Who Fails to Learn the Lessons

Nobody asked but …

Some time I picked up the notion that some leaders name natural enemies (of one another) as their lieutenants, hoping to gain the benefits of survival of the fittest.  Perhaps the notion arose from a review of a Doris Kearns Goodwin book — the notion, combined with my earlier conclusions on statism and faux leadership, caused me to pass on Ms. Goodwin’s books.  I may have formed the opinion, rightly or not, that she was feeding the negative traits of human development rather than exposing them for what they are.

Daniel Webster said, “There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”  Let me rephrase that:  Some leaders mean to be GOOD but more than that, they mean to be FOLLOWED, at all costs.  I hope that reaffirms Webster, as well as clarifying and amplifying.

Does anyone dispute that the above is a set of fact?  Is not that an important lesson of history?  Why don’t we, as an intelligent species, escape?  Why don’t we focus?

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content

The Monsters You Tolerate Will Breed Monsters You Can’t Stand

In the 20th century, the story of European imperial holdings was a story (mostly) of communism.

Do you think Winston Churchill anticipated this? Rudyard Kipling? Any of the other enthusiastic imperialists of the 19th century? They may have seen themselves as defenders of a very different kind of order.

Yet nonetheless in promoting imperialism (bad) the European imperialists created militarized, policed cultures. They created egregious inequalities of authority and status. They created societies more dependent on the state. And of course, they created people resentful at rule from afar.

Is it any wonder with all of these factors considered that the “dominoes” in the former European holdings fell so fast?

The Europeans created the emotional hatred of Westernness and (and therefore anything associated to it that any actual good contributions of Europe were threatened.

The monster they tolerated (imperialism) directly bred the (worse) national socialism/communism that took over throughout South America, Africa, and Asia.

What if the European empires had ended their colonial rules 50 or 100 years earlier? All other things being equal, it’s hard to believe that communism would have swept Africa, Asia, and South America as it did. And it’s possible the countries of the West would not have ended up at the gunpoint of countries which they once held at gunpoint.

It happened slowly, then all at once, but the imperialism that Europe tolerated in its own codes of values led to the communism which the Churchills and Kiplings would never have embraced.

What monsters do you tolerate? They may not torture you as they torture people around you. But they will breed. And the offspring of the evils you tolerate in yourself may become a clear danger to you, too.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content

Voltairine de Cleyre II

Nobody asked but …

I spent the whole week-end  being depressed after hearing (at Scribd.com) Voltairine de Cleyre‘s essay entitled, Sex Slavery.  One might say that VDC views this particular glass as neither half-empty nor half-full.  She may have felt that as long as there was one abuse, then that was (and still is) a tragedy.  But surely, no empathetic or logical reader doubts that there have been vastly more than one instance.

In any event,  Ms. de Cleyre’s essay caused me to re-examine myself, my life, and my principles.  I will not change my principles, but I will add new ones.  For as a voluntaryist, I bear responsibility for the ills that may befall my associates, and as a learning human being I have been too shallow perhaps in some aspects of my evolution.  I have the highest regard for women, but there have been times when my memetic self has been deceived by information that I should have suspected more.  I have had racist and sexist thoughts, promoted to me by ignorant and perhaps evil intentions.  I bear responsibility for not questioning these inputs more thoroughly.

In fact, I have never known personally an individual I could hate.  I have known too many who were terribly damaged beforehand, individuals who did not recover from abuse of a permanently damaging sort.  I have tried to apply the non-aggression principle to all.

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content

Holiday Consumerism: Who Decides What “Nobody Really Needs?”

“Wasting resources, capital and income on stuff nobody really needs,” Charles Hugh Smith wrote in 2017, “is a monumental disaster on multiple fronts. Rather than establish incentives to conserve and invest wisely, our system glorifies waste and the destruction of income and capital, as if burning time, capital, resources and wealth on stuff nobody needs is strengthening the economy.”

I come across the “stuff nobody needs” argument frequently, from voices all across the political spectrum, for reasons ranging from economic to environmental to spiritual.

I also notice that in the featured portrait on Smith’s blog, he’s holding what appears to be a pretty sweet Gibson Les Paul electric guitar.

Does anyone “really need” an electric guitar?

Presumably Smith believes he needs one. Maybe even an authentic Les Paul. Maybe even more than one guitar (like the Fender Stratocaster or clone thereof pictured elsewhere on his site).

And who has the right to veto his judgment on the issue, so long as the “resources, capital and income” he’s “wasting” on it are his own?

