Anyone who has spent much time in the children’s section of a library over the last decade or so has likely observed a shift in the selection of books available for children to borrow. The books have become (1) a lot more politically correct, and (2) a lot dumber overall. More and more of the books explicitly push a far left-leaning political agenda. And the people who write children’s literature because they have an agenda generally do not care about things like building a child’s vocabulary. (Indeed, there is something about needing to tell people what they should believe that is infantilizing in its own right.) Some urban libraries now offer children’s programs like Drag Queen Story Hour – which started off controversial and became even more so after a Houston library invited a registered sex offender convicted of assaulting an eight-year-old boy to read to the kids.
If you have followed the professional organizations for library staffers on Twitter or Facebook, this behavior would not surprise you at all. Many of their posts are ideological in nature, because apparently it is hard to increase literacy among children without being divisive. Your tax dollars at work.
Public schools and libraries are attractive to political activists precisely because they offer access to children. Not unlike pedophiles and other child predators, these folks engage in “grooming” behavior. They do a thousand little things to build trust with children and then they try to exploit that relationship.
Political activists deliberately target ever younger children because they are betting that they will beat parents and churches to these conversations. Why does a kindergartner need to be hanging out with drag queens at the library? Because chances are parents have not had a conversation about sexuality with a five-year-old and most parents do not think they are dropping their child off in the children’s library to learn about getting a sex change.
I learned early on in parenthood that I needed to pre-read what our daughter found at the library because children’s books were becoming ever more inappropriate, glorifying promiscuity and suicide and many other destructive, antisocial behaviors. Children’s television has also followed suit. Now we have shows like 13 Reasons Why – which fetishizes the depression of a young girl and makes her suicide seem so deliciously full of drama. They are coming out with a Nancy Drew series, but this time the detective work involves casual sex. A relative was telling me that when her son was in 7th grade, his teacher passed out boxes of condoms to every kid in his class. Because in public schools, the assumption is that responsible adults encourage seeking sexual partners among girls who are barely old enough to have gotten their period. Is it really surprising that Jeffrey Epstein was once a school teacher?
You have to be a royally fucked up person to delight in sexualizing childhood. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fucked up people working in schools and libraries now.
Beyond sex and suicide, there are now a lot of books targeting very young children intended to subvert values like patriotism. Consider this book – with third-graders as its target audience – that is written from the point of view of the illegitimate sons Thomas Jefferson had with one of his slaves. Twenty years ago, eight-year-old children were reading books like Charlotte’s Web and Abel’s Island. Now they are given books about raping female slaves. Help your child question the meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” its Amazon listing boasts. Just what every third-grader needs to be doing.
Scholastic Books used to be the definition of a wholesome service for kids. Teachers would distribute the company’s fliers to kids in their classroom, the kids would take it home like a Toys R Us catalog, beg their parents for the money, and then wait for their package to arrive at their desk weeks later.
Caroline Mackler’s Not If I Can Help It, where the main character discovers her father is sleeping with her best friend’s mother
Alex Gino’ George, about a transgender elementary school student
Barbara Dee’s Star Crossed, about a middle school girl who discovers that she is bisexual during their school’s production of Romeo and Juliet
Alex Gino’s You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P, which includes text like this:
Jillian prides herself on not being a bigot. She has an aunt who is black and her aunt has a partner, whom Jillian loves as well. Her Aunt Alicia, who is black has two children, Justin and Jamila, 3 and 5 respectively and Jillian just loves them. However, she has other family members such as her grandmother and her Uncle Mike, a singular buffoon who display their bigotry. The grandmother asks her daughter-in-law Alicia to bring ethnic foods such as a sweet potato pie. She also makes comments about Jamila’s hair. Many people might not catch the subtle bigotry in that, but to me and many others the subtext is quite plain…The uncle is Archie Bunker revisited, an unabashed bigot who defends his ignorant comments, even when he sees that he is driving others away. You just want to shove a drumstick down his throat.
Then Molly Osertag’s The Witch Boy, because now gendered followers of the occult are oppressors:
In thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted . . . and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.
When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help — as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend, the non-magical and non-conforming Charlie, to convince Aster to try practicing his skills. And it will require even more courage to save his family . . . and be truly himself.
All of these books are targeted at 8- to 12-year-old children.
These folks are not going to stop until they trash everything associated with childhood. They are doing everything they can to ensure that the chasm between people who invent and fetishize suffering and everyone else is multi-generational. And the end result will be that there are a lot of normals whose kids will not experience the joy of getting books from the library because there’s nothing but garbage on the shelves. And, probably, at some point, governments will stop subsidizing public libraries altogether because it’s too controversial.
