Are you struggling with doubts about homeschooling—maybe wondering whether you’re even qualified to teach your kids? Join us on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat as author and speaker Sam Sorbo shares her inspirational journey from self-doubter to homeschool mom.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Sam Sorbo. She’s an actress, author, speaker, and she recently published a book called They’re Your Kids: An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate. Welcome, Sam. How are you today?
Sam Sorbo: Thank you! You left out my most important role, though.
Mike: Which was?
Mike: And how many children?
Sam: I got three kids. Fourteen, 12, and 10.
The path to homeschooling [0:37]
Mike: Okay. So how did we get into homeschooling?
Sam: So, I didn’t have homeschooling really on my radar until the school just completely let me down. My oldest son was in second grade and I was very involved. I was a parent that participated, and I taught art in the class, and I took the kids to the library, and I did grading for the teacher, and I had a relationship with the teacher. And so one day, five months in—and my son had turned in a book report every month for five months, and I had never gotten them back—so that day in February, I said, “Hey, by the way, how are Braden’s book reports?”
And quick as a wink she said, “Oh, not very good.”
And I looked at her—I’m like, “What?”
“Oh no, they really need some work.”
And I’m thinking, “I never got book reports back from her. I never got feedback.” So I looked at what a good book report looked like and okay, my son’s book reports were not up to par. But as a new parent, you don’t know what the standard should look like—where he should be, or whatever.
I started doing his book reports with him every day after school, and I realized I was homeschooling. I was just doing it at the end of the day when everybody was tired and cranky and hungry.
Mike: So, when you put them in public school you had an expectation of what?
Sam: I had an expectation that the public school was taking responsibility for educating my children, and they weren’t.
Mike: So your children were not being educated like you wanted them to. Is that right?
Sam: Absolutely, that’s correct.
Mike: So because of that, you decided to do what?
Sam: I decided to homeschool.
I have one other story there. We traveled a lot, and we went away and I had to bring the schoolwork with me or the school doesn’t get paid if the work doesn’t get done. But they just throw a bunch of busywork in a folder and say, “Here, do this.”
And my son gave me pushback. “Mommy, my teacher doesn’t make me do this.”
Well, she gave it to me… And so all of the sudden, I’m seeing that I’m the substitute teacher. And you know the sub doesn’t get any respect. Look: the school forms a wedge between the child and the parent. It’s unavoidable. I’m not saying that it’s on purpose. I’m just saying it’s there.
Overcoming doubts [2:36]
Mike: Sam, what were some of the doubts you had about being a homeschooling parent when you started?
Sam: So I was very trepidatious. I took the whole summer to decide. I left it to the last minute, and I only decided to do the first semester. And I recommend that parents do that. Just say, “I’m going just to do a semester and see how it goes,” and don’t set yourself up for failure. Just enjoy the time, right?
Halfway through my second year I started really having doubts: “Are my children achieving the level of aptitude that they need, and [are they] where they should be?” And my second son was fairly remedial in reading. I worked very hard with him—he was not fluent. This was a burden on me. And there was a classical Christian academy down the road, and I thought, “You know what, they know better than I do. They know Latin. They know stuff. They probably know better than I do.” So I enrolled the boys there. And I took them over there and I explained to the girl [that] my son was gifted in math. So he finished the first grade math book by Halloween. I mean, he was just raring for math. But the reading, not [so much]—and I told her that.
So she took him aside to test him to see where she was going to put him in the class. And she came back and said, “Okay, you’re right your son is very gifted in math, it’s true. He’s about a fourth grade level and he’s in second grade so that’s pretty good. He’s also testing about fourth grade in reading, though.”
And I looked at her and I said, “So I’m the one with the problem?” And she said, “Yeah, kind of.”
Mike: So did you get over your doubt at that moment?
Sam: I enrolled them for six weeks. I lasted six weeks and I went, “I am back on a treadmill and I don’t like this.” And when I brought my son home, he was afraid of math. He was afraid of math, and I’m like, “What is that?” So I laid off the math for two weeks, and then we went back to it and we just sort of took it apart and did it for fun. And I got him back to enjoying math again. But I came this close to losing this battle because of my own self-doubts.
The fact is, God gave you your children not to punish [you]. If He gave me my children to punish me, He didn’t succeed, so … He gave you your children to be your children and for you to love on and for them to love you. And the whole school environment is disruptive of that relationship. And that’s why I wrote the book.
