David is one of the most frequent commenters on this blog and I’m now reading his blog too. I was interested to interview him as one of the few home educating fathers I’m aware of online and his 13-year-old son Connor offered to answer my questions too. They live in Taiwan.
What made you decide to home educate?
David: Homeschooling is something that I had wanted to try for a long time. From a young age it had been pretty clear that, although he largely enjoyed it, Connor was not really being stretched within the school system and that he was regularly frustrated by the slowed down learning process and the make-work nature of many projects. As he got older school became a nightmare for all of us, with very early starts, long days and then having to deal with homework during an evening – whilst wasting enormous amounts of time on useless school functions and waiting for the slower kids to catch up in class with what was being taught.
I also started working out that with the very large private school fees we were paying we could hire a large number of personal tutors, travel whenever and wherever we liked and provide Connor with any course, conference or activity that he wanted, virtually without restriction. We could far better spend that money ourselves directly providing a world-class education. I wasn’t feeling like we were getting $30k worth of value – in fact I have no idea where the school was spending more than $1mil a year on his class – certainly not on teacher salaries or IT or anything that I could see. It just wasn’t making any educational or financial sense and was causing us all stress.
Connor: One of the key reasons that I decided to homeschool was that I found the school system not really teaching me anything that I didn’t already know or couldn’t look up in half the time it took them to explain it.
Another key reason was that my teacher (she was our home room teacher but she taught no classes) was not a nice person, while I know that kids love complaining about their teachers, my teacher was prone to bouts of yelling, screaming etc… at us kids and I decided that this was not a really good investment of my time.
What reaction did/do you get from friends and family?
David: We are so lucky in this. I expected some push back, but all that we have received is support and a lot of inquisitive questions – people have been very positive. A lot of people have asked how we can do it, as they dream of being able to do this for their children. My mother cried with happiness. I and my siblings received excellent educations, but I had never known before we started that my mother’s dream had been to home educate us, but at that time in Australia it was just not feasible.
Connor: My mum was quite hesitant at the start because she wasn’t really sure if homeschooling was truly better than school education. After quite a bit of pushing we convinced my mum to let me try homeschooling and see how it would go. Mum was just waiting for a stuff-up, any issue and I would be back in school within the week. That hasn’t happened yet!
My friends are pretty jealous that I’m not going to school anymore and they still have to. They’ve asked quite a few questions such as how are you meeting other people and things like that.
My family in Korea was taken by surprise, my grandma was happy for me and my mums sisters were pretty unsure about the merits of homeschooling vs. a traditional education at school.
What does an average day look like?
David: One of the beauties of this process is that I am not sure that we really have an average day.
It is odd given how hard getting homework done was, but for us home schooling has spread to any time of the day or night and across weekends – we are happily losing the routines that school forced on us.
Because both Connor and we have friends spread around the world and he and we do courses around the world (but mainly in the U.S.) it is not unusual at all to find us online at 2am attending a class or getting up at 6am to complete an exam or turn in a piece of work (both Connor and I are terrible at leaving these to the last minute).
Connor is often so engaged in what he is learning that many days he may not want to finish until 7 or 8pm (he normally starts around 7 – 8am). There have been days where my wife has been exasperated because Connor doesn’t want to stop learning. That NEVER happened when he was at school.
Pretty long days, however he is largely free to work out what he wants to do each day (he is more accountable for a week than each day), so some days will not contain much formal academics, for example if a book by an author he really likes comes out, he may spend most of the day just reading that. If he gets tired, then he takes a nap, reads or games.
Some days we will head out for an exhibit or he will join me for more interesting business meetings, but then other days we may just take the afternoon off and all head to a cafe to read.
Connor goes to a martial arts class almost every day and meets with at least one tutor every weekday – often heading out to meet with them in a cafe – covering creative writing, Chinese and piano. He does a lot of Khan Academy and Mathletics and is usually doing a course or two on Coursera and Edx – often together with me. He spends time most days studying Chinese and English and is also a voracious reader and finishes at least one book every couple of days – a mix of reading what he wants and books that I or a tutor set him.
We meet as a family at least once a month specifically to discuss what the educational objectives for all of us are for the next few months and anything longer term, like getting into college for Connor. This lets us set together educational objectives that can achieve bigger goals, so for example Connor is focused more on his writing skills at present as we are looking into some early college options of interest to him for next year, but he needs to improve his academic writing before then.
Connor: My average day can change quite a bit depending on what I plan to accomplish or what I have going on. Most mornings I will take the time to watch history and science videos from Crash Course or Khan Academy. Most afternoons I will meet a tutor, and depending on the time I plan on meeting them I will use some time during the afternoon to finish off a bit of maths work.
Also before I start my main educational day I will use an hour or two to hop on Minecraft homeschool to chat with friends and finish off the builds etc…
How do you make sure Connor is socialised and gets other people’s perspectives on life?
David: Connor meets with a lot of kids around his age online in various games and courses and also in the sports activities that he does pretty much every day. His cousins are unfortunately spread all over the world, but we try to get them together as often as possible.
He also interacts regularly with adults other than us. He goes by himself to meet various tutors and we do not supervise these activities. We have chosen at least a couple of those people in part because of the strong personalities that they have that can provide alternate views. He also interacts with our friends and business partners on a regular basis – we include him in everything that we do, whether that is a function at the embassy or a VIP Evening at an international art exhibition or just a dinner party with friends.
