Bryan Caplan  

Caplan Family School Attendance Contract

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My wife and I have decided to homeschool our elder sons for middle school.  I homeschooled them during the last five weeks of summer vacation as an experiment, and we're all happy with the results.  I'll blog my rationale for homeschooling later.  For now, here's the attendance contract.

Caplan Family School Permanent Attendance Contract

1.       The Caplan Family School (henceforth CFS) exists for the benefit of its students.  Its goals are to help students create an intellectually stimulating childhood and a promising adult career for themselves. 

2.       To achieve these goals, the CFS curriculum is comprised of (a) material students are likely to use in the future, and (b) material students find interesting in the present.  "Material students are likely to find useful in the future" includes material students are likely to use in future grades.  Exposing students to diverse samples of potentially interesting material counts as useful.

3.       Bryan Caplan and Corina Caplan are the directors of CFS.  Bryan Caplan is its head teacher.  Directors have equal and final say over all CFS decisions, but the head teacher is responsible for all day-to-day CFS affairs.  Directors may select other teachers to assist the head teacher. 

4.       All CFS teachers promise to competently and entertainingly teach the curriculum, treating all students with kindness and respect at all times.  The head teacher will be responsible for all legal and external test deadlines.

5.       CFS is a special school for highly motivated students with exemplary behavior.  Students promise to work hard on the assigned material every school day without complaint, and to treat their teachers with kindness and respect at all times. 

6.       Students are entitled to politely suggest ways to improve CFS, but may not question directors' final decisions during school or commuting time.

7.       Every CFS parent and student retains the right to unilaterally end attendance, but agrees to give one week advance notice of this decision.  Students who leave CFS will begin public school the first school day after their CFS attendance concludes.  CFS students who move to public school are expected to have an optimistic, can-do attitude toward their studies. 

8.       The regular CFS school year begins on September 8, 2015 and continues year-round.  Vacation time will be set on a case-by-case basis.

9.       CFS students should expect to graduate at the end of 8th grade.  Students will attend a conventional high school so they can build strong transcripts for college admission.  The head teacher and students will both work to ensure a smooth transition to high school, but the head teacher is responsible for all legal and bureaucratic issues.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (17 to date)
Ben writes:

Bryan, this sounds absolutely terrific and I congratulate you and your family on this decision. I have no doubt you will make an incredible teacher to your children and they will learn far more than they would under the alternative plan. I envy your ability to offer this curriculum and wish I had the same freedom.

Seeing that I don't, I wonder whether you'd be willing to entertain the idea of my seven middle school age children attending the Caplan Family School. They are willing to work hard for whatever you offer and I have no doubt they'd add to the productivity of the entire group.

I thank you in advance for your consideration. I can provide transcripts upon request but I would guess you would not need them.

michael s writes:

what counts as "useful"?

Should students be familiar with Shakespeare, Coleridge, Hemingway, etc? Should students know about the major rivers in the world, major mountain ranges, the oceans and continents?

Those are just examples from literature and geography, but I would argue such knowledge is part of being culturally aware, well-rounded, and a good citizen. (most public school graduates in this country I think would fail this criterion.)

Winthrop Dad writes:

Hi Bryan,

Welcome to the team! Long time fan. I'm a former LSE grad student and have been homeschooling most of my 4 daughters for 5 years now, the oldest two would be 6th-7th grade.

I'm the Dad in this Sept cover article on homeschooling in Boston Magazine.

And although we started in 2nd grade, my #1 stated goal was to homeschool middle school which is education/child sociology at its very worst.

If your #1 stated goal is to "build strong transcripts for college admission", why in the world do you think that a 4 yr high school gives you the better signalling opportunities in this regard relative to what a homeschooler can achieve? After all, SATs weigh even more heavily for homeschoolers (an advantage for you), and your family would be among the *most* clever at creating an appealing transcript!

Hey, it's your first day, and "way leads to way" as Tolkein wrote. But I thought I'd zero in on that early.


NZ writes: they can build strong transcripts for college admission.
Huh? Why? Isn't college just signaling or something?
Sieben writes:
CFS students who move to public school are expected to have an optimistic, can-do attitude toward their studies.

I don't understand how this can be in the contract. It's like the contract doesn't have a full exit clause.

PA Homeschooler writes:

Either this is a contract of adhesion or your sons aren’t regular readers of your blog. The "If the kid has a book in his hands, leave him in peace" covenant was omitted from your Contract!

DougT writes:


Congrats! We've been homeschooling for 21 years now, starting in 1st grade with my oldest, and now working with my youngest (of 6) who is in 9th grade.

You didn't ask for advice, but I'll share it anyway: relax. You will have a honeymoon period, which may last for months. But then reality will set in, and nothing will seem to get done.

That's the time to go on a family retreat, reiterate what your goals are, and how you intend to get there.

