We’ll be laughing about those three weeks of regular high school for the rest of our lives

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

Bryan Caplan explains his family’s homeschooling Odyssey:

Six years ago, I began homeschooling my elder sons, Aidan and Tristan.  They attended Fairfax County Public Schools for K-6, becoming more disgruntled with every passing year.  Even though they went to an alleged “honors” school for grades 4-6, they were bored out of their minds.  The academic material was too easy and moved far too slowly.  The non-academic material was humiliatingly infantile.  And non-academics — music, dance, chorus, art, poster projects — consumed a majority of their day.  As elementary school graduation approached, my sons were hungry for a change.

So what did we do? In consultation with my pupils, I prepared an ultra-academic curriculum. Hours of math every day. Reading serious books. Writing serious essays. Taking college classes. And mastering bodies of knowledge.


While my sons’ objective performance and subjective satisfaction in middle school were both sky-high, my wife insisted that they try regular high school. Back in those days, the political brainwashing at FCPS was modest, but the anti-intellectual pedagogical philosophy was already overwhelming. I never liked high school, but at least in my day teachers actually taught their subjects. Not so at FCPS. With the noble exception of their calculus teacher, my sons’ high school teachers just showed videos and treated teens like babies. After three weeks, my wife gave a green light to resume homeschooling.

Silver lining: Since comedy is tragedy plus time, we’ll be laughing about those three weeks of regular high school for the rest of our lives. Yes, a kid in their Spanish class really did raise his hand and say, “Spain’s in… South America, right?”


I hired an excellent Spanish tutor to give them Spanish five days a week year-round. And I asked their tutor to use the immersion method: ¡No Inglés!

The results were phenomenal. In months, the twins started speaking exclusively Spanish to each other. The wishful thinking of, “You hate it now, but work hard and you’ll come to love it” came true for them.


In 12th grade, the college application process took over my sons’ lives. While they still prepared themselves for AP Statistics and Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, filling out applications consumed almost the entire first semester. Despite everything we’d accomplished, I was nervous. The most reliable researchers I cornered told me that discrimination against homeschoolers was now mild, but short of a major lawsuit, how can anyone really find out?

To cope, I gave my sons the same advice I give everyone in this situation: Not only is admission random; funding is random as well. So throw a big pile of dice.

In response, my sons maxed out the Common App, which allows you to apply to up to 20 schools. (They also applied to Georgetown, which stubbornly refuses to join the Common App).

The college application weighed heavily on my students. I raised them to think clearly and speak bluntly. They knew to pull their punches on AP essays, but the whole college admission process is simply drenched in Social Desirability Bias. If you write a personal statement that admits, “I want to attend your school because I need a strong signal to advance my career, and you’re selling the thirteenth-best signal on the market,” you won’t be getting in. This was the one time I had to push them to do their work. Tristan averred that the academic refereeing process (four rounds of revisions!) was easy by comparison. My many pep talks largely fell on deaf ears. Still, they soldiered on, and finally resumed their actual studies. Intellectually, the highlight of their year was probably auditing my Ph.D. Microeconomics class.

Soon, college acceptances started to come in. Once the University of Virginia admitted them to their honors program, I stopped worrying. Johns Hopkins, by far the highest-ranked school in the DC area, took them as well. Then in early February, Vanderbilt offered both of them full merit scholarships. No one else came close to that deal, so that’s where they decided to go. And that’s where they are this very day. (Hi, sons!) If you see Aidan or Tristan on campus, be sure to introduce yourself. They’re not attention hogs like me, but they have much to say about anything of substance, and are hilarious once you put them at ease.

My general read: I think the median school probably did discriminate against my sons for being homeschooled. Their SATs were 99%+, their AP performance was off the charts, they ran an impressive podcast, and they had a refereed history publication. (At many schools, five such pubs would buy an assistant professor tenure!) Yet they were waitlisted by Harvard and Columbia, and rejected by all the lesser Ivies. All public schools accepted them; I don’t know if this stems from lower discrimination or just lower standards. Nevertheless, the net effect of homeschooling was almost certainly highly positive. My sons used their immense educational freedom to go above and beyond, and several top schools were suitably impressed. The critical factor at Vanderbilt, I suspect, was that their faculty, not their admissions committees, hand out academic merit scholarships.


Yes, they missed their chance to have a normal high school experience. They had something much better instead. At least in their own eyes.


  1. Kgaard says:

    Good piece. I just wish he wouldn’t have named his kid Aidan. Dumb name.

    I had similar challenges coming from a top public high school in the Pittsburgh suburbs years ago. There is no hook … no angle. So you don’t get into the ivy leagues …

  2. McChuck says:

    Why would anybody in their right minds want to go to the ivy league these days? They offer substandard education along with intense indoctrination, all at a ridiculously high price.

