If I Ran the School, Things Would be Different

MountainscallingAs a retiree, I have a special place in my heart for Monday mornings, because that’s when I would have had to go back to work if it weren’t for the joy of early retirement.  Despite the option of complete leisure, I woke up at 5:30 this morning because the sky was starting to brighten and I was too excited about the new day to let any of it go to waste.

I’m writing to you right now, but later on I’ll be building stuff, riding bikes, meeting with people and teaching kids. Later on as bedtime approaches I might fiddle around in the music room, read a book or listen to a podcast. It’s my idea of the perfect life: self-directed activities in pursuit of knowledge, self-improvement and even getting a chance to help others if you’re lucky.

This might not seem related to the subject of our school system, but at the core I think the idea is the same:

Humans are naturally curious and energetic creatures, and if you set us free in the right environment, we will get to work learning, producing, and having a great time at it.

This is especially true for kids, whose brain composition is set up for maximum-speed-learning-at-all-costs. And double especially true for my son, who has always loved the freedom to create and worked with every atom of his being to fight against any rules that might constrain it. This is a boy who, given an elaborate new high-tech Lego set, will immediately discard the instruction set, open the bags of parts, and dump them without hesitation into his main supply bins. “Great! we have way more parts now – let’s make some ships!”

This inspired (but very high maintenance) personality has been clashing with the public school system on a regular basis. Last year, he started to feel the crush of boredom and irrationality and Mrs. MM and I fought it for a long while.

“You have to stay in school”, we insisted, “that is what all responsible people do to ensure a bright future, learn to deal with diverse sets of people, and of course to socialize with other children. With you being an only child, this is especially important.”

But it started affecting his sleep, and his non-school hours started to become dominated by worrying about school, and then even his health started to follow down that road. Through research and a bit of professional counseling, we learned that he has an anxiety disorder. While this is fairly common in young kids of his type, the teachers he had to work with most often seemed unable to adapt. His third grade classroom had become a disciplinarian place with a constant shushing of kids, straight lines in the hallway, and stern words for anyone who didn’t follow assignment instructions without question. Explanations of his ideas to the teacher were shot down as “talking back” or “excuses”.

There are of course many schools of thought on how to raise a kid. In 19th century England, they used to whack them frequently with canes to keep them in line. In certain philosophies, cultures or religions it is still common to maintain an iron fist of discipline over kids until they move out of the house as young adults. The traditional Asian school system emphasized long hours, strict rules and rote memorization. The opinions of the parents and teachers are the only ones that count, and failing to perform well in school is considered a disgrace to your family.

While I’m happy to let those people do their own thing, my response to this style of education as a parent now is the same as it was when I was a kid: “Fuck That.”

The Pursuit of Soul Craft

good book right there

Good book

Around the time we were going through all of this, I was reading the book “Shop Class as Soulcraft” by the badass philosopher/mechanic Matthew B. Crawford. The author shares my own opinions on the bullshitty nature of most of our traditional rules and their influence on the modern office environment, and the value of thoughtful but difficult physical work. To quote the man on the clash of school with human nature:

 “It is a rare person who is naturally inclined to sit still for sixteen years at school, and then indefinitely at work”

Don’t get me wrong. The idea of a free public education for all is still a great one. In my school, a noticeable portion* of the kids come from families where the parents don’t seem to be putting much effort into their upbringing. Nobody is reading to them at home, or talking about science or teaching them a trade. There’s no Lego, not enough bikes and too much TV, drowning out the chance to actually learn by creating anything for themselves. For them, school is the only hand up they have in life so we’d better make the most of it.

But damn, we could do so much better.

If I ran the school, there would be none of those leaky-tire teachers that are permanently shushing kids in the classrooms and the hallways.

I remember one vivid experience while volunteering in the school, walking down the hallway with a group of my little advanced math students. The hall was empty and our journey back to the main classroom was going well. Without warning, an attack of shushes came at us from a sniper who had positioned herself inconspicuously at a desk off to the side. We escaped without losing the flow of our thoughts, but at the midway point, a second attack came from a guy standing at the far end. Arms down, straight line, no talking.

When kids are talking to each other, that’s called a conversation, which is one of the most valuable things you can let kids have.

And nobody needs to line up in the hallways. I don’t do lineups myself, so why would I make kids endure this irrational suppression of natural body placement?

If I ran the place, there would be a red button on the wall, that would start Walking on Sunshine, pulsing LED rope lights and a disco ball. Anybody could run up and press it. The walls would be padded and there would be subwoofers. It would be an invigorating and ridiculous dance party going from one class to the next. Coincidentally, this is very similar to how I run my own house.

Some teachers are still taking away recess from kids as a form of punishment. The most valuable and educational part of the school day – experiencing nature and fresh air, refreshing the mind and training the body – gone because of an cruel desire to make a child regret not conforming to their irrational rules. I found this both enraging and ironic, because the school hallway proudly displays a large banner with the following quote:

“Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading; I will rather say more necessary, because health is worth more than learning.”
– Thomas Jefferson

In my school, recess would come first. There is more than enough time to learn the easy stuff like physics, chemistry and software design. Plenty of adults accomplish that. But how many of us spend enough time outside and maintain reasonable levels of strength and fitness into our old age? How many people over 50 even do barbell squats with any regularity any more?

In my school, play is not something to be suppressed – it is something you facilitate and hope for. There’s a reason that kids of all the most intelligent animals (whether kittens, dolphins or humans) are born with a desire to play. It is because playing is the most efficient way to learn. How could this blatantly obvious bit of evolution have been suppressed in the design of our school system? Thus, the ultimate achievement as a teacher is to trigger a marathon session of Automatic Learning Through Play, and sit back and watch the neurons connect.

 So We Decided It Was Time To Run The School

My rant above is overly idealistic, or course. Real school systems are faced with all sorts of constraints, just like any organization that involves a large number of humans. You have vastly diverse kids, some of them uncooperative or even violent. Meddling administrators, parents, and politicians. The flawed implementation of standardized testing which often displaces actual learning. Sure, it can be improved, but that’s a separate battle from the job of taking care of our own son because he needed a solution right now. 

Much like Mustachianism itself, we decided it was more efficient to try something new immediately and start learning from it, than to sit around complaining about the system we were stuck in. Since we’ve been experimenting with this for about a year now, I figured it would be worth sharing some of the surprising observations.

Is Homeschooling Only for Weirdos? Surely it Wouldn’t Work for Me?

This was my first assumption before learning about the option. I had never met anyone who didn’t go to school, so I thought it was necessary to grow up as an educated, well-adjusted adult. This turned out to be totally wrong and I have heard from (and read about) dozens of exceptionally happy, intelligent achievers who went this way. But it’s not for everyone – if you find yourself with a kid who already likes school, you might want to keep that good situation as it is.

How Can This Lead to a Good Education?

If you start with the natural hunger kids have towards learning, and subtract out some of the biggest obstacles (lineups, waiting for the slow trudge of big-class teaching, boring and repetitive activities), you find that you can exceed the actual academic learning contained in a typical school day with just an hour or two of concentrated effort. You can double the pace by throwing in a second hour or more. And this leaves the rest of the day to broaden the benefits – activities with other people, physical challenges, educational trips, etc. You can also let the kid run free with uninterrupted time when he does find a true interest – for example getting into a really good book, writing, music, programming, etc.

This fits well with the modern and future workforce, where employers are looking for people who can adapt, create, and produce, rather than simply follow rules. But even using the word “employers” is shortsighted in my book. I’m not teaching my kid to be an employee – I’m teaching him to be a creator, who will find it satisfying to start his own small companies. Employees will be the people he hires when the time comes.

Where do you Get your Curriculum?

Sal Khan is pretty much The Man when it comes to great do-it-yourself education. Thanks Sal!

Sal Khan is pretty much The Man when it comes to great do-it-yourself education. Thanks Sal!

Much of this becomes obvious if you ask yourself what really defines a good education. But for a shortcut, just look at Khan Academy. This brillant utopia of an organization has been creating well-organized, advanced, free learning for years now, and it just keeps getting better. Get your kid an account there, set him or her free and watch the sparks fly. Of course, you should also hover conveniently nearby to help expand the learning.

We also worked with the school and borrowed some textbooks, looked at the US core standards that help define the teaching done in conventional school, and did plenty of online searching to see what other people use for their learning.

But the fun part comes when you leave the conventional lessons. For example, to illustrate math and trigonometry (as well as a tiny bit about astronomy), I taught my son how to calculate the height of our city’s water tower based on the length of its shadow at noon on March 21st. To learn about science and engineering, you talk about how things work and watch the amazing documentaries they have now that explain how fascinating these things are.

Technology and Computing: The video game called Kerbal Space Program tricks kids into learning rocket design and planetary physics at a deeply intuitive level. Another called Robocraft involves iterative design, construction and testing disguised as a first person shoot-em-up. We also build and program real robots using a VEX IQ set, but you can ease into kid-style programming with a language called Scratch.

In fact, any strategic and complicated video game contains a lot of disguised learning, because your kid has to learn the subtleties of using a computer in order to get it to work in the first place. How to use a mouse, keyboard, and menus. How to read, type, copy files, install updates, search for information, even connect to another IP address to host a multiplayer game. These end up being really useful skills throughout life, and this is why I would never buy an Xbox, Wii, PlayStation or other simplified video gaming system. Those things preserve the recreation, but strip out the important technology. If your kid is going to have “screen time”, it might as well be on a nice, complicated real computer, which is another reason we haven’t had TV service since well before he was born.

Music: At the most basic level, you learn a lot about music by simply listening to it. I always have something playing in the house and I let my son change the Pandora station and create his own. But we also jam with real instruments which are left strategically lying about the house and make songs with Ableton Live. Music lessons are valuable for those so inclined, but due to our resistance to rules and structure, my son and I are not so inclined at the moment even as people who are unusually interested in music.


Art Class tends to change along with the current topics of interest in real life. Currently space travel and colonization due to a binge of reading we did about SpaceX.


Reading and Writing: kids reading to themselves at any time, parents reading books to kids at bedtime, hitting the Library at least once a week, and leaving blank notebooks and great writing instruments and erasers around the house to facilitate creation of new literature and comics.

The Typical Day of Homeschooling

Typical day's schedule

Typical day’s schedule

It changes along with the season, but there is the whiteboard as it appears today. You got some writing, building/programming, lunch, outdoor activities, and math. We keep things in the 1-4 hour range to avoid homeschooling becoming a drag. After all, kids are always learning, whether you label it as school or not.

Surprising Advantages

  • You can live wherever you like without regard to “school district”. You can also travel and take vacations without regard to the school calendar.
For example, nice weather last week required that we spend Monday hiking in the mountains.

For example, nice weather last week required that we spend Monday hiking in the mountains.

  • You get the best private school, with a commute and tuition cost of roughly zero.
  • I find myself learning more, just so I’ll have more to share with him (similar to the effect that this blog has had on my life)
  • My son is at peace with the world, fired up, and learning quickly.

What about Testing and Standards?  Is anybody watching what I do?

