When To Break From the Herd

Barbie at school I do  follow the rules in unfamiliar situations.  I read the signs, ask for directions, follow the guidelines and survey the expert opinions.  But once I’m in my comfort zone, I start to look at things differently.   I start to ask, “Why?”  I’m not trying to be belligerent.  I’m trying to understand if the reason something “has always been done that way” is really the right reason for doing it that way.

I ask a lot of questions.

Public school is the way that educating has always been done.  Is that the right way for the three of us?

I have a lot of questions.

The decision of home school versus public school is weighing heavily.  Actually, it wouldn’t weigh anything if my natural inclination was to follow the herd.  I wonder if the herd has all the answers.  Just because public school has always been the commonly accepted way to teach, can’t there be other good options for kids and moms on the fringe of the herd?

At this point, would the herd say, “Get your kids closer to being like every one else.  They’ll struggle on the fringe.  The fringe isn’t safe.  Help them be like us.”

To the herd I have to say, “I love you all.  You are all marvelous.  We can be different and still be happy on the fringe.”

Should I follow the herd because that’s what a good girl does?  The herd seems to think public school is the proven path.  The herd looks at me like I’m sporting a third eye in the middle of my forehead.  They enthusiastically tell me that public school is where the best socialization happens.  They tell me that while I might be smart enough, or even patient enough to teach my kids, my kids need to hang with someone else during the day.

My kids have been pleading with me for two years (Will for four) to home school them.  The research says home school doesn’t work when the parents are forcing it on the kids.  In our case, no one is being forced.  We all want this option.

We are gathering more information to make the best choice for all three of us.  We checked out a new public school this last Friday.  We went for breakfast after checking out the school, teachers, principal and the kids that would be in their classes.

Here are the points that Will and Jen made over Apple Jacks and pancakes.

  • Is it bad to be different?
  • Why did you spend so much time raising us, only to drop us off at a place that makes us unhappy.
  • Do you really think I’ll learn if I’m cooped up in a classroom all day?
  • How are we supposed to learn about stuff we love if we have to study what they think we love?
  • We learn best when we are happy.
  • Why are we fixing this, if it (home school)  isn’t broken?
  • Why do they bribe us with free pencils and candy?  We have pencils at home.
  • Isn’t public school for kids whose parents work some where other than home?
  • I’ll make friends on the golf course.
  • I already have friends that I like.
  • Why do they bribe us to read?  Why don’t we just read what we like?
  • We know more about drawing and painting than the art teachers.
  • There was a kid crying in the class, and when a couple kids tried to help him, why did the teacher tell them to leave him alone?
  • Why do they tell us what they are going to do to us if we do something wrong?  Why do they just assume we are going to do something wrong?
  • Why do we have to listen to a counselor that tells us how to behave?  Isn’t that what we learn at home?
  • They try to make it sound good by telling us about the field trips.  We go on way better field trips with home school.

In my feeble attempt at being the Devil’s Advocate, I asked, “What about football games, being a cheerleader, the debate club, or working on the school paper?  What about making friends for life or learning how to stand in line?  What about learning to fill your day with busy work and learning to work  independently?  What about learning to work with and in a group?  What about respecting authority and learning to deal with all personality types, including bullies?

They both looked at me like I’m sporting a third eye.


If you have anything to add to our file of home school vs public school info, this is the time to comment.  We would LOVE to have your input.  I’ll share it all with Will and Jenny.  Even if you are an avid public school supporter, I want to hear it. I want to know why public school would be the right choice for my two independent, creative, happily skating, skiing, living-on-the-fringe kids.

Talk to us.

*Update:  8/25/2011

We are looking forward to beginning our second full year of home schooling.  We haven’t looked back at public school since we made the switch.

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  1. If the KIDS are happy with home schooling and YOU are happy with it, then that’s what you should do. The only criteria I think you need to consider is whether it’s done well (and I certainly have no question about that) and whether it meets your family’s needs. Only you can answer the last one. I do think parents have an obligation to do what they, in their adult judgment, think is best for the kids Sometimes that means doing other than what the kids want. But if there’s a match between what a parent thinks is best and what the kids want, you’re in business.

  2. Thanks!

    You know how much I value your opinion.

  3. I am a home school mom. There are things they miss like hanging with friends, seeing different points of view than what the parents have, prom, graduation, dances. I know a couple of home school kids you could ask.

