Monday, November 22, 2010

The Homeschooler as Academic

Rarely do I hear about homeschool graduates tackling Ph.D. programs. In thirty years, I believe I’ve only had personal contact with eight candidates (or at least eight who were out of the closet), and I’m sure I’ve only heard of about a dozen at most. So when the online magazine Generation Impact reviewed Bright Against the Storm I was rather surprised to read that its author Ari Heinze was an astronomy professor. His dissertation research involved using adaptive optics imaging to test the accuracy of statistical predictions of the masses and orbits of planets lying beyond our solar system.* What distinguishes Heinze from most is that he’s successfully completed his graduate studies and continuing to work in academia. I know of only one other, a recent Ph.D. also with a visiting faculty position, who’s managed to get that far.** A flood might occur only after the larger homeschooling generations finish college.

For some reason, academia is often perceived as being anti-homeschooler, but my experiences with professors were actually positive. You see: If there’s anything university faculty despise it’s the public school system. They complain about state standards. They complain about unqualified teachers feeding students inaccurate information. And they complain about students spending too much time in Advanced Placement courses, learning college-level material, when they should be mastering basic reading, writing, and mathematics.

In some ways, college is a great equalizer. Professors generally don’t care whether or not you attended private, public, or charter school. They don’t want to hear about your high school GPA, your AP exams, or your SAT scores. It’s irrelevant whether or not you attended a community college or were homeschooled. What essentially matters is whether or not you do the work. Everything else only matters when they’re looking for an excuse as to why you’re not performing well in class.

The stereotyped homeschooler is the creative independent thinker. What better fit for Ph.D. candidacy is there? Sure homeschoolers have a lot of traits that repel them from graduate programs – procrastination, ideological conflicts with core curricula, the desire to live a normal life – but so does the rest of the world. It would be nice to see more homeschoolers climbing the academic ladder and making significant contributions to their disciplines. I suspect that the social impact would be much greater than what the modern homeschooling movement has achieved so far.

*This is my rough interpretation based on the abstract and introduction. The author was not available for comment.
**He’s one who’d immediately burst out of the closet, but for social reasons has been banging on the door begging to be let back in for years now. That’s why I’m not commenting on his research here.

4 comments:

  1. My mom just told me about another PHD homeschooler, Erik Demaine, a professor at MIT. His work has already made a big impact.

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  2. Interesting. I think that you are right in stating that "A flood might occur only after the larger homeschooling generations finish college."
    I would bet that with each passing year, the percentage of homeschoolers with Ph.Ds will continue to increase.

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  3. Of course, there's also Arthur Robinson's 6 kids, all pursuing Ph.D's or DVM degrees. 2 of them (working on Ph.D's in nuclear engineering) have been fighting a huge struggle with Oregon State University this past year, which some suggest may be politically motivated:

    http://oregonstateoutrage.squarespace.com/home/2011/4/10/a-familys-experience-with-oregon-state-university.html

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  4. Well, according to the link you posted, only one Robinson has actually completed a Ph.D. program: Noah Robinson with a Ph.D. in Chemistry.

    I also would need to add Chad Burns of Burns Family Studios, who has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Control Systems and Human Factors, since apparently he was homeschooled.

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