At The Exit

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Cold again this morning. I started chores early for no good reason than I’d risen early, and it was nice to be outside on the leading edge of daylight, the sky turning shades of pink and blue above me. Yesterday’s snowfall had obscured our bootways, and every third or fourth step I’d land wrong, slide off the packed path, and sink to the thigh. Set down the hay bale, the slop bucket, the water pail, heave out my leg, pick up my load, walk, repeat.

Rebecca Solnit has a nice essay in the new issue of Harper’s, called “Abolish High School.” Here is some of what she writes:

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens, responsible for 4,600 deaths per year. Federal studies report that for every suicide there are at least a hundred attempts – nearly half a million a year. Eight percent of high school students have attempted to kill themselves, and 16 percent have considered trying. That’s a lot of people crying out for something to change.

We tend to think that adolescence is inherently ridden with angst, but much of the misery comes from the cruelty of one’s peers. Twenty-eight percent of public high school students and 21 percent of private school students report being bullied, and though inner-city kids are routinely portrayed in the press as menaces, the highest levels of bullying are reported among white kids and in nonurban areas. Victims of bullying are, according to a Yale study, somewhere between two and nine times more likely to attempt suicide. Why should children be confined to institutions in which these experiences are so common?

Solnit’s question is rhetorical, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer to it. Or many answers, probably, but for the sake of expedience, I’ll suggest only one: Because their parents can’t imagine something different. Part of the reason they can’t imagine something different is because they can’t afford to imagine something different. And partly, it’s because they’re afraid to imagine something different – in my experience, that fear is oriented primarily around their children’s social and economic prospects. In short, they worry that if they don’t send their kids to school, their kids will become outcasts with few prospects for gainful employment. Better to risk the bullying than the job prospects, and besides, at some point, kids have to learn that not everyone’s going to treat them nicely, don’t they?

But I also think many parents can’t imagine something different because they don’t know there’s something different to imagine. They are not aware there are other paths to walk. Because as Solnit also writes: High school is often considered a definitive American experience, in two senses: an experience that nearly everyone shares, and one that can define who you are, for better or worse, for the rest of your life. This is how the story of school has become so foundational; as adults, most of us have been defined by it, and we have come to depend on it to understand, at least in part, who we are.

Which begs the question: Who are we? Many things, of course. Far too many to list here. But among them, we are a culture that compels their children to be confined daily to a space where 28% of them are bullied. Furthermore, we are a society that comprises 4.6% of the world’s population, but consumes 80% of the world’s pain medication. Depending on age group and gender, nearly 25% of us take drugs to treat our depression.

When people read interviews with me and criticize what I have to say about education, I often wonder what they see in the institutionalized school system that is so worthy an alternative. Are they thinking of the 72% of children who aren’t bullied? I mean, hey, that’s a majority! Nice work. But what of the bullies themselves, if one can be so compassionate as to think of them? I’ve known a few bullies in my life; I even know one or two now. None of them seem very happy to me.

Or are they thinking of the economic opportunities they presume unschooled children won’t have? They are, or at least they say they are, and in a way, this makes me saddest of all, because it suggests that a child’s education should first and foremost be subservient to their economic interests.

Still, sometimes I wonder if the reasons stated for their opposition run even deeper. As Solnit writes, school has become a definitive part of the American experience. It is apple pie, it is Fourth of July, it is part and parcel of our faith that the story we’ve all grown up inside, the story we are all – to varying degrees and by varying levels of complicity -invested in is the right story.

As I went about chores this morning, stumbling and slipping along our well-worn boot packs, I was thinking about how our foot travel has mostly been limited to those prescribed paths for so long. And it occurred to me this morning how liberating it will feel to be able to walk where we please, as if, having been trapped in a labyrinth for all this time, we suddenly find ourselves at the exit.

97 thoughts on “At The Exit”

  1. Gorgeous.
    I am a product of public school through high school, and a good state college for my undergrad. I found a job after college that I never have liked, but pays me well and has good benefits. Then settled in to living a standard American life.
    Then I heard you on NPR talking with Audie Cornish. And everything clicked. I can’t imagine how my life would be different if I had learned as a kid to be creative, think for myself, pursue knowledge for knowledge sake in my interests, etc. Like you suggested, it was because I didn’t know there was another way.
    My family’s imagining of “different paths” is coming on hard and heavy now! Let me tell you….

  2. I just wrote a bit about compassion today and how institutionalized schooling often promotes the opposite – selfishness and self everything – whereupon if you don’t “fit in” there are negative consequences – I hadn’t thought of suicide, but yes that unfortunately is one of them.

    1. Not to sound like a complete scumbag, but I feel a lot of Americans get caught up in the whole individualistic idea for society. The whole “not in my backyard” and “I only take care of me” concept. There are people who can use a leg up and there are people in this country who believe in community and sharing ideas. Narcissism has roared through our society for at least two decades now and it is has gotten bigger not smaller which is disheartening. Then I read blogs like this where people share ideas and support one another even if it is a conflict of ones beliefs and I feel a little better.

  3. I reflect on my high school experience a lot. I was absolutely miserable the winter I turned 16. And I remember my mom, who peaked in high school, telling me, “When you grow up you’ll look back and these will be the best years of your life.” What NOT to say to a depressed teenager! Or a depressed anyone for that matter… anyways, I’m 38 now and no years have even come close to the misery of high school. Thank goodness!

    I find it so interesting that some parents feel threatened by unschooling. I figured my kids would take the standard path but then my oldest hit kindergarten, and boy did school suddenly seem a very, very risky path. My biggest hope for my kid in the school system was that he would come out intact. When I realized that, I realized I had much bigger hopes for him in his life (to connect with his passions, to discover himself and the gifts he can contribute to the world, things like that), and unschooling seemed almost safe.

  4. Well, I can’t tell ya why folks get defensive, pissed off, and/or righteous. I honestly thought it was just the reaction I received for my opinions. I wonder if many think of their school experience fondly? I suppose that is possible, although certainly not the way I remember school. I for one agree with you 100% , for what little value that is, yet my son goes to public school.


