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Keeping Mom and Dad in the education equation

July 14th, 2004 · 3 Comments

Philip Greenspun tonight wondered whether high schools make sense in this era of airplanes and Internet.

I’m beginning to wonder if the idea of a local public high school isn’t just a leftover habit from the 19th century when international travel was expensive and time-consuming and telecommunications did not exist.


But for less than $2000 we can send that kid anywhere in the world and bring him back for Christmas and Spring Break. For a few cents per minute we can pick up the phone and talk to our kid regardless of where he happens to be.

He proposes enhancing and changing education by sending teenage children to study and learn specific skills in countries throughout the world.

I agree with Philip that the idea of a local high school education may be outdated. And there are already families implementing his idea. For example, when we lived in Cupertino, CA, we knew that one factor behind the crazy house prices was the fact that parents in other countries (such as Hong Kong and Taiwan) were buying houses for their children in the highly-rated school district and thereby buying their kids an education. The kids were “home alone” and alone in a home in America, doing homework and studies by themselves, their parents/landlords an ocean away.

However I doubt his assumption that parents could use the money that the public school system spends on a child

Suppose that you had a 16-year-old named Johnnie and the $14,000 per year that the local school district will spend to keep him occupied for a year.

So far, unless there is legislation that I don’t know how to invoke, Ted and I are not receiving any money from the public school system for the child we are educating ourselves. Unless the entire system were to be disassembled, the schools need the money and there are thousands of people who have been educated and employed to play parts in the public educational system.

Financial issues aside, even if the funding could be found for such an international education, I think that sending children abroad to study misses the key reason why Ted and I are schooling our kids at home, one of our main values of education. Sure telephone calls – and phones – are cheap now. But a phone call can’t compensate for a hug. A phone call can’t put arms around a kid who’s crying. A phone call can’t play a game of basketball or go shopping for bras or share a soda and burger on the beach. It’s not the same to look through a digital screen at someone you love and say “I understand.” or to press your face against the pixels for a kiss.

After reading Philip Greenspun’s proposal, I read through my aggregator and came to Shelley Power’s post describing how her relationship with her mother and her father has changed with time.

It’s good to spend time with our parents, and find who they are as people.

It’s much easier to spend time and enjoy conversations together when the children and parents are still living together under the same roof. Reading what Shelley Powers wrote, her story of growth and acceptance, learning to see her parents for who they are and were, emphasized to me the importance of family relationships.

I was a latch-key kid but Katherine has told me many times that she appreciated how her mom was there for her when she came home at the end of the school day. Although I can’t speak for her, I imagine that even the benefits of traveling abroad (and Katherine has done that too) couldn’t compare to the joy and fun of her mom greeting her with cookies and a hug…and a listening ear.

While I’d love for our daughters to learn Cantonese or Mandarin, or study physics with Ph.D.s for tutors, as Philip Greenspun imagined, what I want most of all is to have a close relationship with them. Perhaps for some kids, traveling abroad would still create strong ties to moms and dads at home. But for now, as I contemplate the idea proposed in this post, I think I want that extra time with our girls, time to hug and hold them, ride bikes and play Scrabble, tickle and tease. Only too soon they will leave our home and travel away for the rest of their lives. The years of high school – whatever high school is – are numbered and few in the perspective of parenthood, so short compared to the length of life and the legacy these relationships leave, long after childhood has passed.

[ thanks to Chris O’Donnell for the pointer.]

Tags: homeschool

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chris // Jul 14, 2004 at 5:00 am

    Remember, Phil is a MIT Professor with no kids! Can’t really expect him to grok the closenes you feel with a child.

    I don’t think I would have complained if my parents had sent me overseas for a year when I was 16! Actually, I was overseas when I was 16…but the whole family was there.

  • 2 Katherine // Jul 15, 2004 at 7:31 am

    Overseas as a grown woman, enjoying a vacation with my mother, her husband, my husband, my two brothers, their wives, and the 5 grandchildren…a family who benefitted from mom being “at home” from birth through college…a busy, volunteering, energetic, giving mom…who continues to give. I am so glad I get to follow in her footsteps as a full-time mom.

  • 3 Z // Jul 28, 2004 at 10:57 am

    There are alternative schools, free schools and unschooling. Unschooling is basically not formal education led by your interests.

    I’m not the expert in case somebody wants to debate. Ask the unschoolers themselves and their parents.


    there’s alternative programs for teens too