Parenting Without Punishing

Chapter 15


"A most fundamental human right is the right to decide for ourselves what we will explore in the world around us, think about our own and other persons' experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives." - John Holt [Norm worked as friend and colleague with pioneer home schooling advocate John Holt in the years before his death by cancer in 1985.]


When Joseph Campbell was nine years old, he accompanied his father to the Museum of Natural History in N. Y. City. Being shown there at the time were many carvings, drawings, totem poles, and masks of the North American Indians. The boy, mesmerized as he was by the wondrous display, began at once to explore the libraries to read all he could find on the meanings of those articles, and of the rituals, beliefs and lives of the people who created them.

That was in 1913. For the following 74 years - until his death - Campbell searched and researched, read, traveled the world, wrote, published, lectured, and taught about what he learned about myths and the influence they had on those who fashioned their lives by them. He became the most famous world authority on the subject, and his PBS videos are shown worldwide. (THE POWER OF MYTH.) Few have had such a fascinating, satisfying, happy life as Joseph Campbell, with the absorbing interest that began with that visit to the Museum of Natural History.

I do not have the facts about Campbell's upbringing, but it is a sure bet that he was not forced to go to the museum "for his own good". Or told to "look and learn", or admonished to "appreciate the beauty", or otherwise obliged him to make his father feel he was "getting his money's worth". Any of that could have killed his interest at once, because in being "shaped", the quest would have been robbed from him.

That's what parents and teachers do, they strip from the children the natural drive to find out about the world. The child becomes a repository of the stuff told to him, not a free agent on an adventurous search for that which can have meaning to them. That is the tragedy of schooling.


We all learn things so we can derive more pleasure from living and to avoid pain and suffering. It is a quest for happiness. That is the purpose of learning. Not to serve some master.

Anyone who cares about children, and who has taken the trouble to examine the nature and purpose of public schools, cannot avoid feeling outrage. Anyone who loves liberty and human dignity, and sees thru the propaganda and myths and lies that support this abusive system, want it dismantled and demolished at once.

What abuses? Compelling attendance; deciding what must be learned and when and how much; forced examinations, then grading performance and measuring against others who are to be viewed as competitors; labeling winners and losers in sorting out who will prosper in life, and who will not.... The list of violations of human spirit and self esteem is nearly endless. Have we mentioned the variety of punishments? Have we cited the 23 U.S. states in which children are whacked with paddles - ostensibly for purposes of "behavior modification?

By implication, compulsory schooling says to the child:

a. "We represent society, and as such hold you in distrust and contempt. We believe that if we did not force you to come here and submit to our "discipline" and learn what we've decided to tell you, you would never learn anything. You would never acquire discipline or decide to do anything worthwhile, and probably never hold a decent job and raise a family. You would be a bum, and perhaps a criminal. '

b. "If you actually do want to learn what you need to get along in the world, you are too dumb and irresponsible to take charge of your education. Only through us expert educators can you learn about living effectively in this world, because you are helpless to do it for yourself.

c. "You have to learn from us teachers about life BEFORE you begin living it. And you cannot learn it unless it is taught to you. First, the schooling, then the living. Life begins after graduation."


All but a tiny percentage of what adults know was learned outside of classrooms. Indeed, any educated person remembers that they had first to UNlearn what they had been taught in public or private school before they could effectively learn in depth about the world. Most of what they had been taught was inaccurate, a great deal was nonsense and some were flat lies on the order of babies delivered by storks. The idiocy and fairy tales that are taught about American history is a clear example of this. Past events are distorted or created from whole cloth to suit current political purposes, or to exploit the gullibility of the children, or to mask the teacher's ignorance or fear.

The myth has grown that if something important is to be learned, one must go to a school to learn it. It is believed that they will find there an "expert" who has mastered the subject and, because he/she is duly "certified", knows how to convey that learning,. Upon finishing the program, it is believed that they "have" it. Their certificate "proves" that they "have" it, their having acquired it from someone who "had it" and gave it to them. Life decisions are based on that fantasy. Unless the reader has just fallen off a turnip truck, he recognizes that as total and dangerous crap.


Here's an exercise that will illustrate the point. On a sheet of paper list the things you know how to do. Begin with talk, walk, run, skip rope, sing ... Leave it handy to add to for a day or two. It will never be complete, since you learn new things all the time. But after a time, check off the ones that you did NOT learn in school.

Among the hundreds of things I have learned to do passably well without having been taught them in schools are:

talking, walking, running, rope skipping;
reading, singing in harmony, whistling,
roller-skating, bicycle riding,
waiting on table, building with stone,
motorcycle riding, auto and truck driving,
heavy equipment operating, acting,
playing jazz piano, playing chess,
playing ping-pong, jitterbugging,
playing volley ball, making love,
performing on parallel bars, videography,
playing bluegrass bass, snow skiing,
organic food gardening, writing poetry
swimming, diving, water skiing,
playing basketball, target shooting,
speaking Japanese, writing war reports,
writing Hiragana and Katakana,
rowing a boat, motor boat operating,
writing military correspondence,
speech writing, playwriting,
public speaking, office management,
auto maintenance, overnight camping,
food preparation & cooking, ice skating,
food preserving, speed-reading,
book publishing, business administration,
newspaper & magazine feature writing,
magazine editing, magazine publishing,
investing in the stock market, tracking,
conference organizing, hair cutting,
seminar conducting, playing pinochle,
selling goods door to door, reading music,
handwriting analysis, body massage,
chainsaw sharpening, felling trees,
working with a horse, winter camping,
setting gravestones in cemeteries,
creative writing, book binding,
public debating, winter food gardening,
non-punitive child rearing.

