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The Self Educating Child

Little MM and me self-educating with some Orson Scott Card, way back in 2017. We’ve come so far together since then!

So it looks like my 15-year-old is officially a high-school dropout.

Halfway through ninth grade, emboldened perhaps by the taste of freedom that Covid-era remote learning had provided, he realized that the whole system was just too slow and inefficient for him, and was “Getting in the way of his work.” So as it looks now, he’ll probably never return to any sort of in-person schooling, and I will be surprised if he ever attends college.

Yes, he is technically “home schooling” and will still end up with a high school diploma of sorts, but in reality he is pretty much winging it. And needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this.

I’ll start with the worries and the negative stuff, because as a parent I of course want the best for my child. And when I look back on my own childhood, it feels like school was a fountain of formative experiences.

Sure, the education itself was slow and crappy – I was always craving more advanced material and more creative learning formats which just weren’t there in my small town high school. But isn’t enduring crappy and antiquated systems a critical part of getting ready to live in a modern society where things don’t always go your way? After all, the only way to renew a drivers license or a passport (or a medical license for that matter) is to dive head first into the ridiculousness and grin and bear it for the sake of the end goal.

And of course there were plenty of good parts: I had so many amazing experiences and friendships and adventures through high school and university. Beginner romances and heartbreaks, brushes with the law, late nights around the campfire, terrible minimum wage jobs at gas stations and convenience stores that I thought were amazing, all bathed in a swirling Marijuana-tinged soundtrack of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Soundgarten and Primus and Tool. Doing reverse snow donuts in my mom’s 1988 Dodge Caravan filled with eight friends and then getting out to dance crazily in the headlights to the Wayne’s World soundtrack blasting from the giant stereo system I had built into the minivan with my own 16-year-old hands.

How will my son grow up as a well-adjusted adult without the 2020s equivalent of such experiences?

But when I obsess over these thoughts, I know I am falling into the oldest of parenting traps: assuming I know what’s best for my child, and that his own desires and thoughts are not valid, even though he’s on the verge of adulthood himself. So I remind myself of the positive side of this situation:

The world of 2021 is a very different place from my equivalent perch in 1991. And my son happens to be sitting in an unusual but still promising (I hope) little corner of it.

Because of the Internet, and to be honest a damned large dose of privilege due to having two educated parents always available because we were retired before he was even born, he has been able to feed his thirst for knowledge with incredible efficiency. This is an advantage that is still not available to most people today, let alone to what people of my generation had to work with in 1989. So he has already gone beyond college level in the standard fields that they cover in school.

So of course he has noticed that the existing school system is not as efficient as his custom-crafted alternative. Like me, he feels frustration with many of our institutions. But it’s a frustration born of love and a desire to help out, rather than just a complainypants attitude and a desire to criticize. Public school for all is a great thing and a great idea.

But like everything in life, we can only improve by first acknowledging that we currently suck.

The first thing that little MM did upon retiring from formal schooling, is to create this entire 48 minute mini-documentary about the system he just left:

https://youtu.be/0Qi36WcylLs


(click that link to get to get the full experience on YouTube itself and see the description, show notes and comments. I’ll include an embedded version below for lazier people

also, a hint for any YouTube creator you want to reward: their algorithm heavily recommends and promotes videos which people watch for longer. So, let it roll and enjoy the epic soundtrack!)


Seeing him work so hard on this production definitely helped ease my fears about whether or not he will grow up to be a contributing member of society. He spent about three months researching the US school system, writing himself a script, composing a 16-track orchestral music score which is timed to the second to align with the appropriate parts of the film, creating 3-D models and animations in Blender to illustrate the main points, running multiple high-end computers overnight, night after night to render the complex scenes in 4K resolution, turning my house into a miniature version of a Pixar animation studio.

Then he practiced up his reading, set up a bright professional recording studio in my basement, recruited me to help build a teleprompter, and narrated his own script into the camera. And finally brought it all back to the editing software to cut it all together, with pretty stunning results from my admittedly biased perspective as his Dad.

But equally important, the danged kid has a point: schools really could be a lot better.

And it could happen very quickly with just one main change as he explains in the documentary: switching from bland and repetitive teacher-led instruction, to extremely high quality videos instead. This would accelerate learning because the video content could be much more compelling than watching a human stand at the front of a room. But it would also free up the teachers to help individual students rather than just using their valuable time to repeat the same material, year after year.

Even better: most of these videos already exist. Through some sort of miracle, my son has chosen to invest the past five years of his free time seeking out astoundingly good YouTube channels, watching most of their back catalogs, and absorbing the contents of almost every episode.

I’m often shocked at his level of knowledge in so many fields, so I sat him down and interviewed him on his top recommendations in some of the key ones.

The list below is what we came up with. I’ve seen a lot of these myself, and I can vouch for their quality. If you’re looking for places to send your own hungry-brained child, or for things to watch together, check out the following list.

Flipping the Classroom:

As a context for all of this, you absolutely must know about Khan Academy first. This is a free video education in all major subjects, that is higher quality than most in-school lessons. Many teachers are already using this system to “flip the classroom”, and my own boy and I used Khan Academy to help him cover second through eighth grade math in only a month. That’s how efficient video learning can be!

Note: because we were so impressed and thankful, I also donated $9000 to Khan academy in 2016. That’s a great cause if you are looking for more places for your own philanthropy dollars.

Watch Sal Khan’s Ted talk here – and notice the special guest who joins him on stage at the end of it.

