What’s the biggest problem with Homeschoolers?

First and foremost, even among “dyed in the wool” homeschoolers, there is widespread neglect of the Core Phase.

I believe this is because of our tendency to identify so strongly with our label of “homeschoolers” that our family culture becomes defined by academic achievement.

I remember when I had three little ones and knowing that I wanted to homeschool how anxious I was to “get on with it”.

I had learned to read before I even remember trying—I had an older sister who loved to play “school”—and by the time I was four I was an independent reader.

So I just assumed that my bright little kids would also find it easy—and I considered that the measure of my success for a time.

I was impatient and self-conscious and worried that I would fail.

Thankfully, our first child was one who would not be rushed.

I hadn’t realized until several years later how critical that was for the culture of our family and the application of the principles that we promote.

Because Little Oliver was more like his father (who did not read fluently until he was almost 12 years old), I felt that it would be best for our family not to emphasize reading as a skill by which they should measure their worth, intelligence, knowledge or ability to succeed in new endeavors.

I purposely steered our “school” time toward things that fortified the children as individuals and established our family culture, waiting for the cues that Oliver was ready (both developmentally and emotionally) to master reading.

The happy result was that we discovered for ourselves the purpose of the Core Phase.

Because we have tried to feed the spirit and the intellect on content rather than skills mastery, and because we have waited until they are anxious to apply themselves to the task, the children not only have that fearlessness that I referred to, but they have the innate sense that their education is their own responsibility.

My husband and I are examples, mentors, guides, facilitators, but they cannot expect us to educate them.

They intuitively know that it is their job to supply the desire and the effort necessary in order for them to achieve their personal, spiritual and educational goals.

In a word, they will have to educate themselves.

I have witnessed many well-intentioned mothers and (particularly) fathers (ourselves not excluded) who pressure their children into structured time and activities that model public school settings and timetable.

They cite the need for self-discipline and excellence as the reason for their strivings.

I would suggest that self-discipline and excellence are internal values, and are not developed in an environment of compulsion.

I also believe that it is difficult to teach these values without a physical medium that allows the student to see the workings of choice and consequence.

By this I mean, learning excellence is easier and teaching self-discipline is more effective when the child sees the natural consequences of his or her choices, as in:

“If I say that I weeded my rows of the garden, when I really didn’t, everyone will know it isn’t true, and I’ll have to do it later anyway and it will be more difficult if I put it off.”

Caring for animals and gardens provide the routine, repetition, and reward that the child’s mind can grasp.

These have been our methods of choice, but I know of another family that I look up to that has used the father’s dental practice as their medium.

The oldest child is a certified dental assistant who, in her teens, was working on her college degree with George Wythe College Distance Learning, having paid for the entire undergraduate program in advance with her own earnings (she is successfully in Scholar Phase).

The children went early each morning with their parents to do the janitorial and other preparatory work before the office opens for the day.

It isn’t too difficult for a relatively young person to understand that they can’t cut corners when sterilizing dental equipment without serious repercussions; they learn to take pride in their cleaning when the professional appearance of the office directly affects the family’s well-being, reputation and prosperity.

In the examples I have given (and there are probably as many ways to teach these principles as there are parents reading this article) consequences are nearly immediate and the necessity of consistency and exactness become obvious as they experience the consequences of their choices.

In this way the child learns self-discipline and excellence in a very personal and internal way.

Then when he is older and is having a hard time mastering some math skill or wants to develop an article to submit to a magazine, no one needs preach to him what self-discipline or high standards of excellence will get him.

He learned those lessons getting dirt under his fingernails when he was only seven.

While neglect of the Core Phase is a great problem there is, as you would expect, an equal and opposite problem: those who do discover and capitalize on the Core Phase can tend to take it and use it for their whole philosophy, as if that’s all there is.

It is the foundation, but virtue isn’t the single attribute we’re to acquire.

We need to proceed onward and incorporate others.

