Are homeschool children outliers?

Home school students have enjoyed a very high rate of success in the national spelling bees and geography bees.  I have heard the complaint that home schooled students have an unfair advantage because they can focus so much time towards a single subject that the typical student cannot. When I first heard this complaint my first reaction was to call it sour grapes.  It seemed like there was perhaps a bit of jealousy in the performance of the homeschooled students.

Having read the book Outliers has now made me rethink this issue.  I have started to wonder if there is some validity to the argument that home schoolers have an unfair advantage.  Outliers is a book written by Malcolm Gladwell.  If you have read Gladwell’s other books, you will find that outliers follows a very familiar pattern.  He likes to look at unusual situations and patterns and tries to uncover hidden details in the hope for a better understanding.  In particular in the book Outliers, Gladwell looks at those who are clearly overachievers. This is the definition of what an outlier is.  The book has given me some new direction in my thoughts on how those who have achieved greatness within their fields have done it.   Outliers are examined from a number of different angles. I believe there are three points that Gladwell makes within his book that specifically relate to the home schooled student.  These advantages that home schooling has are identified as being important for achieving success according to Gladwell.

The first point that I believe applies to the home schooled student is the concept of time.  Gladwell argues that there is a correlation between the amount of time spent doing a task and the ability to master that task. Particularly, someone needs to dedicate 10,000 hours to something to be able to master it.  He argues that this advantage is more important than the innate talent that person may have for performing that task. Time works toward the home schooled student’s advantage. The home school model is more efficient than the model adopted by our school systems. There is a certain amount of time lost everyday to things that are not directly related to education. These things include shuttling between classes, waiting as the teacher is occupied disciplining students, and covering material that may be redundant for student for the sake of reaching a lagging student. This leaves home school students with more time to focus on tasks such as reading, math, writing, etc. There is also more time available for discussing ideas with parents, in the evening for example,  since the parents are the teachers.  There is also no time lost in commuting to and from school.  There are some people who live very close to their school and the commute time is not a big deal.  But many students take the bus to and from school and the time spent in commute can significant.

The second idea from Gladwell’s book I think applies well to the home school situation is the concept of cultural influences. Homeschool students have more exposure to their parents.  They get more time with at least one of them  during the day and at least as much time after the school day.  Many teachers have noticed that the difference in a student’s performance is the amount of parental involvement. It is hard for parents to be more involved in education than home schooling. Another cultural influence a home schooled student has is from the home school groups that many families participate in. The students in these groups are not there randomly. They are much more likely to be like-minded peers which reinforces this culture within the student. Another cultural influence which I believe the home schooled student has is that they are not in the artificial construct of having their peer group be of only same aged students. This artificial construct has no further application for the student after they finish their schooling. Real life demands that we deal with people who are from multiple generations. Home schooled students are often from larger families that have a wider span of age ranges of children. These interactions are a better preparation for life outside of school.

A third point from Gladwell’s book that fits the home school situation well is the value placed on work. In some school environments, students who want to work hard are picked on because of the value they put on work.  This can happen in an isolated incident or as author Thomas Sowell points out, can happen to entire communities.  This has a negative  effect on the performance of hard-working students. Home school students can be protected from this environment.  Home school students also have a very handy model for their work ethic:  their parents. The student sees the effort the parents put into education from preparing lesson plans to teaching the children. This is not to say that teachers in schools don’t put effort into their lesson plans, they do.  But students are not typically aware of the amount of effort that the teacher puts into creating these plans. Teachers in schools don’t do the preparation in class but rather in an office or at home.  Seeing this effort is a lesson in itself.

They are probably many other examples that I could add to this list. I think it is a good beginning and hopefully will foster some deeper thoughts, especially those who are considering home schooling for their own families.

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