Success requires balancing being right with being nice

See that picture of my son?  I tell him all the time he is not being nice. “Be nice.” I tell him. “If you are not nice then people won’t like you.” So he surprised me by writing it on his hand.

An example of him not being nice is that he doesn’t see that when people play a game together, they care if the other person has fun even though both people try to win. My son does not understand this nuance. So he seems mean. But mean is actually a really complicated intention that people with Aspergers Syndrome don’t have. I have Aspergers as well, so I understand that to my son it looks like a time waste to be intentionally mean. Being direct is so much easier.

This is true for me, as well. For instance, as I have become completely obsessed with my research about homeschooling, I have discovered that the top-tier universities are set up to favor homeschoolers over everyone else. And the most expensive private schools are aware of this and they are switching over to a homeschool model.

So I am trying to tell everyone: “Your kid’s school sucks and your own education sucks and you are going to get trounced in the workplace if you don’t start thinking about learning differently before generation Z makes you unemployable.”

I am trying to say this nicely so that you listen because I know that normal people listen when someone is nice. But no one will listen to me, because no one wants to hear that they are being delusional about what they are choosing for their kids. I get it.

For me, the real challenge with being nice comes from how someone with Aspergers cares so much more about being right than being nice. I told my son that he is really truly nice and I understand how hard it is to follow the conventions of sort of lying to be nice. I mean, is it lying that you want to win or is it lying that you want the other person to have a good time playing? How can you have both?

It’s driving me nuts that everyone is not listening to me and taking their kid out of school. I have written about how the costs of homeschooling are almost nothing. You don’t have to be a teacher. Kids don’t need a school teacherThey don’t need to learn math. (Really. Just read the link, okay?) They don’t need to be well-rounded. They just need to be left alone so they can do self-directed learning.

And do you know what the most non-controversial thing in all of education reform is? That customized, self-directed learning is by far the most effective for developing children into effective, happy, self-reliant adults. And public school is in no position to promote self-directed learning because it’s too demanding of adult supervision to be possible in a classroom of even 20 kids and one teacher.

My editor tells me my posts where I scream at you about homeschooling have no charm and I can’t run them. Melissa tells me that I’m obsessed with homeschooling and people are sick of hearing me talk about it.

But I’m right. I can’t stand that I’m right and everyone is not admitting that I’m right.

Well, almost everyone isn’t. The New York Times wrote about how my blog is showing that I’m right about homeschooling, and that it works. And already the first company has hired me to tell them how corporate life will be different because the next generation will be educated so differently than generations before them.

But I don’t care. I want all of you think that I’m right. I want the comments section to be filled with comments like, you’re right. I’m taking my kid out of school tomorrow and I’m going to homeschool and everything you say makes perfect sense.

Have I ever told you about the research about what really motivates entrepreneurs? It’s not money. It’s the need to be right about what they see. So you can see here why I keep starting companies. I should do that. Because even if I got 1000 comments, I don’t think I’d feel like I’m right in a big enough way unless I had a company. For me, a company is about being right. Do you know why I love my companies? Because I was right all three times. God I love being right.

The first two attempts I made at writing blog posts ranting about homeschooling, my editor told me to just throw them out. It’s not fun to read stuff like that, he said. Which is particularly bad coming from him because his wife homeschools their kids. So if anyone could relish a rant about being right about homeschooling, you’d think it would be him.

Hold on. Don’t leave. I have something interesting to say. Finally. I think I had to just get the homeschool stuff off my chest. I just needed to give you the links. You know. Take a horse to water. So what if you don’t want to drink? Now I can move on.

Here is a Ted Talk from Michael Shermer about dopamine. People with more dopamine see more patterns, and creativity comes from patterns. If you have elevated dopamine you see more patterns than everyone else, and you look gifted. If you have really elevated dopamine you are obsessed with patterns to the exclusion of everything else and you look crazy. Autistic people have very very high dopaminePeople with Aspergers have elevated dopamine. The perfect amount to be a genius about patterns is what I like to think, since I am a person with Aspergers.

Also, I see trends because I see patterns. And I look like I read way more than I do because I’m able to use so much of what I read because I can see patterns in information. At first I thought everyone saw the patterns, but every so often I get paid to train someone to write like I do, and I am stunned that they don’t see patterns. I need to remember to be nice to them, which I am not. But it is nice of me to tell them they can’t write like this. Try the personal essay I tell them. Most people will suck at the personal essay. But I know people love it when you tell them to write about themselves. See? I have learned one way to be nice like a normal person is nice.

I learned that because I, like most people with Aspergers, want to be liked so much. So so so so much. It’s just that all the things normal people do in order to be liked are inaccessible to someone with Aspergers. Like showing interest in other people. It’s very difficult to figure out why people are so interested in other people. I don’t know. I mean, I am interested if will help me write posts where I see patterns. And I’m interested if the person will be able, somehow to like me. But I don’t think this is how neurotypical people are interested in other people.

I want you to like me. It’s very important. So I am not writing a post about homeschooling. I’m writing a post about you.

Another thing I have to teach my son is to shut up. People don’t want to hear everything you know. They want to hear a little about your feelings and then you ask about theirs. I tell that to my son: Stop talking. No one cares.

And then my editor tells me that. He says, “There is nothing here about you, personally.” Which is his way of saying to stop talking because no one cares.