From the very first, the thing the parent must do is model scholarship; that’s the parent’s job.

It’s not the parent’s job to educate the children but to model self-education.

In a home with adult examples (and that’s not full of distractions and addictions), the child will naturally move from Core to Love of Learning and then on to the Scholar Phase.

In fact, they will want to follow you into Scholarship before they’re ready.

They’ll go back and forth; they will model scholar behavior for a few hours—then give it up for six months.

We tend to press kids when they’re just tiny.

Everyone around them seems frantic about their learning.

They live in a state of tension.

We give them tasks just ahead of their developmental stage and force them to reach for things that are uncomfortable.

They feel stupid.

By the time they should be moving into the Love of Learning they don’t have the will to try anymore.

Children in public schools will have received a significant portion of their homework assignments by the time they are twelve.

Then in their teens they’re told, “These are the best years of your life. Go to assemblies. Play sports.”

It’s 100% backwards.

Oliver has said that his goal is to get people to take the pressure off when the children are young and get them to put the pressure on when they are older.

About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. Suzei Pov October 28, 2010 at 6:13 am - Reply

    Excellent article!

  2. Michelle October 28, 2010 at 7:30 am - Reply

    Another timely article! Thank you for your inspiration.

  3. Christy Peterson October 28, 2010 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Loved it, thanks for the reminder.

  4. Ammon October 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Thank you for pursuing your mission, it helps me learn to pursue mine.

  5. Susan October 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Rachel, for this article. If I can make an analogy, reading it felt like I had gone for a massage and the masseuse had found a really sore, achy spot that I wasn’t fully aware of.

    My son is 18 now, and I wish, wish, I had understood this better when he was young. He’s having to learn it the hard way now. But, then, perhaps we all learn it “the hard way,” no matter what age we are.

    • rachel October 28, 2010 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      Wow, I don’t know whether to say, “Thank you” or to apologize! I am a fatalist/optimist, though; I honestly believe that the challenges we lay on our children as we do our best with what we know and what we have are precisely the struggles that will lead them to successfully achieve their mission–as they overcome “us.”

  6. Leah October 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    “…self-discipline and excellence are internal values, and are not developed in an environment of compulsion…”

    Ai. This trusting the process bit is taking more out of me than I’m wanting to give, and yet I see the wisdom in it at the same time. Curse you, rd, in a blessed way, of course! ;o)

    • rachel October 29, 2010 at 5:49 am - Reply

      A curse from you is a blessing, dear Leah!

      xoxo rd

  7. KimHeaton October 28, 2010 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this.
    I have anxiety EVERY day because I’m not giving them any “curriculum”.
    I know in my heart TJEd is the best thing for them, but my own conveyor belt education keeps nagging me in the back of my mind, and I worry about everything we are NOT doing. But I (try to) hide my anxiety and “let them be little” while we read and work and play together.

    Honestly, I envy their childhood. It’s the childhood I would have wanted, but never got to experience.
    I just have to trust you that the rest will come in time.
    (It will right?)

    • rachel October 29, 2010 at 5:52 am - Reply

      Kim: I think every parent has to find the answer to that question individually; and then, once you have your answer, you have to squelch the voices that try to dissuade you from your ideals. There’s fine-tuning at every other turn, and that’s what keep the inspiration fresh. But you have to take your orders from the right Voice. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by listening to idle fears, by comparing yourself to a process you have rejected, etc.

      I liken it often to gardening. If you choose to be an organic gardener, and then constantly compare your crop to the impressive visual appeal Stepford Tomatoes in the store, you’re comparing apples to oranges. (forgive the confused metaphor!) If you are going for nutritional content in your tomatoes, then with any integrity you’re not vying for the visual prize. Do a nutritional comparison on the Stepford Tomatoes and then you know if you’re on the mark. You’re still comparing one tomato to another. And in the generic, that’s helpful in making a decision about which model suits you in general. But your kids are not generic. And that’s the point of TJEd.

