When Do We Declare Success?


“Mission Accomplished!”

Remember the photo of President. Bush on a carrier with a banner announcing, “Mission Accomplished!” on the eve of five or so more years of combat? When can I (or we; the unschoolers), claim success, or alternately, when can our critics declare our defeat?

My dad was (still is, I suppose) opposed to homeschooling. He invested maybe 10 years of expensive education to become a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), so I don’t blame him for being kind of put out when our actions say, “It was all redundant. We don’t need experts to educate our kids. In fact we don’t even need adults, except for guidance and resources. Kids can teach themselves what they desire to know, and what they don’t desire to know, they won’t learn no matter what coercive technologies you develop and impose on them.” Whew. But that is what we say, right?

I asked him (ten years ago) what he would want to see. He replies something to the effect that he would want to see some fruit. Don’t think that was his word, but that was the idea. I didn’t follow up; I thought about it and I hope he did, too.

Some questions: What about other kids, ones in school, that are 11 years old? What “fruit” are they expected to display? My experience is teachers and staff make endless excuses even for 18 year olds, saying that they are not just miniature adults, but that they need time and guidance to become adults before they can be expected to reflect any positive character traits. So what is the difference? If kids are on a journey, then when do we grade them on their ‘arrival’? Or do we grade them on the journey itself? What about a kid who takes a different path? We declare him a failure because we can not be bothered to take the time to understand his motives, his plans and therefore his progress?

If success is the incremental achievement of a worthwhile goal or goals, then how can we judge someone else’s, most especially if we don’t know what their goal is?

What is the Goal, Anyway?

Of course, it is widely accepted that the goal is to get an education so you can get a good job so you can afford to get your kids a good education so they can get a good job so they can….


Hey, anyone seen this super-depressing movie called Revolutionary Road? (spoiler alert!)

This couple had a dream to go to Paris and find the husband’s “true vocation”--his dream. The world did its best to entice them away from the dream, offering tempting promises of a bigger house, a nicer car, a happier wife…

They let the world steal their dream. And it killed the woman, the wife who was supposed to be happy for the success. Well, we have always known we are different, and I thank this horrible movie for clarifying a few things:

I now know why other homeschoolers tend to misunderstand us and our methods: We went to Paris. Figuratively speaking, but yeah, we did. Our life is an adventure—for real. We do things and build our lives around things that are not just designed for long-term security. In fact, I believe from Bible verses in correct context, that spending your entire adult life working to provide financial stability and attempting to eliminate any possibility of financial discomfort, is the opposite of trusting God.

But there are some tradeoffs for our freewheeling lifestyle. My kids hardly have any friends here because most of the homeschooled kids we know are even more regimented and inflexible than schooled kids. And strangely enough, the parents are proud of it. (One mother wrote a scolding email to Colleen explaining that they literally do not have a five minute block that is unscheduled and available for discretionary use, like walking on the beach, which we do every day.) I’m still not sure if she was supposed to admire this or pray for them…

Other kids, school kids, are not allowed to play; they must do homework until bedtime. Again, not sure if I should admire that or pity it. So anyway, most of my kids’ socialization comes from adults, family members and online friends. (We may have to let Eric go to school ‘cause he loves to play with kids and nobody will play with him.)

We worked hard for many years to build a business that provides the flexibility we enjoy. But I could quit any time if God tells me to. I already left a successful career and moved half-way across the world to a place where my skills were mostly non-transferable. I suffered for it, but where are we promised that there would be no trouble in this world? We do have roots here, but God can pull them up any time He wants.

So these are just the facts, not an indictment of anything or anyone. And I know there are lots of other people who live the adventure. But this is about my family, and this is me putting down what I am thinking about what we are doing and how we are doing it! So here it is:

Trying to Understand Why

I guess most of us have a hard time separating our lives from the American religion of over-consumption. It all ties in together. We buy things we don’t really need, mostly to impress people we don’t necessarily like, so they will admire us. But we also know that if there is a glaring weakness evident, that is what people will talk about. That makes us want to shore up our defenses and be ready to cover up anything that may cause people to look askance at us.

School-at-Home vs. Unschool 

I think that may be why the majority of homeschoolers might as well be in school because they don’t take advantage of the flexibility that homeschool allows (at least from what we can see). Instead, it seems like they try to emulate the school in their home. That’s the major difference between unschoolers and school-at-homers. We are confident in what we do and do not feel a need to display our flight itinerary and progress to people who are looking for something to complain about. School-at-homers want to be sure they look and smell good because they know that the average parent sends their kids to school and that’s all they know. So if they don’t want to be misunderstood (by people who adhere to public school doctrine), they just make it look like they are doing the same thing that everyone knows and that way the path is pretty well paved and not too bumpy. In other words, emulating the school in your home is the path of least resistance.

And to keep on subject here (declaring success in homeschooling), the school-at-home people will do standardized testing to be sure they are on the right track, and also to show others that they are on the right track. This is to reassure the parents and also the community. We (my family) accept the trust and take responsibility for it, like a manager or steward is expected to do. Once in a while we explain what we’re doing, but mostly I am very glad we have a large “traditional” homeschooling group here and I am happy to let them be the face the community sees when they see homeschoolers. Because not even homeschoolers understand us; why would anyone else?