    Because , as a single dad, I can’t make any thing that remotely resembles a living, without working out if the home, and honesty I think my son needs to learn things, that I am not equipped to teach him.

    I struggle with this a bunch. My son is going to be 13 on Sunday, and I see him struggling with so many of the same things I did. I know that I formed who I have become, after leaving school, and I am sure my son will as well, but what do we do untill that point?

    We do the best we can.

    Anyway, I think some folks see the truth in your words, and actions.

    And it pisses them off.

  5. We had some good times in High School. I am assuming system in USA is quite a bit different. In Lithuania, we were with more or less same people, in the same school, from grade 1 to grade 12. There were no such things as separate elementary schools, middle schools, highschools. The only thing was that you could leave after grade 9 and go to vocational school to learn a hands on trade, or you could continue on through High School to prep for college. The worst years for bullying and popular/unpopular were Jr High years, 6-9 grades. Then, at grade 9 those who did not see a point in studying and therefore were miserable, left, we were left with a small class of 12 students, always same people – we knew each other since Kindergarden plus we lived in same small town and had been playing in same yards since we were toddlers. . Aside from having to follow rigid curriculum, which was not fun, we had awesome after school times with some really talented kids.
    It does break my heart to see impersonal approach in these monstrous High Schools here. How in the world can anyone go through such a machine and survive?

    1. But Bee, what if someone “new” came to live there? Started school? How would they be accepted?

      1. That is a very good question. . . Nobody did. I think at that point, ages 15-18 we were pretty mature. Seriously, maybe it was because we had seen more than your typical 16 yr old kids here. We had seen some poverty, we had seen some tanks and blood and people killed on the streets, we had seen money crumble, systems change, politicians lie, economic blockades, close to home. (you can read some of my memories: https://beehappeenow.wordpress.com/category/soviets/page/2/ )
        I think we were past the mentality of being in the band, being the same, quite the opposite, at that point, after long years of being soviets, the biggest thing was being different. (sometimes that could get a bit ridiculous too). High school days I remember with sweet nostalgia, just like the university days. Jr High not so much though, those were tougher times, there was some popular unpopular going on.

        I was observing kids here in Waldorf school. We would play in their playground with my then 1 and 4 year olds. Older kids, 12 year old boys would come up, and help out my toddlers, sometimes totally taking them away from me, playing with them in the woods, holding my baby’s hand. It was nice to watch. I watch kids rough housing and having fights, but always resolving nicely, and by themselves for the most part. The culture that school built was incredible, but that is achieved over many years of parents and school working in the same direction.

  6. Quite insightful writing here. The boot paths are like the paths in our brains that are grooved to certain ways of thinking. You and Penny, and to more or less a degree a lot of your followers, are folks who are trying the metaphorical or literal brushing of the teeth with the other hand to groove new pathways in our brains so we can be free to get out of the labyrinth! Labyrinth is the convoluted well worn paths in our brains that keep us thinking in old set ways.

    Nothing wrong with old set ways. Allows us to do things without having to think on a lot of tasks. But when the old set way keeps us from finding a better path then a new path needs to be grooved and pronto!

  7. Good writing today. I hated high school. I wasn’t bullied, I wasn’t a nerd, I wasn’t popular, I was just there putting in my time. I felt average. Our society does see high school as a rite of passage. You’re not going to prom? – What’s wrong with you? You’re not buying a class ring? – Everyone gets one. So much energy (and parent’s money) that could be spent on being creative or actually doing things worth doing is wasted on meaningless activities that don’t have anything to do with learning or real life.

    1. The prom shit drove me crazy and the ring!! I have no idea whatever happened to that stupid, expensive for the time ring. Ugh!

  8. I would not repeat high school for millions of dollars. I had good moments, but the truth is, I floundered like many and as a kid in the eighties, college was the end goal and business majors were all the rage. The movie “Wall Street” was big for a reason right? (I still love it. LOL) I am not against college at all. I wish school was like college from early on where kids have more freedom with what they study, but I am a peon with no pull in politics.

    My husband and I talked about high school recently. Everyone makes a big freakin’ deal about those four years and they are great for some and hell for others. But think about it, did some of the jocks that were such douchebags become pro ball players? None in my school. Did the burnouts who took shop class od and die? No. Were band geeks, I was one, nerdy forever? Not necessarily. Why we make these four years seem like the major pinnacle of our life boggles the mind. I think of the time I wasted thinking I was fat and struggling with social rules and geometry. But I am grateful for being in band, it was how I got to travel, and discovering wonderful books through an awesome English teacher. Pros and cons abound everywhere in education, but I feel high school has such a weird, strong presence during such a volatile time in our lives. Those four years can eat you up and spit you if you do not learn to navigate those shark infested waters. In the end, high school is just a small part of our lives that seems to have an amazing impact on so many young people. I want to grab them all and tell them they will be fine, none of the social mores of high school means shit.
    The other thing is, higher education does matter for specific careers. Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, Architect,etc. High schools in our area offer courses that lead to these and other various paths, which I am jealous of because I would have loved that when I was younger. But I say that with the knowledge I have now. I can’t say I would have been smart enough to take advantage of any of it when I was 16.
    What scares me the most is how society belittles careers that are not Reality TV or Silicon Valley worthy. Not everyone needs to be famous or funded by a multimillionaire hedge fun to matter, but the kids today get a much different message. I cannot imagine the pressure some of them feel and it scares me to think that is why heroin use has gone up everywhere. They need to numb the pain because they have never gained the tools to survive it. Too much coddling and special snowflaking has not helped a lot of these kids. I blame the parents there, but this is off topic now. So sorry for the rant, You hit a sore spot. 🙂

  9. Ugh – I loved reading this. I just had a really hard day with homeschooling – lots of fighting between siblings after a fun, intense weekend and lack of sleep. I had no idea kids could fight so much over something as stupid as counting by 2’s. See, most people just send their kids to school after a weekend like that, and instead of picking on their little sisters, they pick on other kids at school. Thanks for the reminder – home schooling is great. They would have had an off-day if they were at school today, too.