I used to laugh at my mother when she’d say things to me like, “you should really buy up all the classics you can, because they are going to stop selling them.” Now I see that’s a sort of wisdom.
I think a lot about how much unnecessary misery our culture creates by mandating how families spend every moment of their day. With the technology that is now easily available in developed countries, there’s no reason more of our workforce should not be able to work from home (or from a sailboat, or from a coffee shop). There’s no reason we should have millions of people sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, spewing horrible toxins into the air we breathe, just so a middle manager can pretend to babysit them all day. There’s no reason that a new mother should be putting her weeks-old infant in a day care center and pumping milk in a maintenance closet. (And politicians think the solution to all of her problems is to help her pay for the day care.)
If you look at the way our country lives now, where ordinary people are so filled with rage they become social media trolls in their private time, where kids want to do real physical harm to their peers, etc., how much of that derives from how mentally unhealthy folks’ daily lives have become? How much of that could be eliminated by allowing people to have more home-centered lives? To be able to get out and do things they love for a little chunk of their day, every day? To not be carrying around this oppressive sense that their days are being eaten away by a million meaningless endeavors? Even our children carry the anxiety of purposelessness around with them.
I’ve met a lot of people who are downright snobbish about being overworked. This is particularly true of women who need to feel good about putting their career before raising a family, as if it is even necessary for those to be antithetical in this day and age. I get depressed on their behalf every time I talk to them. I wish people would stop pretending stress is some bogus status symbol and start advocating for better, healthier, more productive ways of living for everyone – especially for children. Our society desperately needs to stop eroding family units, and as with most things, there is a technological solution for this problem.
One of the best things about being a homeschooling family is that there is no arbitrary school day schedule. You don’t have to wake your child up at 6 a.m. (which everyone agrees isn’t good for developing brains) to get ready; shove a cereal bar down their throat so they can make it until their next scheduled feeding time; hurry through morning traffic so you can sit in a car line (which only exists because schools are now common targets for violence and predators); all so they can sit at a desk and try to pay attention when they’d much rather be sleeping (as they should be). And so you can go to an office and do the exact same thing.
With homeschooling, you can cover within a few hours much of the content that is covered in a traditional school in the course of an entire week. That’s the power of having a 1:1 student-teacher ratio and not having most of the week taken up by administrative affairs, discipline, and just generally wasting time. It’s a simple change that eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety for both parents and children.
In place of all that, you can substitute things that bring your family joy. This morning, our daughter had her hunter-jumper horseback riding lessons. We drove out to the stables, let her practice, gave the pony a bath together, and returned him to his pasture. We drove back into town and picked up Dad for lunch.
For lunch, everyone wanted a cheeseburger. We live on the ocean in Florida, so we went to Whaam Burger on Flagler Beach. They have the most incredible burgers I have ever tasted, and I grew up in Los Angeles with In-N-Out. We ate our lunch on the boardwalk watching the ocean.
Elise had put on a bathing suit under her clothes so she could play in the surf for half an hour after lunch. This is our version of recess.
We stood in the surf and talked through work issues while she was swimming and chasing sandpipers. It was a gorgeous summer day. Since the traditional school year has started, there were almost no tourists around. Then we showered off all the sand, came home, then Elise hit the books and we went back to work.
We try to use our break times to get out into nature as much as possible. We often go on long hikes or walks in the morning to start the day. (You really can’t do this in the evening in Florida, unless you love the company of mosquitoes.) In fact, one of the reasons we chose to move to Palm Coast was the town has 135 miles of hiking, biking, and walking trails. If you are relatively fit, you don’t even need a car to live here. You can go everywhere in town on a bicycle. You can even take bicycle paths along the A1A to other towns, and from those towns to other towns. (Between that, the pristine beaches, and AT&T Fiber’s ultra high speed Internet, I have no idea why every tech entrepreneur in the country isn’t moving here. But I guess I should keep that to myself if I want it to last.)
This also means our daughter has the opportunity to talk to a lot of people and experience a lot of things she would be missing if she went to a traditional school. She meets people from Portugal, Italy, the Caribbean, and Mexico while out around town. She also gets to see first-hand how we earn a living and navigate the business world. I like to call this a modern apprenticeship.
It seems the biggest obstacle to this way of life being available to all or most families in the US are these archaic notions of how adults should be able to get their own work done.
As much as policymakers and other observers love to debate the seemingly intractable issues that come with having a mental health crisis in this country, it’s amazing no one ever talks about simply encouraging businesses to enable the vast majority of Americans to change their lifestyles and thereby change their kids’ lifestyles. Be around the people they love. Be genuinely social and interact with people in the real world instead of having fake fights online. Be less sedentary.
