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Why Every Homeschooler Is a Rebel (and Why That’s a Good Thing): An Interview with Peter Cook

June 12–16, 2017   |   Vol. 131, Week 2

Have you ever thought of yourself as a rebel? Well, according to stay-at-home dad and homeschool teacher Peter Cook, you are. Tune in to Homeschool Heartbeat to hear why that is—and why embracing that reality will help you craft the best homeschool experience for your children.

In this podcast, you’ll learn:

  • How Peter became a stay-at-home dad
  • Why Peter and his wife chose to homeschool
  • How embracing your inner rebel can benefit your kids
  • How homeschooling is a lot like parenting
  • Why it’s worth pushing through the rough patches

“Homeschooling is just a natural extension of what you’ve already been doing with your kids since the day you brought them home from the hospital.” — Peter Cook

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“Why did you decide to homeschool?” It’s a simple question, but there are as many different answers as there are homeschooling families. Today on Homeschool Heartbeat, hear stay-at-home dad and homeschool teacher Peter Cook explain why he loves teaching his kids at home.

Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Peter Cook. Peter is a stay-at-home dad and homeschooling teacher who lives in Maine with his wife and three children. Peter, welcome to our program today!

Peter Cook: Thanks for having me.

Switching places [0:29]

Mike: You know, Peter, the beauty of homeschooling is that there are so many different ways to do it. It all comes down to what works best for your family. How did you end up as the primary homeschool teacher for your children?

Peter: Actually, kind of by accident. My employer at the time was making cuts, and there was a pretty good amount of uncertainty about the future. And at that point, I was on my third manager. And when she left, I just knew something had to change. And my wife and I had talked about “switching places” for years. So when she was offered a really great opportunity for a full-time position at her place of work, we thought and prayed about it and decided to make the jump. We’d been homeschooling for a couple of years already, so part of taking on the new job of stay-at-home dad was taking over the schooling.

Mike: So how long have you actually been taking over the schooling?

Peter: Since 2014.

Mike: So Peter, what does your typical day look like?

Peter: Well, our curriculum has three major components: mathematics, Classical Conversations grammar, and English grammar are the major subjects. The CC curriculum includes subjects like history, science, art, music, and others throughout the year. So it’s a pretty well-balanced approach. We try to teach in the morning, primarily, so the kids can have some time to be kids in the afternoon. But we also try to take an opportunity to find teaching moments throughout the day—only my kids don’t call them teaching moments, they call them “sneaky school.”

Mike: You know, that’s pretty cool. How did they come up with that?

Peter: My oldest daughter came up with it when she realized we were trying to use a television program at the time she was watching to teach her about history. And she was like, “You’re being sneaky and trying to do school.”

Mike: That’s cool, that’s tremendous.

Why homeschooling? [2:04]

Mike: Peter, how did you first find out about homeschooling?

Peter: Well, my wife and I both went to public school, so we had no experience—no personal experience—with homeschooling. But we knew a lot of friends from college who were teaching their kids at home. So we talked to a lot of them, and we looked into the quality of the curriculums offered, and we just decided it was definitely an option for our family.

Mike: So can you tell us a little bit more about why you actually decided to do it?

Peter: Well, one of the major events that led us to take action was when our oldest daughter was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. And homeschooling kind of seemed like the best way to give her a chance to learn at her pace, without putting her in an environment that we knew had the potential to impede her ability to learn. And so far, that’s served her and our family well.

Mike: Well Peter, if I was to ask you what the most rewarding aspect of homeschooling has been for your family, what would that be?

Peter: I think the most obvious is just the time you get to spend with your kids and build into their lives. When I first became a parent, I thought “it goes by so fast” was a cliché that older parents told you. But it’s really not. It does really fly by. So getting a chance to spend that time with your kids is great.

And another is watching the kids kind of grow. Each week, [in] our Classical Conversations community, each student has to do a presentation before their classmates. And that’s helped our oldest daughter develop her social skills, her presentation skills.

And I would say the last, perhaps, is the one-room schoolhouse effect. We’ve seen the younger kids start picking up on things sooner because their older siblings are learning.

Mike: Those are good reasons, my friend. The one-room schoolhouse is the best—that’s the genius of home education.

Peter: [It’s] unbelievable how much more my 5-year-old knows than my oldest did when she was 5.

Mike: You know, the ones that really benefit are the younger ones, though.

Peter: Oh yeah, yeah.

Mike: Because the older ones end up being more teachers, but then they like that, so.

Peter: Yeah, teachers / test subjects.

Mike: Yeah.

Why every homeschooler is a rebel [4:08]

Mike: Peter, homeschooling offers families a lot of freedom to create a teaching structure that actually works for them. What advice do you have for parents trying to figure out the best way to divvy up the teaching responsibilities?

Peter: For us, it’s “go with your strengths.” My wife is much better at math than I am or will ever be, most likely. So it’s kind of natural that she teaches that part of the curriculum. I’m a writer and I’ve always been interested in grammar, so I tend to gravitate towards helping the kids during that part of the day. We both do the Classical Conversations grammar because that’s kind of a repetition thing. And other times, it just depends on schedules. I’m the primary grocery shopper and [I] cook most of the family dinners, and so sometimes, if the family wants to eat and some school still needs to get done, you know, my wife will step in. And if my wife needs to do something, I’ll step in.

Mike: Well, Peter, you already know this, but some people assume that if a family is homeschooling, the mom is doing all the teaching. But that social expectation can actually make families feel restricted instead of free to do what works best for them. Now, my question: As a stay-at-home dad and a homeschool teacher, how would you advise parents who are dealing with that assumption—whether it’s coming from themselves or from others?

