“Outliers” and homeschooling

Published by Lori Pickert on January 5, 2009 at 02:00 PM

Over the holidays, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers: The Story of Success.

The book attempts to answer the question, Why do some people succeed far more than others?

A couple of things really jumped out to me seen through the eyes of a homeschooling parent — or, you might say, someone who is always thinking about education, learning, and lifestyle.

One was the 10,000 hour rule — the idea that in order to become excellent at something, you need to devote about 10,000 hours to it:

The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage and support you. You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program … or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.

Of course, when I read this, my thought was, Homeschooling is that kind of extraordinary opportunity.

In fact, I think you could replace “poor” with “in school”.

And I’m not just talking about the parents who homeschool so that their child can be a young gymnastics star or a professional actor — I’m thinking about the hours that my sons have to devote to their intense interests.

The hours that my older son spends playing computer games like Civilization and Age of Empires, then reading thick history books and poring over atlases, then writing and drawing notes and diagrams in his journal. The hours that my younger son spends drawing comics and comic books, reading biographies of his favoritecartoonists, and filling notebook after notebook with sketches and story ideas.

And, I would suggest it isn’t just in the area of intense interests — things that may end up being one’s chosen career — that this extraordinary opportunity of time plays a part.

Homeschooled children also have more time — much more time — to devote to things like socializing (4-H, boy scouts, book groups, co-ops), trying new things (musical instruments, sports teams, hobbies), playing outdoors, reading, being with their families and friends, and just doing nothing.

It seems to me that all that extra time living adds up to an advantage. Lots of practice (10,000 hours?) in relationships (understanding other people) and self-knowledge (understanding themselves).

With that advantage, homeschooled young adults could be better equipped to make serious life choices like what college will I go to (if I go to college), what work do I want to pursue, how do I want to live.

Of course, that means they would need to have the freedom to explore these things from the time they are young — the freedom to make some of their own decisions, the opportunity to learn from their own mistakes.

Is that freedom — that extraordinary opportunity — perhaps the best thing homeschooling has to offer?


Comment by amy on January 5, 2009 at 05:23 PM

If someone were to ask why we homeschool, my first answer would be "freedom." Freedom on all levels: for my kids to talk when they want to, go to the bathroom when they need to without asking permission, and eat when they're hungry. Freedom for us to travel as a family at the time of year that makes the most sense for us, and not based on the school calendar. Freedom for me and my children to follow our own sleep rhythms and not have to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a school bus. Freedom to read what we want, play what we want, and pursue our own interests without having to get through the busy work first. And on and on and on.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 5, 2009 at 05:30 PM

amy, beautifully said.

i always say that while most people focus on the educational aspect of homeschooling, for us it is really a lifestyle choice. both of us work at home, by choice. the freedom that we have to set our daily and weekly schedule as it suits us and to travel when it suits us .. it is really priceless.

Comment by Sandy on January 5, 2009 at 07:06 PM

I would say that this is at least the second best thing homeschooling has to offer, protection being the first. I would love it if we could help people see that this is what life at home really is.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 5, 2009 at 07:23 PM

you could almost look at it, sandy, that homeschooling *protects* them from all the wasted hours that public schooling usually entails.

Comment by Barbara on January 5, 2009 at 07:30 PM

Definitely. I think it is especially important in this day and age of standardization and globalization to have people who are willing and passionate about raising their children in an alternative and progressive way. It's What keeps diversity alive and serves as a good system of checks and balances with main-stream society. That sounds like a really interesting read.

Comment by michelle on January 5, 2009 at 07:35 PM

I love reading everything you write, Lori. Even though my child goes to school, I keep many of your ideas with me each day. They inspire me. I wish my son could go to homeschool at your house. ;)

Comment by sarah on January 5, 2009 at 07:44 PM

perfect. you make me fall in love with homeschooling again and again.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 5, 2009 at 08:45 PM

i agree, barbara -- homeschoolers are really using those american freedoms we hold so dear. it does make a nice counterpoint to what we're doing in institutionalized education.

michelle, thank you so much! and i would take him in a heartbeat. you’d have to make us all gnome hats, though. ;^)

thank you, sarah! aw. :^)

Comment by nancy on January 5, 2009 at 09:36 PM

yes, yes and yes again-that's me agreeeing as I read this post:) i was just feeling really bummed yesterday when I answered someones quesiton about "how many hours we homeschooled a day". I gave some lame answer about reading alot of books and being relaxed and thenfelt like a big loser. then realized later that my child has an instrument to play and he can play it during the day, while at home, and it's school ,and that's okay. freedom and all that time is the good stuff of life at home.

