It turns out that the more a boy misbehaves in school, the more likely he is to earn a lot of money as an adult. This research comes from economists at Johns Hopkins, and in a one-two punch to conventional education, the researchers also find that misbehaving does decrease the amount that a kid learns in school, but the lost learning is irrelevant to future financial success.

I hope this means my homeschooled sons who fight all day will be high earners. But I’m pretty sure the research is talking about kids who actively refuse to be told what to do and what to learn – those are the ones who will make a lot of money.

There’s good research on Tyler Cowen’s blog, Marginal Revolution. Cowen teaches at George Mason University, and his most recent book, Create Your Own Economy, describes how life is most interesting when we are gathering lots of information from lots of places. Which is what kids do who are misbehaving. It’s not like they are sitting, staring at the wall, because of course that would not even register as bad behavior in a classroom. What the misbehaving boys are doing is investigating things they are not supposed to—dying insects and worms, the insides of desks, the undersides of girls, anything but what the teacher is talking about.

Cowen describes the world of self-directed learning, and it’s no surprise that boys who engage in self-directed learning in a  schoolroom that discourages it, often go on to do big things. Because we already have reams of data to show that self-directed learning is the most effective learning.

The problem is that we don’t really acknowledge what self-directed learning looks like. It isn’t kids working on different versions of the same map of the world. It’s not kids choosing which book to read at reading time. It’s kids being totally disruptive to the established order of the classroom.

Wired magazine sounds the alarm: American schools are training kids for a world that doesn’t exist! Wired magazine advocates that kids do discovery rather than being told what to learn. But the caveat is that discovery often doesn’t look like learning at all—discovery looks like misbehaving. Doing discovery is cause for promotion in work life and punishment in school life.

29 replies
    • Houda Cheikh
      Houda Cheikh says:

      The boys are statistically much more prone to misbehaviour than the girls, so perhaps the study focused on just boys.

      • Jayson
        Jayson says:

        The study talks about girls, too. “Misbehavior” is a relative word, you may be surprised to learn that girls misbehave, too.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Hmmm, maybe because it’s about misbehavior which is typically found in boys. Girls might be more prone to toning it down to fit in while in school. Another reason I’m glad we unschool. We can be the “freakshow ” freethinkers we are without the need to “tone it down” And since we are free to be ourselves unfiltered, its not really misbehaving here. :)

  1. Homeschool Sweet Homeschool
    Homeschool Sweet Homeschool says:

    My boss was one of those boys…
    While I was studying a lot to have a degree, he was leaving school at 16… While I’ve been always working for others, he started his own company… While it’s impossible for me to save money, he has enough money to retire whenever he wants ;-)
    He made me change my mind about degrees… He has not degree, but he is most clever than a lot of people I know with lots of diplomas…

  2. Liz
    Liz says:

    Just a quick note that should probably be an email but I can’t ever seem to actually follow through and write you an email and I’m sure you get thousands a day anyway, so:
    Thank you so much for your writing! You have opened my eyes to the horrors of traditional schooling, and you have rung bells around my ears that I will never be able to un-hear. You gave me the courage to quit the practice of law and shift my life toward nourishing my kids (details of how exactly are still in formation, but the heart is set). From the bottom of my heart, thank you! I feel like you have not only completely changed my worldview, but you have also given me permission to follow what has always felt right in my heart.
    Much love and tremendous gratitude,
    Liz

  3. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    Create Your Own Economy is from 2009. Tyler Cowen’s most recent book is Average Is Over.

    In that book, he describes his experiences with computer chess. It turns out that chess programs can beat any human now, but a chess program plus a human can beat a chess program alone.

    The interesting thing is that the human doesn’t even have to be a master-level chess player. Just adding the pattern recognition and intuition of a human improves the play of the combination.

    From this inspiration, he goes on to talk about how the future belongs to those who can be integrated with computer-supported groups of workers. And so there will be more measurement of jobs, more teams of complimentary skills, and more distance between the computerized performers and the non-computerized ones.

    Think of an Olympic athlete monitored and trained by a large group of assistants. Make some of those assistants computer programs and you have the idea. Put that team up against a talented amateur and there’s no contest.

    And so he thinks “Average is Over”. There will be these computer enhanced teams at the top, and everyone else at the bottom.

    Where home schooling fits into this is anyone’s guess. On the one hand, the home schooled will be more adaptable, and some will probably have better computer skills. On the other hand, will they be team players willing to be continuously monitored and rated?

    It’s an interesting book even if you don’t agree with it all.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      This is interesting, but what makes you think necessarily that “…the home schooled will be more adaptable…”? From much of what I read often it sounds like people homeschool BECAUSE their kids have trouble fitting in (“adapting”) to school and have to have everything “just so” to fit in with THEIR idiosyncrasies or places on “the spectrum”…

  4. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Then there is Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One.” It starts with his favorite job interview question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

    There’s another version that goes: “Tell me something that other people think is false but you know is true.”

