Helping Bryan Caplan homeschool his children

Bryan Caplan is homeschooling his twin sons, and some of that involves bringing them into Carow Hall and GMU to hang around the rest of us.  They are perhaps the only twelve year olds taking an advanced undergraduate class in labor economics; I think they can handle it.

Bryan asked if I would give them a lecture of sorts, of course I sad yes, and, oddly or not, he chose the topic of Art History for me (others around know some economics too, so perhaps that is indeed my comparative advantage).  I found it an interesting exercise to ponder what I would start telling them about, given they have virtually no background in the area, and perhaps I’ll get back to that in a future post.

In the meantime, I have two general points.  First, introducing your children to additional role models and sources of inspiration — your friends and co-workers, or so one should hope — is one of the best things you can do for them.  Most wealthy, famous, and well-educated parents under-invest in this activity.  The bottom line is that after some margin you stop influencing them, but they don’t stop looking around for sources of influence.

Second, if you are well-known, or have lots of well-known and/or talented friends, or maybe even if not, you should consider homeschooling your children for a while in this manner, if only for a month or two over the summer.  Your friends will be willing to give some form of instruction to your children, and they will be way, way better than normal teachers.

My next lecture for Bryan’s children will be History of American Popular Song, complemented with musical tracks of course, though no singing.

Addendum: Here are comments from Stationary Waves.


Bryan could send his twelve year old children to live with Syrian refugees for a few weeks. Instill in them the value of resilience in face of hardship, which over intelligence and ability, is perhaps one of life's most important skills.

Yeah, but you meant that comment in a snarky useless silly leftist kind of way didn't you?

Come on Kitkat, this guy talks from personal experience. He did spent a few weeks living with the refugees where he learned the value of resilience in face of hardship. He must have an inspiring and valuable story to share, but he is a modest guy....we'll never know.

How do we know he didn't mean it a snarky useless rightist kind of way? Going and living with refugees to learn about life the hard way seems to be more like something a right-winger would preach, rather than messing around with useless private art history instruction.


That's a decent idea. However, Bryan boasts of living in a "bubble" and presumably keeping his children in the bubble. Living with Syrian refugees would be quite a ways outside of the "bubble".

Not a bad idea, by the way. All advocates of Open Borders should have to live in Malmo, Rosengård, a French Banlieue, etc. In other words, the sort of place where men and women don't go out at night and for good reason.

There are a lot of people here in the states that live in places "where men and women don't go out at night and for good reason." Your anecdotal evidence offers us nothing beyond merely informing us of the narrative which influences the way you view the world. As far as I can tell from my quick browsing of the Swedish Crime Survey, Malmo is within a pretty normal range, both + /-, of most major cities in the United States.

P.S. Zlatan will crush you, actually Zlatan will smash all of the Rosengard haters.

In the UK there is currently a debate going on (at least in the Guardian) over the privilaged background of the current leadership of the Conservative party (Eton, Oxford etc). It is seen as unfair that they got access to a lot of opportunities early in life which has made them more likely than the average person to be Prime Minister for instance. Similarly we hear people like Bill Gates talk about how they don't plan to leave their children much money when they die, as it is unfair that they would have this extra advantage. My question is therefore why is it seen as a good thing for Bryan to seek this educational advantage for his children? Surely this is unfair privilege?

While they would know it intellectually, I would presume many 12 year olds don't know in their bones how exclusive art used to be in this age of cameras on everything. Perhaps mention how the invention of photography affected the art world and explain how Disney's apparently random taking down of parody videos from youtube toay is a clumsy attempt to maintain some of the former exclusivity of art.

I would not consider that there is a very strong element of "art" in the way a lot of people use cameras these days. Selfies, pictures of major sites, pictures of every restaurant dinner they eat ... if this is "art", then I suggest that the vast majority are piss poor "artists".

Well, that's OK, there's not much more natural to being human than dabbling in art of some form or another. But true works of art are still a very exclusive thing. Most of us have to go to museums and exhibits to consume this.

Right now I am consuming multiple images of the Mona Lisa, despite being on the opposite side of the planet from the actual painting, just by typing "Mona Lisa" into Google image search. Many of them are bad photoshops involving politicians, actors, and fictional characters from computer games. It is currently very easy to replicate images with high fidelity. There is an excellent chance these 12 year olds have seen the Mona Lisa on numerous occassions without ever actually having seen the physical wooden boards it was originally slathered on. There is no particular need for people to travel to museums and exhibits to consume true works of art any more. (Except in Australia where it actually can be less frustrating to travel to France than to wait for high resolution images to download over our copper wire and quite possibly animal bone internet.) In fact, I would think many people these days consume their "true works of art" while wandering around virtual environments in computer games or watching movies. Note though that their true works of art might be very different from your true works of art.

Google has a project going where they digitize at extreme high resolution and quality the works of many famous art museums. So no more being forced to view bad photoshops.

"Note though that their true works of art might be very different from your true works of art."

Very good point.

I find this more acceptable since it's not zero sum.

For instance if Caplan's children got preferential access to an elite school that could be a problem. Society isn't made better for Caplan's children getting that spot over other children so nothing is gained but a few resources are given to the privileged child.

But Cowen's lecture is a resource that wouldn't exist for another child, it only exist for children of a friend. So no one else loses something when Caplan's children gain.

Wonder how many credits worth of GMU Tuition Caplan is paying for.

One of the more important events in my life happened when my mom was in grad school, and more for logistical reasons than anything else, she dragged me along with her to a relatively advanced economics class (intermediate money and banking) she was taking. (I think this was during a summer session--I was eitehr still in high school or a freshman in college on my summer break.) The professor was fine with me sitting in this classroom full of much older students, many besides my mom grad students in various fields, and taking part in the discussions. And for whatever reason, the material in the class just *clicked* with me--it was really intuitive. I wound up tutoring my mom in this subject she was taking for credit and I wasn't. The professor told me at the end that it was a pity I hadn't taken the class for a credit, because he thought I'd have gotten an A.