Connor: I interact face to face mostly with kids at Tae-kwon-do before class starts because we’ll usually just kick the ball around and chat. I’ll also chat with classmates from previous schools using social programs such as Facebook or Line. Another way that I interact with other kids is on Minecraft homeschool because there are usually quite a few kids on Teamspeak.
I’ll also join my parents in some social events, such as dinner with one of their friends, or getting invited to somewhere or something like that.
How do you make sure Connor learns the value of doing things he may not want to do? (Assuming you *do* think this is valuable. If not, why not?)
David: Ha! I wish that I had a great answer to this one. More often than I would like though it starts with me yelling and then when he understands that it is something I think needs doing and I have calmed down enough, we sit down and talk about why. I do believe that Connor should not have to do anything simply because I or my wife say that he should – we should have to give good reasons why and if we cannot then I think he is justified in pushing back.
This used to be a far bigger issue when he was in school and I often could not see any value in what he had to do (a poster by hand for example, rather than using real-world design tools) and my only answer could be “you have to do it, because your school told you to”. I disliked that answer when I was in school and I disliked using it as an answer for Connor – it is not a legitimate answer.
We are lucky and Connor is a very mature and responsible kid and far more often than not he sees the sense in what we are asking and knuckles down to do it.
Probably the biggest difficulty we have in this area comes with learning Chinese, as it is a very difficult language to learn and the benefits of doing so are not yet fully clear to him – this one can still cause some frustrations.
How do you prepare Connor for the future: having to have a job, sticking to rules, dealing with authority/bullies, etc.?
David: This is such a broad question! My biggest concern when preparing Connor for the future is to ensure that he does not see education as something that is done to you and that when school is over that it stops. The need for life long learning is something that I passionately believe is required in order to deal with the future. We cannot just sit on our ‘education’ and expect to succeed in life – more than any other time in history we must be constantly re-shaping who we are and what skills and knowledge we have in order to adapt to a very rapidly changing world.
Having confidence in himself as a capable self-learner is something that I hope to see him develop further, together with general confidence in himself and his ability to contribute value to whatever it is that he is focused on.
If he has confidence (founded in real skills and accomplishments) then he will never struggle to earn an income or stand up for himself against bullies and authority. As far as sticking to the rules, I hope that, where it is not illegal, that he abides by sensible and justified rules and ignores others that cannot be justified with logic. Overall, I hope that he is capable of thinking for himself and making his own decisions as to what is best for him.
If Connor decided he wanted to go to school would you let him? If so, how would you prepare him for school?
David: If Connor wanted to return to school I would certainly want to know why and if we could do anything to fix whatever was causing that, but if it is what he really wanted and had good reasons for it, of course we would let him.
He has spent more time in the school system than out of it, so we wouldn’t need to prepare him for what to expect – he knows full-well what he would be facing.
Knowing that, I don’t think that it is likely that he will want to go back into the system – but, never say never.
What do you feel are the most positive aspects of home ed?
David: The freedom to learn anything at your own pace is huge. This is completely personalized education at a much higher standard than anything provided while Connor was at school. It has actually shocked me just how much better homeschooling is – it is not 10-15% better, it is orders of magnitude better.
The other thing that both my wife and I love, is that we get to spend more time with Connor during what are probably his last five or six years living with us. That is something that we are enormously appreciative for and when I am in my old age I simply cannot imagine ever regretting swapping this time together for some minor extra material gain we may have made keeping him in school. This is the best money we have ever spent by a long shot.
Connor: The best part about homeschooling is that I have the freedom to pursue things at my own speed, for example if I already know a certain maths concept I can spend less time on it during my study of statistics in psychology or history, depending on what I think that I need.
Are there any negatives?
David: I really wanted to find something to write hear to provide a ‘balanced’ viewpoint, but honestly I cannot think of a single negative.
Connor: As a kid I can say that not having things such as summer break is kind of disappointing (but I came into this knowing that I probably wouldn’t get it), so my advice to kids out there is to negotiate more carefully with your parents than I did.
Any home ed misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
David: Very occasionally the old ‘socialization issue’ comes up. I will not bother re-hashing why this is such a stupid argument, as many other people have done great jobs explaining how ridiculous this argument against homeschooling is. All that I can say is that Connor is free to be able to, and does, socialize three or four times more than he did in school and with people from a much wider range of ages, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds.
I guess the other misconception that can annoy me is when people assume that we are homeschooling for religious reasons (so many people are that I get the assumption, but still!). We are homeschooling for a better education so it can be frustrating to have people who don’t know us assume that we are homeschooling in order to shelter Connor from the world and to indoctrinate him into some belief system. We want Connor to think for himself and the assumption that we want the opposite can be pretty irritating to me.
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about home education?
David: To quote a famous brand – ‘Just do it’.
If you are feeling like it could be an option, then just do it. Don’t get paralyzed by all of the opinions and books and articles – follow your heart. If it doesn’t work, then shift back, but if you never try it then you will never know if it is right for you and your child(ren) and you could be missing out on one of the best things in your and their lives.
Connor: If you really think you can do it, then do it. It’s not going to hurt you in the long run to miss a semester of school to try homeschooling for a change. I know that this might not work for some other kids out there but even if it isn’t the right thing for you, it is definitely a good experience for you to have.
Fascinating answers! Thank you so much, David and Connor.