Why I'm Homeschooling
By Bryan Caplan
I’m homeschooling my elder sons for middle school. On the surface, this makes sense: Homeschooling has been in the libertarian penumbra for decades. If you know my books, however, you should be puzzled.
1. In Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, I argue that the power of nurture is vastly overrated. Genetics, not upbringing, explains almost all of the observed similarity between parent and child. It’s not reasonable, then, for me to expect my efforts to durably boost my kids’ IQs, educational success, income, or even their political views.
2. In The Case Against Education, I argue that signaling, not human capital, explains most of the effect of education on earnings. Without an established school’s seal of approval, learning has little selfish payoff. So even if the Caplan Family School manages to build stellar cognitive skills, the Real World won’t reward them.
Of course, it would be deeply out of character for me to homeschool without replies to both objections. Here they are:
1′. While the power of nurture to change kids’ adult outcomes is indeed vastly overrated, it is well within my power to give my sons a better childhood. My kids prefer a challenging academic curriculum. I can give them that. My kids hate music, dance, art, and group projects. I can spare them these indignities. My kids don’t want to wake up at 5:45 AM every morning. In the Caplan Family School, we start at a civilized hour. Homeschooling gives my sons plenty of time for math, reading, and history, but leaves them ample free time for hobbies and travel.
More speculative: I suspect – though I’m far from sure – that the Caplan Family School is such an exceptional experience that ordinary twin and adoption evidence isn’t relevant. For example, my sons are plausibly the only 12-year-olds in the nation taking a college class in labor economics. Perhaps it really will forever rock their worlds. More obviously, their peer group now includes Robin Hanson, Alex Tabarrok, Tyler Cowen, Garett Jones, and Nathaniel Bechhofer. That’s plausibly four standard deviations above whatever peer group they’d have in a conventional middle school.
2′. While education is mostly signaling, there are cracks in the system. As far as I can tell, the Real World pays zero attention to what students do in middle school. The Caplan Family School won’t keep my kids out of good high schools; they can re-enter Fairfax County Public School in 9th grade. It won’t keep my kids out of good colleges; colleges don’t know what applicants did in middle school. And it won’t keep my kids from getting good jobs; there probably isn’t an employer in the country who asks how applicants did in 7th grade. So while homeschooling feels risky for high school, our next two years look like clear sailing.
If my reasoning sounds familiar, it should. I’m a strategic non-conformist. When I can bend stupid rules with impunity, I bend them.