  10. When we started homeschooling my in-laws were very against it. My husband had to put the topic off limits, but it came up again a year later. We thought they were concerned about the kids economic future or their ability to get into university. Nope, it turned out that the real reason was that we would be ” to nice to our kids”. The words “life is war and school is where you learn to fight” were spoken out loud. What can you say to something like that ? I hope they find some healing some day.

    1. 🙂 Sounds familiar. Except that I heard these comments since kids were 2 months old: let them cry it out, they need to learn to be independent! That is surely one advantage having family overseas, nobody gets on my case on unschooling. Well, they still manage, but then we send them some paintings kids did at the “school”, and they are pretty happy. 🙂 Good luck to you. There are some very good articles out there to refer all the questioners to.

      1. We have only told my parents about our “homeschooling” idea. (no sense trying to explain unschooling at this stage – kids are 3.5 yr old and infant)
        I sure hope both my parents and in-laws can learn to trust us and not be harsh, as described above. I think what will really happen is that they will wring their hands raw in worry for a few years, until the kids show some real aptitude in a subject of their interest.
        I probably need to develop a list of articles/books to refer them to.

      2. I have forwarded a lot of Ben’s posts to my parents in addition to loaning them some John Holt books. That has helped them to wring their hands a little less:)…so far, anyway.

  11. I think that there are too many high schools pushing a “college track” on kids who won’t be academically prepared to succeed in college and who may not have the family means to keep from finishing college deeply in debt. That said, the state colleges in Vermont; Castleton, Johnson, Lyndon, and VTC, provide a reasonably inexpensive, $20,000+/- annually, path to a baccalaureate degree.

    I think that a lot of kids would do better if there was a vocational track, but in many parts of the U.S. entry-level vocations/trades jobs are being filled with illegal/undocumented aliens who will work off the books, often for less than minimum wages.

    A lot of the high school experience is related to the environment. Some high schools embrace diversity and encourage individual thought, while others struggle so hard to keep the students safe from each other, there is little time for academics.

    1. “…a reasonably inexpensive, $20,000+/- annually, path to a baccalaureate degree.”

      I think the definition of “reasonable” might vary for some families.

      1. True, but there are ways to avoid all that. .One, you can travel to Denmark, and study there for free. 🙂 Two, you can test out from many undergrad courses and save money and time and go straight to grad. My both undergrad and grad cost me under $5K out of pocket. And this is years back, now they have even more options.
        And how about road schooling? 🙂

      2. Oh it absolutely does! I balked at that number too, for a minute, but then that’s almost what it costs to go to a state school here. I think it varies a bit regionally, with NE schools being a little on the high side.
        On the whole, $20k annually is reasonable, comparitively. Try a private school. That number will hurt you.

  12. People are so whacked that they continue to BELIEVE in these broken down systems. They are to the point where if something is suggested that is ‘too natural’ for them they can’t even grasp it, and recoil in horror at the suggestion. They have been programmed to become angry, fearful and then the ‘conspiracy theorist’ word comes out. Really? Who is the frickin’ extremist? You can’t feed yourself, you take man made chemicals to stay ‘healthy’, go to prison for money every day, have your children go to an abusive institution for daycare, don’t take part in any process of life other than the end results and you’re calling a homeschooler an extremist? It’s so ridiculous and messed up that I don’t have a human response. There are not words, feelings, or actions that my human body can use to reply to this baffling phenomenon.

    1. I think that you’re delusional. If being a subsistence farmer was such an appealing way of life, more people would jump on the wagon or drink the cool-aid.

      1. Instead they’re depressed, unhealthy, on drugs, separated from their kids, addicted, unsatisfied, narcissistic, materialistic, shallow, selfish, suicidal, consuming too much, polluting, destroying, dependent slaves. And let’s not forget the most important part, they’re fucking WIMPS!

      2. Tricia,

        I believe that you are citing bad news that isn’t nearly as common as you claim, particularly among college educated people who have earned a BA/BS or higher degree. The rate of poverty, divorce, and single parent homes among that group, my group, is much less than for that portion of American citizens who have and have not earned a high school diploma or GED. It is sad that the expansion of the middle-class that made America the land of opportunity post-WW2 is shrinking, while both the upper and lower classes are expanding. One of the greatest threats to America is the growing number of unwed births among poorer, less educated, young woman at a time in their lives when they should be seeking a suitable life-partner and when they are ill-prepared to be a parent. Poorer kids have less chance to get ahead in life because their home support system is weaker than that of more affluent families and they tend to live in lower-income neighborhoods where crime, violence, drug use, and low expectation are more the norm, rather than the exception.

        As they say, your experiences have not been my experiences and your perceptions have not been my perceptions. Heck, my current biggest fear is that the BoSox won’t be competitive in the AL-East due to questionable starting pitching.

        Of course, this is all opinion and could be 100% wrong.

      1. Jeff Bird – the things I mentioned are not problems stricken to those who live in poverty. Those are problems with any class of people living in this society. So while the topic of dirty, poor, single women who have babies sounds like fun, not really what I was talking about. Plus, what fun is it to talk about the problems of the world with someone whose pointed out that the problems stem from people who haven’t done what you’ve done? Yeah…real fun. Almost as fun as watching pro sports teams where the outcome of the game is bought and paid for before the first pitch.

    2. No use arguing with Jeff, Tricia.
      It is not that you are delusional per sé. It might be more a case of him not being able or brave enough to look beyond his porsche-in-the-driveway-grass-cut-to-23mm-suburbia-worldview.
      I have come to look upon him as a prime human example of the world I want to see changed and take his comments at such value. Because they do have value and occasionally a point too.

      I do think you are being harsh on your description on that glorious, well educated, caring for the earth middle class. Looking at that I do think the suicidal was a tad too much. The rest seems pretty much spot on.
      And never forget! They are the backbone of this wonderful society of ours. Just look at that magnificent post ww2 land of opportunity they created up to this very day!

