How to Give Your Child an Expensive Private Education — For Less Than $3,000 per Year

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Michael Strong explains how to give your child an expensive private education for less than $3,000 per year — by working toward complete autodidacticism with a coach, rather than covering curriculum with a teacher:

Consider the advantage your child will have had if she has spent 3–5 hours each day reading for the past ten years, 2–3 hours engaged in mathematical activity for the past ten years, and 2–3 hours writing each day for the past ten years.  Most students sit in class listening for six hours per so each day, of which much of that time actually consists of teachers managing the class rather than teaching.  The only real time that children practice skills are when they do homework at night, at which point they may be tired and longing for play or free time.  A child that reads, writes, and does math from 9–5 p.m. each day, with time off for lunch, will spend far more hours actually learning than does a child who goes to school — plus that child will be free to spend family time together in the evening instead of chained to their desk at night doing homework.

In the early years, this means working on three things:

  1. Reading, reading, reading, and more reading.
  2. The development of sophisticated writing skills.
  3. As much advancement in mathematics as is possible.

“Whenever I encounter a student who is a habitual reader,” Strong says, “I regard the educational problem as 90% solved”:

Although this sounds odd to modern ears, in many cases some of the most famous thinkers in history self-educated simply by reading, “and then I read all the books in my father’s library.”

Just as reading skills are developed by means of many hours of reading, writing skills are developed by means of many hours of writing — and talking:

But expository writing, the ability to explain his or her understanding of the world and how they obtained such an understanding, is the key to all of collegiate writing and much adult professional writing. Although one can “teach” techniques for such writing, such teaching proceeds far more naturally if one has spent many thousands of hours talking with your child and asking them why they liked the story, why they respected certain characters, how and why they might have handled certain situations differently, etc.

The ideal is to create a home atmosphere in which thinking and talking about life and how one understands life has become second nature, in which dinner time conversations routinely move ever more deeply into explorations of what happened during the day and why, in which explicitly understanding the world by means of conscious thought is the daily norm.

For children raised in such a rich dialogic atmosphere, for children who have “rehearsed” their thoughts in conversations for thousands of hours, expository writing becomes a natural extension of their habitual conversations. As they write more and longer pieces, you as parent, or a hired writing coach if you prefer, can assign various structures, coach on the detailed use of mechanics, and develop in your child a rich, distinctive writing voice well before adolescence. Indeed, a bright child raised in a conversationally rich home environment can easily develop a mastery of Strunk and White by means of coached writing of long essays while most school children are still doing formulaic book reports at school.

The chief flaw of most school math programs is that the pace is far too slow:

Develop in your child the habit of sitting down to work on solving mathematics problems for at least an hour per day, preferably a couple of hours per day.

Many children spontaneously love to read, and do not need to be forced to read. With a sufficiently rich conversational atmosphere, one can develop in young people an appetite for writing. Such a spontaneous love for mathematical problem solving seems to be rarer. This is the single area in which the development of a routine, daily disciplined work period is probably the most important.

Math curricula are fairly linear and standardized. You (or your child’s math coach) should closely monitor progress to ensure that the child is practicing enough to learn each concept without engaging in repetition to the point of boredom. Ideally this would be highly individualized; there are some children who grasp some mathematical concepts almost instantaneously and do not need many repetitions. Other students may need many repetitions of some concepts but grasp other concepts quickly. Individualized mathematics coaching, combined with an ideal of two hours of highly disciplined practice each day, is one way in which your child can develop a tremendous advantage over students in school. Because even elite private schools typically adhere to the glacial grade level pace of American mathematics education, a personally coached mathematics student with good work habits can easily arrive at middle school age one, two, three or more years ahead of his or her age-level peers.

At some point your child should undertake a substantial enterprise:

In traditional cultures young people typically underwent a right of passage at the age of thirteen or so, after which they were welcomed into the adult community with adult responsibilities. In American culture prior to the imposition of compulsory schooling, individuals such as Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison began their careers at thirteen and built a foundation for lifetime achievement upon real world achievements in adolescence. This type of real world achievement should be a goal for you and your child.

Often parents eager to get their children into elite colleges are eager for their children to participate in many school “activities.” And yet colleges are overwhelmed with students who list participation in numerous activities. They are more interested in real achievement than in long lists of “participations.” It is one thing to be student body president; it is another to create a successful business, publish an academic article, or develop a career as a professional musician prior to entry into college.

Existing K-12 education, Strong notes, is largely training in immaturity:

We neither expect nor allow our children to aspire to real achievement. It is all a game for children, and they know it. One of the goals of having read real books, magazines, journals, and newspapers rather than textbooks is to have introduced your child fully into the adult world as it really is. They should know about business, and government, and relationships, and entertainment not as “subjects” to be taught but as living realities in the adult communities in which they were raised. The thousands of hours of conversations should have focused them not on preparation for tests, but rather on understanding the real world of real life.

So, how much does this education cost?

Twenty-five dollars an hour buys an excellent tutor (or academic coach) in most parts of the country. Many graduate students or retired people would be glad to teach a well-behaved, motivated young person for $25 per hour. Two days of mathematics coaching would thus be $50 per week; another two days of humanities (reading, writing, and conversation) coaching would be another $50 per week. At one hundred dollars per week one can buy thirty weeks per year of personalized academic coaching for $3,000.


  1. James James says:

    “2–3 hours” maths “each day”

    “$25 per hour. Two days of mathematics coaching would thus be $50 per week”

    I’m confused. Is that only one hour of maths per day for two days a week? I’d have thought one would need more, and would therefore need to spend more.

  2. Spandrell says:

    I wonder if he’s tried that on his children with the Senegalese entrepreneur.

  3. I tutored various subjects for a while in between jobs. The average rate was around $45/hr. I never saw anyone advertise under $30/hr. I wonder if his numbers are out of date.

  4. Isegoria says:

    Strong’s recommendation is to practice math a couple hours per day, but to receive coaching only a couple hours per week.

    Also, it’s not a new article, and I believe the costs are out of date.

  5. Dan Kurt says:

    My son was “finished” in Math by me during his High School years. His 9th grade math teacher was a dolt and the book a joke as had been his 8th grade one. I bribed him to do a long course of math for me after school 5 or 6 days a week year round except for our annual vacation to Hawaii and other long weekend holidays. He accepted the bribe which was traveling to bike races — he competed as a junior licensed racer and actually won one race against men aged 18 to 30 during those years, a 65 mile CAT 3 event when he was 17. He competed in dozens of races across many states and in Canada.

    His job was to do the Saxon series of books: Algebra 1/2, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Advanced Math, and Calculus. Each lesson was doing a bit of reading and then about 30 problems. I did not teach him. My job was to check the answers from the answer sheet provided and rarely try to solve a problem. In all of the books we only were stumped less than a handful of times by a problem. After he got into the swing of things he rarely needed any help and always, it seemed, polished off the problem set swiftly. Saxon constantly repeats problem types from earlier in the books. BTW, I have a hard science background including a doctorate and two post docs. But any reasonably intelligent individual could do what I did with my son if the student is bright and motivated: the Saxon books are that good.

    My son benefited from the ordeal as he is now a Ph.D. level Mechanical engineer.

  6. A Boy and His Dog says:

    Dan, between this and your earlier comment about education, your story is inspiring. Very useful info, speaking as a motorcycle enthusiast with small children…

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