Comment by Dawn on January 5, 2009 at 11:06 PM

Perfect for our first offical day of *homeschooling*. What a great day it was! Thanks again Lori!

Comment by Sam on January 5, 2009 at 11:45 PM

I haven't read the book, but I read about the "10,000 hours" in a newspaper article about where genius comes from.
As I read it, I wondered why no-one mentioned home education. How many opportunities are lost, in schools?
And I totally agree with Amy about freedom - freedom to grow in your own way.
I'll have to look out for this book :-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 6, 2009 at 12:01 AM

nancy, yes, we just have to remember everything that is really included in homeschooling -- if someone asks you that again, i would just say something about how there are no boundaries between learning time and not learning time anymore!

thank you, dawn, i’m glad you enjoyed, and i’m glad you had a first day back! ;^)

sam, i know, i couldn’t believe homeschooling wasn’t mentioned in the book! it seems the natural answer to “there’s not enough time for excellence”. why, yes .. yes, there is!

it is an interesting book .. a lot of ideas and theories are thrown around that aren’t exactly supported by the few anecdotes included .. but it was a really interesting read, and it certainly got me thinking. i love big ideas, so it was a thumbs-up for me. :^)

Comment by Theresa on January 6, 2009 at 12:22 AM

Yes, I think freedom is one of the very best things about homeschooling. (That and relationships). But sadly I think a lot of homeschoolers miss out on the very best thing by trying to re-create school at home. I know I did at first. I am a slow study, so it has taken me awhile to truly appreciate and embrace the freedom that homeschooling allows. But now every day seems like such an enormous gift I cannot imagine ever going back to that school mentality.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on January 6, 2009 at 03:15 AM

I have to agree - a great read for our first official day too. My kid who has to be DRAGGED out of bed was up at 6:30 this morning, dressed, and ready to go. She was so excited. I think the best part was attendance. "okay, we're here! now what?"

Thanks for all the handholding, friend.

Comment by vita on January 6, 2009 at 03:35 PM

This was a great thing to read for someone like myself, who is just starting to homeschool. I needed it! thank you

Comment by Alice on January 6, 2009 at 04:00 PM

Our homeschooling hiatus/christmas holiday is at an end and tomorrow it is back to public school. I was already stressing about where all the pieces of the uniform are when I remembered that Wednesday is sports day which means tracksuit and gym shoes and the thought that keeps resounding in my head is "this is not an authentic life".

My 7 year old has chosen to stay at school. She likes it. Who knows, perhaps she'll end up being a teacher one day - the progressive type I hope. Having a child in school means using all those precious free moments wisely - anticipating some of the subjects so that my daughter has the seeds already sown when the teacher presents a new topic and enriching and expanding topics covered at school at home.

I have raised the subject of homework already with my daughters teachers without much success but after hearing from the other parents over the christmas break - all unhappy about the amount of homework our kids had to do (they are only in second grade!) - I think we might be able to make a united effort to decrease the homework load. Not only do they not have time to follow their own interests, they don't have time to be with family and friends, nor go outside and play or explore. I discovered that there was a whole army of parents at home helping their children draw up laborious maths tables and colour in pages and pages of work!

10,000 hours - I'm not even going to sit down with pen and paper to figure that one out! Lucky we are all night owls and my daughter reads away well into the night:)

My new years resolution is to help my daughter spend more time socialising - the thing she really loves about school is her friends. It is so easy to get caught up in the whole school-home-homework-school rythm. This year I am going to concentrate on more time for people and more time for authentic learning and worry less about school.