      And Jeff, if you still need to ask why people do not jump on the bandwagon and drink the cool aid after reading all of these posts and comments for all this time….. I do wonder if you actually read it.

      1. Why would you want to change me? Heck, I love my life and would never trade it for a subsistence farmer’s life. I enjoy the affluence that has come to me in about equal shares of inheritance and hard work. When people tell me how lucky I am, I tell most of them that they could have been equally lucky if they had taken the risks that I took. When they were starting families, I was struggling to stay out of bankruptcy with my first business. When they were eating steak and drinking wine, I was eating Raman noodles and drinking tap water. When they were playing golf and watching NFL football on TV, I was working or maintaining the business. I have worked hard to achieve the success that I’ve earned and apologize to no one for it. I’ve never cheated or stolen, that’s not the way I was raised. We donate about $200K annually through our trust and my Wife, Kids, and I volunteer for a couple of non-profits. I have stopped volunteering in the local school district, I was tutoring math, because I couldn’t convince the kids that they actually needed to practice math, do the repetitions, until they could see the relationships and understood the difference between a numerator and a denominator.

        BTW, no Porsche in the driveway; currently a 1998 Nissan Pathfinder SE, a 2002 Ford Explorer Sport-Trac, a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, and a 2005 Lincoln Aviator, all with over 135K miles on the clock. The grass is well maintained by me, not by some illegal/undocumented alien working for a lawn service. The weather has been warm, nearly 90 yesterday, and dry, so I’m going to power-rake the lawn, put down some fertilizer, and turn the sprinklers on this week. My Kids are both here this week, so we’re going to the local Zoo tomorrow and the rifle range on Thursday. Next week, when the kids are back in school, I’m going to work on the raised bed vegetable garden and get my tomatoes from seed going. Oh, and my Son and I are going up to Little Sioux for a volunteer day of cutting and splitting wood on Friday. Hoping that the weather will still be dry, as Loess Hills turns into virtual quicksand with a little rain.

        Keep on smilin’!

      2. I only became stunningly successful because of my incredible good looks, superior intelligence and a small 7 figure inheritance. I do spend at least 87 minutes annually helping the little people, when the weather permits. Every one wants to emulate me, but cant because of weakness in character and poor genetic composition.

        Why would anyone possibly want to change me?

      3. Not everyone is mad at your money. Some are, but I’m not. I was on my way to “making it” like you describe, albeit without an inheritance (which, still, I ain’t mad at you for). But I really like being with my family and did not want to spend the majority of my waking hours on a weekly basis at work away from them. So, we have cut our budget down severely and started growing food and headed toward a “hill farm”. (hope we can… we’re a long way from it now) That’s where we feel compelled, since we value the time together above all. I am looking at trying to start a (deliberately, and probably perpetually, small) business, and using it as a way to pay for unavoidable money needs.
        I simply don’t want to work at a job I hate for as long as it would take for me to get to “making it”. Some people do. Now I feel sorry for them. We like the freedom “contentedness” gives. (Andrea spoke about this recently. I don’t know if you read her blog)
        If your life makes you smile, smile, baby! I wouldn’t be able to put up with it to make it there.

      4. I was able to retire at 44, when I sold my first company. At that time, my Kids were ages 6 and 1. I was able to be a stay-at-home Dad, but I couldn’t find enough outlets for my energy, so I bought a business that I could (mostly) run from home, built it up, and sold it. Now I’m the managing partner for a land company that owns farms in Nebraska and ranches in Colorado and South Dakota. I probably work an average of 30 hours a week, mostly from home, but I do visit the farms, ranches, and rentals on a regular basis. About every 6 weeks I spend a few days in Colorado, inspecting the rentals and making sure that the ranch works is being done to specs.

        I was raised with a silver spoon, but it was silver plated, not Sterling. I had to work around the farm, cut wood for heat, attend public school, and pay my own way through college via an ROTC scholarship. I grew up taking care of myself, ’cause my parents both worked long hours and in my Father’s case was often absent for months at a time until I was 10. Having raised myself to a great degree, I consider myself to be self-sufficient, quiet, and introspective, rather than an out-going “people person” who needs the approval of other people. When my Parents had passed away, I sold most of their assets in New Hampshire and used that $$ to purchase a number of resort rental properties in the Breckenridge, Telluride, and Vail, Colorado areas and on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. We have since consolidated our rental units in Breckenridge, bought a 2nd home in Eagle, Colorado, and invested in irrigated farm ground outside of the land company. Mine isn’t a life or life-style that would appeal to everyone, but it is the only life that I know and it suits me. The only thing that I would change, and will change when my Son goes off to college, is to move to Eagle, Colorado, on a full-time basis so that I can walk out the door and go skiing or mountain biking at Beaver Creek.

      5. Jeff, sounds like you should have your own ‘money mustache’ blog. . Silver spoon blog.
        Scott, sounds like you will definitely retire before 44. But retire from what, cannot retire from life. .
        Enjoyed reading all the comments. 🙂

        “Judging is preventing us from understanding a new truth. Free yourself from the rules of old judgments and create the space for new understanding.”

      6. Everyone said i was crazy to leave a secure high paying job to dig in the dirt in AR…Man, i love being crazy!!!

  13. Hard to believe, but there was a time when the “public” in public school meant that the people whose taxes supported it had a huge say in how the schools were run. Many towns in New England still have that voice and I suspect elsewhere as well. I don’t think people should ever put up with what they perceive to be abuse or neglect and it’s the parent who gets and stays involved in the public school education of their child that makes the biggest difference. A lot of home schooled kids enter public school at some point because either their parents don’t feel qualified to teach certain subjects or they find the relationship changing into something they don’t like, yet they stay involved. My point is that I don’t think it’s just the schools; it’s parents who think their high schooler is old enough to take care of problems themselves and stay at an arms length from the school itself. I’m a libertarian myself, but schools have a million laws stating what the quality of education is supposed to look like. If it doesn’t and people let it stay defective or abusive or unfair, they are wrong. They need to get up and make their voice be heard. Schools are required to listen… by law.