This was an amazing opportunity, which I got because my mom was going back to school for her masters, and because the professor was nice about it. (And I'm sure if it had been common to do that, there would have been some barriers to bringing your son to class with you and it wouldn't have happened.) If you have the ability to give this sort of thing to your kids, it's worth it. (Though I can't tell you how to know that some particular kid is going to click so strongly with a particular subject.)

Depends what you mean by "preferential access". If you mean a taxpayer-funded elite school that admits Caplan's children simply because Caplan is wealthier, then you may have a point. However, if you define as "preferential access" Caplan using his own money to pay tuition at an elite private school, which poorer children cannot afford, then that is a net gain for society, not zero sum. It would be a net gain because Caplan would be giving up personal consumption and society would be gaining one more educated child.

How is this no "zero sum"? Tyler has limited resources presumably to provide special education and he is choosing to provide these to children of a friend (white male, college professor) who is already pretty privileged. He could instead provide these services to a couple of poor black children instead. This is indeed the exact charge that many of the anti-institutional racist crowd make - white people remain in positions of power and influence because of their networks and special access.

Myself I have no issues with what Tyler or Bryan are doing, because I view all ethics as really justifications for our genetic program that manages cooperation in small hunter gather groups. But I find it strange that two people (Bryan and Tyler) who often preach on what they consider to be ethical or not, are not taking their own advice.

I wouldn't object if these Profs. did the tutoring of elite friends' kids at home on personal time. Are they?

As I said, I have no objection either. In fact if I had the same opportunity as Bryan to get Tyler to teach my kids I would take it. And if I was like Tyler and a good friend asked me to help tutor their kids I would probably do it as well. Even if Tyler was doing on the college campus I wouldn't care, the marginal cost to the University would be negligible. But I don't care because I am not an ethicist. What I am pointing out is a inconsistency, where Tyler and Bryan (especially Bryan) like to talk about ethics and what people should and should not do. Their claiming to have such makes them vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy, like in this case. It was actually surprising to me that they didn't get the ethics issues associated with this idea and try to justify it in someway.


Caplan can ask all he wants but I think its iffy to tutor specific kids on employer time. And that too in a systematic way, not some one-off session.

I think people abuse the freedoms of the University System. Would an GE Employee dream of inviting kids to work to give them Accounting tutoring?

"He could instead provide these services to a couple of poor black children instead" - lol, troll bait noted and I'll byte/bite. The poor black children would likely find TC's lectures boring and other their head... about as useful as me lecturing poor Filipino kids where I live. Much better to give them a crust of bread or take them fishing or something like that, including just giving them cash or a can of Coke.

TC will teach "History of American Popular Song"??? I think the student will be teaching the master!

Caplan's children are kids of a friend, poor black children are anonymous strangers.

There's a huge transaction cost to finding an choosing the poor black children and potentially a lower payoff since he doesn't have the same personal connection with them. That's why private Tyler Cowen lectures only exists for friends of Tyler Cowen.

As for institutional racism I think the issue isn't unique opportunities as much as preferential treatment. If the white student gets into the elite school over a coloured child because his parents are connected, and then he gets the job over the coloured applicant because he is now connected that's the institutional racism.

"colored applicant"...micro-aggression noted.

Neat rationalization.

Nobody should care what you find "acceptable."

Do you realize the implied dictatorship in your comment?

It's "acceptable" because it's voluntary. All else is tyrannical musing.

But thanks for the zero sum justification.

Everyone of us labor partially or largely to try to give our kids a better life. A small part of that is collective, most is individual,

Tell me comrade, in your insane bizarro dystopia, what "advantage" can you give to your children?

Next please tell us what FORCE would you utilize to make sure your edicts are listened to? You know you would.

The fact that people like you can utter such nonsense from the pretend moral high ground and be taken seriously foretells doom.

Wait, I thought Ayn said to be selfish, I should be working to give myself a better life. And what do you mean "us"?
Anyhoo, if successful people are going to give their kids an advantage it is primarily through superior genetics, which luckily the FORCE/commie/dystopia crowd hasn't gotten ahold of yet. Hail me.

So what?

Seriously: what business is it of yours, or mine, or anyone's, whether Caplan's children get a better education than someone else's?

Are you suggesting that as a good mindless Progressive robot he should deliberately give his kids a BAD education so they won't have any of that demon Privilege? Do you know how despicable you sound for doing so? How petty and jealous and spiteful?

Here's a suggestion: stop telling other people how to educate their children. Take a big cup of STFU, and when that's done, refill it.

No it's not. Caplan is entitled to give his kids as big a head start in life as he can honestly provide; that's the whole point of parenting. But Caplan has high intelligence and a government sinecure that puts him in a neighborhood with a whopping $490K median home price. Folks further down the food chain have to rely on their country's borders to protect them from the global rat race. My objection to Caplan is he uses his sinecure to advocate for flooding the neighborhoods and school districts of the less intelligent with the global poor. The first commenter is spot on: let the Caplan twins experience some of that vibrancy their father urges on everybody else but has otherwise taken such pains to avoid.

Caplan is a typical liberal Jew who doesn't think his shit stinks.

LOL -- The Guardian.

LOL NEWSCORP will literally fuck your face to shove its love/hate down your throat.

ChrisA - surely those connections and access to other professors is a privilege for his children and I agree that most parents, whether rich or poor, seek to give their children an advantage to be successful in the world, but why exactly do you suggest that what is happening is unfair or unethical? And with your claim of hypocrisy, what evidence do you have that Tyler or Bryan agree with your ethical standard? From what I've read of their writings, their stated ethical beliefs seem contrary to the ethical beliefs you suggest they hold.

ChrisA - for example, here's Tyler on why he's not a Rawlsian -

I don't know how many times I have to write it - but I see no issues with what Bryan and Tyler are doing. Where I am coming from is that both Tyler and Bryan are surely ethicists - that is they both very often advance theories or arguments on why certain things are wrong or right. Bryan most famously in his open boarders position, Tyler in his suggestions that people should eat more ethically (less meat). So I was surprised that they didn't anticipate the obvious objection to what they are doing from other ethicists, that they are privileging Bryan's children by what they are doing. Bryan anticipated several objections to his plan, like his endorsement of Judith Rich Harris's work that home environments have no predictable impact on "character", but not this objection. If their answer is that actually they don't care about equality, and are OK with having people privileged their children, I would like to hear their defence of that preposition, especially in this regard. I feel that way myself ( that's its fine to support your kids) but then I don't pretend to have any ethical scheme to support my ethical preferences.

