Our Homeschooling Odyssey

Posted by: Bostonian

Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/14/21 12:54 PM

Caplan is an economics professor and author of the books "The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money" and "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think"

Our Homeschooling Odyssey
by Bryan Caplan
September 2021

Six years ago, I began homeschooling my elder sons, Aidan and Tristan. They attended Fairfax County Public Schools for K-6, becoming more disgruntled with every passing year. Even though they went to an alleged “honors” school for grades 4-6, they were bored out of their minds. The academic material was too easy and moved far too slowly. The non-academic material was humiliatingly infantile. And non-academics – music, dance, chorus, art, poster projects – consumed a majority of their day. As elementary school graduation approached, my sons were hungry for a change.

So what did we do? In consultation with my pupils, I prepared an ultra-academic curriculum. Hours of math every day. Reading serious books. Writing serious essays. Taking college classes. And mastering bodies of knowledge.

In 7th grade, I prepared my sons for the AP United States History exam, and had them informally attend my course in labor economics.

In 8th grade, I prepared my sons for the AP exams in European History, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics, and had them informally attend my course in public choice.



While my sons’ objective performance and subjective satisfaction in middle school were both sky-high, my wife insisted that they try regular high school. Back in those days, the political brainwashing at FCPS was modest, but the anti-intellectual pedagogical philosophy was already overwhelming. I never liked high school, but at least in my day teachers actually taught their subjects. Not so at FCPS. With the noble exception of their calculus teacher, my sons’ high school teachers just showed videos and treated teens like babies. After three weeks, my wife gave a green light to resume homeschooling.

Silver lining: Since comedy is tragedy plus time, we’ll be laughing about those three weeks of regular high school for the rest of our lives. Yes, a kid in their Spanish class really did raise his hand and say, “Spain’s in… South America, right?”

...
Posted by: aquinas

Re: Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/14/21 01:51 PM

Wise mind at play and eminently quotable:

Quote:
Like Homer Simpson, I believe that weaseling is a vital life skill, but in this case, I bluntly told them, “There’s no weaseling out of this.” They were displeased, but worked hard.


The kicker:

Quote:
My general read: I think the median school probably did discriminate against my sons for being homeschooled. Their SATs were 99%+, their AP performance was off the charts, they ran an impressive podcast, and they had a refereed history publication. (At many schools, five such pubs would buy an assistant professor tenure!) Yet they were waitlisted by Harvard and Columbia, and rejected by all the lesser Ivies. All public schools accepted them; I don’t know if this stems from lower discrimination or just lower standards. Nevertheless, the net effect of homeschooling was almost certainly highly positive. My sons used their immense educational freedom to go above and beyond, and several top schools were suitably impressed. The critical factor at Vanderbilt, I suspect, was that their faculty, not their admissions committees, hand out academic merit scholarships.
Posted by: Wren

Re: Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/16/21 04:41 PM

Obviously his twins are very smart kids. He seems to have a very different experience with his younger kids. But it seemed that the curriculum was just piled on. If they were PG, why not just have them start college early? They just seemed so isolated. He had them do Spanish daily with a tutor. My dog could learn spanish that way. I think that is why top schools were hesitant. What were their social skills? As much as I have thought about Stanford online, I know that my kid needs the interaction. She needs to learn to work with others, understand social cues and all the rest. What about sport? What about their individual interests? They did everything together and now they are at Vanderbilt together. What happens when they are not together?
Posted by: aeh

Re: Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/16/21 06:34 PM

We have information on only a small, carefully curated slice of their experience, which makes it more challenging to identify the factors that affected their admissions records, but I will note a key distinctive between elite privates and public universities, even selective flagships: at publics, admissions criteria are generally set by the state board of higher ed, and thus more transparent and somewhat more objective. And open to public records requests. I suspect that, in consequence, soft criteria (like social skills and extracurriculars) become less of a factor.

