Why Homeschool?

May 29, 2006 @ 8:43 pm | Filed under: Controversy, Methods of Home Education, Why I Homeschool

I always appreciate it when someone who isn’t familiar with the real whys and hows of homeschooling takes the time to try to get a handle on the subject. That’s what Elizabeth of Table for Five has attempted to do, after encountering a few of us wacky homeschooling folks here in the ClubMom blogroll. Since Amalah linked to Elizabeth’s post and mine in her roundup today, I thought I’d further the discourse by responding here.

Elizabeth writes:

I don’t know why this topic gets me so worked up. Whether or not someone Homeschools their kids has no bearing on me, or my family at all. I just know that whenever I read a description that starts with “So and so is Homeschooling her four children…”, I wonder, why?

I could write a book in answer to that question, but for now, I’ll restrain myself and just give the short answer: Why not?

It’s a great way to live. We’re just like other parents: we want our kids to be happy and informed and decent and pleasant to be around. We want them to grow up to be good people who can take care of themselves and others, fulfill their obligations, love and be loved, and enjoy the work they do to earn a living or care for a family. And, having pondered and researched, we’ve come to the conclusion that home education is the right way for our family to pursue those goals.

Sometimes it strikes me as funny that in many fields (business, technology, medicine, to name a few), the ability to think outside the box is seen as an admirable quality, an asset; but people who think outside the box when it comes to educating their children are often viewed with some suspicion.

Amalah jokes about skeptics assuming homeschoolers “are turning their children into anti-social, overly-sheltered hermits,” and joking aside, I think that’s actually quite an accurate characterization of the skeptics. A lot of people do think that. It’s a misconception that makes some of us chuckle as we watch our children run around with a passel of (not necessarily homeschooled) kids at the pool, the playground, the dance class, the karate class, the soccer team, the…you get my drift. I’ve talked about this before. Most homeschooling bloggers have, at one time or another.

But I appreciate Elizabeth’s openminded attitude. She acknowledges that she “didn’t realize how many different alternatives there are to traditional schooling” and seems to be making an honest effort to educate herself about the possibilities. I think the huge range of options often comes as a surprise to people. A lot of folks hear “homeschooling” and envision dining rooms converted to mini-schoolrooms, with a cursive alphabet poster above the chalkboard on the wall, two or three little desks in a row, and a big round clock ticking off the minutes as Mom (that’s Mrs. Mom to you, kid) gives a spelling test. And that scenario does exist, in some homes—but it is just one of myriad possibilities, and probably not a common one, truth be told. An awful lot of homeschooling happens on the couch, in the garden, in the car, at the concert, in the kitchen, at the museum, in the library, across the dinner table, at the beach. We are out and about; we’re busy in the world; we’re learning from doing and digging and smelling and reading and encountering. We are mix and match; we are taste and see; we are get your hands dirty; we are amble and dash; we are show and tell; we are watch and listen.

Elizabeth mentions a few of the many educational methods—Charlotte Mason, classical ed, correspondence schools, Montessori—and there are of course many other options as well. I’ll return to this topic in a future post. For now I want to focus on some of the other questions Elizabeth raises.

…I do have to question whether or not the education a child receives as a result of some of the more alternative methods of homeschooling will translate into an ability to handle college, or life in the working world. Should a child really be allowed to decide for themselves how and when to study, or whether to study at all? What happens when they get to college? I know none of my professors ever wanted to “observe” me and then allow me to choose for myself what to study. Won’t these kids have a hard time transitioning into a set schedule of classes and subjects?

It sounds here as if Elizabeth is referring to unschooling, which is a hard word to define but generally boils down to allowing kids to follow their own interests rather than telling them what they must learn when. Unschooling generates a lot of controversy even among homeschoolers; many structured, scope-and-sequence-following homeschoolers express the same concerns as Elizabeth. Unschoolers have thoughtful, reasonable answers to these concerns, and they have practical evidence of success as well. Autodidacts do very well in college because they enjoy learning and are used to taking responsibility for their own education. Nowadays, many college admissions offices recognize that home-educated kids make exemplary college students: they are eager, articulate, and self-motivated. Also, one mustn’t assume that an unschooler never encounters a schedule or classroom until his first day of college: these kids are taking classes at community college during their teen years; they are doing internships or volunteering at the the animal shelter, the newspaper, the nursing home, the ballet studio. They are running their own landscaping businesses and home bakeries. A non-traditional schedule doesn’t mean they don’t keep any schedule at all. Giving a person freedom to choose how he will spend his time doesn’t automatically mean he will waste it—far from it.

