Monday, November 5, 2018

Homeschooling a 12-Year-Old PhD

Karl Witte, Youngest PhD in History

Every now and then, there's a story on the news of a teenager who finishes college or gets a graduate degree before his or her peers have finished high school. I always find these stories most intriguing, and am not at all surprised to find that many of these children were homeschooled.

One day, as we were reading such a story, my daughter commented, "Wow! I'll bet that's the youngest kid to ever finish college!" Of course that made me curious, and I looked up the actual list of record-holders. It happens that the youngest PhD ever was Karl Witte, a German boy who was (depending which report you read) 12 or 13 at the time he received his degree. He started college at 9!

And, of course, I wasn't surprised to find that young Karl was homeschooled.

His father, also named Karl Witte, was a clergyman, and wrote a book about how he educated the boy, and which assumptions of his time he did and did not subscribe to.

It was a most fascinating book, providing glimpses of a unique homeschooling method in a different time and place.

The Rev. Karl Witte was not fond or the early study of Latin for his son. He knew that many Latin academic texts are not wholesome, and felt they would be spiritually harmful to the child. As we pursue academic excellence, it is important to remember, as this clergyman-father did, that our first goal for our children must be the well-being of their soul, not impressive academic achievement or accolades.

He was certainly not fond of waiting to educate the child until age of 7 or so - but not for the reasons you might imagine. He saw that the children whose education was delayed became dangerously self-willed and hard to manage by the time they entered school. He felt that molding a child's character was an important task to take on early, rather than leaving the child to his own devices. (Which of course, is Biblical.)

He realized that although his child was academically advanced, he was still a child psychologically and needed help with tasks like organizing papers, and controlling his own behavior. Even in modern times, many adults make the mistake of thinking that academically advanced children should be treated as grown ups.

It fascinated me to read that the king gave a scholarship to the son, and another one to the father - so that the father could accompany his son to university and perform tasks like keeping papers organized and helping him behave during classes. Children are children, no matter what their cognitive abilities!

He believed that a child's academic ability should be trained rigorously - not matter what "gifts" the child appeared to have or not have - in fact, he firmly held that his son was not gifted, just an ordinary boy with a good education.  Ironically, this notion is just now taking off in educational circles, and being called "Growth Mindset" or "Brain Based Learning" - but it is nothing new!

Of course, a few of his practices wouldn't fit in the modern world - like rewarding his son for studying hard by celebrating with Waffles and Warm Beer. It's COLD beer in the modern world!😉😉 ; )

As 21st Century homeschoolers, it is easy to get caught up in the fads of the current homeschooling moment. We have certain popular notions that we assume are the ONLY right way to look at home education. Of course, which of these notions we subscribe to are influenced by our own social circles and era.

We might subscribe to any or all of the following assumptions:

  • School should be fun. 

  • Our kids should LIKE their curriculum.

  • School should be relaxed. 

  • It is best to have short lessons. 

  • Better late than early. 

  • Latin study is noble and lofty.

  • Rushing children to learn robs them of their childhood - and a storybook childhood is magically important. 

  • Socialization during school years is profoundly important to a happy adult life. 

But, it is easy to forget that, just as people of past centuries were a "product of their era" - so are we!

For a reality check, it is very helpful to read the home educators of the past. Viewing education through their eyes can offer a fresh perspective, and allow us to examine our own assumptions. Besides which, it's just fun!

For a fun and fascinating read, check out (free online):

The Education of Karl Witte

This is being shared on:
Clever Chicks

Modest Monday

You're the Star

Inspire Me Monday

Tuesdays with a Twist

Happy Now

Wise Woman

Booknificent Thursday

Homeschool Review Crew


  1. Hello from Cyprus!
    I envy you so much. I wish I could home-school my kids, too. Unfortunately, home-schooling is not permitted in Cyprus. I have one kid in high school, two in primary school and one in kindergarten. Guess what? None of them likes going to school :(

    1. I'm SO happy that you came by to comment so that I could find your very cool new blog! Not only did I subscribe, but I added it to my links page on this site. The world NEEDS more Cypriot cooking sites! I look forward to reading lots more from you in the future. (and, I wish kids in Cyprus could homeschool, too.)

  2. I've been preparing mentally for homeschooling soon...we start with simple things, sorting, helping put away clean dishes & silverware, for example. Fascinating about Karl! Thanks for sharing!!

    1. So lovely to have you stop by to visit, Martha! And congratulations on that beautiful new baby boy! So happy for you!

  3. Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on! I found it absolutely fascinating!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Tina, and for your regular encouraging comments here : ) Thanks so much for hosting a great blog hop!


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