The Immeasurable Value Of Covering Material With Which You Disagree.

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Ed. note (Oh, boy… it’s never good when we start with an editorial note): Please read the whole blog post before gathering the pitch-forks and torches. I promise, I will be even-handed and it really won’t take you much extra time. Who knows, you might even find more ammo against me!  

One more challenge before you read on – Remember: Only cowards don’t click on links that they’re afraid of.

As I was preparing an interactive stock markets course for this fall, I started to wonder who would represent the majority of the class. Would it be the Christian Homeschoolers or the Secular Homeschoolers? Obviously, as homeschoolers, we defy traditional categorization – we don’t fit neatly into any box. However, I had some guesses, based on traditional notions of where we all fall on the sociopolitical spectrum. I suspected that this class would see higher enrollment from the conservative side of things, since they are more often affiliated with free markets and all that. I further imagined that a number of those on the secular side, would be more likely to view bankers, and markets, as evil, due to the fact that this is a liberal ideology and the secular crowd tends to be more liberal. However, the fact that I even had these guesses made me start to think about the significance of teaching material with which we disagree – and not from the perspective of, see why those people are evil?  The “see why those people are evil” approach is not teaching,  it’s brainwashing. Unless we are teaching all information outside of math with the critical analysis and an even hand, we aren’t actually teaching. Allow me to explain.

So, stock markets are incredibly complex, although, they can be broken down and explained to any high school student, and plenty of middle school students, by someone who has a solid understanding of them. I understand that some of love them and some of you hate them – and I can equally understand the reasons for both, as well. What I cannot understand, is how one can support or reject something that they don’t understand. In light of how much of an impact the markets have on our lives – consider that the market crash of 2008 wiped out millions of jobs and lead to a nationwide foreclosure crisis. It comes up in politics, it comes up in investment and retirement planning and it is a significant part of our society. If you don’t know what an option is, or what it means to short a stock, let alone knowing what a credit default swap is, then how can you possibly know which parts you oppose, or why? Unless we are outsourcing our decision-making authority to politicians and talking heads on tv, in which case, we are really in trouble.

Here comes the even-handed part: Christian Homeschoolers, are you engaged in the sciences? I don’t just mean teaching creation as fact and “teaching” evolution by making it seem like something that is patently absurd and false. There are many extremely intelligent Christians that believe in Evolution. I also don’t mean accepting evolution as a proven, objective fact – “strong evidence,” is not the same thing as objective fact. What I do mean to ask is: are you showing the science behind the theories. Showing it from a secular perspective, then showing from a competing perspective – both secular and religious. Yes, there are secular scientists that challenge the theory evolution. Few things are as settled as we choose to believe they are. In fact, it is only arrogance and misinformation that cause us to believe otherwise. The early church took over three hundred years to settle the question of whether they believed that Jesus was fully God. Beyond that, even with Roman Emperors killing people for so much as possessing a different viewpoint of Christianity than the officially sanctioned government view, we still end up with many different interpretations of the bible (as evidenced by the sheer number of denominations). Meanwhile, in far less time than it took for Rome to force the church to decide whether Jesus was equal to God, science has come up with myriad explanations – and changed almost all of them, as to how and why we are here, along with incalculable proclamations – many groundbreaking and many turning out to be completely wrong (1)(2). With that being said, we owe it to our kids to equip them with all the information available, teach them how to think critically, and allow them to figure out what they believe. As I am sure (almost) any Christian will tell you – one cannot receive salvation on the coattails of the faith of one’s parents. I would argue that the same is true of Atheists and those embracing the cult of scientism – your belief cannot sustain your child into adulthood. If they are told what to think, instead of how to think, they will have a weak mental framework, or foundation. It will eventually collapse under the weight of scrutiny. It is this belief that allows RealSchooling.com to honestly and unequivocally say that we are not hostile to religion or science – nor do we endorse atheism or any particular faith. We endorse the great search for objective truth and understanding, with the firm belief that the better we all understand one another, the better off we are.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey D. Hoffmann, Esq., Founder of RealSchooling.com and RealSchooling.blog

 

Being A Parent Means Being A Coach… So, What Kind Of Coach Are You?

