Praise for Jeffrey Till's "Rise Above School":
"Great advice for anyone considering educating their children at home. Keep up the good work on this crucial issue."
- Dr. Ron Paul, former presidential candidate, congressman and author of "The School Revolution" and ronpaulcurriculum.com
"This book is a guide to making the decision to homeschool. Till makes an interesting distinction between intellectually knowing that there are better ways to spend childhood than in school and conquering the emotions that prevent you from taking your kids out.
He talks about having empathy for children and he writes a lovely chapter about the turning point in his own heart: I realized that we had to homeschool because there was no way I would send myself to school understanding what I knew about school. If faced with the choice, I wouldn't make myself unhappy, I wouldn't waste my time, I wouldn't put myself through the torture of school. With any empathy, how dare I send my children? How dare I treat them in a way that I wouldn't treat myself?
Till deftly lays out the reasons why school doesn't work. But increasingly I'm talking with parents who know the data about how bad schools are, but they still can't get themselves to take the next step. It seems too scary. That's an emotional barrier that needs to be met with an emotional answer to why homeschool, and this books provides that."
- Penelope Trunk, Entrepreneur, Blogger and homeschooling advocate
"This book is worth every dime for the "58 arguments for home education" alone. A list so powerful, simple, and clear it's hard to imagine ever seeing school the same or wanting to send your kids there after reading. But Rise Above School is much more than that. The author presents an incredibly honest and accessible story of his own process of moving from unthinking adherent to the educational status quo to a parent embarking on a radical unschooling lifestyle. The core insight is one of empathy. What your kids suffer through - bus stops, early alarms, homework, single-file and cinder block cells, lunchrooms, bullies, age-segregation, boredom - is something you would not want to put yourself through, or your spouse, or employees. How then can you do it to your kids?
Jeff is not romantic in his portrayal of home education, nor bitter in his exploration of schooling. He's refreshingly down to earth. Though moral and practical arguments underpin his advocacy of home education, he shares plainly some of the more compelling reasons in simple things like daily life being more fun and less boring. No need to construct elaborate curricula. Just enjoy your kids. Let them sleep in. Play video games with them.
Rise Above School is an ideal intro to the concept and arguments surrounding education for someone a little disillusioned with mass schooling, but unsure what to do. Start with this book. If you like where it takes you, Jeff includes a list of additional books and resources for those who want to go deeper."
- Isaac Morehouse, Founder of education company Praxis, Author of six books
"Rise Above School is more than just a little book telling one man's path to home educating his children -- it is truly the complete case for home education. How can this be in a tidy <100 pages? Till tells his personal story deciding to opt his children out of the school system, but also provides thought-provoking additional reasons why you may consider taking your own children out. This is really the complete case FOR home education. There's not much in here about HOW to home educate, but instead, it is a list of reasons why you ought to. Highly recommended for anybody beginning to question keeping their kids in schools."
- Zachary Slayback, Author of "The End of School"
Beginning of the book
CONTENTS Introduction 1
Why you should rescue your children from school 3
Making the decision is really, really hard 6
The Complete Case for Home Education 11
What do you want to be when you grow up? 48
Having empathy for your children is critical 62
My personal path to home education 66
Talking about home education 72
How to get started 76
Appendix: Media resources and acknowledgements 84
This book isn't about the act of home education, but rather making the decision to take your children out of school and begin home education. In my experience, learning about homeschooling was fairly straightforward and knowing the downside of public schooling was fairly intuitive, but taking my kids out of school was still a very challenging decision that took me about year to make. The biggest obstacles turned out to be that I was schooled myself and had a very hard time imagining not using public schools since they are everybody's default 'state of nature'. I also couldn't adequately develop empathy for my own children when it came to what they were enduring in public school and nor thought about what school would ultimately do to them. This book is to help inform the decision process to leave school and free your children to learn at home. What you do once you get those kids out of school is a topic for another book and luckily there are plenty.
I chose the title 'Rise Above School' because that's what children do when they opt out. The school and culture like to use the term 'dropping out' to suggest that leaving school is a failure of the student somehow. We must abandon this victim language once and for all. School is not a nice place to succeed in, it is something that should be rejected, tossed to history's landfill and left to die.