    The point is that if you are going to found a PayPal or a Facebook you have to be thinking about something that just hasn’t occurred to anyone else.

    And you have to be resisting the conventional wisdom that your teachers are spoonfeeding you.

  5. Robyn Dolan
    Robyn Dolan says:

    This is exciting! My oldest son, the troublemaker, just got his real estate license. He already runs a crew at his present job. His younger brother, the clown, also just got his real estate license, but is looking to move up in his present profession. My youngest has always been homeschooled (the older for just a few years), but he is always trying to run the show. He has also always had to earn his own money. Hope he comes out with good business sense, too.

    Robyn Dolan, author The Working Parent’s Guide To Homeschooling

  6. sheela
    sheela says:

    what about kids like Aaron Swartz, genius, self-directed student who killed himself while facing prosecution for illegal hacking at MIT?

    He hated school, and dropped out. His parents never made him do anything he didn’t want to do. The most interesting detail from his life, from his profile in the New Yorker was that:
    “He was freed of all the disciplining experiences of life,” Lawrence Lessig says. “His parents got him out of school early, which was great because it allowed him to become somebody who wasn’t the product of puberty in a public school. But it was bad in the sense that it gave him a confidence about his own judgment, which is dangerous.”

    I always recall that phrase- ‘disciplining experiences of life’ – and wonder if I am giving my kids the right kind of those.

    • Brynn
      Brynn says:

      School is not the only “disciplining experience in life.” To treat it as such would mean that you are not allowing your homeschooled students to experience the world, or you are saving them from disappointment all the time. To expect that it is the removal from school which somehow initiates a pillow padded clean room for a child to grow up in is very misleading propaganda. Unfortunately, this sort of comment wreaks of phoney public school success that society is really searching for. This is not saying that many homeschoolers are not control freaks with their children, but many others are the ideal parents at providing a healthy dose of benign neglect.

      • Sheela Clary
        Sheela Clary says:

        Why would you make such assumptions about me based on that comment? I am a homeschooler. Why seek out insults where none exist?

        There are lots of ways to have disciplining experiences, I agree.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Aaron Swartz was a genius, prodigy, who probably had all five of dabrowskis overexcitabilities. This means he experienced things on a deeper and more intense level than 99.99% of the population. To use him as an example is not a good one. The fact that the government was bullying him with wildly excessive charges was more than a brilliant mind like his could endure. You cannot compare your normal children to someone like him. School, or “disciplining experiences of life” do not apply to people like him, and there are no parenting books that could have helped his parents. I blame the government for his death. I understand your comments but that was not a good example.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Aaron Swartz himself wasn’t the problem! The problem was the over-reaching, heavier than needed touch and threats of the authorities on him.

  7. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    I think that kids who grow up rich are poorly self-motivated and will earn the least. What is “rich” exactly? That’s a good question! I’am always trying to manufacture a sense of urgency in my “rich” children. I’m not ever sure it’s possible.

    • Rebecca F
      Rebecca F says:

      “What is ‘rich’ exactly?” – In reading the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, I received the best definition of rich vs. wealthy. Paraphrasing here, it is something like rich is money with little chance of perpetuity. Wealthy is having more income than expense on a consistent basis. It definitely changed my outlook on which was more attainable in my lifetime or my children’s lifetimes. i.e. You could consider yourself “wealthy” on as little as $1000 a month if your expenses are less than $1000 a month…whereas “rich” is more akin to winning the lotto jackpot once in a lifetime.

  8. Moses
    Moses says:

    Yea. And that it is right. I watched this movie called divergent. There is this girl who is a risk to the society and the leader wants her dead because she doesn’t fit in any of the large grouping. You watch the movie. Children who grow up and want a reason for doing something or do because they think its right are likely to end up better decision makers.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I have never seen or even heard of this movie, but it sounds horrifying. I’d probably be one of the people being killed for being a divergent thinker. scary. but now I must check it out!

      • Rebecca F
        Rebecca F says:

        YesMyKidsAreSocialized – Do yourself a favor and check the book out instead. Has some interesting social concepts in it, but you get far more of the “flavor” of them in the book (character thoughts, etc) than the movie.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      I just saw the movie last week and started reading the book today.

      The story of the author is amazing! She wrote the book over winter break of her senior year at college and sold it, as a multi book deal within a couple of months. Worldwide rights were also involved. She sold the movie rights just before the first book came out. It was billed as a cross between The Hunger Games and The Matrix.

      The last lines of the synopsis from Amazon crack me up:

      But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she’s determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous. Supports the Common Core State Standards.

  9. heather
    heather says:

    No Penelope, boys are not statistically proven to be more prone to misbehavior than girls; society just thinks girls should be more calm and less goofy. If a boy burned in public and laughed, honestly would it seem just as okay if a girl publicly burped and laughed?

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