Bryan Caplan  

The Pride of Homeschooling

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I finally got my hands on the script for Captain Fantastic, and can now share my favorite scene.  Subtle it's not, but for me, awesome always beats subtle.  The stage: Homeschooling dad Captain Fantastic and his six kids are visiting his mundane sister and her two kids (Justin and Jackson).  The sister lets her brother know she's not too happy with his child-rearing...

Sister: They're children! They need to go to school. They need to learn about the world.

Captain: [shouting] Justin. Jackson? Would you please come down here for a second?

Jackson: What?

Captain: How old are you now, Jackson?

Jackson: Thirteen.

Captain: Can you tell me what the Bill of Rights is?

Jackson: Um, what something costs, I guess.

Captain: That's a good guess. Justin, you're in high school?

Justin: Yeah.

Captain: Do you like your school?

Justin: It's whatever.

Captain: Do you know what the Bill of Rights is?

Justin: It's a government thing, right? Like, rights that people have in America and stuff.

Captain: Yep. [shouting] Hey, Zaja?

Zaja: [Captain's 2nd-youngest kid] Yes?

Captain: Would you please come down here a moment, sweetie? I wanted to ask you a quick question. Zaja's just turned eight, by the way. The Bill of Rights.

Zaja: Amendment one: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; Or abridging the freedom of...

Captain: Stop. Regurgitating memorized amendments isn't what I'm asking for. Just tell me something about it in your own words.

Zaja: Without the Bill of Rights we'd be more like China. Here, at least, we don't have warrantless searches. We have free speech. Citizens are protected from cruel and unusual punishments...

Sister: That's enough.

As I've said before, I don't hate education.  Rather, I love it too much to accept the Orwellian substitutes we take for granted.  And if you think Captain Fantastic's mocking a straw man, I say straw men rule the world.

HT: Zac Gochenour




COMMENTS (8 to date)
Shane L writes:

I have been reading Bryan's thoughts on homeschooling with interest. I'm not American and the bitter condemnations I've read by some Americans of the public schooling system isn't something I encounter here in Ireland much. I don't particularly expect that the schooling system is any better here, but the narrative seems to be different.

My primary (elementary, up to 12) school experience was great: I learned lots and enjoyed school. Secondary (12-18 years) was harder but partly because adolescence is harder and I suspect the most important lessons I learned were on dealing with brutish and intolerant peers. I probably would have learned more academically at home, but the toughness of sharing school with cruel and indifferent teenagers was the real education. Were I to become wealthy I would still probably send my children to a normal public school.

Anyway I'm not clear on what Bryan and other critics actually dislike about public schooling in the US. Is there something I should read?

Geoff writes:

@dhane_l Check out The Underground History of American Education by Gatto, or Deschoing Society by Illich. For what it's worth, I think the criticism extends to all institutionalized schooling, not just public school.

JK Brown writes:

Shane L,

You don't date your education experience so it is hard to do a comparison. I've seen lots of comments on someone's past education only to discover they are commenting on the school system of the 1960s rather than anything contemporary.


I suspect the most important lessons I learned were on dealing with brutish and intolerant peers.

I believe that almost anyone would accept that homeschooled kids are less prepared to adapt to prison. Learning to deal with brutish and intolerant peers is a skill of most value when confined to an institution with little or no purpose in life. The most readily examples outside of school are prison and government bureaucratic politics. Although, in the latter, the brutishness is less physical.

Erik L Olsen writes:

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Shane L writes:

Thanks Geoff!

JK, I completed school in 2001. I think the toughness of adolescence was very significant in developing my personality and resilience, and I'm grateful for it. Of course one might get this experience outside of the classroom too.

Ben H. writes:

There is no doubt that homeschooling can produce outcomes far better than the public school system. Of course. Having Bryan Caplan as your personal tutor is going to be awesome. But it can also produce outcomes far worse than the public school system. It can be, and often is, simply a vehicle for religious indoctrination, avoidance of subjects like climate change and evolution that the parents don't believe in, etc. Advocacy of homeschooling should be done with one's eyes wide open to the drawbacks as well as the benefits.

Hazel Meade writes:

Unfortunately, homeschooling requires one to have one parent who is able to stay home to do the schooling. For most families this isn't affordable.

@Ben,
I wouldn't be against having some sort of standardized testing for home-schooled kids. If they can pass the same standardized tests that the public school kids pass there should be no objection. Once a year at the end of the school year, the parents bring the kids in for the tests and if they pass, no problem. If they fail, perhaps they get the summer to try to catch up and if they fail again they have to go to public school.

Thomas Sewell writes:

Ben and Hazel,

It sounds like part of the difference in views may be attributable to beliefs around who is best qualified to judge a child's education. For some of us, there is a very strong presumption that the child's parent is best equipped to both care about, test and guide unless proven otherwise. There seems to be a competing belief that society, usually in the specific form of an education bureaucrat of some kind, is by default better equipped.

So your task is likely more to convince home schooling parents that they don't care and know as much about their child's education as an education bureaucrat, either local, State or Federal. There are likely some parents you can convince of that, but it's unlikely to include most homeschooling parents. So unless you want to try and overturn parental rights and transfer them to the government (and hey, maybe you do), you aren't going to win much traction in convincing people who have the choice not to homeschool.

BTW, this also ties into Charter Schools and other forms of school choice. Most parents believe they know better what their child needs than other people do. I don't know if you have children or not, or how familiar you are with social service workers and education bureaucrats, so I don't know if you believe they know better than you do what your own children need. I'm curious if there really exist many people who actually believe in "leaving it to the experts" when it comes to the specific case of their own children, as opposed to someone else's children they don't like how they're being raised and taught.

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