7 Reasons to Send Your Child to School and 1 Reason To Unschool

A mother on Twitter just referred me to a blog post she wrote entitled, Seven Reasons I’m Sending My Child to School and Three Big Reasons I Wish I Wasn’t. She said I helped inspire her to write the post and I’ve actually been inspired to write a post in response. She has considered homeschooling and unschooling, she knows many people who are taking that path, but right now she’s chosen to send her daughter to kindergarten. Here’s my responses to her 7  reasons she’s sending her child to school and my 1 reason not to send your child to school and embrace the freedom of homeschooling/unschooling/worldschooling:

1. Reputation. We live in the catchment area for the best elementary school in the school district….Parents I meet who are teachers tell me it’s the best….

People, especially teachers, usually have no idea how joyful, free, and full of learning, life can be without school. They’re comparing this school to other schools. Even when it comes to academic tests the average homeschooler out performs their peers by an unbelievable margin (here’s one study from 2007 and another from that just came out this August, 2009). That’s not even getting into the things that can’t be measured and are really important. And the “best” schools often put the most pressure on students to perform well on tests: not to actually learn.

2. Location. The school is not only in our catchment area, it’s a ten minute walk from our house…. The school is also surrounded by farmland and forest, not shops and highways – a lovely rural school setting. I went to two different elementary schools, which both backed on to forest and trails. I have the fondest memories of running through the woods and along a stream bank, making forts under the big trees and exploring inside rotting stumps. These days such school properties would be fenced to keep predators out. And this school is fenced too. But my daughter will have a lot of fun walking there at least….

I also love to explore the woods and think it’s wonderful thing for children. But I’m sorry: you don’t seem to really believe some of your reasons! You acknowledge that your child will be fenced in at this school. Won’t your child have much more of an opportunity to wander and explore the woods, and everywhere else, if she’s not stuck in a school stuck inside a fence?

3. Everyone thinks she should go. For a variety of reasons, our daughter has been assessed for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After two and a half years of observation and tests, the results came back negative. We continued on with more testing afterwards and everyone finally came to the conclusion that she is a “high-spirited” child with a language processing disorder and a smattering of other significant, but not diagnosable, issues.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say: “There is nothing wrong with your child.” Children under five years old are all over the place, they’re full of life: it’s healthy! I’m so glad everyone did come to the conclusion that she is just “high-spirited” and doesn’t have anything diagnosable. But, again without knowing her, I’d say the only thing “significant” about her “issues” is she’s a kid. Mainly, I’d pay attention to what seems like an issue and ask yourself if it really is a problem at all. Pay attention to the present not what track “experts” say she should be on.

One of her challenges has always been large groups. However, when we anxiously sent her to pre-school last year we discovered that she does very well in group settings, as long as her parents aren’t there. If we are, she becomes whiney, clingy and won’t play with the other kids. If we aren’t there she follows the group norm and participates…. We agree that she responds well to structure and feels comfortable with caring adults who interact with her. She gets challenged by being in this kind of milieu, but unlike at home, she accepts learning how to face the challenges, and with support, often comes through them with newly instilled pride….

This sounds wonderful and understandable. We depend on our parents and when they are gone we are forced to rely on our own resources. It’s great you’ve realized the wonderful way your daughter benefits from being in groups without her parents. I’d just assure you: your child can have that experience with homeschooling. Some homeschoolers hang out at home during the day and do their socializing with schools kids after school at different structured activities: sports, dance, theatre, yoga, etc. where you wouldn’t have to be present. And especially since you know so many homeschoolers you can also trade off with them for who takes care of the kids and runs activities and outings on different days. That of course leads into your next “selfish reasons”:

Now For The Selfish Reasons…

4. I need a break. I’m frustrated that her behaviours appear to be somewhat out of my control. She doesn’t respond to the gentle discipline techniques of my attachment parenting style. She also has a trait aptly named “negative first reaction” which means she always says “no” before she says yes, and all the patience I’ve practiced with her “disagreeableness” is finally wearing thin. We will only be apart two and a half hours a day five days a week, but I know it will be enough time for me to re-charge and be able to be a more loving and patient mom.

5. I will get to spend some 1:1 time with our other daughter. I think it will be nice for my youngest to get mommy to herself for a little while everyday. I have a very strong bond with my oldest daughter. I changed my life around so I could be a stay-at-home mom for her. I think it’s time for my youngest to benefit from my full attention.