Elizabeth asks:

And what happens when they get their first job? Are there employers who give their employees a choice of which report to write first, or whether they should return a client’s phone call or take a walk outdoors first?

Well, yes. Lots of them. All the employers I’ve ever known actually preferred their employees to be self-motivated, to be able to juggle a variety of tasks without being walked through every step. As a staffer at Random House and HarperCollins, I had a big ole pile of work—manuscripts to read, reports to write, cover copy to write, filing to do, writers to call, copies to make, galleys to proof—and my boss sure didn’t tell me what order to do them in. That was part of my job: knowing how to prioritize. And how about now? My job is to hit my deadlines. No editor is looking over my shoulder, tsk-tsking when I leave the computer to play Scrabble with my kids. Or how about my mother? She works out of her home office for a company in another state. She can decide when to call the client, and when to take a walk. As long as she meets her obligations, everyone’s happy. Self-motivation, like innovative thinking, is an asset.

What I find most interesting about concerns like those Elizabeth has shared is that the doubts about the wisdom of home education seem to contradict themselves. On the one hand, there is the worry that the parent is too controlling, sheltering the children from contact with different ideas; and on the other hand, there is a fear that the children are not controlled enough: they are given too much freedom to choose their activities or structure their own time. Perhaps the reason such self-negating concerns arise within a single mind is because there are so many ways to educate a person, so many ways to live. And most people’s concerns do seem to have more to do with social and cultural matters than educational issues. Almost everyone acknowledges the advantages of one-on-one or small-group learning experiences. No, most people’s misgivings are about social issues that really have more to do with parenting styles than instructional methods. In any event, I think open and rational discourse can lay such misgivings to rest, and so I appreciate it when people like Elizabeth ask questions and go looking for the answers. If there’s anything a homeschooler approves of, it’s autodidactism.


Updated: The discussion continues in the comments—some great stuff there, like this remark by Julie:

“What I think helps me understand educational choices the best is trying to get behind the criteria we use to make those choices. If we believe that we aren’t naturally inclined to learn, won’t be interested in science or math unless someone requires it, if we see foreign language as a college prep hoop to jump through rather than for the joy of speaking to natives of that language, or if we consider mythology and classic literature too difficult and boring for the average kid apart from requirements, we will think homeschooling a risky proposition.

“However, if we begin by examining all the things we eagerly learn as adults, how we teach ourselves about politics, religion, cooking, gardening, accounting, writing, painting, parenting, biology (sex and child bearing), and more due to our keen interest and time to learn unhurriedly, we might be able to trust or imagine that kids would flourish if given a similar opportunity with involved parents who invite the world into their homes and share it with their children.”


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Comments

22 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. >the doubts about the wisdom of home education >seem to contradict themselves. On the one hand, >there is the worry that the parent is too controlling, >sheltering the children from contact with different >ideas; and on the other hand, there is a fear that the >children are not controlled enough: they are given too >much freedom to choose their activities or structure >their own time. Perhaps the reason such self-negating >concerns arise within a single mind is because there >are so many ways to educate a person, so many ways >to live.

    This quote, in particular, struck a chord with me because, as often as I’ve read defenses of home education, this is the first time I recall seeing this point made.

    Thank you for yet another invaluable post.

  2. Another fantastic discourse articulating the home schooling family’s perspective. Brava, Lissa!

  3. Thank you for answering my questions. I wrote the post thinking a few of my regular readers would leave a comment and that would be it. I never thought it would get noticed by you or Amy. Re-reading the post, I see now that I should have done more research, or been more careful to say that I was giving my opinions while admitting that I did not have any personal experience with homeschooling.

    What about the connection between homeschooling and religion? Are most families looking to put more religious instruction into their child’s education? One of the websites I came across is the Advanced Training Institute. Their curriculum uses the Bible as the textbook and “Wisdom Booklets” as the curriculum. Why not send children to a religious private school instead?

  4. Thank you for your intelligent and amiable response. I enjoy reading discussions about hs-ing but not when people start getting snippy about it.