Many people proclaim a moral system in which all peoples' utilities are equal, all humans are equally children of God, etc., and so you should care equally about your own kids or someone else's. Almost nobody actually lives according to such a moral system.

My best guess is that this kind of moral system works a lot like common advice ("Believe in yourself!" "Never give up!")--it's not a very good guide to living your day-to-day life, but it's a useful corrective to your own natural tendencies. We naturally want to take care of our own first--my kids, my friends, my church members, my coworkers, people from my town, people from my country, etc. (Depending on who you are, political party, race, ethnicity, and language will crop up in there somewhere.)

Because egalitarianism is not a value that trumps everything for most of us, including Bryan.

(at least in the Guardian) over the privilaged background of the current leadership of the Conservative party (Eton, Oxford etc).

One of the Scots nationalists who has weighed in here said he was sick of being rules by 'Southern English public schoolboys'. There have been eight prime ministers since 1965, and the Conservative Party has had seven leaders. The number who could be described that way sum to precisely one, and his paternal side relations are from...Aberdeenshire. Roughly about 1/3 of David Cameron's cabinet passed through 'public' schools and Oxbridge, about 1/3 passed through one or the other, and about 1/3 passed through neither. No shortage of Oxbridge graduates in Labour Party cabinets either.

The term "unfair advantage" implies that you think of life as some sort of a competition. Stop that and you will have no problem with someone imparting their children with the best education they can offer.

Indeed, no one in my family likes climbing but once I heard stories from one of my father's friends and the curiosity for mountains became insatiable. I still hike and climb regularly.

OTOH, I disliked the idea of learning new languages even if I had many inspiring adults around me. I only learned until languages became a need, for me.

Do Economists advocate Specialization of Labor & Outsourcing only to others?

No economy of scale in educating children?

The economies of scale might be partially or more than offset by government incompetence in running public schools. (Not saying that this is the case; just pointing out the possibility.) Caplan could send his children to private school, but he would have to pay tuition with after-tax dollars. When he homeschools, neither he nor his wife have to pay income tax on the imputed tuition that they pay themselves. Also, there may be a lack of private schools to choose from due to the government forcing so many people to send their kids to public school (force in the sense of taking as taxes the money that the parents could have spent instead on private school tuition).

In a sense, the fact that anyone at all homeschools their children shows just how distortive government taxation and education policies are.

Doesn't Fairfax have some of the best school districts in the nation?

I am certain they have well-run jails as well. I still wouldn't want to send my kids to one.

Homeschooling mostly reflects ideological rigidity of certain parent groups, in particular fundamentalist Christians who want to make sure that their children are not led away from the truth of the creation story, or don't get "turned gay", or some such thing.

A notable second group of home schoolers (unscientific statement) involves parents of children who have faced major bullying problems, and decided to educate them at home instead.

I am unaware of any appreciable portion of home schooling that is based on concerns about school quality.

In the case of Caplan, I imagine he just wants to spend time with his kids learning about interesting stuff. This is the exception, not the rule.

you are almost right. homeschooling reflects something like an agency problem for something that is important.

"I am unaware of any appreciable portion of home schooling that is based on concerns about school quality."

That comment sounds completely clueless.

From wiki:

A survey in 2007 came to the result that the main three motivations selected by parents in the United States who were homeschooling their children were:[4]
Concern about the school environment. This includes reasons such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.
To provide religious or moral instruction
Dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools

I am unaware of any appreciable portion of home schooling that is based on concerns about school quality.

Because you're ignorant on the subject.

Agreed, Art.

And you're adding .... what?

Nothing. That's the point.

Jwatts decided 2/3 was "clueless", but at least he filled in the gap.

Seems to me that you just don't like what I say in general and so take petty shots when you can.

"Seems to me that you just don’t like what I say in general and so take petty shots when you can."

-Completely untrue. In fact, I didn't even know that quote was by you until after I wrote my comment.

Directed at Art.

I said "I am unaware of". JWatts filled in the gap with information. Art decided it was useful to repackage "I am unaware of" into "you're ignorant". Seemed kind of petty to me.

'Bryan Caplan is homeschooling his twin sons, and some of that involves bringing them into Carow Hall and GMU to hang around the rest of us.'

So, he is bringing his twins sons to a Commonwealth of Virginia taxpayer funded educational institution to just 'hang around' with faculty members paid for their time there by those same taxpayers? Yep, sounds like another perfect illustration of Virginia School precepts as demonstrated by GMU econ. dept faculty.

Sometimes, considering what a beacon the GMU econ dept. is, one wonders why anyone paying attention to it could ever doubt the beliefs and attitudes of those scholars avidly pointing out how taxpayer funds are used to the benefit of the few, at a cost to the many - and how such frameworks must be changed in the public interest.

Or taken advantage of - depends on where one stands, apparently.

That's a good point though I think it only becomes a legitimate concern if this starts to scale up.

If it's just Caplan then the novelty of the exercise probably more than makes up for any time loss.

perhaps Caplan will say that he is also a tax payer so he has the right to use GMU premises for his kids

That's like saying I don't need to book a hotel on my DC trip. I have a right to a bed in tax funded White House.

You are making a large assumption that Cowen is "hanging around" with Caplan's kids while on the clock. Many professional jobs in Fairfax offer flexible schedules such that you can go run an errand in the middle of the day, so long as you're not claiming it was work time, and so long as you put in the expected number of work hours over the course of the week or pay period. I see this as no different.

First, I'm not an art historian. But, I suggest breaking the history of art into three phases: 1) natural (especially pre-agrarian), 2) political commissioned art (most of history), 3) critical/anti-establishment.

Consider that the earliest art is considered as a) evidence of self consciousness as opposed to mere existence, and b) evidence of spiritual thinking. Art presupposes that I can consciously identify myself as something that is separate from nature. Its earliest forms tell us what was important to people: sex and big animals (status?)

