The Secret Ingredient
Why do some people succeed when others don’t? Why do some people simply rise to the top? Is it ability, practice, or luck? Is there a secret ingredient?
Malcolm Gladwell has written several best-selling books on success in business and decision-making (ex: The Tipping Point and Blink). In his journalistic investigation titled Outliers, he asked these questions and discovered some surprising answers. What is an outlier? Simply put, an outlier is a person or a group of people who succeed disproportionately within a comparative group. As I read the book, I couldn’t help but make connections to what is happening in the homeschool community.
Homeschoolers are Outliers
Homeschoolers are outliers! A recent 2009 study by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute confirms this statement. His report on academic achievement included 11,739 participants, and he found that homeschoolers scored 34 to 39 percentile points higher than public school children. Recent research has shown this gap to widen.
These amazingly high scores by homeschooled students were mostly independent of teacher certification and level of government regulation. Family income and the amount of money spent on education did not affect the test scores either. The only factor that seemed to show any influence was the parents’ educational attainment, and that only accounted for seven percentage points at most.
It is almost impossible to look at these results and not conclude that homeschooling is an incredible educational method.
Which Groups Were Studied?
I was fascinated by the wide variety of groups Malcolm Gladwell investigated for his book. He looked at immigrants living in rural Pennsylvania who were significantly less likely to die of heart disease. Why was this? They were overweight and sedentary. That didn’t make sense. What was the difference? He studied a research project where 173 students with extremely high IQs were tracked for decades. The expectation was that all the subjects would be leaders and successful in their respective vocations. To the shock of the researchers, many did not achieve greatness. He looked at the best musicians in schools and industry. What was the most consistent factor predicting who would rise to the top? He considered well-known software entrepreneurs who achieved worldwide success and fortune. In this case, the unique reason was very similar to the musical masters. He also looked at a unique, special public school for students from disadvantaged families — the “Knowledge Is Power Program” (KIPP) schools. Students were chosen by lottery from a large pool of applicants. A high percentage who did not attend the KIPP school failed miserably in education and life while those who did attend usually went on to graduate and earn college degrees. Even though the school had long hours and ran through the summer, the kids loved it and achieved great results. Why?
The 10,000-Hour Rule
Several factors were common in the different studies. To become the best musician, the research found you needed some initial talent, but the main factor separating the good from the best was 30-40 hours of practice a week for 5-7 years. The key was reaching a 10,000- hour milestone. This was so consistent among the best musicians that everyone reaching that level made the cut. There was no one in the “best” category who had practiced less.
This same 10,000-hour rule applied to the software giants. Every one of the subjects studied had programmed computers for at least 10,000 hours before they burst the computer industry wide open.
Do you know any homeschool students who are working on their 10,000 hours in some skill? I sure do. Homeschooling allows for a custom and individualized education. If you have a child who loves and excels in biology, then he can spend an inordinate amount of time studying and mastering that subject. A homeschooler who wants to be a missionary in China can work on learning the language and culture for many hours each week and get a head start on her 10,000 hours. A son who is constantly working on computer graphics or animation projects may have the opportunity to get 10,000 hours in by the time he is 18 years old. It can be written into the schedule and curriculum!
Think of the possibilities. You may have the next major outlier in a field that needs talented Christians to reshape the culture.
A Culture of Concerted Cultivation
So which of those 173 “geniuses” finally succeeded, and why? According to Gladwell, it was those who were in a “culture of concerted cultivation.” The difference was simply that some were schooled by their families to present themselves honestly and appropriately to the world, while others were not. What the second group lacked was not something expensive or impossible to find, not something encoded in DNA or hardwired into the circuits of their brains. Their parents had simply not provided a community around them that prepared them properly for the world. One simple example is that those who succeeded grew up in homes that were filled with books. That is certainly common among homeschooling families. (By the way, I need another bookcase since I’ve run out of floor space.)
What about the overweight, non-exercising immigrants who had a considerably lower risk of heart disease? What was their secret? It was the community and culture in which they lived. It was one where three generations were together for meals and many conversations were had in rocking chairs on the porch. One result of this lifestyle was physical health.
The unique KIPP schools could also point to their culture as the secret ingredient of their success. Unfortunately, these kids came from homes where nothing academic happened during the summer months. Without the KIPP experience, test scores would rise during the school year but drop considerably during the summer. With KIPP’s culture of constant learning, a student continued to learn and thrive resulting in constant academic improvement and graduates ready and able to enter college.
How does all this apply to homeschooling? That’s easy. Homeschooling is a 24/7/365 lifestyle of learning. A homeschooling family can create a context for the concerted cultivation of skills. Parents can infuse into their kids a vision that they are being trained, discipled, and educated to reform the world. Children can hear and believe that they are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for them to do (Ephesians 2:10). And they can graduate from their family homeschool resolved to follow God’s call on their life and make positive contributions to the world around them.
The Secret Ingredient
One other item in Dr. Brian Ray’s report jumped out at me. How many of the children in this study lived in a two-parent home where mom and dad were married? The answer is 97.5%! I believe this is one of the many factors that contribute to the success of homeschool students. This far surpasses the comparative national average of 64%. This doesn’t mean that a single parent can’t create a culture of concerted cultivation. We’re talking about parents being intentional and highly involved in the education and development of their kids. The point is that children can enjoy great blessings when they are raised in a family culture where each parent honors God and His principles for marriage and family life.
Homeschoolers are outliers. They are succeeding at amazing levels and in growing numbers. The homeschool culture and community is one that fosters a love of reading, a love for learning, and provides opportunities to hone one’s God-given talents with plenty of practice.
I think I’ll invite the grandparents over for dinner, stay up late talking on the porch surrounded by my family, and go to bed with a good book.
Now that’s success!
Creation-based Resources for Your Homeschool
Tuesday, November 8 is Election Day. Prepare your students to begin their voting careers as informed citizens well-versed in the content and meaning of the United States Constitution. Apologia publishes Constitutional Literacy by Michael Farris. He is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, founder of Patrick Henry College, and current CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom. This course includes 25 lessons plus a workbook and features over 500 minutes of engaging video instruction by Farris. Join constitutional expert Michael Farris as he walks your family through the history, theory, and application of the Constitution and what it means for the future of American self-government.
Go to Apologia.com — a great place to explore the U.S. Constitution.
Walking by faith and enjoying the homeschooling adventure of a lifetime!
Davis is the president of Apologia Educational Ministries, the #1 publisher of Creation-based curricula for homeschooling families. He believes that if there was ever a time to homeschool, it is now! You can hear more of what he has to say on the Let’s Talk Homeschool Podcast.
© 2022 Davis Carman