This part is easy. Although it is unlikely any authorities will ever be involved with your schooling, in theory you are supposed to do at least 4 hours per day of classes, and keep a journal of what you do. You may also be able to drop in on your local school for special classes if you make arrangements with the principal there.

You can order practice tests, and the real end-of-year tests (called the Iowa Test of Basic Skills), which you can administer yourself or do at the school. Mrs. MM bought her copies from BJUpress.org**

Your kid does of course need to pass the test, but if you’re serious about learning you will be miles ahead of the requirements.

What about Socialization? 

As it turns out, the regular school day is mostly about discouraging socialization. Get the kids to sit still and be quiet so they can learn, except in widely spaced controlled group activities. Most of the fun happens in extracurricular activities, which you can still join, or in plain old free play, which you can do any time.

Little MM still has all of his earlier school friends, and he hangs out with them constantly outside of school hours and on the weekends. We also keep meeting more people, just by virtue of living in a neighborhood where people want to know each other.

There are also organized homeschooling groups where you gather for group activities or even classes at a dedicated location. While we haven’t had time to join any groups yet, I plan to start running some classes of my own out of the parkside studio building I’ll be building in my back yard once the main house is done.

In Conclusion

Homeschooling has turned out to be a highly Mustachian activity: packed with Freedom, requiring high effort in exchange for high reward, and a way of improving upon the system of our society while working peacefully with its boundaries. It is not for everyone and it will consume much of your mental and physical power, but in exchange you will deliver a truly excellent education.

Further Reading: Mrs. Money Mustache shares more about her homeschooling journey in this March 2014 post on her own site.

 * By “noticeable portion” I’m not talking about kids with a different race or language of origin. This parenting divide is caused some other way – perhaps even by stress. If your own life as an adult is pushing your boundaries, you might have less energy left over to help your kids. Now that I’m a parent myself, I feel less judgmental about how things work out for other parents, because this stuff is pretty damned hard even from my very privileged position of having only one kid, two parents, and more free time and money than most. So instead of bashing parents of disadvantaged kids, I’d rather just help them by trying to inspire their kids.

**BJU happens to be a religious group, but the tests themselves are just the standard national tests. In fact, you’ll find a high correlation between homeschooling and religion, but that doesn’t make the idea any less valid for completely non-religious people (such as the MMM family) as well. For me, it’s all about better learning and a better life, which are almost the same thing.

  • SaintMichael February 16, 2015, 9:23 pm

    In my home “school” is the s-word. My kids (14, 12, and 11 year-old girls) can say shit all they want, but they damn well better not say the s-word.

  • Julia February 16, 2015, 9:36 pm

    Hi MMM,

    First comment, though I’ve been silently reading for a long time.
    I completely agree with you. In fact I’m a believer that school is for leveling education to the very basic not to get the most from every student, but to get the minimal you need to know. So if you’re curious by nature, or super smart, or very creative, or you have enriching parents that help you get the most from your time on earth, you are basically screwed, sticked to a mediocre system that will make sure you learn to memorize and to respond to someone else’s expectations (what are tests and exams other than that?).
    Although We don’t have children yet, I’ve been thinking a lot about homeschooling. The only thing that concerns me is the socializing aspect that you already addressed… And we came up with an idea that I’m not sure that will work but maybe you can analyze (or discard immediately, no hard feelings): what about if a group of, let’s say, 3 homeschooled children are gathered together into a project group and required to submit a proposal to address this very same matter: “how to replace school socializing when homeschooling?” I’m always surprised by the kiddos open minded approach to any matter, so I’m sure they’ll come up with a great solution, not to mention that the exercise is a solution itself. Just my 2 cents. Excuse my writing, English isn’t my mother tongue. Keep on with the great posts! Cya, Julia

  • Katie February 16, 2015, 10:12 pm

    Fantastic article and it sounds like your child is going to be an intelligent, creative and independent adult. I agree that children need play and it would be a positive steps if all schools positively encouraged active and creative play (both indoors and out) as part of the curriculum. Unfortunately teachers are bogged down in meeting stringent learning outcomes and criteria for children that are impossible to meet through ‘play’. It takes more than a change from the teachers, as they are doing what they have to do, in order to meet the curriculum outcomes. It takes a whole movement, starting with the recognition that perhaps there is another way..it may not be free based play, it’s always going to have to be structured when there are 20-30 children per classroom. But if we could be a bit more flexible with the curriculum then we are taking one step in the right direction.

  • Ma$e February 16, 2015, 10:25 pm

    Thanks for this MMM. I have been wondering about your experience with homeschooling. I have picked up on some parallels between the challenges your Son has had with traditional school, and those my daughter is having with her school.

    She was diagnosed with what they used to call High-functioning Asperger’s, but now simply call ASD. Aside from some minor social difficulties, she has anxiety. The silver lining, is that she is a brilliant, creative little girl. The school system is failing her in much the same way, as it would seem, as it has your son.

    We have had some luck with French Immersion here (Ontario) as language seems to be one of her passions, however, in spite of here formal diagnosis, she is largely ignored by the support staff because she passes as “Brilliant”.

    Thanks for this. I hope we can gain the courage to do this soon.

  • V February 16, 2015, 11:07 pm

  • Emily February 16, 2015, 11:35 pm

    We just pulled our kids out of public school, after my 9 year old spent the last six months begging to be homeschooled. He was bored silly in school, and frustrated beyond belief at all the silly rules (and so was I, honestly, I’m way too libertarian for all that to sit well…)
    Anyway, he’s soaring now, after just a couple of weeks at home. Loving Khan Academy, and Scratch, and Story of the World (great history curriculum, btw, if you’re interested; the kids request it daily). We’re studying astronomy for science right now which basically means reading tons of books (including greek myths, of course!) and this weekend we’re heading out to the desert to camp and stargaze.
    Yeah, it is a ton more work for me, but what worthwhile thing isn’t? The payoff: happy and engaged kids learning like crazy, is totally, totally worth it.

  • Frugal Bazooka February 17, 2015, 12:39 am

    I’m sure I’ll be in the minority here, but I couldn’t disagree more with the idea of home schooling. If my parents had home schooled me I would have gone bat shit crazy. My reasons are numerous, but for the sake of presenting a basic synopsis I’ll confine my reasons to just 3.
    And before I get on with it let me say up front that I’m fine with parents doing whatever they want in terms of educating their kids whether I agree with it or not. At the end of 18 years old as long as a kid can function in society it doesn’t really matter how or where they learn it.

    So why do I disagree with home schooling then? First off, no matter how you frame it, hanging around my parents and being “taught” by my parents all day would not have worked on any level. God Bless them, my parents were good people but I rejected nearly everything about their way of life since I was old enough to consciously reject things. Looking back, being able to reject and rebel and have disdain for them in my youth was extremely healthy. It allowed me to be my own person and make real mistakes and find real solutions. When it was time for me to make a clean break and go out into the world on my own, it was painless and successful. Has the world changed that much since I was a kid? Maybe, but my own kids followed a similar path of being independent from their parents and have succeeded beyond my (and their) expectations.
    The second reason is the simple fact that I NEEDED to be exposed to socialization, discipline and rules without negotiation. I was a less than ideal student and i fought and undermined the discipline and regimentation of school (and parents) on a daily basis. Looking back though, going thru that gauntlet was an excitingly creative and serious bonding experience that gave me a connection with lifelong school friends that is unparalleled in my life. Are public schools mind numbing propaganda factories spewing out pre-programmed Gamma drones? On the contrary, some of the most invigoratingly subversive knowledge I gained was gleaned from the halls of the local escuela. The chaos and the angst and the sheer arbitrariness of being a brick in the wall – being shared with so many kids at once – is truly a once in a lifetime experience that my parents had no chance of replicating in our garage.
    Third, I point to the intensity of the extracurricular opportunities which include not just school organized sports and clubs, but house parties, start up games on the school yard, negotiating between cliques, experimenting with EVERYTHING you can imagine. How could my parents ever hope to create an environment that was so competitive, harsh and yet so enlightening on a visceral level? They couldn’t and they shouldn’t have to because they needed some free time to have a life that wasn’t constantly entangled with me and my brothers.
    Finally, a family friend was telling my wife and I about how she was reaching out to the local school district for help with her home schooled kid. He kept failing the math portion of the required test and she couldn’t understand it because the kid has gotten “A’s” in ALL his math classes since elementary level. When we asked who gave him the A’s on his home schooled math classes she informed us that SHE did.
    I remember getting an F in geometry in 10th grade because I thought I could pass it without studying. The teacher did not agree with that sentiment and taught me that I DID need to study to get an A. I am forever grateful for that and many other lessons my parents could never have taught me.

    • Elizabeth Johnson February 17, 2015, 2:18 pm

      Thumbs up.

    • Chad February 17, 2015, 7:50 pm

      Couldn’t agree more – public school offers up so much more then just academics that I don’t believe can be duplicated through home schooling.

    • Sean February 18, 2015, 10:35 am

      +1, amen, ^.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque February 19, 2015, 5:37 am

      On your points, I have to agree and disagree:
      1. Yeah. Parents, including us, are actually wrong about a lot of straightforward facts. A teacher with a specialization in biology is *way* less likely, for instance, to tell you that pulling on your earlobes will cause you to have children with longer earlobes. I understand homeschoolers avoid this by sharing lessons in their areas of expertise, using a lot of provided teaching materials, and wikipedia can certainly help, but it is something to watch out for. When it comes to philosophy, school provides a place where theory has to be put into practice. Where those “A”s your parents hand out to you turn into “F”s because that’s how good you are.
      2. I feel something like this, too. Although every generation feels its kids are dumber and more useless than the last, there is something to explaining to a child that there are millions of people like you and that you can’t expect to be treated like a special little flower all along the way. School does this to you without any effort.
      3. I have to disagree here. I played a lot of different competitive sports and all they ever did was bring out the greatest amount of cruelty and bitterness I have ever felt or had inflicted upon me. Quite honestly, while I am enrolled in martial arts, the only competitive sports I ever care to play these days are things like badminton and curling – games where sportsmanship and proper behaviour are mandatory.
      In total, though, the kid does eventually need to be able to perform on his own, out in the world. If I’d been homeschooled, I don’t think I’d have been able to develop that ability. Was my schooling the best, healthiest way to do that? Hell, no. Not with the shit I had to put up with. But would I have been better off avoiding the world? Probably not. I would have used it to hide myself away.
      But that’s just me and, as you said, if it works for your kid, that’s great for you.

      • Frugal Bazooka February 19, 2015, 6:45 pm

        Mr FT,

        sorry to hear about your sports experience. I know that a certain % of kids who go thru PE and varsity sports have a miserable time and that usually has to do with the asshole coach who is half a bully and half a sadist. I was lucky to have several amazing coaches who changed my life. Without going into details, I was headed in the wrong direction and they gave me a new path to follow and I am forever in their debt. I also know a lot of kids in my group of friends who would have ended up in jail had it not been for football and wrestling in high school. So while I completely validate your bad experiences, I know that sports today in the public schools can still change a kid’s life for the better…maybe not all kids, but certain at risk kids who need a lot of structure and constant physical challenges.