As for art after political society went from the level of hunters/gathers and small permanent settlements, to kingdoms: since high quality art requires specialization, and specialization requires time, training, etc., later art came to be strongly tied up with politics. Only powerful (wealthy) people could support "good" art. So art in this timeframe is no longer about what is important to us as "natural" humans, but rather, it is about whatever is important to political power structures. This could be art is about religious themes, art of people in power positions, art which projects technological/warfare prowess, etc.

As wealth begins to becomes more commonplace, it is not only kings, popes, and powerful merchants who can COMISSION art, or support the training of artists. A broad-based demand factor starts to take place, and art is found in the house of anyone with moderate wealth, perhaps in the form of family portraits, but also in less politcal/religious themes, such as paintings of farms, natural scenes, etc. (which required the development of new techniques).

Ever since political power was beyond the levels of small clans, art and power have been very closely connected.

Today, and perhaps for the last century or so, artists can become very talented without the explicit support of powerful interests. Also, consider increasing acceptance/tolerance of political diversity. Hence, a lot of art is now anti-establishment, or openly questions existing social norms.

Art is now generally a critique of social and political structures, and is far more rarely something that reinforces those norms. It is an act of exploration and even rebellion, not an act which serves to propagate existing norms or uphold existing power structures.

And yes, there are also simple aesthetic beauties such as the human body, nature scenes, etc. which abound through non-politically sanctioned art through the ages. Gender stuff aside, I suggest that these are not very political and hence not very relevant to art history, except perhaps in development of techniques, etc.

I'm not an art historian either (I'm a Code Monkey) but I have a BA in Art History and my MA is interdisciplinary, which included Art History.
That said, I will agree with your segmentation of art history if only because the audience (pre-teens) is not equipped for the subtlety of the BS that surrounds the typical art history theory. A style approach (ala Gombrich) will resonate well with that age group, but a Marxist approach may lead them into the weeds where they engage in a great deal of "just so" stories or hand-waving.

When I TA'd Art History survey course I used the hook of GPA - Gesture Posture Activity. Figural art does not "speak" except the gestures of the figure. The posture of the figure, standing, sitting, kneeling, and who is in those positions reveals a bit about the figure. Then what are they doing when combined with the other two may reveal the story you are trying to comprehend.

Finally, art is more than the flat. Paintings are nice and all that but they are a narrow subject for a specific audience. As an economist, you should appreciate the art that is in many people's pocket every day - coins. The art that went into the early coins, their composition, and to whom they were circulated is one of the most overlooked aspect of Art History (The capital AH stuff). Look in any survey book (Gardner, Stokstad, Janson) and coins are barely mentioned; look at any major exhibition, and coins almost never appear. But one coin - the Kimon tetradachm probably tells you more about ancient Greece than any painted pot. (And about those pots, see how many Egyptian painters were employed making those designs. Artists the skilled immigrants of history.)

Art history? Who paid for you to waste four years of your life?

Have you ever been to a well-curated show?

Have you ever enjoyed consuming films or other media where knowledge of history contributes to a better product?

The investors of the s/w company where I worked.

The invention of the iPhone camera has vastly increased my ability to appreciate coins as sculpture. You put the phone flat against the case (to avoid glare) and take a picture, which you can then blow up and actually see. Benvenuto Cellini talks a lot about his coin designs in his self-promoting autobiography, btw.

Why should Caplan take the trouble of homeschooling his kids instead of sending them to a school? he thinks he is doing what he thinks is in their best interest? But what happens to his thesis that it really does not matter for their future how you bring up your kids? he wrote whole book arguing that point. Or does he have second thoughts now, at least as far as his kids are concerned?

In his blog, he mentioned the apparent inconsistency. He wonders whether it might not make any different in outcomes, but suggests that at least they will enjoy their middle school years better (not have to do subjects they don't like, etc.)

or perhaps, less charitably, we can argue that his book is for other kids, not this own.

Or that his children are a consumption good for him and by homeschooling he gets more time with his children. (Ie he's doing it for his own benefit of having his kids around more)

either way his post about "why he is doing it" is a crock.

Also, the big studies can detect effects of *commonly occurring* ways that parents and households differ. This is probably at the level of whether you send your kids to a public school or the Catholic school down the road, whether you vacation at Disneyworld or go to a nearby city and visit the museums, etc. However, there *aren't* many households where the parents can being their kids around to sit in on college-level classes and talk to very smart, interesting people just because they're interested in the subject. Caplan may simply be in a position to do stuff that has a much bigger impact than what's showing up in those studies.

I guess one other aside: If you're an unusually smart adult, you probably spent a fair bit of your childhood sitting in a classroom, bored to tears, thinking "For God's sake, how many times do we have to go over the formula for dividing by a fraction?" If your goal is simply to make your childrens' lives better, and you think they're bright enough to experience the same effect, then you may want to give them a more interesting educational experience. Even if it doesn't get them into Harvard instead of Duke, they'll probably enjoy themselves more.

Does a homeschooled kid get into a good college? Like, say they end up with decent SAT scores--the UVA average, for argument's sake--would they be as likely to be admitted as the kid with those scores who went to public school? In my experience, people who homeschool their kids are nut jobs. Of course, most of the ones I know of were extremely religious and that was the main reason they kept them out of schools. I wonder if colleges would worry about their social stability.

Does not apply; Caplan's planning to get his kids into gov't High School.

This might not be suitable for 12-year-olds, but might work as part of what I should perhaps call alternative schooling for older students. At Oxford, matriculated students have tutorials (for which one does have to be admitted for a particular course); they can also attend as many lectures as they like, in any subject they like, without the business of registering and dropping so common in American colleges. This is to say that the concept of auditing isn't really applicable -- the norm is to go to a lot of lectures early in term, winnow out the ones that aren't interesting, perhaps start going to others that have been recommended by fellow students. But these lectures are available to the public for £300 a term; it is not necessary to commit to a course of study or pass Oxford admissions to take advantage of lectures in an extraordinary range of subjects, given by people who are extremely distinguished in their field. (Since lecture lists are widely available, it would probably be easy enough simply to pick lectures one liked and turn up, by-passing the £300 - I've never seen a lecturer challenge anyone's right to be there.)