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My 11-year old was taking a math test today and he had a weepy, frustrated, angry meltdown, when he was told that, despite getting all 20 questions correct, he needed to go back and show his work for each problem. Anybody else been there? Now, as the parent, I have a few options.

  1. Yell. Yelling is always great, isn’t it? I know that, personally, I prefer to be yelled at, as opposed to being spoken to calmly. Especially, when I’m already anxious, stressed or upset said no one ever.
  2. Threaten. This is an option. Sometimes, it is the required option. However, once you get threaten, there is no more discussing. No room for a teachable moment. Compliance by coercion teaches obedience – but, the message of this lesson will extend far beyond schoolwork. So, you might want to ask yourself if the adult that you hope to help mold is one that responds to situations by simply doing what he is told for fear of the consequences of thinking or feeling differently about the situation?
  3. Coach. Put yourself in their shoes. See the world through their eyes. Try to remember a time where you felt the way that they are feeling. Ignore your own frustration. In this case, it was pretty easy for me… You know the feeling: I’m almost done, I’m almost done, I’m… I’m being told that the program crashed, or that my application was lost or that I misunderstood and need to start over. That’s pretty relatable. As an adult, I still want to cry in those situations. Now that I’m not focused on being personally annoyed at having to refocus my attention on my kid and away from the other projects that I was working on, and now that I’m thinking of my role in guiding him, and not quite so focused on myself, I can talk him through it. I Don’t mean do it for him, but, I can give him the tools that he needs to get through, and learn from, the experience.

 

All three of the above options are available to all coaches and every coach has a different idea about the best way to approach whomever they are coaching. I would argue, that, where the immediate safety of your child is not at issue, the ideal order of approaches here is Coach, Threaten, and then Yell (note: you do not have my blessing to yell, unless you have read to the end of this blog post), and I’ll explain why below. Before we get into that, though, let me tell you what I told my son, to help him get through his meltdown.

My kids all play ice hockey and are all die-hard Flyers fans. They know hockey history extending back before they were born and are familiar with the good, the bad and the ugly sides of coaching. They know that there are what are called “players’ coaches,” the guys that the players will go to war for, because that coach has proven that he cares about his players. They also know that there are coaches that get players to go to war for them under threat of extreme punishment and making life completely miserable. So, I got down on one knee and looked my son eye to eye and asked him why he was upset. I then told him I wanted to tell him a hockey story and that I needed him to really pay attention to me.

This is the story that I told him:

Me: Do you remember when the Flyers were in the playoffs and they had lost the first three games of the best of seven series, only to battle back and win the next three?

Son: Yeah… then they gave up the first three goals in the first period of game seven…

Me: Yes! And then the head coach called a time out. Do you know what the microphones caught him saying to his team in the timeout?

Son: No… What?

Me: He said, “One goal at a time. You can’t go out there and score three goals at once. You go get the first one, then we’ll start thinking about the second one.” If you’re focused on all that you have to, on scoring three goals, or on doing twenty math problems, it’s completely overwhelming and you never get started. You just end up sitting there; paralyzed by your own anxiety and stress. So, don’t think about anything except the question that you are on now. Then, go to the next one. There is only ever what you are working on right now. Deal with what comes next when the time comes.

The perspective seemed to have helped tremendously. Will it always? No. Sometimes, you will have to calmly say, “listen, I understand that you’re frustrated. I understand that you are overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed sometimes. That’s just a part of life. But, when we can’t find a way to push through that, there are consequences: people lose their homes, their jobs, their spot on the team; or, in your case, if you can’t push through this, you’re going to miss [event or fun thing] so that you can get this done.” Then, if they don’t get it together, you have to follow through. But, there will still have been a value in taking the time to approach it this way. You may need to have the say conversation with them 1000 times before it all clicks – after all, think about how many times you still need to hear things for them to click for you! If it never clicks, at least you will know that you did everything that you could and that you didn’t leave them to figure it out alone – because you were too busy being frustrated/annoyed/proving you were the boss – you pick.