General Science

  • Vsauce (which has grown to include Vsauce2 and Vsauce3)
  • Physics Girl (fun to watch explorations of a wide range of real-world physics and science things)
  • Thought Emporium (gene editing through both chemical methods and DNA 3-d printers! And art too)
  • Scott Manley (a charming Scottish Astrophysist / Apple engineer with hundreds of great videos on the Kerbal Space Program simulation game, plus now detailed coverage on space and astrophysics)
  • Anton Petrov – daily videos on new discoveries in science (and a fun look at current events from a science perspective too)
  • Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell Short but intelligent summaries of all sorts of neat things, featuring a dynamic British narrator and fun cartoony graphics.
  • Deep Dive – a relatively new but very promising channel with great big-issue science videos. We are hoping they put out more!
  • Stratzenblitz75 Kerbal Space program videos with nice lessons on the science behind them (like orbital mechanics)
  • Wendover Productions – neat explanations of wide-ranging things, (including transportation logistics!)

Inventions and Building Stuff

  • Colin Furze – crazy, energetic, brilliant videos about building things like a home-made hoverbike, two story bicycle, giant mech robot suit.
  • Simone Giertz – a super clever and witty engineer/builder, perhaps most famous for her DIY conversion of a Tesla model 3 into a badass mini pickup truck.
  • Wintergatan – a hauntingly genius, gentle dude in Sweden who works on a beautiful “marble machine” musical instrument and so many other things. Awesome musician too!
  • Mark Rober (a former Nasa engineer who now makes really fun videos about his complicated and whimsical inventions – best known for the “glitter bomb” anti-theft devices)
  • Styropyro (guy who makes crazy powerful lasers, etc.)

Video creation, 3D Animation and Youtubing Strategy

  • Lazy Tutorials (Ian Huber teaches you 3-D animation with Blender at the speed of thought). He also maintains the Default Cube channel.
  • Blender Guru – personable, easy to watch in-depth blender tutorials
  • CG Matter – fast, advanced Blender tutorials
  • CG Geek – longer, more detailed Blender tutorials
  • Captain Disillusion (video editing and special effects – this man puts a lot of work into each of his super-entertaining videos)
  • Daniel Krafft – useful blender tips and tutorials
  • Iridesium – tutorials on how to create movie-quality special effects in Blender

Coding and Artificial Intelligence

  • Two Minute Papers (AI) – super smart guy summarizes academic papers in the Artificial Intelligence field in a really interesting and easy to understand way, with visual examples.
  • Code Bullet (AI) – Software developer incorporates machine learning/AI into his own code and demonstrates the results in a wide variety of contexts.
  • Carykh – AI and building some interesting apps including the famous “size of the universe” interactive
  • Sebastian Lague – The Bob Ross of coding, this young gentleman walks us peacefully through a fun series of iterative improvements on a variety of advanced programming projects.
  • CodeParade – great bits of coding, math, and graphics combined

Math

  • Vi Hart – the original “Mathemusician”, Vi’s soulfully brilliant explanations of math concepts are great for small kids and adults alike.
  • Zach Star – math puzzles and other interesting stuff
  • Numberphile – another fun math channel – sometimes with fun visuals and special guest experts.

History, English, Etc.

  • Tom Scott – Linguistics and various travel and geography stories
  • History of the Earth – the History Brothers cover multimillion year periods of our planet’s history
  • Half as Interesting – light-hearted tidbids of English history and other things

Music

  • Andrew Huang – so clever, so energetic, so talented, and teaches you SO much about music! (his own songs are great too, as are his youtube buddies)
  • Roomie Official – fun to watch, educational, and a ridiculously good and versatile singer.
  • Davie504 – an amazing bass player, and fellow bass enthusiasts might learn a few things too.
  • Adam Neely – fantastic music theory and neat analysis of existing stuff.
  • AU5 – one of my favorite emerging electronic music artists, who also teaches you how to make the stuff in Ableton and related tools

So, What’s Next?

Like everything in life, I view this as an experiment. It might go well, but there will surely be some pitfalls and downsides as well. Neither of us is perfect and we make errors in judgement sometimes. But this feels right and promising right now, so we are running with it. We will learn from our mistakes and develop ourselves along the way, and make the most of it. Which is really a good plan for life itself.

Congratulations my not-so-little MM, I am proud of you and I wish you the best in this next crazy chapter!

  • Laura April 19, 2021, 4:49 pm

    not to mention Khan Academy, game schooling, unschooling, etc. IMO, university is still worth it for the networking, and in Canada we have RESPs which the government contributes half the educational portfolio fund (not sure if the US has an equivalent). But there are LOTS of homeschoolers who go to university, as well as ones who don’t and still manage to have a successful and meaningful life.

    An excellent read on “traditional” schools is the book “Weapons of Mass Instruction” by John Taylot Gatto. (yes it’s a catchy title but he’s got 300 years worth of original sources). Enjoy!

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  • Kay April 19, 2021, 5:21 pm

    My 15- and 10-year old sons have been homeschooling since the beginning of 6th grade/end of K5. It took a while, but we’re in a really good, mostly unschooling groove. Both kids have varied interests and lots of time to pursue them. My older son reads absolutely everything and remembers it all.

    I had a very different experience in school than MMM – I was miserable and felt it was an utter waste of my time. I didn’t know how to relate to my peers nor did I really even want to. The focus on the “socialization” aspect of school is completely overhyped and misguided, IMO.

    All this to say, good for Little MMM and for his parents in supporting him. I won’t even say that he’s going to do great things, because I don’t think that’s the point. I *will* say, though, that he will likely lead a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

    Oh, and two more YouTube channels to add to the list: It’s Okay to Be Smart and Joe Scott, both very interesting and entertaining science channels.

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  • Edith April 19, 2021, 5:29 pm

    I don’t really get why you would erase my comment but it is not the first time. Since I put my 3-year old on a screen-free diet, my experiences from it have been erased from facebook countless times. Apparently, showing people the screens they love have a dark side is considered taboo. But if the reason for the erase is not that you want to stick your head in the sand regarding this topic, and you are willing to find the bunch of replicated studies without conflict of interest that are out there about the impact of screens on developing brains, this is a great place to start: https://www.screenfreeparenting.com/research-confirms-limiting-childrens-screen-time-results-in-better-habits/ Please note I’m taking the time to write this because your writing changed my life in your area of expertise, and I want to return the favor, but just like mustachianism, knowledge only comes to those who are ready for it.

