With suspicion you question people’s motives for and methods of home schooling. You are fairly certain that something must be wrong with it. It only seems right to you, since what we do is so different from what you do. So when you see a home-schooled kid walking the dog at 9:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, it’s obvious to you that his parents aren’t taking his education seriously. When you see that another has time to be in several plays a year, it just affirms your suspicions that his school day is one of goofing off and that he sleeps in as late as he likes.
When you get around homeschooled kids, you like to quiz them, certain that they are not really learning what ought to be learned. And if you find, to your surprise, that they do know what you think they ought to know, you switch the game and label them as “nerds” or “geeks”. Surely, you must be right in one way or another—even if you can’t quite nail it down—that what is happening with their education is a travesty. You even think about reporting them to the authorities—not so much because you see any evidence of wrongdoing, but because it just doesn’t sit right with you that they are doing what they are doing. You really want them to be like you—perhaps even for reasons that you cannot explain.
So I thought I’d take a minute and give you some information that will help you—if you are willing—to understand what’s really going on in a great many home-schooling families.
We decided to be extravagant with our kid’s education. We decided it was worth a great deal to have it be as excellent as we could discover how to make it. We saw certain downsides to public education, and decided it was worth the risk and sacrifice to see to his education ourselves.
So we gave up a lot of things to make it happen. And I mean a lot. We gave up the typical American family lifestyle of 2 parents working full time. We struggle financially to make it happen, and it’s worth it. We don’t drive the new cars we’re expected to drive, or live in the new houses we’re expected to live in. Those things just aren’t as important to us as our child’s education. So we do without.
We also do without so many of the conventions that you find to be perfectly normal, while we find them to be needless or even counterproductive. We don’t tell our kid to quit asking questions because questions are disruptive to the rest of the class. We don’t force him (whether he is brilliant or dull) to operate above or below his potential on account of it being easier to manage him (and 20-something others) that way. We don’t read him books about books; we read him the books about which the books are written. We don’t fill his weeks with tests, but with learning. We can’t tell you his IQ (because we don’t know it), but we can stand by and let him tell you what he knows. We can watch him have a full conversation with a 2-year-old or a 92-year-old—forthright, alert, respectful, curious, and kind. And all this, while you insist that he is not properly “socialized”.
We are always teaching—at the grocery store, on the road, doing chores. We share with our kid what we ourselves are learning—what we wonder about, what we wish we knew, what we have discovered we are wrong about. We get our kid to look up things for us. We bounce ideas off of him and sometimes get some amazing input in return. We are learning partners—all together in a confederacy of life-long learning.
And we notice things. We notice fallacious arguments, inauthentic behavior, redundancy, nonsense, cognitive bias, misinformation, disinformation, presumption, bald assertions, double standards, and the like. We see such things all around us, and rather than to pretend that they are not there, we call them for what they are and avoid participating in them ourselves. This is where we are often at odds with what the rest of the world is doing, and yet even so, we ourselves are not invulnerable to such error. Where we stand out, however, is that we consider ourselves free to walk away from error, whether so many others take it as some rite of passage—something to be obligatorily tolerated while doing one’s rightful time in the societal traditions.
But we don’t just notice the bad; we also notice excellence—and we have made the time for it. We can stop at any point in the day to further examine an excellent point, and excellent idea, an excellent question. We can take the time to look up the song that was brought to mind by the lesson, or to check out whether our memory of such and such is accurate. We read from some of the greatest minds ever to live on this planet, considering their ideas directly, and just as they put them forth—as opposed to some version filtered through the mind of a textbook editor.
We take the time to talk. Our kid narrates back what he has learned, and we discuss it. At five years old, he would initiate, “Dad, can we talk about the government?” At 12, he is noting the fallacies in the TV commercials, in political debates, in TV preachers and the like. All this learning, these skills, these moments—they are all very important. They are also fun and they bring us closer together.
I’m writing a book about the philosophy of rational thinking and the whole family–including our 12-year-old has discussed almost every detail of it extensively for nearly four years now. We think about our thinking–which makes us odd birds in this culture, to be sure. We try to catch our own cognitive biases in action, and we do pretty well with it. We’re quite used to the idea that we’re going to mess up in thinking from time to time, so when we do, we don’t get defensive about it; we just fix it. We share this goal in common–to be in our right minds on all matters at all times. Formally, we put our paradigm like this: “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, wherever it may lead.”
And that brings me back to the public schools that we have avoided by home schooling. It’s that “wherever it may lead” part that makes us such radicals. In public society, a great many untruths are silently swallowed or tolerated. Many know these things are false, and they put up with them anyway. They know the speech is bloviated rhetoric, yet they don’t call it out for what it is. They know the policy is hypocritical and inconsistently enforced, yet they will not insist that the policy be improved accordingly. They know that not all the kids in the class were guilty, yet they sit silently by while the entire class is punished. They know the rules are arbitrary, yet they do nothing to see to it that the rules are improved.
