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Homeschooling Across the Internet

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

By Will Offensicht  |  September 1, 2016

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.

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.