Today I was asked for one piece of advice for new homeschoolers.

Granted CMadison and I did homeschool, with both quantitative and qualitative success, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I had to really stop and think about the question of advice.  After all our sons are old and crusty, Charles & Damon are 34, Evan’s 32…our homeschooling adventure ended in  2000. But the more I thought about the request, the more I realized my one piece of homeschooling advice is almost identical to the advice I give new entrepreneurs-Write it Down.

Write it Down is one piece of advice that contains several elements. But those elements were much harder to face in our homeschooling experiment than in our business venture because the stakes were so much higher.

When I started PN&A, Inc. I was primarily interested in filthy lucre- I needed to earn a wage.  I wasn’t thinking about making the world a better place or bringing any exciting new products to the market or finding my place, my self, or my voice.  I was just tired of working for AT&T but we couldn’t afford for me not to have a paying job. And while CMadison and I were both delighted when first Damon and then Charles decided to join us at PN&A, Inc. building a legacy and a multi-generational business was nowhere on my radar of intention back in 1986. I merely started compiling a list of the things I loved to do. I narrowed that list dramatically by eliminating all but those things I did better than most people. I culled the list further by only leaving things I loved, did better than most and for which other people would pay. Researching, thinking, analyszing, reporting, writing, presenting, coaching and advising…Voila! I became a management consultant.  The beginning was realtively easy because it was what I wanted, when I wanted it.  Okay, maybe not super easy, but certainly easier than starting to homeschool.

Our homeschooling experiment began under duress. Our darling and adorable sons were expelled from prep school in October, ostensibly because the tuition was in arrears. The tuition was in fact in arrears, the snarky “ostensibly” comment is because the late tuition was not the reason for the expulsion. Our sons were expelled and I was threatened over the phone “We’ll embarass them if you send them back!” because I had a start-of-the-new-year-picnic for black families without asking “permission.”  Granted the school revoked the expulsion after 2 weeks, but after such a turn of events how could we allow our sons to return? And how many times did I think I could prevent CMadison from having a full-blown meltdown and ending up in jail-or worse?! We just didn’t feel we could send the boys back, but that didn’t mean we were geeked up about the prospect of homeschooling them either.  The stakes were very high, there was a lot more than money on the line and neither set of grandparents were even slightly amused.

Our experience with starting, running and growing PN&A, Inc. informed us as we began our homeschooling experiment. CMadison and I began by having our own “3-day retreat” in the kitchen. It worked for us so my advice is Write it Down, including a:

Mission Statement, What do you want to achieve?;

Goal StatementWhat are the discrete components of the mission?; and

Foundational Premises,  What is the methodology you want to use to achieve those goals?.

These structural pieces will help draft your Strategic Business Plan, complete with the identification of strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, potential synergies, etc. But that’s almost derivative, the mission, goals and foundational premises, thats the stuff that forms the roadway on which you’ll be running. This was the process we used when we started our consulting business back in 1986 (PN&A, Inc. ( so it was easy to incorporate that same approach into our homeschooling endeavor. And that rational approach helped move us from expending much needed emotional energy being angry to focusing on what we wanted to achieve for our sons.

Our stated homeschooling Mission back in 1991 was to create a space where each of our sons would be nurtured holistically-spiritually, intellectually and physically. That mission was based on our hypothesis that if such a space existed academic excellence would happen as a foregone conclusion. Seeking knowledge is exciting, it is fun, it is innate-who has ever seen a 3 year old who wasn’t curious?!

Our Goal was to have our sons emerge as holistically healthy adults prepared to be conscious contributors in community, actively exercising options (for college, careers, for spouses-for life)rather than functioning as yet another group of bourgois, ostentacious and conspicuous consumers.

Our Foundational Premises were fairly expansive and included:

(1) attendance and active participation in the (very) black church their great-great grandparents joined because more than ancient history is needed;

(2) the use of African and African-American grad students (mostly male) as tutors in certain subjects because it is important to see multiple adult versions of the self;

(3) mandatory, broad-based participation in the arts-ballet, church choir, opera, painting classes, tap classes, theater, violin because the arts are part of the manisfeststion of the divine in us;

(4) mandatory, broad-based participation in athletics thru economically diverse parks & rec centers-football, fencing, golf, swimming, tae kwan do, tennis because the body is a temple AND there’s nothing quite like the ‘hood to tighten up your game;

(5) mandatory, broad-based volunteer & community service work-church camp counselors, VBS volunteers, science museum (each logged 2,000hrs!) because Shirley Chisholm was right Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth;

(6) residential enrichment programs-bicycle camp, engineering camp, oceanography camp, space camp because a 12-month academic calendar leaves lots of room for intense enrichment; and

(7) extensive travel-domestic & international because there is much to be seen and felt and experienced bravely in the world.

Having a Mission Statement, Goal Statement, Foundational Premises and Strategic Business Plan allowed us to pursue the path we designed for our family, veering only when we determined we needed to-not because we were tired or criticised (excessively!) by others.

Habakkuk 2:2 says Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.

We shared our vision with our sons and even though they did not want to be homeschooled (at all!) and while there were and will continue to be missteps and stumbles, they have been able to run on the vision path laid before them while shaping the next part of their individual journeys. Our homeschooling experiment was a blessing and a joy and a success… so my one piece of advice? Write it down…