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Public School Is Not Rumpelstiltskin.

I don't owe it my firstborn child!

There is a popular sentiment in my hometown that to be a true progressive, a patriot, and a decent parent, you are obligated to send your children to your local public school. The general idea is that because public schools are funded per child, "pulling" your child from the public system deprives it of dollars that could mean pennies' worth of spillover benefit for the other local children whose families are not privileged enough to choose a better form of education.

I believe in the importance of public education. And yet I couldn't disagree with the above sentiment more.

I believe in social safety nets like WIC and services for the elderly and disabled like SpecTran. I believe that we need some form of prison system. I believe it is good for the nation to have some kind of Child Protective Services and foster care. But I don't believe I should try to sign up for WIC or SpecTran services, which I don't need, so that some bureaucracy might get more funding. I don't believe I should try to go to prison just to support prison guards' job security. And I sure don't believe children should be kidnapped to pad a state's foster care rolls and siphon more federal funds. (Yeah, that actually happens.)

I believe that public schools need to be there for those who need them, and I also insist that per-child funding for schools was not my idea and is not my daughter's responsibility to enable. To say that parents are in the wrong for not enrolling their children in a public school is to say that parents owe the school system their children. I didn't have to have a baby. The school system did not get me pregnant. If I had no children, the school system would be no worse off than if I do not enroll my child in it.

Public education is a service provided to the citizenry at the expense of the taxpayers. I pay taxes, and I support funding for schools. However, it is perverse and nonsensical to suggest that I would be harming society in any way by paying for my own child's education--not at the expense of the taxpayer--and nurturing a citizen with a much better educational background than would be possible through the local public school.

There is another argument that homeschoolers are depriving public school children of the presence of "privileged" or well-adjusted children, adding to class differences. The truth is that homeschooling families are as economically diverse as public schooling families, and the only "privileges" these children have over public school kids is that they aren't in public school.

I attended a public high school for the last two and a half years of high school. After college, I substitute taught for a year in my local district, and then I took a semester of graduate school in School Psychology. One lesson I took away is that most public schools are poor fits for children who have learning disabilities, children who are gifted, or pretty much any children. Most of those who succeed do so despite the system, not because it "worked." And there is so much red tape that conceiving of any way to fix the fundamentally flawed system is daunting. My graduate school advisor, for example, suggested that I move to a more progressive state... like Kentucky... if I wanted to make positive changes in children's lives. When I asked other teachers how I could help make systemic change here in Michigan, they said, "You could call your senator." I could do that without a graduate degree, so I quit wasting my time and vast amounts of money being suckered by yet another institution that was too busy drooling over my potential as a cash cow to help me build my potential as a leader.

The problems inherent in traditional schools have been documented and studied for over 50 years, and very little has changed. In Detroit, the biggest city near me, children are more likely to go to prison than college. The "school-to-prison pipeline" is a phenomenon that keeps a whole lot of private businesses in the black and prison workers on the job. Like the occurrence of Native children being kidnapped to gain funding for the foster care system, this sickening perversion of incentives pits systems against the well being of the children, not for it.

Needless to say, I'd rather move to Mexico than send my daughter to the local public school full-time. I think I may send her to public schools for a year or two at some point just so she knows what most kids have to deal with. And I think that if she does that, she will meet some good teachers and some marvelous children. I believe that people are generally good and do the best they can, even in the worst circumstances. Many people go through public schools and succeed in life. Humans are resilient and amazing. I'm just not willing to force my child to go through undue hardships and deprive her of better experiences because that's what we're "supposed" to do.

Articles like this interview with an unschooled woman fill me with excitement about all the opportunities I can offer my daughter as she grows up. My husband and I are so lucky that we are able to spend lots of time with our child and give her rich experiences every day. Already, before she has turned two, we take her to baby events at the library, playdates, parties, parks, museums, and the zoo. Our daughter is bright and inquisitive and outgoing and confident, and we want to keep that spark glowing brightly throughout her development. We appreciate the society in which we ourselves grew up and live, and we want to give back by raising the next generation as extraordinarily as we can, on our own hard-earned dime.

Public school is not Rumpelstiltskin. But I'm not so sure about the servicers of my student loans. That's a post for another day.

UPDATE: I have surprised the hell out of myself by taking a much different path than I anticipated when I wrote this post. Here's how we got there!