        I also think that you are accurately pointing out what I consider the most important part of the public school experience: to teach kids that there is a world out there and it isn’t always pretty and won’t always bend to their wants. It takes effort and resilience to navigate that public school world and while clearly many people do not like the evolutionary aspect of the school yard – it’s not that far off from how life is post college. There is also a fairly consistent element to the home school vs public school conversation which I find fascinating. A large % of those favoring home schooling are convinced that their kids are honors/gifted level students and need a different environment to uncork that potential genius. Of course one way to know if a kid is a superior intellect is an IQ test (I think the WISC test is a commonly used measure) but I’m guessing only a small % of those kids would actually test out as above average or of superior intellect. The reason I bring that up is because I am convinced that smart kids can get a great education in most public schools and the social skills and coping skills they learn are even MORE important than any academics they might learn along the way.

        • Mr. Frugal Toque February 19, 2015, 8:45 pm

          Hm. I have to respect that other people may have had better experiences with competitive sports than I did. No sport I ever played lifted me out of some gutter or gave me a particularly new outlook on life. I just liked playing several of them: soccer, baseball, badminton, curling, etc.
          It was my experience, however, that since leaving high school, the vast majority of leagues are ruined by weekend warrior types – dangerous folk who believe they’ve found games where they can dump out the terrible sorrows of their upper-middle class lives on unsuspecting fellows who just came out to get some exercise and experience some intense but non-violent conflict. Why are adults getting in fistfights over games? Honestly!

          • Frugal bazooka February 20, 2015, 6:37 pm

            They use sports the same way drug addicts use crack…to fill emotional holes.

      • Vanessa March 29, 2015, 5:26 pm

        1. Most science offered in public schools is not taught by a specialist. In many elementary schools science is not even offered, or if it is, it comes from a textbook in the regular classroom (not in a lab) taught by the General Ed teacher who is following the same curriculum available for any parent to purchase to use at home (or borrow from their local school).
        2. Many children in schools today are working with an IEP (individualized educational plan) to do exactly what you describe- receive special services throughout the day because many kids are not receiving the instruction they need in a room filled with 30-35 kids.
        3. What makes you think kids who aren’t sitting in class with others all born the same year in your local public school are missing out on the real world? School shelters kids from the real world by keeping them in class for 7 hours per day and often sending them home with homework to complete that keeps them indoors sitting for even longer into their evenings. Kids outside of that system are free to engage in the real world and many often do. They have conversations with adults throughout the day while in the community grocery shopping, skiing, at the library, volunteering at the humane society, woodworking with a Meetup group, helping an elderly neighbor shovel snow, learning about safety and conditions with ski patrol, etc.

      • Lady Locust August 16, 2016, 1:49 pm

        Actually competition is the opposite of community.

  • Snor February 17, 2015, 3:57 am

    Great post, and I totally agree on the educational possibilities of video games! With the caveat that as a parent (or other educactor) you’ll have to help with the selection of which videogames to play and how to play them. Running around in Minecraft to kill zombies and creepers is fun and has something to teach you, but eventually you’ll want to move on to creating complex things like redstone cirquits.

    I also think that video games can be a very mustachian passtime, since the cash invested per hour of enjoyment can be very low if you’re careful about the games you select. The lates game I’ve poured quite a few hours into, and which also provides ample opportunity to exercise your brain, is Factorio (www.factorio.com). I very much intend to play that with my kids once they’re old enough.

    And then there is the stage beyond playing games, which is actually creating them. I’m developing a videogame with a friend of mine and the amount of new things we’ve had to learn in the process is staggering :). And to keep it mustachian: at the moment we’re doing this next to our dayjobs, but I’m planning on expanding the practice once we pay off our mortgage in a couple of years. Yay for financial freedom :D.

  • Chris February 17, 2015, 4:03 am

    Man, your financial situation lets you really focus on what’s important. Instead of the usual “we have to do X because of the bills” you’re able to focus on family, health, and learning. Not just sitting in the office all day! Great stuff.

  • Emma February 17, 2015, 4:18 am

    This post is timely. I have a 2.5 year old and I’m currently living in Spain – a world away from my native New Zealand. I want my son to go to school in New Zealand and we have precisely one school we are considering – it’s based on the Summerhill school in England. It’s called a childrens democracy (I love that) and basically kids wander between classrooms as they choose, naturally gravitating towards the subjects they enjoy. If he doesn’t get in (they only take 60 students per year) then we’ll be home schooling. Which at least means more travelling.

    • Bakari February 19, 2015, 8:43 pm

      I did a search of the page for “SummerHill” before commenting, as I was sure someone must have pointed it out – seems your the only reader who knows about it!
      One more reason to consider relocating to NZ someday.
      Would you share the name of this school?

      • b February 22, 2015, 11:55 pm

        Summerhill? Yes good Some students did say, But I don’t like that why should I do it? Life alas does have some requirements we may not like ?

        • Anna February 28, 2015, 5:08 pm

          My children went to a summerhill style school in Australia for a couple of years and whilst I absolutely loved how they operated I wouldn’t say it would suit every child. In fact one of my children found it quite overwhelming at times. He is a child that had quite a bit of anxiety around school like mmm junior, and we went through some big dramas to find a good fit for him.
          We homeschooled him for about six months which we all loved for all the reasons mentioned in mmm’s article. About 18mths ago we moved, and when I was enroling my daughter in the local state school, he just decided he wanted to go there too. I don’t know what changed, or maybe he was just ready, but aside from a couple of minor ups and downs, he is absolutely loving school now. We live in a remote indigenous community (on a beautiful tropical island – don’t hate me), and with the different culture, different language, not knowing anyone to start with – in theory he should have been the one who struggled the most to adjust. Au contraire – he is blossoming!

  • Cole February 17, 2015, 5:01 am

    Seth Godin wrote an amazing essay on the current state of the education system and how it discourages turning students into creators. It’s called “Stop Stealing Dreams”. It’s long but totally worth reading from beginning to end if you’ve ever thought about an alternative to the traditional schooling system.


  • Daniel February 17, 2015, 5:59 am

    I really enjoyed this article. My wife has been homeschooling our five year old daughter for the past 2 months and things are going well. She has to spend a lot more time preparing school activities than I thought would be needed, but it appears to be working quite well.

  • Jason February 17, 2015, 6:38 am

    The choice to home school is a difficult decision, and it sounds like you’re entering into it thoughtfully. I also read MrsMM’s post from last March, and she asked some good questions. I’d like to unpack the last one, as it is in my wheelhouse: “Is there a way to improve the math curriculum so that it is not so intensely dependent on worksheets?”

    Embedded in this question is the following: when considering kids’ math learning, we need to think about both WHAT they learn and HOW they learn it. Her question emphasizes the latter, and there are many others who have wrestled with this same question (e.g. http://www.nctm.org/Standards-and-Positions/Principles-and-Standards/Process/). In the Common Core Standards* (which, I note, you referenced in your search for resources), these dual questions are represented by the CONTENT standards (the what) and the PRACTICE standards (the how). Why am I harping on this distinction? Because, as MrsMM rightly notes, there is a problem when the HOW consists mostly of worksheets – “kill and drill.” This form of HOW is often called “direct instruction followed by guided practice.” Why is this a problem? A few reasons.

    One reason is that it’s boring. Kids gets bored, they look for something less boring to do, and then they run headfirst into an institutional culture that values compliance and order above all else. So they get into trouble and get recess taken away. No bueno. As the ratio of bored to compliant kids grows asymptotically, the work of teaching becomes primarily about classroom management and less about engineering learning opportunities for kids.

    Another, more mathematical reason, lurks slightly below the surface and is cause for much societal concern. A curriculum of worksheets presents a skewed image of what it means to know and do mathematics. We have large segments of the population who have learned that this (practicing ad nauseam an algorithm that the teacher explained and getting the right answer as quickly as possible) is what it means to do mathematics. The upshot of this are plenty of individuals who have decided that they “just aren’t a math person” and it has become socially acceptable to make such an admission. But these admissions are based on a skewed image of the work of mathematics. A more authentic view of what it means to do mathematics involves (to name just a few) looking for patterns and structure in number, making and testing mathematical conjectures, and constructing mathematical arguments. My claim** is that kids not only CAN engage in these more authentic forms of mathematical practice, but that they SHOULD. How do we do it?

    This questions points to the need for a curriculum that engages students in complex, perplexing tasks that admit the possibility of engaging in authentic mathematical practices (c.f. http://blog.mrmeyer.com/category/3acts/, https://connectedmath.msu.edu/, http://www.amazon.com/Childrens-Mathematics-Second-Edition-Cognitively/dp/0325052875/ref=dp_ob_title_bk). Which brings me to my one critique of your post: Khan*** Academy. In my view, KA is little better than the worksheets that MrsMM was complaining about. To be fair, there are things to like about KA – for instance, it does a good job of providing immediate evaluation of students’ answers. And Vi Hart’s videos (https://www.khanacademy.org/math/recreational-math/vi-hart) are a treasure trove. But their bread and butter is just an electronic version of direct instruction followed by guided practice, and recent analysis of the questions posed to students found that the alignment between KA and the more rigorous assessments that are aligned with the CCSS was poor. In other words, the questions KA is posing to students are more straightforward and less rigorous than questions that students will be asked on newer assessments like SBAC.

    To wrap this up: great job thinking critically about whether public schooling is a good fit your child’s needs. But I’d encourage you look beyond KA for curricular resources. I don’t think it adequately addresses MrsMM’s concerns about the HOW of math teaching and learning.

    *Note that the CCSS are STANDARDS, not a curriculum
    **Actually, I’m not the only one making this claim. The CCSS practice standards are the result of a long (and ongoing) conversation among math educators about how to do this.
    ***What would William Shatner yell if he was upset with the pedagogical style of a tutoring website? (hat tip to https://twitter.com/bowenkerins)

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 17, 2015, 8:06 am

      Awesome! Thanks Jason.

    • nicoleandmaggie February 17, 2015, 12:19 pm

      I don’t think the problem with math instruction is the worksheets per-se (some of my fondest hours as a child were spent with pencil and paper doing fun math problems), but what is actually on the worksheets. We had an amazing time with Hard Math for Elementary Students by Glenn Ellison, we’ve enjoyed Singapore Math, and my oldest is just about old enough now to get started on Martin Gardner’s Aha and Gotcha books. Math is beautiful and wonderful, but it isn’t all mental math– pencil and paper work is great so long as the questions are interesting and show the beauty of math.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque February 19, 2015, 5:43 am

      I noticed this about the way mathematics is taught here: there are no “worksheets” in the manner you mean.
      Addition, subtraction and multiplication (so far) are taught by showing the children different methods of dealing with numbers. I remember hearing my oldest – years ago – say something like, “97 + 28 … it takes 3 to get to 100 … so 25 are left … that’s 125”.
      Since this is how I do it in my head, I was surprised to see that this is how they teach it in school. There are actual problems on his quizzes where he’s required to break down addition and subtraction problems this way – as well as use a number of other strategies to solve similar problems.
      Possibly as a consequence, he likes math.
      My father, who was a high school math teacher until he retired, also hates worksheets – especially when elementary school teachers used them as a form of punishment.

