I have gotten some emails from parents who do not want to homeschool their kids and are desperate to know what their other options are. I have been sent links to at least two dozen alternative schools. Most had all the same problems as the current standard indoctrination-education we call school but with fancy wording on their websites, but some are really trying to be different. It has been wonderful for me to see some of the options out there. It's heartwarming to know that there exists a tiny free market still alive in education trying to make the world a better place.
That being said, my conclusion so far is that being with Mom and Dad (or the person whose job your kid wants) is best. More on this below, but here is the "gun to my head" (as one reader put it) answer to the question: "If it was absolutely impossible for you to keep your son with you, what would you do?"
My first response is that I cannot imagine a situation in which it would be "absolutely impossible." But, okay, I will play along. If it were "absolutely impossible" for Anders to stay with me, this is what I would do:
A RIE daycare, ages 0-2
A Montessori preschool, ages 3-6 (making sure it's a real one)
Acton Academy, ages 6-10
Higher education when wanted and only if truly necessary
BUT I would be willing to suffer so much pain to avoid any of these, because:
1. It doesn't matter what school is chosen, I would not be the one raising my kid.
I have often thought of taking on two or three children from other people and teaching them along with Anders at the farm. But that would not be ideal because the parent is not raising his or her own child. If I raised your kid, your kid and I would get along really well! But is that your goal? For your kid to get along really well with me? [More on this below]
2. The greatest predictor of Anders's future career choice is what his parents do. If Tom and I do not "bring Anders to our life with us," we are depriving him of an education in the career he is most likely to pursue as an adult. [More on this below as well]
*Note that in this essay, when I say "homeschooling" I mean "bringing your kid to your life with you," and not "having him memorize random things while stuck at home." (See my Main Idea 2 essay or lecture.)
1. Why It Is So Important To Me That I Raise My Kid
The vision of parenting sold to parents today is that we are birds. We raise our young, and then they fly away. That is what parenting was for my parents. They suffered through the rearing of their children and will spend the rest of their lives tolerating those adult-children at family holidays. If that. There is a lot of lip-service to the importance of family, but let's be honest: We can barely tolerate each other long enough to get through holidays. And even in families that like one another, they don't share their lives, just a couple days a year.
When I think about this model of family life I... would rather not have kids. Luckily, I know I am not a bird.
Monkeys form strong familial bonds and live in the same band as their parents about 50% of the time. Same with hunter-gatherers. About 50% of the children in hunter-gatherer societies leave their parent's band and join another band. The other 50% stay with their parents for their entire lives. There is a risk that these parents will have a kid with whom they don't want to share their lives, but there is also a 50% chance that their child will fight for his survival with them throughout their lives!
Now that is a risk I would take! In that scenario, I would have kids.
My dream is a tightly bonded family, people with whom I really share my life, people with whom I battle for survival. I don't dream of seeing adult-Anders on holidays. I dream of him living next door. Or on the same farm. I would never force it, but that is my dream.
If I raise Anders, if I bring him to life with me, I estimate that I have a 50% chance of creating this kind of life-long bond. If I hand Anders to other people to raise, my chances of creating this kind of bond are close to zero. Is it possible for my kid to be raised by someone other than me and still turn out to be someone with whom I am truly bonded and happy to spend my time? Hypothetically--sure! But I have not seen any evidence that that actually happens.
What I know is:
-There is a long history of wealthy children being raised by Not Their Parents and growing up to have cold and rather distant relationships with their parents.
-There is a wealth of historical evidence left behind in journals and letters of the close familial bonds of farming families in early America in which brothers, sisters, parents, and children were willing to die for one another. For real. Not in the lip-service way some families make this claim today.
-In the pre-puritan era, priests wrote that children loved their parents "too much" and advised parents to not be so close with their children as the child must love God (and the church) more than his or her parents. This claim was still being made in Victorian times.
-Public education was invented (in part) to make children different from their parents. When it was invented, it was for children of the poor. Middle-class and upper-class children would be educated by their parents and no one had a problem with this. The poor were a menace to society, and if only their children could be educated by middle class teachers... maybe they wouldn't grow up to be like their parents.
