2015-09-22

Bryan Caplan On Homeschooling

Bryan Caplan has decided to home-school his children during their middle school years. In rationalizing his decision, Caplan anticipates possible criticisms based on his noteworthy views on behavioral genetics and the signalling model of education, and then responds to each. (Read the whole thing.)

Caplan does indeed seem to have thought through some valid criticisms, and I believe he answers them effectively. What's striking to me, however, is the list of criticisms he has not answered at all. In that spirit, here are a few angles Caplan may not yet have considered:

First, what if homeschooling proves to be such a pleasant experience for his children that they find it difficult to adjust to "normal school" when they are reintroduced to it in high school? This could plausibly set them back in the long run. A basis for my thinking here is the difficulty most college educated people have when they work for a few years and then attempt to go back to graduate school. Having enjoyed the full liberties of an adult life and an adult income, they often struggle to readjust to academic life, in which studying is seemingly the most important thing in the world, and every penny must be mercilessly pinched.

Second, I'm genuinely surprised that Caplan has not fused his views on workplace conformity with his views on education. In fact, in this most recent blog post, he calls himself a "strategic non-conformist" and links to a previous blog post on the topic. But Caplan has stated before that education is mostly a signal of conformity. Well, what could be more non-conformist in today's American society than home schooling? Caplan makes his own case against his decision as follows:
An interesting implication is that high-IQ people who don't go to college are actually signaling that they are unusually lazy and/or weird. It's easy for a high-IQ person to breeze through school. If one fails to do so, a sensible employer will naturally ask "What's wrong with him?" It's not surprising, then, that few employers will give an eighteen-year-old genius a responsible job. The very fact that you refuse to go to college suggests that you aren't going to be as good at your job as your test scores would normally indicate. 
I hasten to add that I don't mean to disparage my self-taught readers. I'd probably really enjoy meeting you. But I'd be lying if I said I'd be eager to hire you. No offense intended - if I were running a business, I wouldn't hire myself either!
I myself am an ardent critic of conformity-as-a-value, but Caplan seems not to be, hence I wonder about the cognitive dissonance here.

Third, and further to the conformity angle, kids need opportunities to learn to communicate with their fellow children. I don't think public schooling is the best or only way to achieve this, but other home-schoolers I know provide their children with a robust faith-based community in which to be socialized. Caplan is such a fan of his self-described "bubble" that I wonder if he is perhaps compromising his children's own ability to choose a "bubble" of their own.

That said, if I had the opportunity to include my child in a peer group that included Bryan Caplan, Robin Hanson, Alex Tabarrok, Tyler Cowen, Garett Jones, and Nathaniel Bechhofer, I must admit that I would jump at it. I echo EconLog commentator "Ben's" hope that Caplan continues to blog about it.