What is your philosophy of learning?
Basically that the human animal is a learning animal; we like
to learn; we need to learn; we are good at it; we don't need to be
shown how or made to do it. made to do it. What kills the
processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate
it or control it.
That's a big question. The great advantage is intimacy, control
of your time, flexibility of schedule, and the ability to respond
to the needs of the child, and to the inclinations. If the child
is feeling kind of tired or out of sorts, or a little bit sick, or
kind of droopy in spirits, okay, we take it easy, and things go
along very calmly and easily. When the child is full of energy and
rambunctious, then we tackle big projects, we try tough stuff, we
look at hard books. And I think schools could do much more than
they do in this kind of flexibility, but in fact they don't. I
want to make it clear that I don't see homeschooling as some kind
of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the
proper base for the exploration of the world which we call
learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how
good the schools were. The proper relationship of the schools to
home is the relationship of the library to home, or the skating
rink to home. It is a supplementary resource.
But the school is a kind of artificial institution, and the
home is a very natural one. There are lots of societies without
schools, but never any without homes. Home is the center of the
circle from which you move out in all directions, so there is no
conceivable improvement in schools that would change my mind about
What does one do at a homeschool?
That's what Growing Without Schooling is about, of
course. What one can do depends a lot on what one's own life is. A
lot of families have small businesses or subsistence farms or
crafts, or various kinds of activities that the parents are
involved in, which the children are also very involved in. The
children just partake in the life of the adults wherever they are,
and then questions are answered as they come up. Other people may
live at home and work somewhere else; they may have a more
conventional kind of existence.
I don't believe in formal fixed curriculums, but it may very
well be that when parents and children start off, they're both a
little nervous. They're both wondering what they should be doing.
If it makes people feel happier to have a little schedule, and to
work with a correspondence school for a year or so, kind of as a
security blanket, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a starting
My advice is always to let the interests and the inclinations
of the children determine what happens and to give children access
to as much of the parents' lives and the world around them as
possible, given your own circumstances, so that children have the
widest possible range of things to look at and think about. See
which things interest them most, and help them to go down that
How that's done depends very much on the family's circumstances
and their interests, and the particular interests of the children.
Some kids are bookish, some children like to build things, some
are more mathematical or computerish, or artistic, or musical, or
whatever. The mix is never going to be exactly the same.
Does homeschooling require that the parents spend a great deal
of structured time with their children in a formal learning
Homeschooling doesn't require that parents spend a great deal
of structured time. I think as parents get into this they tend to
spend less time. How much time they spend with their kids depends
a little on the circumstances in their own lives. Sometimes they
spend a lot of time in company together just because it's fun.
Other times that's harder for them to do. The children, though
they may enjoy a lot of their parents' company during the day,
don't need it once they get past 7 or 8.
Is the parent without background in education or experience as
a teacher at a disadvantage in a homeschooling situation?
I'd say they have a very great advantage. I wouldn't say that a
person was disqualified from doing it because they had had
training in education, but I would have to say that practically
everything they taught you at that school of education is just
plain wrong. You have to unlearn it all. I never had any of that
educational training. The most exclusive, selective, demanding
private schools in this country do not hire people who have
education degrees. If you look through their faculties - degrees
in history, mathematics, English, French, whatever - you will not
see degrees in education. I think for the most prestigious private
schools you could almost set it down as a fact that to have a
teacher's certificate, to have had that kind of training, would
Are parents talented or knowledgeable enough to teach physics
Oh, well, the children don't have to learn physics or math from
you. There are plenty of people to learn from; there are plenty of
books; there are plenty of extension courses. GWS will have
information on that. There are plenty of other people to answer
your questions. And the children don't have to get it all from Mom
and Pop. There are people who have only high schooling, or may not
even have finished that, who are now teaching their children at
home and doing a very good job of it.
What about the child's social life?
As for friends – you're not going to lock your kids in the
house. I think the socializing aspects of school are ten times as
likely to be harmful as helpful. The human virtues - kindness,
patience, generosity, etc. are learned by children in intimate
relationships, maybe groups of two or three. By and large, human
beings tend to behave worse in large groups, like you find in
school. There they learn something quite different - popularity,
conformity, bullying, teasing, things like that. They can make
friends after school hours, during vacations, at the library, in
What about the opportunity for youths to meet members of other
backgrounds, other socioeconomic classes?
Most of the schools that I know anything about are tracked -
there would be a college track, and a business track, and a
vocational track. Studies have shown over the years that these
tracks correlate perfectly with economic class. I think I know
enough about most high schools in this country to say there is
very little mingling of people from different backgrounds,
different religious groups. The rich kids hang out with the rich
kids, the jocks hang out with the jocks, the pointy heads hang out
with the pointy heads, the greasers hang out with the greasers.
