Homeschooling Across the Internet

The Internet provides a wealth of ways to abandon failing public schools.

Over the years, various Scragged articles have discussed strategies for parents who desire to educate their children to the maximum extent possible.

There have always been successful people who largely educated themselves using free resources.  For most of the modern era, though, most Americans have expected our taxpayer-funded public schools to teach our children what they need to know to become taxpaying adults.

It's become increasingly clear that public education isn't working; to raise successful children today, parents need to be much more involved in their child's education than perhaps even their parents were.

Fortunately, there are a great many examples of effective educational methods; the earlier articles in this series explored ways parents educated children in the past.  We then realized that from a parent's point of view the purpose of education is to maximize the probability that the family will survive in the long term.

The question then became, how best should a parent educate a child?  The basic goals of education are to teach a child how to learn so as to increase the probability that the child will be able to learn whatever is needed for survival as the future unfolds - which by definition cannot be foreseen by anyone.  Circumstances are changing more rapidly now than in the past which increases the importance of being able to acquire unexpected knowledge as things come up.

Although parents used to be able to influence the way their children were taught at neighborhood schools, local voters have lost more and more control over schools as power has drifted to the state and local governments.  Parental efforts to improve local schools are generally futile.  Rich parents can either buy homes in areas which already have good schools or send their kids to very expensive private schools.

For middle class parents who can't afford either of these measures, homeschooling may be the only way to give a child a high-quality education.  This article discusses some free resources which make it possible for parents who are willing to put in the time needed to make sure that their children stay focused on the tasks at hand to have confidence that their children will have educations that are second to none.

There are so many free educational resources that Google is the only way to keep up; it's impossible to create an accurate and comprehensive list because it would be out-of-date as soon as it was published.  That's not the point of supplying the following information: it's purpose is to give you confidence that you can find whatever you need for any sort of education including resources you didn't even imagine.

It's important to emphasize that you, the parent, do not have to acquire the knowledge yourself because the computer asks questions and repeats material as needed.  You merely have to make sure that the child is focusing on the task at hand instead of straying off into something more interesting.  That said, however, there's no better way to make sure your child really understands than to set him or her the challenge of explaining it to you.

Beyond High School

The Economist told us that recent progress in artificial intelligence would have profound effects on education.

In 2012 Mr Thrun founded an online-education startup called Udacity, and Mr Ng co-founded another, called Coursera. That same year Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology got together to form edX, a non-profit MOOC provider, headed by Anant Agarwal, the head of MIT's artificial-intelligence laboratory. Some thought that MOOCs would replace traditional university teaching. The initial hype around MOOCs has since died down somewhat (though millions of students have taken online courses of some kind). But the MOOC boom illustrated the enormous potential for delivering education online, in bite-sized chunks.

All of these on-line ventures offer many college-level courses for free.  A curious student can use these courses to either supplement a standard curriculum or to take courses which are completely outside the curriculum.  Google can find these knowledge sources for you.  Once you have the URL, you can find specific courses using their search functions or you can specify the site: Google keyword to restrict Google to a specific site.  We use this technique when the site's own search doesn't work as well as Google's.

The courses offered by the start-ups listed in the Economist are sponsored by various high-end universities.  If you think you might want to go to one of these schools, take several of their courses long before you apply so that you can prove to them that you can handle the load.

Hillsdale College offers many free on-line courses; check out the "Online Courses" button.  Their course on the US Constitution should be of particular interest to homeschoolers.


The broadest K-12 site we know is Khan Academy. The Subjects button in the upper left corner gives you an incomplete, but quite impressive list.  It covers mathematics from beginner through first-year college, science and engineering, computer programming, arts and humanities, and economics and finance.  If computers make you nervous, you, too, could benefit from what Khan says about them.

The site is intended to help classroom teachers offload routine drill to the computer so that they can coach students in areas of difficulty.  A teacher creates a teacher account, then associates each student account with the teacher's.  The site sends a weekly email detaining each student's progress and the teacher can see achievement levels for each student in every area the student has studied.