Yelling. Ohhhhhh… I almost forgot about yelling. I don’t think that yelling at someone out of anger or frustration ever accomplishes anything good. Even if it resolves your issue, because the person does what you want just to get you to shut up – it still isn’t productive in the long run, and you are modeling behavior for your kids. If you yell at them and then discipline them when they yell at you or each other, you escalated to modeling hypocrisy – do as I say, not as I do. However, sometimes, you just need to scream or yell and let it out. I’d recommend just embracing the fact that you’ve gone off the rails and just yell. Not at anyone, but, just you know, let it out. Then, once your kids know to expect this, you can all have a good snicker about it, and it will likely alert them to the fact that you’re a touch edgy today, and it might be best to try to get you extra grace and try to be a bit more cooperative. My parting thought: I’m telling myself, as much as I am telling you. We all need to work at this. It doesn’t come naturally.

Would You Have Solved This Social Media Mystery? So Far, I Was The Only One.

Don’t be a sucker…

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The other day, I saw an amazing quote on a friend’s social media page by an ancient Greek philosopher. Whenever I see a quote that I either love, or hate, I do what everyone does – I check to see if it’s legit. You totally do that, too, right? Never mind, back to my story… So, I start looking for quotes from this ancient Greek philosopher and, not only can I not find any quotes from him, I can’t find him, anywhere. Now the guy that shared this quote is very smart and has written his fair share of research papers. I deeply doubted that he would be unaware of the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) most of the quotes strewn across the internet are completely unrelated to the person to whom they are attributed. On the other hand, that left me with only two possibilities: 1) He shared this quote from his cell phone and it autocorrected to some truly bizarre word that rendered finding the actual author of the quote completely impossible; or, 2) GASSSSPPPP – he’s the ancient Greek Philosopher! I sent him a message later that day, out of a desperate need to know the answer, because, that’s who you’re dealing with here, folks. I couldn’t let it go. I needed to know the truth! “Hey, buddy!” I said, casually… “I was just wondering about the origin of that awesome quote you shared earlier. I couldn’t find the author anywhere.” I see the typing bubbles… He asks, “do you really want to know?” I responded, truthfully, “No one’s ever asked me that before! The answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.” Before he could respond, I hammered out the words required to indicate that I believed it was him. He confirmed my suspicions. He theorized that people would become more engaged in a cool quote written by someone famous – or famous sounding, then they would in a great quote by himself, so, he created someone famous sounding. In fact, over roughly two years, he’d used the ancient pen name more than half a dozen times, to increased engagement, without anyone ever calling him on it. No one knows that this ancient philosopher, whose quotes they are sharing isn’t real – or at least isn’t ancient. Or Greek… No one, that is, except for me.

I want to make an important point here: I fact checked my friend’s quote, even though I believe him to be the type of guy who is unlikely to quote something that was not verified; the type of guy that doesn’t share news stories which are easily debunked. Why? Because I fact check everyone. I fact check my own writing, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, or lean too heavily on something lacking the appropriate amount of credible support. I don’t place blind trust in anyone, because everyone makes mistakes.

I didn’t always do this. Actually, I started when I was looking to see where one of my favorite quotes came from, only to find that it didn’t exactly come from anywhere. Do you want to know which quote I was looking for? Brace yourself. You’re not going to like this. What if I told you that Einstein never said the “fish quote?” You know, the one where the fish spends its whole life feeling stupid if you tell it that it has to climb a tree, or whatever… I’m not going to bother quoting it perfectly – because Einstein never said it! Someone did say something like it, though. That guy actually wrote a great piece on education and Einstein gets the credit – c’mon people! Didn’t Einstein get enough credit for things that he actually did?! Do we really need to give him some other guy’s credit, too?

Once I discovered that Einstein was reaching out from beyond the grave to use the internet to steal credit for other people’s quotes, I became suspicious of other quotes. It turns out they’re all fake. FAKE. Ok, maybe not all. But, your favorite internet quote? FAKE. If not fake, then, misattributed, which is even more messed up, in some ways (because if the person that actually said it can be identified, shouldn’t they get the credit?).

Okay, but really, who cares that they are fake?

Why does it matter? For so many reasons. First, because we give more weight of credibility to the words of well-respected people. It means more to us if we have Einstein, Plato, Jesus, Michael Jordan, or Mr. Rogers on our side of an argument – subject to the topic, of course; I’m going to Jordan for basketball pointers, not Plato – but, I digress. More importantly, it reveals how bad we are at identifying what is real and what is a fraud. It runs the gamut, from the brief quote, to the social and political articles that proliferate social media.