This post has a lot of links. They are my gifts to you, even if you don’t click. I want you to like me. I can’t offer up the stuff I am supposed to offer up to be nice. But I can try to stop screaming at you about homeschooling, and I can tell you I am so so happy that you got to the end of this post. Thank you.



187 replies
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  1. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    You’re right. I know it. But we recently moved to a house we like in a *better* school district so my son could start kindergarten in the same district he’d probably graduate from, so we have a mortgage that requires two incomes. So now what? Move again? Uproot? Take this huge, scary leap into the educational (relatively) unknown? What if I suck at unschooling? Can I just get my job and our house in a *decent* district back?
    Your research keeps me up at night, Penelope, but I can’t flip the homeschool switch overnight.

    • Kim
      Kim says:

      I work a flexible schedule & have been homeschooling for a few months. It’s not easy but it’s working. I can see a huge difference in my son’s attitude about life. He is happier, more relaxed and more gracious. So far, even through the ups & downs, I think this is the best decision I could have made for his future.

  2. Liz
    Liz says:

    You’re right. I’m taking my kid out of school tomorrow and I’m going to homeschool and everything you say makes perfect sense.

  3. Mary Ostyn (Owlhaven)
    Mary Ostyn (Owlhaven) says:

    I’m an INTJ. I can hold a polite conversation, but am internally obsessed with cutting to the chase. I hate it when meetings veer off-course. In fact, I hate meetings because they’re generally an inefficient way to accomplish anything. I also hate time wastage, and often find myself coaching my kids how to be faster at jobs they’re doing in an obviously inefficient way. However I can generally be socially correct in public. So does all that make me Asperger-ish or just Type-A? I dunno.

    I don’t know if you ever read the book ‘Cheaper By The Dozen’. The father in the family was always clocking things and figuring out ways to make family life run smoothly. For example, he had kids listen to foreign language recordings while bathing. When one short lesson was done, it was time to hop out of the bath and give the bathroom over to the next kid. I both chuckle at and kinda relate to that dad, tho I don’t regiment our homeschool (with 6 kids currently) to that degree.

    Anyway, now that I’ve been the one to totally veer off course, I totally understand your wanting to rant about homeschooling. We’ve graduated 4 kids so far and three have been National Merit scholars. Not the Holy Grail of achievement, but it does represent a fair bit of ‘school-ish’ success, even more significant because I was *always* during their schooling occupied with younger children– we have ten kids total. We ALWAYS read tons to kids, but the high schoolers really did MUCH learning on their own. Taught themselves algebra, etc. Homeschooling works. The end.

    However it does (I feel) require at least the physical presence of one parent at home a reasonable bit of the day. And lots of people simply don’t see homeschooling as important enough to (or don’t see how they could) order their lives or their finances to let one parent be home.

    Thanks. I always enjoy your thoughts.

    • Brenda Craig
      Brenda Craig says:

      ISTJ here, and I so identify with everything in your first paragraph, right down to wondering if I have Aspergers (I figure no, because I couldn’t do math as a kid).

      I don’t have children, but if I did, I would be home schooling, in part because I have not forgotten how much school sucked when I was there, but mostly because EVERYTHING Penelope posts about self-directed learning resonates with me. I admire and envy your success!

      • Jenn
        Jenn says:

        I too am a INTJ and I like to cut to the chase, my husband is an ENTP and I have to remind myself constantly if you want to communicate effectively,be nice and consider his feelings.

        I still think its important to be a well rounded person. To be a well rounded person, you need constant interation with your peers. I feel a hybrid of traditional schooling and homeschool is most effective for children up to the age of 12. I read two studies that pretty much state that your value and belief core is pretty much defined by age 12.

        I think by age 12, most kids should start homeschooling and start to become specialized in a field whether is playing the cello or becoming a carpenter.

    • Amanda
      Amanda says:


      I can’t help but comment on your mention of ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ – I was so in love with that book when I was about 6. All I ever wanted to be was an efficiency expert!

      I’m now 36 – a freelance structural/copy editor, which allows me to indulge my inner efficiency expert – and I find it incredibly hard to be around other people who aren’t designed that way.

      In fact, I don’t think I’m ever going to get over the fact that not everyone thinks like me (or the father in the book!).

  4. Jacque
    Jacque says:

    Why have you not started a Homeschooling company? Maybe you already covered this in another post and I missed it.

  5. Kimberly Rotter
    Kimberly Rotter says:

    Stop going nuts. Lots of people are listening. I’m even trying to launch a website about education “options” (translation: you don’t have to settle for your local public school).

  6. Mary Eve
    Mary Eve says:

    First off, thanks for your honesty. I like you :).

    I think we all want to be right and nice. In the book How to make friends and influence people, the author starts with Al Capone, if I remember right, that even at the end of his life he thought he was nice and right. So arguing with each other may not be the solution.

    Also, I’m think I’m right about a bunch of stuff. But I read somewhere that people aren’t rational, and I finally agree. We like to think we are, but we respond to feelings (therefore, stories). For example, I’m vegetarian, and lots and lots of points are in favor of it, for the earth and our health. But people don’t want to listen, well at first anyway, because we are attached to our way of eating. And it’s like that on many topics. I want to be the person who’s rational, but I know I get into traps too (I find it hard to be vegan even if it would be better).

    What is the solution? Maybe getting along with each other, and tryng to change ourselves, and then try nicely to get people to do the same.