  • Nimrod Aviram February 17, 2015, 7:10 am

    Have you considered suggesting to your son that he attend college early? I hear it’s quite feasible in the U.S. to start college as early as 15, especially if you make preparations a for few years before that age.

    • CAtoTX February 17, 2015, 7:31 am

      It’s true! My daughter took her first online college class at age 12, and her first “live” college class at 14. I live in CA and the rules were somewhat tricky, but I bought a copy of the California Education Code and I was fully versed on her rights.

      • Gigi February 17, 2015, 8:02 am

        Yes, definitely true. I took my first course at the local community college at 15 and by the time I graduated from high school (17), I was able to complete my education at a four-year school in just three years with all the credits I’d racked up.

    • Mr. Enchumbao February 20, 2015, 8:42 am

      It would be interesting to see if he would even feel the need to go college. These are great options to have!

  • Alex February 17, 2015, 7:49 am

    Great stuff MMM, welcome to the homeschooling Club of Awesomeness and congratulations. You’re gonna continue loving it. DW and I were both homeschooled; she ( ex-architect, now homemaker) and I (Chemical Engineer, Plant Manager at a midsized company) knew from the get-go we’d homeschool our kids.
    11 years and 5kids later, still hard at it. 2-3 hard hours a day on the fundamentals and done. Let the kids learn and play on their own. It is Fantastic!

  • Gigi February 17, 2015, 8:00 am

    So excellent! It was so nice to read this. I was homeschooled from first grade up through graduation and I was nodding along with everything you wrote. I remember loving (particularly in my teen years) the ability to self-direct my schedule and to pursue things that interested me (in Virginia, we had to do a certain type of credits, but within those credits we had flexibility, so one year for my history credit, I decided to go deep into Medieval history, another year I dove into Greek mythology and history). I never felt socially stunted (I played on sports teams, went to youth groups, and had good friends), but instead felt creatively energized. And I had more free time than any of my friends. So I did things like teach myself HTML, blog, submit short stories to contests, etc.

    I really think that it set me up for success in college and then work.

    One thing I will note is that I think the requirements vary from state to state (or at least they did 10+ years ago), so some states require (or did require at that time) a teacher to give the end-of-year exams. In Virginia, that was the case.

  • EDSMedS February 17, 2015, 8:03 am

    “Schools without Failure” by Dr. William Glasser, published in 1969, records the results of a school that let kids CHOOSE when/what they wanted to learn. The overwhelming result? Janitors, engineers, writers, mathematicians, and JOY. Agency drives happiness far more than social status.

    I’m glad that MMM is giving little MM agency, whether the result is janitor, nature guide, astronaut, or politician the odds are he will be more joyful.

  • Green Guru February 17, 2015, 8:09 am

    Excellent move!

    For those who cannot take this option, here are a few possible reforms that could make the public schools less dreadful:

    1. Classrooms and hallways should have adequate acoustic dampening so whispers don’t quickly escalate into shouts.
    2. Relative grading should be replaced by levels of attainment. Think Dungeons and Dragons levels as a model. This cuts down on the envy factor.
    3. Athletic attainment should be graded the same as mathematics. Make the potential bullies be teacher’s pets at what they are good at.
    4. Common core types of tests should be deeper and segmented horizontally. Measure how much the kids learn at whatever they and their teachers are interested in, vs. putting the entire nation onto a single quota system.
    5. Have core subject teachers do double duty at whatever elective type of subject that they enjoy. If the math teacher likes music, let him teach music. If the grammar teacher likes programming, let her teach programming, etc. Specialized art/music/etc. teachers tend to get too spread thin. This arrangement gives you more art/music/etc. teachers and makes the core teachers less bored.

  • Sue February 17, 2015, 8:11 am

    If you ever start your own school, I’m selling my overpriced house (which keeps me from FI but that’s my choice at this point) and moving to CO. Our school district is #10 in the state and my kid does well-that means he sits still, listens and does satisfactory work. He is 8 and a lot of his fellow students (especially boys) struggle with sitting still and listening. Why? Because they are 8! It’s the rare teacher that identifies this trait. It makes me sad and all of these kids are capable of so much more than being punished with no recess time and the incessant shhhing. Sadly, I’m less than satisfied with our district that teaches to the test so they can maintain their rating.

    Glad your homeschooling is working out!

  • tlars699 February 17, 2015, 8:43 am

    The top things I hated about school were interrelated: 1. Asking questions to the teacher in advance of the topic was actively discouraged, even if it would bring more interesting information to the lesson and make the information more cohesive/easier to understand for everyone. 2. The complacency of other students to watch the teacher like another form of tv and passively absorb everything only to forget about it after the next exam. No inter-department connections until recently, where we have to make phys. ed. relevant by making them do math worksheets and writing essays DURING CLASS. >_< (Exact opposite of what should be going on- make them do it OUTSIDE of class. Yes, Gym Class should have homework. Fancy that.)

    Rather than being able to homeschool (as I won't have FI by then :( ), I was planning on having Home life have better homework options during school/summer, and maybe having those graded for extra credit. Also, encouraging the kids to keep asking questions of their teachers, even if the teacher tells them "it's disruptive". (Hint: It's only disruptive to your lesson planner book, Teach.)

  • Kris February 17, 2015, 8:47 am


    One of the things that I had always really liked about MMM was his support for the public school in his area. Even when he and Mrs. MM made the decision to home school Little MM, and wrote about it in his blog, I was so, so gratified to not smell one whiff of the freaking OMNIPRESENT teacher-bashing that I seem to see almost everywhere in this country lately.

    And now…

    *shakes head*

    Honestly, MMM, your decision is your own. And that’s awesome for you and your kid. Your kid does not thrive in the school situation he found himself in. But seriously, do you HAVE to give in to that mindless teacher-bashing, and paint all the adults who were probably overworked, underpaid, and bogged down by directives from the principal, the school board, and the state as a bunch of ridiculous, pursed-lipped automaton librarians staring down at the vulnerable, hopeful youth from their horn-rimmed glasses?

    I find this really just so disappointing. It makes me sad, because I really thought that you were above that kind of discourse. Fine, the school system isn’t serving your kid well. But you know what? It’s not serving the teachers well, either. Bashing it isn’t going to help anyone. All it does is make people who already thing teachers are lazy losers feel more secure in their opinion, because MMM “agrees with them.”

    I just don’t know what else to say.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 19, 2015, 10:36 pm

      You read too much into it, Kris. I still think our school is great, and most of the teachers are as well. Teachers on average are great people and do a great job.

      I just had some very specific issues with some very specific teachers that we couldn’t effectively cut out of his curriculum. One of these in particular was indeed very unsuitable for a role in a public school. Bitter. Unflexible. Unfriendly to both kids and parents. Not open to volunteers.

      I tried to generalize and anonymize a bit since I know people from the school read this blog. Now that we’re buried down at comment #273 where nobody will see it, I’ll say it out loud. Among other hard lines I won’t allow crossing, if you take recess away from kids – ANY kids – as a punishment, you cannot teach my kid. Because we just have irreconcilable differences on human rights and education.

      This is not “mindless teacher bashing”. It’s just sticking to certain principles that are not up for compromise with me. Most other areas are much more flexible, but as I said, sometimes we come to the point of “Fuck That.”

  • Preston Springer February 17, 2015, 8:48 am

    After 14 years of teaching HS art in public schools(few years in a Christian school) im about to pop.
    Sign me up for the art job! I need to make some changes for sure or find a new profession. Your post speaks
    Such truth that I am so happy I stumbled upon. The single thing that makes me hate my job so you spoke of…
    All socialization is anymore for the kids (and myself due to my subject and classroom environment) is “discouraging socialization”. That right there has just slam wore me out and down. “Oh but you do such a great job” “oh but what a difference a good teacher makes” all true but “oh what and impact is has on ME and my family, and my well being” so I think this post goes both ways, we/things are not only all wrong in the school but for the teachers as well. So sign me up! I’ll throw the family in the car and move to CO!

  • homeschooling mustachian mom February 17, 2015, 8:54 am

    Yes! I was always a little bummed that you were so alternative and pro freethinking and badass and all but still thought public school was a great option, while my experience with school taught me it was not the best way to raise a future badass mustachian. Glad you came around.

  • Tony February 17, 2015, 9:13 am


    Loving your posts, as always! I am a former public school teacher, administrator, assistant principal, now college professor who runs my own school just the way I like it! And yes, I could not agree with you more that our school system teaches the creativity right out of our kids (see “Out of Our Minds” by Sir Kenneth Robinson — his TED Talk is epic.

    One contention — I am also a professional musician, and music lessons are not only for “the musically inclined” — because there is no such thing. Read “The Little Book of Talent” by Daniel Coyle. I know you love to read, and this one will blow your mind; it won’t take long for you to agree with all of it. Music lessons FROM THE RIGHT instructor unleash more creativity than can be explained. You see, Igor Stravinsky once said that he never would have been able to compose some of the most out-of-the box works of art if there were no rules and obstacles. We need rules and obstacles — the box — in order to think outside of it.

    Am I telling you to get music lessons for your kid? Not exactly, but “free play” will only take you and him so far. Trust me on this!

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 19, 2015, 7:59 pm

      Great job on starting your own school, Tony.

      While I am absolutely not anti-lesson, I’d still disagree that our weirdo style of music exploration will be limiting. It goes back quite a few generations in my family and there are an awful lot of good musicians in that lineup. Although I am still a hack myself, my Dad rocks a Jazz piano like a man with 88 fingers and both older sisters are accomplished folk musicians. My brother Wax Mannequin has made a life of touring and rocking for over 15 years now. I’m extremely proud of all of them!

      • Tony February 20, 2015, 5:42 am


        Please don’t get me wrong, your exploration of music is not “weirdo style”; as a matter of fact, it’s the first (and most crucial) piece to music making. Humans need to have a beautiful sound in their ear in order to imitate and create, it’s called an aural concept.

        HOWEVER, in order to realize potential, a (great) teacher needs to teach technique in order for the student to realize that concept. It’s kind of like any craft, really.

        Very cool you have the music in your family! I just wanted you to know that if your son gets really into it (or start becoming disinterested), it’s time for some quasi-formal instruction…getting frustrated may be because he has “hit a wall” and needs help from a musician who teaches.

  • Vivek Gupta February 17, 2015, 9:16 am

    Awesome post…. Enjoyed every single word. Have already read it thrice.
    Currently discussing each thought of the post with my wife and evaluating whether home schooling is for us or not! This post could be a wonderful starting point for parents like us who want to learn more about home schooling. Hope to see more such posts!

  • K February 17, 2015, 9:32 am

    Excellent article. However, don’t underestimate the benefits of gaming platforms like the Xbox/PS3. The games on those consoles also represent a huge learning opportunity in terms of technology, motor skills (learning to use different controllers), puzzle-solving, and instilling the life lesson of not giving up on challenges. As they become more advanced, they also offer an opportunity to learn about networking and computing (since they contain nearly as much technology as a computer). I know there are a lot of PC Master Race types out there but you’re doing yourself and/or your kids a disservice if you assume consoles are junk.

