Every weekday, a small number of school buses rumble past my home office window. Last year, Eric used one pair of them, meaning rushed mornings and impeccably timed rendezvous at the stops. Not any more.

He is now school age, but is right here, most every day. We (mostly Juimiin) now have official recognition as his teachers, for as long as we deem appropriate. The role is not new: she’s played amateur teacher to both brats since the beginning. She had taught them how to read, write, and count by an early age. But why go on?

Good question, and one that local school staff and some friends/family have asked us. There are a whole sardine-can full of reasons, some of which are below.

One reason is “special needs”. A child who is well outside the normal range in several cognitive/social scales needs special treatment in schools. Hereabouts, some of this can be provided by Educational Assistants, at least for those abnormalities in the below-average direction. Since they provide one-on-one care, EAs are naturally scarce, even though they are not paid very well, and aren’t normally trained as teachers.

In the above-average aspects, kids usually have to fend for themselves. Some “gifted” enriched programming may be available, at least for kids beyond a certain minimum age (9 around here), subject to availability and constituting only a small fraction of time. Beyond that, one needs to rely on available time of the classroom teachers to customize the lessons. This too is of course scarce. Or one can try to have a kid skip a grade, but that can amplify differences between the unusual kids and the others rather than making them smaller.

Because of the scarcity, and the necessity to maintain classroom harmony/discipline, schools have an incentive to focus their special-education dollars on the most troubled kids. Parents and doctors know this, so sometimes they exaggerate the problems, in order to get a share of the pie. Others advise parents to literally harass school officials to provide more, more, more to their kids, in the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” pattern. With public schools, there is no effective customer/vendor feedback to reward honesty.

Private schools may be better in this regard, since the students are considered more like customers, but are obviously more expensive. The cost amplifies further in those numerous jurisdictions where one still pays taxes for educating others’ kids, but gets no share of that tax money for one’s own private-school child. The net effect appears to be that, except for the very high end, typical private schools may find it more economical to refuse problem kids than try to charge extra for them.

In contrast with all that, at home, customizing education to the strengths and weaknesses of the brats is possible to a considerably larger “sigma” than tolerable in a school setting.

Another reason relates to the desire to avoid negative influences. In all but the most selective / disciplined schools, kids unavoidably learn attitudes and behaviors and values that are at variance with one’s family’s standards. Bullying, abuse, political brainwashing, social engineering. boredom, stupid popular youth culture, even diseases join a litany of other school goings-on. They may be an acceptable risk to those who have no choice, but it sure is a step down from a loving, intelligent, civilized adult environment. One does not need to be a religious nut to look down upon this aspect of mass education. One just needs to accept that no detached professional or peer mob will commit as much positive effort to one’s child’s upbringing as a parent might.

A third reason is the time efficiency of public vs. home schooling. Because of the ability to infinitely customize the material, progress can be faster. Since there is no travel time, logistical overheads disappear. Many homeschooling families appear to get as much done in two or three hours as elementary schools do in a whole day, and leave lots of time for extra-curricular stuff. In contrast, with normal schools taking most of the day, they leave little time for at-home enrichment or extra-curriculars without heroic and exhausting measures.

There exist obvious disadvantages too. A parent must leave the workforce for an extended period, something that is just out of the question for many. For those who view their children as a disruption to their former lives, delegating their parenting and education duties to strangers can be a relief. Some may lack the temperament to learn how to teach. Some may entomb their homeschoolers in an antisocial cocoon. Our family has been extraordinarily lucky not to have our project vetoed by such concerns. There may be lots of people who could do it, just have never considered it, with the monumental inertia of the norm. Perhaps someone you know.

So, our experiment formally begins. The local school board has officially excused Eric from attendance, and Stuart is out of preschool. A few months or years later, circumstances may change and force a return to the normal system. But until then, the opportunity is too good to pass up.