The key to improving Amazon’s homeschooling recommendations – train the algorithm

Someone recently asked me how it is that I find so many excellent educational materials for children. Do I belong to some fantastic mommy group? I do have a handful of friends who send me brilliant ideas for sure.

But the answer, for the most part, is (1) I spend a lot of time playing on Amazon, and (2) I have trained Amazon’s algorithm to search for specific kinds of content. I look at this process like a software developer and not merely as a consumer.

When I first started looking for curriculum-grade materials, I was so devastated by the kind of content that are being directed at children these days. Searching Amazon for educational resources really is quite the survey of what crap schools have become. It was impossible to find workbooks, for example, that did not involve the absolutely nonsensical techniques employed by Common Core. You try to search for certain periods of history, and the results all return the “I’m okay, you’re okay” identity politics garbage that has consumed public education. How do you get to the good stuff in the middle of this mindless landfill?

You train Amazon to recognize that you are a homeschooler. Search for books on homeschooling – and even then, I’d search for classical homeschooling or Charlotte Mason homeschooling to cut out all the unschooling self-help books. Make lists titled “Homeschooling.” If you have multiple kids or are planning content across academic years, do “Homeschooling Grade 4,” Homeschooling Grade 5,” etc. Use the word a lot to define who you are for their algorithms.

Once you have done that, you will start getting recommendations for products that have received high reviews from other homeschoolers. Remember, Amazon’s goal is to anticipate what you will actually purchase, and once the service knows you are a homeschooler, it’s going to throw stuff at you that fits your academic values. You don’t even need to buy everything on Amazon. You are just trying to learn what’s out there.

I expect, especially given recent events, that Amazon will eventually start to suck as much as Google’s search feature does now – i.e. recommendations will start to get deliberately and unnecessarily political. That seems to be the path most things are going down these days. That’s why I have devoted a lot of time to mapping out where our daughter’s education is going to go and what specific resources we will need to get there. Eventually, homeschoolers are going to need to get aggressive in sharing their lists with their communities.

And, obviously, if you write reviews on Amazon, be sure to mention that you used the book for homeschooling purposes. That’s like leaving a trail of bread crumbs for other homeschoolers.

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