Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Male and female home educators

I have been looking through some old material recently which relates to historic cases of home education. It will probably surprise nobody to hear that all the home educators of whom anybody has ever heard are men. James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, Harry Lawrence, father of Ruth Lawrence, Laszlo Polgar, father of Judit Polgar. Then of course there is the present writer! Now while the many readers have heard of people like the fifteen year old boy who won a place at Cambridge recently and of course Ruth Lawrence, both educated by their fathers, few seem to be aware that this style of education is very much the exception in this country today. I think it fair to say that for the vast majority of home educated children, the main person concerned with the education is the mother.

I am sure that economic factors are at least partly responsible for the fact that most fathers are not the primary force in their children's home education. I have speculated before though as to why those fathers who are involved often seem to take to the business in a very intense and methodical way. Is it an authority thing? Could such fathers be determined simply to take control and be uneasy about the idea of their child doing more or less as she pleases? Perhaps it is that men prefer to organise things and do not like things to be haphazard and with no clear plan laid out? Whatever the reason, men do seem to prefer a structured type of education with definite goals and outcomes; at least when they are undertaking the task themselves.

I mentioned three well known home educated children above, plus the one who has just got a place at Cambridge. I was wondering if anybody knows anything similar which a mother has been responsible for. I mean a chess champion, maths genius, famous utilitarian philosopher type outcome for a home educated child? There are a few cases where the mother spent time encouraging a child at home; Thomas Edison for instance. I would be interested to hear of anything in that line that anybody knows about.


  1. The Colfaxes junp immediately to mind. They are often described as unschoolers, but (as their books make clear) they actually pursued a structured education, with Micki Coufax as the main educator. (They're American, though)
    An update on their kids in 2002:

  2. That is very interesting indeed; thanks a lot. They sound like my kind of people!

  3. I went looking for a few (older) cases I remembered, as well - one I vaguely remember involving a girl who had finished all of ACE's materials very young and another involving an LDS (Mormon) family. Couldn't find either of those - don't remember enough detail - but I did find the below case of a 13-year old community college applicant (this would be the equivalent of a 13 year old joining the last year of a UK FE college course with the intention of going on to university from there.). No clear indication, but it's her mother who's quoted on her education in every interview I've found so far.

  4. ..and a few more examples in an otherwise terrible article. This article uses a self-serving quote from an HSLDA representative (HSLDA is an advocacy group for the US religious right which likes to present itself as a representative for all US homeschoolers), and quotes an isolated mother who says its impossible to buy secular textbooks for home use in the US (not true, but she's apparently had problems).
    The main subjects of the article, however, are several homeschooling mothers who are pursuing top-drawer science education for their kids.
    You might also want to look at the US secular homeschooling and freethinking homeschooling boards and blogs. Schools that don't push girls to pursue math and science (or that actively encourage them toward 'feminine' lower-paying careers) are a driving force in homeschooling for some parents - mostly mothers - who post there. Many more cite shoddy math and science overall, a lack of proper teaching of evolution in schools as drivers, or cite better math and science as benefts to a homeschooling decision driven by something else.

  5. And here's the article (oops!):

    Sorry for all of the US references: my background is there.

  6. Thanks for all that. Although we are regular churchgoers and this was one reason for avoiding school, the article which you cite above nearly sent me mad with irritation!

  7. This mom is Indian-born but has done most of her homeschooling in the US. She tries to keep her kids' successes out of the limelight, but permitted this article to be published: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/kaavya-jayram-12-years-of-age-stanford-student-number-theory-mathematician/663461/0

    You raise an interesting point. As a mother of two intellectually advanced kids, I struggle with the balance between structure and rigour, and allowing them the freedom to follow their passions and stretch their creative muscles. If my husband were responsible, I have no doubt that there would be much more of the former, but it's anyone's guess which approach would foster more success (and we might not even agree on what success looks like -- is it getting into an Ivy League school, or is it finding a career that is satisfying & pleasurable?).

  8. I think if my husband were in charge of the home education from the outset, there would definitely be more structure - though he's not keen on too structured. However I have managed to get his head around autonomous education more (though I would not call us strictly autonomous) and now I think, if the responsibilities for educating the children were down to him, he would relax the structure a bit (but still would prefer if they sat down to learn formal maths and sciences). Actually he's said to me before that he'd prefer to sent the children off to school if something ever happened to me and I was no longer able to home-educate them. No, don't think he's that much into HE. I am.

  9. "I mentioned three well known home educated children above, plus the one who has just got a place at Cambridge. I was wondering if anybody knows anything similar which a mother has been responsible for. I mean a chess champion, maths genius, famous utilitarian philosopher type outcome for a home educated child?"

    American "unschooler" Naomi Aldort's son Oliver:


  10. The Aldorts appear to have two sons who are professional musicians, one of whom is a highly accomplished child performer and one of whom appears to be a freelancer performing at events.

    The oldest son attends Evergreen State College, a (generally*) non-competitive state school which doesn't award grades or have set degree structures, though, and the only academic qualification she lists for any of them is the oldest son's GED.

    (*It's considered an excellent choice for students studying art, film, and (oddly) organic agriculture, in which its professors are highly regarded and admission is more competitive. Since US universities do not require students to "declare" a subject of study before admission, many go to Evergreen hoping to study art or media.)

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