I settled for an inexpensive Epiphone model of the Les Paul for my own, perhaps larger than justifiable, guitar collection (my wife frowned at the price tag of the genuine Gibson).

I wouldn’t dream of claiming that my “need” for a Les Paul is more urgent than, say, a starving child’s need for a hot meal or a homeless person’s need for shelter.

On the other hand, my purchase of that guitar helped create paychecks that put meals in bellies and roofs over heads.

Economic demands are mutually self-fulfilling. Your purchase of a cup of fancy coffee puts caffeine in your bloodstream and money in the pockets of those who brought it to you — money they can spend fulfilling THEIR needs.

The same thing goes for planes, trains, automobiles, electric guitars, and the latest slice-it, dice-it, cook-it contraptions you (yes, I know it’s you) buy after watching those cheesy infomercials.

Yes, large-scale consumer economies produce negative “externalities” such as environmental damage.

Yes, those externalities are bad things which a more just economic system would build back into prices so as to discourage “over-consumption” and/or encourage more efficient and less damaging production techniques.

Current economic systems, including all state regulatory schemes, be they called “capitalist,” or “socialist,” or some hybrid, tend to subsidize those externalities. You pay for them with your taxes, whether you actually buy the subsidized goods or not.

That being the case, there’s no reason to feel guilty for buying this year’s “frivolous” holiday gifts that “nobody really needs.” Not because holiday shopping “strengthens the economy,” but because you want to give them and the recipients want to get them.

PS: Santa, bring me a Gretsch, please.

Open This Content

Outschool.com Takes Education Out Of Schooling

Supporting education beyond schooling is a key feature of many educational technology platforms. While some may be integrated into conventional classrooms, complementing a traditional curriculum, emerging technology is increasingly helping to separate education from schooling and catalyze new models of K-12 learning. As its name implies, Outschool.com is focused on out-of-school learning that helps families and organizations to access high-quality content in an array of subjects. Its flexibility and variety engage learners around the world and facilitate the expansion of new learning communities outside of standard schooling.

Instructors choose to share their knowledge and passions, and they are publicly rated by participants, offering transparency and accountability.

Founded by Amir Nathoo in 2015, Outschool now offers over 10,000 live, video-enabled classes for young people ages three to 18. Connecting online in small groups with dynamic instructors, learners select content ranging from typical academic subjects to more adventurous classes such as pet trick training, forensic science, engineering with Minecraft, and wilderness survival skills.

Prices vary by topic and course length, but the introductory wilderness survival class, for example, costs $45 for a total of three, 45-minute classes. Instructors choose to join Outschool to share their knowledge and passions, and they are publicly rated by participants, offering transparency and accountability. They undergo background checks and are then free to offer whatever courses interest them while catering to learner, and parent, demand. Teachers set their own prices and Outschool takes 30 percent of the enrollment fee.

Supporting Passion-Driven Learning

Trained as an engineer, Nathoo’s inspiration for launching Outschool was tied to his own childhood experiences.

My parents were both teachers and although I had an amazing standard education in the U.K., my most impactful learning happened outside of school,

he says. In the early 1980s, Nathoo’s parents bought him a computer, a BBC Micro, and he spent hours tinkering with it. “They gave me unlimited screen time,” recalls Nathoo. “I loved playing computer games and I became inspired to try creating games myself.”

Spotting their son’s burgeoning passion for computers, Nathoo’s parents found a retired economics professor who liked computer science and offered to mentor Nathoo. “That learning experience based on my interests has turned into a career in technology,” he says.

When I think of the skills and learning that I use today, so much of that happens outside of school. Being a technologist and an entrepreneur, it’s always been my idea to apply technology to enable more of the out-of-school learning that has been so valuable to me.

Prior to starting San Francisco-based Outschool, Nathoo worked as a project lead for Square, the payment processing company. He was intrigued by how technology-driven marketplace models such as Airbnb, Lyft, and Etsy revolutionized entire industries, and he was dissatisfied that the same level of transformation was not occurring in education.

As Nathoo began to create the Outschool digital platform, he was intentionally looking for models outside of the existing education system. “The real lightbulb moment came when I learned more about homeschooling,” says Nathoo. He was introduced to this type of education from a San Francisco friend who was homeschooling her children. “There are a bunch of presumptions about homeschooling that I really didn’t see among the homeschoolers in the Bay Area,” says Nathoo.