    I do want my 4 y.o twins to continue to stay home with me. But they started to talk about school (how can I compete with a flashy school bus and friends?). Above all, I want to give them the freedom to do what they want, what unschooling is about. I trust that maybe they’ll want out by themselves, like I did. Maybe we’ve all got to make experiences by ourselves with a nice guide who can help us if we want.

  7. Nina Jordan
    Nina Jordan says:

    You’re right. [I don’t have kids yet but] I’m going to homeschool and everything you say makes perfect sense. :-)
    Cheers! I love your blog, and look forward to every post.

  8. qatheworld
    qatheworld says:

    I was homeschooled. I would like the option at least to homeschool my son when he gets to be school age. But how to do that if I work full time and I can’t be home with him? I have a temporary arrangement now where I can work from home part of the week, but the other days I have to go to the office and put him in daycare. I hate this. But there’s nobody else, it’s just me and him and I have to earn money for us to live. I want to work from home all the time so I can take care of him. But I don’t particularly want to run my own business (I don’t think I would be good at it either, or be able to support us if I did make any money). And I know the company I work for now isn’t going to let me do this indefinitely. I’ve been going around with this a lot and it drives me crazy. I wish I could move back into the country again and just stay at home. One of the few ways out of this I see is to get married to someone willing to support that (who as yet has not made an appearance, needless to say the previous marriage didn’t work out that way or other ways). The other alternative being to figure out how to live on freelancing, which doesn’t seem very reliable. I also have Asperger’s. And, I do like you, because you make sense, most of the time.

  9. Diana
    Diana says:

    You are right.
    I pulled my son out of Kindergarten at a charter school a year and a half ago.
    We do the K12 curriculum, which, in addition to being tuition free in our state, also pays us a stipend for internet and loans you computers, printers, and all the books you need.
    My now 2nd grader has Aspergers. He’s a year ahead of his “class” in math and language arts, and my 5 y/o is in 1st grade and also a year ahead of his “class” in math and language arts. {maybe 2 year if you asked our school district where he “belongs”. Due to his age and November birthday, he would just be starting Kindergarten this year if I sent him to school.}
    I don’t know anything about curriculum free self directed learning, but I do know my kids love being homeschooled, and they are excelling.
    So, I completely agree.

  10. Virgil Starkwell
    Virgil Starkwell says:

    I am too tired after working 12 hrs today to tell you all the reasons I think you’re batshit crazy, but rest assured that homeschoolers won’t rule the world.

    However, for some strange reason I’m drawn to your posts because they make me think. And stranger yet, I usually disagree with most of what you say. However, I like you because you’re frank, dedicated, and honest, and that has to count for something.

  11. Kat
    Kat says:

    This to me reads like a case of rationalizing what you are stuck in, and rebelling when you see an exit. More than anything, what you’ve written about how you’re sick of your children, the drain that it seems to be mentally and emotionally is a massive disincentive for anyone to take it up. It sounds exhausting.

    I don’t know if school taught me very much in terms of the actual material, but the experience of going was priceless. I would never deny that to my children, the understanding of dynamics, of favouritism, of how little is fair, of pleasing people, of groups and solidarity, of friendship, of sharing burdens, of respect and disrespect…

    Not to mention, at least in Australia, for many people their friends later in life are those who they went to high school with. This is especially true for most guys I know.

    I didn’t enjoy high school, but it was invaluable. Had I stayed home, I would have gone to uni naive, awkward, nervous, shocked, all more so.

    So perhaps I’m rationalizing something I was stuck with as well, but the idea of staying home with my mum, day in, day out? No, thank you.

    • EngineerChic
      EngineerChic says:

      Your last sentence hit home for me. My mom was a teacher, and also extremely impatient with some anger management issues. I shudder to think what life would have been like without school to escape to.

      And that situation is more common than people think. My mom wasn’t particularly violent, but could be cruel and incredibly judgmental on a bad day (bad week, bad month, whatever).

      School gets you away from the bad dynamics at home – and maybe into another less-perfect place, but dang it, it’s a different version of bad dynamics. That alone is a relief!

      • MoniqueWS
        MoniqueWS says:

        This is me. I homeschool my three children (15, 12, 9). I am waspish and snappish, and frustrated, and angry. I am also amazed and joyful, and lucky, and learning, and loving the life we have chosen and continue to choose every year.

        I own a children’s book business. I often do bookfairs in schools. My kids have all come with me to these events. They do see what life in school is like. The continue to choose to *stay home*.

        We get the best of each other’s day not just the worst, transitional, tired, hungry, coped-out part of the day.

  12. Tulio
    Tulio says:

    I like reading your posts about homeschooling. My oldest will be 5 in 2 years and the posts are very helpful to deciding how to educate them.
    Your editor is right about telling you to write about you. Your so different and direct that makes your blog unique.

  13. Dana
    Dana says:

    You are right. I wish I had read your rants 10 years ago. As it is, I will likely have a high school dropout on my hands (he’s currently a junior) who hates anything related to “traditional” education and who will likely have to be home schooled just to get his GED

    He is on the spectrum

    Public schools, IEPs and administrators who were more concerned about their bottom line than the education of my child.

    You are right.

    And every time I read one of your posts I am overcome with guilt for taking the “easy” way out when it came to his education.

    • Daven
      Daven says:

      Dana, no, no, don’t feel guilty! That’s so unhelpful. Read (and give to your son) The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn and remember that he’s 17. Good heavens. His life isn’t *over* at 17, it’s barely beginning! And what’s with the “likely have to be home schooled” now — like it’s some kind of punishment or consolation prize? Homeschooling is not some second-rate option; it’s awesome. Let him leave high school and enter real life now. Why wait?