    There are some great things to homeschooling – knowing that you’re teaching your children good values, the YES moment when you are teaching something and it clicks for them, and so many more.

    Best advice, though, make sure if you home school you keep up with the subjects in public school. That way when the kids are older, if they decide to go to public school, they can pass the test at or above their grade level.

  4. Kath,

    I think about you a lot when wrangling with this decision.

    I know those two kids you referred to. They have turned into outstanding men.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. Hi, after having my girls go through the school system and now, my last will be a junior in high school, the public system worked for us. I never thought I could have been what they would have needed. I am a softy and would have let things slide, and none of us would have gotten a thing done. I would have helped them too much, would have given them the answers, etc… and I don’t think I had the patience for it.

    You on the other hand, this is natural for you. You are doing a tremendous job, the kids are happy, it fits. Remember their nightmares about the recess aid?

    Everybody is different, everyone’s situation is varying, I guess the old words of, ‘If the shoe fits, wear it…’

    You could have never done this at Mark’s house – remember the pencil eraser mess? This is YOUR house, you are so gifted, let your heart be your adviser…

    And know that we all will be behind you in whatever you decide!

  6. Annie,

    Thanks for your input. Your kids are stellar examples of a public school education coupled with outstanding parenting.

    You said you’d be behind me in this endeavor…. could you teach science? ;)

  7. I’m a big fan of doing what’s best for the family regardless of what anyone else thinks. So that’s a vote for homeschool.

    Here’s some anecdotal stuff that also supports homeschool: A very good friend homeschooled her daughter (an extremely talented violinist) through 8th grade. For a variety of reasons, they decided she should go to outside school for high school. She’s at a rigorous Catholic school and has been doing extremely well (she’s a junior this year). She got socialization through orchestra and ballet and lots of other activities. They’re wonderful people and met lots of other wonderful homeschoolers.

    And some more . . . my daughters are both actresses with some significant professional credits in theater and film. (This isn’t to brag or anything! I have a relevant point, I swear.) Kids in show business aren’t necessarily home schooled but they have tutors while they’re working. It’s very similar to being homeschooled. When my younger daughter worked on a film last year we did lots of cool stuff – visiting Mt. St. Helens and the Portland Chinese Gardens for example – that counted as school. She “missed” 1/2 of 3rd grade (although she completed all required work). She got back into the swing of school perfectly fine this year. (So if you homeschool for a year and find out it isn’t for you I imagine the kids will be able to jump right back in without a single issue). My older daughter was in a national tour of a Broadway show. They had a teacher that traveled with the show and she had school every weekday with the five or so kids in the show. Again, no problems learning. No problems keeping up or getting back into school.

    For me, homeschooling isn’t a good option because I don’t have the patience to do it. And I don’t think my kids would want to either (although they’re ok with on-set school). But other than the fact that I don’t think I personally could homeschool, I can’t think of a single reason why public school would be better in your case.

    I’m going to take an even stronger position here – I say go for it. You can always, always enroll them in school if it doesn’t work out. Why not give it a try? I say live on the edge! Let your freak flag fly! Given how much your kids want this, I think it’s likely to be a great experience.

  8. Jessica,

    First of all, I don’t understand how you could be slackermomspeaks.blogspot.com when your girls have that kind of schedule.


    Your insights point to the flexibility and resiliency of kids. Which makes me think that even if we did this for awhile, and I screwed up horribly, they’d still learn how to swim, so to speak. That being said, I don’t take this decision lightly, and realize that my screwing up is not an option.

    Thanks for your strong input.

  9. Jesse – thanks for the kind words. My ex, for all his faults, is very hard working and does a lot for the kids in terms of their professional work. So it doesn’t all fall to me by any stretch (if it did, they wouldn’t be doing much more than school plays, seriously).

    As for screwing up – even though it isn’t technically an option, we all do it. Regularly. However, you cannot possibly screw up horribly in this situation. Yes, they will learn to “swim” (they are already Olympic-caliber swimmers really). And, as Kath points out, if you generally follow the basics of the public school curriculum the kids will be just fine if they want to go back at some point.

