A letter to an “older” student

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

I received a post on our Yahoo Group from a mom with an obviously very bright son named Bennett. He’s at the end of his “High School” career and is a writer. He’s decided to continue his education at home, for some years to come. Fortunately, mom is thrilled as he sounds like a great guy to have around. Anyway, she asked me for a statement on why continuing education is a good idea, and why her son, who does not want to go to college, should not. Here is my response, which she asked to have shared with as many older students (even adults) as possible. “CTT” is Steps, the curricula I’ve authored for homeschoolers. “Upper School” is CTT for students ages 11-adult;

Hi Bennett,

I understand that you are a writer. The fact that you told your mother you “have” to be a writer tells me that you probably already are one. How good a writer will you become? That’s up to you, and that’s what I want to write to you about.

I also understand that you want to start CTT from the first part (of Upper School, I assume). I also get that doing that amount of study may well take you well past the “normal age” when people are done with school unless they go to college, and that furthermore, you don’t have any serious plans to go to college except to learn what you can as a writer from certain courses.

If it’s okay, I’d like to comment on your plans. Let me start with…


I knew I was a writer by the time I was five years old. I also HAD to be a writer. It was pretty much all I was interested in. I wanted to write things that would make the world a better place to live in. When I was eleven, I decided to concentrate my efforts in theater and film. I forced my schooling to comply with my interests instead of “fitting in” to the school districts expectations, and I got away with it by winning lots of awards for the school for my writing and performing.

I did not go to college, not for a single day. But I did win an Emmy Award at age 17 for a piece I wrote, directed, composed and acted in, and I was working professionally in my chosen profession before I graduated High School. Writing (and composing music, which I see as another aspect of writing) is what I did, and what I do. The only other thing I was interested in doing was teaching. I saw teaching as yet another way to improve conditions in the world. I’ve done art and teaching pretty much evenly my entire adult life.

There’s one more thing that being an artist and a teacher forced me to be my entire life – a student. I received the vast bulk of my education during my teen “school” years by reading incredible numbers of plays, books, texts, and through practical experience. I just didn’t learn that much in school, I’m afraid. And I never felt that the public schools I attended were all that interested in teaching anyway, with the exception of a few remarkable teachers.

I have never stopped studying. I study every day. Let me give you an example. I started writing CTT courses in history in 2002, and in science shortly after that. But the education I’d received in history and science from schools was woeful at best, and I’d hated the subjects because of the random and stupid ways that they were taught. I’d learned to love history by reading Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story Of Civilization, three times through. However, in 2002, at age 46, I suddenly HAD to study science, and I mean seriously. How could I write courses in science if I didn’t understand all the ideas, the theories, the practical applications of science? How could I write about geology with only a bare understanding of its core ideas? Or worse, physics? I couldn’t, obviously.

Here’s what I did. I read four college level textbooks on each subject I knew I’d have to write about. These included basic science, geology, meteorology, oceanography, biology, chemistry and physics. That’s a lot of textbooks. This form of being a student was far more intense than school ever gets. After all – my test was YOU. I had to be able to communicate to you using my skills as a writer, all about what science really is, how it works, what it’s about. If I failed that test, I would be failing as a student, a teacher AND as a writer! Fortunately, I read rather quickly, and it only took about four months of very intensive study (including dozens of documentaries, magazines, and related books as well) to feel that I had a sufficient understanding to share with you and other students my own freshly discovered interest in and understanding of science – one developed through self-study, not school. (I read science books regularly now for fun, an idea I would have laughed at before 2002.)

So, to Bennett first. You’re a writer. Let me state now and for the record that under no circumstances do you need college! Go if you like, but you do not need it. The list of homeschooled or barely “school” educated writers who made history is endless. From Shakespeare to Twain to Dickens, great writing was very largely written by a list of self-educated writers. In fact, the stupid argument some people make that William Shakespeare could not have written all his plays and poems is that he had not received a sufficient education, having effectively only gone to grade school! Foolish.

I taught at a major university, U.S.C., in their professional writer’s program. I was in my mid-20s at the time. They desperately needed a real writer to work with the career teachers that were running the program, and I was asked. I can tell you that the program I worked in for almost two years never developed or helped a single writer. It couldn’t, because all it did was critique their work, and try to force their work to be like everyone else’s. Writers, while they can mimic other writers as a part of their development, are nothing if not fresh thinkers. The program was doomed to fail nearly every student in it, and so it did.

But what DO you need to write? Well, not schooling – but you do need education. You will need to really know your history, since so much of what we write about involves what came before. It would be good to know science well, so that you can take a good guess at what is going to happen tomorrow. You should have a very good knowledge of religions, of politics, of economics – forces that propel human civilization and are the essence of drama. It would be a very good idea to read a lot, to know literature. A writer needs to know and understand what writers have done before him, so that he doesn‘t simply repeat what has been written, and so he can build upon the literature of the past and make a real contribution. Though it may be immodest – I think doing Upper School CTT from the start sounds like a great way to get a handle on the subjects that will likely most matter to you as a writer. (You should learn something about writing, too. We have courses for that, obviously. But as to syntax, spelling and the rest of the technical stuff – learn it, but don’t make a life out of learning it. It’s not that complex, and it’s not “writing”.)

As to your age – so what? Who created the utterly arbitrary rule that school should end at age 18? Nonsense! I’ve never stopped studying, and do far more of it today than I ever did while in school. Why? Because I’m a writer and writers need to know and understand as much about the world and people around them as they possibly can. Study should move beyond books and the Internet, into experience and the real world. CTT will help with that, but you should reach into the world as mightily as you can. That’s where you’re going to find a lot of the important and good ideas to write about. Also, your mother sounds THRILLED to have you at home. This is a very wonderful thing, because it frees you to apply yourself to the things that you are interested in, rather than starting to worry now about rent and the rest. USE THIS FREEDOM WELL AND WISELY! That is perhaps the best advice anyone can offer you at this time. It will pass faster than you can imagine.

Finally to Bennett, work your writing each day. Use all your passion, your intelligence, your concern for the world and for others, and create works that you’ll still be proud to have written in your old age. Because if you’re lucky, you’ll have an old age someday in which to look back over all that you’ve accomplished. When you do, I hope that your view is one of great and wonderful works, of constant expansion of your understanding of life and your part in it, and of a life well spent in service to your own creativity and the needs of the world. That should have been a happy life, indeed.

As to you adults reading this, extended adult study goes for you, too. You’re not finished, yet. You don’t get to be finished until you have expelled your final breath. Until that time, there’s a remarkable world to know. You can’t fix things that you don’t understand. I know that you know this, but the idea of studying one’s life away can be depressing. So don’t study your life away! Study, and then use what you’ve learned to enjoy life and make a difference. And when you run into the proverbial “brick wall”, study some more until you learn how to knock it down or go around it. If you are reading this, you’re not done, yet. Crack those books! Let’s not ask things of Bennett and of our other children that we ourselves are unwilling to do!

Besides, learning is fun. And we all deserve to have some fun, every day.

As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

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2 comments on “A letter to an “older” student”

  1. Wow, what a great advice to young adult..full of inspirations and motivations:)..Thanks Sir! Yeah you’re right..Let’s have fun learning everyday:)

  2. Thanks! Yes, please, let’s do that!

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