First of all I don’t think this is selfish. But  it sounds like you also need a break from your frustration with your daughter! Maybe she doesn’t need to be disciplined at all, even in a gentle way. Maybe her behavior doesn’t need to be controlled. Letting go of these expectations might be like an amazing vacation for you! Still, I acknowledge I don’t know what it’s like to actually be a parent. Of course you want time alone. And free childcare from school every weekday could be very attractive. But I think you can get time alone with homeschooling and unschooling with a little creativity.

6. It takes a village to raise a child. As my daughter grows up I hope that her life will be touched by many caring grown ups who will help her to develop all the many facets of her burgeoning personality. I don’t believe in raising my child in a vaccuum, and even though homeschoolers often participate in homeschooling groups and many extra-curricular activities, with me there by her side, she would be. I accept and welcome all “teachers” in her life.

I really think your child will get to so much MORE experience of the community and the world as a whole with homeschooling than with going to school: that’s part of the reason I like to call it “worldschooling”. And again, I think you can send her to homeschooling group activities without sticking around in the immediate area. And I think unschooling parents would tend to be a lot more caring than teachers with dozens of new kids every year. And some “teachers” don’t care at all or are just plain mean and I would not welcome them into your child’s life.

7. I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom forever. As much as I value homeschooling I also want to get on with my life outside the sphere of motherhood….

Again, I don’t know what this is like but I can really appreciate what you’re saying. Still, I think with unschooling your child will be far more independent at an earlier age than if she goes to school. You may have much more of an opportunity to pursue your own interests. And that in turn will help inspire her to pursue her interests: children learn by example.

Now here is my ONE real reason to not send your child to school: I don’t want to sound strange but you talk about the importance of breastfeeding all over your blog. I imagine you’ve felt this bond between you and your child. You’ve connected to a light, a life force inside of her. You’ve seen that complete beauty in your child.

I really think, school is going to damage both that beauty and the bond you have with her. Some would say school as we know it was specifically designed to do that: make people into good tools and break up the power of families and communities.

I’d say school is a machine that isn’t necessarily out to crush, damage, or control our souls: that just tends to be a by product of its function. School tends to make us view the persistent and uncontrollable ways our souls want to shine and express themselves as an inconvenience.

Many, or probably all, of us who went to school try, to some extent, to cut ourselves off from our soul as a way of survival. It’s a hard road trying to regain your whole soul after that. My selfish reason for wanting your child to homeschool/unschool/worldschool and not go to school is I think it’ll help make this a better world to live in! We need more people who are in touch with their whole soul and aware of the world; more people who follow their bliss and their passions down new paths that lead us to solutions to big problems and whole lotta joy!

Freedom/unschooling/worldschooling/life is DELICIOUS. And it’s true what you say: your child will still get a taste even if she goes to school. I just want her to have the WHOLE thing.

I’m glad to hear you’re ready to pull your child out if things don’t work out and you are just doing what you think is best for her at this time. And I know of at least one unschooler who went to just kindergarten and then unschooled very successfully the rest of K-12.

Still, from my experience in Waldorf/Steiner schools, “good” suburban public schools, AND unschooling: I think you understand I still encourage you to reconsider unschooling!


31 Responses to “7 Reasons to Send Your Child to School and 1 Reason To Unschool”

  1. Idzie says:

    Great reply! I feel that so many people downplay or simply don’t realize how very damaging school can be. I’ve seen it so often in the people around me, people whom I care about, that are struggling in school, whether or not they’re doing well on tests! I will never believe that school is the best option, unless it’s specifically chosen by the student.

  2. Trish says:

    Your one reason hits the nail right on the head! Have you read “Hold on to Your Kids”? That one book was eye opening to me in describing the ways in which school outright breaks the bonds of family. And although the book actually attempts to prevent schools from doing so by showing parents various methods to support family relationships, I personally don’t believe it’s possible. I actually think that sending your kids to school is the antithesis to attachment parenting because it will certainly destroy attachments, one day at a time.

    I also want to point out that I often need time alone, and also look forward to a career again. I’ve met many unschooling moms, some of whom are even single, who manage to creatively meet those needs and still unschool.

  3. Sara McGrath says:

    You may not be a parent, as you disclaim, but you are nonetheless remarkably insightful about parental choices. We were all children and some, like yourself, remain well-connected to a child’s experience of life.