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  • Dru April 19, 2021, 5:36 pm

    For a lifetime, I taught English in a famous college town known for its liberal arts education and spent summers at a camp conducting an ethics class for gifted kids from all over the world.

    Your son is right. Up to a point. The sciences, history, and math can largely be taught by video, but I don’t believe one learns how to think critically that way.

    Interaction with others must occur sometimes. The Socratic method is a powerful way to learn techniques not available any other way. The Great Books Course helps kids unlock literature in ways they simply couldn’t discover independently. Something magical can happen in classrooms.

    I’ll give just two examples.

    When my students finish reading Animal Farm, Orwell’s novel proving that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, my students all swear they’d never be stupid enough to fall for a despot. I reward them for having studied and absorbed the message of the novel by having a “fun day” playing a simulation game called Star Power.

    Almost without fail, all my students who said they’d never allow power to corrupt them or their friends, do exacly that when given the opportunity in the Star Power game to establish rules that benefited themselves and hurt their classmates. Although they’d finished a book about the very subject the day before, just 24-hours later, they broke their own promises. (For more info, see this link: https://www.simulationtrainingsystems.com/schools-and-charities/products/starpower/)

    That day, playing Star Power is what made the lesson about despots and power stick in their minds in a way they never forgot. You cannot learn that from a video.

    Every year, before students read one of the most challenged books (countless communities have tried to censor it or ban it from libraries) in America, To Kill a Mockingbird, I bring in actual KKK pamphlets for my students to read. I want them to see racism first-hand.

    One year, my students decided to write to the KKK, correcting the pamphlet’s poor grammar and spelling, and decrying the hate speech contained in each sentence. To avoid trouble, I had my students use my name and school address on the envelopes’ return address.

    About a week later, I discovered a Barbie doll with hair cut exactly like mine hanging from my classroom doorknob with “blood” dripping from her neck. My principal called the police.

    But I was delighted my students, in this upper middle class college town, could realize, first-hand, that bigotry was still alive and well. Once again, that was a visceral lesson that it would have been impossible to convey with a video.

    So, I believe Younger MMM is correct, for sure, about math—I haven’t balanced my checkbook in thirty years—and he may be right that some teachers routinely teach the same lessons that fail again and again—but most of us teachers approach a work of art that is literature to find ways to make the magic happen for our students. I hope Younger MMM will some day have that experience.

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    • Andreas April 24, 2021, 2:18 am

      Wow! Well done I must say. Sorry for the backlash directed at you but what you are doing needs to be done, and educated.

      I remember when I went in school during the 90´s we hade classes in fact checking etc, I dont know how that works today. There is obviously a need for it. That is one thing I wonder about, how do I teach kids how not to trust everything on social media etc? One of my horror is that someone I trust and love would fall down on some crazy conspiracy hunt.

      In fairness we did have a lot of racist propaganda in the 90´s aswell and that was also combated with some success. Todays social media is a different thing, or is it maybe just more of the same?

      But on the other side, we do have mainstream media just pushing for how bad everything is all the time. But if we check actual facts we see that most of us are having it better and better (live longer, less disease, higher income, less violence etc etc etc). So that is a sort of fake news aswell, even if it is not as fake as “alternative media”. It is just the spin some “news” take instead of just looking at hard numbers over time that scares me somewhat. Propaganda has always existed, and I guess these worries came with (and even before) the printed press. And I guess today we have very good chances to combat it. Now if Facebook and Google actually tried to do good and not put profit before everything else..we would have a good fighting chance.

      MMM, for someones opinion I really value, what is your take on this? And our future?

      Reply
  • Joan April 19, 2021, 5:38 pm

    Wow, let me just say that you have a very bright and motivated kid :) I can relate to the worry. I’m looking into unschooling for my kid. Good thing I still have a few years left to research, mainly for my worries haha

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  • Dan April 19, 2021, 5:42 pm

    We took our kids off the education hamster wheel when they were 8 and 12. We just bummed around the world (it’s easier than you think) for 5 years. Allowed them to experience life in other cultures and learn Spanish indigenously… just allowed them to pursue what they wanted to learn, with some core cirriculum along the way, thanks to the ever present internet.

    We finally transitioned back into “normal life” here in the US mainly because our youngest wanted an actual traditional high school experience. Whereas our oldest didn’t want that and so it was a good fit to be traveling during her high school years. The oldest ended up getting her GED when she was 16 while we were traveling. Our youngest, despite not having any structured educational experiences of note, since she was 8, entered into high school and is just now finishing her freshman year and has gotten straight As the entire year. And is taking AP classes to boot.

    Organized education is a relic of the past. Although it can still be fine for those students and parents that need the daycare aspect of it, it’s certainly not critical for raising a kid in the 21st century. And to the extent you can allow your kid to seek his/her own path, at an early age, why not? It would be obtuse to ignore that opportunity, if it presents itself.

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  • Emile April 19, 2021, 6:01 pm

    Congrats to MMM Jr. and a salute to his parents for being so open minded. Driven, creative, independent-minded individuals are rare and valuable — supporting a creative person like this would be a service to the world. Who knows, might be the next Elon Musk!

    Bryan Caplan’s book “The Case Against Education” pinpoints what is wrong with education: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_t957pTcJ0E. Namely, school is about signalling one’s intelligence, hard work ethic, and conformity, not about learning. MMM Jr, this might interest you.

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  • Shelly April 19, 2021, 6:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing and for being such a hip dad. I hope you son goes on to make a difference in education for the betterment of others – the system could really use some major help! And college is not the end-all, be-all that it once promised. Many meaningful, productive lives happen without college. But remember, education (regardless of source) without implementation (execution, meaningful engagement, etc.) is merely a form of entertainment.

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  • Tristan Hume April 19, 2021, 6:14 pm

    Awesome, I love finding more great YouTube channels. Especially going to take a look at the Blender ones I don’t already watch since I’m looking for more good stuff in that area.