This is, of course, not HOME schooling, but it is outside the normal track of American public schooling. If one could afford to support a young person in Oxford for a couple of months (terms are only 8 weeks long), it might promote better decisions when it was time to choose a college or possible major. (Even if a subject is offered in some form at school, it's hard to extrapolate from its middle- or high-school version to what it's like at university level. And it's even harder to imagine subjects to which one has had no exposure at all.)

That's kind of cool. Does that approach produce better results for the students?

Like prior approval, I wonder why Bryan gets to co-opt the time and energy of a professor at a taxpayer-funded university for his own private uses. And why that professor is bragging about his decision to offer his services to a buddy.

If Tyler wants to spend his time offering free tutoring services during university time, why is he allowed to select the beneficiaries? Why can't low income Virginian students living in limited service districts demand a few hours of his time every week?

But no, Tyler not only wouldn't think of offering his taxpayer funded time to those who might not otherwise benefit, he brags about how cool it is to privilege his buddies with his instruction.

Besides, college professors aren't well-regarded for their fabulous teaching skills. Teaching quality isn't that important in academic outcomes. And Bryan's kids are at risk of inheriting their daddy's personality as well as his IQ.

So the private buddy education won't have much impact, and Tyler brags about giving his government-funded services to a privileged few. A bad idea, a wasted effort. Posting about it only magnifies the downsides. Not sure what the point is.

If Tyler wants to spend his time offering free tutoring services during university time,

He's a salaried employee in higher education, and on the faculty, not the professional staff or administration. There is no such thing as 'university' time outside of his office hours and schedule of lectures, seminars, and laboratories, Mr. Bitchyteachersunionsteward.

I'm not a union steward, and not particularly pro-union. Just not ready to blame them for "failed schools".

Besides, my objection wasn't a union-based gripe at all. Gotta get off that one note, Art. And stop assuming so much.

So in that case, Tyler could use university resources to run his own private instruction service on the GMU campus to anyone he likes. He could even charge money for it, since it's not university time or resources if it's not his office hours or schedule of lectures, seminars, and laboratories.

If you want to use the university library (and its computer labs), join the Friends of the Library chapter, open to anyone who pays the bloody dues, including the members of Tyler Cowan's tutorials. The privileges which come with that depend on the licensing agreements with their vendors.

George Mason is a public institution. They have campus security for order maintenance. In New York, there are provisions in law for deputizing campus security. Not sure if that applies in Viriginia. Deputized or no, there should be no more issue with Virginia state residents meandering around the campus than there should be regarding Virginia state residents meandering around a state park or the state capitol building. Given the population coming and going on a campus of 32,000 students, much less of an issue. I've been on the GMU campus again and again and was never molested by security.

As for the use of classrooms, that's generally scheduled, so it would have to be done on the QT or with the connivance of department secretaries or whomever else is licensed to schedule use. The thing is, many campuses (less likely GMU than a private college) have tremendous excess capacity in classroom space (a subject on which Thomas Sowell has admitted). The carrying charges are altered hardly at all by TC using the space on the QT. The opportunity cost to the institution is nil.

By the way, my old employer used to undertake community outreach by offering short-courses to high school students in addition to allowing local high school students to enroll spot, all taught by regular faculty.

And Bryan’s kids are at risk of inheriting their daddy’s personality as well as his IQ.

You've not seen the family photos. Corina Caplan is a phenomenon: reproduces parthenogenetically.

Cowen inadvertently reveals a truth about inequality in America today: a child whose parents are not "wealthy, famous, and well-educated" is highly unlikely to be exposed to the kind of role models Cowen believes are so important for a child's development. Americans today are increasingly self-segregating by wealth, fame, and education (home schooling being the most extreme case of self-segregation). Unlike when I was a child, when children of all backgrounds attended the same schools, were exposed to the same role models, and chose friends based on criteria that did not include wealth, fame, and education. I suppose many readers of this blog believe that's a feature not a bug of today's America. But if as Cowen suggests children are highly influenced by role models, what chance do less-advantaged children have today.

"children of all backgrounds attended the same schools, were exposed to the same role models, and chose friends based on criteria that did not include wealth, fame, and education. I suppose many readers of this blog believe that’s a feature not a bug of today’s America "

There's no indication whatsoever that Caplan (or Cowen) understand the concept of social cohesion. To the extent that they understand it, they're against it.

"if as Cowen suggests children are highly influenced by role models, what chance do less-advantaged children have today"

Unless they're offering tasty and exotic authentic ethnic food, why should Cowen care?

. Unlike when I was a child, when children of all backgrounds attended the same schools

When was this, exactly? Because I remember looking at class photos in my junior high going back to the 50s, and they were really, really white. And I'm guessing you're not dumb enough to think that pre-50s were the time that "children of all backgrounds attended the same schools "

I went to jr high in the 70s and the class photos pretty well reflect the town, with a large white majority, a black minority (somewhere between 10 and 20 % and a few scattered others. And, more importantly, the whole social strata of the town from wealthiest to poorest were under the same roof.

But that was before the current status seeking trend got under way. I'm sure things are far more stratified now, just the way that Cowen and Caplan like it.

Geographically, people were certainly were less segregated by wealth in those days though. Would you dispute that?

Racially, I probably agree with you, but I don't know if it is necessarily a lot better now. And obviously there were schools in the 50s that were actually segregated by race as a matter of policy.

Good point.

One observation: Somehow today, I see a sad correlation between being poor & hence apathetic towards your children's future which I didn't think existed as much 50 years ago. Is this observation right?

America's past seems to have had a lot of kids from very very poor backgrounds with extremely hardworking parents who were very concerned about their kids studying hard and doing better.

I think this factors into the self-segregation trends at schools.


"I suppose many readers of this blog believe that’s a feature not a bug of today’s America"

The readers (commenters) of this blog are rather divided on that point. it's worth noting that the Open Borders crowd are on the "feature" side. The restrictionists lean towards "bug".

Unlike when I was a child, when children of all backgrounds attended the same schools, were exposed to the same role models, and chose friends based on criteria that did not include wealth, fame, and education.