Ideally, we use the term 'home education' instead of 'homeschooling' because the later implies replicating 'school' at home, which isn't desirable. Only school can be school. Instead, we want to foster intrinsic-inspired learning at home. This said, 'homeschooling' is common vernacular and I use it interchangeably in this book to mean 'home education'. The initial basis of this book was several articles and podcasts I created at my blog site found at http://www.fivehundredyears.org. As the articles came, common themes emerged and it seemed natural to put them together under one cover.
As background, I've self-studied education, public schooling and home education for two to three years now. I unschool my three young children. I'm an entrepreneur and a husband. I'm an advocate for home education and ending public school. And I'm a radical for peace and prosperity.
Some notes to consider while reading: - The opening description of school is one created by someone who has fully come to terms with the true nature of school. If it seems hyperbolic, too extreme or off-putting, I urge you to soldier on and revisit the description after you've read the rest or have done other research.
- There's a bit of redundancy throughout the book, both by convenience and design. Good points are good to hammer in.
- Many of the ideas are libertarian (i.e., pro-freedom, anti-state) in nature. I'm hoping people of different political or ethical persuasions can still find value here.
If you are new to home education ideas or new to even thinking about public school itself, I commend you for trying to learn more, regardless of what you decide. Despite education being the most important decision families ever make for their children, most people don't think about it for even five minutes. The choice you are making involves committing your children to 13 years of school, representing about 15,000 hours of work, all of which can set the direction of your children's entire lives. Put the time in to research, analyze and process this 15,000-hour whopper of a decision. Please.
Rescue your children from school
If you love your children; if you are concerned about their happiness; if you want them to grow up being smart, educated and capable, if you want them to become unique, positive forces in the world, if you want them to escape the worker/soldier mentality, then you must take them out of school.
Stopping the damage school inflicts School is hurting and dumbing down your children. It is 15,000 hours of drudgery and boredom, focused on training children to complete and repeat simple tasks while being forced to sit still all day. It's factory training designed to create viable factory workers. It is purposefully designed to create obedience to authority, destroy intrinsic desires to learn, and generally creates apathy towards self responsibility and knowledge. We know this because it is what schooling, especially public schooling, was designed to do. It was initially designed by the Prussians (pre-Nazi Germans) to train soldier's in the 19th century. It was later brought to the US and the rest of the world by men like Horace Mann and industrialists who had a vision for a compliant workforce who would endure the tedium of factory work. It's the greatest waste of time ever created in all of human history. And were it merely a stupendous waste of time it wouldn't be so bad. Instead it is destructive. You also know this personally. If you are like 97 percent of the population, you went to school yourself. You remember how boring it was, how every day you woke up too early and dreaded going. You remember the tedious classwork and hating homework. You learned to fear not doing your work, getting perpetually judged through grades and having to deal with your parents as school enforcers. You weren't allowed to leave or control what you did during the day. You were told to be quiet. You had to ask for permission to use the toilet even when you were 18 years old. You yearned for weekends, summer vacations and ultimately being done with the whole mess.
You were set on a series of same-age-grouped stations - grades - that you had to move through without question and when you were done with high school you were likely pushed into the university where once again you moved from class to class from grade to grade until you finally graduated. Then you felt the same fear and loathing about getting a job. And, if you are like most, you probably forgot tremendous amounts of what you were forced to learn. The only stuff you remembered, besides the ability to read, write and simple math, was the stuff you liked. It's a running joke that nothing we learned in school applied to our occupations or personal life.
'It wasn't that bad. I turned out okay.' You may say. But did you really have to endure it? Can you even tell how badly it may have scarred you? How badly it ruined a joy for learning? Or how it made you weak and dependent on authority. Did the 15,000 hours of school make it difficult to be an adult?
It's hard to tell for most people, as schooling was a state of nature. The time spent through school indoctrination wasn't only to dumb you down and create a good worker-citizen, it was also to convince you that school itself was just, good and necessary. Only by looking at it with full ignorance of your experience there, a complete de-schooled view, can one see how damaging and wasteful school is.
Once you see it, you can't unsee it. You need to trust me that this is not hyperbole. Once you do the hard work of examining every aspect of school - its history, its organization, its day-to-day activities, its allegiance to power over knowledge, its true purposes, and its grim student experience - can you wipe away your own indoctrination and see what terrible thing you may be doing to your own children.