  10. And as Will pointed out, “Mom, we already know how to deal with bullies because of dad.”

  11. I home un-schooled my youngest at his request because he was very unhappy in middle school. He’s 22 now. I feel ambivalent about it because a] I took in a disabled relative shortly afterward and wound up spending too much time on her and neglecting my son’s education, and b] he has shown zero interest in college or other formal education.

    OTOH, he’s educating himself even now, reading a lot and following his interests.

    He’s been happily working in the same supermarket job since he was 17. It may be low status but he’s happy. He doesn’t do drugs. He’s a smart, nice, likable, cleancut guy.

    OTOH, he’s living here rent-free. That can’t last forever.

    When we started out, I had a rosy image of the homeschooled kids you hear about who wind up in Stanford and impress the shit out of everybody. I’m banking on the fact that I was a late bloomer myself and didn’t get moving on a career until my early 30’s, plus what’s so important about a career, anyway?

  12. Thanks, LaVonne!

    I completely agree with you about the career thing. I hope my kids don’t spend a fortune getting a degree, so they can graduate with a title that has them sitting at a desk, staring at a clock that never seems to get to 5, only so they can pay back their monumental school loans.

    Perhaps your son has picked up on how to be happy sooner than the rest of the herd?

  13. We are a Waldorf / Steiner school family which to me is next best to home schooling.

    If I had a single teacher gene in me I would go home school. As it is we are exceptionally well supported with Waldorf philosophy (supporting the child’s development, naturally).

    You are a good teacher, a strong woman and you love your children – plus there is an excellent home school network to support and help you.

    The more I hear about regular schools, the less I think it is creating good citizens or rounded, centered, confident individuals.

    I was just talking with a friend about this very issue (choosing a different path to the herd so as to do the best for our children) on the phone tonight.

    I think your children are very wise and know what they need (not just want).

    Also, if you don’t mind me saying, perhaps they need more time with you to balance out the negative influences in their lives and they are expressing that in a very mature way.

  14. Flora,

    Thanks for commenting on this one. The comments I’ve been getting have really helped us narrow our focus.

    I found it interesting that you said they need more time with me to balance the negative. Thank you for saying that, Flora. It feels like the three of us are tied together to make some kind of weird raft. Lots of days the floating is fine and lazy. Some days it can be pretty choppy. I’m glad we have each other to weather the rapids.

  15. The herd mentality is hard-wired into our bodies for survival. It takes strong people to make choices that set them apart from the herd, and it also feels threatening to sheeple. They try to herd you back with them, and you try to run away. God forbid they take responsibility for their lives.

    Do what feels right for you and your kids. I loved what Flora said about your kids wanting time with you to balance out negative influences. You are growing strong kids, physically, emotionally and mentally. You are teaching them to follow their hearts, and that is the best teaching of all.

  16. Thank you, Donna.

    Your comment brought tears to my eyes.

  17. So now you know …

  18. Will you still come to the fringe for coffee?

  19. And a shout out to Jessica about her comment on letting your freak flag fly!!

    I felt empowered when I read it…had electricity running thru my body.

    However, trying to say ‘freak flag fly’ three times fast is virtually impossible. :)

  20. Donna,

    I loved Jessica’s comment, too.

    I immediately had a vision of the kids making a flag for the front of our house.

    I’ll post a picture when it’s proudly flying.

  21. Don’t know how I found your blog but I’m here and its great.

    Not following the herd is how I live. Many of my successes can be traced back to me not wanting what everyone else wants.

    I don’t have any kids, but if – I would home school. There are plenty of ways to socialize outside of school. I have work friends but my socializing is usually with people that I did not meet at work.

    Since more and more companies are becoming virtual, by the time your kids finish college, most likely, they will be doing some work from home. If this is the case, they will be more prepared than most of their peers that needed the structure of school/work to provide them social direction.
    Great post!

  22. Hi Ralph,

    Thanks for commenting.

    I’ve also been thinking that sitting at a desk in school all day prepares them to sit at a desk in a ‘real’ job. My kids have already said they don’t want those kinds of ‘real’ jobs.

    Thanks for your input.

  23. You are awesome! Your kids (from what I know through your posts) are already learning the most important lessons to get them through life. Working/thinking/living outside of the ‘box’ is so important. Way to go!

    Your first paragraph is so me. Are you sure we are not from the same mold? :)

  24. Zaira,

    Thanks for that.

    You know, if we did come from the same mold, dare I say, it’s a damn fine one. ;)

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