important about childhood. I have been swayed by different philosophies at different times:

Childhood Institute: making sure children fulfill their potential
Mihaly Csikczentmihalyi: becoming an expert at something
Martin Seligman: learning the principles of locus of control
Bryan Caplan: twin studies show nothing parents do matters

Each of these theories took decades to develop. And the theories contradict each other. So it’s clear that knowing the goal of childhood is like knowing the meaning of life: impossible.

Often while my kids were playing basketball, I was stressing about not knowing my parenting philosophy. Now that I see there’s no right answer to what is the goal of childhood, I wish I had watched more basketball and been less distracted by people telling me I shouldn’t let my kids stay home from school and play basketball.

There’s a piece in Time magazine about how teachers are in a pay crisis. Most of the teachers in the article say they can’t make ends meet with their teaching job.

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I’ve visited ten private schools that charge more than $40K per year. And they have a lot of impressive similarities like the interior design (kid-friendly Barneys with a splash of Ikea) and the students (friendly confidence with ballet-lesson poise). So I started interviewing the headmasters  (rich-kid word for principal). Read more

One of the biggest arguments for a public school system is that it ensures a homogeneous educational environment for our voters. But there is no test for voting, so even totally stupid people, who flunked third grade over and over again, can still vote. Which means our political system is primarily set up so non-elected groups (the Electoral College and our higher courts) can override the stupidity that emerges from voters. Read more

The NYT app is my favorite thing on my phone. It provides a great summary of the five most important stories of the day. I always know who in the Trump administration lied that day, and one of the five items is always devoted to interesting quantitative research. Read more

This is an email I received recently:

I love reading your posts. You have some frank, insightful ideas. My daughters have enjoyed all of their education in Montessori schools which we have all loved. They have had a lot of control over what they learn and how they learn it with no homework or tests which is important to me. Read more

This is a guest post from Purva Brown. Her blog is The Classical Unschooler.

I don’t homeschool because I did badly in school; I homeschool because I was a good, no, a great student. If you ask my teachers if they remember me, I would bet a body part that twenty-two years later, they still do.
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Sometimes people make recommendations to me for things my kids might like to do. The people will tell me their kids like it. Or they’ll tell me it’s really popular online. Or they’ll say they loved it when they were kids. Read more