    If you liked this YouTube channel list you may enjoy my extensive tier list of interesting YouTube channels: https://thume.ca/2020/07/19/my-youtube-tier-list/

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  • Austin Perdue April 19, 2021, 6:24 pm

    I’m excited to follow your son’s progress down this path. One concern that comes to mind with this style of learning, however, is that there ceases to be an authority who filters and guides learning. Self-teaching may be more efficient, but one risks that learning being incomplete, or to have garbage input.

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  • Daniel April 19, 2021, 6:49 pm

    For History, if you don’t mind a podcast, Hardcore History by Dan Carlin. It doesn’t just give you facts and dates, and names. But it makes you feel the flow of history, the human element, the way events carry people along, not the other way.

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  • Rural Rothbard April 19, 2021, 6:55 pm

    “public schools are literal prisons for children and the only time many people will ever encounter physical violence in their lives.”

    -Michael Malice

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  • Ken Bubp April 19, 2021, 9:25 pm

    Here’s one of several blog posts of some homeschooling kids – sons of an Economics professor at George Mason – that inspired my family’s homeschool experiment this year:
    https://www.econlib.org/archives/2016/07/the_homeschooli.html

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  • Ann April 19, 2021, 9:35 pm

    Yes Yes Yes! My son, exactly the same story. Didn’t finish Year 9. Educated himself with Youtube. He is 22 now and knows as much about political theory as I did at the same age end of my three year degree in the field. He got himself a job with a member of parliament (who happened to be his girlfriend’s mother) writing speeches and doing her social media. He resigned because of political differences but with accolades from his boss who praised his integrity. In the interview for his next job when he was asked what he could bring to the position, he said ‘integrity’ and got the job.
    I agree, it can be worrisome, letting go of your children, but parenting is a long lesson in letting go. And as a teacher I endorse everything you say about the school system, including that universal free education is a wonderful thing.

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  • Ms Blaise April 19, 2021, 10:27 pm

    What a brave post. You open your self up for criticism to provoke fresh thinking. Well done.

    I taught for 15 years and came to believe that you have to find what works for your children. Our daughter struggled in our local large primary school. Modern Learning Environments have open plan spaces with 50-60 children and multiple teachers ll working and playing in one space. She was overwhelmed and overwrought. We have moved her to an indepedent school ( also local – 6 minutes walk from home) which has high fees. She is fizzing there with the small classes, routine and the sense of being known, understood and seen. She loves quiet and time to think and be. “I can be courageous”, she told me at the end of term, and “I really like to wonder about how sailing boats catch the wind”. And I knew we had made the right decision to try something the right shape for her. We can accommodate the fees because we live simply and have no other debt except the final 100k of our mortgage. Thank goodness we discovered MMM and the Barefoot Investor and SimpleSavings when we did. So we have our different tune to dance to.

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  • Anirudh April 19, 2021, 10:45 pm

    That’s quite impressive !how do you plan to substitute the social part of going to school ? From what I see you are basically home schooling which tons of people do !

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  • George Choy April 19, 2021, 11:00 pm

    I have two kids under 11 years old.
    I would love to take my kids out of school and teach them personal finance, real business skills and how to develop houses. I’d have them come with me on the Zoom meetings and courses that I go on….

    That would be my dream…unfortunately when we had the first lockdown and no school – even doing just 30 minutes of home school per day resulted in screaming, door slamming and trying to break things.

    The 30 minutes of home school tended to take around 2 hours by the time it was done. It was a relief when they went back to school. It made me truly appreciate the work that teachers do.

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    • LisaC April 20, 2021, 1:21 pm

      We had the same experience here in Switzerland and the schools weren’t even closed very long, maybe 6 weeks. My son (11 then) was doing the work, but he really disliked homeschooling and was more than ready to get back to school. On day 3 of homeschooling he said, “day 1 was was like YAYYYY, day 2 so-so and day 3 (he then flopped face-down into his bed like a statue tipping over)”.
      He’s happy at school and is excited to be starting secondary school (grade 7 ) next year. On the side, I teach him about finance and investing and he has his own Etrade account and YouTube channel where he occasionally uploads mostly LEGO-related content.

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      • Christine Keefe April 21, 2021, 10:37 am

        Same here with my then 11 year-old, only now she’s 12, we’re still elearning and she HATES it. She will start grade 7 at the middle school in the fall in person as she’ll be vaccinated by then. She was having such a fantastic year in Grade 5 until the lockdown happened. We kept elearning this year because we live in Florida where precautions are hit-or-miss.

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  • N April 20, 2021, 12:31 am

    I just want to caveat that, in my experience, YouTube videos (or Khan Academy, etc.) tend to not go deep enough on a wide enough range of topics for any given field, if you aspire to the equivalent of going through a bachelor’s degree. The more effort you have to put into making the content visual and entertaining, the more it has to be broad but superficial (first year of univeristy level, kinda), or deep buy very specific (PhD level, but touching on a very niche topic). Several times after graduating I’ve gone back to either my university notes or my reference books because what I found on YouTube/online learning platforms to refresh some topic wasn’t as deep as what I’d been exposed to. So, I recommend reading dry and boring university-recommended books and (even more important than reading/watching content) doing their exercises. Many universities have the bibliography for each subject listed on their website, so that should be no problem. What can be hard is to get self-motivated to go through that kind of dry and long but fundamental material without the social structure around you, but it can be done. Like that guy who studied the 4-year MIT curriculum (completing projects and exams) in one year (https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/myprojects/mit-challenge-2/). Another caveat he mentions there is that you have to self-grade, of course. For any exercise or project that doesn’t come with an objective solution at the back of a book, that can be a problem. You need to be creative in finding a replacement for feedback. Anyway, if he later decides to go to college, he can just do what I did (albeit in a country with government-funded university, which makes this decision far easier…): skip most classes (the ‘I introduce the topic, you listen’ ones), but show up for the classes where they strictly solve exercises, the exams and the social events. That can’t be done at high school (so I get it), but it can be done at university.