      Two other ways to go:

      1) measure the same child against what he would be like on the conveyor belt
      This one has a lot of merit. It requires a bit of hypothetical thinking; but that’s not a reasonable rejection, as any criticism or analysis of any scenario is likewise hypothetical. As a mom/dad, you sort of know what kinds of challenges might confront your kids:

      One might get caught up in the achievement/pleaser cycle

      One might run with a non-conformist crowd for no good reason other than the off-beatness of it
      One might become withdrawn and be plagued by self-doubt because he doesn’t understand or play politics
      One might thrive in the system for all the right reasons
      One might be the smartest kid in the class and completely pass on doing the work because it didn’t seem like a worthwhile assignment

      In any case, hopefully you have reasons sufficient to you for which you chose a different model for your kids. What are the measures of success in that model? Those should be your criteria; don’t allow yourself to choose one model for it’s merits and then try to conform to the other model’s outcomes.

      2) Measure what you’re doing against what you feel you are inspired to do.
      In my opinion, the last is the most abstract and the most exigent. And in the end, it’s the one that really, really makes all the difference.

      The upcoming newsletter will address how to deal with the doubts and fears that sometimes plague us on our journey. Stay tuned for that!

  8. Michelle October 29, 2010 at 2:40 am - Reply

    Thank you RD for writing this.

    ” we have tried to feed the spirit and the intellect on content rather than skills mastery”

    i’m going to remind myself of this every time I feel anxious my 6.5yo is behind many of his peers who go to school.

    ” the thing the parent must do is model scholarship; that’s the parent’s job”

    See that’s my big fear, that I am not modeling scholarship. I absolutely get the concept, but not really sure what it means by scholarship, and what does it mean for me – eg. one that I would love to do is to know more about world history. If I were to carve up time to study ancient civilizations for example, is that modeling scholarship?

    • rachel October 29, 2010 at 5:48 am - Reply

      I don’t know why not. And it can look very different from one parent to another. Depending on your approach and your level of commitment, it could be something as distinct as woodworking or music composition.

      Without a doubt, our generation needs an immersion in the liberal arts to raise the bar. We have some catching up to do in order to rescue our civilization from its downward spiral, and the current crop of parents and youth is feeling the urgency of that need. It’s so encouraging to see the renewed and widespread interest in the deep study of the classics; this will revive our culture and inform our choices as citizens, parents and individuals. I am optimistic that a Renaissance is in the making.

      That being said: in absolute terms, the “modeling of scholarship” does not necessarily mean a particular activity, but an attitude or an approach to your life’s mission and the type of preparation and continuing education that are required to facilitate your success.

      Julie Earley has given a workshop on the adult phases of learning–I think it is available here: http://www.tjedmarketplace.com/forum-2009/adult-forum.

      Hope this helps,


  9. Heather November 4, 2010 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Wow! This just gave me the clarity and reminder I needed to make a very tough decision that my heart was thinking was right, but I was feeling cultural pressure about for my little 7 year old. Thank you so much!

    • rachel November 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm - Reply

      You just made my day, Heather! Thanks for commenting. Blessings to you and your 7yo. I have one too!

      xoxo rd

  10. Sarah at SmallWorld November 7, 2010 at 5:40 am - Reply

    Great article!

  11. Nadene November 7, 2010 at 10:08 am - Reply

    What an excellent post! With my older bright, young learners, I didn’t seem to notice the pressure, but with a reluctant reader I am aware that her character is so much more important than decoding and reading.
    The Lord reminds me not use worldly standards for my children’s success. He is able to use even the unworthy for His purposes. My job is to prepare their hearts and ears to hear and obey Him. Such a life is trully noble.