That’s the kind of mental compromise that we just weren’t willing to take. Another paradigm of ours is this: “Self correction is the rightful duty of all people.” Yet people from that culture think that WE are the strange ones. We broke free from it, and are not dependent upon anyone else to educate our kid for us. Even when we do put him in some class or lessons, we pay for it from our own pockets. This is how we do it—because we are not willing to tolerate the systemic problems of public education. To us, “free” is simply not an irresistible draw. In fact, our taxes pay for schools that we do not even use—the schools that your kids attend—the schools where so many systemic problems fester.
Interestingly, however, you who are just fine with those systemic problems—you who will tolerate them and not lift a finger to fix them—you are deliberately rising to action, not for a cause that is your own natural business, but for another: the cause of proving that there must be something wrong with us homeschoolers. You gloss over the occurrences of corruption and bad teacher behavior and ever-failing initiatives in the public schools, as if that were all to be expected, yet you dig to find some manner of fault with us home schooling families—as if it would be unconscionable not to get involved with problems, should any be discovered.
We do not spend out time by prying into the public schools to expose what all needs to be exposed there. No, we reached the conclusion that that was not for us, and we moved on from there to take care of our own business at our own expense. But this has drawn your suspicious eye, so you pursue us to accuse us of wrongdoing—adamant that the state would best be served if we were like you.
You should know that we are as put out by your overbearing suspicion and meddling as you are by our freedom from your conventions. In the mean time, however, we are very pleased with the results of our home-schooling efforts so far. We are raising a rational, responsible, and loving human being, and we’re doing it ourselves, as his parents. Although this has drawn criticism for years, no one has ever successfully demonstrated that it is wrong for parents to raise their own kids, and that it is better to hand them off to the government instead. Sure, you wouldn’t put it that way, but that’s exactly why you are so suspicious of us, it seems to me. Indeed, we do not hear you objecting that our son is smart, rational, clever, kind, respectful, conscientious, responsible, well-informed, self-disciplined, patient, wise, and can read an 800-page novel in under a week in his spare time (while your children are probably watching TV). So what else could it be? What else could be irritating you so much about us? It may be that that question will require a new level of honesty from you if you are to answer it accurately.
Meanwhile, however, we are raising our kid to be able to solve the very sorts of problems that you are helping to sustain and promote in your defense of the status quo. You THINK you want us to join you at the public school. You THINK you want us to “help fight for change”, even. But should we come and join you, you would quickly want us to shut up about the need for the schools to be honest, rational, and self-correcting.
Ours is a different philosophy from yours, and we were wise enough to see that and to part ways from the mainstream practices. If you really want to keep chasing us down to pick a fight, I could go on and on about what all is wrong with conventional educational philosophy and practice alike. I’m pretty sure you would not enjoy that exercise, even if you could benefit from it.
So perhaps its best for you simply to leave us be. We promise not to quiz your kids to prove to ourselves that their education is worse than what we provide to our own. And we promise not to call the authorities to tell them that we’re pretty sure something really bad is going on in your house since you send off your kids to compromised government schools, rather than seeing to their education yourselves. We respect that you are in the position of making those decisions for yourself. And even though we think our decision is better than yours, we do not make it our business to follow you around looking for fault.
So how about a little Golden Rule here? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Somehow, even though you continue to pry, I don’t really think that’s what you want me to do to you. But if I have got you wrong, and you really do think you’re providing a necessary service to me and my family by continuing to harass, I’m pretty sure you would change your mind after just a short time of having the tables turned in your direction.
If after all this, you’re still convinced that we are messed up and that your way of thinking about government-run education is superior, then here’s an idea for you: Why don’t you actually DEMONSTRATE that? Why don’t you actually do some studies and write us a book proving that your way is better? That, of course, would mean that you should resist the urge to cherry pick the worst examples of homeschooling you can find, while ignoring the veritable ocean of good examples. And that would mean that your findings would fall under the scrutiny of peer review. It would also mean that you’d have committed your argument to print, where any error in it can be on perpetual display for the world to see—even past the point at which it will have become obvious whether your own kids have turned out to be the excellent people that one would expect to be the outcome of an educational system that you taut as being so worthy of our investment. These are the same kids, mind you, who are currently bullying the homeschooled kids for being different.
And that brings me to my conclusion. While I have hopes that this short article might influence a few and change their minds, my primary reason for writing it was to encourage those who home school, lest they be worn down by your constant criticisms and challenges. They are doing what they think is right—and they are doing it themselves, rather than handing it off for someone else to do for them. You are actively working to discourage such people. And to what end? To make yourself feel better that you have done so little yourself? If you are so uncomfortable at having done so little, perhaps the better option would be to reform yourself, rather than to attempt to drag down those who have done what you yourself are neglecting to do.
We home schoolers are by no means perfect people, but we have done something you have never managed to do—and by and large, it is working quite well for us and for our children. We do it because we think it is right, and not because we long to be approved of by you.