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  • Sarah April 20, 2021, 12:35 am

    I know you mentioned privilege and are fully aware of your position. I think that kids like your son are going to be tremendously powerful and successful at making change in this country particularly in terms of equity and climate change because they are so creative and inventive. You are definitely giving him the tools (or letting him find and create the tools!).
    I think it is equally important we continue to ask ourselves and our kids how can we build a more equitable society. The pandemic has accentuated and highlighted the disparities between races and classes in the country. White and/or privileged families have been able to opt out of the school system or form a pod in order to excel during the year while so many struggled with a myriad of issues and have fallen behind in education. I’m not saying you shouldn’t homeschool- I’m just saying we can’t stop asking these questions because it’s not in the top headlines. Maybe homeschoolers are just the right group to be innovators in educational equity?
    I love the enthusiasm for resources and self-directed education. I wonder what’s out there on equity. I have just started looking online though there are some excellent books out there that have come to prominence through the BLM movement.

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  • Mark W. April 20, 2021, 4:40 am

    Very eloquent. Great job on the production, even though not all the statistics quote their source ;-)
    I think that young man will go a long way!

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  • Paul B April 20, 2021, 5:32 am

    I’m a little surprised not seeing Khan Academy in your list of links. It is an amazing resource for most school subjects in all grades for self-paced learning. The link is https://www.khanacademy.org/ . When my kids were in school and wanted to learn something new or to better understand the material they were being taught, they went to Khan Academy.

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  • Denise Porter April 20, 2021, 5:44 am

    I work in a Parent Partnership Program that gives homeschooling teens small, project-based classes through our local school district. Essentially, the children are homeschooled children, with the benefit of taking courses on our campus, if the parents/student choose to.
    I work with our Highly Capable students in the program and I cannot tell you what a joy it is to be able to differentiate their learning and customize their school experience.
    My own children are all Highly Capable, as your son obviously is. I live in a state that funds general education dollars for outside-the-box education and having lived in another state that does not, I cannot tell you what a luxury it is to have resources at my fingertips for my children’s education.
    We’ve always taken a non-traditional schooling route. Project-based learning and student-led learning are words we actually use and facilitate in our program to the best of our abilities. There is room for improvement, BUT–we’ve found that the best education happens when parents, students and teachers work collaboratively. That said, it takes effort and stamina from all parties and in my biased opinion the vast majority of people in the U.S. are not willing to take on that task.
    For my children, the rewards have been outstanding. Our oldest, our son, will have his AA by the age of 17.

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  • Julia April 20, 2021, 5:45 am

    Wow your son is crazy talented for his age but I mainly just wanted to say thanks for all those educational youtube links!!!! I hope to show some of these to my kids and get them off the crap Youtubers they currently watch which do nothing to help them learn anything except how to act like a douche. Thanks :)

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  • Drew C April 20, 2021, 6:32 am

    If he hasn’t already, get him to check out the “Practical Engineering” Youtube channel.

    He simplifies so many engineering challenges and techniques into a digestible format that I, an engineer in industry, can’t get enough of it. Anyone interested in learning probably wouldn’t either.

    BTW, his Youtube channels are nearly identical to my own :P

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  • Matt & Holli April 20, 2021, 6:43 am

    Welcome to the rabbit hole of freedom in education! Our kids (almost 10 and 13) have never gone to school. Longmont and Boulder have a huge community of self-directed learners. Surrendering and opening your mind as a parent to what learning and education really means is the hardest part. But so worth it!

    Reply
  • Christine Keefe April 20, 2021, 7:00 am

    Maybe there is a happy medium that would allow Little MM to hack the system and end up with a diploma with little effort while freeing up time for his self-education. My 15 year-old has finished 21 high school courses during lockdown by using the state virtual school system. She’s a quick study also, and these courses are self-paced and can be selected a-la-carte at least here in Florida. When she finishes one, we add another. As long as she can get timely phone appointments with the teachers, each course takes her 3-4 days to complete. We used this lockdown time to “hack” her schedule by completing courses that we find less-than-vital to her overall knowledge, courses that will allow her to jump ahead in certain subjects, etc.

    Her goal isn’t to graduate early, but to allow herself the ability to take all of the science courses that interest her once she is back in-person this fall. She has used her extra time to start a thriving reselling business on Poshmark and Mercari. I am so proud of her! FIRE mom brag – she’s on track to fully fund a Roth this year.

    As for the “flipped” classroom concept, I’m going to be the odd person out here and say that I don’t like it. My neighbor’s 13 year-old comes over and learns with us so the kids all have some socialization (adults are all vaccinated, don’t worry). She’s doing elearning through the local middle school, and the “flipped” classrooms are the ones that drive me CRAZY. I feel like no teaching is going on, no discussion, no interaction. Where is the richness of discussion that happens in an English class? The questions that happen in a history class? It leaves me feeling like the teacher is a babysitter. The classes where the teacher teaches (ie, her math class) are awesome. I often sit there and watch the math teacher in action. She’s impressive in every sense. Videos don’t replace engaged and engaging teachers. They are great for supplementation and for getting ahead or for going deeper, but for the average kid they just don’t hold their attention. There is no way to ask the video a question in real time. I can’t even get my 12 year-old to sit down and watch a 5 minute Math Antics video but she’ll sit through her friend’s entire 90 minute math class because the teacher is engaging.