    Unfortunately it seems to me that hs-ers often end up being on the defensive end simply because their choice goes against the norm.

  5. Melissa, thank you so much for your thoughtful, articulate, sensible post. **applause**

  6. “What about the connection between homeschooling and religion? Are most families looking to put more religious instruction into their child’s education?”

    Here again, there is such a wide range of answers that it’s impossible to generalize. Some people homeschool for religious reasons, some for educational (a belief that they can provide a better education than the schools–many parents come to this decision after experiencing frustration within the school setting and realizing they could better meet their child’s specific needs at home); some people homeschool as a lifestyle choice; and there are many other reasons. Or it could be a combination of the above. I think the average Joe might be surprised to know how very many people AREN’T homeschooling for religious reasons—there are hundreds of thousands of families who go this route for other reasons altogether. For example, while my religion is extremely important to me, it isn’t the REASON I homeschool–I decided to home educate my kids before I fully embraced my religion. My husband and I made this choice after studying the ways people learn and pondering our own and others’ school experiences. We see homeschooling as a way to keep the pursuit of knowledge lively and fun for our children. We questioned the efficacy of the large-group classroom setting where learning is keyed to rewards and punishments (good/bad grades) and curriculum is restricted by standardized tests.

    But yes, some people do homeschool for religious reasons, and of course religious freedom is one of the great things about this country. “Are most families looking to put more religious instruction into their child’s education,” you ask? Well, “most” would be hard to say: no stats available. Many? Parents with strong religious convictions will probably convey those to their children regardless of school choice. Religion is pretty much always homeschooled, even for school kids. (Including going to church or temple, or not going.) Some parents are probably looking to avoid exposing their kids to unsavory elements (sex, drugs, bullying, violence, etc) that are undeniably present in many schools—no one disputes that such elements exist, and if a parent may decide to opt out of that culture for any reason, religious or otherwise.

    “One of the websites I came across is the Advanced Training Institute. Their curriculum uses the Bible as the textbook and “Wisdom Booklets” as the curriculum. Why not send children to a religious private school instead?”

    Probably lots of reasons. Money? Availability? Quality of education in the available schools? A belief in non-traditional educational methods? You’ll probably get a different answer from every different family. It’s not a one size (or reason) fits all question.

    Thanks for continuing the discussion, Elizabeth!

  7. I think it is interesting that some of us who homeschool also do not work in structured environments. Like you I work from home for myself fulfilling contracts to other organizations which are about delivering a product (not working a set number of hours).

    One of the reasons I decided to do this is because I was frustrated with having to go in every day regardless of how much work there was to do in order to get paid and for thus being negatively rewarded for working quickly and efficiently.

    When my daughter was bored and frustrated with school and I decided to homeschool, some folks said things like ‘well, kids have to learn that sometimes you just have to do this thing, even if it is boring, to bring home a paycheque’. But I thought that I had made a decision not to do that myself, so it was unfair to expect my child to do the same.

  8. Melissa, this is just such a wonderful post I don’t even know where to begin! But what you said above …

    “For example, while my religion is extrememly important to me, it isn’t the REASON I homeschool ~ I decided to home educate my children long before I fully embraced my religion.”

    … I could have written as well. But over the past few years as we have embraced a more Catholic-influenced education, some of those family and friends who we initially had to assure we were*not* homeschooling for religious reasons (because for some reason that made it even farther out there) are raising their eyebrows, LOL!

    Our decision to home educate stems from who we are and there’s SO much that influences who we are. Faith is just one part, but it’s a big part that tends to shape our biggest choices in life!

    But what it all boils down to is homeschooling just fits who we are.

    Thanks so much for this post!

  9. Hey Lissa, what a timely discussion. I wanted to throw in some surprising two cents.

    First, Noah (oldest who is about t turn 19) just applied to University of Cincinnati. They changed their essay question for applicant this year to: Tell us about something you’ve taught yourself *outside* of school.

    I thought that was amazing! More and more colleges are recognizing that students who know how to learn because they care about what they learn make better “higher education” students.

    Secondly, my son was one of those “do what you want, when you want” learners and developed through following his desires a serious interest in linguistics, constructed languages and Shakespeare. He also has held two jobs at once and gets favorable ratings from his employers for being so responsible and especially friendly to customers and bosses.