And that the author's younger children are not taking identical pathways suggests that the twins' homeschooling experience was significantly driven by them, and not imposed on them (with, perhaps, the exception of Spanish--although even then, they appear to have taken to it rather quickly).
Posted by: Wren

Re: Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/17/21 06:26 AM

DD is going through the application process now. Even getting letters from professors. One mentioned that he was glad she asked early, and even though he has taught her before (this is AP Physics now), he wanted a list of ECs and other stuff since he did not keep track, but she has been a student at the school for 6 years. Where did these kids get their letters? DD said she has to list her ECs on the app, she needed 10. I realized one is knitting. I said that would distinguish her, just the fact that she has knitting. From being a high performance sailor to knitting. I think these kids may have left a bunch of stuff empty. And my kid has been to all continents by the time she was 15 and over 45 countries. Travel isn't on her app. People can put travel if they have been to 5 countries or 50. And I think the majority of kids applying can put travel. But that he mentions it, is weak, as my kid travelled because I made the plans. Did she benefit, yes, but I am the one that made the travel happen.
Posted by: Kai

Re: Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/17/21 08:02 AM

Originally Posted By: aeh
And that the author's younger children are not taking identical pathways suggests that the twins' homeschooling experience was significantly driven by them, and not imposed on them (with, perhaps, the exception of Spanish--although even then, they appear to have taken to it rather quickly).


It could be that the author learned some things with the older ones that he is now applying to the younger ones. I know I gave my younger son (by 6 years) much more latitude in our homeschool than I did the older one.

With regard to the issue of them not getting into top schools--it doesn't surprise me in the least. It seems to me that there are more than enough academically excellent applicants, which is why, after making an initial cut, it's all about extracurriculars and other desirable qualities.
Posted by: Eagle Mum

Re: Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/17/21 07:12 PM

Originally Posted By: Kai
Originally Posted By: aeh
And that the author's younger children are not taking identical pathways suggests that the twins' homeschooling experience was significantly driven by them, and not imposed on them (with, perhaps, the exception of Spanish--although even then, they appear to have taken to it rather quickly).


It could be that the author learned some things with the older ones that he is now applying to the younger ones. I know I gave my younger son (by 6 years) much more latitude in our homeschool than I did the older one.


I suspect it’s a common theme that younger children enjoy a more relaxed childhood.

My eldest, like yours, was an only child for six years. Although I was working full time, I prioritised her extracurriculars (violin, dance and singing lessons, athletics, swimming). Even after the younger two came along in rapid succession, I remained initially committed, pushing and dragging prams & strollers in tow. When my eldest gave up on all her extracurriculars at the start of high school (despite showing great talent in a couple of areas), I questioned why I had invested so much time and energy (although today, she is a very well rounded young adult about to start her med internship, so she’s turned out quite well - she's a great enabler).

As a working parent, raising three kids was busy enough without extracurriculars and I felt burnt by my experience with our eldest, so I didn’t offer my younger two any extracurriculars. My best friend (& their Godmother) insisted on taking my son to martial arts classes and my youngest to dancing and when they were old enough, they walked to these activities (which were fortunately co-located in the same complex) together. I also let them take an afterschool music group class offered by the school simply as ‘babysitting’ time.

My parental apathy led to the serendipitous discovery that when kids take ‘ownership’ of their own activities, they are more likely to become self motivated - my younger ones certainly did and their achievements eventually eclipsed their sister’s. My son zoomed through the material that the music group teacher offered, quickly reaching Grade 3 level (she estimated). Within a couple of years, he was playing A-Mus level pieces (self taught) and won a couple of eisteddfod prizes against a capable field of young musicians.

Organisation skills, self discipline and motivation readily transfer from extracurricular to academic activities. My son is the only student from the nonselective government school sector to reach finalist stage of the mathematics Olympiad program, whilst simultaneously enjoying his social status as a school sports star in athletics. The lockdown, forced by COVID, have highlighted their full independence in self directed learning (they’ve received very little input from their teachers to achieve perfect scores in every assessment task during this period) and has actually given them a taste of the academic freedom which many homeschoolers enjoy.

So, the lesson I learnt is that, within well resourced households that value academia, enabling the child to take the reins can lead to overall very positive and even some surprising outcomes.

Posted by: indigo

Re: Our Homeschooling Odyssey - 09/22/21 05:52 PM

Great thread!
smile
Very upbeat and interesting to read.