Mike: Well, I have to say, that’s quite inspiring because it sounds like you got over your doubts.
Sam: Pretty much.
Parents say to me, “I could never teach my child.”
And I look at them and I say, “So what you’re saying to me—you’re a public school graduate—you’re saying that you’re incapable of teaching a third-grader, and yet you’re willing to send that third-grader back into the public school that turned out the likes of you.”
“Exceptional core” [5:11]
Mike: Sam, in your experience, what is the greatest benefit that homeschooling has to offer?
Sam: The parent-child bond, without a doubt.
Mike: Wow, explain that.
Sam: My children and I are so close, and my children are close to each other. Now when my oldest was going to school, he was the popular kid. In first grade, all the fifth graders knew his name. He would have made, really, a really fine bully. I say that kind of lightheartedly, but he’s a leader and he gets, he inspires people to follow him. And he was coming home with this “I am so much greater than my siblings” attitude, and I really didn’t like that. I did not understand that that was going to be one of the benefits of bringing the kids home.
The benefits are so vast when you take your children out of the institution. And the harm that’s done by putting the children in the institution is so severe, and yet we are caught on a treadmill. I was educated by public schools—that’s the way you do it. And it’s very difficult to buck the trend, and that’s why the last time we talked you asked me about self-doubt. Yeah, the doubt doesn’t go away; you just learn how to handle it. But it’s hard for us because we think that this is the way it’s done—and it’s not. That’s why Bill Gates dropped out of college; that’s why Steve Jobs dropped out of college.
We have Common Core in our schools now. How many parents among the group here think common is good? You want your kids to be common. You’re striving for commonality. It’s absurd! We should be looking for exceptionalism. We should be looking for “exceptional core,” exceptional education.
You know another name for exceptional education?
Mike: No, what is it?
Mike: Oh, how outstanding. So what I hear you saying is, “I started [homeschooling] for education reasons.”
Mike: “But the real benefits that I see today from this is our family relationships.”
Mike: Is that right?
Sam: Yeah. Well, both.
Learning vs. regurgitating [7:01]
Mike: Sam, what encouragement would you give to parents who want to homeschool but who don’t feel qualified to teach their children?
Sam: Well, it depends on the age of the child. If your child is 17 and wants to go into nuclear physics, it’s highly likely that you’re not qualified. But if your child is young and entering some grade school age, you are more than qualified. If you graduated high school—or even if you didn’t, like me—you’re more than qualified to teach your children.
Mike: Hold it, hold it. You didn’t graduate from high school?
Sam: I studied abroad my senior year, so I never picked up my diploma.
Mike: You’ve got to go back and get your diploma.
Sam: Yeah, I guess I do.
The other thing is that there are so many resources online. And what we don’t teach in school and what I love about the classical model of educating is: in the classical model you learn that there are three stages of learning—the grammar, the dialectic, and the rhetoric. The grammar are the puzzle pieces. The dialectic is how to manipulate the puzzle pieces. And then the rhetoric is how to reiterate what you’ve constructed with your puzzle pieces. And we’re teaching kids to absorb information and answer questions on tests when what we need to be teaching them is how to learn so that when they get out into the real world, they can learn anything because they understand the method of learning instead of the method of just absorbing information that’s fed to them and them regurgitating it—which is what they do in schools.
Mike: So you seem to be saying that there’s a lot of teaching to the test, whereas what we really should be focusing on is teaching a child how to learn.
Mike: Is that right?
Mike: And is that what you do?
Sam: Yes! Absolutely.
Mike: How do your kids like that?
Sam: I encourage them to challenge me. We go look stuff up all the time. And the other thing I want to tell parents is: it’s fun. Your children really need to be the best investment that you’ve made, and if you homeschool them they can be. But if you send them off to school, it makes it much more difficult. And it pains me, the number of stories I hear of kids who come back from college disdainful or hateful towards their parents who are “capitalist” or whatever because they’ve been indoctrinated away at school. And I’ve got to tell you that’s a hard pill to swallow when you’ve been the parent for the child, albeit you haven’t actually been involved to that degree. So [when] you homeschool your child, the hope is—and it doesn’t work for every single family—but the hope is that you develop that strong bond that will last a lifetime.
The message you’re sending [9:20]
Mike: Sam, you recently published a book called They’re Your Kids: An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate. Tell us more about that book.
