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Tuesday
Jul272010

Homeschool education

To homeschool or not to homeschool? What generates the better outcome for your children?

TLDR version: We just don't know, but here's my thoughts on how you might begin, if it's the right question to ask in the first place.

Why should parents have a choice? Because parents who are passionate and motivated will assess the options available to them, the current life circumstances such as career, income, educational attainment and marital status, and only then be able to make an informed decision about what they believe is best for their children and themselves collectively (that's why it's called a family).


This started with frankly a little offhand tweet of mine:
The biggest problem w #homeschool is your kids aren't gonna get the practical social knowhow they need to be part of any real team/workplace
And a reply from @farmmom4him:
@pzrq My Hsed children R able 2 interact in conversation w/ all ages, not jst their same aged peers. cnt say that 4 PS children. #homeschool
Which to my mind prompts the question I frankly was ill-equipped to even try to fully articulate, let alone answer before bed and with work in the morning...
What effect does homeschooling have on a child's social outcomes? And how does that effect compare to that of public/private schools?
What do I mean by social outcomes? I think I've defined it but I'll flesh it out as effective integration into teams and workplaces, whether built on surfing, tennis, soccer, climbing a mountain or other sporty things; debating or writing, software or hardware development, diplomatic or trade negotiations, banking and stockbroking, politics, advertising, podcasting, or whatever other collaborative endeavours are needed in the modern world...
...through effective social interaction.

Unfortunately that is not a simple question...it sounds like a topic of vague abstract notional institutional thinking, or perhaps a long term research thesis (and if I ever do one of those, it'll almost certainly be on something in technology). We also have to immediately discount all the anecdotes and stories, things like "cnt say that 4 PS children" - because I can with overwhelming probability guarantee there are some who can!

To be clear, social outcomes are something we can't easily measure. It's not like financial outcomes or standardised test scores which are both very well defined - it's easy to see who does better because they get a better result in the form of earning more money or a better mark (e.g. for a good overview see this HSLDA report by homeschooling advocate Brian D. Ray)


Now why did I start defining my question with "what effect does"? It is asking not the relatively easy question of correlation, but the much more difficult one of causation! To those unfamiliar...here's a clever example from Steve Gibson on Security Now! Ep 209:
imagine [you're]...watching the street...in New York, and [you] noticed that suddenly everyone put their umbrellas up and, oh, look, then windshield wipers all began going on the cars. Well, if you didn't know any better, you didn't understand anything about what was really going on, you could say that raising umbrellas caused windshield wipers to go on.
Causation...
Because it's not too hard to believe society has defined the default education as a public (or private) education by teachers in classrooms and lecturers in theatres, which means only people with a motive will seriously commit to an alternative such as homeschooling. People with a motive are probably more passionate and more concerned for their children's education, so much so that they wish to spend a significant part of their lives participating in precisely that - being a teacher/guide/mentor to their children.

Unfortunately, none of the mentioned homeschool material I've come across, for example:
as far as I can tell addresses this much more difficult causal question, but I'll keep my eyes out.

I think for the time being it's consigned to the heap of often extremely subjective questions like

What is the best diet?

I'm also skirting the other raised issue of how do you measure social outcomes...anyone should be able to come up with a counter example to simple things like the number of friends you have, the number of extracurricular activities you participate in, or how satisfied you personally feel about your relationships with other people.

I think the real reason questions like mine have not been seriously asked, let alone answered is simply that homeschooling simply involved too small a number of people for as long as I've known, and the statistics appear to show a trending increase in recent years. I'm sure historically there were much more interesting and accessible questions available for anyone passionate about education.

I'll close with what I think is a remarkable insight - perhaps this is the wrong question to be asking anyway (if you have to ask it) :
The answer will not be heartening to obsessive parents : in this case, school choice barely mattered at all...a student who opted out of his neighbourhood school was more likely to graduate whether or not he actually won the opportunity to go to a new school...the students - and parents - who choose to opt out tend to be smarter and more academically motivated to begin with. But statistically they gained no benefit by changing schools.
-Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics, International Edition, HarperCollinsPublishers, Ch5 What Makes a Perfect Parent?
I'll forgive anyone for thinking much ado about nothing, but I believe that's how real knowledge begins. You must ask the right questions.

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