Don’t tell me I can’t: An ambitious homeschooler’s journey, by Cole Summers: a book review

When I first read about this kid who had achieved at a very young age more than most of us adults ever do, I was in awe. Was this real? But when I read the autobiography this 14-year-old kid had written and how he described the way he explored the world with his parents’ support, it became obvious. It’s the kids who show us the way with their unbounded curiosity and their unwavering belief in the future if we only give them the opportunity and take them seriously. We would all benefit from reading Cole Summer’s story. It opened my eyes and I believe it will open yours too.

Cole Summers grew up on a farm with his family in Utah. Both of his parents are disabled. His father is in a wheelchair and his mother is partially blind. Cole’s father’s disability allowed his parents to homeschool him. After a consideration, his parents decided to give homeschooling a shot. Despite their decision to homeschool, Cole emphasizes that his parents weren’t his homeschool teachers. They only helped him find the best people to study from. His parents learned alongside him since they didn’t have all the answers either.

Just a kid

Cole’s parents encouraged him to try out all the things he was interested in. They were not afraid to let him make his own mistakes and learn from them. They have a video of Cole, not long before his third birthday, helping change a tire of his parents’ truck because he insisted on doing it. As Cole describes the story, he says his parents not only let him change the tire, but they let him toss all the lug nuts out. Cole writes that he quickly learned that he didn’t like chasing down lug nuts and soon learned to stack them neatly. The encouragement to try out whatever he was interested in, led him to start his first business at age seven to breed and sell rabbits. At nine, he started paying his own taxes. By ten, he had bought and was running a 350-acre farmstead where he raised goats and turkeys. For his eleventh birthday he bought himself a tractor with his own savings. Then he bought a run-down house and renovated it himself.

Next he planned to revitalize the natural environment for the area he lived in to avoid natural disaster and built a thriving business to save the local farms. During the release of his autobiography Cole was also producing a movie he wrote, and exploring other businesses and products he found interesting. Cole watched YouTube videos of Buffett and other business people talking about their achievements. What his parents could not tell him about, the Internet could, as long as he was interested to learn. 

Freedom and support

What Cole wanted us to learn through his book was that children should do what they want just as adults do what they want. We can be there alongside our kids as they explore their interests the way they themselves choose, in an unstructured manner. Cole also made sure to emphasize that he could not have done this by himself and that we should not just leave our kids to explore the world on their own. He says most of everything he achieved was because of his parents’ support and help.

I was lucky since just as Cole’s dad was able to stay home with him due to his illness, my dad was at home with me throughout my childhood because of his heart problems. I was not homeschooled but as soon as I was home from school, my dad was there to greet me and take me with him to whatever he was working on, or we went to explore together whatever I was interested at the time. Just as with Cole, my dad had to sometimes let me do the work around the house or it wouldn’t get done. While Cole’s parents’ disabilities made the decision to homeschool easier, Cole is quick to point out that even if his situation was unique, the drive for kids his age to do ‘grown up’ things is not unique.

Cole wants us to respect our children as competent individuals with their own interests and concerns more than modern society makes us believe we should. Despite our good intentions, by controlling our kids and being overly protective, we deny our kids many opportunities to experiment and to discover the world by pursuing whatever most interests them. Setbacks, dead ends and small scratches that happen in association with their own freely-chosen endeavors (as opposed to parents causing them or neglecting to mention that they might happen) are great teachers while the children build up agency and self-confidence as they are figuring out how to accomplish what they set out to achieve. Not every child will turn out like Cole: they are different individuals and will find different things interesting, but that was the very point Cole wanted to make. In Cole’s world, everyone can write their own biographies at 14 on whatever they’ve decided to explore during their childhood. What an inspiring world Cole has shown us.

See also:

Ville Vesterinen, 2022, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t: An ambitious homeschooler’s journey, by Cole Summers: a book review’,