    Reply
  • Adrienne April 20, 2021, 7:04 am

    First, I’m a high-school dropout. I was bored, under-stimulated and bullied and dropped out in 10th grade. After getting my GED, I ended up with a college degree in the Biological Sciences and am now more financially set than most my friends. Having said that… perhaps it’s worth considering that efficiency isn’t always what’s best. I now see that being bored in school forced me to become an observer. I watched the teacher, I watched the students and their often ridiculous cliques, I watched the bullying, I watched the teachers favorites, I stared out the window and wondered, I doodled and sat still and watched the clouds pass. Sitting, doing nothing, being in nature, being still, appreciating the nature world, all while being completely inefficient are very valuable activities. I loved science and hated history, art, English. But now, I realize that having to memorize and recite those poems gave me an opportunity to try to understand what Wendell Barry was all jazzed up about. Having to recite it over and over again, made me go deeper into his appreciation of the natural world. So, in hindsight, perhaps there is value in not only focusing on what we love, but sitting with those things we don’t and not trying to be the most efficient humans we can be. Valuable learning can be efficient or not.

    Reply
  • Brian C April 20, 2021, 7:50 am

    This sounds like quite the experiment! As a parent, I would share a lot of the same angst and hopes you do.

    I know one challenge for self-taught people in software & digital creativity is getting sucked into the parts that are fun to learn, but avoiding the tedious parts. For example, software development usually takes a good amount of math knowledge. This is absolutely a solvable problem, there just has to be a plan and effort put into solving it.

    One thing that worked for me (20+ years ago in a different state) was enrolling in a community college course during my high school years. It let me study something I was interested in with a bit more formality. Maybe mm would be interested in taking a class or two that way to keep up the social interaction and keep a small degree of formality in life.

    Best of luck with this new adventure!

    Reply
  • Angie April 20, 2021, 7:54 am

    Could you share how you family balances time on screen with other types of activities? I think electronics offer a lot of possibilities. At the same time, there are a lot of challenges especially with small children. We are always trying to find this balance at home with our child. Homeschooling for us has been great! We retired early mainly to be more present in our child life, with her education and well being.

    Reply
  • Lisa April 20, 2021, 8:55 am

    Even though I know you were aware, it must have been painful for you to hear you son recount the abuse he suffered and saw while he was in school….it hurt for me to hear it. My son had some similar experiences (at a very expensive private school) that he wasn’t really able to articulate well until a few years later and it broke my heart.

    Reply
  • Dharma Bum April 20, 2021, 9:21 am

    Hmmmm…reverse donuts in an ’88 ghetto sled.

    Sounds familiar.

    I’m a bit older than you, so I did my peel-outs, fishtails, and screaming donuts on dry pavement in my 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

    Teaching myself to stunt drive was the best part of my highschool education.

    Reply
  • LisaC April 20, 2021, 9:40 am

    I think your son simply had a bad experience in one school/school district and probably would have benefited from transferring to a different public school or enrolling in a private school. He really doesn’t have the experience to make these blanket statements. My son is now 12.5 and has attended both public and private schools in the USA, Switzerland and Germany. All the schools were different, and none of them were perfect, but he has had a good learning experience and is stimulated and motivated. He really did n0t like the distance learning for about 2 months in 2020. The kids were ready to get back to school for interaction with their teachers as well as with their classmates. In all the schools he’s attended, they’ve had all sorts of project work and presentations – even as a little kid. And they started learning coding last year at school and this semester he will have a class called Industrial Robotics and 3-D printing – in public school. It’s really not all bad and it wasn’t all bad when I attended public schools und universities in Texas where I got my B.S. in Engineering and later, my M.D. degree. I also had some problems with getting “singled out” and punished (there was corporal punishment back then) by certain teachers in middle school and high school, but I just transferred out of those particular classes and/or got my parents involved. But, that kind of stuff is everywhere, n0t just in schools. We have to learn to deal with it constructively.

    Reply
  • Jules April 20, 2021, 10:15 am

    This is so cool! Congrats to both of you for bucking the “crappy and antiquated system” in such a thoughtful, proactive way! (Though I’m not at all surprised.)

    I only attended half a day of high school. I went on to get a GED, work full-time, experiment in TV production, get a B.A. Honors and PMP certification, work for a Fortune 100 company, get a Masters Honors, semi-retire early to my dream town (Bend, OR – we have some friends in common!), and start my own business. I’m 38.

    And I’m not half as smart as Little MM. So. As far as I’m concerned, you two have nothing to worry about…and when can I watch this documentary?!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 20, 2021, 10:34 am

      Thanks Jules! You can watch the documentary as soon as you click “play” on the Youtube links I provided :-)

      Reply
  • Christine Hughes April 20, 2021, 11:20 am

    This brought to mind an article on cracked.com that describes how our present education system sets you up to fail:
    https://www.cracked.com/article_23546_5-ways-public-school-system-sets-you-up-to-fail.html

    Reply
  • Jwheeland April 20, 2021, 11:50 am

    This guy is only in 9th grade! Man excellent video quality. I’m impressed. The kids these days…

    Reply
  • Jared April 20, 2021, 12:31 pm

    Enjoyed the video! He makes a lot of excellent points, and the music was great (although I do wish it was a little quieter at times, because it’s sometimes hard to focus on what he’s saying).

    While I myself went to a pretty decent public school and then community college, most of my friends were home schooled (some did college, some didn’t). I’m constantly surprised at how many things they know about that I was never taught in school that I really think should have been (and I think used to be to an extent). Things like Ancient Greek philosophy, certain STEM topics, a lot of US History (and much more information about the Founding Fathers than what I was taught), literature, Government, all sorts of really useful things that were glossed over at school.

    They seem just as socially adept if not more so than many of my public school peers who are much too concerned about keeping up with the Jones’s.

    By the way, glad to see you guys enjoying the Ender’s Game series, it was a favorite of mine (especially Speaker for the Dead)!

    Reply
  • ValterV April 20, 2021, 1:30 pm

    You do realize your son is exceptionally bright, yes? I mean, I think he’s in the top 2% of kids his age.
    Scratch that, I think he’s brighter than 98% of people of any age!
    So, kudos to both you and your son :-)

    But – OTOH – this means that you cannot take him as an example, nor as a basis for general teaching.
    Although some of your suggestions might be useful, most are suitable only for very bright kids.
    Alas, school has to target the average kid, the majority, the mass; because a teaching system focused on the very bright (like your son), would leave out most of other kids, who couldn’t understand or follow such teachings.