  • Danny February 17, 2015, 9:48 am

    It’s really great you’re doing that for your son, and I can’t help but feel that if I had that kind of education I would have been a much more talented, spiritually deep, intelligent and alive human being. As a child, you have infinitely more ability to learn complex skills like musicianship, mathematics, new languages, and nearly any other skill, but the school system seems intent on wasting these incredibly fertile years with nonsense. As a kid who always scored unusually high on standardized tests and was bored as hell with everything school had to offer, all school seemed to do was try to crush my spirit and teach me that I was inherently wrong, that my curiosity was a threat, that my interests were strange, that my insights were unusual, and my creativity was a liability.

    But I too think complaining is nonsense, so I try to forget that and focus on how great things are now – and how I’m still young, and still have the potential to shape myself into whoever I want to be, within reason.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is kudos for helping your son to escape the oppressive system as well. I have become fully committed to Mustacianism after realizing that almost none of my supposed “problems” – anxiety, ADHD, even depression – are really problems with me, but just problems with the system. On days when I have time to read and throw the frisbee and run errands on my bike, I feel plugged in and alive, not scattered and anxious. Let’s all see how we can escape from this nonsense that society tries to force us to be.

  • Rick February 17, 2015, 9:48 am

    Just a couple of thoughts while reading this. With only one boy, it is pretty natural for him to be more comfortable around adults, especially his parents. There are books written about children and how they typically develop as only-boy or only-girls, or based on their sex and their order in a multiple child-hierarchy. Normal first children that are boys are usually better with adults than their peers, whereas younger siblings will be more socialized and be used to older kids messing with them.

    My other thought was regarding a man I met from a wealthy family from Argentina. He told me that the way we raise our kids in America was stupid. He said we should first teach them to be confident young men and women, learning courtly manners, to dance, to play an instrument, to defend themselves, to speak multiple languages, to speak in public, cook, etc., before teaching them basic subject matter, like math, history, etc. He felt that we were breeding a lot of book-wormy, nerdy kids who did not feel comfortable in their own skin and who often tended to hide out and play video games or to bully others to keep the group away from themselves. I bought a lot of he was saying and ended up making sure both of my kids got black belts, played instruments, acted/performed on stage, played sports, could dance, etc. We also talked about morals and philosophy and they have both turned out to be very interesting and confident young men. I am really glad I ran into him. In retrospect, more understanding about money and living frugally would have been another good topic to include.

    • crazyworld February 26, 2015, 10:27 am

      I really liked this snippet you shared about the Argentinian man. Makes a lot of sense.

  • noreen February 17, 2015, 9:49 am

    Just a heads-up…

    As a mathematics educator married to a physics/astronomy educator, please be aware that the Kahn Academy videos/tutorials/whathaveyou are RIFE with conceptual and procedural errors. I’ve been told that there are places where you can go to check for corrections, but they usually aren’t posted with the video itself.

    Buyer beware.

  • Martha February 17, 2015, 9:49 am

    I am not surprised that your journey has led you to homeschool. I have been homeschooling my four boys for 6 years now, and I am not sure I ever want them to be “normal”. My husband works from home, and is planning on starting a Python programming class with the older ones soon.

    I have also enjoyed the benefits of learning along with them- who knew history was so fascinating?! I certainly didn’t after my extensive private school education. After traveling to Paris last year, we want to start a family French language study. The possibilities are endless!

  • Joshua Sheats February 17, 2015, 9:50 am

    Super thrilled to hear that the home education adventures are continuing! I was worried for a bit that they had stopped!

    Welcome to life outside of the matrix–it’s fine out here!

    Sorting through the schooling maze is much simpler when you discover that school has almost never been about education but rather about creating conformity in a population.

    If you’re interested in the long, in-depth research, read John Taylor Gatto’s book “The Underground History of American Education.” http://mhkeehn.tripod.com/ughoae.pdf

    If you’re interested in the quick, modern version, read Seth Godin’s book “Stop Stealing Dreams.” http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/StopStealingDreamsSCREEN.pdf

    If you want a summarized, audio version of the history of schooling, try this episode from my show “The Untold History of School That You Probably Don’t Know”: http://radicalpersonalfinance.com/the-untold-history-of-school-that-you-probably-dont-know-1-of-2-interview-with-brett-veinotte-founder-of-the-school-sucks-project-rpf0089/

    If you want, feel free to join me in my crusade to change the language:
    1. “Government schools” are exactly that. They’re not “public schools” and they’re not really about “public education.”
    2. “Home education” is exactly that. There’s no reason to bring the damaging effects of “school” home and refer to it as “homeschool.” Home education is ideal.

    Those are a bit wacky, but language matters. So feel free to join me in applying specific, appropriate terms!

    • johnny February 17, 2015, 7:43 pm

      Thanks for posting all this Joshua. I have a soon to turn 3-year old and I have been trying to decide if home education (I like that!) is something I want to pursue. My wife is from a country where this concept is considered to be extremely fringe (way more so than America) and I myself have never intimately known anyone who was raised this way and always associated home education with religious conservatism which is not how I live. I haven’t made up my mind either way (and it’s heartening to see that someone like MMM can make changes “midstream” as it were) but it’s very helpful discovering resources like this.

      • ChrisEE February 18, 2015, 3:36 am

        I’m really glad to see you posted the link to your podcast and the other resources here. I was actually just scrolling down to link that podcast episode,
        for anyone who was interested in learning more about this topic. I have to say that I shared the MMM impression that home schooling was for “wierdos”. I had been schooled in public schools and my wife in a catholic school system and we had never considered home schooling for our now 2 year-old. Listening to that podcast has me questioning everything I thought about education and has opened up home schooling as an option to us. It was really a fascinating listen for anyone, even if you’re like me who just stumbled on it didn’t think I had any real interest in the topic. If you have kids, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen.

    • crazyworld February 19, 2015, 1:43 pm

      Genuinely curious, since I have come across this sentiment many times before. Are you sure there is really an agenda that someone has, to brainwash the whole population via public schooling, rather than simply educating people for jobs? My son has been in 2 different public school systems (we moved once), and as far as I can tell, the teachers I have come across have been genuinely interested in teaching the kids and doing the best for them – english or math or art, whatever.
      Not everyone is amazingly gifted (my son is not, far as I can tell), so a decent education and later a job or a business would be part of his adult life, at least for a while. Which is not to say that you cannot do an excellent job schooling your own child. I am an immigrant (poor country, where there is hardly any public education) and have always been surprised by the dissing that schools and teachers get here.

      • Joshua Sheats February 21, 2015, 10:22 am


        No, I’m not sure of anything. These days, I rarely am. But all of the historical evidence I’ve ever been able to find points to the idea that school was primarily intended not for the primary purpose of educational advancement of the individual but rather for creating a more uniform populace.

        Now, within that system, I think there have always been inspired teachers who have labored to help individuals. (I come from a family history of teachers myself and I have close relatives who are teachers in the government school system.)

        One of the major problems in talking about this subject is that people often think “teachers” when they think “school.” They are not necessarily synonymous. I know very few teachers who are not frustrated by the school environment in which they teach to some degree or another. The teachers are not necessarily the problem. The design and structure of school is the primary problem.

        I recommend to you that you start with Gatto’s book linked above. That is the book that was instrumental in giving me some of the history I never knew.

        Is it conspiracy?

        I have no idea. But whether it is or isn’t doesn’t really matter to me.

        Read this “Author’s Note” from Gatto’s introduction to “The Underground History of American Education” and you’ll see his take on the matter:


        AUTHOR’S NOTE:
        “With conspiracy so close to the surface of the American imagination and American reality, I can
        only approach with trepidation the task of discouraging you in advance from thinking my book
        the chronicle of some vast diabolical conspiracy to seize all our children for the personal ends of a
        small, elite minority.

        “Don’t get me wrong, American schooling has been replete with chicanery from its very
        beginnings.* Indeed, it isn’t difficult to find various conspirators boasting in public about what they pulled off.

        “But if you take that tack you’ll miss the real horror of what I’m trying to describe, that what has
        happened to our schools was inherent in the original design for a planned economy and a planned society laid down so proudly at the end of the nineteenth century. I think what happened would have happened anyway—without the legions of venal, half-mad men and women who schemed so hard to make it as it is. If I’m correct, we’re in a much worse position than we would be if we were merely victims of an evil genius or two.

        “If you obsess about conspiracy, what you’ll fail to see is that we are held fast by a form of highly
        abstract thinking fully concretized in human institutions which has grown beyond the power of the managers of these institutions to control. If there is a way out of the trap we’re in, it won’t be by removing some bad guys and replacing them with good guys.

        “Who are the villains, really, but ourselves? People can change, but systems cannot without losing
        their structural integrity. Even Henry Ford, a Jew-baiter of such colossal proportions he was
        lionized by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, made a public apology and denied to his death he had
        ever intended to hurt Jews—a too strict interpretation of Darwin made him do it! The great
        industrialists who gave us modern compulsion schooling inevitably found their own principles
        subordinated to systems-purposes, just as happened to the rest of us.

        “Take Andrew Carnegie, the bobbin boy, who would certainly have been as appalled as the rest of
        us at the order to fire on strikers at his Homestead plant. But the system he helped to create was
        committed to pushing men until they reacted violently or dropped dead. It was called “the Iron
        Law of Wages.” Once his colleagues were interested in the principles of the Iron Law, they could
        only see the courage and defiance of the Homestead strikers as an opportunity to provoke a crisis
        which would allow the steel union to be broken with state militia and public funds. Crushing
        opposition is the obligatory scene in the industrial drama, whatever it takes, and no matter how
        much individual industrial leaders like Carnegie might be reluctant to do so.

        “My worry was about finding a prominent ally to help me present this idea that inhuman
        anthropology is what we confront in our institutional schools, not conspiracy. The hunt paid off
        with the discovery of an analysis of the Ludlow Massacre by Walter Lippmann in the New
        Republic of January 30, 1915. Following the Rockefeller slaughter of up to forty-seven, mostly
        women and children, in the tent camp of striking miners at Ludlow, Colorado, a congressional
        investigation was held which put John D. Rockefeller Jr. on the defensive. Rockefeller agents had
        employed armored cars, machine guns, and fire bombs in his name. As Lippmann tells it,
        Rockefeller was charged with having the only authority to authorize such a massacre, but also
        with too much indifference to what his underlings were up to. “Clearly,” said the industrial
        magnate, “both cannot be true.”

        “As Lippmann recognized, this paradox is the worm at the core of all colossal power. Both indeed
        could be true. For ten years Rockefeller hadn’t even seen this property; what he knew of it came
        in reports from his managers he scarcely could have read along with mountains of similar reports
        coming to his desk each day. He was compelled to rely on the word of others. Drawing an
        analogy between Rockefeller and the czar of Russia, Lippmann wrote that nobody believed the
        czar himself performed the many despotic acts he was accused of; everyone knew a bureaucracy
        did so in his name. But most failed to push that knowledge to its inevitable conclusion: If the czar
        tried to change what was customary he would be undermined by his subordinates. He had no
        defense against this happening because it was in the best interests of all the divisions of the
        bureaucracy, including the army, that it—not the czar—continue to be in charge of things. The
        czar was a prisoner of his own subjects. In Lippmann’s words:

        “This seemed to be the predicament of Mr. Rockefeller. I should not believe he
        personally hired thugs or wanted them hired. It seems far more true to say that
        his impersonal and half-understood power has delegated itself into unsocial
        forms, that it has assumed a life of its own which he is almost powerless to
        control….His intellectual helplessness was the amazing part of his testimony.
        Here was a man who represented wealth probably without parallel in history,
        the successor to a father who has, with justice, been called the high priest of
        capitalism….Yet he talked about himself on the commonplace moral
        assumptions of a small businessman.