The chattering class loves the perceived enormity of cultural problems and the talking points they use to convince Americans that enriching them to guide some pointless piece of legislation through Washington will be the panacea everyone needs. Changing gun laws, for example, is not going to cure the problem that there are a lot of kids in the US now that want to hurt their peers. On some level, everyone knows that the real problem is the hate and toxicity that has come to characterize schools. The fact that social media has taken bullying from being chased away from the bus stop to being hectored 24/7, with the cumulative effect being that kids want to destroy themselves or others. The fact that girls are starting to objectify themselves from the moment they can read, to the point that women in their 20s are now the largest demographic getting Botox injections and capped teeth. We’ve created one epic destructive environment for both adults and children, and it seems so pervasive and ubiquitous that the problems it creates seem inescapable except to the most densely partisan people in our country.
The philosopher Aristotle thought the success of the polis traced back to the home. Homes are the cells of social organisms. The fundamental building blocks of life. If our country wants to fix its myriad problems, it needs to start by fixing Americans’ homes.
We were invited to a birthday party this weekend, which meant that I spent three hours watching young children play in a country club pool. I was surprised to see some children as young as seven or eight immediately split off into cliques. These pint-sized Kardashians resisted interacting with each other with ample servings of drama.
But more surprising was watching girls in one of the cliques playing house. The “mother” in the group pretended to wake her daughters up in the morning. She rushed into their imaginary room and shouted, “Get out of bed! You need to get ready for school so you can find a rich boyfriend!” I was aghast. I would not have believed she actually uttered those words, except she proceeded to repeat them several times. I looked over at their real mothers, who seemed unfazed. This was their normal.
After her imaginary daughters were dressed, the girl pretended to inspect their outfits like a general in the military. “Go back to your room and change! A rich man would never be interested in someone who looks like you!” The girls then dreamily discussed what their ideal mates would possess – a house made of gold, with “a pool even larger than this one.”
It was like listening to the comically tedious mother from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. “Girls, girls, I heard Darcy has ten thousanda year!” But it was presented without Austen’s biting sarcasm.
I say all the time that childhood is about developing an aesthetic. To persuade your child that they do not want to spend their one precious life engaging in activities that are beneath them. To model for them a sense of what a life well-lived would be like. This is the difference between having a child that spends their evenings on social media and the child that combs the Internet looking for a marine biology camp. Between the kid that is “addicted” to first-person shooter video games and the kid that wants to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and that’s true for parenthood too. If you don’t sell your child on an idea of happiness, society will supply that content for them. All bad behavior is a form of communication about what people need but are not getting. You don’t want your child developing a sense of purpose from the nihilists on CNN or Facebook. They will teach your children to rage and rot their minds.
Conversely, I’ve also met a lot of women (in particular) who think they are going to micromanage their children into having a good character. “You get only two hours of screen time a day!” Character is not built on the elimination of free will. The key is to raise a kid that genuinely wants to participate in better things. They aren’t spending their days hammering away on their smartphones because they are genuinely curious about something more important. Your rules aren’t going to change that.
The book is the outcome of the How I Was Parented Project at Harvard, which examined the biographical details and parenting experiences of hundreds of diverse but highly successful individuals. The goal of the study was to identify what these individuals had in common, to see if there was a “formula” for success.
The authors conclude that there is, in fact, a formula for raising successful children, and that formula transcends socioeconomic backgrounds. Affluent people can raise kids to be successful or sabotage their ability to flourish in the world (much like the children I observed at the party). Disadvantaged parents can raise kids to be successful or sabotage them. There are common paths to social mobility. There are common paths to failure. It is terrible to spoil children. It is also terrible to train children to fetishize their own perceived suffering or lack of opportunities.
One of the best chapters in the book is the life story of a homeless mother who raised her son up so he was eventually accepted into Harvard. She was determined for him to escape poverty, and she invested all her time into teaching him. She was creative in how she found access to resources for him. In one case, she was transferred to another shelter so he could attend a higher quality school in the suburbs.
Success versus sabotage
.The authors define success in Aristotelian terms – Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, which is often translated from the Greek as “flourishing.” Flourishing is a grand combination of being happy in disposition, being materially secure, being a good citizen, having a household and friendships that contribute to spiritual well-being, progressing toward wisdom (which then carries on the project of helping future generations achieve the same).
The thesis of the book, of course, is that there is a formula for raising highly successful kids. That formula is expressed as:
Purpose + Agency + Smarts = A Fully Realized Individual
For the authors, a successful person is not motivated exclusively by material wealth or an unqualified desire to please authority figures. They develop a lofty goal or objective that will animate and bring continuity to their life decisions. (I would describe this as developing a sense of honor.) They possess agency, or a “let’s do this” attitude in life. (That is to say, they are not raised as cynics. They aren’t blind idealists, either, but they do actively search for ways to fulfill their purpose instead of shrugging their ambitions off in the face of challenges.) They are conventionally intelligent, not just because they possess innate gifts, but because they were raised to be curious and genuinely love learning new things.