  3. Bomag says:

    “In 12th grade, the college application process took over my sons’ lives.”

    That is a troubling line, especially from Caplan and crew who grok the notion that modern ed has devolved into indoctrination camps that damage people and society.

    It did engage and energize them, so maybe there is some value in that; but it seems largely a narcissistic endeavor.

  4. Dick Illyes says:

    Everyone should be able to get this quality education.

    We should create an educational endowments for each K-12 student. Student endowment funds would pay out for students who achieved grade level knowledge.

    Instead of endless fights over charter schools, home schooling, etc. etc., all students would become customers for educational services and be treated accordingly.

    Providers or home schoolers for students who did poorly would not be paid, leaving twice the annual amount available next year to educators who could catch them up.

    Instead of leaving dropouts to fend for themselves, the funds would remain on deposit indefinitely, allowing those who got their act together after some time in the adult world to get an education.

    Troubled students would have teachers and mentors who had a financial stake in the outcome. The dramatic difference in quality based on differences in community income levels would end.

    Let’s move to a free market.

  5. Jim says:

    “Let’s move to a free market.”

    Thar ain’t no such thang, babe. No way, no how, no when. Education is dictatorial. Like anything good, it consists of a rich tapestry of value judgements made by a select few men of fine taste, such as myself. Retarded libertarians, such as yousself, want to outsource your decision-making process to muh market, believing that such a thing has ever existed outside of the shared dream of the Eternal Think Tank In The Sky. No offense, dawg.

    Education is a thing to be imposed. People are not to be “free” to “choose”. It’s a fake dichotomy, naturally, as revealed by the readily observable fact that those who once stood for such quaint concepts as “freedom of speech on the Internet” now stand queeerly silent as everyone with a brain is banned not just from the latter-day public square owned and stage-managed by the AntiSocial Media Monopolies but also from every domain name registrar in the world other than that of the Soviet Union, from every “payment processor” (they’re private businesses, bro, they can do what they want), and many actual countries.

    My worldview is the right worldview and it is only right and just that every sixteen-year-old grill in the world have been steeped in its self-evident truth and justice since birth.

    God wills it.

  6. Harry Jones says:

    Indoctrination is a thing to be imposed. Learning is something you choose.

    All these arguments over “education” are really about indoctrination. A power struggle among competing brainwashing cults.

    Only STEM and the trades were ever really about imparting information and know-how. Never trust anyone who says he wants to improve your mind.

    But do trust someone who knows how to do something and is willing to show you. Not tell you. Show you.

    Leave dropouts and troubled students to fend for themselves. They’ll have a better chance that way. It may be they’ve redpilled themselves. Let them out of the matrix.

  7. TRX says:

    “Education is dictatorial. Like anything good…”

    Unless we’re using different vocabularies, there was very little “good” about my incarceration in the public school system. I would probably have had a better chance at an education in the state’s prison system.

  8. TRX says:

    “Only STEM and the trades were ever really about imparting information and know-how.”

    STEM has been largely converged for some time now.

  9. Jim says:

    TRX, public education is a public good. Similarly, mass conscription is a public good. You may not like the public good, but it is what it is. The alternative is a self-selected, increasingly siloed, increasingly hereditary soldiery. And that has consequences that you really aren’t going to like.

  10. Jim says:

    Harry, humans are hypersocial creatures. You were conceived, a priori without consent, to parents who you didn’t choose in a society that you didn’t get to choose. Your hypersensitive, hyperneuroplastic, helpless youngling self was subjected (SUBJECTED) to a merciless torrent of information-pain which gradually coalesced to your linguistic abilities and capacities of reason. The English language got its hooks into you and there’s no way around it. And all we can choose is the last 1%: will we expose the chillunzes to a high-fidelity civilizational image or not? (The alternative is a disgusting psychological operation sponsored by international usurers and people who worship demons.) I vote for small-town America before its corruption and extinguishment. Death to the regime.

  11. Harry Jones says:

    Jim, my linguistic abilities and capacity to reason far exceed those of many who were subjected to the same conditioning, if I do say so myself. I choose me.

    I’ve tried to learn several foreign languages. I never made any real progress until I went overseas and was forced to use one. Now I’m forgetting that one. But I’m still me. I think in terms of concepts, not words. Always have, always will.

    I went to a place where lots of people were wearing the damn face diapers even then, several years ago. I never wore one, because I was an American, damn it. I wasn’t ashamed to show my face, and I wasn’t going to live in fear of germs. But at least the natives didn’t try to impose their fear on me. So we got along well enough.

    Got vaccinated as a personal choice, and I support it – strictly as a personal choice. No mandate.

    Some people are less susceptible to brainwashing than the rest.

  12. Alrenous says:

    I usually adblock Isegoria comments. I turned it off for what I thought was a good reason, but immediately regretted it.

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