Giving Homeschooling a Bad Name

by Robert Pondiscio
September 21st, 2008

Benny has a rich, full life for a five-year old.  He hangs out in bars.  He attends grown-up movies like Juno with his parents (kid flicks like Finding Nemo scare him silly).  And then there’s that way cool play group in Brooklyn.  While other kids are off at kindergarten, Benny plays in the mud with his buddies. “His two friends are completely naked. Benny has on his underpants and a pair of socks,” author Joanne Rendell relates approvingly. ”The whole scene could be a performance art piece or perhaps an excerpt from a very twisted movie about child killers.”

Rendell is describing her decision to ”un-kindergarten,” a word she says she made up.  “Decision,” in this instance, is a word I made up.  Indeed, judging by her piece on Rendell doesn’t seem to expend much decision-making energy on things like routines, schedules and ”the whole school thing.”  

Un-kindergarten for us means Benny can sleep late so I can write. It means we don’t have to worry about bedtimes and can go out on the town with friends any night of the week. We can go to Europe and visit my family when the flights are cheap. Un-kindergarten also means we can pick and choose how we spend our days and who we spend them with. Benny can go to free classes at the Metropolitan Museum in the week when it’s less crowded. He can read a book on sharks when he feels like it. He can experiment with bungee cords while eating his breakfast at noon.

Commenters on aren’t having it.  But they’re letting Rendell have it–with both barrels.  Says one, “I’ll coin a new tern to go with hers: un-parenting. When you really, you know, can’t be bothered, because you’re got bars to hit and a vapid chicklit novel to write and friends in Europe to visit. Let the kid play in mud and pat yourself on the back for what a fabulous job you’re doing because he can always, you know, read a book about sharks or something to get himself educated.”


  1. I am not familiar with the laws in New York but, in California, Kindergarten is not mandatory. I agree completely this person is “un-parenting,” at least with the gad-about-town behaviors. The sleep-in-late part I don’t have a problem with. It’s five o’clock somewhere. And “author” actually is an occupation, just ask J.K. Rowling. To help with understanding the mud-play, I recommend a book, Poetic Knowledge, by Dr. James Taylor. Perfectly white Stride-Rites are a sign of a twisted mind.

    Comment by T.M. Willemse — September 22, 2008 @ 9:07 am

  2. Some of this boy’s activities you’ve listed sound completely inappropriate, some sound wonderful. Perhaps we all draw the line in a different place, but I can’t say that I see a problem with a 5 year old traveling to Europe with his parents, attending classes at an art museum, or reading a book about sharks, regardless of the time of year or his school status.

    Comment by K Morrell — September 22, 2008 @ 9:50 am

  3. I’m not sure there’s a problem, per se. I give parents a pretty wide berth in general and hesitate to prescribe what’s best for other people’s children. The problem is that this piece potentially casts homeschooling in a bad light. The writer of the piece may be a great mom and a terrific writer. But her piece leaves the impression (for me at least) that homeschooling her son is less about what’s best for her child than what fits in best for her lifestyle at the moment. There’s a high “whatever” quotient here: no apparent philosophical underpinning to her “unkindergartening.” One gets the sense she couldn’t quite get around to making other plans so decided to make a virtue of necessity by calling it unschooling. This doesn’t resemble the hard-working, rigorous homeschooling parents I know.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — September 22, 2008 @ 10:09 am

  4. Even most “un-schoolers” I know are more kid-focused than this parent sounds. In fact, to me, one of the real down-sides of homeschooling is that it leaves the teaching parent (usually the mother) with almost no chance *not* to be kid-focused.

    Comment by Rachel — September 22, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  5. I feel as if there is a lack of information on this situation to make strong statements about the parent, student, or education set up. As some comments have mentioned, some of the activities are good, some seem not appropriate. Given this, I think it would be hard to sum up in a paragraph or two, this situation. Why don’t you hang out with her for a day and see how she works the education of her son.

    Comment by Travis A. Wittwer — September 22, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  6. The author’s son is not-quite-five. If she had decided to “redshirt” him, and enroll him in a traditional kindergarten at the age of not-quite-six nobody would be blinking an eye. But because she’s decided to put off formal academics in a homeschool setting, that makes her a bad mom?

    My son has a November birthday, and I’m planning to hold off on starting formal homeschooling with him until the year he turns 6.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — September 23, 2008 @ 1:06 pm

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