No one taught me these things in some school. I simply did them because they were useful and worthwhile things to do, and I simply let my mistakes teach me. Some required more mistakes than others, some less. None killed me, altho my lack of expertise at times brought embarrassing moments. Some skills needed more practice to satisfy my desired level of competence. For a certain few I later sought out a teacher to assist me in advancing to higher levels of competence.

No one "motivated" me in any of these things. I learned them because I liked them, I wanted to do them, and do them well. They were sources of pleasure and satisfaction. Some served me as escapes from boredom; silently reading the music from hymnals, and singing hymns in harmony in church compensated for having to endure sermons about sins I had never dreamed of, and a hell that was too gross and terrifying.

I saw early on that most people didn't do the things they needed or wanted to do because of their fears about failing. So I decided I would try to do anything I wanted to do, and while there are many reasons why I might fail, fear of failure was not going to be one of them.

Hundreds of times I fell flat on my face, often before a crowd of people. That was years before I heard that wonderful quote of Michael Jordan's: "Twenty-six times I was trusted to make the winning basket - and I missed. In my career I failed again and again, and again, and again, and again. And THAT is why I succeed."

You can make your own list of the things you can do that you taught yourself outside of school, and you'll probably be as surprised as I am now as I read my own. (And I keep adding more as I write this. Did I mention typing?)


The law requires not that you send your child to school, but that you see that your child learns the three R's. You may be required to fill out a form for the county superintendent of instruction. Perhaps take certain tests, little else about the "basic subjects" like reading, grammar, arithmetic, social studies, and science. The present acceptance of learning at home is due to years of battling on the part of determined parents.

Schooling attendance is believed to be mandatory by law, "compulsory", but the education laws state that a child must be given sufficient instruction to function adequately as a responsible and self-supporting citizen: enough reading skills, arithmetic, and writing to read traffic signs, balance a checkbook, and write a note to mother.

In forty-nine states no special training for a parent is required to teach a child at home. Only Michigan demands that home schooling parents be certified in teaching, and I hear even there it may be revised. It is commonly believed that it is required elsewhere, but that is because school administrators commonly lie to parents. (During a live TV debate I caught in such a lie the administrator of a large school system in Upstate New York. He had told me on the phone the day before that unless I had a degree in teaching, I was legally bound to send them to school.)

The first step in home schooling is to simply stop meeting the school bus. It is legal in every state in the Union. That public schooling is compulsory is Big Lie propaganda spread by the bureaucrats of the monolithic school system, who get their state and federal aid according to head count. Hence, the dreaded truant officers and deceiving the public.

The myth holds that giving instruction is a mysterious and terribly difficult art and science, and only many years of training can qualify one to help a child learn to read, to write, and to do math. We do not need a degreed teacher to explore libraries, museums. encyclopedias, the Internet, the world. When school people tell you that, they are lying to you, as surely as are USDA's "Master Gardeners" when telling you your vegetable garden won't grow successfully without your buying chemical fertilizers and poison sprays. (The liars always have something to sell - or are pimping for Corporate America - ever notice?)

One caveat: One must be eager to learn together with the child, NOT "play teacher".



2. Subscribe to HOME EDUCATION MAGAZINE'S ONLINE NEWS, a free monthly newsletter full of the best internet resources, home schooling news, article excerpts:

3. Subscribe to Holt Associate's GROWING WITHOUT SCHOOLING

Growing Without Schooling
2380 Massachusetts Ave Suite 104
Cambridge, MA 02140-1226

Phone (617) 864-3100
FAX (617) 864-9235

Toll-free order line: 888-925-9298 E-mail:

[Summer '02 NOTE: GWS has ceased publication, but back issues of immense value to homeschoolers are reportedly available. - N]

4. Subscribe to the free national home schoolers newspaper, The Link. E-mail or call 805/492-1373 Website:

5. There is a 400-page pb book by Gold & Ziellinski: Homeschool Your Child For Free - "More Than 1,200 Smart, Effective, & Practical Resources for Home Education on the Internet & Beyond". Call 800/632-8676, or see

6. Scholastic offers workbooks & readers in basic skills for beginners (to age 7 or so), called "Jump Start".

7. There is help in science, math, phonics & more from Learning Resources:, or call 888/342-5381

8. Math Trips you can check out for on-line math: 800/695-9427

9. For a series of lessons on reading & writing, from phonics to journal writing, check out Reading Jane's Way, Inc. E-mail

10. The World & I offers abundant material in geography, history, anthropology, and related "social studies": call 800/8222-2822; or

11. For high school age: Independence High School, which offers correspondence courses, will issue a Washington State official high school diploma to graduates. See, or call 800/595-2630.