  4. Bonnie says:

    Wonderful post Eli! Of course I don’t know the child in question so I can only speak in generalizations, but I find it sad that children’s natural personalities and traits are now so often classified as disorders. I hear about kids who are suspected of having autism or some kind of learning deficit more often than ones who aren’t! To be clear, I don’t think parents are directly at fault for this. I think it’s a symptom of a larger culture that simply doesn’t make room for people to be individuals. Which is what makes unschooling so great, even moreso for a child who is in danger of being labeled and “fixed” by the system. Kids who might get medicated, shunted off to special ed, and shamed for their natural enthusiasm and energy in school, can really shine as bright, creative, unique and HAPPY individuals with unschooling.

  5. Nikki says:

    How incredibly condemnatory and judgmental.

    I was interested until you condemned all parents who utilize anything but homeschooling or unschooling option.

    My choice may not be your choice. However, my beautiful, bright, joy-filled children love their time at school and their time at home. Our bonds are enriched as we share our lives together.

  6. Melodie says:

    T start with I’m going to say that I am glad that I don’t easily take offense. Because I could, but that wouldn’t get either of us anywhere. Instead, I will try my best to respond to your very well thought out response to my post, which I must thank you for taking the time to write.

    I’m sure I sound like a hypocrite/walking contradiction to some of you who read my post, but I continue to stand by my decision to put my daughter in public school *for the time being.*

    1. I agree with your response to my first point. Most teachers are oblivious to the benefits of homeschooling. If they believed in homeschooling it is unlikely that they would want to become teachers in the first place. I too read an article (years ago don’t remember source) about a couple teachers who became disillusioned with the system and found a way to homeschool their children while continuing to work for awhile before eventually finding other jobs.
    I suppose I could have gone into more details but from what I have heard about this school is that the children are well behaved, there is little to no bullying, kds do well academically and the school welcomes parental involvement. The teachers are respected by each other, the kids and parents and enjoy their jobs, or at least are very good about hiding it if they don’t. There have not been any complaints about any of the teachers there.

    2. I don’t really think I’m contradicting myself here. Yes I love the natural world and my daughter’s freedome to play outside, but our walk to the school is a delightful adventure on our semi-rural street lined with forests and farmland. Our own backyard has a 1/4 acre of forest. We have a lake and wildlife sanctuary acros the street from us. We regularly go for hikes and swims in the ocean, lakes and rivers and I teach my kids where ever we are about the world around them. We live a very Earth-centered lifestyle. I don’t think 2 1/2 hours a day 5 days a week will harm her when the rest of her life is so full.

    3.Thank you for your input on this point but I am a mental health professional and my husband is a child and youth counsellor. Both of us, regardless of our professions are wary of medical intervention unless absolutely necessary and we trust our combined knowledge and experience in this realm to decide for ourselves with other professional’s input what our daughter’s challenges are. It was 2 1/2 years plus some, of figuring everything out. We accept and love our daughter for who she is, but believe that it is our responsibility to have all the information possible to help us make the right decisions for her.

    Also, because of my current job running a family child care, I can’t trade off cild care between other homeschooling parents. My child care is full and I’m not willing to do more care on the weekends to amek your suggeston work. Yes, I need a break, but belive me I have already tried some creative solutions, and while once every 6 months or so I can get a break during the week, it doesn’t do too much to tide me over. Is 2 1/2 hours 5 days a week really that big of a problem to you? Most parents would love a full day away from their kindergardeners – I know – our district was almost this year’s guinea pig for tring our full day kindergadren. I was THE ONLY PARENT who shot it down. I may need a break but I sure as hell will do what is best for my kid.

    4/5. My daughter’s behaviours do need to be controlled when she is hitting other children, constantly screaming and being rude. Have I figured out a way to do this yet? No. However, she isn’t this way when I am not around. Of course this makes me doubt my parenting style, makes me wonder what I am doing wrong, etc, etc. But it is not appropriate not to try to ameliorate this behaviour. It’s my responsibility as a parent! If she can learn by watching other children in a classroom setting be disciplined for this kind of behaviour and listen and learn from the teachers why this behaviour is wrong and hurts others, maybe she’ll carry that home with her. Maybe a public school can be her arena for worldschooling. It is a part of the world, right?

    6. Yes, If public schooling doesn’t work out then I hope I can leave her at a homeschooling/unschooling function/activity/lesson/whatever without problems. Again see my own dilemma with that considering the work I do now and not being able to be mobile for those extra-curriculars outside the house.

    7. Nothing to add here.

    Finally, it is the strong attachment we have partly due to our breastfeeding relationship that I believe will help us get through any rough patches. You vote for absolute 100% homeschooling/unschooling/worldschooling and that’s great. High five. Maybe down the road we will do that. I also don’t fear this going back to work and taking her out of school because I know it can be done even if one parent isn’t a stay-at-home mom or dad.