I suppose it makes sense. The basis of K-12 education is, “I teach you the answer, you reproduce the answer on the exam.” There isn’t much critical analysis, there (note: that isn’t a dig on teachers. They are handcuffed by the system – any decent teacher will readily tell you how frustrating that is). You can tell me that it isn’t really like that, however, I went to law school – I sat in a room full of highly educated people as they struggled desperately to grasp the concept that there wasn’t necessarily a “correct answer.” There were different possibilities; different potential outcomes. They had spent seventeen years of schooling getting straight A’s, because they learned how to remember and reproduce an answer. So, when we leave the classroom, we have been trained to listen to an answer and accept it as truth – at face value. This doesn’t work – in the classroom or in the real world. If we don’t learn how to question, and fact check, we will always play the role of the useful idiot; the tool that someone uses to get a vote or sell a product (or news channel – you pick, Fox, CNN, MSNBC… they’re all selling you the opinion they think you want to hear).

I’m trying to protect your credibility, here. If you can’t at least sort the real from the easily refutable, then you will lack credibility with anyone alert enough to distinguish between the two. Even worse, is when someone – like one of your kids, places a great deal of faith in your words, and believes them, almost, blindly. This person may be devastated when they discover that too much of what they learned from you was based on urban legends, and misinformation.

This whole thing should make you ask yourself how many things you’ve read and just chosen to accept as true. It presents some major issues when we consider our ideological, political, philosophical, and theological beliefs. In the end, it all comes back to my friends question: “do you really want to know?” For me, the answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.

Jeffrey Hoffmann is the founder of RealSchooling.com, Real Schooling.blog, and is a practicing attorney.

Hey, Homeschooling Parents! Are You Raising Skeptics?

What was it about the title of this blog post that made you click the link? Was it a fear of the possibility that you may be raising a skeptic or the fear that you aren’t? Well, before you decide whether you hope to raise skeptics or not, let’s make a distinction between two words that can get mixed up. Cynicism vs skepticism. Cynicism, or the act of being cynical, is defined as being: (a) contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives, or (b) based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest. Basically, cynicism thinks the worst of everyone, always. It is one step away from wearing a tin foil hat. Meanwhile, skepticism is defined as: doubt as to the truth of something. While I discourage cynicism, I’d make the case for skepticism – now, more than at any point in human history.

Before I get into the how and why of things, let’s just review a few objective facts:

  1. There has never been a single documented case of halloween candy tampering, despite all of those warnings that your parents, teachers, schools, and I’m pretty sure, even the government gave you.
  2. Pluto, is not (presently considered to be) a planet.
  3. Scientists recently announced that they had discovered a new organ – but, that claim was challenged by other scientists, because, well, we don’t even have a universal definition for the word, “organ.” Let that sink in. We can’t agree on the meaning of the word, organ.
  4. We’ve mapped out far less than 10% of the ocean – the rest is a total unknown to us.
  5. Only a few years ago, we discovered that, despite whatever experts had previously told us, there are hundreds of billions more stars in the sky that we believed were there.
  6. You do not need, for any reason, to wait an hour after eating before you go swimming.
  7. We know and have learned a great deal about life, our planet and the universe… but there appears to be vastly more that we do not know, than the total of what we do know – yet we often speak in absolutes, or with absolute certainty.  If you want a list of fifty more things that most of us are wrong about, click here.

Now that we have a list of things that we thought were true but have been demonstrated to be incorrect, let’s talk a little bit about why we should question nearly everything (in a good way). It is our nature to be drawn to things that reinforce our own beliefs. In fact, there is even a name for this: confirmation bias, and it afflicts all of us, to varying degrees. The extent to which there are varying degrees of impact relates to our own awareness of confirmation bias, and our personal desire to seek objective truth above our preconceived ideas. Absent this desire for objective truth, all human beings are extremely vulnerable to confirmation bias. The practical consequences of confirmation bias result in only reading articles that support the beliefs that we already held. Alternatively, the extent to which we read articles written from a differing point of view, is to only read them cynically, looking for ways to discredit the author and disregard the unsettling possibility that we are wrong about something. This approach doesn’t provide us with a complete picture, though. Instead, we end up with a very limited perspective. In fact, we never hear the other perspective, even if we encounter it, because we aren’t contemplating the actual merits of their position, we are only looking for an excuse to discredit them. This would be a great strategy, if we were never wrong about anything and possessed the ability to see all perspectives on our own natural intuition. Sadly, that turns out not to be the case. So the question becomes, how do we eliminate the inherent confirmation biases that we each carry with us?