My Second Homeschool Graduate

One of our workers, a part-time guy who is a professional teacher, talked to me about Adam. Adam is the manager of the office that this teacher works out of, so Adam Smith is basically this guy’s boss. Well, the teacher guy said Adam is too quiet. He needs to get out of his shell.

Well, let’s see here. Adam is quiet. And when I was teaching in a classroom setting in a private high school, I wish some of the students knew when it was appropriate to be quiet. But they had zero self-control and so they talked and talked and of course swear words came out and I had to discipline them for it. So as a criticism of a person, or of our schooling style or of our parenting, that’s pretty thin.

Let me try this: I will make a small list of some of Adam’s positive and negative character traits. And then we will see what we got.

Adam is kind to people and animals.

He is organized and dislikes a mess.

He works the family business for a meager allowance, because he knows that after age 18, dad does not owe you a living.

He washes dishes and laundry.

He cares about accuracy and keeps the paperwork in order.

He is an excellent manager and keeps the office profitable.

He shares ideas and helps me develop profitable ones.

He is presentable and friendly to customers.

We can trust him with the business’ money.

He is frugal and sensible with his own money.

If he doesn’t know an answer, he does not give false information; he calls or looks it up.

He cares about his younger siblings and keeps them safe.

He teaches them.

He writes music we all love.

He stays out of our way and seldom asks for anything.

He does not complain about unfairness—ever.

No girl is pregnant because of him

He does not say bad words or take drugs or alcohol

We know where he is at night even though he is old enough to be on his own.

He has pledged to share his success with his family

He reads voraciously and writes beautifully, including perfect college-level essays

He can and does cook.

He is a very safe and correct driver.

He respects and obeys the laws (to which we are to be subjected according to scripture.)

He is respectful to his parents, even in anger.

He is interesting. Fascinating, in fact—If anyone cared enough to get to know him.

He is intelligent.

He is extremely flexible for our family’s sake.

He is in touch with his sensitive side.

He can cut the grass in 100 degree heat.

His siblings adore him so much they fear him as they don’t want to be displeasing to him.

I could go on and if this was your kid you could too. But maybe you get the point:

Anyone who has met or worked with Adam should know more about him than he is shy and too quiet. And if that’s all you take away, it’s your loss. Friends look for good things to say about their friends, and if you try, you can find plenty to be celebrate in any of your friends.

How to be Special

I have to tell this to well-meaning friends and relatives: If you want to critique, criticize or complain about our kids, our parenting, our style, our school, etc, take a number and get in line. This does NOT make you special. If you want to be special, understand your choices: You can love my kids or disapprove of them. Your choice. You decide if you want to invest in a relationship with these little-known relatives of yours. Or if you want to discard them and all the richness that friendship could bring, because you are disinclined to take the time to try to understand and maybe even have your eyes opened to something new…


One more thing before I close this chapter about the journey and when do we declare success, or failure in a child’s education: Revolutionary Road. Again. Ugly movie. But eye-opening. Very depressing for most, I can see why! To some extent, everyone sacrifices their dreams and goals for security and prestige, and justifies it by calling those spectral ideas “immature” and “unrealistic.”

But in the end, in the final analysis, what you have done with your days is what you have traded your life for.

Money? Security? Will that keep you alive? In a hundred years, we will all be dead; we have that in common!

Does Anyone Really Believe This?

In most serious discussions about homeschooling, people understand the basic premise. But in some discussions, where the truly uninitiated embarrass themselves with commentary, we hear that kids must go to school to learn intangible lessons, such as how to prepare for the real world of work, where your ability to deal successfully with nasty office politics will be your salvation, or to be able to understand a deadline and meet it, or to be prepared for the reality of getting up at 5:30 am to be at work by 7:00, five days a week for fifty or more years.

Wait a sec! You mean to tell me my kids need 12 years of training in order to be able to get up at 5:30 or whatever? Maybe the reason these poor kids need 12 years is to prepare themselves for the horror of emptiness that will be theirs if they subscribe to that program.  That’s what “going postal” is all about! They need years of being inured to the reality that their dreams must, and will, evaporate unless they are lucky enough to save enough money to enjoy a sliver of the original dream when they are over 70 years old and can retire and travel .

All that institutional training is to prepare them mentally and psychologically and spiritually for the reality that they will work a job they hate so they can make enough money to have everything that is advertised on TV so they can show the neighbors that they have the ability command more than their share of resources. Then they can declare “success”, while desperately trying to forget that there once was a dream…


I am very thankful to God for allowing me to have an adventurous life, and to have a family that, for the most part, agrees with it all and enjoys the adventure.

I guess I am declaring success to be the adventure itself. I give us a passing grade.

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We have decided to start this journal to keep track of our children's life lessons learned in our homeschool journey. We believe that as parents we are accountable for our own children's education. It is up to us to make sure we prepare them to be active and responsible citizens, not a drain on society. So this blog will be a place where we can share our daily lessons and activities that we incorporate into our homeschool.

About Me

Mother to 9 children, 5 on earth and 4 in heaven.
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Christian Unschoolers
Unschooling is learning as you live life. All of life involves learning. This is what we "teach" our children.


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