-Daycare was likewise pushed onto poor people by WASPS in the late 1800's because it was the best way to turn immigrants into "Americans."
-The "don't let children work" movement was also a convenient way to get poor children away from their parents. Most children who worked in factories worked there with their moms. The boys who worked in the coal mines were generally working with their dads. Note that no one had a problem with the children who worked on their family's farm working with his or her parents or the children of a shop keeper. It was the poor children, the children of the immigrants who could only get factory jobs, these were the targets of the "children can't work" movement. The goal was always to get immigrant children away from their moms and dads and into schools run by middle class protestant women so that the children would not grow up to be Catholic, Jewish, loud, messy, or whatever was offensive to those wanting to "save the children" from their parents.
-Tangent: Here in Nicaragua it's the same story. There is a dirt-poor farming family across the street from us who are happier than most people I know. And their children have perfectly straight, white teeth with no need for braces. Unlike most Americans (and despite their supposed poverty) they have healthy genetic stock. But here come the Nicaraguan government and the gringos to get those kids away from their parents and into school so they have have a "better" life.
-Tangent 2: And lets not forget the governments around the world, Canada being the guiltiest, still terrorizing native peoples who prefer to hunt and gather by kidnapping their children and putting them into boarding schools to... save them from being like their parents.
-Tangent 3: Some would argue that today's governments, like the church before it, tries hard to weaken family bonds, this is why we see so many "Women belong in the workforce" messages and "Families need help i.e. free daycare from three months old" messages.
-But back to America today: The trend that I saw working with families and their children was that parents and children had very little in common. They didn't share a life; they shared a house. Four to six strangers had dinner together sometimes and suffered through vacations together. There was talk about family being important, but all I saw were roads diverging from one another. Parents loved their kids but didn't like them. Children loved their parents but otherwise thought rather lowly of them.
Today, animosity between parent and child is considered normal. We talk a big game about how important our families are, but on holidays and at weddings when we have to actually spend time with those weirdos... those of us who aren't lying to ourselves can't help but be heartbroken about the arrangement, the gulf between our siblings and ourselves, our parents and ourselves.
I saw this with endless couples as well. Two people leading totally separate lives who do drugs together on the weekend (TV, video games, alcohol...).
Think of how you feel when someone is on your team, the bond of fighting a battle with them! Maybe it was a sport team in your youth. Maybe it is someone you work with today. Going to war with your partners, the people who have your back, the people on whom your survival depends: these are bonds.
I spent a few years studying the history of human families, and what surprised me the most was the intensity of the feelings of family members for one another a few hundred years ago. A family bond was intense. Kids wrote about their parents in their journals with a love, devotion, appreciation, and adoration that we cannot even fathom. It sounded fake to me at first until I read so many different things that I realized: We, who know only know the bird-model, cannot fathom the real sharing of a life. (Dare I say, what it would be like to be monkeys?)
2. The Dream Is The People, Not The Job
In Not Fade Away a wealthy, dying man leaves this piece of advice for his children: Do not take the highest paying job you can find. And don't worry very much about the actual job. Work for your hero. That's all you need to do to have a good life.
I read that after I came to that conclusion on my own. I moved to Los Angeles to "be an actress." But acting in shit I can't stand with people I can't stand... didn't turn out to be much of a dream worth fighting for. If I had it to do over again, I would not have decided on the job, acting, but rather the person, Joss Whedon. I would have worked for him. I would have gotten him coffee for free until he hired me. I would have joined his team and learned everything I could from him about telling the stories I actually wanted to tell.
But largely, I think the Dream Job is a lie.
We are pelted with these family-destroying ideas our entire lives: Get off the farm and do something with your life! As if wearing a suit and being a paper pusher in the city is a real life. Be your own man--if you do what your parents do, you are a loser. If you take over Daddy's company you have failed. If you are a stay-at-home-mom you have failed. If you and your husband work together you are overly involved. You are supposed to have your own life. Parents who homeschool their kids are failing to let their kids go and holding them back. A child's job is not to learn to work and live well with his parents, not to create his place in that clan, but to explore his own interests, so that he can leave the nest. Our job, as parents, is to pelt our children with infinite experiences so that they can "find their passion."