      • Dana
        Dana says:

        Daven, my comment did sound a bit fatalistic, didn’t it? It was a BAD public school day – a call from the Dean of Students informing me my son had been suspended (for 2 days) yet again for disobedience and insubordination. Then I thought about disobedience and insubordination and had to ask myself if those were such terrible qualities.

        I didn’t mean to make homeschooling seem like a punishment – I’m just terrified that I will screw it (and him) up, but then remind myself the public school has already managed to do a good job of that. Just about anything/everything would be an improvement. I’m a single parent. I work full-time. The idea of homeschooling is daunting at best.

        I’m researching my options now. I live in Illinois and the homeschooling requirements here are very “homeschool friendly.” I have a meeting with the school tomorrow morning and will be exploring a combination public school (fine arts, physical education, auto shop) and homeschool (core academic classes).

        It’s time to do something different.

  14. gordana dragicevic
    gordana dragicevic says:

    Neurotypical people are interested in others in order to discover similarities with themselves or with what is already familiar to them. Niceness makes sense here and is genuine, because it is actually expression of recognition, and feeling at home. Once they discover there are no similarities, a feeling of alarm usually appears, and niceness is at best faked.
    Autistic people sort the world by what’s right, neurotypical people sort the world by similarities. Autistic people learn through logic, neurotypical people learn by copying. Both ways are normal, as annoying as they both seem to the other group.
    I’m on the spectrum, and this is what my pattern-reading ability tells me :)

  15. Lindy
    Lindy says:

    You’re right. I’m taking my kid out of school tomorrow and I’m going to homeschool and everything you say makes perfect sense.

    Sort of. Except I am worried that I will get bored. And that I will spend too much time focusing on my kids and have no life of my own. I might get a friend to homeschool them.

  16. Anne
    Anne says:

    How frustrating to be following all of your (excellent) advice over the years on how to be successful in my career to only now feel like a piece of shit for working and not homeschooling my kids. Which is it?? I can’t do both. Most people can’t.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think you have to define success for yourself. You cannot have a huge leadership role in a big company and homeschool kids, because those career paths are not flexible. But you can have a wide range of other careers while you homeschool your kids. Or you can stagger your life so you have a career part of your life and a kid part of your life. I think really what this blog is about, though, is you defining success for yourself – whether it involves kids or not — and then getting it.

      It’s why I hate school. Because this self-defnition stuff, and defining success for yourself stuff is the most important thing we do in life. And school doesn’t teach us to do that at all.


      • thatgirl
        thatgirl says:

        It’s not a zero-sum game. My sister-in-law managed to provide her children at least 75% home-based education, supplemented by some public school classes and extra-curriculars in WA State. Socialization and control over curriculum is definitely possible.

  17. Greg
    Greg says:

    I don’t even have kids, and you’re right — and not just about homeschooling for kids. I was looking at graduate programs for further training and to give my career a boost, and all of the curricula suck. There are these kernels of things I actually care about or that would be of actual use to me, and the rest is total crap. I kept thinking, Who creates this bs? It’s like so much useless filler. What I really want is to take a couple of topics from this program, a few pieces of that program, look at this topic from this angle and read a bunch based on what I really care about and the problems I really encounter. Why can’t I find that?

    Then I had this visitation of all your homeschool rants, and I thought, Well, if it works for kids, why not me?

    I don’t know what kind of results I’ll get, but I am a hell of a lot more interested than I was before. So regardless of the outcome, you’re right AND a huge help!

  18. Jen
    Jen says:

    Please don’t stop screaming about homeschooling. This is my first comment. But I come to your blog so you can tell me what I already know to be true…homeschooling is better. My lifestyle kind of suits it, but I’m afriad. I have three kids and live in a city with a just ok public school system. I don’t want to move. But I don’t want to compromise their formal education. Maybe they don’t need one? Also, I am bored by the traditional model of school (life). I wonder if there are specific grades where it is more/less beneficial to be in school vs being home?

  19. Darcy
    Darcy says:

    I subscribe to both this blog and your homeschooling blog, and I don’t even have or want kids, I’m just passionately excited about homeschooling. On the days when you don’t post to the homeschooling blog, I sometimes feel a little let down, because I’d be happy to read your homeschooling rants every day of the week. So I consider it an extra special treat that you’re posting about homeschooling here on the regular blog, and you can rest assured that some people do care and are interested and think you are right and click on your links. Thanks for your generous gifts.

  20. Evy MacPhee
    Evy MacPhee says:

    This is a great post!

    Impractical in some parts, but still deeply wonderful.

    It really is difficult to convince people of those things held dear without offending them and causing them to shut down.

    I am so glad you are telling your boys about trying to come to peace with the challenge to want to win at games and also want your fellow player to enjoy themselves enough to play with you again. This is important in many situations out in the world for many of us.

    Dear heart, I suspect you are absolutely right about homeschooling. I sent your post to my friend who homeschools. She is a doctor and has arranged her life so her charming 12 year old is learning more about science every day and learning to observe the world around him. She sent him and her husband to Australia and parts between the Pacific NW and there. She is a secular homeschooler.

    Sweetheart, homeschooling is not free enough for enough parents. Many parents need to pay for food, shelter, clothing and transportation. Also medical care. These things are not free. I wish they were. I wish more people had the freedom to do what you are doing. And the great research. I appreciate your sharing it.