    I also take your entire response to my post as a general appeal to the general public, not to me personally, that h/u/w is a fantastic and often better option than public school. Because you don’t know me and your readers don’t know me. So it is unfair to judge anyone unless you are standing in their shoes.

    Thanks again for the tme you took to write this. All the best.

  7. bravo, eli! excellent article.

    i do think that you aren’t replying to melodie per se, but to the main arguments that people usually use to decide against unschooling or homeschooling. i think you made some great points, that are applicable for anyone to think about if they are considering whether to home/unschool or not.

    we unschool our 7yo daughter. every day, she says to me, Mama, i Love learning. every day, she says to me, i am so happy. THIS is priceless. we all look at each other and feel so happy that we’ve chosen this joyful, loving, life-learning path. it works for us, very well. i’m grateful.

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  9. Great reply! I was one of the people who inspired her post as well, but I hadn’t thought of writing a counter post. Now I don’t have too!
    I am a homeschooler, although not an unschooler… we have a very laid back school at our home.
    I agree with you, government schools by definition are institutions, they will change who you are, and who you will become….

  10. Emily Jones says:

    I think I might have replied to a specific comment instead of the post in general…oops!

    Sorry, I forgot one more thing. Like Melodie, a big driving consideration for public school is to get a break from this high-needs kid, and let my family get a break too. Yes, there may be other families who are willing to trade times and give me a break, but I wanted to point out that getting a break is a very real need for people with difficult kids. It’s almost easier to have a kid with an actual diagnosis, or an obvious physical disability, because then people can see that the child has problems, and they sympathize with you, and want to help you. When you have a difficult child and no real biological issues, people tend to shrug you off (like you have done in this post) with the standard, “Ah kids will be kids.” I can promise you with 1000% certainty that my difficult child is not just “being a kid.” She’s like a kid-plus: she does normal kid stuff, and has normal kid issues, but it to the n-th degree. It is frankly exhausting to spend your making sure that the difficult child isn’t more difficult, that she doesn’t run away, that she doesn’t terrorize her siblings, that she doesn’t destroy things, get into sharp objects, and playing damage control for the things that inevitably go wrong because you can’t be with her every second of the entire day. It’s like one of those Bumble balls, that wiggle all around in unpredictable directions – they are a simple toy and fairly easy to keep near you, but you will be absolutely exhausted by the end of it.

    I’m not saying that public school is the answer, but I have to say that it is a very real problem.

  11. Melodie says:

    @Eli – I apreciate your response to my response. Phew, how many responses to responses will there be here? Again, I just wanted to re-iterate that I do plan on monitoring the situation very closely.

    @Emily said everything else I could say on the subject, PLUS some! Thank you Emily, for putting into words what I was not able to. I’m in 100% agreement with EVERYTHING you wrote here.

  12. Celeste Earhart says:

    Inspirational, Eli, as always. I am sorry some people took it as personally offensive, I could see that you were speaking in general terms, even though you were sparked by one person’s post, but perhaps that was a bit confusing for some people.

    Inevitably, some people become heated about what they are passionate about, or when you strike a nerve. I am passionate about homeschooling, so I can understand how someone may be passionate about a different perspective.

    I love your reason for keeping kids at home, and I think that homeschooling is especially important for kids with “special needs.” I worked in a Special Ed /regular ed classroom for 5 years, and have worked one-on-one with kids with “special needs” for the past 9 years, and know enough to venture the opinion that there is nothing “special” about special education. It is the same mind-numbing muck they get in the regular classrooms, just watered down. Yes, they have smaller classes, yes they have *a few* very good teachers, but they still don’t know how kids learn. They don’t even attempt to figure out children’s prefered learning styles most of the time, let alone teach to them. Their answer to a kid who can’t do math is handing him a calculator, and their answer to a kid who can’t read is reading to her. But they don’t really know how to motivate and teach kids who have “special needs.”

    What most people don’t understand about homeschooling, when you are speaking from an Unschooling/Worldschooling point of view is that it is the easiest thing in the world to do. You just find out what your kid is interested in, give them the materials, and let them go. They will tell you when they are ready to learn how to read. They will let you know when they want to learn algebra–and they will, that is the chief difference between homeschooling and public school–children still have the desire to learn when homeschooled. And all you have to do is give them the tools, the books, the materials, the educational activities, games, or field trips, and they will teach themselves. You are a guide more than a teacher, there to help when they ask but not interfere and let them work it out most of the time.

