Updated: May 1
I hear this all the time: "My kid graduated high school and they memorized the quadratic formula, but they've got no clue how to do their taxes, get a job, or get an apartment." Let alone build a house, start their own business, or run for office to change their country's tax policies!
Now if you're a homeschooler, you probably aren't as shocked as most people to learn that an education system designed by factory owners to turn out compliant factory workers can't also be designed to turn out critical, independent economic thinkers and doers.
You're probably also less shocked than the average bear whenever yet another financial crisis breaks in the news, yet again because wonks educated in the traditional school system to within an inch of their lives have once again applied neat-sounding economic theories to the real world, with disastrous results.
And maybe you're even thinking: "Well, if the economy completely blows up this time and those IRAs and college accounts or start-a-business accounts I've built up since my kids were babies all go up in smoke, at least I'll have that cash in the mattress and my kids won't starve because of course they can garden/hunt/fish/gather wild roots and berries."
Well, good, I was homeschooled and grew up in rural Vermont, so I'll be right out there hunter-gathering with you!
But just in case it's actually not the zombie apocalypse, we probably like our kids too be able to function in fun so called normal world, and really not just function in the sense of check the boxes, get into college, get a "good" job, etc, but actually thrive and do more than what they're supposed to, to actually come up with new ideas and make an individual creative contribution to the world, start a company, write a book, make a discovery, run for office. And you know despite the stereotypes and the portrayal of homeschoolers as Captain Fantastic, it's kind of not all that free thinking of rebellious at this point too imagine and prepare for dystopia. It's basically the knee-jerk reaction of the mainstream culture, because it's just easier to shrug and go on with life that way. It's almost the path of least resistance. But since we don't tend to take that path, perhaps we are considering the possibility that economic/political/planetary doom isn't inevitable, that actually human history is just doing what it does, with disasters and triumphs and at choices at every step of the way, where courageous and independent-minded individuals can and do choose different paths? That's the way I prefer to look at the world, and I think homeschoolers and other free-thinkers are very likely to be some of those next folks who choose a better historical path in the 21st century.
But I'm not just here to congratulate you for homeschooling. Because there's a problem, a gap you may have noticed in the homeschool ecosystem, and it has to do with economics. So I'm here to name this problem and invite you to build the solution with me (and because your help is going to be so valuable to me and all the other homeschoolers who come after, the first participants in this homeschool economics beta program are going to get all the content absolutely free forever.)
So what's wrong with the way we're teaching economics now? Well, as we all know, a lot of homeschoolers want to raise world-changers: they're not satisfied with the education system—or the political or economic system—as it is. But when it comes to teaching financial literacy and economics, it's nearly impossible to find a curriculum that aligns with homeschool values of critical thinking, real-world relevance, diverse perspectives, sustainability, etc.
Sure, it's easy to do a better job than traditional school at teaching the basic practical skills of saving, budgeting, and paying taxes. But world-changers need deeper understandings and a bigger mental toolkit to tackle today's toughest problems—starting now, not just in some future career! And I'm sure every one of you watching this has some part of a better way, probably a part I haven't thought of, which is why I'm here asking for your help. Each one of use has our own economic experiences and perspectives, but just like in literature or history or science we would seek out other perspectives and debates and experiments so our kids can learn how to produce their own knowledge in conversation with others, not just memorize one person's idea of "the right answer," just the same way in economics we need to seek out a whole bunch of viewpoints and angles from which to view this huge elephant-like thing that is the economy. But that diversity of perspectives is sadly lacking in almost all economics and financial literacy curricula on the market today.
And I would argue that's more than just an educational problem. It's a societal problem. Because the folks running the world (and/or running it into the ground) all went to the same schools and checked the same boxes in the same economics textbooks. As homeschoolers we want our kids to take a different path: to do well by doing good, and to participate meaningfully—as entrepreneurs and citizens, not just as consumers and employees—in building a better economy.
So what are we doing now, and what could we do better? I definitely do not have all the answers to these questions, but I'm sort of starting from the premise that mainstream economics curriculum with a dash of our own perspective and critical thinking skills might be a great start, and in many cases can probably open doors to our kids for mainstream success in college and careers. But even if scoring well in AP Econ might get them that offer letter from admissions or HR, it won't get them to full economic independence and economic citizenship. They won't even leave high school able to read, understand and critically reflect on the Economist, the Wall St. Journal or the Financial Times, let alone the full spectrum of economic debate in diverse, high-quality magazines like Reason and Jacobin or podcasts like Odd Lots and Macro Musings. But the ability to engage in such conversations is table stakes if they want to really be masters of their own lives as economic citizens.
That's why my company, Ignite > Academic, is building innovative curriculum that helps young political-economic actors become the protagonists of their own economic story and even our country's economic history. Drawing from the innovative frameworks put forward by Rethinking Economics and the Institute for New Economic Thinking, students engage with non-textbook sources from company reports to white papers to writings by economic thinkers and doers across the spectrum: people like like Warren Buffett, Ha-Joon Chang, Adam Tooze, Ann Pettifor, Yannis Varoufakis, Mariana Mazzucato, Isabella Weber, Nassim Taleb, Perry Mehrling, Roger Lowenstein, Michael Lewis, Oliver Bullough, and Daniela Gabor, to name a few. They debate, question and research, then transfer the understandings gained to real-world projects and authentic products like pitch decks, grant applications, business plans, op-eds and media content strategies. We're going to start this spring and summer, both online and, if there is enough interest expressed, possibly with an in-person group where I'm based in the Bay Area, which is a super interesting place to get out there and study all the things that are scary and promising and innovative and stupid about today's economy.
As we build out this new curriculum into a highly interactive suite of multimedia, ready-to-roll digital products, we are seeking feedback and ideas from homeschoolers around the world. We'd love for you to join our beta program, where you and your t(w)even students will get free early access to new curriculum modules, and will have a chance to share your ideas, projects and feedback with our community of learners, teachers and developers.
If you'd like to reserve a spot in the free beta program, just fill out our interest form. It'll just take about a minute.
I can't wait to get to know you and help you realize your dreams of meaningful economic agency and a more responsible, inclusive and sustainable economy!