A Portrait of My School
By Bryan Caplan
If I created my own school, what would it be like? Picture something like this:
1. The school has two goals: to (a) prepare students for independent adult life, and (b) give them a fun childhood.
2. Pursuant to 1(a), all students do at least 90 minutes of math every day. Most high-status jobs require good math skills, and that’s unlikely to change. So even if you don’t enjoy math, I insist on it.
3. Pursuant to 1(b), this is a traditional face-to-face school, where kids talk and play together. Without masks. Since I envision a very small school (5-15 students total) I deem the risk acceptable.
4. I admit only highly-motivated high school students, and extremely highly-motivated younger students. My pedagogical approach only works well for kids who are eager to learn. And teaching kids who aren’t eager to learn works poorly for me.
5. All students have a detailed schedule, for my benefit as well as theirs. Younger students have a schedule handed down to them; as they advance, they gradually take over their own scheduling. I revise these schedules as more information about students’ performance and interests arrives.
6. Every student gets personal feedback with their math every day. If they’re struggling, they get extra practice. If they’re excelling, they move on to the next level.
7. The rest of the curriculum depends on the student. All students spend ample time reading and writing, but what they read and write is up to them. When the student has a good draft of a writing project, they get personal feedback on content, style, spelling, and grammar.
8. General rule: If students are struggling with their work, they start by googling. If that doesn’t work, they ask more knowledgeable students. If that doesn’t work, they ask me during standard feedback time.
9. I give students near-zero homework – and parents no work of any kind. And no lame projects. Instead, we do the real thing. If you want to learn Spanish, you don’t make an English-language poster on Ecuador. You do daily language immersion. ¡No inglés!
10. I supply all textbooks. They’ll often be a few editions old because that cuts costs by 90%+ with near-zero learning loss.
11. For structure and external certification, all students train for at least one high-quality standardized test. I am especially fond of the Advanced Placement tests; my older sons took their first in 7th-grade, and completed thirteen APs each by the end of 11th grade.
12. After mastering tested material, students spend at least a month on full-time test prep. During this time, I give students next-day feedback on their performance, especially essays. I fully support “teaching to the test” when the test is a well-crafted effort to measure deep understanding of the subject. See e.g. all of the Advanced Placement tests in history.
13. Philosophically, my school focuses on mastery of intellectually demanding material. “Mastery” means you can apply the material creatively in new contexts – and explain it well to others.
14. At the same time, my school studiously avoids the latest moral fads and moral panics, and require politeness and calm. I tell my students the same thing I tell my kids: be friendly and don’t be touchy.
15. Do I merely replace mainstream indoctrination with my own? The typical observer would probably say so, but they’d be wrong. Yes, I freely share my controversial views when they’re germane. But I also carefully explain the normal view, my critique of the normal view, the normal view’s response, and so on. And I do so without the moral blackmail of, “You’re a benighted soul if you disagree” or the obtuse, “What do you mean, you disagree?”
16. I raise my kids without Social Desirability Bias. I do not respond to earnest questions with sugarcoated answers. I do not parrot fashionable platitudes. I either speak the plain truth or tell them, “Ask me when you’re older.” I treat all my students the same way.
How much demand would there be for such a school? Probably not much, but I wouldn’t want more than fifteen students anyway…
P.S. To repeat, I am only toying with the idea of sharing my educational model with non-family members. But if you are a prospective customer, please email me.