Maybe there are some exceptions to that . . . but the idea of
school as a social melting pot where people of all kinds of
backgrounds get together - pure mythology, folks.
What is your philosophy about teaching reading?
I think the teaching of reading is mostly what prevents
reading. Different children learn different ways. I think reading
aloud is fun, but I would never read aloud to a kid so that
the kid would learn to read. You read aloud because it's fun and
companionable. You hold a child, sitting next to you or on your
lap, reading this story that you're having fun with, and if it
isn't a cozy, happy, warm, friendly, loving experience, then you
shouldn't do it. It isn't going to do any good.
I think children are attracted toward the adult world. It's
nice to have children's books, but far too many of them have too
much in the way of pictures. When children see books, as they do
in the family where the adults read, with pages and pages and
pages of print, it becomes pretty clear that if you're going to
find out what's in those books, you're going to have to read from
that print. I don't think there's any way to make reading
interesting to children in a family in which it isn't interesting
What your philosophy about math?
My approach to math is to say, What do we adults use numbers
for? We use them to measure things. And we measure things so that
having measured them we can do things with them, or make certain
judgements about them. And so I say let children do with numbers
what we do with numbers. I'm a great believer in many kinds
of measuring instruments - tapes (centimeter tape, inch tapes,
rolls of tapes), rulers, scales, thermometers, barometers,
metronomes, electric metronomes with lights flashing on and off
that you can make go faster and slower, stopwatches, things for
Another thing is money. Kids are fascinated by money. We all
say: "We'll have to teach them all this arithmetic so that
some day they can deal with money." I think dealing with
money is inherently interesting to children. I say family finances
ought to be out on the table, charts on the wall: expenses, food,
taxes, insurance, health care, how much this costs, how much it
cost last year. I think actually, like typing, double-entry
bookkeeping and basic accounting are fascinating skills, and if
you're talking about basics, those are basics.
The fundamental idea of double-entry bookkeeping, the
distinction between your income and expenses and assets and
liabilities is one of the really beautiful inventions of the human
mind. It's fabulous the way it works, and I think families should
do their finances as if they were a little teeny corporation with
income and expenses and assets and liabilities and depreciation.
Some kids might get to the point where they would want to be
the family treasurer and keep the family books and balance the
checkbook. This is all really "big adult stuff." Let the
child write out the checks that are paying the bills, instead of
the harassed picture, you know, of father with his tie untied,
sitting at the desk and papers all over the place. Why? This is
inherently interesting, so let's at least make this part of our
life - like every other part - accessible to children. The best
way to meet numbers is in real life, as everything else. It's
embedded in the context of reality, and what schooling does is to
try to take everything out of the context of reality. So
everything appears like some little thing floating around in
space, and it's a terrible mistake. You know, there are numbers in
building; there are numbers in construction; there are numbers in
business; there are numbers in photography; there are numbers in
music; there are fractions in cooking. So wherever numbers are in
real life, then let's go and meet them and work with them.
What subject matter do you see as essential?
What about the parent who works outside of the home?
One question which often comes up is "How am I going to
teach my kids six hours a day?" And I respond to that by
saying, "Who's teaching your kids six hours a day now?"
I was a good student in supposedly the best schools and it was a
rare day that I got five minutes of teaching... that's five
minutes of somebody's serious attention to my personal needs,
interests, concerns, difficulties, problems. Like most other kids
in school, I learned that if you don't understand what's going on,
for heaven's sake, keep your mouth shut. What happens when
children become ill, or have an injury, etc.? Home teachers come
in for three to five hours a week. It has been found that this is
perfectly sufficient. These children don't fall behind. No child
needs, or should stand, six hours of teaching a day, even if a
parent were of a mind to give it. It would drive them up the wall!
How are homeschoolers evaluated when they go to enroll at the
Just like anyone else. You know, there are these tests you can
take... the College Boards, the SAT, and so forth. Actually,
homeschoolers do exceptionally well on these things. They're more
motivated to learn what areas will be covered, and prepare for
Does it sometimes happen that a homeschooling student will
express a desire to go to or return to traditional schooling? How
do parents handle this?
Various ways. Sometimes parents have to decide (we're the
grownups) that we don't want them to go back to that school, and
then stick with it. But other times, if the children want to go,
then that means they're immune to the manipulation the schools can
do with the children who don't have a choice about whether they
have to be there or not. The school loses some of its power when
the children know they can quit if they want.