        “The Rockefeller Foundation has been instrumental through the century just passed (along with a
        few others) in giving us the schools we have. It imported the German research model into college
        life, elevated service to business and government as the goal of higher education, not teaching.
        And Rockefeller-financed University of Chicago and Columbia Teachers College have been
        among the most energetic actors in the lower school tragedy. There is more, too, but none of it
        means the Rockefeller family “masterminded” the school institution, or even that his foundation or his colleges did. All became in time submerged in the system they did so much to create, almost helpless to slow its momentum even had they so desired.

        “Despite its title, Underground History isn’t a history proper, but a collection of materials toward a history, embedded in a personal essay analyzing why mass compulsion schooling is unreformable.

        “The history I have unearthed is important to our understanding; it’s a good start, I believe, but
        much remains undone. The burden of an essay is to reveal its author so candidly and thoroughly
        that the reader comes fully awake. You are about to spend twenty-five to thirty hours with the
        mind of a schoolteacher, but the relationship we should have isn’t one of teacher to pupil but
        rather that of two people in conversation. I’ll offer ideas and a theory to explain things and you
        bring your own experience to bear on the matters, supplementing and arguing where necessary.
        Read with this goal before you and I promise your money’s worth. It isn’t important whether we
        agree on every detail.

        “A brief word on sources. I’ve identified all quotations and paraphrases and given the origin of
        many (not all) individual facts, but for fear the forest be lost in contemplation of too many trees,
        I’ve avoided extensive footnoting. So much here is my personal take on things that it seemed
        dishonest to grab you by the lapels that way: of minor value to those who already resonate on the
        wavelength of the book, useless, even maddening, to those who do not.
        This is a workshop of solutions as well as an attempt to frame the problem clearly, but be warned:
        they are perversely sprinkled around like raisins in a pudding, nowhere grouped neatly as if to help you study for a test—except for a short list at the very end. The advice there is practical, but
        strictly limited to the world of compulsion schooling as it currently exists, not to the greater goal
        of understanding how education occurs or is prevented. The best advice in this book is scattered
        throughout and indirect, you’ll have to work to extract it. It begins with the very first sentence of
        the book where I remind you that what is right for systems is often wrong for human beings.
        Translated into a recommendation, that means that to avoid the revenge of Bianca, we must be
        prepared to insult systems for the convenience of humanity, not the other way around.


        *For instance, for those of you who believe in testing, school superintendents as a class are
        virtually the stupidest people to pass through a graduate college program, ranking fifty-one
        points below the elementary school teachers they normally “supervise,” (on the Graduate
        Record Examination), and about eighty points below secondary-school teachers, while
        teachers themselves as an aggregate finish seventeenth of twenty occupational groups
        surveyed. The reader is of course at liberty to believe this happened accidentally, or that the
        moon is composed of blue, not green, cheese as is popularly believed. It’s also possible to
        take this anomaly as conclusive evidence of the irrelevance of standardized testing. Your

        -Page 19 of Underground History: http://mhkeehn.tripod.com/ughoae.pdf

  • Mr. Frugal Toque February 17, 2015, 10:09 am

    I’ve seen both sides of this coin in my public school career.
    a) my first grade teacher mocked me in front of the class for trying to get my skin colour right while drawing a “picture of my face”. “You’re white!” she said. A fifth grade teacher felt it was her responsibility to fill every waking hour (long weekends included) with busy “project work” until I cracked and left the “gifted” program.
    b) my sixth grade teacher, with one day a week separated from the regular class, gave us almost free reign to explore creative writing, drawing, math, game construction, whatever we liked.
    The Toque children are enrolled in a regular public school right now, but it sounds nothing like the regimentation you’ve endured. Line-ups exist only where necessary to prevent trampling. Students are encouraged to talk to each other during class (it’s French immersion, so …) and develop all sorts of outdoor running games to play during their breaks (a couple dozen versions of tag have emerged). Yay for modernity, at least around here.
    The real issue, probably, is class size. The more of those kids you dump on a single human adult, the more regimentation becomes necessary. A university first year Chemistry class of 450 is the extreme case, but as the kids get younger, the class sizes have to shrink. I’m sure the various private schools have some really interesting teaching styles, but will those really scale to a 30:1 student to teacher ratio? 1:1 is certainly better.

    • Frugal Bazooka February 17, 2015, 10:45 am

      I find your response most compatible with the reality of the public school experience in the US. I believe that many of the richest families flee the public schools in the US because they don’t want to be part of the social engineering project schools have become in recent years. The right sees public education as an egalitarian experiment gone wrong and the left sees public education as a laboratory to create a better society. I just wanted to learn how to write a 5 paragraph essay.

      • Mr. Frugal Toque February 19, 2015, 7:26 am

        Social engineering? I’m not sure what you mean.
        Teaching methods are improving drastically. The way I was taught was far better than the “beat them with belts for making mistakes” methodology of my parents’ day. The “centre based learning” methods of today are even better than the methods I endured. Is that social engineering?
        Of course we’re using the public education system to make a better society. It’s an absolutely vital part of lifting children out of poverty.
        Why else would we be funding it with public dollars?

        • Frugal Bazooka February 19, 2015, 7:03 pm

          What you seem to be referring to is pedagogical techniques, hardly social engineering, and certainly not my point.

          I can give you examples where the public schools in the US are taking over the role of parent. This is not a new concept, but I don’t think the schools do a very good job of being the parent – but of course a lot of parents don’t do such a good job either.
          Schools have been mandated to solve a plethora of social ills that have nothing to do with education. I’m not unsympathetic to those who need a helping hand, I’m just not sure the schools are the place to do it. What ends up happening is the rich flee schools that focus less on academics and more on solving social ills. Ultimately the kids in those schools learn a lot less than their well to do counterparts and they are often unprepared to compete once they graduate HS.

          I would prefer public schools be a place of learning for the kids who want to learn. For kids who can’t or don’t want to learn college prep material, I would offer vocational and apprentice schools for them to learn a trade. The US does a terrible job of offering kids alternatives to the college prep concept. One example of social engineering that drives me batty is the idea that EVERY kid must go to college to be successful. What nonsense.

          • Tim February 20, 2015, 4:22 pm

            Every kid should have to learn Math, Science, English and History, even those kids who are not planning on going to college. High School is not just preparation for a job, it is making sure that we have a general populace that is smart enough to participate in a democracy. This has always been the “social engineering” of public education. Offering trade specialties in high school is great too, but that’s not the main point.

            • Frugal Bazooka February 23, 2015, 2:46 pm

              I agree completely and would argue that writing should have it’s own designation since it’s seems to be an area of weakness in a large % of the school age population.

              I wouldn’t agree that you need to know the periodical table to understand and achieve a stable democracy, but functional literacy is probably a good idea for the average citizen of a democracy.

              I think my point is that forcing education, esp high level prep education on ALL kids is a joke and amounts to a punishment. Have you ever wondered why education is “compulsory”. That alone is enough to make me not want to attend. And then a lot of the nonsense that passes for teaching only makes matters worse. If we could move the kids that want to learn a trade out of the prep environment they would be happier and more productive. If they want to revisit higher education on their own, I’m all for it, but is shouldn’t be a state mandated goal. It’s unnecessary and absurd.

              While giving kids a chance to get a job at something they love may not be the “point” of public education, I think the failure rates at many schools speak to the point that they don’t seem to know the audience to which they are directing their teaching. Teach a kid who wants to learn the subject and you have a good student. Teach a kid who does not want to learn the material and you have problem student.

    • Annamal February 17, 2015, 12:17 pm

      Yeah, the New Zealand public school system is pretty different as well (I remember our 6/ 7th year teacher getting our entire class to stage a condensed version of Macbeth, nothing appeals to a bunch of 11 and 12 year- olds as much as blood, ghosts and foul murder).

      This article was written by Jolisa Gracewood who had had her child in the US public school system and very much wanted to avoid NZ going down the same testing path (sadly we seem to be heading that way although we are not there yet)


      “Let me tell you some tales out of school.

      Towards the end of his second year of public school in the US, our then 6 year old skipped two weeks of school to travel to New Zealand. One day we were visiting my brother, who lives over the back fence from a primary school. Picture my son jumping on the trampoline (a novelty: they’re virtually verboten over here, due to most home-owner insurance policies) and having a look over the fence at what a New Zealand school looks like.

      It was noon. The children poured out onto the playing field and started, well, playing. They sat on benches, under the trees, out on the grass, eating their sandwiches and generally romping about.

      Forty-five minutes later they were still out there, frolicking and chatting, and my puzzled child, still bouncing and ogling the charming Brueghel-esque scene over the back fence, asked what on earth they were doing.

      “Lunchtime, what else?” I asked.

      He thought he was witnessing the longest and most disorganized fire-drill ever seen.”

    • Nicole February 17, 2015, 12:53 pm

      This is 100% true. Kids need structure – and so do the teachers. You can’t have 35 kids with one teacher and not expect order. It’s for the sanity of the teacher for the most part. Public school is just that – PUBLIC. You have to remember kids are in different developmental stages, some have anxiety, some have ADHD, some have Autism – it’s a mixing bowl of kids and teachers have to accommodate them all.

      I can say High School was the best time of my life and can’t imagine my own children not having that experience.

  • Ashley Sollenberger February 17, 2015, 10:17 am

    I have been playing catch up, and reading your posts in chronological order for the last few weeks. I currently work in an elementary school, and am very disappointed with the state of our schools, thus I was not surprised when I stumbled upon this post, what took you so long? My wife and I were already pretty good savers, but we are now incorporating a few of your ideas with the goal of having student loans, and the mortgage completely paid off by the time our first child reaches school age. At that point we’ll be well on the path to financial freedom, enabling us to facilitate an exciting education for the little one.

  • Questionable February 17, 2015, 10:32 am

    I was home-schooled for a few years and have mixed feelings about it. Despite their frustration with the local schools, my parents moved away from homeschooling for my younger siblings, which in the end was probably for the best. Some notes:

    For one thing, I’d be careful about generalizing too much from your experience with your son. Personality is hugely influenced by genetics, and it sounds like he got a double dose of engineer brain, meaning smart, introverted, technically oriented, and self-motivated, and not very adept at or interested in the typical status-seeking behavior that goes on in schools. (As the kid of two engineers, I know of what I speak here…) That personality’s going to sound familiar to a lot of this blog’s readers, but it doesn’t describe a very large percentage of the population. Rather than “learning, producing, and having a great time at it”, plenty of kids, if left to their own devices, would simply do nothing. And they’d miss the social aspects of school, because despite the homeschooling talking points, home-schooled kids generally spend a larger portion of their time alone.