    We would need to majorly overhaul our economy, our values and probably many other things to make this happen. Apply your smarts to making this happen. I will keep reading what you write in hopes,

    I hope that you will also teach your boys, and learn yourself to make your personal life more satisfying to you, that words can hurt other people.

    The challenge is to speak with authenticity and honesty while not offending the people you want to listen so that those people do not avoid you or tune you out.

    I hope you paid attention to that last comment I sent you.

    I spoke to my therapist about you. She said that people with Aspergers cannot really learn empathy except as a skill set. I suggest that you learn that skill set.

    Here are the websites I recommended:

    Here are some websites by people who help me understand and deal with my own and other people’s feelings:
    This is the woman doing major work on empathy.
    This is about using meditation to befriend you own feelings.
    This is the website of my teacher, Pema Chodron. It is not just what she says, it is how she says it and the tone of her voice.
    She writes about relationships.

    Here’s an article by Harriet Lerner:

    One of her books:

    Yes, I am recommending them again.

    Blessings upon you and your family.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:


      Really appreciate reading what you wrote.

      I’d just like to add / clarify that it’s my belief, though a priori as it is, that at least some or all people with AS or others with related personality traits do experience empathy. It’s the knowing how to experience and express empathy in a way that communicates the ideal sentiment to others.

      Empathy doesn’t have to be emotional. You can “think-care” about someone. If the plight or success of another is on your mind, and you are spending time thinking about it in a way that wishes them the best, then that is empathy, whether you are able to express it or not. Maybe that’s not how most define empathy, but I think its definition should include this possibility.

      • Daniel Baskin
        Daniel Baskin says:

        Sorry… add …”that trips AS’s and similar-traited people up” to the last sentence of the first paragraph.

        • gordana dragicevic
          gordana dragicevic says:

          Yes… Evy, sorry but your therapist seems to be somewhat mistaken about empathy and Asperger’s. Most people with AS do experience and feel empathy (and think empathy, thanks Daniel, precisely), they just don’t instinctivly know how to express it the way the neurotypical majority would instinctively understand. That expression is what needs to be learned as a skill-set. And i’m talking a posteriori.

    • dcline1701
      dcline1701 says:

      >> I spoke to my therapist about you. She said that people with
      >> Aspergers cannot really learn empathy except as a skill set.
      >>I suggest that you learn that skill set.

      This sentence seems to have been glibly thrown into the middle of your post. It begs the question of how your therapist defines empathy. Absent that definition, it reads as bigoted, discriminatory and callous.
      I encourage you to avoid such statements in future unless you are prepared to spend several sentences clarifying *exactly* what you man. Or at least be aware that in some circles “them’s fightin’ words.”

      • thatgirl
        thatgirl says:


        It’s in posting that “quote” from their therapist that I detect not a gram of empathy.

        Your judgement,”not practical” appears to grant you license to fire away as if what you write is “fact,” and not your (ill-presented) POV; that’s pretty self-righteous. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

  21. Darcel
    Darcel says:

    No cares about the fact that you are right because people see no plausible way to homeschool. Your rightness does not outweigh the wrongness of giving up stable incomes and independence from children.

    Start a school for parents about how to home school; a parent-ed consulting business mixing in the business savvy to switch to self-run businesses while maintaining a educational plan for one’s children, which would provide (practical) reasons for people to admit to you being right. Perhaps this partnership could function with the ivy leagues you speak of. This would provide the operational tools for parents to actually homeschool.

    • Kendra
      Kendra says:

      Classical Conversations is a national organization dedicated to equipping parents to homeschool effectively. And make it easier to meet others homeschooling families.

  22. Jen
    Jen says:

    I think if I homeschooled my son all we’d end up doing is arguing. Not pretty. Plus I don’t have an income to homeschool. I know the education system (I’m in Australia) isn’t perfect for him but it’s what he’s got to deal with at the moment. And the social interaction thing for him at school is mega-important at the moment – especially being an only child.

    • Patsy
      Patsy says:

      If I tried to homeschool my kids we would end up all hating each other. And I’m a qualified teacher. Kids don’t want to learn traditional stuff from their parents, mine don’t want to learn much from anyone, but at least at school there’s a structure and peers and creative motivational teaching programmes that can help get them equipped with basic RRR skills in life. I want to sit on the sofa and watch old movies with them, or take them to the park to climb trees, not complete comprehension questions with them. If it works for you, great, but all children are different.

  23. Texanne
    Texanne says:

    You’re right. I knew homeschooling was best for my children long before they were born, when I was still a disenchanted middle school teacher. My oldest who has developmental delays is three and currently enrolled in the special ed preschool program at our nearby public school. I’m not thrilled about it, but I’m hoping in a year or two I can persuade my husband to let me homeschool our boys.

  24. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    Kind of off-topic here..but since I don’t have kids I’m just going to focus on the ‘G-d I love being right’ part. The off-topic part is a reference to couple therapy being a waste of money. A very good therapist once told me that when it comes to the person you love ‘don’t go for right, go for love’. This is extremely hard and extremely easy at the same time. Once you realize that being ‘right’ is not worth sacrificing your relationship, it seems a lot less important to be right. Except when it comes to homeschooling of course. You’re right about that. :0)

  25. pamela
    pamela says:

    This is the most likable you’ve ever been in a post, I think! And I want you to know that even though I didn’t homeschool my kids, I definitely feel that I taught them so much more than they learned at school….(except algebra…) After all, they did spend a huge amount of time at home with me. Also, they grew up mostly in Ontario, CA and there you had to be a certified teacher to homeschool.