High achievers versus prodigies
The book involves an interesting digression on the difference between what the authors label as “high achievers” versus prodigies. I’ve always been somewhat amused by our culture’s obsession with prodigies and their inevitable meltdowns as they transition from gifted children into adults that cannot function in the world. Amadeus. Good Will Hunting. A Beautiful Mind. Etc. etc. These movies, for example, get made primarily because Hollywood fetishizes suffering, not because they admire the people behind the stories. (Heck, Amadeus isn’t even marginally a factually accurate representation of Mozart’s life. I mean, they got his name right, and that’s about it.)
The authors suggest that these burnouts among prodigies are not an accident. High achievers are purposeful in choosing new projects; prodigies live lives in response to what other people – some with good intentions, some without – think about their talents and what can be gained from them. High achievers can learn to collaborate with other people; prodigies tend to perform for other people. High achievers can become polymaths and Renaissance women and men; prodigies are slaves to a specific talent, whether they enjoy it or not.
The main difference between prodigies and high achievers is that high achievers can be nurtured. Prodigies start their lives expecting success and notoriety to come without effort, and that dooms their future. Adults are their fans due to the novelty of a child functioning on an adult level. Then the prodigies grow up and their talents are no longer quaint or impressive. Adults cease to be promoters and now view them as competitors. That’s when the prodigy melts down instead of flourishes.
The eight roles of the master parent
The brilliance of this book is that it is less about what a successful child looks like, however, and more about what master parents look like.
They describe eight roles that master parents will fill in their child’s life:
(1) The early learning partner: The first role a master parent must fill starts before the child is even born. They amass materials and strategies to engage their children in brain-building literacy (and I’d add numeracy and logic) games. By the time their children are school age, the kids are at ease around language and numbers. This is not a force that is brought into their lives by people external to their household.
(2) The flight engineer: The master parent will intervene in their child’s behavior to keep them on course. They take disciplinary issues seriously. They track their child’s work and seek feedback.
I was interested in the discussion on the “flight engineer” role, because it predictably ended up covering some rants I have made here and elsewhere a lot. The authors don’t use the word “unschooling,” but they describe a similar philosophy of natural development. Intriguingly, the authors associate the education philosophy of “just let your child do what they are pulled to do” with lower income households. I would love to introduce them to some relatively affluent granola homeschoolers / private schools who nurse the exact same convictions as parents who feel economically defeated in providing their children with a serious education. The latter think their children will magically discover passions and talents if left alone, and that making them suffer through such atrocities as schedules or textbooks would annihilate their curiosity forever. Both are a rejection of fundamental responsibilities.
(3) The fixer: The fixer teaches their children practical skills to survive in a sometimes hostile environment. To locate mentors who will represent their interests to their own peers. To find allies who can teach them what is necessary, for example, to get into a tough school.
(4) The revealer: The revealer introduces their child to new ideas, places, and interesting people. They take their kid to symphonies. They travel. They learn about Korean food. They let them tag along at work or attend professional meetings. Master parents will help their child develop the signposts of culture that are necessary to win over other people. They help them communicate about their goals in a real way. If your child wants to be a stockbroker, you will have them hang around stockbrokers to acquire the language of a stockbroker, to know what the job actually entails.
(5) The philosopher: This comes back to the idea of having a purpose. The master parent will talk to their kids about what a life well-lived would involve. What they value and why.
(6) The model: The master parent behaves the way they want their children to behave one day.
(7) The negotiator: The master parent has to prepare their children to be effective advocates for what they want in the world. This means allowing children to have a role in determining how their household operates. It does not mean allowing children to do whatever they want, failing to discipline poor behavior, or rejecting objectively bad life decisions. Children need to have space to test their skills in argumentation and persuasion, and the best way to do that is to have real things at stake in succeeding or failing.
(8) The GPS: The master parent has to help their child build a sense of direction that is consistent with their sense of purpose. There’s no advantage in having a sense of agency if the child cannot see where they can manipulate their own circumstances to advance their own philosophy of what living a good life involves.
I have very much enjoyed reading this book and would highly recommend it to new parents.
Since it is the beginning of the traditional school year, a lot of homeschooling families are sharing the education materials and curricula they will be using for the upcoming school year. Some friends have asked me to do the same, so that’s what I am going to do here.