Well, that is where the whole “being skeptics” thing comes into play. If we desire objective truth above reinforcing preconceived notions of truth, then we must:

  1. Engage the situation as a neutral observer –  meaning that we don’t care about being right or wrong, and we don’t have anything to gain or lose if the author’s position turns out to be correct;
  2. Consider the information being presented with a skepticism – which is to say, to ask, “how did the author reach their conclusion? On what information do they rely? What research methods were used to reach that conclusion? What are their peers saying with respect to their work?”; and
  3. Drawing our conclusions from the cumulative result of all of the information that was acquired.

Even after all of the above, there must be a willingness to reconsider the conclusion that you reach when presented with new information, in the future.

Why Are You Teaching What You’re Teaching?

By: RealSchooling.com

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Albert Einstein was once presented with questions from the questionnaire to which Edison subjected prospective employees. When asked, “what is the speed of sound?” He responded, “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbook.”

I recently saw a discussion about good ways to help students memorize the periodic table of elements. Why? There is so much to learn – so much worth learning.

As you contemplate the rest of this year, this summer, and next year, I encourage you to re-thi your approach to education. Of course, we have to focus on science and math. However, instead of committing energy to memorizing “facts that [we] can easily find in any textbook,” or database, shift that energy to critical thinking skills. We live in a world of shoddy information. Developing the skills to be able to identify the legitimate from the nonsense, or the signal from the noise, is of far greater value to a person than the ability to recall myriad facts.

If you are looking for some other great topics on which to focus, perhaps consider some of the following:

  • Logic & Reasoning
  • Decision Making
  • Cognitive Science (the study of thought, learning, and mental organization, which draws on aspects of psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and computer modeling.)

Whether you attend a RealSchooling.com course on any of these topics, or pursue them on your own, our genuine hope is that your family has an amazing homeschooling experience, and that you all get everything out of it that is possible!

Best,

Jeffrey D. Hoffmann, Founder – RealSchooling.com, RealSchooling.blog

Communication Skills: (Defining)Words Matter(s).

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Okay, I know that you may already know this, but, it needs to be said: words matter. I don’t mean in the sense that “words can hurt our feelings,” or in terms of the inherent power of the spoken, or written, word – although, those are true statements. I’m talking about the meaning of the word that you’ve chosen to use – and the significance of making sure that the person with whom you are communicating understands the meaning of the word that you’re using – as you are defining it.

If that entire concept sounds like semantics, that’s because it is. The word semantics is defined as “the meaning of a word.” We’ve been very misguided in our dismissal of the significance of this task – and recently, a great example presented itself. You may have heard, recently, that scientists discovered a new organ! For now, I’ll ignore the fact that we still understand so very little of our bodies, earth, solar system, universe, etc., that there was an “organ,” that is so pervasive that it exists in a significant portion of the human body (a post for another day, I suppose). Let’s just focus on the fact that it might not actually be an organ (hence the quotation marks around the word organ, above).  You see, the thing is, “no two anatomists will agree on a list of organs in the body,” according to Paul Neumann, a professor of medicine at Dalhousie University in Canada and member of the  Federative International Programme for Anatomical Terminology. If you’re anything like me, you respond to that statement with incredulity and a solid, “beg your pardon,” or even a disbelieving, “come again. now?” How is it possible that anatomists cannot agree on how many organs are in the human body – a number which is debatably as high as 79 or 80 (yes, you read that right – they contend that there are as many as 79 or 80 organs in the human body)? Well, the answer to that is the easiest part of this story to explain. They can’t agree on the number of organs, because there is no agreed upon definition for the word “organ,” except in terms of the musical instrument.