Comment by Lori Pickert on January 6, 2009 at 05:48 PM

theresa, well, i imagine that freedom is something you have to get used to, don’t you think? everyone has to start from the known and work toward the unknown. it seems there are a lot of people who step down slowly from a very structured traditional-school-like model and some of them make several adjustments while they feel for the thing that is right for them. simply making the decision to homeschool probably feels so dangerous so many people that they need to adjust before they try something even more radical. ;^)

sarah, lol re: annika being ready to go at 6:30. okay, i’m going to call that an excellent example of why it’s so much easier to educate a child when they are genuinely interested. :^) and you are very welcome!

vita, thank you! good luck on your adventure!

alice, i hope that you and the other parents can band together and force a more reasonable homework schedule. children really deserve that time to be with their friends and family, to play and just relax! you are so right about that daily rhythm, too -- i’m glad you’ve decided to worry less about school. :^) good luck!

Comment by sarah on January 6, 2009 at 06:48 PM

I adore Malcolm Gladwell. I still haven't read "The Tipping Point", but that should be remedied in short order. I just last night watched a talk he did at TED about spaghetti sauce. He's really enjoyable to watch speak.

Comment by Marcie on January 6, 2009 at 11:21 PM

Hi Lori, I just finished reading Outliers too. I love to think about the ideas Gladwell brings up in his books. That 10,000 hours thing was really thought provoking and I like how you connected it with homeschooling. Gladwell shared a pretty extreme pro-school example of how to improve education and I was so busy getting upset about his push for 10 hour school days followed by several hours of homework each night, that I didn't think about how homeschooling could provide that same intensity of time, especially with project based learning : ) while still allowing for balance.

Thanks for sharing.


Comment by Lori Pickert on January 6, 2009 at 11:52 PM

sarah, i really liked tipping point, too. i agree with people who say he doesn’t provide enough data to support his conclusions .. but love his stories and the big ideas. i need to walk his TED talk; i haven’t seen it!

marcie, thank you! i thought it was really strange he didn’t even mention homeschooling in the book. something like the fact that homeschoolers now dominate the national spelling bee .. probably because they have much more time to practice. the fact that so many parents of “professional” kids (actors, athletes, musicians) end up homeschooling their kids, no doubt so they can get in those 10,000 hours. interesting.

Comment by Carletta on January 8, 2009 at 03:17 PM

You know, I'd have to say that freedom probably IS the best thing homeschooling has to offer. My 8 year old spends hours upon hours building with legos and knex, and my husband and I are just amazed at what he comes up with.

I think homeschooling also protects our children from the mindset that their interests are not worthwhile or "babyish". It not only gives them freedom in terms of time, but in terms of thoughts and interests as well.

Comment by Meredith on January 8, 2009 at 04:50 PM

Homeschooling has always been a lifestyle choice for us as well! I tried to place a hold on the book at my library and there were already 755 requests before me, looks like I'll have to wait on it for a while :) Many blessings in this new year!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 8, 2009 at 08:22 PM

carletta, absolutely! so true, and such an “extraordinary opportunity” as m.g. would say. ;^)

meredith, you’ll be reading outliers about the time i get to see the twilight series. ;^) happy new year to you & your family, too!

Comment by Genevieve on January 9, 2009 at 12:56 AM

The gift of time has been the greatest gift homeschooling has provided our family. In the early years, we enrolled our children in school--and never had time for anything! The gift of time and the peace that accompanies it has been so healthful and life-giving to our entire family. I still wrestle to be structured, to be somewhat school-y but even in the face of those efforts, we all enjoy so much more time than in the days of carpools, lines, fundraising, committees, anxieties, peer problems, peer pressure, etcetcetec. I am reading Outliers, too, and was struck by the same thing, the 10,000 hours!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2009 at 02:02 AM

genevieve, i really feel that homeschooling removes an immense amount of stress from family life -- in the same way that having one spouse at home does. both my husband and i work at home, and the fact that we can run errands during the weekdays, take the boys to the movies on monday afternoons when the theatre is empty, go kayaking when the lake is serene .. it really is such a huge improvement in quality of living. as you say, the anxiety level of life just goes down, down, down.

in school, you are often stuck with a problem like a bad teacher, a mean clique, whatever .. that lasts for maybe a whole *year*. when you homeschool, if you have friend issues, social issues, a bad coach or tutor, you simply and smoothly do something about it immediately. it's not that you don't have problems! (i wish!) but when problems arise, you are free to deal with them immediately. just that feeling of having real control over your life is worth so much!