We homeschool year-round and our “academic year” starts after our required evaluation in March/April. This means our daughter is well into what we are calling her third grade year. Chronologically, she is seven years old and would be rising into second grade in a traditional school environment.
We only talk about our daughter being in “third grade” so she will have something to say when strangers ask her what grade she is in. In reality, she is working far beyond that level in many subjects, both by virtue of her native intelligence and the fact that we started homeschooling before she was pre-K aged (we decided she could handle it). Third grade is actually the lowest level we are teaching any subject at.
For each subject, we teach her at the level that she can successfully work at and do not try to force her into some arbitrary education format. This is a considerable advantage of homeschooling. Your child does not have to be taught at the average level of their wildly different talents. You can do what is best for them clear across the board.
There are a lot of free homeschooling resources out there. However, nothing beats investing in high-quality curriculum for homeschooling in my opinion. It’s not free, but it is not out of reach for most people either. And if you have more than one child, they can share resources across the years, which offers a huge cumulative savings from paying for private school tuition. (Our daughter is an only child, but I know a lot parents worry about this.)
I have spent many, many evenings researching curricula and getting feedback from my mother-in-law, who has a PhD in education and literacy and taught in the school of education at her university at the graduate level. I have purchased a ton of academic materials that I ended up simply throwing in the garbage. These are the best resources that I have found that work and that our daughter finds engaging.
In terms of literature, we have piles of novels that we read to our daughter and that she reads aloud to us. We decide what we are reading as we go along. Right now, she is working her way through Little House in the Big Woods. Before that, she was reading The Boxcar Children. (Interestingly, she did not like the latter at all. I think part of that is that the image of homeless children in the book does not fit the modern version of homelessness that unfortunately a lot of kids are familiar with seeing. There’s nothing quaint about it, and even kids catch on to that.) I tried ordering workbooks that would ask questions about the texts and introduce vocabulary, but I found it much more beneficial to simply sit down and talk about the books. We’ve had many impromptu digressions into history, philosophy, and religion that way too. Our daughter has a huge vocabulary already (she loved Martha Speaks when she was smaller), so the words the publishers think kids don’t know are actually kind of tedious to her.
For language arts in general, we started using Michael Clay Thompson’s series from Royal Fireworks Press. Royal Fireworks Press is a publisher that specializes in materials for gifted and talented education. Their catalog is unreal.
MCT’s books are gorgeous. Our daughter refused to do any work until she had studied the artwork in his books and tried to reproduce it. I never thought I would have ever uttered the words “my child is in love with her grammar book.” But these are sui generis.
The tone is conversational and the pages are uncluttered, which makes it easy for kids to read through the books on their own. He introduces children to new vocabulary in every book, but beyond that, there is so much intellectually stimulating, beautiful wordplay. He starts with the observation that if you are good with language, you will be good with every other subject. I’ve found this to be very true in life.
MCT’s book Building Language is especially perfect if your child is also studying Latin (like ours). This book treats language as a code, based on Latin roots, that can easily be deciphered with the right background knowledge.
Yes, MCT’s program also includes a study of poetics for children – how to manipulate how what you are saying sounds to make it more pleasing. It’s brilliant.
Another blogger recommended getting this book, with the sense that MCT’s program was not as strong as it could be on punctuation. I like this book too, because each lesson is short and sweet. It has a powerful cumulative effect, but it’s not painful.
This writing book is absolutely fantastic. It is organized around a long series of short writing projects that all build up teaching a child how to outline their thoughts, brainstorm important or interesting details, and include twists and turns. Best of all, our daughter is very proud and possessive of this book as a collection of her creative endeavors.
We only started the All About Spelling program this year. Our daughter loves this program. I think there are two things that make this a wonderful resource. First, it’s not straight memorization. We grew up having spelling tests in school. At the beginning of the week, the teacher would give you a list of 20 or so random words to memorize and regurgitate for a test on Friday. After that, it did not matter if you could spell them. All About Spelling is about learning to spell words from how they sound. You learn the relationships and then can apply that knowledge going forward. If you used a phonics program for literacy, then these lessons will reinforce those lessons.
Second, the book involves a lot of tactile activities and games. Our daughter looks forward to spelling. It’s wild.
Ecce Caeciliaet Verus is part of a Latin series from Royal Fireworks Press. I do not recommend these books as a stand-alone program like Song School Latin. However, they are great books for practicing translation skills (the book is in story format), which will be entertaining and inspiring and reinforce what was already learned.
We started off our Latin studies with Memoria Press’ Prima Latina, which is Ecclesiastical Latin and not Classical Latin. (The difference is a J.) The book is a little dry, but it does make a good supplement, which is what we are using it for now, off and on. The great thing about this book is that if you are Catholic, your child will learn the words to the Latin Mass. I love that.