    He has his flaws to be sure, but what stands out in my son’s case is that having pursued an education that emphasized great literature, access to smart people in a variety of fields that captivated him, and time to pursue what held his gaze, he’s come to find a niche that really fits him and motivates him to… not only go to college and get accepted, but to want to pay for it himself!

    What I think helps me understand educational choices the best is trying to get behind the criteria we use to make those choices. If we believe that we aren’t naturally inclined to learn, won’t be interested in science or math unless someone requires it, if we see foreign language as a college prep hoop to jump through rather than for the joy of speaking to natives of that language, or if we consider mythology and classic literature too difficult and boring for the average kid apart from requirements, we will think homeschooling a risky proposition.

    However, if we begin by examining all the things we eagerly learn as adults, how we teach ourselves about politics, religion, cooking, gardening, accounting, writing, painting, parenting, biology (sex and child bearing), and more due to our keen interest and time to learn unhurriedly, we might be able to trust or imagine that kids would flourish if given a similar opportunity with involved parents who invite the world into their homes and share it with their children. 🙂

    Julie

  10. Great post! As a home educator (and author) myself, I have to agree with the statement you make in comments, about kids learning to do something they dislike or are bored by in order to get by in the world.

    While there are an awful lot of people who live to fit into a particular mold, the one thing I want my kids to take away from our homeschool adventure is that they can and should do whatever pleases them in life, so long as they are able to make it on their own. I think it has to do with a very different vision of success.

    For me, it’s not about how much money people have, or a prestigious title. Most important to me is that my kids are happy, both now and in the future. I don’t particularly care if other people consider them to be “different”, so long as they are content!

  11. We don’t homeschool. Before we had our children, and I would hear of people homeschooling, I would think “Freaks!”. Then I had children, and the thought became “Hmm…”. But there was a huge stumbling block. I call him husband. And to be honest, he was right. I could not be a home schooler. I have had health problems that would have severely interfered with my children’s education, be it classical, CM, etc. And I felt very guilty about that.

    Now, I have friends who are homeschooling moms. And if I ever thought they were freaky, it wasn’t because of the educational choices they’ve made for their families ;)! In fact I find them, as well as several blogs and books, to be very helpful in the way we raise our kids. Because we don’t believe education should stop when they get home at the end of the day. Or mid-June. We read, we discuss, we learn from each other. And unfortunately too many parents, regardless of their involvement with the PTA, etc., don’t take an interest past the school day. So I need you guys! You inspire me and help me to see the possibilities. Thank you.

  12. “Unschooling generates a lot of controversy even among homeschoolers”

    I can’t believe this! What kind of person would argue the validity of unschooling? LOL!!!

    I still cringe when I think of the hard time I gave you just a few short years ago over this very topic. If ever we meet in person, Lissa, a slap would be completely in order (from you to me, of course :).

    I never thought I would evolve from the “scope and sequence Mommy” to the “unschooling” type but here I am, sign me up on the unlist.

    “We are out and about; we’re busy in the world; we’re learning from doing and digging and smelling and reading and encountering. We are mix and match; we are taste and see; we are get your hands dirty; we are amble and dash; we are show and tell; we are watch and listen.”

    Beautiful! Your home and learning never cease to inspire me.

    What a great post.

  13. –Why not send children to a religious private school instead?–

    There are as many reasons for choosing homeschooling as there are families that homeschool. Here is how the numbers would run in our family if we choose a private school of any kind.

    The closest private school of any kind in a Catholic school 36 miles away. But we are not Catholic so it wouldn’t be a good option–they do a very through religious teaching. After that the second closest is 60 miles. There is no bus service so we drive them. 120 miles round trip in the morning and 120 miles in the afternoon = 240 miles per day = 1200 miles per week. We drive a van that get around 20 miles per gallon = 60 gallons of gas a week. The local price is $2.71 = 162.60/week or $5853.60/year. This doesn’t include extra activities or price increases so round to $6000 for a year of school.