  1. In my heart I always knew you were an unschooler.


    But, basically, even teachers don't argue with me about homeshcooling. I've been flat-out told by more than one teacher that she wish she could afford to homeschool. That's how broken the system is.

    Homeschooling is mental self-defense for your child. Of this I am certain.

    1. It's true, Anthony. I can already see in my daughter that fierce desire to learn about everything, so I'm just going to move obstacles out of her way and give her access to every meaningful experience I can.

      Teachers don't argue with me either. It's parents in my city who talk about the civic duty to stick their kid in the System, or who lament about their guilt if they choose private school or another option. I hear things like, "You think your kid is too good for public school?" What a silly question. Of course I do. I think ALL children deserve better. And I think every family should have the right to explore what kind of education works best for them.

  2. Yeah, I've run into that. Civic duty. I'm a guy. You know how I handled those comments? I told them civic duty was a bunch of people being too lazy to care about real problems and how they impact their children and that collectivism didn't work for East Germany and the rest of the Soviet bloc, what makes them think it will work here in the US?

    Yeah, those people don't talk to me much anymore.

    The thing about large homeschooling networks is you just don't have to deal with Civic Duty crap on a regular basis. Hanging around people who appreciate your teaching style yet are themselves very diverse is so enlightening, it's like a drug. The difference between the networks we belong to and the PTA we used to belong to is very, very telling.

    The unschooling network we belong to is a celebration in diversity. Unschooling is the opposite of conformity for the sake of normalcy. It is a educational narcotic. It's the celebration of others through the joy of self. It is water for the thirsty. It's my libertarian Nirvana.

    1. I view public school kind of like I view foster care. I'm really glad it's there so, like, fewer abandoned children get eaten by alligators and freeze to death on the curb. And I'm really glad public schools exist so half the children of America don't starve to death. And I'm really, really, really glad my family has choices, freedom, and the resources (time, money, and skills) to nurture a joyous and bright child and have fun doing it.

  3. Send La Nux to me here in Mexico if you want her to have Spanish lessons!

  4. ...Or she can hang out with Ma. Elena and Fifia, that would work well too, I think!

    1. HOW ABOUT BOTH! Yes, please. She has already discovered Dora the Explorer. She'll feel like she already knows Fifi.

    2. Both works. Then you can send them both down here to me and I will not so much talk to them as smother them in kisses, perfume and lip gloss.

      And then we'll go drink juice at the market.

  5. One more thing I'd like to say. My intention with this post is not to hate on public schools. Most of America's children are enrolled in them, and they are vitally important for most families. I have extreme admiration for teachers, volunteers, PTA parents, and everybody else who works hard to make the best of the situation.

    All I'm hating on here is the idea that every parent is morally obligated to place their children in a less than ideal situation when they don't have to. Guilt tripping parents for doing the best they can for their children enrages me. It is stupid and wrong.

    Power to the parents who can do better than generic "best practices." That is all.

    1. I know you posted this a while ago, but I couldn't agree more. After moving to the US at the age of 5, my parents, who did just fine in (communist) Hungary's public school system, enrolled me in the American public school system, partially because we were poor, partially because we thought that it would provide me with a quality education, and partially because we didn't know about any other viable options.

      It took me 3 years more than it should have to be identified as gifted thanks to the negligence and biases of my teachers, and by the time I reached middle school and high school, I began to get the idea that perhaps I wasn't learning as much as I could have had I gone to a different school.

      Now, as a first year student in an Ivy League school (Dartmouth), I am struggling in my classes and have a hard time keeping up with my fellow students who either went to very exclusive public schools with lots of funding and great teachers, or who have been in private schools and have had tutors and nannies all their lives. And only now am I hearing about the other options that I could have had, such as applying for a scholarship to a private school that would have actually taught me something.

      I think that your quote about children in public schools succeeded despite, not because of, the system, is absolutely true. For 12 years, the system worked against me to keep me from succeeding at learning, living, achieving, and having better prospects. It is only through years of stress, disappointment, trauma, and unbelievable work that I even got the chance to go to this school. I am an exception that proves the rule. And I shouldn't have to be. No one should.

      Kudos to you for genuinely wanted your child to obtain the best education possible.


    2. Wow, Yotami! That is an amazing story. Kudos to YOU for overcoming so many obstacles to get into a good university. My husband and I always say that our parents did the best they could with the knowledge they had, and we will do even better for the next generation. :)


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