The real kicker is that it doesn’t actually matter whether you call it an organ or not. Are your organs the most important part of your body? That depends on who you ask as well. To the person that has failing organs, I suppose they’d answer, “yes.” However, to the person battling an autoimmune disease that causes their white blood cells to attack their platelets (a condition called “I.T.P.”), the fact that neither the white blood cells, nor the platelets are defined as “organs,” is of no consequence at all. Therefore, the new discovery of some aspect of our human anatomy is significant, irrespective of the label given to that discovery.

You might think, well, that’s all great, but, I don’t discover organs, so why are you bothering me? You’re obviously right: you don’t discover organs. On the other hand, your work is significantly more important than discovering organs. You’re educating someone that has the chance to be taught the lessons that are completely missed in the traditional educational setting. Someone who will soon go out into the world – and, by virtue of the fact that you educated them, and are the type of person that is still reading this blog post, they will likely be the sort of person that succeeds and has a significant impact on the world around them.  Someone that has the ability to be the voice of reason in a society that has forgotten – or in some cases, never learned, how to reason. Our social and political divisions come down to a handful of ideological differences. However, the chasm that most of society has come to believe exist between ourselves and those that possess opinions which differ from our own, is related to an even smaller number of root causes. Among them, the failure to define our words, and the failure to define the meaning of someone else’s words.

Aside from being able to communicate better with everyone around us, the decision to carefully and deliberately define our words has the potential to determine whether our kids end up learning the lessons that we are trying to teach them, or, end up heeding the advice that they mistakenly believe that we were trying to give them, only to end up way off the mark, and incredibly frustrated.

Jeffrey Hoffmann, Esq., Founder – RealSchooling.com & RealSchooling.blog

Welcome To RealSchooling.blog!

RealSchooling.blog is the official blog-site for  RealSchooling.com. I founded RealSchooling.com with some very specific goals in mind. I wanted to give homeschoolers the chance to have the best education possible – not because homeschoolers lack something that students in traditional schools possess. It is because they have something that students in traditional schools lack: freedom! Homeschoolers (in most states) have the freedom to pursue their interests, the ability to redefine every aspect of their approach to education and the ability to greatly exceed any student in a traditional school setting – if they are given the right tools. That statement isn’t meant to be an attack on the traditional schools, though. It is just the practical reality of a student’s ability to hide amongst the other students, combined with the practical limitations placed on any teacher with more than a few students. For instance, if little Johnny is scoring 80% on his math tests, he doesn’t understand some portion of the material. However, the entire class cannot wait for Johnny to grasp the concept – they must move on to the next topic, because the needs of the group exceed the interests of the individual student.

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Sorry, Johnny.

So, why did you choose to home school? There are certainly many unique situations and specific factors, but, I’d argue that there was only one legitimate reason that unites all of us. Whatever the specifics were, you chose to home school because it is what you thought was best for your kids. You believed so strongly that it was the best thing for them, that you were willing to defy convention and social norms; you were willing to face criticism and interrogation from every corner. That takes true bravery and speaks volumes about how far you will go to give your kids the best opportunities that you can.

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However, as homeschooling parents, we wage wars on every front. From the outside, we defend our decisions. Many of us struggle to maintain a balance between trying to prove something to the outside world and focusing on giving our kids what they need. Inside the fortress of our homeschool, we battle with our kids to get them to stay on task, do the work that needs to be done, lesson plan, and maintain our sanity. Then there’s that war that we wage internally –  the one where we wonder if we are measuring up… with public school, or with our kid’s potential, or with someone’s expectations.

Often, lost in the chaos of actually homeschooling are all the cool things that made you want to homeschool in the first place. The chance to dive deep into a topic; to take the classroom to a battlefield, laboratory, or museum; to get to enjoy time with your kids while they learn. RealSchooling.com was created to give parents the opportunity to homeschool the way that they always wanted to homeschool. The name Real Schooling came from the idea that we have the chance, as homeschoolers, to turn school into what it should have always been; into what real education – real schooling, actually is. Even if you don’t take any of our classes, I thank you for taking the time to check out our blog and invite you to make the most out of our blog and podcast, because I genuinely believe you will find something of value here. It may be encouragement, insight, or direction, but there will unquestionably be something of value.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Hoffmann, Founder of RealSchooling.com and RealSchooling.blog