    Now fees:
    KINDERGARTEN YEARLY
    1st child in family $3,145
    2nd child in family $2,779
    3rd child in family or more $2,327

    GRADES 1-6
    1st child in family $3,558
    2nd child in family $3,213
    3rd child in family or more $2,619

    GRADES 7-12
    1st child in family $3,854
    2nd child in family $3,379
    3rd child in family or more $2,638

    TRANSPORTATION – $450/year per child (for first three children only)

    REGISTRATION FEE –
    K-12 Grades – $100 per child if paid by May 15
    $140 per child if paid after May 15

    BUILDING FEE – (K-12) $100 per family (Families who have donated $500 by May 1st each year will be exempt.)

    BOOK RENTAL – $100 per student per year – Grades K-12

    LUNCHES – $1.60 per day

    YEARBOOK – $40 per yearbook

    For my family:

    K = $3,145(1st) or $2,327(3+)
    1st = $3,213(2nd) or $2,327(3+)
    7th = $2,638(3+) or $3,379 (2nd)
    10th = $2,638(3+)or $3,854(1st)
    Total: $11,634 or $11,887
    –two totals because I’m not sure if they’d go youngest up or oldest down, but in two years there would be another one to add to the total

    No transport fee

    Registration Fee: let’s go with the lesser so $400

    Building Fee: $100

    Book rental: $400

    Let’s be cheap and bring lunch everyday and yearbook only for hs student: $40

    Total: $12,574 or $12,827
    Running Total: $18,574 or $18,827

    That does not include other school related expenses such as: lunches, PE uniforms, school clothes, school supplies, sports supplies, music instruments & music, or any of the other nickle and dime expenses. It also doesn’t include tires, oil, and asprin–the 3 yr will object sooner or later to all the driving. Let’s hope the van holds up.

    To further put this into perspective–my yearly house payments are only $3,504–no it isn’t tiny and it isn’t the slum, but a small farming community. The sum amounts to 3/4 of my dh take-home pay. Good thing the oldest two are already graduated!

    Then think about logistics of getting out the door. School starts at 8:00 so we would need to leave the house no later than 6:30 am–most people drive to work so it takes about 60 min. to get there, more in planting or harvest season due to the farm equipment on the road. School lets out around 3:10 (times are staggered for riders and walkers)–same time as public school so we would get home between 4:15 and 4:45 as long as we do not stop anywhere on the way.

    So between the hassle of driving, timing, and cost homeschooling is a much, much more pleasant option than a private school.

    Stephanie in AR

  14. Hi Melissa,
    We homeschool primarily to offer a better educational experience for our kids. It really started one day when my wife, a special education teacher, came home after a long round of writing Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) and said, “You know, nobody’s writing an IEP for our kids.” We also homeschool as a way of freeing ourselves from the academic calendar. We do not shut off our brains in the summer. Disconnecting from that calendar allowed us to spend a month in France with our kids (met some wonderful homeschoolers there!)and there was lots of learning going on. (Really!) Also, we homeschool so we won’t miss exchanges like this one I had with my 6 year old daughter yesterday:

    Me: So… how do you look when you cross the street?

    Daughter (giving me her million dollar gap-toothed smile): I look good!

    Best wishes all!
    Paul

  15. Wow, Stephanie, when you break it down like that the cost of private school really is staggering. Thanks for taking the time to illustrate the point.

    Paul, a month in France! :::I will not be jealous, I will not be jealous:::: Love your daughter’s comment. Hee!

    Rebecca, your note made me chuckle. You know, I think many of us have gone through a similar transition of understanding…part of the deschooling process, perhaps? We grew up with fixed ideas about what constitutes a good education, and it’s hard to step outside the classroom/testing/homework/grades system and think about how education happens in the rest of life.

    I really appreciate all these comments, everyone. Great discussion.

  16. I think that the issue of self directed work is a very interesting one. In my experience college involved alot of choice (as to subjects and as to what to do when). Graduate work involves even more freedom and choice, and I know many who wish that a professor would just give them a paper topic, but it is up to them to define a topic, to set short term deadlines and even long ones, even to determine if and when to actually finish up work.

    I only knew two homeschooled students when I was in college, but I noticed that they were extremely disciplined about school work. I am sure that this is specific to the environment in which they were raised, as well as their own temperment, but in any event there they were at an ivy league college knowing that it was up to them to make time in the library a priority, this was more than most of the traditionally educated students knew!