    My oldest son is 5, and shows some traits of what some might consider “ADHD.” I understand him because I was/am the same way, though I was homeschooled and never labeled. I really believe that labels are distructive to children’s self-esteem. People hear the label and think they understand the behaviors, but these labels really cause the parent/teacher/school/society to overlook a child’s REAL needs, in favor of medication over education.

    If a child is labeled “Special Needs” most often what they are really suffering from is being misunderstood because their particular thinking and learning style is different from the “average” child. They may be brilliant, they may be Right Brain dominant, they may be a kinesthetic, or hands-on learner, or they may have some kind of unknown underlying sensitivity (like food allergies/intolerance or hypoglycemia) that can be causing behavior “problems.” Often, these behaviors are quite normal for kids, but we as parents and teachers forget what it was like to be young and “high spirited.” If you read the list of qualifying behaviors for ADD/ADHD, it could be ANY child! We need to get over our fear of what’s different and accept that kids are kids! Let them be kids! Keep them at home!

    I tried teaching because I care about kids and wanted to help them from inside the sytstem, but no matter how caring a teacher is, you can’t fight the system. It’s too big, and it’s not about to change anytime soon. The only thing you can do is not participate in it. Opt out. Boycot Public School! Give them some homeschool competition!

    Thanks you,

    Celeste Earhart

  13. Emily says:

    I am the mother of four children, and an unschooling advocate in my community, however two of my children attend “alternative” public schools by choice (the other two are unschooling) and all are thriving socially and emotionally. We need to be careful not to assume there is ONE right way for ALL children…my children know and love that they are attending school or unschooling by choice, and my oldest is graduating from high school this year (after having been unschooled on and off over the years according to his desires and needs) and appreciates his freedom and sincere my support of his choices.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Hi Emily, thanks for posting this and sharing your own personal experiences. You’re totally right that there is no one way for all children. It’s good to hear that some of your children have been able to make good use of school.

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  15. Kelly says:

    One of the other “creative” alternatives is starting a homeschooling collective, or finding a freeschool if there’s one nearby. There are LOTS of them popping up all over, even in Brooklyn & Manhattan! And there are places like Northstar ( ) that might LOOK like schools, but are really just very well organized homeschool collectives. My 13-year old stepdaughter goes there & she loves it, and feels free to bail & stay home on the couch whenever she feels like it (which has been maybe twice this fall so far) or spend the day with a grandparent (where she spent today and will be tomorrow). And many areas have “homeschooler hours” for sports & things like acrobatics/circus (like where my unschooler has been going for years) so that kids can engage with other homeschoolers. Plus, when kids are older, the Unitarians & Quakers (and probably others, those are just the ones I know about) have weekend-long retreats which often have unschoolers and homeschoolers.

    And I very much agree that school is designed to break that family bond. It does. It sucks.

    Great blog!

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Thanks for all the ideas and your own experiences! I’m actually in the Boston area not far from Northstar and have been meaning to check it out for awhile. Really glad to hear it’s working for your step-daughter.

      I like what you say about it looking like a school but actually being a homeschool cooperative really.

      And yeah, seems like more groups and organizations are catering homeschoolers and their hours more and more.

      Also thanks for sharing the story of your 13-year old’s half brother. Hopefully he’ll be able to homeschool if he still wants to when he’s older but that’s wonderful that school is working so well for him for now.

      Thanks for reading my blog!

  16. Kelly says:

    I also want to add that we also have custody of our 13-year old’s half-brother, who is incredibly intelligent, but has a lot of emotional issues, and some sort of non-specific “learning disability.” He desperately wants to homeschool (he’s 9) but the state dictates his schooling at this point in time. He’s at an excellent 5-day/week super-duper theraputic residential school, and is doing really well. I am not a trained therapist/ninja (which is basically what he needs in addition to reading and math specialists) and at this point, no matter how much I would like to honor his wish to homeschool, I don’t know that I would have the emotional and physical stamina to do so.

    Just goes to show, every kid is different and the beauty of having unschooling as an option is being able to say “ok, this is what works right now,” and change it when necessary.

  17. Ashlyn says:

    So true! Your words, “school is going to damage both that beauty and the bond you have with her.” I wish I had read this before I sent my boys to public school that first day. 🙁 I am happy to say they are back home with me and happily doing school behind me as I’m typing this. 🙂 I hadn’t realized how far apart my oldest and I had grown until I took him out of public school. We’re so close now, it’s an amazing the transformation! I’m so thankful for the time I have with my boys!

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