Art Carden  

Further Notes on Schooling

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Friday's post got some great comments. Here are a few additional notes on schooling from someone new to home schooling (homeschooling? Home-schooling?):

1. What does it say about the quality of your product when you have trouble giving it away?

2. We have a friend who is considering home schooling (homeschooling? Home-schooling?) because posts by the teachers in her Facebook network are frequently riddled with spelling and grammar errors.

3. A few years ago, I requested a refund on my property taxes because we don't use and won't use government-run schools. I received no response. Here's what I wrote, via Forbes.

4. We're trying to combine the freedom of unschooling with the content of a classical education while, at the same time, building independence a la Montessori. We're generally letting our kids self-direct but working to influence the contexts in which they make their decisions. Our oldest, for example, has really taken to a couple of the problem-solving games on abcya.com (this one in particular). I also got small guitars for the five-year-old and three-year-old; I still need to tune them, and I'm hoping to enlist our church's worship leader for lessons.

5. We spend a lot of time reading, and we don't fret about reading the same thing (or watching the same video) a thousand times. I remember reading in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point that repetition was one of the things that made Blue's Clues so successful. With the games the kids are playing on the computer, I can see how they're learning through practice and repetition. We're going through the Jesus Storybook Bible in the evenings and reading the same story every night for a week. My goal is for the kids to be able to basically tell the story themselves by the end of the week.

6. As they get used to this, we're going to introduce more content. The five-year-old is already enthusiastic about machines (elevators, trains, trucks, etc), and I really want the kids to know and understand the history and mythology of different civilizations. We have a picture book about Pegasus, for example, and I want to look for more stuff like this over the years.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Tom West writes:

Most women I know that are approach home-schooling seriously (and yes, all are women) are well-educated, intelligent, dynamic, and creative.

In other words, people who might well be earning $100K+ in the right profession or location.

My expectations on the return on that sort of opportunity cost on 1-3 children is thus pretty high. ($100K - taxes) for two children buys an awful lot of private school + lessons. For me, the pay-off would need to be more than just academic.

On the other hand, my awe at successful parents who can also home-school knows no bounds. I love my kids and I'd last about a week.

Steve Z writes:

A modest proposal: give people who pay property taxes a stake in the future income of the students go to the schools supported by those property taxes. If school is really an investment, why not make it an investment?

BZ writes:

Dr. Carden, the link to "Ideology and Private Schooling" was broken in that article. Could you please post a correction? My google-fu was not good enough to hunt it down otherwise.

JohnC writes:

@BZ

Try here: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/lpritch/ED%20-%20Papers.html

katie writes:

Hi, Tom West.

I'm just starting my 7th year homeschooling(*)

1) No, not all homeschoolers are women.
My brother isn't. Typically they are though, of course -- either for cultural or physical reasons. But not always. Women breastfeed children better, so it makes a lot of sense for moms with little babies to be the parent who stays home. Men who show up at parks in the afternoon are frequently harassed by other parents or the police, so it can be difficult to be that guy. When we only had one child, my husband stayed home for a year and took care of him and took a full load of college classes while I worked.
2) The opportunity cost is high, but it's not just schooling.
I'm giving my kids freedom, which is nearly priceless. The freedom to learn what they want, to go to the bathroom when they need to, the freedom to choose who to associate with (which makes the issues of bullies almost non-existent). The pay-off is huge. They will know freedom and resist authoritarianism, because they weren't conditioned for years to accept it. They will get adequate sleep at night. I'm betting they will have fewer mental health problems. Lower stress. A better relationship with me, their siblings, their grandparents. More trips to museums. It's a whole lifestyle.
3) Once the children are old enough, homeschooling parents can still work.
My children are 10, 7, and 3, and I'm picking up some contract work. Some homeschoolers also tutor or give classes, write blogs or books, make fun learning crafts, etc..

* -- Most compound words enter the language in the same progression. Home school becomes home-school becomes homeschool. Just as e mail became e-mail became email. (I used to work as a tech writer.)

