[Ed: If you follow physician financial blogs or fora, you’ve undoubtedly come across the prolific comments of Gasem, a retired 60ish anesthesiologist whose unusual life trajectory cannot be done justice by a brief introduction. His writing is brutally honest, his insights are rational yet run counter to accepted dogma, and his prose is engaging and manic.
Many of us pursuing FI seek to spend more time exploring the world through family travel, but the school calendar gets in the way of our dreams. Gasem and his wife opted to home school their daughters. I feel extremely fortunate that he’s agreed to write about his experience raising kids who are resilient, self-motivated, academically accomplished and socially adept.]
The etiology of this article was from a Christopher Guest Post CrispyDoc wrote over on the esteemed PoF website. Many in the FIRE crowd are creating money machines that can be run virtually from anywhere, all you need is a reliable internet connection. When the wander lust hits you just go, right? Wait ,wait, the kids are in school… What’s a Mother to do? How about bring the school along?
How am I even qualified to talk about this? I did it with my kids and in doing so became moderately expert in the field. Education is an industry filled with vendors and products. The most common vendor is the State, followed by a myriad of private and parochial school systems. Then there are DIY systems which range from private online academies and curricula to mom and dad just teaching out of text books and doing fact sheets. The State does have some minimum mandates, but it’s not very hard to meet these requirements.
In our case we were interested in a classic great books-based education for our kids. I won’t go into the reasons, but our solution was to find a vendor that offered what we sought. Our vendor was the Angelicum Academy. I offer this since I’m familiar and the website gives a great overview of what is possible.
My kids went through essentially the entire program and daughter #1 graduated with a liberal arts AA and started college at age 17, 2 years ahead of her peers. She was very well prepared. Daughter #2 went through till her senior year and decided she wanted some “high school” experience so she spent her last year at the local senior HS graduated with a 103/100 GPA and got her diploma. She did not get an AA, but I’m into maximizing their life experience not so much my financial agenda.
Both kids are Dean’s list at their schools. Take away: you can do it, yes you can! The Angelicum wasn’t cheap. I don’t remember exactly but somewhere between $5K and $10K per year for 2 kids. The teaching was all master and PhD level scholars. The classes were intimate Socratic discussion and the kids were the same kids year after year so the kids developed many long-term longitudinal friendships.
The kids were scattered across the country and world and some of the families were traveling and schooling. Not so much traveling every day, but renting a place somewhere for a few months and spreading out, while still getting a credible school commitment fulfilled. We have met some of the Angelicum families over the years as our paths have crossed.
In high school we back filled some of the State’s requirements using Florida Virtual School. I’m sure every state has a similar vendor. FLVS is Florida’s school system in an online format. You can even do PE online using an exercise tracker. We used FLVS to provide languages (Spanish and French in multi-year format, government, some science, and electives like photography and driver’s ed.
You can use this as your primary vendor. It’s free, the course work is excellent, and the schedule is flexible. You have to make constant forward progress BUT you can zoom ahead if there is a special reason (like maybe taking a week to climb Kilimanjaro).
There is plenty of help available in either of these options if you and your kid get stuck. Pretty much if you suit up and show up and do the work you are assured victory.
You will have to pay attention and run a schedule but it turns out generally you can get it all done in 2-3 hours a day, especially in the younger grades (depending on your kids). In other words, there is a modicum of discipline involved.
In the mean time, you get to experience your kids learning and succeeding, and if there is any trouble it can actually get dealt with. My social justice warrior #2 was doing her volunteer work at a local elementary school and she was appalled to see kids struggling and virtually being ignored because there was no effective method of remediation. She came roaring home one day saying “I just may have to become a teacher! This is ridiculous! This doesn’t happen with home schooling. Problems get diagnosed and remediated because parents are on the case.”
You don’t have to be present every second but you have to be cognizant at some level. After a while it becomes second nature, especially for moms who have that third sense of “It’s too quiet?!?!”
My wife was the primary and it was her idea in the first place to home school. She had a private practice as a pediatric occupational therapist contracted across several venues and decided the level of violence, chaos and pathology was something she wasn’t going to put up with for our kids, and so began the quest for alternatives.