    1. I was writing my post at the same time yours was being posted. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  14. If someone is having an issue with verbal bullying, the best way to deal with it is to ignore it. The bully will soon give up trying to get a response.
    If physical bullying is involved, the school administration should be involved. If that doesn’t solve the problem, legal action might be a good idea. Parents need to demand a safe environment for their children.

    1. Right on. While I do believe that public education is vital, I do not understand the investment that so many people have in preserving it just as it is — highly standardized curriculums, strict bell schedules, age-based groupings, etc. People seem to think their kids should be made to suffer through school simply because they did…which isn’t a good reason to do anything.

      1. As a teenager, my mother told me countless times, “Nobody likes high school. But, you get through it so you can go on to better things.” I understand the message and the context from which it came but think it shows what we have discussed here many times in many ways. People live as if they have no choice because they see no other choice. Once the blinders are off…wow! An amazing world is out there for those who want to engage in it in a “road-less traveled” way.

  15. This post first made me sad, thinking about my own experiences in the traditional school system, and those of others. But then it made me so relieved that I have learned about the option of homeschooling (mostly from reading blogs like yours) and that I can provide a different learning environment for my children. Thank you for your perspective!!

  16. When we were leaning more toward homeschooling & hanging out with a bunch of homeschooling families, I was so impressed by some of the kids — just how curious they were and interested in the world around them, how they expressed themselves, etc. It was one of the many things that drew me in. Now we are at public school (charter), and there’s still those really neat kids who just seem happy & free & have a love for life & learning and there’s a lot of them there too.

    Comparing these two, I’ve come to realize it’s all about the parenting. The parents that are easygoing people with a zest for life and a love of learning of all kinds have kids that are the same at least that’s my casual observation. They all spend a lot of time with their kids creating space for their passions. They eat together, explore together, work side by side, create together & spend very little time in front of the screen. These parents find ways to connect to their kids.

    I’m all for choice in education. Choice, freedom — those are true American values. I can totally see why traditional school is just not the ideal place for some kids & families. Right now public school is working out really well for us, but it’s a great feeling knowing that we aren’t stuck with if it stops working. I’m so thankful that more and more people are discussing education alternatives. We should all be supporting one another inout quest to give our kids what we think is best for them.

  17. As I read the comment about bullying being prevalent among white kids an rural areas, followed immediately by a question that assumes some causative relationship with school. Any honest person in a small community will tell you how much bullying is inherent in the ‘institution’ of the community. How often a kid is picked on by others who overheard their parents ridicule other parents or because of deep and longstanding ‘otherness’ (in my village they picked on the vegetarian kids because their family was weird and ‘other’. There are a thousand good reasons for home or in-schooling but don’t think bullying will disappear. It’s a nasty and almost universal human trait that will surface at the slightest opportunity.

    1. Much of the bullying I have seen stems from someone trying to break from the herd. I think you’re right, there is something inherent in this distrust of others leaving the pack but how we respond to that feeling is what makes this a quirk of human nature or downright deadly.

    2. Or maybe bullying is a character flaw enhanced by lack of proper upbringing and fed by faulty social beliefs.
      I would not call it general, because, despite the impact, there are not that many bullies in absolute numbers, compared to the overall population (at schools, workplaces etc.)

  18. Years ago, I read a great book of Thoreau’s diary entries compiled by a naturalist. The author discussed how the perception of the wilderness that Thoreau retreated to had only fairly recently (in his time) returned to wilderness having been cultivated land and farms in generations past. Indeed, Thoreau talked of his wanderings through woods to find the unmistakable survivors of old orchards, crumbling walls and relatively new vegetation which indicated where buildings once stood. The author them went into more discussion of the varieties of trees themselves and some science of how Mother Nature reclaims things. I really wish I could remember the name of the book and I think I lent it to a friend who seems to have not returned it yet. But, your upcoming workshop announcement made me think of this and I like thinking of people nurturing some old trees back to vitality.

    1. That sounds like a really interesting look back in time.
      I hate when I find “evidence” of past “improvements” on land – when my chainsaw blade finds barbed wire in a tree.

      1. We’ve found a couple of axe heads in the ground since we’ve lived here. Occasionally, we find a tree with the tell-tale triangular slash of the turpentine industry gouged into it’s trunk. Almost wiped out the Longleaf Pine forest years ago but, luckily, Mother Nature is tougher than we are.

  19. Screw the school(memories)!
    I’m glad a good deal of those wonderful apple trees are about to be saved!
    Eating an apple is much more satisfying than eating a diploma…

  20. There is this one little part of the story that is missing and it covers all of society. Much of these behaviors, in school or out of school and including much of what we buy and the way we live are ways we cope with life and our daily existence. Everyone is trying to find their place, then have others validate that place. Ben & Penny have found theirs, isn’t that what draws us here? There is some validation in people participating in this blog discussion & buying and reading the book too. The problem, we have failed, as a society, to teach appropriate coping skills to our children and look to give everything a quick fix as we have created a pill for everything. The big difference i see is that home schoolers and unschoolers standby and teach their kids coping skills, not always 100% appropriate, but not typically destructive either. My son attends public school, because his passion is for wrestling and he excels at it, but he has been taught coping skills. He functions just fine, people don’t typically bully wrestlers, and he is learning. What more can I ask for? He makes mistakes and we map out coping strategies. Who is teaching our students today to cope with life? What are we teaching them at home? Although I would love to homestead & unschool, its not in the cards for my family situation, so I cope by vicariously reading this and other blogs, gardening, and following bluegrass bands, plus the Avett Brothers and Jason Isbell (thanks Ben). Teach our children what else exists in the world and how to navigate it, they can cope when given the appropriate tools. What works for one family may not work for the next, but find a healthy way to deal with it and learn to cope with the good and the bad.

