Bryan Caplan’s Ambitious Homeschooling

Economist Bryan Caplan runs the most ambitious homeschooling program I’ve heard of. Importantly, his two older sons, now in college, always were interested in academics and were serious students. Caplan provided an environment in which they thrived.

Caplan’s sons took numerous Advanced Placement tests starting in 7th Grade, learned Spanish thoroughly, aced the SAT, attended several college classes, and successfully placed a peer-reviewed history paper while still in high school.

Neither Caplan nor his sons were impressed by the local public schools (or, rather, they were strongly negatively impressed): “The academic material was too easy and moved far too slowly. The non-academic material was humiliatingly infantile. . . . With the noble exception of their calculus teacher, my sons’ high school teachers just showed videos and treated teens like babies.”

Caplan’s sons did very well with college admissions and scholarships. Yet, surprisingly (to me), “they were waitlisted by Harvard and Columbia, and rejected by all the lesser Ivies.”

For those interested in homeschooling and in education generally, Caplan’s review, and his previous remarks on the subject, are well worth perusing.

Dads Homeschool Too

Most parents who take lead on homeschooling their children are moms. That’s fine, but sometimes the dads are overlooked. Although I’ve never met another dad who takes lead on homeschooling, as I do, I know such dads are out there.

Many homeschooling groups on social media are dominated by women, so much so that the presumption sometimes seems to be that only women participate. I regularly run across messages addressed to “Mamas” and invitations to events for “moms.” I’m not complaining. But I would like to gently encourage homeschooling moms to remember that some of us are homeschooling dads—and to encourage the dads to actively participate.

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Watching ‘Class Dismissed’

The 2015 documentary, Class Dismissed, covers the basics of homeschooling in theory and practice. My wife and I recently watched and enjoyed the film, and I would recommend it especially to people first thinking about homeschooling, new to it, or struggling with it.

The film follows one main family as the “grumpy and overworked” kids withdraw from school and the family seeks to homeschool. They struggle with it, and we watch how they change tactics over time. The film spends less time, but important time, with several other homeschooling families.

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A Day in the Life of an Independent Learner

The more I witness independent learning in action, the more I am convinced that children can successfully chart their own paths. Yesterday I wrote an essay, “Fostering Kids’ Autonomy Works,” on this topic. This is a follow-up to describe my son’s self-directed adventure yesterday.

My wife, who had the day off, again took lead on homeschooling. (So this was not a typical day; usually both of us parents are busier with our own projects.) She started the day by asking our child what he wanted to do during the course of the day. He initially laid out three projects on a chair: a magnet kit, a card-matching game, and a dinosaur 3D wood model kit. Then he added a Lego T-Rex kit and a printed 3D figure set that a friend had given us.

Then it was time for breakfast, and my wife asked our son if he wanted to help make it. He said yes, and together they made pancakes out of a recipe book that a relative had given our son as a gift. (Our child is interested in cooking, so we try to foster that.) To help make the pancakes, my son had to work with measurements and simple math.

Then, all of his own accord, my son played the card-matching game with my wife for half an hour. This is a good memory exercise. Then our son colored a print-out for a 12-sided shape, and my wife helped him cut it out and glue it into the 3D shape. That took around an hour. He spent another hour working with a magnet kit. Then he spent a solid 2.5 hours building the Lego T-Rex. That is extraordinary concentration. (I wrote more about Lego kits elsewhere.)

Then our child obviously was getting tired, so we agreed that he could watch TV. He chose something about mechanized “dinosaurs.” Then, as a family, we watched the original Pete’s Dragon (see my post about films) and discussed aspects of it. Our son closed out the day watching some science videos and then reading with Mom. (He never did get to the wood kit.)

Obviously self-directed learning does not mean learning in a vacuum. We’ve collected lots of materials for possible projects for our son to do based on his interests. We sometimes suggest projects he might be interested in and also help him with his projects. As I’ve written, self-directed learning is compatible with, and I’d even say dependent on, interactive parenting.

In short, this was an extraordinarily productive day in terms of my son’s education. He was basically in charge of crafting his day at every step, and he thoroughly enjoyed his day. Self-directed learning works!

Fostering Kids’ Autonomy Works

Kids want and need substantial autonomy. When, as parents, we help our children develop self-responsible control over their lives, we make their lives better and our lives easier. Yet the temptation to default to authority (“because I said so”) can be strong.

A regular sort of post on the homeschooling groups I follow runs something like this: “My child just won’t do the work I’ve assigned. He/she keeps fighting me about it, refuses to do it, and acts bored and listless. Help! This is driving me bonkers and I don’t know what to do!”

But think about this from the child’s perspective, and I think the main problem will quickly become apparent. If, as an adult, someone decided what tasks you would do regardless of your interests and buy-in, forced you to do those tasks every day for a set number of hours, and then continually berated you for not doing the job very well, how would you feel and react? My guess is you’d be grumpy and irritated about it. So why are we surprised when kids react that way?

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Individual Podcasts on Education

See also my Resources page for links to various podcasts. Here I link to individual podcast episodes about homeschooling and education.

My own Self in Society Podcast offers several episodes about education and homeschooling:
* Michael Donnelly on Homeschooling and the Law
* Kevin Currie-Knight on Crisis Schooling Versus Homeschooling
* Kevin Currie-Knight on Self-Directed Education

Kevin Currie-Knight discusses homeschooling at On the same podcast (Free Thoughts) Currie-Knight also discusses “Education in the Marketplace.”

Bryan Caplan discusses his approach to homeschooling with EconTalk (video).

My Articles and Podcasts on Homeschooling

Over the past few months I’ve produced several articles and podcasts on homeschooling. Here’s the roundup.

1. Podcast: Kevin Currie-Knight on Self-Directed Education

2. Podcast: Kevin Currie-Knight on Crisis Schooling Versus Homeschooling

3. Article: Crisis schooling not the same as normal homeschooling

“. . . A big difference is that regular homeschoolers are not subject to the demands and daily routines imposed by a school district. . . .”

4. Article: My family’s homeschooling journey

“. . . My wife and I want our child to develop his natural love of learning, pursue his individual interests, and learn to think for himself. Yes, he needs to learn how to read, write, and do math. Yes, he needs to learn about literature, science, and history. Yet I am convinced that adults can help inspire a child to learn these things while giving the child considerable autonomy. . . .”

5. Article: Navigating Colorado’s homeschooling laws

“. . . Homeschooling is not that hard, legally speaking. It doesn’t even have to be very time-consuming for parents, depending on how they approach it. Homeschooling families can find an astounding array of programs and materials. . . .”

6. Article: Empower families with education tax credits

” . . . My family decided to homeschool rather than put our five-year-old in a local public school. We have no regrets. It’s working well for my wife and me, and our son loves it. . . . There is one thing that bothers me about the arrangement. My family is forced to pay a considerable amount of money to the local public schools, which we don’t use, on top of what we spend to educate our child ourselves. . . . My proposed solution is universal tax credits for education. . . .”