Civil Liberties

Homeschooling: The New Techie Fad?

Wired notes a growing conflation between cutting-edge tech thinking and escaping the education monopoly.


Another subtle "Libertarian Moment" moment is noted in an interesting, lengthy feature at Wired by Jason Tanz. The story profiles some families representative of the growing phenomenon of techies choosing to escape the educational monopoly of government schools, or any sort of traditional school, for their children.

Some key excerpts explaining the ideas uniting the various individual families the story introduces and ties their techie-ism with their disdain for trad schooling:

"Do It Yourself" is a familiar credo in the tech industry—think of the hobbyists of the Homebrew Computing Club hacking together the personal computer, Mark Zuckerberg building the next great communications medium from his Harvard dorm room, or Palmer Lucky soldering together the Oculus Rift from spare parts in his garage. Progressive education is another leitmotif that runs through tech history—Larry Page and Sergey Brin have attributed much of their success to the fact that they attended a Montessori school. In recent years, Peter Thiel has launched a broadside against higher education, and Sir Ken Robinson's lecture,"How Schools Kill Creativity," has become the most popular TED Talk of all-time, with 31 million views. Now, all those strains are coming together to create a new phenomenon: the techie homeschooler.

This may come as a shock to those of us who still associate homeschooling with fundamentalists eager to shelter their kids from the evils of the secular state. But it turns out that homeschooling has grown more mainstream over the last few years. According to the most recent statistics, the share of school-age kids who were homeschooled doubled between 1999 and 2012, from 1.7 to 3.4 percent.

And many of those new homeschoolers come from the tech community. When homeschooling expert Diane Flynn Keith held a sold-out workshop in Redwood City, California, last month, fully half of the parents worked in the tech industry. Jens Peter de Pedro, an app designer in Brooklyn, says that five of the 10 fathers in his homeschooling group work in tech, as do two of the eight mothers. And Samantha Cook says that her local hackerspace is often filled with tech-savvy homeschoolers.

"There is a way of thinking within the tech and startup community where you look at the world and go, 'Is the way we do things now really the best way to do it?'" de Pedro says. "If you look at schools with this mentality, really the only possible conclusion is 'Heck, I could do this better myself out of my garage!'"

Lisa Betts-LaCroix personifies this attitude pretty well. She is no stranger to the various obsessions of the tech world—she leads the Silicon Valley chapter of Quantified Self, the personal tracking movement; her husband Joe has helmed a variety of computer and biotech startups. She has homeschooled her kids for the last nine years (though she prefers the term "independent learning"). When she started, it was seen as unusual. Now, she says, there are more than 500 families in her homeschooling group—a growing number of them tech entrepreneurs like her husband. She sees it as the latest expression of the industry's push toward disintermediation. "We are going direct to learning," she says. "We don't need to hold to this old paradigm of top-down, someone tells me what to do."

Amen. Tanz does the requisite hand-wringing about how "There's something inherently maddening about a privileged group of forward-thinkers removing their children from the social structures that have defined American childhood for more than a century under the presumption that they know better."

How dare an American think he knows better than the government how to educate his children, indeed.  But then Tanz has to admit:

as I talked to more of these homeschoolers, I found it harder to dismiss what they were saying. My son is in kindergarten, and I fear that his natural curiosity won't withstand 12 years of standardized tests, underfunded and overcrowded classrooms, and constant performance anxiety. The Internet has already overturned the way we connect with friends, meet potential paramours, buy and sell products, produce and consume media, and manufacture and deliver goods. Every one of those processes has become more intimate, more personal, and more meaningful. Maybe education can work the same way.

The very long story has more examples of how homeschooling, even the variety known as "unschooling" that provides no standard book-learning, desk-sitting structure to the process, can and might work. It goes into many of the programs, resources, and aspects of techno-modernity that make home/unschooling a viable and rich option for techies, and the rest of us.

Well worth a read for considering the less obvious ways Silicon Valley thinking and techniques are shaping a likely more libertarian future.

J.D. Tuccille wrote for us last year of his own family's decision to embrace the liberty of homeschooling.

I blogged last year about how hating homeschooling means hating American liberty.