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Monday, July 28, 2003

The Benefits of Homeschooling?

A piece in the mailbox from Francisco about homeschooling .

I see that a lot of your blog revolves around "can old people adapt" and "young people take longer to (finish college, although you don't say that)" and "people have less children because they are expensive". I think that, for a different view on the subject, you should incorporate into your frame of reference the fact that homeschooling is growing very fast (specially in the US), and that it, combined with what's called attachment parenting makes for a wholly different outlook on children that renders all the first 3 points moot -i.e. children are not that expensive anymore, people who homeschool tend to have more of them, and they (the children) learn adaptability from the get-go, start working much earlier and not necessarily go to college, and are very well positioned to change careers a few times in life-. They way I see it, it's getting to critical mass (in the US at least) and could well offer the "next or different avenue we need to find".

Many thanks to Francisco for introducing me to these two interesting concepts. Where this will lead I do not know, whether such movements will, as Francisco suggests, gain 'critical mass' is hard to see. Whether the family environment needs to be a complete substitute for the social life to be found in the school I also do not know, but that we need to be much more flexible in our approaches, of this I am sure. That school was the great socialiser in the 'mass' industrial age is clear, whether things always need to be this way, as we, and our societies, change, is much less clear. Peer group contact has, as many parents know to their cost, become a double edged sword. Technology and social structures are changing, and we can and should be imaginative. Meantime here is my reply to Francisco:

Just to clarify things a bit, my argument doesn't especially hang on children being expensive. I think I am trying to look at it from the point of view of our (complex) reproductive ecology. There was a form of dynamic equilibrium, with slow growth up to the 18 century, then the system received a (technologically driven) shock which opened another dynamic, where we have population explosion. The system then gradually restabilises - during about 200 years in the european case, much more rapidly now in the case of some third world countries - only, as in the case of many dynamic systems, we have 'overshoot'. ie the population falls below reproduction rate. At some stage we will probably find a new equilibrium, but I suspect that this is an example of a complex adaptive system, and that government policies (whether those of Berlusconi or any other) have limited impact. More technological change, of the 'sci-fi' variety will also clearly impact: artificially aided reproduction, genetic engineering, Kurzweil's 'non-intrusive' implants and the imminent, intimate fushion of artificial and biological intelligence. But I am not a futurologist, and I do not wish to speculate, so I try and stick to what we can actually see happening in the here and now.

There is obviously a lot of work still to do in understanding this process, I am far from clear on many aspects, but from an economic point of view it is important since fertility, in the final analysis, is a major determinant of the labour supply, and of the relative cost of labour and capital, and of the structure of demand, investment and saving, and of many other things.

I am only professionally interested, I suppose, in childhood and ageing as tangential phenomena (although personally, of course, I have a lot of interest in both these processes). The topics which emerge in Bonobo are related to my research interests/obsessions, and as such tend to change with the focus of my interests.

Your point about 'homeschool' is interesting. It is in line with Mokyr's argument about the changing relations between home and work in the information age (the factory, and factory office, as the dominant paradigm seem to be uniquely characteristic of industrial society). The home can become much more the focus for all kinds of activity, and of course, the arrival of the internet always was going to have an impact on the institutional structure of learning. This is especially relevant to the universities. As I have said on a previous occasion , you can probably learn economics better these days downloading at home the material from the best courses of your choice which are normally (at least in the US case) freely available on line.

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