We are likewise using Memoria Press’ Classical Studies program. This series starts with Greek Myths and progresses to Famous Men of Rome and Famous Men of Greece.
For studying world history, we are using Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World and the corresponding activity book. I did not start this series until last year. I know some folks who are trying to start it with Kindergartners, which I think could be a bit premature. The difference in maturity between a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old when you are talking about topics like war is tremendous.
There are several things I like about this series. First, SWB is really telling the story of humanity at a kid level. She starts with the dawn of humankind and works her way across the centuries talking about what was happening in each major civilization on each inhabited continent and when. This makes it very easy for kids to grasp the collision of certain cultures when it happens. If you like timelines, this is one long, well organized timeline.
Another thing I like about this series is SWB introduces kids to every major world religion in an unbiased and charitable fashion. I like the idea that when our seven-year-old daughter talks to the Buddhist owner of our favorite Thai restaurant, she has an understanding of what he believes and a respect for his wisdom tradition. This is exactly the sort of thing a good liberal arts education should do for a person.
The corresponding activity books have a lot of brilliant projects and games for children to reinforce what they are learning about. But what I really love about them is the mapwork. Our daughter knows so much about geography now it is truly unbelievable.
If you love timelines, Smithsonian’s History Year By Year is an essential resource. The book has vivid pictures of artifacts and maps. It explores subtopics for specific civilizations, like the introduction of new technology or what it was like to be a child in a certain culture.
We supplement our history studies with a lot of high-quality children’s books, field trips, and travel. Here is a sample of some great books related to the Middle Ages, which is the volume of The Story of the World we are working on now.
This year, we have been focusing on ecology and biology in our science studies. We used a middle school level textbook for ecology, which was pretty dry. I’m not sure I would recommend it. For the most part, we ended up checking out dozens of books on the topic from the library. That in itself is, I think, a brilliant approach to teaching science.
Tiner is intense in his science, but he is also religious. He loves to talk about important scientists that embody Christian ethics (particularly having a strong work ethic). This will certainly disqualify his work for many secular homeschoolers, which is a shame, because these are some of the most intellectually rigorous science books I have encountered. And frankly, talking about the rewards – not only for individuals, but all of humanity – of a Christian work ethic is wonderful.
His other books are on the history of medicine, astronomy, chemistry, physics and mathematics.
We try to take as many nature walks and hikes as possible, and the following three books have been invaluable.
Logic and Mathematics
We are not planning on starting formal logic courses for a couple of years, but Royal Fireworks Press has a wonderful series of logic books for children, which are more along the lines of pattern recognition, understanding attributes, part-to-whole relationships, and a sort of introduction to symbolic logic. These books are fantastic for mathematical reasoning.
We use Saxon Math for our math curriculum. There are things I do not love about it (like the constant repetition), but I see them as necessary evils more than dealbreakers. I have a lot of friends who use Singapore Math. To be honest, the main reason I did not choose Singapore was that I don’t know a single person who has stuck with it. There are a lot of resources and online communities for supporting Saxon.
We have loved the Awesum Alex series from Royal Fireworks Press as a fun diversion. I like the reinforcement of place value. Most of the times I have seen a young child struggling with math, it has derived from difficulty understanding place value. The books are creative and fun.
Engineering and Computer Science
As technology is the family business, computer science is treated as a core subject in our household. Right now, we have our daughter working through projects from BitsBox, which is another monthly subscription service. They do not send only one project for the month, however – it’s more like monthly units of study. For example, you will receive several projects that all involve the use of coordinates. This is also a great way to reinforce math concepts.
We also subscribe to KiwiCo’s Tinker Crates. Each month, your child receives an engineering project with a magazine that explores some concept related to physics and engineering. I have been amazed by some of these projects and the ease with which they explain concepts in physics to children. I like having these boxes around for sick or rainy days too. “I’m bored.” *pulls crate from closet* “Here, learn about hydraulics. It involves drenching my kitchen with water.” *ecstatic scurrying of little feet*
Philosophy and Religion
Both of these books are excellent for early discussions of philosophy and religion. The first tackles various historical arguments for the existence of God through a kid-friendly story where the characters represent famous philosophers and theologians. The second book talks about what it means to be a saint and the traits that make saints special.
Artand Music Appreciation
So this is a very, very cool book. It is loaded with projects that kids can do that give them a sense of the techniques the masters used to produce their great works.
Memoria Press also has a great art book for young children that covers technical topics like color theory and perspective.
It’s easier to post a picture of all the books we use for teaching music and dance than to cover them singly. They are all excellent.