Sam: So, first of all, it starts with what’s wrong in our education system—and there’s a lot that’s wrong. There’s pornography in the classroom, there’s other inappropriate things that are happening in our schools, there’s a power struggle that’s going on—and actually the schools are winning that—for the admiration and the respect of the child to the detriment of the parent.
They’re teaching the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which holds that everybody has the right to a home, food, clothing, and medical care. Now a home, food, and clothing—those are goods, medical care is a service, none of those things are actually a right. And yet they are teaching our children that they have the right to those things. So those kids are growing up and saying, “Well, I don’t have a bicycle but little Jimmy has a bicycle. Why don’t I have a bicycle? The government must have cheated me. I’m angry at the government; now I’m going to get even.” I mean, I’m simplifying, but you get the point.
Mike: Got it.
Sam: So, the first half of the book deals with that, because I need to convince people they need to take a second look at education. And then the second half is about how easy it is to homeschool. It’s much easier to homeschool than to send your child—if you hold traditional values, then it’s much easier to homeschool than to send your child into the institution. And I joke, I say, “I love my kids, I would never send them to an institution. They don’t belong in one.”
Mike: Most homeschool moms don’t write a book. You did. What motivated you?
Sam: I wanted to motivate other people from the beginning. It started out kind of as a blog, and then I thought, “You know, I really should just publish this and publish all of the findings that I had through my journey.” Because here’s the thing: I had my blinders on; I thought, “Oh, kids go to school. That’s what they do.” Once I stepped outside of that and could look back, then I started noticing all the other stuff that’s happening. It’s really a decaying industry, the school industry—it’s a nasty industry. You’ve got Michael Mulgrew, who is the head of the teacher’s union, saying, “I will punch you in the face and I will shove you on the ground if you threaten my Common Core.” Now that’s bullying language from the head of the teacher’s union. And you know what, okay, he’s the head of the teacher’s union; that doesn’t bother me so much. But guess what all the applause he got came from? The teachers. We have a bullying problem in our schools—everybody’s admitting it, nobody is understanding where is comes from. Hmm, you think? Maybe? And I’m not blaming. Look, there are some fine, fine teachers out there, but it is a systemic problem that we have in our public education today.
Mike: As we close today and close this week, there’s some ladies listening to us out there that maybe still don’t know why they should homeschool or they’re still doubting. What would you tell them?
Sam: I’d tell them to get my book, because my book will convince you that you really don’t have a choice. Now, you can go private school or charter school, like there are other options out there, but if you really want the relationship with your child, make the investment. You don’t have to know all the answers; you just have to know where to find the answers. My kids did not lose respect for me when I went online to find them the answer—they gained respect for me. “Wow, Mommy knows how to find answers.” You see? And you can absolutely show your kids as vulnerable as you are, they will appreciate that.
When you keep your kids home, the message that you’re sending them every day is, “You are important to me.”
Mike: Well, Sam, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you and coming on with us this week and I know you’re going to encourage moms that are homeschooling that maybe are doubting and those that are in the valley of decision. Thank you for writing that book.
Sam: It’s worth the sacrifice.
Sacrifice and service [12:54]
Sam: So we talked about how the government mandates that you send your child to school, or at least educate your child. But the understanding is that you have to send your child to school. That kind of enslaves you to the school. What I do is that I’ve slipped away from all that. So I don’t have pick-up lines, I don’t have drop-off lines, I don’t make lunches, I don’t scream at my kids, “Where are your shoes? Get your books together, we have to go!” I don’t have crazy mornings like that. My kids leisurely start the day. They are due at the kitchen table at 9 a.m., [and] we start our work in a very civilized, peaceful manner. And I really—once I broke out of the chains of the system, I realized I don’t do PTA meetings, I don’t help out in the library, I don’t do the bake sales and the cooking and all of that stuff. And it’s a freedom that’s involved. So people think that it’s some sort of sacrifice. And I did say at the end of one of the times we talked that it’s worth the sacrifice and what I mean is it’s worth the perceived sacrifice. The gains are so much greater.
Mike: But isn’t that true about sacrifice? You really don’t gain anything until you put something into it and the more you put into it the more you gain.
Sam: Well, it’s about service. And I’ve learned incredible things about service through my kids, and they are learning that from me.
Mike: Because you are serving them.
Sam: That’s right.
Mike: Do they appreciate that?
Mike: Isn’t that wonderful? Well, thanks for being with us this week and until next time, I’m Mike Smith.