  21. “And you’ll achieve that sense of conquest
    As your affluence expands…

    And you’ll achieve that sense of stature
    As your influence expands

    To the high financial strata
    That established credit now commands”

    There will always be those who believe in magic and prefer to feed the birds with their tuppence. Just as there will always be those that prefer to build dams across our rivers. But the wheel spins and love wins.

    Regarding abolishing HS, you might as well go ahead and abolish undergrad as well. Things have just shifted up a notch. HS is now undergrad. Undergrad is now Post Secondary.

    Come on people! There’s more money in it this way! Feed the GDP beast! Dams across the Nile! Plantations of ripening palm oil! Pipelines across America!

    1. 🙂 Mary Poppins?
      Slaves on cotton plantations. Pesticides on cotton plantations. Plenty of Mexican slaves on so called-subsistence farms around here.

      Yes, that shifting up a notch, true. Although also more recently I see a bit more lenience in hiring practices where post secondary or in some cases even undergrad is making less of a difference, but more so accomplishments and personality (as personality testing is becoming more popular).

      Peace everyone. Let’s go fly a kite. Lighten up on Jeff too everyone..I give him credit for reading and commenting.

    2. With every new cancer patient, an increase in the GDP. Guess the sicker we are the more the economy grows… Yessireedeedee, feed the beast!!!Point well taken E!!!

    1. Actually, awhile back Ben profiled me and I told you all that some people actually do think that my life was the seed that sprouted into the Dos Equis ads.

      1. I’m interested in your story. Currently I’m 40, serial entrepreneur, who is trying to define the right direction to take so as to achieve maximum benefit to those I’m selling to while achieving maximum financial trajectory for myself. It’s been a process that is both fun and at times. frustrating. My goal is to be able to make enough money so that I can afford to farm.

  22. Hairyasshillbilly…
    “I only became stunningly successful because of my incredible good looks, superior intelligence and a small 7 figure inheritance. I do spend at least 87 minutes annually helping the little people, when the weather permits. Every one wants to emulate me, but cant because of weakness in character and poor genetic composition.

    Why would anyone possibly want to change me?”

    LOVE IT!

    Jeff- Curious, why do you have so many vehicles?

    1. Daughter drives, at least in theory, the 1998 Pathfinder. Wife drives the 2004 Jeep, the 2002 Ford is a small crew-cab pickup that we keep around for hauling stuff, and the 2005 Lincoln is my daily driver. All were purchased used, ’cause everybody knows that new cars are absolutely the worst bang for your buck going. The Pathfinder cost $2,200, plus way more $$ than I ever though to keep it running. The Jeep cost $9,000 in 2009 with 43K on the clock. The Ford has extensive hail damage and we bought it from State Farm was salvage. It has move divots than a golf ball, but my sense of self isn’t dependent on the make/model of car I drive. I bought the Lincoln in 2008 with 50K on the clock. Gas was rising past $4 per gallon and folks were dumping their gas hogs. An eBay motors find. I used to have a 1980 Mazda RX7 and a 1986 Merkur XR4TI, but at the extreme old age of 28 and 25, the cost to keep them running exceeded my desire to keep them running, so we gave them to a school for their auto-shop class.

      I also have a company owned pickup and we keep a large SUV at the Vail house, so that we can fly to Denver and take the bus/van service to Vail when I don’t feel like driving for an entire day to get from Omaha to Eagle.

      1. I’m worse… Down from a high of seven to four currently. Two drivers only. (Nothing as valuable as any Jeff listed though… Not even in sum…)
        West Virginia Wealthy!!

  23. This article in our local newspaper caused a bit of a stir around here. http://www.vaildaily.com/opinion/15263160-113/vail-daily-column-a-model-for-higher-education
    It basically says that by 2020, 75% of all jobs in Colorado will require education beyond high school (i.e.. a college degree).
    I know that just ’cause the newspaper prints it, doesn’t make it true. But as my 17 yr old struggles to fit in to any high school (including traditional home schooling), I am not encouraging him to go on to college (at least right away). He says he hates every aspect of school. I think he should explore and get a job and figure out his own path (not the traditional high school=college=job=success? path) I have even read, dare I say it, “The Teenage Liberation Handbook” by Grace Llewellyn.
    But when I see the front page of our newspaper basically say that I am dooming my son to a life of ditch digging, I just wonder…
    Ah, the joys of parenthood…

    1. I’m sure many people don’t share this view, but why worry about college? Or jobs that may or may not be available when your kids are older? I don’t think about my child going to college, have no intentions of trying to meet the endless demands to prepare for it, and don’t even consider it necessary. I think of it as something that may or may not happen, and if it’s meant to be it will. (If not, even better:}) To sum it up…who cares? Isn’t it just part of the mentality that happiness and success = a college education with a well paying job and the illusion of financial security? Personally I despise this mentality, because I think it’s what is destroying the earth, our health, and our kid’s souls. We really need to go smoke a big fattie when it comes to our definitions of ‘success’ IMO.

      1. In contrast, I think that parents have an obligation to provide their kids with the tools and training such that they can be independent, self-sufficient, members of society as adults. Statistically speaking, a college education does lead to well paying jobs and significantly higher earning potential when compared to a person with a high school diploma or GED and even more so than the person who drops out. The economy is becoming increasingly knowledge based and kids who lack the skills that the market values are clearly at a disadvantage. Does that mean that only kids with college educations will succeed? No, because there will always be demand for skilled crafts/trades people, but there is less demand for entry-level workers. Entry-level jobs are even harder to find in those geographic areas with large illegal/undocumented alien populations who will often work off the books for less money. The entry-level trades in Omaha are almost totally filled with illegal/undocumented aliens, such that you can’t install a roof, frame a house, or hang sheet-rock with their labor input. The door into the skilled trades via unskilled trades is blocked to kids who don’t already have a relative in the business who is willing to take on an apprentice.

        Of course, your suggestion that we get intoxicated when confronted with a challenge is always an option. For some, a challenge is an opportunity to find a solution and overcome, we call them leaders. For others, it is just easier to go with the flow and get drunk or stoned, we have other tags for this group. The philosophy of “Manana” seldom leads to success.

