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The Advantage of Self-Education
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Are we all capable of learning?When I met filmmaker Astra Taylor in Brooklyn in December, she raised the same question as she did in her speech at the Walker Center: "What makes society so sure most people couldn't handle self-education?"Astra was unschooled until the age of thirteen, drifted in and out of high school, tried out Brown University but didn't like it, and eventually ended up with a Master's from The New School in New York.She, like me and many other unschoolers, has often had people say "Unschooling worked for you, but admit it won't work for everyone." In her talk, Astra points out that this is a compliment in disguise. "On one hand," Astra says, "it implies that my family is gifted. On the other hand, it implies that most people are not gifted, and they need to be guided, molded, tested, and inspected."I don't think anyone needs to be guided, molded, tested, or inspected. Over the course of the last seven months working on my book, I've talked to people who have come from every background imaginable to do everything imaginable. I've talked to individuals who grew up in the slums of Dehli and middle class Londoners who have gone on to do everything from become world-renowned DJs to senior executives at British Petroleum.Anecdotally, it seems that where you come from, the background of your parents, your socio-economic level, and so on has little to do with your success outside school. However, all of these factors are a huge determinant upon your success inside school.There is data to support this thesis. The first study I want to highlight was done in the United Kingdom in the late 1990's:Children taught at home significantly outperform their contemporaries who go to school, the first comparative study has found. It discovered that home-educated children of working-class parents achieved considerably higher marks in tests than the children of professional, middle-class parents and that gender differences in exam results disappear among home-taught children.Homeschool Legal Defense Association provides a nice summary a more recent study they commissioned in 2008 on their website. Some of the highlights include:Whether either parent was a certified teacher did not matter.Certified (i.e., either parent ever certified)—87th percentile
Not certified (i.e., neither parent ever certified)—88th percentileSpending on home education made little difference.Spent $600 or more on the student—89th percentile
Spent under $600 on the student—86th percentileTo be sure, there is a delta between 86th and 89th percentile. But that delta is quite small when the national average is the 50th percentile.*********I'm writing about this data because I've been reviewing in preparation to debate Vivek Wadhwa next Wednesday at TED in Long Beach. Vivek and I have debated before, both on TechCrunch and NPR, and we'll have a lively time next week.Vivek likes to make accusations like home or unschooling only works for the elite. No, I say. Everyone is capable of self-education regardless of their socio-economic background, parental education level, gender, or whatever other ways Vivek considers me privileged.Yes, both my parents have college degree, but they aren't wealthy. Money was tight as a child. I started selling fruit from our backyard to make money when I was 10. I subsequently delivered flowers and sold photocards to pay for my self-education.This time when I spar with Vivek I have data to refute his accusations.If you enjoyed this week's newsletter, please forward it to a friend, post it on Facebook, or Tweet it.Keeping on hacking,Dale