    I wonder if you did realize this; or perhaps you fell in the trap (common to very smart people and intellectuals) of thinking your situation is more the rule than the exception.

    Reply
  • James Meehan April 20, 2021, 1:36 pm

    I wouldn’t be concerned man. Your kid already sounds more bleeding edge competent than 95% of the classmates I can remember graduating high school with. I thought I was lucky getting out to college a year early. The ability to self educate is worlds apart from even 10 years ago now.

    Reply
  • Steve M April 20, 2021, 2:29 pm

    Just a heads up for Young MM, check out BlenderSecrets.org for quick, idiosyncratic Blender tips and tricks that help speed up 3D workflows. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCp7EwodJcppc6GqiRcnCpOw

    Reply
  • Bennion April 20, 2021, 4:05 pm

    My little brother is one of the partners who own Crumbl Cookies. The main founder actually dropped out of school as well. It gave him the freedom to gain some business experience at an early age, which led to his huge success with founding Crumbl Cookies.

    Reply
  • Kristin April 20, 2021, 6:48 pm

    I’m a nurse and never wanted to get a bachelors in nursing however WGU (western governors university) has a program where you do self teaching based on self directed Hand on projects, reading and videos and then proctored testing. I absolutely loved it! They give you a mentor along the way and you can reach out to a teacher if struggling with a concept. I learned a ton, however I can see how it would not be a great fit for a large part of the population. Most of the nurses I know would much rather just write papers and go on about their life. I think we need a campaign to prioritize the love of learning or else I see a huge divide on what the population decides to do with video material. Congratulations on raising a learner!

    Reply
  • Eliot April 20, 2021, 10:06 pm

    Great work MMMM (Mini Mr Money Mustache or MMM Mk2)

    You might like this school https://aotawhiti.school.nz/learn/ a bit far away I’m afraid

    And here is a link to “Against School” by John Gatto http://www.cantrip.org/againstschool.html
    (mentioned but not linked in YT comments)

    Reply
    • Eliot April 21, 2021, 11:56 pm

      I also passed this post on to my daughter who finished high school last year.

      Here’s her response:
      “Finally got around to watching this, a lot more impressive realising that he modelled all the graphics as well! Interesting doco although I’m not sure his proposed system would be successful for everyone either, it seems like the type of system which would indeed work incredibly well for HIM and of course many others as well but I think the same demographic that struggled with school during lockdown might find such a system similarly challenging “

      Reply
  • Tom Bennett April 20, 2021, 10:12 pm

    Wow! So impressed with your son’s hard work and self-directed project. Just yesterday I listened to an interesting interview with Sal Khan (of Khan academy fame) on the subject of changing education to a much more efficient model. I’ll link it in case you or your son have not already heard it.

    https://freakonomics.com/podcast/pima-sal-khan/

    Reply
  • Rogue Learner April 20, 2021, 11:45 pm

    My husband and I started homeschooling last year and quickly fell into self-directed education. We believe that a child can learn any skill at any time and there are no specific timelines necessary to be successful. Our two kids are very different in terms of their interests and environmental needs, so designing a tailored learning experience for each of them just makes sense. We don’t follow a curriculum, because it turns out you can learn everything you need to know in life by living life and following your curiosity – it’s pretty simple! I started a podcast about self-directed learning (https://roguelearner.com/podcast/) and have a free directory of over 300 secular resources, YouTube videos included! (https://roguelearner.com/listing/) I am a former educator, but I can see how the current conventional path is inflexible and time-wasting. I have no doubt your son will accomplish his goals and feel fulfilled – your support for him is gold!

    Reply
  • Josh April 21, 2021, 2:46 am

    I remember sitting in my Nursing School classes barely able to keep my eyes open wondering how something I found so interesting could seem so boring. The current format of most educational systems is so archaic I agree the entire platform will eventually be upended. The cost structure the lack of engagement and value proposition are all out of whack at this point. A lot of fields could benefit from some kind of hybrid model that ditched the lectures at least for video content and beefed up the face to face time
    for more practical skill building. Maybe someday…

    Reply
  • Keith April 21, 2021, 4:19 am

    There is wonderful material on YouTube for learning foreign languages via the ‘natural’ method. Would like to see some nod to this area of self-instruction in any well-rounded curriculum.

    Reply
  • WanderingTerp April 21, 2021, 5:16 am

    My youngest son was also not served well by the traditional classroom and chose to leave in his Jr year of high school. It did not turn out well for him until about 15 years later. He’s a wonderful, intelligent, hard-working man. I think it’s brave to let Little MM work this out with your support. There are so many resources now that my son did not have 21 years ago.

    What I would ask is that people stop putting this on the teachers. They are grossly underpaid, given very little time to prepare lessons, forced to focus only on standardized test outcomes, and expected to match the needs of every one of the children in their packed classrooms.

    As a society, we have failed not only our children but also the teachers who are given unrealistic expectations for performance. I am not a teacher but I am an interpreter who worked in education from K-12 to Grad level. I’ve been a fly on the wall. And then I married a reading teacher. Please, let’s stop expecting so much when we put in so little.

    If my children were young I would also home-school them. Not because the teachers are inept but because our system is no longer focused on teaching. It’s focused on passing a test and moving kids through like a product in a factory. It’s disheartening and disgusting.

    Reply
  • Jay Berwanger April 21, 2021, 6:28 am

    For music and to give the drummer some, I highly recommend Stephens Drum Shed (Stephen Taylor) for YouTube Channel, Stuff for Beginners to advanced. Great guy too.

    Reply
  • Pereg April 21, 2021, 7:34 am

    TLDR: google Hikkomori.