This cultural script exists partly because parents and children can't stand each other and would never want to work together.
But it also exists because many parents fail to give up the keys to the kingdom. It goes squire, warrior-king, wise man. Not squire squire squire king. The minute your child is an adult with his own child, you are not the king of your clan. You are the wise advisor. Same with women. It goes maiden, warrior-queen, wise woman. Or, in my opinion, it should.
A study came out a year or two ago showing that people who live in small, intolerant communities are happier than people who live in large, tolerant ones. Small bands of like-minded monkeys traveling through life together.... We were taught that there was a job out there that should be our dream. But what if that is not true? What if people are the dream? People to fight the battle of survival with who make your heart sing?
But let's say there are some people who do have One True Job Passion and Anders is one of them. Would it behoove him to have his time wasted in school because he just has to know about All Kinds Of Things or would he be better off at home, where he is allowed to pursue that One True Passion all he wants?
Moreover, I have a theory that a truly brilliant career takes at least two and usually three generations to make. I have a great post about that here--
To use the farming example: a pioneer sets off and gets some untamed wilderness, spends his life struggling and poor, learning about that plot of land and how to make it work, building everything from scratch. His children grow up on that piece of land. Their focus is to take their parents work and improve upon it. They do much better than their parents as improving current buildings is a lot less work than building new ones. By the time they have kids, all the infrastructure is well in place. The basic methods to succeed have been refined. Their kids get to take it to the next level.
I notice this in Hollywood as well: a wannabe actor moves here from the midwest and goes on auditions and waits tables for thirty years. He gets a few tiny gigs but not much more than that. His or her kids grow un in LA, start going on auditions at age 10, know the industry well by 16, and though they never become big stars, they are working actors who don't have to wait tables. When they have kids, they know much more than their parents ever did, and they know a lot more of the right people. They put their kids in singing and dancing lessons from day one and he starts his career before he is seven. This kid becomes a movie star. Angelina Jolie has a story like this. So does Gwyneth Paltrow. And the Arquette family. So many huge stars had parents that were working actors who had parents that were mostly-failed actors.
I notice this among my scientist friends as well. First generation scientists are paving the way for their kids to do much better than they did.
Not saying this is the only rule for everyone at all times. Just saying this is a pattern I have noticed.
And for good reason. Despite the efforts made by schooling and our cultural script, the best predictor of someone's future job is still what his parents did. Yet the child who is going to grow up and be a writer like her dad anyway, wastes 22 years memorizing random things first and acquiring massive debt. Why?!!!
No matter how great the school, if I send my kid there, I am depriving him of learning about the career he will most likely end up in! He could acquire his 10,000 hours in that career by the time he is 14! Or 18! Or he can waste 22 years trying to find his "passion" and start acquiring his 10,000 hours (which takes about ten years) at age 22.
So: knowing that the greatest predictor of my child's future job is my job or my husband's job, and knowing it takes 10,000 hours to become world-class at something... why on Earth would I send my child to even the best school in the world, so that he can spend 15,000 hours becoming world-class at nothing? And at the same time deprive him of excellence in the career he is most likely to have!?
I could only possibly do that if I bought into the idea that there is a One True Passion out there just waiting for Anders to discover (if only he is exposed to this-wild-mess-of-everything that is attempted in schools). And if I believe that your job is more important than your people.
Let's say Anders is an expert at my job and Tom's job by the time he is fourteen, but he decides he doesn't want that to be his job. He still has plenty of time to do something else. And it's certainly not like he isn't exposed to a ton of other things just by going to life with me! It's only the kids shut up in school-jail all day who don't get exposed to the varieties that life has to offer since they are being deprived of actually living it. (And note that should Anders want to apprentice with someone other than me and Tom at any time, he is free to do so. Likewise should he want to go to school.)
My conclusion at this time is that there is no school better than homeschool. Because whichever way you cut it, the child not living life with his or her parents is being raised by Not Them to be Not Like Them.