  12. rachel November 7, 2010 at 10:41 am - Reply


    We had one child in particular that was not as quick to read as the others. I have written an article (sort of a mini-book, really, LOL) called “A Thomas Jefferson Education in our Home: Educating Through the Phases of Learning,” where I describe our journey in discovering the Phases. It’s available as a free download on our Bonus Gifts page: https://www.tjed.org/bonus-gifts/. Enjoy!

  13. Robin November 7, 2010 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Well stated. It takes the experience of a veteran homeschooler (I think) to see that what the world says is “normal” or “imperative” will not necessarily encourage the character traits in our children that we are striving to produce. I must admit, it has been a daunting task for me. It took me more than a decade to let go of the public school model of education. I am still learning, even after 14 years.

  14. falwyn November 9, 2010 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this post, and thanks for the direction to the bonuses. The thing that I struggle with is how to renegotiate Core myself. I struggle with structure, with organization, with work, even though I yearn to master – or at least improve in! – these areas. I am scared to death that I won’t be able to promote these things in my children since I feel I don’t have a good handle on them myself. But what with the challenge of organization, I barely know where to start with for myself. Is modeling scholarship (on my part) a way to renegotiate Core? I have found the information in your Leadership Education book about Erikson very interesting but I’m not sure how or where to go with the renegotiating.

    • Rachel DeMille November 10, 2010 at 6:39 am - Reply

      For me it’s helpful to remember that we don’t have to “drive” or “manage” the kids’ progress through the phases; it’s more like we have to not do TOO much to mess it up. Their natural course is through the phases, and if their needs are met in a nurturing and inspiring environment, they do pretty well, for the most part.

      How old are your kids? Is there a spouse in the mix? And if so, what’s his take on all this?


  15. falwyn November 14, 2010 at 8:41 am - Reply

    That is an important thing to remember… I guess I just know that I’m not really setting a good example right now. Too many distractions, partly, which requires simplifying and refocusing, I know.

    My kids are 8 and 6; my husband is very supportive in terms of housework especially. No doubt we could work together more on being clearer on family goals. I know he’d like to help any way he can. Usually I just don’t know what exactly to tell him, since I feel a lot of my challenge comes from needing more will power and I’m not sure how to get help with that. Thus my question in the above comment… 🙂

  16. Rachel DeMille November 14, 2010 at 9:31 am - Reply

    In terms of renegotiating: I really enjoyed the book The Bright Red Bow. You can find it here:

    You might find that a sit-down with your hubbie can help you sort out your priorities. You simply can’t be everything you’ll ever want to be right now, today. The best we can hope for and the greatest gift we can give our family is to do the *one right thing* that’s appointed for this moment, and then do the next right thing. Flawless can’t compare with RIGHT.

    Have a look at these blog entries: “Chaos and Measuring Sticks,” “Creative Accounting” and “Flawless.” Also see the artice in About TJEd called, “Getting Started.”



  17. Shari January 23, 2012 at 8:12 am - Reply

    “There is absolutely nothing to be gained by … comparing yourself to a process you have rejected…” That is BRILLIANT Rachel and I still do it on some level pretty much daily. I’ll have to post this where I can see it!

    One struggle I face is that my kids are 13, 8 and 4, and since I was not like this when the oldest was little, he wants to do anything I do with the 4-y-o! Internally I feel he should exclusively be doing something much more deep, yet… I regularly struggle with whether I should just let him join in with us (sometimes I do, sometimes not) or keep pushing him to “grow up” into a scholarly phase. Poor kid! Poor mom! lol I guess I still am looking for absolutes to measure my efforts by, even though I’ve rejected that model in practice.

  18. Rachel DeMille January 23, 2012 at 8:19 am - Reply

    Oh, my goodness, Shari! Sounds like you have a fabulous youth! I would absolutely let him join in!!! Core phase should never die, and his influence on your younger kids will be a blessing for your whole family forever. Congratulations!

  19. Shari January 23, 2012 at 8:22 am - Reply

    Thanks for your encouragement Rachel :*)

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