    Rant: I will admit I am an educator (K-12 but mostly college), and posts like this worry me and make me question why readers flock to your advice. You advocate a conservative and traditional approach to investing, but you’re okay with rejecting traditional advice about how to raise humans? It feels like you are willing to take unnecessary risks with your kid that you would not make with your own money, banking on a future that hasn’t quite been realized. Even though I’m an educator, I recognize the flaws in the education system…but to me those are beside the point. More critically, I also have a number of siblings in their twenties and have watched them flounder away because the world will not conform to their vision of what it ought to be. They did high school but hated it, and saw college as an imposition as well. Their goal was to get through it as quickly as possible. Now they’re through it, but there’s nothing on the other side except a workaday job, and a commute. They hated school so much that they missed out on all the side benefits like creating a network of durable friendships. They’re surprised that kids with fancier degrees and more experience and sports acumen are snapping up opportunities and they are not. I have a Zinneal sibling who told me over Christmas that he would never let his kid watch YouTube or play too many video games, even though that was the majority of his own upbringing. Now of course that is totally unrealistic YouTube is here to stay of course, but I think the younger generation is starting to see that the technology immersion has been detrimental. Reality is, the world still largely values traditional skills (both academic and soft). And there’s good reason for that in many cases! If you feel absolutely confident that your 15-year-old can carve out a path to a totally new way of living, and that he will want to stay on that path forever, then I think actively discouraging school (which is kind of what you’re doing with this post) is fine. But if he gets out into the real world and realizes that few people share his values or that he is unprepared to handle people and their expectations, then you may regret allowing this experiment.

    I guess it all comes down to what constitutes a good life? For me it is community, friends, and family. A job that allows me to finance those things. Right now, the best way to form a durable community is to be IN community. I think technology is wonderful when it helps people to develop leadership skills, to learn how to connect with more people, into supplement what they’re doing in real life. But it’s not a substitute for real life. And I could not allow my kid to learn that the hard way.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 21, 2021, 9:03 am

      Hi Pereg, I’m not sure where you got the impression that we are actively discouraging school at all. In fact, I said it is great.

      The suggestion is that we make a few changes:
      – super high quality video learning for all, instead of teacher-only instruction
      – free the teachers for more individualized instruction
      – open up the format of schools to be less rote and military, and more like a fun “learning facilitation center”, which is what Sudbury schools are already like.
      – phase out stuff like meaningless assignments that get graded and then just thrown away, and standardized testing, move towards big projects that are designed to work on real-life problems.

      But we’d keep the campuses, in-person attendance would be available for everyone who wants it, and teachers would get to keep their jobs.

      Reply
      • Pereg April 25, 2021, 8:52 am

        MMM, Thank you for your reply. I agree that a sort of community center style schooling would be great for a lot of kids. And I tried to make it clear in my response that I did not think you were anti-education, just anti-school (as an anti-schoolhouse). I guess my question is, if that doesn’t exist right now, and it doesn’t really except for the most privileged, how is your son getting us there by leaving the school system altogether? I’m wondering if it would be better for him to do dual enrollment. As a college educator, I sort of hate dual enrollment if I’m being completely honest. But that’s just my preference for my own kids. I would rather them not be dragged into the world that my regular community college kids live in. My regular community college kids are more like trying to go back to get a new credential that they didn’t pick up the first time around, or there because they didn’t really apply themselves in high school but we’re told they needed to go to college. I have to teach to those kids and I think the dual enrollments students suffer because I know what they would be experiencing if they were taking my class at a regular residential college. It would be completely different. But my community college kids are not motivated to show up every day to class and give 100%, And I respect that about them because their brains are elsewhere, and that’s not a bad thing. That being said again, dual enrollment would be my preference for my kids over letting them self-direct completely at home, just because I think that the soft skills and the network that you develop in school will last you a lifetime If you tend it. I worry that we are teaching kids to just opt out of things that don’t feel immediately beneficial to them. I don’t know if you ever read the writings of Lyman Stone or Derek Thompson, but they had a great Twitter thread going a few days ago about how college is the biggest determiner of who you marry. And I can’t speak for college, but where you go to law school for example basically determines where you live. For me, higher education has a big impact on your social strata once you get out of school. There’s no doubt in my mind that motivated and bright students can succeed regardless of where they go to school or what format the school is delivered in. But it is so hard to find a community of like-minded flesh and blood peers if you opt out of traditional school. Especially if you are not religious in a traditional sense.

        Reply
  • Eric Hughes April 21, 2021, 9:32 am

    Certainly a fascinating topic, and your son did a remarkable job with his video, which I watched all the way through. He makes a number of important critiques of our current educational system.

    He’s clearly a self-motivated, engaged, and smart young man. As such, I would challenge him to dig deeper on a few things:

    1. He claims that schooling is stagnant and unchanging, and fails to incorporate new curriculum, new methods of learning, and new technology. Is this really true? What was school like 20 years ago? 50 years ago? 100 years ago?

    2. How are curricula set in our current system? Who makes those decisions? Would/should that change at all in his envisioned system?

    3. Would all schools have the means to provide this kind of learning environment? If not, why not?

    4. He says school is a profit system. Is that really true? How are schools actually paid for? Is this system fair and equitable?

    5. His vision for schooling would certainly be a huge improvement for smart and motivated students. But would it work equally well for everyone? He says he can do a week’s worth of assignments in 5 hours. Does he think all other students are capable of this?

    6. How do educational levels correlate with standard of living and self-reported happiness in countries around the world?

    7. Are there topics, concepts, or knowledge sets that he feels ALL people should learn or be exposed to? If so, why? And is there a chance that wholly self-directed learning would cause some students to miss out on those things? What problems might that cause societally?

    8. What is the history of our laws requiring everyone to attend school? Why were those laws passed? What changes did they cause?

    9. In his system, how would we measure students’ progress and achievement? Or is there no need to measure?

    10. If schooling is to change in this country, as he believes it must, how would those changes actually be achieved? What is the mechanism that would force the system to move in the right direction?

    Wishing him all the best with his ongoing learning!

    Reply

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