Seizing the opportunity
Once you've thoroughly seen school for the despicable and repulsive institution that it is, you can begin envisioning what a positive and empowering education can look like. You can see the opportunity of raising a fully individuated, self-actualized child who loves knowledge, is ready to take on the world on their terms, and is a free person. You can hand back your child's youth, 15,000 hours worth. You can alleviate the early mornings and tedious homework. You can remove all of the worksheets and repetitive tasks. You can skip those lectures and film strips. You can avoid the bow to authority, whether it's the Pledge, the Patriotic songs, the teacher's scorn or the principal's threat. You can set your child free to pursue what they love, not force them into what they despise.
Your children can be free. And happy. And develop a love of learning and self discovery.
For better or worse, there is only one option to get out of schooling at this point in history and that is home education, popularly known as homeschooling. The public school system has a force-driven monopoly on school, both in terms of its tax-based funding and its compulsory attendance laws. Private schools may represent an incremental improvement in some aspects, but they tend to comply with the law and model themselves basically the same as public schools. Between the school system monopolizing everyone's education dollars and only three percent of kids being homeschooled, whatever cornucopia of free market options that could be available simply aren't at this time. Public school has gobbled all of the demand for education alternatives. Home education is the only option.
Making the decision is really, really hard
Because you, your parents, your neighbors were indoctrinated through the school system, and maybe because you are paying for it, sending kids to school is the 'automatic' option. I know it was for my family. When my kids were school-aged my wife and I didn't even think about it for five minutes. And I already knew I hated school. We put our kids on the bus to the nearest school, just like our parents would expect and just like our neighbors did.
Making the decision was really, really hard and it took a lot of work to erase what I knew and replace it with the sound reality of what school was. Making the decision took me personally over a year and it required lots of research and soul searching.
If you are rethinking school and trying to make a decision, but can't quite get there, I urge you to keep reading. The point of this book is to help with making the decision. It's about thinking through every aspect of rejecting school and preparing your mind to finally pull your kids out of school. The other side of the decision point i.e., the actual home education of your children, is surprisingly easy. There's nothing very hard about it, especially if you adopt an unschooling approach. Through the research you will do, you will be so prepared to handle it that the actual home education part won't be intimidating. It's the rejection of school and the embracing of the home education freedom opportunity that is difficult.
It's my belief that you will need to convince yourself and your spouse (and maybe your children) on two different levels: intellectually and emotionally. Both require work, research, analysis and contemplation.
Making the intellectual case
The intellectual case is about gathering the facts, doing an objective analysis and then deciding what is best for your kids and yourself in terms of education. You can learn about the history of school and its true functions. You can learn about the effects it has on a child's desire to learn, his or her intrinsic motivation, their self esteem and their trajectory as growing humans. You can also evaluate alternatives to schooling, such as resources available, techniques and the benefits of self-directed, self-motivated learning. You may also analyze personal and practical issues such as child care in an age where many families have two working parents, finances, and state law.
At the end of this analysis, you should have a very deep and rigorous understanding of what's best for you and your children. You'll be able to refute any objection with a solid base of facts and history. You'll have clarity on what will happen if you do decide to home educate, both on a day-to-day basis and over the long-term. You'll understand the logical steps you will need to take to enact your decision and plan.
Making the emotional case
The intellectual case, as rigorous as it can be, probably won't be enough. I believe at some point you will need to have empathy for your child and even for yourself back when you were a child. You have to imagine what it feels like to have to be schooled, reimagine the parts where you felt powerless, bored, coerced, judged, ranked, rated and when you had massive chunks of your time confiscated. You'll imagine the opportunities that you could've experience if you weren't schooled. You'll imagine having massive amounts of time where you could pursue what you loved. You'll think about what your kids feel and what you are or are not inflicting upon them.
Once you feel that the schooling is either unjust or damaging, once you ask yourself 'How would I treat myself if I were child?' it will likely seem unconscionable to send them to school. At this point you will no longer have a decision to make, as there will be only one just and moral path forward.