Comment by Jill on January 9, 2009 at 03:37 PM

I echo the words of Michelle, Lori. I don't homeschool, but after reading your blog, I sometimes wish I did. And I'm still able to use your ideas and thoughts with my boys--so thanks for sharing.

And thanks for the review of the book. I've been meaning to get it. Now I REALLY want to.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2009 at 04:09 PM

hi jill! :^)

i love homeschooling, but in no way do i think these ideas are only for homeschoolers or mostly for homeschoolers. i loved my private school, too, and i still think it is the ideal learning environment. although i prefer the lifestyle of homeschooling. :^)

i think these ideas apply equally to parenting as well as education! supporting our children, paying attention, respecting their interests...

also, i really enjoyed the book -- i bet you’ll like it! m.g. is a good storyteller. his books always get my brain zooming. :^)

Comment by Susana on January 10, 2009 at 03:16 PM

Happy New Year Lori!
We just returned from a family trip to Cuba. The amount of learning we did as a family was incredible, almost impossible to document on an emotional level, the only words I feel is that we grew into a stronger unit. Impossible to happen if our eldest went to school. One Cuban man asked us why our son wasn't in school; I responded very respectfully, in fluent Spanish, and of course he could not comprehend that we have a right to a lifestyle and chose how we educate our children. Rambling on, just to say I can really appreciate this wonderful post and comments after our family adventure.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 10, 2009 at 04:07 PM

susana, how fantastic. i can’t wait to see your pictures. and you are so right, it’s another extraordinary opportunity that homeschooling offers. yay!

Comment by se7en on January 21, 2009 at 12:15 AM

Amen to that - time to just be... we are mulling our way through summer and thought I would write down a list of "topics" each of my kids has spent time concentrating on in their own space and time... the list got too long to document. And I am so grateful that their holidays are not spent at sport programs, everyone seems to have some sort of holiday program - deadening the kids sharp wits - hmmm if only all parents knew that a week of intense classes isn't quite what their kids need to get ahead in the world... where the goal is the great getting ahead scheme of things, rather than a feeling of satisfaction at discovering, learning and exploring. Thanks for a great post.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 21, 2009 at 04:40 AM

se7en, so well said - thank you!

Comment by Charmaine on August 23, 2011 at 01:16 AM

This post is very interesting to me. One of the reasons we decided to homeschool was to slow down our lives, give our children the opportunity and *time* to follow their interests, to love learning, etc. But lately I've been thinking that for my 7yo all of this time is not the gift I thought it would be. He is not actively engaged, passionately playing, learning all the time. He has a lot of ruts. White space? Maybe some of it is, but a lot is just plain ole boredom. He wants to play. That is his biggest interest and I have no problems with that, but he wants to play *with* someone. That is not always possible! He often resists trying new things, which doesn't help his ruts. I feel partly responsible for it - I think I have 'shut him down' too fast on things at times. Yes, I am guilty of that. And this last very long rut (which I think he is starting to come out of slowly) was no doubt not helped by a new baby in the family and various health issues. So I'm trying not to panic too much about it and am giving him time to find his way, but am also actively introducing new ideas and experiences to him, more than I normally do because he often turns down my suggestions, and he seems to be slowly coming around. But I do sometimes wonder if he wouldn't be better off in school (if he's going to be bored he may as well do it some place else!) so that his time is not so free and he would maybe value it more then, and not spend so much time laying on the sofa looking at the cracks in the ceiling! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 26, 2011 at 12:59 PM

"He is not actively engaged, passionately playing, learning all the time."

this is the whole purpose behind project-based hs'ing. there is a missing ingredient — kids need a mentor to help them learn how to direct and manage their own learning.

you know that you've shut him down. you know things aren't working quite the way you want them to. now you can begin to purposefully shift your environment and your routine to support the kind of work that you want him to do.

i hope the book is helpful to you. it is better organized than the material scattered around this site. :)

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