Unless you grew up in a small town or rural area outside the South (and 3/4 of the population did not), this statement is false. Most suburban schools have a mix of strata because most suburbs are mixed. They do exclude one strata, however: the slum population (and, being mixed suburbs, generally lack the patriciate or the haut bourgeois, who tend to live in upscale suburbs).

"Cowen inadvertently reveals a truth about inequality in America today: a child whose parents are not “wealthy, famous, and well-educated” is highly unlikely to be exposed to the kind of role models Cowen believes are so important for a child’s development."

-[citation needed]. I interact directly with Scott Sumner, Steve Sailer, and Scott S****** (Alexander), the three greatest minds on the Internet, on a regular basis via the comments sections of their blogs. Could not some "poor" High Schooler in the ghetto do the same on his iPhone*?

"But if as Cowen suggests children are highly influenced by role models, what chance do less-advantaged children have today"

-Quite high, to answer your non-question.

BTW, Caplan's gonna take his children to gov't High School. Not that it matters, in any case.

*Not an exaggeration. Plenty of "poor" kids in the ghetto have iPhones.

Gombrich's introduction to the Story of Art has useful insights about how we should think about art.

One point of note is that all of this took place in my home. And many other people have received such "free schooling" from me, many of them poor none of them stupid.

These comments about misuse of taxpayer money are asinine. Bus drivers are evtaxpayer funded, but it'd be ludicrous to say they can't shuttle people around in their personal car when off the clock.

Perhaps the "bringing them into Carow Hall and GMU" sounds like it happened at GMU. Is Caplan paying for the credits for the "advanced undergraduate class in labor economics"? Presumably that happens not at home?

My comment wasn't meant to suggest that Cowen (or Caplan) self-segregates, or that he doesn't offer the same opportunities to children from less-advantaged backgrounds. Cowen is an academic who devotes his life's work to teaching children (college age children mostly) from all backgrounds. Indeed, I should have qualified my "unlike when I was a child" comment by pointing out (as I often do in comments) that I attended segregated schools, so while I may have socialized with other children from less-advantaged backgrounds than I, that rarely included black children. The breadth of Cowen's interest and expertise always impresses, and he no doubt has a gift for teaching, whether the subject is economics, art, math, or many other subjects. The issue of self-segregation, especially in matters of education, does not have a single answer. My best friends' children attend a highly advanced private school, and it's highly advanced because only the smartest children are admitted, which means almost all are from advantaged families (not necessarily economically advantaged). Their reward for attending that highly advanced school is admission to an elite college of their choice. Should that highly advanced school admit children from every background? I'm not arrogant enough to say I have the correct answer.

My point is simple: Try not to do personal work on employer time.

If a Prof. coaches at home (which Tyler seems to be doing) go right ahead.

Do you know how tenure works?

There is no normal employer time for professors. As long as they teach their classes, supervise their graduate students, and publish good research, they are free to do what they wish with the rest of their time (subject to certain constraints on consulting). Tenured professors do not punch time clocks and are not considered in violation of their contract whether they work at school 2 hours a day or 12. Indeed, someone who teaches well, helps students, and does good work and spends hardly any time at school is considered a better professor by most serious schools than someone who comes in from 8 to 6 everyday and never does a lick of research but assiduously "works" at his desk.

Tyler - what you are doing is perfectly acceptable to me, but that's because I don't pretend to have a consistent ethical framework, I go with what my ethical intuition tells me is good, not what other people tell me.

One of my dearest friends is a CPA, now retired. His daughter teaches elementary school. One day a week my friend would teach math to the children in his daughter's class who were having difficulty. One technique he would teach them is to use the knuckles to do math. It's an amazing technique if you've never seen it done (who knew that the knuckles can work as a calculator), and I could imagine how it would inspire children to want to learn math. Try though I might, I never did learn that technique.

"One point of note is that all of this took place in my home."

As Rahul points out, that's exactly *not* how you described it. You not only said they would be "hanging around" Carow Hall, but also taking "an advanced undergraduate labor economics class", both of which clearly imply the twins were meeting Dad's friends on campus and taking classes or getting tutoring in school.

Which suggests you didn't see that "posting about it only magnified the downsides". Glad you straightened that out--either because you weren't clear, or you've now realized the instruction better take place off campus.

you should offer occasional culinary anthropology talks over strange dinners. it'd be a nice gig for your dotage, or if the whole Koch gravy train runs dry. I'd buy a ticket.

All this chatter about lectures at the university and on university time is silly. About the only privilege that professors get is that there is a lot of flexibility in the typical 70 hour work week in terms of when to work and when to go into the office. Professors also give numerous lectures to various groups constantly. Such activity is actually valued by the university. Professors also make decisions about which lectures to give in a rational manner: is this lecture in my bests interests among the choices of things that I have to do. Prof. Caplan's kids are just another group and Cowen's decision is no doubt driven by some rational calculation, including the need to maintain department camaraderie or develop a lecture on the History of American Popular Song.

I thought that this entire post was about an experiment they were going to run where one kid was taught by Cowen and the other was taught by Tabarrok.

Tyler, you should not waste your time homeschooling another person’s kids … or even your own children. Your time could be put to a more efficient use doing other things.

A lot of MR commenters are looking for opportunities to be as unpleasant as possible.

True enough - the absorbing question is 'why?'. They look so obviously miserable when viewed objectively in a thread like this. Misanthropes have always claimed the cleric's right to chide on behalf of abstractions, in this case "equality". Most of those in this thread probably define themselves mostly by what (and who) they are against more than what and who they are for. But identifying that in web troll misanthropy still does not explain how they get that way, and why so many exhibit it despite it being deeply unattractive and demeaning to them.

For art history, start here and maybe show them this. If they're not inspired, give up.

Sounds like Bryan Caplan's kids are going to grow up to be even weirder than him.

A lack of boundaries with his country, a lack of boundaries with his kids. It's kind of consistent in a truly horrifying way......

Yeah, but what is his country? It's clearly not America, or even the West.

I suspect that part of it the reason that Tyler is doing this and not, say, finding a group of low-income children at his nearest high-poverty school is the simple matter of search costs.