Our daughter usually has at least two extracurricular activities going. She rides hunter-jumper at local horse farm and has done her first horse show. She had been taking piano lessons, which we allowed her to quit to take up karate. (Karate is more social and suits her character.) She might go back to piano eventually, but we are okay with her taking a break.
“Unschooling” or “self-directed learning” is all the rage on homeschooling forums. It’s a loathsome trend that (as a homeschooler) I wish would go away already.
One of my single greatest fears about homeschooling now is being lumped in with unschoolers from a regulatory standpoint and losing the flexibility in educating our child that we currently enjoy. Becoming collateral damage, if you will. I fear the day that government officials catch up to the conversations on Facebook and Twitter.
I think this fad is actually more dangerous to homeschooling than being associated with the occasional story of a child abuser using homeschooling laws to evade detection by authorities that might otherwise intervene on their child’s behalf. Most people are smart enough to understand that there’s a difference between child abuse and homeschooling. But the unschooling fad creates a problematic grey area that is a lot harder to shake.
What is unschooling?
There seems to be some confusion online among folks who label themselves as unschoolers, which strikes me as purely generational. The term unschooling was used by people who were originally drawn into homeschooling by educators like John Taylor Gatto. These personalities were sort of libertarian in disposition and spoke of themselves as “unschoolers” merely to differentiate homeschooling from traditional government-operated schools. That is to say, unschooling and homeschooling were essentially synonymous from the 1970s until very recently.
The first generation of unschoolers wanted to emphasize the fact that they could cover topics that traditional schools could not (either because they were restricted by law or by the practical limits of ushering 40 kids in a classroom through complex subject matters). That they included rich experiences like travel or apprenticeships into their idea of education.
Now the term unschooling has been co-opted by a new generation of homeschoolers to refer to a home education philosophy that eschews all trappings of a formal education and strives to avoid putting children through any form of emotional stress whatsoever. In fact, avoiding perceived sources of stress is the most important issue for them.
Working from a set curriculum might scar your child for life. If you force a textbook on your child, they will hate education forever.
You don’t need to decide what your child will study. He or she will reveal their interests to you. You aren’t a teacher. You are a guide, learning coach, whatever. Even the word “teacher” is triggering and suggests oppression.
Schedules and routines are evil. Each day should be about finding opportunities for unstructured play.
Sure, play is important. Kids absolutely should be outside playing more than they are now. I’ve made these statements many times in the past. But is it more important than being literate and numerate? There are bad reasons for homeschooling. It’s okay to say that.
When did the stereotypical homeschooler stop being the Christian tiger mom that preached about academic excellence and a work ethic? When did she become the mother who describes home education as relaxed days spent swilling lattes and posting carefully staged pictures of her children doing wholesome things on Instagram? When did we end up with homeschooling trolls on social media shaming and bullying other parents about how they are “pushing their kids too hard” and “depriving them of a childhood” because they are teaching their kids Latin or drilling them on math problems? When did some homeschooling forums become just as infantilizing and unserious as Common Core? The opportunity to give your child a rigorous education was always one of the top reasons to homeschool. Rigor is something to defend, not scorn!
Everyone is an expert
Honestly, I think the answer is that homeschooling has been undermined by its own popularity.
There are currently several million families in the United States that choose to homeschool their children. I suspect the real number is actually higher than “official” estimates, as there are a litany of states that no longer collect any data on homeschoolers. (Publishing data on the number of parents that have elected to pull their kids from public schools does not exactly make a state government look good.)
Homeschooling has now transitioned from a perceived counterculture to a target market economically. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of websites, publishers, and self-publishers trying to hawk materials and advice to homeschoolers. On Amazon, you can now find probably 200 self-help books about homeschooling that all pretend that anyone from any background with any motive can homeschool well. “You don’t need to stress about what math curriculum your child needs! Just let them play all day! Your child will tell you what they need! Homeschooling is easy!”
That is pretty much bullshit. Even if you run the most hippie homeschool in the world, with no emotional stress and no tests and no prescribed content, in all likelihood your child will eventually need to be able to demonstrate that they can take a test or write an essay. Like, you know, when they apply for college.
In fact, this is one of the greatest lies the unschooling fad pushes, which is that there are unschoolers that have gone on to colleges, even elite colleges, and thus this approach to education is not a real problem. They aren’t talking about the anti-vaxxer homesteader whose kids’ lives were one giant playdate and learned everything they need to know about biology by growing squash in their backyard. They are talking about the first generation, for whom unschooling had a different meaning entirely. The former are not going to be able to produce a legitimate transcript for college that shows their child did anything akin to AP chemistry.
In all likelihood, your child will end up with a job that involves answering to management, and management will expect them to have a healthy sense of authority.