12. Preparation for the GED test & much more will be found at

13. Robinson's Self-teaching Curriculum offers "complete 12-year curriculum" on a set of 22 CD-ROMs. Write: Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, 2251 Dick George Road, Cave Junction, OR 97523.

14. For $17 you can get a newsletter that provides lists of free home schooling materials: 604/876-3377.


For the home schooler, the immediate community - indeed, the entire world - is a classroom. The things to learn and the number of approaches to learning them are seemingly infinite. The obvious sources of learning, besides libraries, museums, include bookstores, skilled neighbors, civic organizations Then there are movies, video tapes, audio tapes, TV specials, public radio, and, of course, the incredible Internet, which is like having a library, museum, and massive set of encyclopedias with interactive connections to the world's experts on any subject imaginable, all in your home.

One can take all school course K - 12 on the Internet, and thousands of programs , including many interactive via e-mail, One can take almost all college courses now via Internet, and earn a doctorate with almost no residential time required. All of the above, taken together, renders public schooling obsolete.


These suggestions for activities may provide "learning experiences" - (as if there were experiences one can't learn from):

Talk about the peaks and valleys of life

Do lunch with someone cultured and wise

Listen to the wisdom & tales of the elderly

Play chess or ping-pong

Visit an art gallery

Walk in the park, sketch what you see

Begin a daily journal of thoughts & events

Explore your local library

Find someone you can read a story to

Choose a subject and search the Internet

Volunteer for a community cause

Go on a field trip to manufacturing plant

Go on hike you have planned well

Go camping overnight

Attend a concert or lecture

Design an exercise and nutrition plan

Sign up for or audit a college course

Give a talk before a group

Create a work resume

Search help wanted ads for interesting jobs

Practice interview skills

Begin playing a musical instrument

Sign up for yoga or aerobic exercise


As a home schooling parent, it would be folly, even tragic, to "play teacher", that is, to fail to relinquish control of the child's learning quest by deciding what they should study and learn, and when and how they must learn it. Better, a facilitating role, assisting.

> "Children do not need to be made to learn about the world, or told how. They want to, and they know how."
Holt felt that it does not matter so much how parents begin home schooling, so long as they begin. It didn't bother him that people, at first, lined up school desks in the basement, and began the day with salute to the flag, singing the National Anthem, and a reading verses from Deuteronomy. Yet most of his writing was aimed at freeing children from the shackles of doctrines and closed-minded authorities whether religious or secular. John knew that there was hope for freedom of thought and inquiry so long as they escaped the conditioning and dehumanizing influences of school systems.
"Children do not need to be made to learn, told what to learn, or shown how. If we give them access to enough of the world, they will see clearly what things are truly important ... and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than we could make for them."

John Holt


The next most popular mistake is to order books and courses of study and follow them as rigidly as is done in school. It is not easy to rid oneself of the idea of "course content" and "subject matter"

There are dozens of organizations that are eagerly offering to take over the "training" of children's minds - (for a hefty fee), including an endless number of religious organizations who prey on home schoolers as a way to win supporters. Almost all mimic the usual schooling approach that you have already chosen to avoid. Most will - in obvious or sneaky ways - indoctrinate the child in an ideology/value system that closes the mind rather than opens it.

There are none that I am aware of that offer the approach that John Holt (and I) have taught to parents since the Sixties - that learning is about freeing the mind and allowing the natural interests of the child to grow and blossom, and bear fruit in the wonderful adventure of living. That is why John and I urged parents to avoid the people who are in the business of controlling children' minds, and we taught parents in seminars and publications how to be a facilitator as the child pursues his or her own learning. If it is not aimed at freedom, freeing the mind of both the parents and children, they might as well be enrolled in government schools or church schools.


Mack and Linda Rosen
Birds of many varieties frequented our side yard both summer and winter, so one day the boys and I built a bird feeder. The design included a large rudder to keep the open side away from the wind. It hung, bobbing from a maple branch and well out of reach of cats, outside our East kitchen window. We enjoyed close-up views of visiting Chickadees, Blue Jays, and Cardinals. Henry got a camera for Christmas, so many birds were captured on film.

On our country road, someone dropped off an affectionate, chubby half-grown cat. We named her after Linda Rosen, a fictional junior high girl in Kaufman's "Up the Down Staircase" who was "bursting with hormones." Then Mack showed up, a battle-scarred tomcat whose vocabulary was limited to one word: "mack".

The inevitable happened, and on the top landing of the cellar stairs Henry and Russell watched with fascination as Linda gave birth to a litter of kittens. Mack had made himself scarce, but he showed up later, fresh and happy from a recent fight.

All the kittens had to be named: Blackie, White Jump, and so forth, and we all watched at the window at the feeding birds. To our knowledge neither Mack nor any of the other cats ever caught one.

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