  26. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I don’t have AS so I can only imagine how hard it is for someone who does have it to “be nice” and yet “be your true self”. They do seem to be contradictory and opposing goals. I think it’s necessary to pursue both in a predominantly neurotypical world and therefore must be a constant struggle.
    Also I think it was nice of your son to let you take of a photo of his hand with ‘nice’ written on it. He’s definitely a good kid.
    Oh, and another thing, if you need someone to tell you you’re not right, let me know. :)

  27. Alexis
    Alexis says:

    One homeschooled girl I know entered university early and is doing amazing things with her life. That’s great.

    Another homeschooled girl I met was so, so weird. As though she had never been socialized, or experienced social norms. Maybe she would’ve been an odd child in public school, or maybe the harshness of other kids would have molded her into a human being that could be generally accepted and maybe even liked.

    Your son with Asperger’s – he has you and the farmer to look to for examples of how to interact. Penelope, you seem to have it figured out in many ways and you offer him good advice, but could it not be beneficial to surround him with examples of kids that seamlessly show the acceptable ways of interacting? For example, how to be nice? Do people with asperger’s get influenced by their environment? Can they pick up on stuff like that?

    To me, the value of public school lies in the interactions with others. Why not let kids pursue their own learning after school? Hey kid, school’s over – let’s build a rocket. Let’s make cookies and treat it like science. Let’s do ___fill in the blank___. Why can’t you have the best of both worlds?

    And as for not knowing why people are interested in other people: sometimes these conversations are pointless, but I look at every interaction as a learning experience. I am constantly learning how to be funny, how to be likeable, how to not be a thoughtless jerk, etc. I pick up tips by noticing how people act, and making a judgement call: is this something I want to emulate, or is it something I want to avoid? In this way I am constantly honing my own character. Perhaps that would make it more interesting to you.

  28. Jon
    Jon says:

    Wow – now this is the most self-important, pompous post you have come up with so far. Yes, we know, you think people with Asperger’s who are homeschooled are going to rule the world and are so much better than the rest of us. I will take note and watch my back….

  29. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    You’re right. I’m taking my kid out of school tomorrow and I’m going to homeschool and everything you say makes perfect sense.

    But I’m scared. I think school screwed me up, and that I’m not good enough to homeschool my daughter. I have family that teach, and they think I’m crazy when I mention it. I need you to keep screaming at me, because maybe then I’ll realize that my gut instinct is screaming, too. Parent-Teacher Conference in the morning. If not your screaming, maybe that will be what pushes me over the homeschooling cliff.

    And, screw your editor. Scream at us, unfiltered. I promise those of us that got to the end of this article would love you for it.

  30. Cassie Boorn
    Cassie Boorn says:

    You are right.

    I am not taking my kid out of school though. There are many reasons why I won’t. Many of them you know.

    I don’t know that school will prepare my son for a great career but I think if I have a great career and I read your homeschool blog maybe I can supplement what he is missing.

    I like your stuff about dopamine. People with eating disorders always have messed up dopamine and seratonin levels. When I was little I was obsessed with patterns and every time I would see any kind of pattern I would go ballistic telling everyone around me “IT’S A PATTERN.”

    Maybe there is a pattern in the way they are all connected.

    Love this post.

  31. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    You’re right. My mom unschooled my twin sister and I. Even when we occasionally attended school because she is a single mom and had to support us. I remember hanging out at the library where she worked most of the time. And then we lived in Peru for a while when we were seven or eight.
    The homeschooling model doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When we were at an age when we needed to have an adult watching us full time and my mom was working full time we were in school. But we always did stuff together and learned in different ways. As we got older we just stopped going to school altogether.
    My sister is a PhD candidate at UCLA. I am doing awesome things outside of academia. We are 21. It is doable even if you don’t have the resources to stay home with your kids. Sometimes you have to blend the convenience of having kids in school while you are at work with the superiority of homeschooling.

  32. Catacana
    Catacana says:

    Just as I read the part about not needing math, my husband and daughter were heading to the table to go over a math test to figure out the strategy she will use the next time she takes a test. I think math can be simply an avenue to learning, period. It is a subject matter. She’d much rather master Minecraft and set up a server or figure out alternative keyboard characters to use for letters of the alphabet, however. When my daughter attended school in Paris and had a lot of gaps in her curriculum we made up for it with neighborhood “teachers” who seemed to fall from the sky when we needed them. Finding learned community members around town who taught at private schools but also did their own freelance teaching was super fun. They helped round out her learning while we lived in a city/culture where schools spent a lot of time preparing any non-French speaking child before they were in a mainstream classroom. She returned to California schools with a different “map” of the world. I saw how if ever it were required, homeschooling can be simply a matter of opening your door and seeing what is around you and who is around you who is doing something that will provide a learning opportunity. We did it in Paris by necessity, but I could see how it would be a fantastic way to also teach how to bootstrap: you tap resources at your disposal using resources you have on hand or can attract by letting your needs be known. I wonder who is hiding in wait to teach…in any of our communities.

    Reading the part of your post about patterns makes me laugh because I did not know about the dopamine connection to that. Though, I did know that patterns have fascinated me my whole life and I love to talk about them to people (though when they stop listening I get the hint that they are more interesting to me than to others with a few exceptions.) Anyway, thanks for making all those connections.