        Or so it seems to me.

      2. Jeff…
        No doubt, parents have certain responsibilities. I’ll agree that people have more financial success if they go to college (thus far, although at the rates they charge now I don’t know if it’s worth it).

        But what is this society worth, with it’s ‘economy’ and it’s people with jobs that produce? It just seems as if most of what you speak about relates to money, the economy and contributing to it. Money. What is a successful person? I mean, most people’s lives are crap without electricity. Without the things that energy produces. What would you do without electricity? Would you be happy? Could you feed yourself? It just seems like an illusion…

        I know a girl, 20 something who works at the local whole foods store. She was homeschooled, probably makes $10 an hour, also cleans offices for an income, and sings beautifully. I have no idea of what she aspires to ‘do with her life’ but I enjoy talking to her. She’s friendly, and shares her talents with the local community. I never leave that store without feeling good or smiling. Why is that not good enough? Why must she become a doctor or lawyer in order to be ‘contributing’? What is contributing in your mind? We define people as successful by the money they generate and personally, it’s boring. What makes life rich?
        I understand that simple things just don’t interest people anymore. I’ve read your posts describing oodles of money, vehicles, properties, etc. It’s not ‘bad’, it has it’s place. You aren’t going to struggle financially and that must be nice. But what else is there?

        Aside from needing money to survive in a life support system I was born into and am unsure of how to escape, I see richness as simple things that no machine could ever create. I love a hot shower on a cold day, but I LOVE the sweet scent and voice of my child beyond a hot shower. I love her so much that being a parent is mostly complete and utter bliss. Am I in heaven???? Yes. Through that love she is able to love others. She is genuine, and gives of herself freely to others. Since her life is her own, I have no idea of what she’ll do someday, nor do I care. There’s two kinds of ‘rich’ I guess and I can survive without loads of money, but without the ‘other’ richness that I talk about, I wouldn’t really want to be here. Do you feel bliss from anything that isn’t because of money?

      3. Tricia, you have found real and true joy, be not bothered by those that can’t even have fun in a whorehouse on nickel night. Will burn a big fattie for you!!!

      4. Of course I feel bliss! I am uber proud of my daughter who is growing up to be an awesome independent young woman. My son is still a work in process, but we’re making progress. He wants to try his hand at custom knife making, so I’m finding guys from whom he can learn the craft.

        I love to watch the sun rise, our house faces due West, so I can track the seasonal rotation of the Earth by the location of the rising sun as it come in the windows on the back side of the house. There are no hills of any note within a few hundred miles of our house, both east and west, so the horizon is about as flat as it can be. My home office is down the hall from the bedrooms and I am the early riser, so I go down to the kitchen, make coffee or tea, and go back up to the office to read my email, check the sites that I frequent, write correspondence and pay bills, all the while watching the sun come up. I’m usually done by 10AM and go off to my volunteer jobs or do the grocery shopping or start dinner or bake some bread or vacuum or whatever needs doing.

        Good GOD!! I wouldn’t want anybody I care about to be an attorney and certainly don’t think that many attorneys contribute much to the good of society as a whole. Physicians save lives, so I have a lot of respect for physicians! I spent a few years in healthcare administration, so I might no pick a physician as a friend, but I would respect him/her for what he/she has achieved.

    2. Look, kids have not gone to college and did fine You are not going to a four year school for plumbing or ranch hand are ya? No, most did work study in school or fell into their careers. I always swore I would never be a secretary, but guess what, my last office job was executive assistant to a CEO. Sure it is not as glamorous as saying I am a neurologist, but that is okay. If I get a second chance at life I will go medical because I love working with patients, did hospice, but if not, I have no regrets.
      Remember, it takes all types to make the world run and you know your son best. If he is not ready or has no desire to get a college degree right now, it is okay. A non-conventional career path may be the way he goes ie apprenticehsip and it is out there.

  24. One thing is for sure… the public school system as it exists today does not work well for most of the kids there, day in and day out. When I meet other people who are sending their kids to one, day after day, and who are so unhappy, I just try to encourage them to think outside of the box. In our nation, we currently have the freedom to explore other programs. Some homeschool groups have programs where there are group classes – you can pay or barter to have professionals provide awesome classes to your kids. There are free online public schools – where if your income is at certain levels – the software and internet service is provided to you. When people get upset enough, you just have to help them see that there is a way around the obstacle. AND you have to let them know that it is OK to not be a Sheeple (a Mr. Money Mustache reference).

    Ben – well written!

    One thing I really like about this blog is the comments section. I like that at least in my imagination – we are all VERY different – with different perspectives, different experiences, different income levels, different religions – but yet – here on this blog – we are all engaging with each other in a pretty civil manner. I am happy that people feel compelled to engage with one another. I’m happy that Jeff contributes. 🙂

    1. I agree the comments are fascinating. I recently mentioned when I first started reading this blog the comments were often in the single digits and I wondered, “Why are so few people commenting? This is amazing stuff!” (Of course, there were probably plenty of people reading and just not commenting.) Anytime there is a flurry of comments, you know it is a topic people feel passionate about – a good thing, in my opinion. Maybe, we’re all helping expose each other to different viewpoints and experiences, provide support and encouragement, and play Devil’s Advocate all in the relative safety of our own homes. If nothing else, there is some reason we are all drawn to Ben’s writing so maybe we’re more alike than we think.

      1. I guess it isn’t just Ben’s writing, although it is a great catalyst.
        I do think it is the interaction that his writing creates that draws people here as well.
        I think it would be magnificent to have everyone (and I do mean everyone) in a single place to discuss matters over a beer, kefir, coffee, tea, springwater….. etc. That would be a huge learning experience to all. And a blast to boot.