    But even when kids are well-suited for it, homeschooling can have some negative consequences. In one of his essays David Foster Wallace gives a long list of reasons why pants are terrible inventions, physically harmful, based on archaic social ideas, inferior to skirts in many ways. But he goes on to say that, even though he thinks kilts are superior to jeans, there’s no way in hell that he’s going to start wearing them or encourage a kid to do so. The obvious reason is that kilt-wearers in modern America will be ridiculed, and that negative outweighs whatever superior qualities kilts may have apart from the social context. In other words, things that are better in some abstract sense may not be better for you in your actual life if people around you have very different ways of doing things.

    Young people, even ones who are on the engineer-brain end of the spectrum, care intensely about fitting in and being considered normal. I think some parents are overly dismissive of or not focused on this, probably because the feeling fades as they mature. (I remember someone joking that at twenty you worry what everyone thinks of you, at forty you don’t give a shit what people think of you, and at sixty you realize no one was thinking about you at all…) School attendance is the most fundamental fact of kids’ existence: it determines how they spend most of their time, whom they know, which subcultures they identify with. “Where do you go to school?” is one of the first questions young people ask each other when they meet, and the answer gives them immediate common ground and topics of conversation. This effect becomes a lot more pronounced as they move from elementary school into junior high and high school.

    Someone who doesn’t have that in common with other young people is starting from a social disadvantage. Their peers don’t quite know how to place them and may be a little weirded out and distant. Throw in the probability that the homeschooled kid’s verbal jabbering instincts aren’t quite as finely honed (the product of more time with immediate family and less time in high-energy social environments) and you have a recipe for a reserved, self-conscious young adult. That can be overcome with time, but it can have a subtle, long-lasting negative consequences. It did in my case.

    I agree with your criticisms of the school system, and over time I’ve become more and more amazed at how weird and irrational it is. But it’s what we have, and any attempt to dismiss it unilaterally may have some consequences.

    • Frugal Bazooka February 22, 2015, 5:34 pm

      Thanks for the fascinating post since you are someone who has actually lived the home school situation – it obviously has more credibility. You hit the nail on the head about the social drawbacks. Two things that I find interesting about the wide support for homeschooling: some who would usually be all about toughing it out thru hardship suddenly draw the line when it comes to their kids toughing it out. There seems to be a mixed message there…and maybe a tad patronizing, the assumption that the kids can’t figure it out on his/her own.
      The other is the perception by many who home school that the public schools just don’t understand how to deal with their high IQ kid. Are there any studies comparing the IQ of the average high school kid with the average home schooled kid? I’m guessing there is little to no difference.
      anyway, thanks for the instructive read.

    • crazyworld February 23, 2015, 12:46 pm

      Thanks for this viewpoint…I love the *concept* behind home-schooling, but realize that I am mostly idealizing it (for my situation). My son, I am sure, left to himself, would be playing video games all day. Or, in your words, he would do nothing. What I am aiming for instead is a hybrid. He does his thing at school, we do homework/test prep at home if he needs help. And I try to introduce other ideas/situations to him via books, travel, conversation, museums and such. Which is not to say that there is nothing interesting being done at school. The district has a lot of resources and very involved parent volunteers.

  • Scott February 17, 2015, 10:44 am

    Awesome — love playing Kerbal Space Program with my kids. And I have also learned a lot about rocketry and orbital mechanics!

  • Cpa Cat February 17, 2015, 10:51 am

    I agree with most of what you say, but in defense of those shushing schoolteachers: Imagine yourself sitting in your office, reading a book or or learning to code or on the telephone. Now place a group of people right outside your office door having a loud conversation (for illustrative purposes, we will imagine that they are talking about what happened on their favorite reality TV show). How’s that working for you? You pause what you’re doing and politely ask them to move their conversation elsewhere. Theirs response is to laugh at you and talk louder. After all, their conversation is important.

    It’s intensely difficult to teach, learn and concentrate when people are talking in the halls at a school. While it’s important for children to have conversations, it is also important for them to learn that not every place is an appropriate place for their conversation. In this life, it’s important to be considerate of others.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 19, 2015, 7:45 pm

      You could also solve the problem with a couple bucks of weatherstripping around each door frame. The interior walls are already 8″ concrete blocks and the doors are heavy commercial fireproof doors. I noticed virtually no sound transmission through them even in their current form, but they could be made even quieter.

      You could also create quiet mini-rooms where children who prefer to study or read in silence can sneak away to be alone and focused.

      I think the teachers in my case are shushing because they feel kids SHOULD be quiet inside a school, rather than because they are strategically trying to avoid distractions to other kids.

      • crazyworld February 26, 2015, 10:41 am

        The funny thing is, coming from another country/culture, where schools were highly regimented (all kinds of shusshing and other punishments for talking/not being property dressed/groomed – I could go on and on), and then the rest of life had barely any rules – no queuing (sp?), kids running around in restaurants/in weddings etc., I was rather surprised when I first moved here, about why there was so much discipline in regular life (kids to be barely seen and never heard in public settings), but too free in schools – no uniforms, loud talking etc. I am generalizing a bit, but you get the picture. Its kind of relative…

  • Even Steven February 17, 2015, 11:36 am

    I have been waiting for this to come for awhile, you are naturally a teacher at heart with a great voice on the website, I only assumed it would naturally come to home schooling especially with the different views often sprouted on MMM, I’m sure it will be an experience for both of you, best of luck.

  • SisterX February 17, 2015, 11:43 am

    I think that one of the main points our current education system doesn’t seem to understand is that the kids who are most rambunctious and who seem to pay the least attention are actually the smartest kids in the room. They’re so hyper because they’re bored! What’s the modern solution? Sedate them down to the levels of the other kids. It’s sick and sad and worrisome.
    My daughter is only 1 but already I can see many traits in her which come from me, and which made primary school really awful for me. I thrived in college because most of the bullshit was cut out and it was a much better learning environment for me, more like what you describe for little MM’s day. So I am seriously considering looking into homeschooling so that learning and general childhood can potentially be better for my kid. My husband has reservations about socialization, but I really liked your point about how school is mostly about teaching kids NOT to socialize.
    I’m almost finished reading a book called “Parenting Without Borders”, which I highly recommend. It talks about parenting styles and trends around the world and, unlike some other books that do a similar thing, don’t take the approach of “everyone else does it better because they’re foreign”. The author takes a very honest look at what we do well in America, and what other countries do better. You’ll be totally jealous of the forest kindergartens/preschools in places like Germany. Almost makes me want to start one where I live.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque February 19, 2015, 7:39 am

      “I think that one of the main points our current education system doesn’t seem to understand is that the kids who are most rambunctious and who seem to pay the least attention are actually the smartest kids in the room. They’re so hyper because they’re bored!”
      Do you have a source for that? i.e. relating misbehaviour to intelligence?
      While you were rambunctious and intelligent as a child, my anecdotes are the opposite of yours.
      The “most rambunctious kids” in the cohort with which I grew up were the idiots, and I say that in the most unkind fashion because they were also abusive assholes. They weren’t just loud in class and poor in academics, whereas the quieter kids were the smarter ones, they were also the ones who were – let us say, to keep this clean – behaving most inappropriately towards a young girl with Downs’.
      I’m not saying you were a terrible person, or a stupid person, but rather that your data points correlating rambunctiousness and boredom with intelligence may not speak for the whole.

      • Matthew February 19, 2015, 9:01 am

        This describes my experience too. Not sure if it was made worse or better by the fact that it was a small town (population 800), so we were stuck with the same assholes all the way from K-12.

        Don’t get me wrong, I was bored too. But in class, I still found ways to learn, like bringing extra books to read. And I think my own brand of mischief had more to do with adventure than bullying.

      • Tim February 20, 2015, 4:39 pm

        But Mr. Toque, don’t you understand that everyone’s child is a special little genius angel who can do no wrong? They just need more attention from those lazy teachers who are out to get them with their “standards” and “expectations”.

        Seriously, though. If we just let teachers put the pedal to the metal and push their kids more, with less excuses accepted, we would have less complainy-pants every generation and a high school diploma might still mean something.

        • Frugal Bazooka February 22, 2015, 5:41 pm

          lmao. nail/head.
          I’ve been a musician since I was 12 and one of my favorite stereotypes is the mad genius musician. He/she is obnoxious, loud, petty, demanding and supposedly brilliant. Never and I mean NEVER have I ever met this mad genius. All the geniuses I know are kind and considerate people, always quiet and unassuming who were more likely to run away to the library than spend 3 seconds with the “rambunctious’ mad genius of the classroom. The fact is most of the time the school teacher is trying to protect the quiet kids who want to get an education from the disruptive kids who want to go to recess for 5 hours. (Full disclosure, more often than not I was in the latter group)

    • Lady Locust August 16, 2016, 2:55 pm

      8 year olds should be writing their name in the dirt with a stick they found that’s shaped like a sword, or throwing rocks toward a couple buckets. I got 3 rocks in the red bucket and 4 in the blue one. That’s 7 rocks! Just because so many adults can’t move and think at the same time doesn’t mean children can’t. Children aren’t mean to be sedentary.

  • Lori February 17, 2015, 11:51 am

    We are going down the same path – but not as quickly since we did not have the good sense to handle our finances so that we could pre-retire. My son is having the same experience. He is a great kid. A very out-of-the-box thinker. I have always thought he was great and I’ve always recognized he is very much an individual. I think that’s a great thing. In school…not so much. I work full-time, have three kids and I went back to school to study education because I had to figure out what was going on. I have drawn most of the same conclusions you have about the education we want for our kids. We are moving as quickly as possible toward homeschooling (debt on schedule to be gone and emergency fund in place in another year). We need another year of putting money into investment accounts. We are currently quietly withdrawing from extra-curricular activities and starting to spend more time at home building the environment we want to have.

    We lucked out and got a great teacher this year. We think we will have a great teacher next year too. We did put him in a small, parochial school where we have a lot more say and he is not in the high-stakes testing environment, but we are paying $10K/year. It’s worth it. He’s learning. He’s not miserable. His anxiety levels are low. But it’s still too structured and teacher-directed. I don’t see how he would have much time for non-academic pursuits and to get in touch with, let alone follow, any of his own passions. So even in a good school environment, I think homeschool is better if you can do it. We’re going to make it happen and I can’t wait.

    I always wondered why you didn’t homeschool. It always seemed like a natural fit for your family.

  • Jason February 17, 2015, 11:52 am

    I lived in the South for 15 years where homeschooling was encouraged primarily for religious reasons.

    I’ve seen excellent examples where homeschooling provided much more than what was possible in public school. Homes with two highly educated parents with the ability to effectively teach their children and the financial resources to hire tutors for subjects that were outside their personal education. (High level math for example) These families traveled the country and learned history where it actually happened. Their kids flourished.

    I’ve also seen parents that never graduated high-school pressured to homeschool their kids. These parents didn’t understand the subjects and instead had to rely completely on homeschool literature and videos to teach their kids. If the kids didn’t understand the material the parent couldn’t help. Most of these kids ended up in public school somewhere around middle school but academically several grade levels behind.