Tyler is aware of a friend in need and of his own ability to fulfill that need. This arrangement is flexible, mutually agreed upon, and most importantly readily available to him without having to do any costs of searching for it.

Finding opportunities to do this for poor children who might benefit is much more difficult, thanks to both asymmetric information and governmental barriers. In Pennsylvania now for instance, every volunteer (indeed, every adult who has "regular contact" with children who are not their own) is now forced to get a series of background checks and fill out reams of required paperwork. Then you have to find a location (will teachers provide their classrooms? it might be against their union contracts, better check!) that provides tutoring and can connect you to students who want it. Even then you have to make sure that the help being provided is appropriate for students at that level and is something the volunteers are capable of doing (which may not hold true for Tyler--is he good at teaching basic math and reading skills if that's what's needed as opposed to art history?).

So I suspect that if Tyler was aware of an opportunity to meet with low-income students and provide them with some kind of useful tutoring without having to jump through multiple hoops, then he might do so. Since that opportunity doesn't seem to exist, it makes sense that he's jumping instead at this kind of personal opportunity.

Post on Craigslist? "GMU Professor offers free tutoring"

Friends will be "way, way better than *normal* teachers" is a ridiculous statement. If you were teaching econ vs. a middle school teacher teaching econ, sure. But I bet there are some pretty great art history teachers out there.

Not in middle school. If you're teaching pretty much any subject as an alternative to the normal middle school classroom, I suspect it's hard to do worse. How much to blame that on the teachers, environment, or critical mass of pubescent kids is unclear, but I think it would be difficult not to improve on the typical middle-school learning experience (even if the home-schooling is all independent study).

I strongly suspect that most kids wouldn't benefit much from this, and I expect (but don't know, since I don't know Bryan Caplan personally) that he's watching his kids and making sure they're getting some value from it. There is a certain kind of kid who will, at 12, be having the time of his life getting to sit in a college lecture and learn something that most people aren't ready for till they're 20 and halfway through their econ degree. But like 99%+of kids would rather watch paint dry, and those kids won't get *anything* from that environment. Similarly, a certain kind of kid will be happy as a clam sitting around with a bunch of really smart adults, taking just enough part in the conversation that he keeps up with it and it makes sense to him. Most kids will wish they could go downstairs and watch some TV instead.

1. I recommend the history of perspective in western painting. Interesting subject, important part of the Renaissance, and will help when visiting any good art museum.

2. I am not that familiar with the history of pop songs. What is the syllabus?

2) The topic definitely sounds like it has a pinning-a-butterfly aspect, but less appealing.

Is Bryan your department head?

why is he selecting the topic. are you one of those teachers that will teach on any topic?

why does point 2 consider the fame or wealth of anybody?

it is so stupid to think that the added value of Tyler Cowen is because of the lecture and not the personal example and informal stuff. They'll probably learn the most from looking in your pantry or something.

The same impulse as Bring Your Child to Work Day. Though for a lot of corporations this has degenerated into a circus. We hired a comedian. Some clowns. Free lunch.

Then what does it say when we fire dad a week later for "low productivity?"

I happen to get to observe homeschoolers where I work. I've not seen a man in the act of homeschooling. Very often it will be a mother of four, five, or six children, so truly counter-cultural out of the gate. I have thought that in this case the logistics of homeschooling are in some ways easier than, or about equal with, getting everyone packed and out the door at seven-thirty, and dealing with all the obligations that ripple out from (usually multiple) school attendance. Still, where the effort is genuine, it seems like total self-abnegation on the part of the mothers. They usually are terrific managers of children and seem like they would have made excellent elementary classroom teachers.
I admire them, envy their brood of children, and realize too well that as a mother I wasn't made of the right stuff. In all candor, though, I have imagined these women to be somewhat limited, intellectually, if they could stand to essentially do primary school all over again themselves, which is what it amounts to. Caplan does not trouble my thesis.

Mrs. Caplan is a lawyer employed by Freddie Mac. He has more discretionary time. Wagers he lasts one year at it.

Ah. Still, even one as lightly-employed as an academic can hardly tote a couple of kids around all day; as for kids absorbing the wisdom on offer in the workplace - well, I would think kids paraded at work would be similar to photos of kids paraded at work. Most welcome, but in discrete doses. On the other hand, the kids probably make themselves useful troubleshooting the faculty's tech problems.
The homeschooling regimen is probably more along the lines of: nanny + online curriculum. I can see no problem with that, however. Sounds analogous to governess + tutor, which produced many a gentleman scholar.
The only thing you'd really miss, would be the cagebreaking skills public school engenders. But it turns out you don't get many chances to use those in adult life.

What a bunch of nonsense grousing from everyone. TC shouldn't do a favor for a friend because that favor isn't done for the worst off in society? Nobody actually lives by the values of extreme egalitarianism (and nobody should), so complaining that Bryan and Tyler don't is ridiculous.

Do favors on your own time and not your employer's nor the taxpayer's.

In this Caplan saga it is still not entirely clear how much of this tutoring is happening after-hours, off-campus.

Professor's aren't hourly workers. I don't think TC is going to fail to fulfill his teaching and research obligations because he tutor's Bryan's kids.


I do not understand your obsession with tax payer time. Could you define tax payer time?

Some of the work I do is paid for by taxpayers.

Do you think you own me?

Notice a problem, become entirely responsible for solving it:

Everyone should homeschool. Great plan. Step one, everyone get a job where your employer only actually requires you to actually be at work ten or so hours a week, yet pays you $99,800 (in 2001 - surely more than that now )

Apparently he makes about $222,000, although for some reason I can't post the link.

Koch Bros built it into the PDF so that people couldn't know how much of Mercatus' funding comes from them.

As the parent of a 12 year old myself, I'm using Tyler to teach my child as well, and so can you, along with many other "elite educators". MRU has many very digestable videos that can be used for discussion with your child. Pick a topic, watch a video, have a conversation. This is open to every parent with access to the Internet. Bryan's kids just get slightly more customized content. Good for them.