Each question offers a short video and a series of hints.  It's important to understand that the computer is very patient.  It will show the video and hints to the student as often as necessary to achieve understanding.  The rule should be that the student must watch the video and look at all the hints after each mistake.  Mr. Khan believes that nobody can concentrate on new material for longer than 15 minutes at a time, which is why the videos are short.

The music section is very well done.  It's a series of animated videos which play music to illustrate what they're trying to each.  They illustrate different key signatures, pitch, chords, and much else.

The computing section is important because there are very few jobs that have absolutely no interaction with computers.  Jobs will require more and more interaction with computers in the future, so it would be prudent for students to learn at least the basics.  If a student gets through Khan's computer courses or needs a different point of view, switch to w3schools.  Their free courses cover html, Java Script, and pretty much everything else you need to write the front-end of a web site.

A serious student could attend Code Camp.  They assert that if a student spends 2,000 hours, which is a bit less than a man-year of full-time work, on their lessons, they'll put the student in touch with several nonprofit organizations who need web work done.  The end result will be that the student has a portfolio of working web sites to show to a prospective employer as well as letters of recommendation form the nonprofits.  The theory is that being able to show actual running web sites will make up for the fact that the student doesn't have a degree from a university, and getting a job debt-free without having had to pay tuition seems attractive.

Khan's official list leaves out several important subjects such as grammar and cosmology that they offer and the history section isn't on the list either.  The key is that searching within an educational site or using the site: URL to narrow a Google search is just as important as searching to find the site in the first place.

Brain Pop offers a number of technical subjects and covers some humanities areas.

Kingdom First Home School lists many resources starting well before Kindergarten.  Their site keeps growing, which emphasizes that a single search isn't enough.  You need to search repeatedly to make sure you aren't missing something valuable as each student's needs and interests change.


Students might not want to go all the way through these, but they offer a sampling of topics.  One never knows what might really grab a particular student's attention.

We've erred in the direction of just listing topics in a somewhat random sampling, rather than reviewing them.  That's because contents change fast and we don't have time to take all these courses.  We hope that our readers will comment on this article as they gain combat experience.

