Senior Unschooling Dads, Testimonials

Terry McIntyre – Retired Computer Pro.

Retired Computer Pro., California, USA

I’m a retired computer professional, but didn’t earn much initially, back when my wife and I homeschooled; we were below or at median income until our divorce, when our two children began high school. You needn’t have a six-digit income; we certainly did not. I’m also proud and delighted to be a grandfather, that my daughter has been home- or unschooling her children (seven of them from infant to 13) – and that my son is very engaged with the education of his own.

Unlike most dads, I was the initiator when it came to homeschooling. My wife had a degree in elementary education, and balked at the very idea of teaching our own. She had been trained to plan and prepare, to have formal structure, and so forth—a task which would daunt any one person.

I view education completely differently, from the perspective of the student; I ask not “how to teach,” but how to learn most productively. When I went to Catholic school for 11 years (skipping grade 8), I often felt that my time was being stolen from me; I wanted something better for my own—not merely in terms of “quantity of educational content,” but qualitatively different.

When I started first grade, I was already somewhat adept at reading and arithmetic. The most effective way to continue to progress would have been to actually read, to play with new ideas, and interesting and challenging math problems.

This is precisely what we were not allowed to do. Instead, we spent 40 minutes or so waiting for a turn to read two lines from a See Dick Run book. Far better to use the same time to read interesting books at our own pace—which is what my grandchildren do. With arithmetic, we drilled and killed our way through a textbook, page by boring page. This is a horrendous waste of children’s time.

My wife, the degreed educator, insisted that our son go to a “gifted” first grade class at a nice suburban school. The teacher was respected by our neighbors. We actually had to push to obtain admission for our son; the test administrators balked because his art skills, in their minds, were not quite up to snuff.

Two weeks later, our allegedly “artistically-challenged” son came home and asked, “What is 5-7?”

“What did your teacher say?”

“She says it’s too complicated.”

“What do you think?”

“I know that 7-5 is 2, and 7-7 is zero. So is 5-5, anything minus itself is zero. I think 5-7 must be something else, but I don’t know what it is.”

Anybody who can articulate all of that is ready to advance. I briefly explained the idea of negative numbers, using a thermometer diagram. I turned the diagram on its side, made it a number line, and explained how to think of negative numbers as growing to the left instead of to the right, and subtraction as moving in the opposite direction from addition. He understood immediately. I made sure he learned how to add and subtract all combinations of positive and negative numbers.

A few days later, I come home from work, he’s doodling on his paper, and there’s a number line. This is his own initiative, his own “work.” I asked a few questions, and he had the concepts perfectly, in every particular. That took minutes, not days, weeks, or months. I never had to repeat the lesson. It stuck, because it was his question; he was interested.

My wife, observing this, had an epiphany. Our son could learn without complicated textbooks and plans and so forth—and could learn a lot more rapidly than at his “gifted” class. We began homeschooling, which continued until our children were 14 and 12 years of age. They did not have much trouble adapting to formal education. They had some gaps, but they had outstanding mathematical intuition, and rapidly mastered new material.

My wife and I chose to divide our labors. Under no circumstances was she to teach math. All the rest, she was free to do as she wished. As for math, I was (and remain) devoted to what we call “natural learning,” or “organic learning,” and some call “unschooling.” Instead of “begin at page 1,” my children and I would have random conversations—sometimes about everyday math, sometimes about more abstract ideas such as binary arithmetic. We played many games which exercise math skills. They became skilled mental calculators, exceeding the competence of most peers.

To further illustrate the potential of organic learning, I will advance about 30 years, to a conversation with my 2nd-generation homeschooled grandson, aged 6.

I asked him to think about adding the integers from 1 to 100. The obvious but slow method is to add 1 and 2, add 3, add 4, and so on, requiring 99 additions. Or, one could write the numbers down as 1 2 3 … 50, and write the 2nd half in reverse order, 100 99 98 … 50, lining them up in 50 pairs. My grandson interjected “each pair adds to 101. There are 50 pairs. 5050.” That was fast. Could he generalize? What is the sum of the even numbers, from 2 to 100? He pondered for a few seconds, and replied “2550” – which is correct. He was already a lightning-fast calculator. This problem stumps most high school students. At age 8 or 9, he tested at the 18th grade equivalent in math. Does he have good math genes? Yes. A prodigy? Yes, but a prodigy without a governor, who could race at his own speed. My grandchildren, as were their parents, are all very good at reading, math, and many other areas. They totally enjoy learning. At early ages, they are engaging and fearless conversationalists, expert socializers.

And that is why we teach our own. We don’t want to hold them back by letting schools steal their time.

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Terry McIntyre

About Terry McIntyre

Terry McIntyre is a retired UNIX geek, software developer, and systems admin. He can be found online at

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