Just remember: a community has to exist for a purpose bigger than itself, and a long-term family project can only be sustained if there is a bigger vision than just the family. "Service" needs to be a big part of the curriculum.

Best wishes!

Maximum Liberty writes:


We homeschooled my daughter through middle school for the exact reason that Winthrop Dad gave:

my #1 stated goal was to homeschool middle school which is education/child sociology at its very worst.

She was #1 in her high school class from the first semester through graduation.

Here are some recommendations for your consideration:

1. Warn your kids that the first year of high school might seem a little slow for them as a result of being homeschooled. Remind them right before they start.

2. Look at some high school curricula to find holes - things that you can teach them now that they won't be able to get later. Examples: statistics (amazingly not covered in most high schools at all), microeconomics (they can probably get macro, which is sad), languages other than Spanish (Latin is being phased out in lots of schools), classics (out of fashion, especially if you count any stories from the bible as classics), etc.

3. Practical academic skills: how to take notes; how to write sentences, then paragraphs; how to study for exams; how to outline, then write essays; how to cite evidence in a research paper, etc. This requires a lot of practice, followed by a lot of detailed coaching. If you want the resources we used, email me.

4. Presentation skills. This isn't so much about the skill of presenting as being confident about standing up in front of a group and talking. One way slip this in without them noticing is to require them to memorize and recite a poem or part of a famous speech every week. They focus on the work of memorizing, and never notice how comfortable they have gotten in getting up and talking.

Max L.

David Friedman writes:

Am I correct in interpreting the contract as rejecting an unschooling approach, in which there are no assignments? I'll be happy to point you at what I have written in favor of that approach if you haven't already read it and rejected the conclusion.

High school grades surely help with college admission, but they are not essential—both our kids managed without them, although with some difficulty. SAT exams provide a partial substitute. Saint Olaf, one of the schools that accepted Rebecca, told us that what blew them away was the list she provided of books she had read—some four hundred of them. Worth keeping track now.

Possible evidence of the virtue of the unschooling approach is that both our children are now pursuing careers of their own choice, and doing so in what we regard as an appropriate and responsible manner—Bill as a novelist, Rebecca as a free lance editor.

Peter Gerdes writes:

While middle school may be pretty useless in terms of what material you learn isn't this an argument for not home schooling your children?

Admittedly I, who was bullied frequently in middle school, may have benefited if I had been home schooled but for the most part I think children benefit from interaction with other children. Also isn't there a potential benefit to learning to handle the awfulness of classroom learning they will have to deal with in highschool?

Given the paucity of actual material covered in middle school doesn't this argue for the greater importance of these considerations?

Colombo writes:

Sounds good.
But you should consider the fact that if your children don't go to a real school then they will never understand what mental illness is, and will be completely incapable of dealing with it in the future.

Just joking.

I don't like the tests bit, because at that age tests seem to cause emotional dependency and a net loss of individualty. But the kindness and respect point should prevent any sado-masochistic behavior, so common in government schools.

The best kind of teacher is one who wants to be there, and is not just killing time.

Have a lot of fun, because this is your favorite job now.

P. S.: Who will teach shop class?

Parker Bradley writes:

Traditional high school transcripts are no longer relevant in getting into college. Aside from the infamous GED, home schooling is becoming widely accepted and there are a large array of options, just one of which involves (for the competent & motivated student) achieving 2+yr of college credit through a variety of subject specific standardized tests. A home schooled child of average competence and drive should have little trouble attaching 1 to 2 yr worth of college credits to their CV by the time they are 18; and if highly motivated and highly competent then with all the testing and online options available today a homeschooler could even achieve a BA or BS by the time they are 18 for little cost (test fees and enrollment in a few online college courses). With the pesky undergrad crap out of the way they can then move on to more serious and focused graduate work if they desire to do so (if they are looking for a real degree in things like math, physics, chemistry, engineering etc....), if not they are now free to do other things while at the same time having a college degree attached to their names.

NZ writes:
Also isn't there a potential benefit to learning to handle the awfulness of classroom learning they will have to deal with in highschool?
Not to mention the awfulness of classroom learning they will have to deal with in college. Or during employee training. Or before going on a Segway tour. Etc.
Phil writes:

I'm curious if he is going to change his work schedule to accommodate homeschooling

Blake Boles writes:

I second Winthrop Dad's comment about college prep! I'm the author of College Without High School: a teenager's guide to skipping high school and going to college, and I've seen countless unschoolers and homeschoolers prepare for competitive college admissions.

Duncan Frissell writes:

I'm not sure why you government schooled in the elementary years and intend to do so again for HS. I know middle school is a bad idea but government HS seems worse. Social environment plus average test score decline over those years.

Libertarians have a real school problem because almost all schools (public and private) are hard left and the few schools that aren't are religious and libertarians tend strongly towards atheism.

But personally, I would always keep my kids out of commie school.

Taips writes:

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