  • Article about how mathematicians think.  The basic thought processes behind mathematical research and proofs are similar to computer programming, except that it's not possible to develop a mathematical proof that a given computer program is correct.  That's why we keep finding bugs even in old programs.
  • A visual introduction to machine learning.  The mathematics of letting computers learn to recognize, say, different faces by showing them many labeled faces and hope they'll be able to recognize a new picture of a known face haven't changed in a long time.  Facial recognition never worked very well because we grossly underestimated the volume of training data that would be needed to achieve acceptable performance.  Now that Facebook and other apps are chock full of labeled pictures of people, we have enough data so that computers can not only learn to identify faces, they can also shed light on what facial features are most helpful in identifying them.
  • An introduction to Big Data.  Any data set containing billions of training cases is by definition Big Data.  Even as computers have gotten cheaper and disk storage is "almost" free, such data sets require special techniques to minimize storage costs and maximize the speed or examining all the data.  That's what Big Data is all about - having enough data to learn something useful and being able to read it fast enough to get answers when you need them.
  • Inside a Jet Engine.  This is a very good animation of what's going on when your pilot fires up the engines to get you into the air.  The "CLIENT WORK" button on that page takes you to other animations.  If a picture is worth 1,000 words, these picture are worth a lot.
  • Scientific images from the Smithsonian.  Our "Nation's Attic" has a huge number of exhibits.  They are trying to make as much of their information Internet-friendly as they can.
  • Prof. Feynman was one of the most famous physics lecturers ever.  His talks are online.  They didn't have video recording in his day, so you'll see transcriptions of his talks and his diagrams.  Bill Gates once said that if these lectures had been available to him before he founded Microsoft, he'd have probably become a physicist.  The question of whether the world would have been better off if we'd had another physicist instead of Microsoft is left as an exercise for the student.
  • Open Course Library.  Users can adapt and distribute content under a Creative Commons license and download, remix, or teach using them.  All content is stored in Google docs making it easy to access, browse, and download.  There's no point in listing what they have because it keeps growing.  They strive to give educators access to high-quality course material which you can adapt to your needs.  An ounce of cut and paste is worth a pound of keystrokes, so it's a great place to start.
  • Free College Textbooks offered by Boundless - the textbooks cover timeless college subjects, such as accounting, biology, chemistry, sociology, and economics. Boundless reports that students at more than half of US colleges have used its resources, and that they expect the number of users to grow.  Again, you're free to cut, paste, and create what you need.
  • Learning math without words.  Students learn in different ways, so some might enjoy this alternative approach.  In general, the more different explanations students see, the more likely they are to grasp the overall concept and the deeper their understanding.  In the old days, a subject was taught out of whatever book the school system chose, and if the book didn't resonate for a particular student, too bad.  Now, if a student isn't getting it with Khan, you can find other resources which might click, and vice versa.
  • A list of videos from Harvard Natural Science education, with a browseable catalog.  Their mission statement says, "We provide visual demonstrations for a wide variety of topics to supplement lectures in physics, chemistry, astronomy, and biology. Our lecture demonstrations have two important purposes: to increase student understanding of the concepts demonstrated, and to increase student enjoyment of class."
  • UC Berkeley has a lot of free information. Search for Diamond for a course on human anatomy, for example.  They say, "Academic Earth was launched on the premise that everyone deserves access to a world-class education. In 2009, we built the first collection of free online college courses from the world¡¯s top universities. The world of open education has exploded since then, so today our curated lists of online courses are hand selected by our staff to show you the very best offerings by subject area. We also make sure there is something for everyone: whether you want to explore a new topic or advance in your current field, we bring the amazing world of academia to you for free."
  • A collection of animations prepared by a software company under contract to Harvard University, representing the best information available concerning what goes on inside a living cell.  Among other things, the animation shows protein formation and the actions of a white blood cell destroying invaders.  This is the short version with music; there are three versions of the cell show on this page as well as links to other animations.  If you click the "All Media" button on the right side, you get links to all their animations.  The one labeled Extravasation is particularly interesting; it shows how molecules that fight inflammation roll along the inside of the blood vessels to a spot near an inflammation, then they sneak through the walls of the blood vessel and find the injured spot.  It's been suggested that cancers spread (metastasize?) by zooming around in the blood stream and then slipping through the walls when they get to a likely spot, but nobody is certain.
  • This site has other videos which animate living cells.
  • MIT Open Courseware .  The site claims that every MIT course is available online for free.  You can get an MIT education at no cost.  If you want the MIT credential, however, you have to pay them.  They offer verifiable credit for some of their edX courses for a small fee per course, though, so credentials don't cost as much as you might think.  If you might want to go to MIT, it would be a good idea to take some of their courses first so you can prove you can handle the load.
  • Video showing how babies develop in the womb.  It's amazing what can be photographed now and even more amazing what people post on the web for all to see.

Converting Your Knowledge Into A College Credential

In a perfect world, once you'd taken all the appropriate online courses, you'd be able to walk into a prospective employer's office and have your knowledge appreciated and properly rewarded.

In the real world, of course, this doesn't work.  Precious few employers have the resources and intelligence to evaluate what you actually know; they take the lazy way out by demanding a credential, on the increasingly false assumption that a college degree is proof of knowledge.  Someday this may change but there's no telling when.

So unless you intend to enter entrepreneurship without benefit of diploma like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, there is still no substitute for an accredited degree, the bigger the name the better.  With Ivy League rejection rates at record levels, though, how can this be accomplished?

It turns out that there are a few backdoors that can open for aggressive users of online resources.

1) Go either to (East Coast) or to (West Coast) and take some high-end courses in mathematics, computer science, biology, chemistry, or any other really hard subject applicable to the degree you're after.  You can get a certificate saying you completed the course for a few dollars.  Having MIT or Stanford University courses in your resume will be a useful supplement to your test scores because it proves that you can do high-end college-level work.