  33. teacher
    teacher says:

    A sigh of relief…I am so glad that many of the helicopter make-the-world-a-perfect-place-for-my-precious-spawn moms out there homeschool. I really don’t want to deal with all that high-maintenance nonsense that the school just “doesn’t understand MY child.” I wish a few more would opt to homeschool. The rest of us will just chill out and accomplish what we accomplish. OMG – what if I don’t make it to the top of the career ladder!? Oh no! Homeschool moms forget that they are completely unsuccessful in the professional world since…well, they sit at home all day…and yet they expect more for their kids. Bizarre.

  34. Deborah Hymes
    Deborah Hymes says:

    Hi Penelope, You crack me up. I like you, I really like you! I like you so much that I *also* read your homeschooling blog, even though I don’t have kids! And I frequently forward your posts to others whom I know would be interested, and *they* like you too. Chill. ;)

  35. Bard
    Bard says:

    “I can’t stand that I’m right and everyone is not admitting that I’m right.”

    Explains a multitude of screaming fights.

  36. LM
    LM says:

    You’ve got to be kidding, really. I can’t believe how many people are sold on homeschooling. Seriously, it is the soft skills that enable many people to succeed. Those are only learned by being out in the world, trial and error and emulating, and finessing. The relationship in your house is not what you want emulated. I do like you; I don’t know why; but I do. But, you are deluding yourself on this issue — totally.

    • Kendra
      Kendra says:

      Yes. Being out in the world, making decisions, and trying new things . . . those are what really make kids successful. That is why Penelope recommends not incarcerating children.

  37. Karen
    Karen says:

    I think you are right, but it’s very, very difficult to convince people because of assumptions that are made about school. During the last week I’ve been devouring 2 books by John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down and Weapons of Mass Instruction). One of his major premises is that school is a form of social control for the masses, and is not designed to teach anything of importance in terms of actual skills. The U.S. has been doing this type of schooling for over 100 years. Using Gatto’s premise, you can argue that our school system has trained people out of critically thinking about our school system (or anything else) and trained them into accepting public school. There are very, very few people in our country (especially among the middle class masses), who did not go through our style of classroom-based, sit-in-rows-and-learn-the-same-things schooling (which applies to many private schools as well as public schools). Convincing people who received this mediocre training to not accept the same for their children is difficult since (a) they can’t see how this type of schooling damaged them (what you don’t know can’t hurt you, and most people are doing o.k. financially, etc.), (b) the system itself has taught them to be indifferent to their own education and told them they don’t possess the expertise to determine learning and education for themselves or their children on their own, and (c) they do not know of any other way (and don’t have the skills to challenge their assumptions about how to define education).

    The other important piece, of course, is work. While I think the entire full-time-job-with-one-employer situation is going to disappear over the next 50 years, it’s still the dominant way that people earn income. For the most part, it’s not very flexible, and even very flexible jobs are unlikely to bend enough for one parent to homeschool and be able to afford the childcare necessary to work (since as you’ve noted previously, school is taxpayer-funded child care). Getting families back down to a place where one-earner families are accepted as mainstream will require somehow retraining people to accept giving up many things we’ve come to accept as “necessary” to middle class life (cable and cell phones are 2 examples that immediately come to mind). I work part-time, and I can’t tell you how often I hear other women tell me that they wish they could too, but . . . (it’s not available, we can’t afford it, part-time workers don’t get meaningful work (this last part, at least for my job, is often true), it will hurt my career (probably also true)).

    I want to homeschool so badly. I have a daughter who is 4, so I am starting to think about how to meet this goal by the start of the next school year (when she is 5). It is the work piece that is so difficult, and I cannot afford to not work at all. I just don’t think we can make ends meet on one income (my husband’s), plus it would be career suicide to completely opt-out for 10+ years (even though my current contract/part-time job is probably career suicide in slow-motion). I’m at a point where I know I’m going to do it, but just can’t put all the pieces together, at least yet.

  38. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    It’s funny because when you first started talking about homeschool I couldn’t believe it. I thought you were off your rocker because in my generation the homeschool kids were a little out there, or so I thought. I’ve since come to understand (by clicking your links and coming to my own realization that it’s not what you know but the ability to learn new things that counts) that homeschooling is amazing. I’m not sure when I changed my mind, perhaps when you took your boys to the beach in Cali for a week, or when you took them to Boston for a week, I’m not sure but those experiences are so incredible that I realized that’s what I want for my kid/s.

    Having said that not only do I believe you’re right, it’s another reason my husband and I have decided to wait to have kids. We both currently have high career aspirations and won’t have time to homeschool for a while so until we can, we will hold off.

    Thank you for this post, thank you for being right and thank you for opening my eyes to homeschooling and so many other topics.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for this comment, Amanda. When I started writing about homeschooling I couldn’t believe it either. I felt like I was nuts. So I like that you are doing the journey with me – figuring out why homeschooling makes sense and figuring out how to make career tradeoffs. I want to know that smart, ambitious and capable people are working with me to figure this out.


  39. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Dear Penelope,

    Irv here, watching patterns.

    You’ve said in the past that you “enjoy” the ranting comments AGAINST you as much as you are drawn toward the validations. If this is still true, and I think it is, then your desire to be liked isn’t as pressing as your need to be IMPORTANT in another person’s life. Attracting attention and bringing actions from that (as in writing angry comments) can be created from positive AND negative emotions. Moving emotions is important to you.