The different phases of my mindset about school
I can't claim that everyone will go through the same specific phases of thought about home education, but I can share my own personal progression over time. Even if it does not accurately reflect everyone's, it should provide an example of how the decision evolves over time and how it requires time to mature and solidify. My mindset evolution was roughly this:
Thoughtlessness: When my oldest daughter turned five my wife signed her up for the public school closest to our house. I didn't think about it for a second. When I was told to take her to the bus stop, I did. Education had never crossed my mind, but there I had done it: my wife and I made the 15,000-hour decision without a thought.
Aware and disappointed: When the homework came in, I remembered how I hated doing it when I was a kid and usually blew it off. My wife would ask me to help my daughter and I wouldn't want to. Getting up for school and having so little time with the family was awful and we didn't like it. At the same time, I heard that radicals were doing homeschooling, but it couldn't be for us. After all, we weren't crazy and homeschooling was something crazy people do. I couldn't even let the thought of homeschooling be examined.
'It's an option': I saw John Taylor Gatto's video 'The Ultimate History Lesson' on YouTube and was fascinated. This wasn't about the crazy-Christian homeschoolers they portray in the media, this was a fundamental analysis and history of school. Things started to click and I started buying books on the topic, starting with some of Gatto's books. My wife wasn't sure what was going on, but I assured her I was just 'looking at options' and started looking at homeschooling and public schooling as sort of two equally meritorious approaches to educating a child.
Convinced but stuck: After reading a bunch of books and thinking really hard, I was factually convinced but still couldn't imagine starting it. My indoctrination, the status quo, the weight of family and society, my instincts, etc., were too strong to overcome.
Empathetic and emotionally unshakable: In a particularly acute state of emotional stress, I finally imagined myself in place of my kids. I knew what school was about, what it was doing to them, and how much they didn't enjoy it. I had an emotional breakthrough where all of a sudden it seemed wrong and hurtful, immoral even, to continue sending my kids to school. I found school to be repugnant and repulsive. And that was it; I couldn't be unconvinced that the kids would be home educated.
Bringing your spouse on board (and your family)
To be perfectly clear, your spouse HAS to be on board 100 percent. Even if you will be the primary educator and caregiver and your spouse is off to work all day, they still need to be on board. If they are not, they will be in a constant state of doubt. They'll be combative towards the decision and be in a constant worry that the kids are not getting a state-standard education, not being socialized, being turned into weirdoes and all of the other crap that all public-schoolers think of homeschoolers.
Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to bringing your spouse into agreement. They will have to become aware and they'll have to put in the hours to make the intellectual case for themselves. They will probably have to make the emotional case as well.
The good news is that you can be a step ahead and shepherd them into the most effective media and arguments. You can show patience in educating them on the topic. You can help. Remember, this is the 15,000-hour decision. It doesn't need to be made in a single moment or day. It would be insane to think it could be done quickly (even though the majority of public schoolers do just that.)
As for your extended family such as your parents, your uncle, your friends etc., I recommend leaving them out of the decision. It's not their children and it's not their life. After you have built the most complete intellectual case, you'll easily be able to refute their objections and demonstrate that you have been more thoughtful about education than anyone they have ever met, including themselves.
Plus, most people know the truth about school. They experienced it. Every time you remind them that it is boring, or that it's stupid to have to raise your hand to use the bathroom, or that nobody remembered quadratic equations, they'll dully nod along with you. Just be ready with the answers and be patient with them. Be ready, though, as the conflict within them will be harsh and they will act out with aggression and anger. Few things are as controversial as saying schools are wrong, even though school's lack of effectiveness and call for reform are in the media constantly.
Rescue your children from school
Are you ready to learn more? The 15,000-hour decision is upon you: will you put your kids in the cinder-block cell of public school, or will you rescue them? I recommend you do not take it lightly. Give the decision the dignity and gravity it deserves. If you have two children, it becomes the 30,000-hour decision. If you have three, it becomes the 45,000-hour decision. It's the decision that will affect your kids' lives both as children and adults. It's the decision that will shape how your family interacts. It's the decision that will shape your child's relationship with knowledge and learning. It's the decision that will help determine if your child will be a follower or a leader and free thinker. It's the decision between happiness and boredom. There's a lot on the line. And it is up to you to make it right.