2) Go to the college web site and look for papers written by the professors.  Find a paper that interests you and send the author an email, "I really admired your paper on XX and would like to pursue the YY possibility you described in the 'Further work' section because I believe that we can show that ZZ is true, based on what I learned online at [MIT / Stanford / whichever school you chose].  How can I work with you?"

Instead of email, a truly determined student can go to the college and camp outside his office until he'll see you.  Bring along a bag lunch and your laptop to indicate that you plan to stay forever, if need be.  A peek at his teaching schedule may suggest when he'll be there.

It may take many tries, but if you can get a professor interested in your ideas how to extend his work, he may write you a letter of recommendation or even let you intern with him for a summer.  Recommendations from faculty make it easier to get in.

It helps to understand the academic food chain: professors get raises, promotions, and tenure from putting their names on wonderful papers their students write.  If you can show that you'll write brilliant papers to give him credit with no work on his part, you're in.

Naturally, a top professor is not easy to gull.  Do not email the professor if you don't understand the paper or do not honestly want to work on the next step in his research.  Although the probability of a "Yes" to any given email is small, you must be fully prepared to follow up any "Yes" you receive.  Include "I am a high school senior" or something similar and give your SAT scores if you have them.  GPA means little if he doesn't know your school or you're home-schooled.

Professors get a lot of email from students hoping for graduate school admission.  Many students are not specific about their interests or goals beyond having read a paper or two by that professor.  While it's flattering to have someone interested in their work, most professors don't consider merely having read their work grounds for admission or any further interaction on the professor's part.

Such students really must be coherent in describing what ideas interested them, what questions they want to pursue, and what line their investigation would take.  Showing some knowledge of the required equipment would be a plus.

Be prepared for "That won't work because of Prof A's paper, but nice try."  That's nearly as good as acceptance because you've started a dialog!  You can read A's paper and get back to him with, "You're right, but Prof A only covered possibility ZA from your work.  Isn't possibility ZB still open?"  Be sure to Google possibility ZB before you do that, you don't want a reputation for overlooking the obvious.

Remember, he wants his name on the PhD thesis of a future Nobel Prize winner without having to do much work.  If you come across like that, you're in.

And even if you never do get a recommendation, poking around like this will teach you extremely valuable skills for learning whatever you have to learn as things change.

The Bottom Line

Education is the key to long-term family survival, just as it has been for centuries.  As always, the child's parents are the only ones who really care whether the child learns anything.  In out welfare-riven society, unfortunately, only a few parents are wiling to exert much effort to make that happen, and many of those who do care push sports instead of academics.

Parents who care about academics and who are willing to get deeply involved, however, can make it possible for their children to acquire a first-class education at no monetary cost.  As with everything parental, of course, the big problem is persuading the children to expend the effort.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

The Kahn Academy link is not correct. Should be "https:" not "http:"

September 1, 2016 10:29 AM

Thank you for listing these resources and bringing more light to the educational alternatives to public school. Let me preface my comment by saying I was once one of those who firmly believed "public education was good enough for me, it'll be good enough for my kids". Thanks to my wife I have seen the light, and here's why.

Before our first son was born my wife recognized that public school was not the way to go, and being publicly mis-educated myself I reluctantly followed. It has been the best decision we ever made for our family.

We started homeschooling using the excellent Robinson curriculum which is all about teaching the child how to teach himself. Price for the entire K-12 curriculum excluding math is $195, using public domain sources. They recommend Saxon for the math which is about $100 for each year's worth of textbook. Substitute Khan Academy and you have zero cost for the math.

The beauty of this is there is no expertise required by the teacher, only a need to provide a consistent learning environment for the children and to maintain discipline. Once the child knows how to read then they are responsible for teaching themselves.

We have since placed all four of our children in an excellent private school (truly well-done homeschooling is not for everyone). Yes, it is expensive, but the school employs my wife as a teacher (no degree or certification required, though she does have a masters degree), and her salary combined with teacher-parent discounts covers the tuition and then some. There are options if you look.