    So homeschooling can be great but parents need to honestly evaluate their ability to be effective teachers.

  • wendib February 17, 2015, 12:05 pm

    We plan to begin home schooling this Fall & it’s exciting to see Mr. and Mrs. MM start the journey. Can’t wait to start! I also highly recommend the book by Ron Paul, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System.

    Any links, tips and/or tricks people use when home schooling for foreign language exposure? Our daughter has been in a Chinese immersion school for 5 years and we are looking for creative ways for her to practice mandarin. Since we are breaking free from the school calendar, we plan to do extended trips to China, which will help with her conversational Chinese but we’re hoping to maintain the fluency close to what she has now if at all possible.

  • Kristi February 17, 2015, 12:10 pm

    Homeschooling and unschooling have come a long way. As a psychologist, I’ll admit that in the past I’ve seen homeschooled kids with poor social skills, but those were cases where the extent of the families “socializing” their kids only involved putting them in 4H with other homeschooled kids. Things have changed so much in the last few years. There’s a great homeschool co-op near my house south of Denver, where kids can take classes with each other, do field trips, participate in sports, etc. and it’s a great community. My kids are 10 and 7 and we don’t homeschool; however, that’s because they didn’t choose to. My oldest loves watching TED talks and I had him watch several involving kids who are unschooled and homeschooled to see if he wanted to try it, since I only work a few hours a week outside the home. He’s in the gifted/talented program at our public school yet still gets bored really easily. Instead, he decided that he wants to attend the STEM charter school in our area, as he loves engineering and science, and his eyes lit up when we toured there and he saw the 3D printer and heard the teacher give “homework” of creating a boat from a paperclip and a rubber band which are the type things he does for fun at home anyway. He told me he’s excited to be around other kids who love science the way he does. Also, since he’s been asking for a 3D printer for Christmas for the last few years, I told him this was a good compromise! Anyway, he starts next year for 6th grade and I told him we’ll see how it goes. I’m a big believer in flexibility and if something doesn’t work, you keep trying. The bottom line is that is that all kids are different, and parents know their own child better than anyone else, so go with your gut (and what your time and budget allow), and your children will know you support them and go on to do amazing things.

    • JB February 17, 2015, 2:05 pm

      Nicely put! My 3 y.o. is in a Waldorf preschool right now, and it’s becoming apparent that she is gifted. I had hoped she would continue in Waldorf for her elementary education but they don’t seem to have accommodations for gifted children. I am having a hard time figuring out what is next. Does daddy quit his $115K job and home school? He has not been happy at work for some time, two birds with one stone. Do we put her into a Montessori style private elementary school where the students take classes in spanish and french and english (all classes, so art could be taught in spanish and math in french). We’re mono-lingual (is that a term?) and we have always had a passion for our child to be multi-lingual, but haven’t been able to manage it ourselves. I like the idea of the private school but not the sticker price of $20K per year, plus the additional stresses of taking to and from school. It’s nice to keep your comment in mind as we make these decisions… I guess there really is not a wrong decision, just constantly adjusting and trying our best for her.

      • Kristi February 17, 2015, 2:39 pm

        I hear you…most private schools here are around 20k per kid which is crazy in my opinion. As an aside, we just bought an at-home Spanish program to do as a family because we want to do an extended trip to Costa Rica at some point, and want to know the language. We’re all learning it together (okay, I’m relearning it because apparently I didn’t remember much from my college classes), and it’s been a really fun family activity. We all practice together at dinner time and it’s been a great bonding experience. You might want to check something like that out if you’re interested. Good luck with your decision!

      • Claudette November 26, 2016, 8:29 pm

        JB, there are some areas of the country that have AMAZING public schools for gifted kids. My daughter goes to a school called Knox Gifted Academy in Chandler, Arizona. It’s public, and she got in based on aptitude scores (97th percentile or higher in one of three areas). I couldn’t be happier with the school–not only do they meet her academic needs, they know about emotional needs that are unique to “gifted” kids (higher sensitivity being most common). Washington state requires all public schools to accommodate “highly capable” children, (although some schools are better equipped than others). I believe Davis, California has quite a few public gifted programs too. There are a smattering of other public schools across the country as well, but many require that your child be in the 99th percentile to qualify and/or have long waiting lists. I suggest googling public gifted schools for your area of areas you would be willing to move to. A gifted school made all the difference for our daughter. She went from being bored and unhappy in school to engaged and challenged.

  • JJ February 17, 2015, 12:11 pm

    There’s a book “Science Shams, Bible Bloopers” by David Mills (now out of print) where the author debunks the notion of homeschooling. It’s a great book, albeit out of print now, (if you disregard the chapters with a bit of a anti-religious undertone.) I remember a case study in there where a family of 4 kids were all homeschooled. The kids were taught to learn in a fun way from a very early age instead of the traditional model of tests, homework, pressure, rote memorization, etc. offered by the public schools. 3 out of the 4 kids ended up going to Harvard, including the adopted child from Africa.

  • Emmjae February 17, 2015, 12:12 pm

    Mr & Mrs MM,
    I too have a very bright, curious, sensitive son, now 18, who was diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder in Middle School. Kudos for you for catching it earlier than we did.
    We recognized our son’s need for a more gentle school early, and our solution, which does not align with MMM philosophy, but which has worked wonders for us, has been to send our son, and later, our daughter, to Quaker school. Their values of simplicity, peace, justice, stewardship, and integrity , when applied to education, results in a action oriented, child-centered school, respectful of the natural curiosity and ebullience of children. For instance, our son’s third grade class was especially energetic, so the teacher’s response was to add in an extra recess before asking the students to settle for math lessons. Quakers believe that wisdom can come from any corner of the room, so class discussions where students’ ideas and questions drive the learning is the norm in high school. This idea also results with a mutual respect between teachers and learners, with non of the top-down, authoritarian, walk-in-a-strait-line-because-I-said-so business. Friends don’t believe in proselytizing, but learning to sit silently in meeting once a week from 5 years old does wonders for teaching self control and reflection.
    Home schooling is obviously working well for you and young master MM! I just wanted to point to another model that has been around for a very long time. Private school tuition does not square with the goals of early retirement, but know that there are other parents who found ourselves with the same deep concerns and hopes for our children, and that there have long been educators finding alternative solutions to the public school model that you wrote about so searingly.

  • FondledReagan February 17, 2015, 12:20 pm

    “This fits well with the modern and future workforce, where employers are looking for people who can adapt, create, and produce, rather than simply follow rules.”

    Management wants their intellectual workers to adapt, create, and produce… within a vision that management defines ahead of time. MMM, you were an intellectual worker, right? What percent of your worktime was spent on projects where you got to define the scope, define the team, and define the project expectations? I’m a professional engineer too, and at best, I get to suggest a scope to management who then modify and define the rest for me.

    Professional training – engineering school, law school, medical school, etc – helps intellectual workers submit to management’s vision. You get a problem set or test handed down from on high, you get a deadline, and you get scored on a narrow scope of possible inquiry into the problems. No points for asking where the problem came from, whether there’s a better problem to solve, or asking if there are economic externalities to the problem. School helps condition students to not ask those questions, and only ask the questions that help you solve a given problem faster.

    So, if your kid isn’t learning how to submit the way that employers want, you probably aren’t training him to be a professional, intellectual worker. If you’d like to read more about conditioning in higher education, and why conditioning is so important to management, I’d suggest picking up a copy of Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt. You are freeing your kid’s mind, and that’s the ethical thing to do. Let’s just not pretend that his future employer wants that.

  • bilgepump100 February 17, 2015, 12:28 pm

    Any lingering anxiety issues with your son? I experienced the same school anxieties and some in work life. Keep instilling confidence in your kid, drop any pursuit of perfection and help him become competent in a variety of ways. That’s the ticket. How about squeezing some public speaking into your homeschooling curriculum? If you can communicate your creative ideas in a public forum, you can do almost anything in this country. Godspeed.

  • Kristi February 17, 2015, 12:29 pm

    Also, for those in northern Colorado, a Sudbury school is supposed to open in Fort Collins in Fall 2015. Unfortunately, it’s private but the tuition is supposed to be $5000 per year, and less for siblings, so it’s way less than many other private schools in the area.

  • Jason February 17, 2015, 12:30 pm

    I saw one earlier comment mention it in passing, but I just wanted to note that the Boy Scouts are an excellent potential stopgap to encourage more social interaction for home-schoolers. It sounds like the MMM kid would be more cub scout age, which is a much lighter version of the benefits, but either is a fantastic organized way to make friends that the kids see regularly (repeated consistent time together being key to building friendships at any age) with the added benefit of being kind of Mustachian in its philosophy anyway.

    In my own scouting life I learned, and sometimes taught, knot tying, rope splicing, construction using lashings, first aid, survival skills, the basics of physical training, backpacking, even computers and web design, and a mass of other topics too broad to name here, not to mention making loads of lifelong friends and having masses of fun. With the added bonus of being able to list my Eagle scout rank on my resume; the only achievement from my childhood worth noting.

    It also provides a structured system which the kid can use as a safe place to learn to navigate and achieve progress in any structured system (a necessary skill in life) without the learning process requiring hours in a chair or the sacrifice of independent thinking. It’s enough of a structure to learn how to handle a system, but little enough of one to avoid becoming reliant on it.

    It seems like a small thing, but for any in the MMM situation I’d highly recommend joining and committing to a Scout troop if you can. Well worth it. Sadly I can’t speak to the female equivalent of it yet, I’ll cross that bridge if I have daughters, but for boys at least I think it’s well worth a try.

    • Marcia February 17, 2015, 1:07 pm

      Interesting comment. My son has several friends who just formed a cub scout troop (or joined one) last year. They really seem to be bonding and enjoying it. I was asked several times why we didn’t join. Mostly:
      1. time. Hard with the little one to find the time.
      2. interest. My son isn’t interested
      3. We are atheist (me) and agnostic (spouse) and my son isn’t one to keep quiet about the fact that we do not believe in god.

  • PK February 17, 2015, 12:32 pm

    MMM – check out the Life of Fred series. We bought it to supplement our 2nd grader’s math, but lots of folks use it as a home-school text.

    You may not be able to acquire it in a Mustachian way (couldn’t find used – had to buy on Amazon), but the author’s approach to math would definitely have your approval. Every math lesson is tied to real-life adventures that little Fred has, and it’s enormously entertaining (they almost read like novels). I never thought my son would be begging for us to do “one more chapter, please” in a math text!

    • Kacie February 19, 2015, 5:10 pm

      AGREED. You should be able to either find this at your library or via interlibrary loan. Start with Apples, since it is a narrative and while the mathematical concepts will be way easy for him, you’ll get the whole story.

  • CutRateGamer February 17, 2015, 12:41 pm

    Amen, brother!

    I hated public school and barely graduated. I have learned way more outside of school learning subjects that interest me. This has lead me to a successful career and a love of independent learning.

    My wife (primarily) and I homeschool our son and it is great to see how he flourishes in this environment. It is very hard work and can be trying at times, but it is definitely worth it.

    Homeschooling seems to be trending right now as I just saw this on Wired magazine:
    “The Techies Who Are Hacking Education by Homeschooling Their Kids”


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