  17. Thank you! Another wonderful post. I must admit, Classical Education is one of the reasons I finally decided (and my husband agreed) to homeschool in the fall. I’m so glad to hear of people doing classical ed in a more relaxed way. After I started reading “The Well Trained Mind” I started drilling my 2 year old on letters. I sat back and said, “What am I doing?” That book puts a lot of pressure on!

    Also, on the comment of others- I’m preparing to homeschool in the fall and have met with a great deal of opposition, both from friends and family. The “best” and most offensive comment I received was from an acquaintance who informed me the how dare I teach my child at home using a Bible based curriculum. The Bible is too limiting she said. TOO LIMITING! If my son learned nothing else in life but the Bible, he would be all set. Oh well, I digress and am getting too long!

  18. 23rd Carnival of Homeschooling

    Aloha, and welcome to the 23rd Carnival of Homeschooling! It’s summer (not according to the calendar, but according to the PalmFamily!), and we’re spending lots of time at the beach…

  19. What a great discussion!

    As I just noted in a comment over at Dana’s “Since Eve” blog, though our faith is vital to us, we decided to homeschool for academic and lifestyle reasons. When my daughter was reading “Little House” books at age 5, but was required to do reading worksheets in Kindergarten class (“You may not go play until you find the word ‘green’ and color the leaf,”) I knew something had to change.

    The funny thing is, just a couple years before that, we had bought a house from a homeschooling family and I still remember the first time we went to see the house (it was for-sale-by-owner.) I remember entering tentatively, wondering what kind of strange, sheltered children would be cowering in the corners amid cobwebs and religious curriculum.

    Surprise — they were pretty normal. 🙂

    The biggest surprise for me about our own homeschooling experience has been the richness of the education. We’re in the house, out of it, on the go, or at home … but what’s always present is that we’re learning, discussing what we learn, and internalizing all of it.

    Yes, our religion is important to us, but I homeschool mainly because I’m a geek about learning. 🙂

  20. What a great post! I have always dreamed of homeschooling; but now that DS is almost five, he has decided he wants to go to kindergarten. If we were in a bad school district, it would be out of the question – but the school he will attend is one of the better ones in our state, so we are willing to let him try it – don’t want to make it “forbidden fruit”!

    Homeschooling will remain on the table for our DD, who is not quite two… our two kidlets are as opposite as can be, and I think she may opt for homeschooling… where our son is always running to be part of a group at the park (always has), our daughter is clinging tightly to me.

    I respect (& even envy, in a good way) homeschooling parents – I know it has to be a huge commitment. I pray that I will be up to the task if/when I am ever called to do it myself. And I’m sorry that so many people who opt not to homeschool are so misunderstanding about the homeschool life – I’ve dealt with the negativity myself when that was the route we were going to take, and I couldn’t believe what people would say to my face about the choice.

    Live & let live, at times like these… they are your children, and if you are not harming them in any way, it is your choice to raise them the way that is right for you.

  21. Thank you for such a well written post!

    We actually started because my eldest son, after watching a program on Nickelodeon, asked if I would homeschool him. After researching for a few months I decided that it was indeed feasible. That was over ten years ago.

    Homeschooling today is very different from when I first started with my eldest. There are so many different choices and opportunities available to the homeschooling community that trying to find a happy medium that works well for our family is always a challenge. (Too much to do and not enough time to do it in.)

    My twin sons are active in a local homeschool co-op, they are black belts in karate and altar servers at our church. They just started scouting and will start skateboarding lessons in a couple of weeks. In the past they’ve taken sailboating lessons, played on our parish’s co-ed soccer team, attended our local community college for arts, computer and music lessons. The socialization question, always asked, just makes me smile these days.

    I would like to (quickly) address another issue if I may, something that I would like to see more input and information from other moms in my situation…special needs and homeschooling. My youngest son was born with Down syndrome and I would love to read blogs of those who are going through the same challenges that we are. So please if anyone can furnish some info and urls…I would be deeply appreciative! Thanks. Dani

  22. Melissa–Just stumbled across your blog today and so happy I did. After 5 months in kindergarten in public school, my son’s former enthusiasm for learning has been aptly dismantled. Homeschooling seems like an enviable dream since I have to work. Another Mom at my son’s school even mentioned her wish for all of the moms in my son’s class to band together to form our own home school. I have learned a ton from your blog that has enlightened, inspired and encouraged me to go forward, not give up and keep trying. Thanks!