Heck, even after I finished graduate school I had to take four standardized tests on securities and commodities trading before I could get my first job, which was working at an investment bank. And finance is not unique in this respect. Medicine, law, and many other professions expect you not to be an emotional or academic wimp.
Pretending that your kid can go through their entire life without interacting with the standards imposed by society or ever being pushed out of their comfort zone is beyond delusional. And I think the people selling unschooling fully understand this point. But telling people that homeschooling is an easy, relaxed lifestyle means you can sell more fluffy lifestyle books and get more followers for your fluffy homeschooling lifestyle blog that you can also monetize.
There are endless blogs now selling materials for your relaxed homeschool, most of which are just random people on the Interwebs making PDF worksheets (sorry, they call them “printables” now because “worksheet” sounds like “work” and work’s not granola) with clip art. “I’m a homeschool mom too and here’s the unit I made about caterpillars! Only 99 cents! So wholesome!” Most of these sites are targeting people who are new to homeschooling, because pretending to create resources is easy for elementary-aged children, but nearly impossible for teenagers. I’ve gotten to where I feel like this is extremely predatory, unethical behavior.
If you don’t want to invest the hard work that goes with producing a literate, numerate, cultured human being, then your kids are likely better off in a public school. If you don’t want to make a real investment in academic materials to educate your child, your kids are likely better off in a public school. If you don’t want to add professional educator to the caps you wear, then this gig is not for you.
If you are new to homeschooling, be careful who you let influence your life decisions. Homeschooling forums are now loaded with Oprahs and Gwyneths selling their snake oil to the mommy blog crowd. You don’t get a mulligan on your child’s education. The education you provide them will help define the opportunities they have. Their education is their fate. This is serious stuff.
Today has been a rather unusual day in our household. (Do we ever have normal days though?)
This morning, Elise told me that she wanted to spend the entire day working on her Latin, which is suddenly her new favorite subject. In the past, we had done “math only” school days. She’d wake up, put on her “math day” t-shirt (a shirt she bought at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that says B greater than average via a math problem) and hit the books. I could not believe that Latin has replaced math. True to her word, she worked her way through several chapters of Latin and spent the afternoon addressing us in Latin. She says she needs a t-shirt that says something in Latin.
Since she was occupied and I was in-between work for our clients, I decided to make a Persian feast for lunch, with shawarma, tzatziki, flatbreads, a salad of tomatoes and cucumber, and a mixture of figs and apricots crossed with plums (they just sounded bizarre and fun while we were out shopping). The food filled the house with the most amazing aromas, and honestly it still smells divine now. I used to cook tagines all the time, and I missed the intense combinations of spices.
At the end of the day, Elise and I took a walk along the esplanade in our neighborhood, which follows the Intracoastal Waterway. She devoted herself to catching lizards while I watched the boats returning from the Atlantic Ocean.
As we were walking, a woman we did not know beckoned us into her backyard to show us that her four or five banana trees were now loaded with dozens of ripening bananas. (She was very proud of her banana trees she said, and just needed to share the moment with someone. As an obsessive gardener, I can relate.) This was fascinating to both Elise and me, since we had tried to grow a banana tree in a pot on our front porch this summer. It either did not like the pot or its spot or access to water, because it did not flourish. I asked her if the banana trees did well through the Florida “winter,” to which she responded that she had not had any problems with them except through the two recent hurricanes. She said the hurricanes always destroy the banana trees. When I find a new plant in a nursery one of these days, I will plant some in our backyard. The woman told us that the best fertilizer for banana trees was surplus bananas. Elise has been going around explaining this curiosity to everyone who will listen.
Equally interesting is seeing how exactly banana trees develop fruit. The bananas grow along a sort of flower-rope that dangles down toward the ground. Nature is unbelievable sometimes! We have the loveliest neighbors here in Florida.
Walking away, Elise said to me, “imagine how many banana splits that nice lady gets to make now.” Indeed.
I’ve long abandoned trying to form a short, articulate response to folks who ask me why we homeschool our daughter. Academics, safety, character and values – where do you even begin?
But I sort of want to hold up this map that our 7-year-old daughter drew freehand, in her spare time, with zero guidance from me, as evidence that she’s getting an unusually superb education. (Note how she labeled the tribes that settled in different regions and put our family name in Normandy because I had mentioned to her that her ancestors lived in Normandy before the Battle of Hastings, before becoming a British family. We had been discussing how Charles gave Normandy to the Vikings to stop their routine invasions, hence the reference to North in the name. So both branches of her ancestry were ultimately Vikings.) A 7-year-old doodled this map and labeled it from memory!
I tell people all the time that children are capable of accomplishing so much more than our education system expects of them. It’s truly astonishing sometimes.