    And this tells me that you want to MATTER!

    Guess what, girl…so does the rest of the planet and Irv Podolsky.

    Now being significant to others can be established with many emotional and psychological tools. You’re using the Asperger’s toolbox. And the rest of the world…well, we’ve all got our own unique playbooks as well. And we’re all applying them. We’re all trying to get by with the least pain possible. And many of us, including me, mask intentions and true feelings to avoid confrontations and create work-arounds. You don’t do that, at least in your blog. This is why you are so compelling to read. You’re so honest you’re unreal.

    And now you say, you want to be RIGHT! All the time!

    Well, THAT makes you just like me and a zillion others! (Guess you’re real again.)

    But…is being RIGHT for the purpose of avoiding personal mistakes and helping others to do that as well? Or is it important to you that people KNOW that you are right, and finally accept that you are right?

    Because changing minds to your point-of-view produces RESPECT and adoration. Correct? Is this what you seek as well? (I do.)

    It seems to me that we all want to matter in the hearts and minds of others. And you want it with a vengeance.

    But that’s okay, really. Wanting to make a positive difference is a noble cause, as long as you don’t self-destruct while doing it and bring others down with you.

    Penelope, what I’m getting at, is that you can spread a lot of good around, and rock some personal worlds, but bear in mind all that has consequences. Look for the patterns into the future and see where your path is leading you and your family. Are you making people so uncomfortable that they lose their balance?

    Are you bringing shards of harm to the ones you love?

    What is more important? Their needs or yours?

    If it’s YOURS, that’s okay too, as long as you realize it and don’t pretend you’re someone else.

    Are you being honest to yourself, deep down inside? Do you understand what makes Penelope run?

    Your friend,

  40. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Homeschooled for 17 years, 1 college grad, 3 currently in college. The one insulting comment they’ve often heard is, “You were homeschooled? You’re so normal.”

    My daughter wondered whether people actually thought they were complimenting her.

    Your comment about talking only a little about yourself and then asking another about himself made me smile. I find most people only want to talk about themselves and don’t give a rip about anyone else.

  41. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    lol I like you. I may also have Aspergers, everytime I read your blog I say- geez, I’m like that. I agree with the homeschooling and self directed learning – but my kids can’t stay home alone.


  42. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    I got to the end of your post. I clicked on the math link. You make an interesting correlation between linear thinking, learning math and learning languages. In college I didn’t take a single course in math but I learned my third language, Japanese. As part of my job I use math all the time now, not Japanese.

    I liked your title because I try to be nice at work because I associate it with success. I wanted your blog to tell me I am doing it right. Instead it told me you and I both want to be liked.

  43. Jani
    Jani says:

    I don’t have kids so I guess it never really occurred to me to tell you that I obsessively read your homeschool blog and plan on homeschooling one day when I have a kid. I was homeschooled for a couple of years as a child (using a curriculum) and although I later chose to attend school outside the home, I can say from experience that the things I am most successful at were the result of me self-directing vs doing what conventional wisdom said.

    Trusting my own inclinations and curiosities not only leads to a greater retention of what I’ve learned, but also fosters a greater confidence in myself – especially at those moments when I’m stepping way outside the box and people’s initial reaction is: “Whaaat? That’s crazy…” Curiosity is essential to creativity, to progress and forward momentum in life. Teaching your children to trust their own intuition and curiosity is probably the most important thing you could ever do.

    To be frank, I don’t see how many people nowadays are going to continue building successful lives without learning to self-direct and live outside traditional societal norms.

    Until I have a kid, I’m getting my un-schooling practice in on my piano students. While my teaching style is closer to the structured curriculum end of the spectrum, I incorporate as much room for self-direction as each student can handle. Some know themselves well and are able to speak up about what they’d like to learn next, or how much they can handle at once. Others are so used to having others make all the decisions for them that it takes a lot of work to get them listening to their inner voices again.

    My next battle is convincing parents that their child’s lack of interest in the piano isn’t the end of the world and that they should just quit when, after a year of lessons, it’s clear the kid would rather be outside running around than pounding the keys.

  44. Jani
    Jani says:

    Oh, and on another note – I think that it’s not that people aren’t listening to you scream or even acknowledging that you’re right. Homeschooling requires such a stark shift in thinking (at first) that it really is closer to a paradigm shift than a choice between A or B. The emotional aspect of making a decision that goes against everything a person thinks they know takes time to sort through, even if deep down inside they know you’re right. You’re already past that, so it’s easy to be impatient with those who haven’t sorted it out yet. Just keep on hollerin’ because eventually the rest of the world will come around.

  45. Emily
    Emily says:

    I love reading your posts about homeschooling. I don’t have kids and I wasn’t home schooled and I love reading them. You’re right. Thank you

  46. Murray Suid
    Murray Suid says:

    Penelope, I’m coming to your homeschool discussion so my question might have been answered long ago. But tell me: Did you go to school or were you home schooled? Also, can you list 10 people whom you admire who were home schooled?


  47. Tennille
    Tennille says:

    There’s an article you’d like in the most recent version of Running Times. It’s about a high school runner who opted to be homeschooled and cobble together her own study program from various sources, which kept her more engaged *and* allowed her and her parents to hire a nationally ranked private coach to help her focus on her running. She is, as you’d expect, excelling in both arenas. Not yet available on the web, but it should be here when the next print issue is released:

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