And the results? Our private school students average in the 90% plus percentile on standardized tests when compared to public school students. By the time they reach 8th grade (the final grade offered) they are averaging 98%. All done without teaching degrees or certifications.

Can you imagine if the public schools had to compete with that? The NEA and state teachers unions would have kittens, thus their huge battle against any sort of voucher programs that take away their monopoly and give educational freedom to parents. See why the public school unions are so afraid of alternatives? No need for teacher certifications, which are really anti-competitive means of maintaining control over the vast sums of money that are modern public schooling. No need for overpriced texts and over-budget school buildings and buses financed through legalized theft, AKA property taxes.

For my wife and me there is obviously no way we would go with the public system by choice. The traditional public system of education is blatently archaic and inefficient. There are vastly superior alternatives for those willing to spend the few brain cycles required to contemplate it.

September 1, 2016 12:59 PM

Great research, Will. I agree with most of it. Homeschooling has to be looked at critically though.

We started out that way. By the time we had the fourth kid, we had to make some hard decisions about our abilities and what was important and what was failing/succeeding.

Homeschoolers often mis-advertise their successes and ignore their failures. Yes, there are things done better. But there is a lot missing too - competition with others their age, learning to wait in lines/be patient in general, rough housing and getting picked on, social skills, the satisfaction and pride of winning in front of others, the embarrassment of failing in front of others, adjusting to different educators, public speaking. Those things matter increasingly more in the world we live in. You can teach your kid extra math or science at home, if you fell they're not getting enough at school, but can you teach them things from my list above? No, that takes the class dynamic.

I have a soft spot in my heart for homeschoolers but objective reflection is healthy in whatever you do.

September 1, 2016 10:22 PM

Here's another one. The opening lecture of 8.01 is fascinating - he explains the basics of the physicists' thought process in one lecture.

"Walter Lewin Lectures on Physics" are a set of three courses including video lectures on physics at MIT. He explains the basics of classical mechanics, electricity, magnetism, vibrations, waves and introductory topics on astrophysics.

Even if you don't wnat to go into physics, knowing another mode of thinking would be helpful.

December 22, 2016 6:45 PM

Good explanation of the speed of light.

That site has other lectures.

December 24, 2016 6:33 PM

Here are 250 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free

you'd want to look at the Ivy League carefully, but these courses may well be worthwhile.

February 9, 2017 1:31 PM

I do not what a Bible scholar would think, but Khan has a sequence on church history:

March 10, 2017 8:09 PM

Richard Feynman on Scientific Method (1964)

He was famous for very incisive physics lectures.

March 13, 2017 8:25 PM

Some free computer science books!

Theory of Computation
Information & Coding Theory
Algorithms & Data Structures
Programming Language Theory
Concurrent, Parallel & Distributed Systems
Databases & Information Retrieval
Artificial Intelligence
Computer Architecture & Engineering
Computer Security & Cryptography
Computational Science
Information Science
Software Engineering

A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science
by David Reed, 2004, 400 pages, PDF
Building Blocks for Theoretical Computer Science
by Margaret M. Fleck, 2013, 271 pp, 1.1MB, PDF
Computation for Computer Scientists
by Hugh Murrell, Alan Sartori-Angus, Wayne Goddard, 2006, 121 pp, 1.1MB, PDF
Computer Science: Abstraction to Implementation
by Robert M. Keller, 2001, 627 pages, 3.4MB, PDF
Computer Science from the Bottom Up
by Ian Wienand, 2013, online html
CS for All
by Christine Alvarado, et al., 2013, 311 pp, online html
Essentials of Theoretical Computer Science
by F. D. Lewis, 2001, PDF
Foundations of Computation
by Carol Critchlow, David Eck, 2011, 256 pp, 1.7MB, PDF
Foundations of Computer Science
by Hans-Peter Bischof, 1998
Foundations of Computer Science: C Edition
by Al Aho, Jeff Ullman, 1994, PDF

March 23, 2017 6:44 PM
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