Pop Quiz

OK, there’s two children, aged 12 and 15 years. They don’t go to public school. They don’t go to private school. Their parents don’t formally home school them. They are, in fact, unschooled in the sense we think about schooling. Their father earned a PhD in physics from Harvard, has authored an economics text book on price theory and several other books covering economics and the law, and he’s an academic economist who teaches at a law school and has never taken a course for credit in either field. Their grandfather, also well-schooled, won a Nobel Prize.

All this academia, and yet they don’t send their kids off to school. Not even to the elite ones. Surely, if anyone sees the necessity of rigorous schooling, it would be their father and grandfather, eh? The father writes in a bog:

There are a number of alternatives to the conventional model. The one
we have chosen is unschooling–leaving our children free to control
their own time, learn whatever they find of interest. I sometimes
describe it as throwing books at them and seeing which ones stick. In
our case the sticky ones included The Selfish Gene (my daughter at about 12), How to Lie With Statistics (both kids), How to Take A Chance
(a popular book on probability theory, of especial interest to my son,
at about ten, because of his interest in role playing games), and lots
of fiction, much of it intended for adults.

No doubt they will
end up not knowing several of the things on the standard curriculum–as
will many of those subject to it. But my son has learned more history
and geography from books and computer games than he would have in
elementary school history classes–and avoided the fatal lesson that
learning things is boring work, to be avoided whenever possible. My
daughter has some catching up to do in math before she is ready for
college–but both kids regard solving two equations with two unknowns
(and integer solutions) as an entertaining puzzle.

In the background, as I write this, my daughter is practicing on her harp. Without anyone telling her to.

I get it. I pretty much loathed school, although I did pretty well academically in high school. In college, I did well in the courses I found interesting and poorly in the required courses I found boring, or of no use. Most courses were of no use.

It was eight years after I graduated college that I really began learning. I learned more in two years of self-motivated study from 1990 to 1992 than in had in total in the previous 30 years of my life.

OK, so who is the grandfather? Go ahead and answer in comments. Here’s a clue, and there are a lot of comments worth reading at that link.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. mandrill on February 8, 2006 at 05:04

    Milton Friedman?
    I'll admit to not knowing why this is important, as I googled for it.

    What do I win 🙂

  2. Sally on February 8, 2006 at 08:42

    HA! I didn't have to google it and already had the link to his blog saved. What's important is that the grandkids of a brilliant man (not to mention the kids of another brilliant man) are learning – and interested in doing so – without the rigid rote exercises (boring!) and without the influence of an uninspiring school system. A parent who introduces learning as a lifestyle rather than obligation is a parent who allows his child to grow "organically". (Not meant to me in a green sense, of course!) Though my daughter and I had the usual schooling, her parents and mine provided opportunities (books, experiences, local travel, games) to inspire knowledge-gathering as a passion.
    That's why it's important. What you win (pardon me, Richard, for distributing the prize): an opportunity for you to teach your own kids in an inspirational manner & for you to start your own re-education today!

  3. Richard Nikoley on February 20, 2006 at 17:53

    Though I don't think he said, I wonder if he makes a distinction between grade school / middle school / high school and college / grad school.

    I also think "unschooling" is a misnomer. Obviously he is "schooling" his kids–just not in the same it's typically done.

    I'm sure there's a difference between being Friedman's child and being a child of an unwed welfare mom in the projects.

  4. Greg Swann on February 20, 2006 at 15:18

    Milton Friedman.

    And I think 'unschooling' is child abuse, an elaborate rationale for defaulting on the responsibility of being a parent. Not even David Friedman is insane enough to put his life in the hands of an 'unschooled' surgeon.

  5. Greg Swann on February 20, 2006 at 18:17

    > I'm sure there's a difference between being Friedman's child and being a child of an unwed welfare mom in the projects.

    It doesn't matter. If a child decides at 16 that he would like to go to medical school, he's completely screwed unless his parents made absolutely certain he had excellent basic preparation from birth. The idea of 'unschooling' robs children of the inestimable benefits of responsible parenting by foresighted adults. It is _the_ job of parents to launch their children into the highest orbit those children can sustain. As is often the case, libertarians have confused freedom from the state or from other people with freedom from reality. No one is free from the rigors of nature, and depriving children of the most education they can have to stroke one's vanity or salve one's guilt is vicious and wrong. You are aware of David Friedman because he was _not_ raised this way.

  6. Richard Nikoley on February 21, 2006 at 07:39


    I honestly think you're conflating what Friedman probably means by "unschooling" and the idea of "unlearning."

    I did not detect at all in his entry that he was advocating that kids not learn, but more that they learn what they are particularly interested in. Of course, what you happen to be interested in learning about might come with prerequisites.

    If you want to build things, for example, you need some math skills, etc.

    I think it's a compelling idea on a number of levels. I do agree with you that the buck stops at the parents. I'm just not sure, in Friedman's case anyway, that his kids are getting less of an education at home than they would at school.

  7. David Friedman on February 21, 2006 at 12:16

    Greg is confusing the question of whether children get educated with the question of how they get educated. Interested readers will find several posts on my blog arguing that unschooling is likely to do a better job of educating children than the conventional model, in which someone else decides what they are to learn today and forces them to at least pretend to learn it.

  8. Greg Swann on February 21, 2006 at 13:09

    Apologies, Richard, but I completely disagree. 'Unschooling' is an elaborate rationale to excuse the laziness and self-absorption of self-selected libertarian parents. No child in the modern world will graduate from medical school or any other arduous field of study without a consistent, rigorous and thorough education. (Incidentally: educo, educare, educavi, educatum, 1v, having been lead out, as from slavery or the darkness of a cave.) The human mind is an artifact of human upbringing. Where the mind is less than fully cultivated, it will be less than fully developed, and the child, unbeknownst to himself at the time and perhaps forever, will have been robbed of his full potential–most critically of the capacity to experience the quality of mind I call Splendor. This kind of child neglect is understandable, although still inexcusable, among the poor and uneducated. Among the rich, it is obscene.

    Dr. Friedman: I confuse nothing. You will convince me of _your_ belief, at least, in your posturing when you put your life in the hands of an 'unschooled' surgeon–if there ever _is_ one. Until then, your protestations are nothing but paper money to me.

  9. Greg Swann on February 21, 2006 at 13:36

    Richard, out of fairness, I went to read the post of Dr. Friedman's you cited. I shouldn't have bothered: It's the Straw Man Fallacy, which I should have expected. Someday if you're in Phoenix and have a little time, I'll take you to a Lyceum of amazing young men, many of whom will become fine physicians, and all of whom will do well at very serious work.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Follow by Email8k