Home Schooling: Educational Independence

crispydoc Uncategorized 23 Comments

[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?

Credentials

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.

Commitment

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.

Opportunity Cost

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.

Socialization

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.

Advantages

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.  

Disadvantages

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.

Comments 23

  1. Thanks CrisplyDoc and Gasem. I’ve been curious about this for awhile and was anticipating this guest post!

    Very informative and definitely shed some light on the subject for me. In terms of opportunity cost, I had no idea home schooling generally costs so much. Do you get a tax credit for home schooling instead of public schooling? You mention ” the level of violence, chaos and pathology was something she wasn’t going to put up with for our kids”… are you referring to public schools?

    Thanks again for the post!

    1. It just cost me that much since we were doing it while creating the pile. If you’re at a level of spending half your time traveling, clearly you’re already nearly retired and living in some kind of passive income bubble so the lost opportunity cost is much lower, and the gained family experience is much higher. In terms of tuition, I wanted a specific kind of education. My kids got Beowolf in the 6th grade and daughter #2 loved that poem. They learned Latin and Greek while learning history and architecture etc. They learned the natural flow of science and philosophy and studied the Greek philosophers, Aquinas etc so I was willing to pay for that. My kids had no idea what they were getting until they got into college and both of them were amazed how different and positive their educational experience had been and at what a deficit some of their friends operate at. Money well spent IMHO.

      If you go with the state as provider it’s free yet still can be very robust in terms of education. In terms of chaos and violence my wife had contracts treating disadvantaged and diagnose-able children at the pre-school level in the north county where we live, and it was constant hitting yelling screaming and acting out including sexual acting out. If a 5 year old kid is sexually acting out you can well bet on the chaos he/she comes from. That population was going to be mainstreamed into the local schools. My kids had a lot of training pre-school. My daughter could sign 80 words and carry on a conversation at 18 months while she was still pre-verbal. She was reading the dictionary and reference books at 5, so sending her into a milieu of chaos and acting out and lowest common denominator wasn’t in the cards. It may sound arrogant and I don’t blame the school system for being what it is, I have many teacher friends, but I had the power to determine my kids scholastic environment so I acted to do that. It is what it is. No judgement.

      I don’t believe there are any write offs until college if you qualify. I never qualified until I retired.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience Gasem. I’ve always wondered about homeschooling and thought it might be a good alternative. But my wife and I work full-time jobs and it’s just not possible. We can barely get food on the table and get them bathed in the evening. My challenge is getting my third grader to sit still for 10 min just to read to him at night. I think he acts differently with me than at school. He has to bounce the ball 10x, drink some water, scratch his foot, etc for like 30 min before he sits down. I don’t think I could teach him for 3 hours each day. Or maybe I should get him tested for ADHD.
    In any case, is there a curriculum to supplement their regular school learning? I’d be interested in that.

    1. Hey MD, there are all kinds of vendors. When they were preschool early grade school we had them in some Latin classes by a teacher in Kentucky They enjoyed that, since my wife knew some Latin and I did too we played around with it as a family I’m sure there are all kind of supplemental things you can find. If you want school subject specific things like math try Kahn Accademy https://www.khanacademy.org/ it’s free. Well developed lessons. Homeschool would be hard to pull off with 2 full time jobs

    2. MD-I had a REALLY frustrating experience trying to do the reading homework with my first son when he hit kindergarten (they read by October in our school). Turns out, the school curriculum is all wrong for him. It’s primarily visual, secondarily auditory. Rarely tactile. After I learned about the three ways people learned, I realized he’s primarily tactile, secondarily auditory. So I hired a tactile teacher to come in once a week to our house during the school year (costs $45/hour). Best $ I spend all week. Kid is ending first grade reading at a fifth grade level. And get this—reading is his hands down favorite activity! (aside from playing with legos) I never would have expected that after all the stuff we went through with him (your experience sounds like what we started out with. That and crying—both of us, lol). Best of luck! (if you google “home schooling” and “auditory visual kinesthetic learning” you will find a plethora of articles on this to read).

  3. Gasem, do you recommend other, more secular/more diverse programs online?

    My kids already go to French Catholic school, simply because we live in a rural Canadian area, and I would like them to be exposed to a wider range of thought. I was happy with the public system when they were small, but have found it less challenging as they get older. I’m wondering if I can supplement them with something besides Khan Academy and coding and that sort of thing.