  25. Hi all. Such great reading here. I homeschool/unschool 4 children ages 2-9. We participate in a lot of extracurriculuar activities. We are most often the only homeschooling family amongst many families that attend both public schools as well as VERY expensive elite private schools. While I homeschool, I am also a state licensed teacher and I keep that licensure current by regularly attending graduate classes where I interact with current classroom teachers. In all of this, I am disgusted by what I see and hear. The list goes on and on…and the opinions I hear daily when others hear that I homeschool is to the tune of, “Oh, I could never spend that much time with my kids! My kids would never listen to me. I don’t like my kids that much!” Um, I don’t know. Maybe this is the reason so many kids bully others. Their own parents don’t even like them. They don’t receive any attention, love or support at home. I sit in the lobbies/bleachers at piano and art classes, gymnastics, soccer, ballet, swimming, etc. All I see are parents with the gift of uniterrupted time with one or two of their children while another child participates in a class…and they hand those kids some electronic device and then sit staring at their own device. There is no speaking. No interaction. No hand holding. No laughing. No reading together. No lap sitting. Nothing. Just ignoring. They never bring a book or a toy for their child…SO when we show up with real toys and books, the other kids all swoop down to my kids and snatch up all their stuff. I’m sorry, but it’s annoying and completely rude. All the time the other parents never look up from their devices to manage their child or to even ask if it’s ok if their kids take my kids’ toys. What? I now pack extras for the ignored kids. We see kids that we have known for 1-3 years and when my children say hello to them, they just stare at them and walk away. These “schooled” kids don’t even know how to socialize. This is a common experience. Many of these kids are brats. But when their own parents won’t speak to them…how would they learn?? And then when I see the homework that is sometimes being worked on in these lobbies by children in the same age and grade range as my children…even the kids that attend $20k/yr elementary school…they can’t read!!! They can barely write their own name on their paper. At least around here, traditional school really seems to be rapidly going downhill. The kids can’t speak, write, read…have no manners, no social skills. What exactly are they learning? I can’t imagine the state of things in a classroom. I’ve heard stories from other teachers…it doesn’t sound good. I know teachers so exhausted from the daily BS in the classroom – dismissing kids to the nurse for meds, frequent interruptions for behavioral problems, the more capable students always being used as helpers to the teachers to lead small groups amongst their peers. Oh man. And speaking of meds…Let me share with you all the conversation I overheard the other night amongst a group of parents regarding the way they give all their kids melatonin supplements to put them to bed at night. They were all just sitting there talking about why they feel their kids need this melatonin supplement and comparing doses. Oh man. What a world here. I have to say that I don’t think the vast majority of people know about these stats written in Ben’s post here. So sad to hear that KIDS are killing themselves over this mess. It’s just not necessary.

    1. Funny, get your kids into the sun and the body created melatonin. We are the “McDonald’s” generation, I want my “stuff” now. I shouldn’t have to wait for food or to fall asleep. Where is the magic pill for all of my troubles. This age of pillseeking/using is A great disservice to society.

    2. Oh, Katie, thank you for this comment. On the one hand, it makes me so sad to hear that this kind of behavior is so wide-spread. I admittedly live with my head in the sand in a semi-hermit-like existence but even I have seen this kind of behavior when we go to town. I organized a play group with people I thought were like-minded and, when the subject of homeschooling came up, I heard many of the same comments you describe. In my darker moments, it really makes me wonder why such people had children in the first place. Granted, everyone has bad days but….really? All I can do is hug and love on my children all the more so they will recognize that as normal and not what much of the rest of the world seems to be doing.

  26. Some very interesting comments. Bullying in the classroom started in 4th grade, so bad several families requested their children be transferred to another school since in our small school the same kids were together every year. But the teacher was part of the problem and fortunately not rehired. 5th grade teacher said his primary goal would be to teach the children to like each other and be kind to each other.
    I agree that poor parenting is part of the bullying problem.
    For those who cannot homeschool, I suggest (in addition to teaching coping skills) helping your child find and fuel a passion. 4-H in our area as pretty good. My husband chaperoned a few years at 4-H teen conference. The kids were expected to help one another have a good time. They came from all over the state so the teens in charge had to encourage everyone to get to know each other.
    Although we pushed college, our son chose otherwise. He started his own yard work business at age 13 and ended up with a permanent part-time job working at a dog kennel for a great couple who took him on some of their adventures. Thanks to my husband’s business, he was also a pretty good carpenter by the time he graduated high school. He’s added a lot of other skills since then. There was also the heavy metal garage band during his high school year but he didn’t have enough talent to pursue that. All in all, he learned a lot outside of school. When he was in a new place, choosing new friends he said he liked “happy-go lucky” types.

    I liked what Ben said in his new book about having children help with the family work. I think it is very important that children do things they are proud of, that show their competency at something, and that they are appreciated for. Our son’s friends liked hanging out at our house and somehow they always seemed to know when we had good stuff for dinner. Still remember the time of having a couple of unexpected extra teen boys for dinner and having to ask one to put some of the pork roast back so we’d have enough for everyone.

  27. Tricia, I couldn’t reply to your comment above when you talk about the joy you receive from mothering your daughter. What a beautiful testament! Thank you for sharing such lovely thoughts.

    1. Thanks NC (and Steph, and Ron, and Noah:})….
      Love what you posted from The Prophet. I believe it to be true… it’s not like you don’t worry about things as a parent, but financial success? I don’t relate I guess. Either way…I’m glad Jeff, that you have moments you enjoy that don’t involve money. So maybe you DO have a soul then??? (kidding) It was a busy day and I’m lost for any more words…didn’t know these blogs could go on for so long!

  28. “And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children. And he said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they do not belong to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
    Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

    1. KG is from just down the road here in beautiful Lebanon!
      I have always loved this excerpt, thanks so much for posting it!
      Wish more Lebanese parents would remember it….we have the same troubles here with schools, lack of social skills and lazy parenting. I also often wonder why other people have kids….or spouses, for that matter, if they don’t actually enjoy being with them.

      1. Lebanon! I hope that Lebanon has changed since my last and only visit in February 1984.

  29. Yes, tonnes of change for the better. However, it would be fabulous if other countries would butt out and leave things to the natives. I will leave it at that….

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