Financially it cost us quite a bit, since she first went part-time, then down to zero, but she was OK with that and I had already steered our finances so it didn’t matter. I would guess we left maybe $1.5M on the table but if life was only about money it would be a sucky life. That 1.5M so enhanced our families’ togetherness.
I already have 3.22 times what we’ll ever need. (I’m super anal about understanding our risk.) Money buys a portfolio and portfolios buy security. Owning two or three times basic security is not more secure except marginally. The experience of life is what makes you wealthy. We traveled around together as my schedule would permit and “school” didn’t matter. Since it was already an integrated part of our lives we just took it along and made sure we had some place to plug-in and access an internet dial tone.
Home schooling is automatically counter-cultural. You will get asked a million times “what about socialization???” like your kids are going to be Neanderthal or something. In my little town there are probably 100 homeschooling families and probably 300-400 home school kids. In my Church we had 10 to 12 home school families and about 35-40 kids. So what do you do? Form homeschooling groups of course.
In our group, my wife became president. I set up a Yahoo group. The yahoo group had a calendar and a message board. Moms could get together for play dates and fellowship and kids got together to be kids. Sometimes families would come together for camping.
Couples would get together for date night and Christmas parties and we watched each other’s kids grow up, go to college, get jobs, get married, have their own kids and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby. The Church had a youth group that included non-home schoolers, another point of non-homeschool friendships and interaction.
My #2 went to other church youth groups and summer camps and made hundreds of friends. I swear that kid knows everybody. #1 was into 3 kinds of dance and gymnastics so she had three classes of friends to hang with beside the home schoolers.
#1 is a pianist and created a YouTube channel featuring her piano and composition. She wound up with a couple hundred thousand viewers because there is a whole tribe of serious student musicians who love and encourage each other from all over the country. #1 is also an award-winning photographer with several hundred Instagram followers, another world-wide society she’s involved with.
#2 was hellhound to get a job as soon as she turned 16 so she got a job as a checker at the local Winn Dixie. She made $5K her first year and soon enough everybody in town knew her because of her personality. She has an Instagram with a couple thousand followers and is also crazy about photography. She has made an actual paying business out of it and learned a ton about marketing and networking.
#1 toured Italy this past Christmas as part of a Choral Ensemble and they had 12 gigs in 6 cities including singing for the Pope at St. Peter’s. Sound like Neanderthals to you? The point is it’s all life, rich and varied and fully lived. They went to prom and dances, had boyfriends, and I have the dresses hanging in my closet to prove it! It’s a life that may need a tad of engineering, so what. If you’re FI at 40, you have the horsepower and the means, if you only have the drive.
We kind of went whole hog but you can ebb in and out as it fits your life. Some of our friends only did preschool through 3rd to 5th grade. Some did through 8th grade and their kids went to high school. Some of us went straight through. Others FLVS to graduation. FLVS offers dual enrollment if you want your kid to wind up with an AA at graduation.
Out of the original 40 no one is on drugs, no one got pregnant, no one is in jail and all of them are making adult lives. If you are into sports the local HS sports are available like football or swimming. My #2 went out for track. I think the oldest in our group is now probably 27 and a couple of the old ones now have kids. Every year more and more are college graduates, business, media, engineering, IT, arts, teaching, etc.
#1 spent a semester in Europe studying and she saw many of the things she learned about in her great books and fine arts curricula. She put face to voice so to speak. If she had her druthers she’d move to Austria.
They missed out on most of the mean girl and clique stuff by not being held captive in the brick and mortar school. They missed out on the market inefficiencies of inadequate staffing. They missed out on inane curricula and agenda-driven teachers. I assure you they exist.
It doesn’t do itself, but it’s entirely doable.
You can opt in and opt out as it becomes fortuitous. If you want your kids to go IVY you will still have to build the educational portfolio but it certainly looks good when your kid has 27 stamps in his/her passport.
Gasem has kindly agreed to answer your questions as they emerge in the comments section, so ask away.