    Thanks and congrats!
    Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa

      There are all kinds of vendors. I wanted something classically based. It also gave them classmates because the same kids tended to show up year after year and kids being kids are naturally friendly and into forming relationships. My program was extremely well thought out, integrated and implemented as a curriculum. It wasn’t a “Catholic” education per se’, they read everything including the Koran, and were widely exposed to different ideas. It was a true classic liberal arts Socratic education which is exactly what I wanted. It was not post modern at all. They can choose what to think as adults they don’t need to be brainwashed as children. The whole was more than the sum of it’s parts because similar concepts showed up in different classes are were reinforced.

      Kahn while competent I don’t think is as well thought as a whole. Never the less we also substituted and augmented from a variety of vendors to get the job done. Good luck.

      1. This is what I wanted for my kids to glean from their education:

        “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

        JK Rowling copied from your website.

        1. Many thanks, Gasem, for weighing in and checking out my website. I absolutely want to give my two that sense that sense of rightness and intellectual rigour and teamwork that yours have found.

          Congrats also on building wells and giving away goats around the world! We contribute to the Madagascar School Project for the same reason, just on a much smaller scale. <3

  4. Gases-What are your thoughts on Classical Conversations? It seems to be hitting our area by storm. And yes, I have a friend who moved to Cambodia who uses Florida Virtual school for her son and it works out well. MD-I have a friend who uses a tactile math curriculum at home with her son and he’s excelling like he never did when he went to traditional school.

    1. I did the religious education of my children myself organically as a natural outgrowth of our family life, but there is a home schooling community in our town that is very much along the lines of Classical conversations, trying to inculcate an aspect of worship as an underlying basis of education. That tactic was not my tactic. Their group has something called Tuesday School where special classes are taught by the more expert of the home schoolers, Math some science, Spanish etc. There usually are teachers who decided to home school and some of them find a calling in teaching Tuesday school. My kids did a few Tuesday school classes and my wife taught Latin. There is an amazing variety that is offered.

      My interest in classical education came from my own education and also going to a Jesuit medical school which was based in a more classical format. I read a book about classical education program at the University of Kansas where 3 liberal arts faculty created an intensive truth seeking major based in a fairly in depth survey of Western Culture primarily based in Great Books, that had such an impact on education, kids were becoming radically engaged in truth seeking, enough that the faculty wound up being put on trial by the university. Robert Carlson a journalist wrote a book on the matter which I read, called “Truth on Trial liberal education be hanged”. I met Carlson at a philosophy conference at Notre Dame, and years later his grand daughter and my daughter wound up becoming best friends in college, and my daughter did the photography at her wedding yesterday. (Small world) I was interested because I taught at the college level before medicine, and my wife was even more interested than me so it was a perfect fit for us.

      I’m not into pushing an agenda. I do believe that children belong to their parents to the age of majority and its up to the parents to settle on the right course of education for their kids. A Hindu friend of mine sent his kids to the local Catholic school because he liked the order they provided. I think he went to Catholic school when he lived in India. I just wanted to share my experience with an education that could fit well with a location independent family.

    2. BC it turns out there are very specific connections to tactility and motion connected to learning, especially to kids deprived in babyhood. My wife is a pediatric OT and did a LOT of tactile stimulation with kids in her practice to both tune up and turn down deficits and excesses. My own daughter is an adopted orphan from China (actually both are adopted orphans) who was not allowed to crawl and we had to do a lot with her. It turns out there are some mid brain structures that need bipedal and side to side motion and tactile stimulation to wire correctly.

      1. Gasem, thanks for the thoughts and info! Really appreciated it. The curriculum you all used sounds like the classical education I keep hearing about from all sorts of people in all walks of life. I am like “What is this that everyone is talking about?!” And yes, one of my BFF’s (a Muslim) went to Catholic school growing up because her parents thought it was the best school around since it was the only private one (she loved the hymns). And good to know about the brain structures connecting—when we go to Legoland my tactile son runs up to the Life size Lego structures…wait for it…and runs his hands over all them! That’s how he “sees” them in his brain and remembers them. (meanwhile all the rest of us are oohing and ahhing as we merely look at the structures)

  5. Thank you so much for this! My boys are young (2 years and a 4 month old) but we have been talking about homeschool a lot now that we are location independent. My mother-in-law, a retired public school teacher, is vehemently against it but reading this made my husband and I smile and we will certainly be continuing our research.

    1. We just celebrated the “new graduates” today at Church. 4 of them were home schooled, 4 of them graduated with AA degrees dual enrollment at the local college, 4 of them are going to the colleges of their choice like Fl State, University of Central FL in things like Mechanical engineering. My own 2 are going to their first choice schools, and #1 graduated cum laude a week ago. They are both adult and funny as hell. Grandma doesn’t need to worry.

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