Peter:  When I first started homeschooling, someone sent me a great article from National Review, and the author called homeschooling parents “the last authentically radical social movement in the country.” And I love that, because if you’re homeschooling your kids, you’re already breaking social expectations. You’re already a rebel. So the best advice I could give, I guess, would be to go out and find a community full of your fellow rebels and join it. Communities provide structure, they provide fellowship, encouragement. And spending time with other homeschool families will lessen those sort of self-imposed restrictions and criticisms by giving you peers to talk with on a regular basis.

Mike: So there’s a good part about being a rebel, apparently.

Peter: Yeah. That’s exactly . . . I think so.

Parenting is teaching [6:10]

Mike: Peter, we sometimes hear from parents that they’re afraid to homeschool because they don’t feel qualified to teach their kids, or they’re afraid of the commitment, or because it sounds like a lot of work. How would you encourage these parents?

Peter:  In a way, they’re completely right. Homeschooling is a huge commitment and a lot of work. That said, so is parenting. I don’t feel qualified to be a parent most days. But there’s no degree or training program that can teach me how to do the most important job I have. But if you’re a parent, you’re already a teacher, you know, and you have been since Day 1. You have been since the day your children started to become aware of the world around them. I mean, we teach our kids how to use the restroom, how to climb stairs, how to put on their clothes, brush their teeth, wash their hands—I mean, parenting is teaching. And homeschooling is just a natural extension of what you’ve already been doing with your kids since the day you brought them home from the hospital. You’re just adding some more formal subjects into the curriculum, so to speak.

Mike: Well, it’s interesting you said this about parenting: that you don’t really have a choice, do you?

Peter: Nope.

Mike: You have to parent.

Peter: You have to parent, and one of the most important parts of that job is teaching already.

Mike: But you see, I don’t think most parents think of it that way. They know they have to parent, but they don’t see teaching as a mandatory part of that.

Peter: I think you’re right. Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right.

Mike: See, I think you’re on to something. Because that’s how I think we have to encourage parents, is “Look, you’re going to have to teach, because that’s part of your responsibility. You might as well take the full responsibility for the education of your children.”

Peter: Yeah. Add history and math, and job done.

Mike: I think that’s the issue.

Peter: Yeah.

Mike: There’s nothing you can do about parenting. You have to parent.

Peter: Yeah.

Mike: But there’s something out there called a public school that says, “But you don’t have to teach your kids—we’re going to do that.” That’s the problem.

Peter: Well, it’s the idea that you need to be credentialed to teach your kids, that there’s some sort of special something that’s laid upon people when they get a teaching degree, you know? And I just don’t see that.

Mike: Well, the interesting thing, of course, when we were starting homeschooling in 1981 and the movement: the big hurdle was you have to be certified, you have to be a trained teacher to be able to teach children. And of course that wasn’t true—it’s a myth—but way back then, people didn’t know it, because you really didn’t have any success stories, didn’t have a lot of kids that were demonstrating that they could actually be good students and learn a lot with parents that aren’t certified. So we actually had to do standardized achievement testing of homeschool kids. And so we start finding out these kids are scoring 80th, 90th percentile, with some parents that weren’t even high school graduates but certainly not certified teachers. So that kind of blew that myth out after a while.

So today, I don’t think most people would actually make that argument. They know better now.

Peter: Yeah, I think so. Thanks to you guys’ work.

Mike: Well, thank you.

It’s not about you [9:05]

Mike: Peter, even the most optimistic homeschooling parents can get discouraged. The kids aren’t happy, you’re always stressed, your homeschooling isn’t making and progress—we all know the feeling. What encouragement would you give to parents who think they have to quit homeschooling because they feel like a failure?

Peter: For us, it’s been [that] sometimes I need to accept that we’re going to fail; things are going to go badly, we’re going to have bad days. But failure’s just—it’s not defeat. You know, failure’s just a lack of functioning. Defeat is being conquered, being overcome to the point where you quit. You’re going to have bad days if you choose to homeschool—it’s a given—and you just need to find a way to fail without being defeated.

And I think this is where curriculum and community home in handy. If you have a strong curriculum, you can follow it even if your kids are maybe scowling at each other across the table (which happens). And if you find a community, you can share your struggles and find encouragement.

Homeschool is work. Sometimes it’s really tedious work. And sometimes it seems like it will never bear fruit. And the best piece of advice I can give is: No matter how stressed, discouraged, or tired you may feel, it’s not about you. In that way, again, it’s just like parenting.

Mike: Well, would you be willing to share some of the struggles your family has actually faced and overcome through homeschooling?

Peter: I think we’ve faced a lot of the same ones that other homeschooling families face—bad days, days where the kids don’t feel like learning and you don’t feel like teaching. But one of the major struggles I think we’ve overcome was with our oldest daughter and her autism spectrum disorder. You know, figuring out how to teach her and keep her engaged in school has always been a huge challenge, but seeing the success of that has also been one of our biggest encouragements.

Mike: Peter, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show this week. Thank you for joining us, and may God continue to bless your family as you continue to homeschool. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Peter CookPhoto of Peter Cook

Peter Cook is a full-time dad, director of a homeschool program, and bow tie enthusiast who lives in Maine with his wife and three children.

Peter worked in journalism, public relations, grant writing, and higher education administration before leaving the full-time workforce in 2014 be a stay-at-home father. He is also a contributor to The Federalist, an online magazine covering culture, politics, and religion. He is a graduate of the University of Maine with degrees in journalism and public administration.

Peter enjoys cooking, lives in constant fear of stepping on a LEGO, and would likely challenge someone to a duel to defend the Oxford comma.

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