[comment edited by permission of commenter to show it was a response to Tom West.--Econlib Ed.]

David Friedman writes:

Our two children were unschooled, first in a small school modeled on Sudbury Valley, later at home. We are happy with the results. A few suggestions from our experience:

A number of the Doctor Seuss books are pretty clearly designed to teach reading. My wife used _Hop on Pop_ to teach our daughter to read; the process took a month or so.

Both of our children enjoyed _How to Lie With Statistics_; your oldest might enjoy it too. Our son spent a lot of time on D&D and similar activities, which gave him a natural interest in probability theory—how likely he was to succeed in a die roll. The author and illustrator of _How to Lie With Statistics_ also produced a book on that subject, _How to Take a Chance_, so we got a copy and our son read it several times. We may have had the only small child in Silicon Valley (or perhaps not the only) who could calculate the probability of getting a total of eight or less with three D6's.

Our son was, for a year or so, running a weekly D&D game for a group of friends, ranging from substantially younger than he was to substantially older. Seen from our point of view, it was a valuable lesson in responsibility. He knew that, every week, he had to have that week's game prepared when his friends showed up—and he did. Earlier, he had taught himself to spell because he was playing Starcraft online and did not want to look stupid to the much older people he was playing with. Still earlier he taught himself to type so that he could talk to people online. Our daughter's writing skill was practiced doing battle reports on World of Warcraft games and fictional scenes set in that world. She has now graduated from college and hopes to make a career as a free lance editor selling her services online.

I think the general lesson is that almost anything kids get really interested in can be educational, so you should not worry too much about the particular directions they choose—although of course you should feel free to try to steer them towards things you think will prove both fun and valuable. I like to describe unschooling as throwing books at kids and seeing which ones stick.

This summer our son, now a college student, discovered G.K. Chesterton's prose (both kids already knew "Lepanto," which is an old favorite of mine). He has now found and read most of it online and memorized a fair chunk of "The Ballad of the White Horse."

Good luck.

Tom West writes:

Katie:

My children are 10, 7, and 3, and I'm picking up some contract work.

You're home-schooling 3 kids (including a 3 year old) *and* you're doing contract work? You have my awe :-).

And you are right. I think the home-schooling decision must rest on more than just academics. The anti-authoritarian aspect is interesting. Our child would never accept "because I said so" from us, but had to learn that in a group, not every leader could spend 20 minutes justifying an order to him.

Aside: I have to say I had just enough paternal leave when my son was born to truly understand that between my wife and I, I had the *far* easier job - *and* I got paid for mine (and got to talk to adult colleagues, go to the bathroom, take coffee breaks, be intellectually engaged, etc.) Certainly made it clear that when coming home from a long day at the office, just which one of us deserved an hour of quiet time :-). (Although child #2 did teach us that apparently some children *can* be put down while awake during the first 6 months of their life...)

David Friedman:

Earlier, he had taught himself to spell because he was playing Starcraft online and did not want to look stupid to the much older people he was playing with.

I don't know about Starcraft, but I have to say that my son's propensity for proper spelling in Warcraft threw a lot of people for a loop. He played with the skill of the 12-year old he was, but intimidated (seriously!) some of the older teenagers simply because of his "typing diction" and his seriousness. Very odd.

Parents may reduce the opportunity cost of homeschooling by using the "play" in the legal system. In Hawaii, nothing in the law requires that homeschooling instruction occur between 0800 and 1430. You can extend daycare to age 17 and then take the GED.

If you want to be a really good person (in Mz. Benedikt's eyes), you can have your child read O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" and Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" and encourage him/her to drop out in school. Go ahead and earn a 0.0 GPA. If you take the GED at 17, crack 1200 (old style) on the SAT, and earn a 4.0 GPA over two years in a community college, you can transfer to a 4-year university and no one will care about your high school transcript. Two kids in every K-12 classroom who let the teacher know that they intend to ignore all instruction and to study on their own will bring the system down in short order. Of course, that would take an incredibly strong and emotionally secure child.

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