Good point. What a weird bunch of comments we have down here, a morass of sour negativity. I think it's great BC has chosen to try homeschooling his kids for a bit and that he can make use of TC and others to expand their minds. There's no particular logic to the criticism that says this gives BC's kids an advantage: you mayasewell make a huge list of all the things happening in the world each day and offer judgements right down the list as to whether the particular event gives someone an advantage. And do so angrily and self-righteously.

Yeah, this is the best time ever to either teach yourself something or help your kids learn something new. Khan academy, Open Courseware, iTunes U, MRU, Coursera, Wikipedia, etc.

I asked Ray Lopez to teach my daughter how to farm chickens, and I never saw her again.

Let's place this in perspective, shall we? Tyler and Bryan work down the hall from each other, lunch together, and generally operate in an enviable intellectual petri dish. Bryan asks Tyler for a lecture for his twins, and, indulging his rational self-interest and knowing Tyler's vast array of interests and expertise, specifies art history. This is no different from a woman asking friend in accounting to help her with her taxes on the weekend, or a man asking his buddy in IT to help him set up his home computer. Many workers have access to some natural perks, both legal and ethical, that sweeten the employment deal beyond the usual salary-and-benefits package. Bryan knows many tenured professors; it is likely that he would prefer some of them to stay away from his children, while others would excuse themselves from what they would consider an intolerable imposition. The fact that he asked Tyler, and Tyler accepted, is an interesting development in the Caplan home schooling experiment, but scarcely the ethical crisis that some imagine it to be.

As for the advanced undergraduate labor economics course in question, it's not hard to discover that Bryan is teaching a class this semester that qualifies for that description. If the twins are old enough to not be disruptive (they are) and if there is space in the classroom for them, why should anyone care? It is hard to imagine that they are taking the class for credit, or displacing other tuition-paying students. My experience at GMU was that if someone wanted to attend a class, most instructors were fine with that, if there was classroom space and the guest was not disruptive.

Yep, this has always been my experience. In lecture classes especially.

Maybe not.

I should have thought of these benefits before choosing to be a bricklayer instead of an economic professor.

As I read this, I'm listening to NPR and a discussion of "lesson study".

The point is that its the method of teaching subjects that leads to students successfully learning the subject, not the teacher.

And the point is that the method can only be improved by making mistakes and learning from the mistakes to improve the method.

Caplan seems to be throwing stuff against the wall hoping that enough is thrown to result in enough good outcomes to make up for all the mistakes.

In other words, Caplan is trying at home to replicate the policies that are being tried in public schools - bring in volunteers from Teach For America and throw them into classes to make mistakes or maybe not, and the ones who don't screw too badly up are asked to stay.

It also takes the point of view that education is about pouring knowledge into a vessel, tested by the ability to pour it back out on demand.

The Japanese are trying with lesson study to create reasoning engines, sort of training neural nets to solve more complex and abstract problems in math than the neural nets solve in the 3rd world they move around in and interact with.

Interestingly, lesson plan is an American idea, just like Deming's ideas on quality and cost reduction, successful for Japan but rejected in the US with the US ending up behind Japan.

The gripes about Caplan or Cowen somehow misappropriating state funds are risible but the truly comical part is Caplan's whole project of, "Have more kids; they'll turn out fine due to your genes!" and his repudiation of that idea by frantically homeschooling his children. First, Caplan's whole belief about the genetic determinism of intelligence. There is ample evidence out there that your child can pick up about 30 IQ points from relatively simple interventions -- breastfeeding, interactive reading, musical training before age six, etc (see Perlmutter "Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten" and the ilk). The ID twin studies don't prove as much in the way of heritability of IQ either since a SD in IQ is so large (fifteen points), a 50% correlation would mean for every twin set with the same IQ it's just as likely to find an ID twin with a 100 IQ and his sibling with an IQ of 130. Second, it is always humorous to observe who is drawn to these ideas of genetic determinism, as they tend to be those with the greatest belief in their own genetic superiority and inevitably, rather than being the Dolph Ludgrens of the world, their foremost proponents are the Caplans and Himmlers of the world, woeful untermenschen. It's amusing to watch Caplan come around to the idea of his own genetic inadequacy.

There is ample evidence out there that your child can pick up about 30 IQ points

-From 50th to 97th percentile? Riiiiight. Totally credible.

Take an "average" kid and give him an ideal environment and you will raise his IQ to the point where he is likely to matriculate at an elite university. Hardly seems fantastical to me.

Right, for instance take the average kid and imagine his dad is a sitting senator. He is likely to matriculate at an elite university, so that must mean he gained 30 IQ points along the way.

This might be true if the intervention is to take the kids from their parasite-infested mud hut in the middle of the rainforest somewhere, and give them proper housing, nutrition, medical care, and schools. But not going from generic Middle-class default child environment to *really good* child environment, in any way we know how to do.

Hm, perhaps my trademark biting wit was too subtle in this instance.

Just read a report from California about the K-12 Advanced Placement Programs. It concluded that gifted children did not gained from that program but there were significant gains for the also ran 'high achiever' that filled up the class number. In training elite athlete a pacer is usually utilized. The gifted children appeared to be used as the pacers instead. They will be better off in home schools where the parents set the pace.

Re: Stationary Waves: "But I'd be lying if I said I'd be eager to hire you."

Hitler rejected the so called 'J science'. The result of which people like Teller ended up in US. Germany was lucky not to cop the results. The Silicon Valley strategy is to hire them and if necessary to 'deep freeze' them or tied them up with non-compete contracts. Least they become the competing rivals.

hm. That seems to be from Caplan.

Tyler, you should not waste your time homeschooling another person's kids ... or even your own children. Your time could be put to a more efficient use doing other things.

"First, introducing your children to additional role models and sources of inspiration — your friends and co-workers, or so one should hope — is one of the best things you can do for them. Most wealthy, famous, and well-educated parents under-invest in this activity. The bottom line is that after some margin you stop influencing them, but they don’t stop looking around for sources of influence.

Second, if you are well-known, or have lots of well-known and/or talented friends, or maybe even if not, you should consider homeschooling your children for a while in this manner, if only for a month or two over the summer. Your friends will be willing to give some form of instruction to your children, and they will be way, way better than normal teachers."

Very good and insightful advice, TC. Thanks.

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