Custom Schools with a Class size of 1 or 4

This last September, our 13-year-old boy, Logan, rather than return to his San Francisco private school began taking lessons in a custom school his mother and I created around him. I don’t use the word “homeschooling” because that may conjure images of workbooks on the kitchen table with a parent being the major teacher. Logan, in contrast, is being taught one-on-one English and history by a former school teacher, learning Chinese language and culture from a young Taiwanese woman who has tutored before, Geometry from me three hours a week, in addition to a birding class taught mostly to adults, and a science class for homeschoolers at our local science museum, the Exploratorium.


I don’t know what to call this educational environment, but “homeschool” does not seem to describe it.  In talking with other parents, we have found that this type of free-form schooling is not uncommon: one parent called himself a “general manager of education” as he explained that he did not teach so much as arrange, and in their case they leveraged the local community and junior colleges with one of their children taking their first college class at age 11. Whatever this school is, Logan is fully engaged, our family is closer than ever, and I am starting to think we are onto something. To put a name on Logan’s new school, I will call it a “custom school.”


While we just started this program with Logan, we are encouraged to continue and explore how schooling might be reorganized for some classes of students. This has gotten me thinking about how far this could spread and possibly leveraging the charter school system to build a new type of public school, one that has a class size of 4, but that is getting ahead of myself. Please allow me to explain how I have gotten here.

The rest of this post is in this pdf file, with a supporting spread sheet and article.

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10 Responses to Custom Schools with a Class size of 1 or 4

  1. tom garnett says:

    Excellent post. If I were raising my two kids all over again, I would pursue it. Another benefit you child gets is that of living outside of institutions. So much of pre-college life is completely mediated by third party institutions – less room to explore the wide world.

    • brewster says:

      We are now a full year in to the custom schooling thing and going for another. Also a second family is joining in.

      Contemplating a workshop on the subject.

      • Suzanne Scafuri says:

        I would love to be a part of a workshop, Brewster. I get more and more excited about Custom Schools the more I teach Logan. And now, with the addition of Amelia, I can see that this mode of teaching, which is, to many, against the grain of so many academics, is powerful and exciting, not just to me, but to my students as well.
        This excitement is what I wanted when I went through college: the bright look in my students’ eyes when they understand a difficult concept, have a revelation about a novel, or master the art of paragraph writing. I have that excitement!
        Let’s spread the word!

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  4. Thanks Brewster for sharing your experience, especially the cost comparison with private school. As a parent of two, I can imagine a world where parents join up in small groups to organize and fund small group learning via tutors, workshops, apprenticeships, trips, classes. Many already do this as homeschoolers, or for afterschool and for summer camp. You’re describing an important shift from pedagogy to “sociogogy” (

    I think there could be many models for providing “custom schooling” experiences. Tools for helping parents coordinate, learn about resources and “learning groups/tribes”, and document the student/learner journey will become important. You’ve pointed out several elements that seem to be key to making it work: passion and inquiry based exploration, immersing in the world/community, “need to know” learning events/contexts, and adults or experts as co-learners/learning journey mentors.

    New organizational models for learning , such as the one you describe, offer the opportunity for more people to get involved in creating learning experiences (like the Academy of Sciences), for learning to become embedded in the landscape of daily life and in the community, and for students as learners to become more publicly visible as creators and contributors to communities. New models such as custom schooling could be very liberating for teachers or other educators who feel constrained by the current system or who have left the system all together. I’m excited to follow your journey!

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