I found that there was this group of people customizing and curating their kids’ learning and giving them a lot more freedom than they would typically have. And they were doing it socially, hiring teachers, forming groups and creating a much more dynamic style of learner-directed education. To me, this looked like the future.

Nathoo realized that this was the learner-directed education model outside of schooling that he was seeking to support and scale. The path forward became clear: create a product that served this existing audience, build a business around it and then use this business to make the ideas of learner-directed education mainstream.

I had the belief that once other parents had seen the power of this model, at first after school and on weekends, we could cause a big change in how people saw kids learning,

he says.

Global Reach, Local Impact

With a product plan, bold vision and seed capital from Y Combinator and others in 2016, Nathoo and his team built the Outschool platform and launched the first Outschool class in 2017. Since then, more than 60,000 learners worldwide have attended Outschool classes.

During his initial days incubating the Outschool idea within California homeschooling networks, Nathoo contacted Julie Schiffman who had been actively homeschooling her children for years and was very involved in the local homeschooling community. A former public school special education teacher, Schiffman left teaching because she was distraught by what she saw as a widespread practice of over-labeling and over-medicating many children with disabilities while offering limited support to children with serious emotional and behavioral disorders.

Nathoo’s vision is to make interest-based, learner-directed education a mainstream option for many more young people.

“It was insanely depressing and I had to leave the profession altogether in order to preserve my health,” says Schiffman. She began wondering how she could help to fix the problems of conventional schooling. At first, she believed that change could come from within the system, but after she started researching alternative education models, like homeschooling, she became convinced that lasting change would need to come from outside the system, by embracing and helping to expand new and better models of education.

When Nathoo called Schiffman on the phone one day in 2015 to tell her about his Outschool idea, she was spellbound. “I had to literally sit down and stable myself,” Schiffman recalls. “I fully recognized from the moment he told me what he was working on that this was the education revolution.” Schiffman’s children have used Outschool for some of their interest-based learning, including classes on building their own YouTube channels and video-editing. The relevant content and global reach mean that learners frequently take classes with peers and instructors all over the world, often retaining connections long after a class ends.

Outschool continues to expand, raising $8.5 million in Series A funding from Union Square Ventures and Reach Capital earlier this year. Nathoo expects Outschool’s digital platform to grow quickly, but he is also focused on helping to support co-learning communities, micro-schools, and other experimental education models.

Our goal is to provide a service to these types of in-person learning centers so that the kids there can get access to teachers and content to pursue their interests and to fulfill their learning goals.

Schiffman is in the process of opening one of these in-person community centers in Marin County, California, where she plans to rent out space to various instructors and vendors offering a host of different classes. She has been getting advice from Nathoo on how to make her community learning model, known as Home Base, scalable and replicable, with the aim of growing to multiple locations within the next two years. Nathoo explains how Outschool can help:

Local learning centers can focus on providing a great, local, social environment while not worrying about content, and kids can access far more teachers and content globally through this combination of online and in-person learning.

Ultimately, Nathoo’s vision is to make interest-based, learner-directed education a mainstream option for many more young people. He wants more children to have the opportunity he did to pursue passions outside of a conventional classroom that can ultimately lead to fulfilling lives and livelihoods. Now as a parent himself, Nathoo can relate even more personally to what parents want for their children’s education and well-being. He says:

When parents realize that letting kids pursue their interests is a way to get them excited about learning and is a better way to help their kids thrive in the world, that’s really powerful to see.

Open This Content

Every One of Your Actions Sets a Precedent

I wonder whether scientists like Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer had any inkling in their youth that their work in physics would one day be used to produce nuclear weapons.

Yet by cooperating with the government that produced these weapons, these men (even Einstein, more indirectly) created the forces that could destroy all life on earth. And they made it easier for more scientists to come to cooperate in the refinement of nuclear weapons and other terrible tools.

Most of us may not live (as they did) to see the long-range results of our actions turn into something quite as bad as atomic weapons. But I’m convinced of the idea that every action we take sets a precedent for how other humans behave. And every action we take brings us closer to or takes us further from our worst nightmares.

If we do a bad job in our work, other people will tend to a bad job in theirs. It doesn’t take long until our world is full of shoddy work.

If we lie, other people will find it easier to lie (and harder to tell the truth). It won’t be long before no one’s word can be trusted in our world.

If we cooperate with tyranny, other people will find it easier to cooperate with tyranny. We shouldn’t be surprised if tyranny takes over.

These changes are slow, but they spread pretty inexorably among people who aren’t awake to the significance of their actions.

The macro problems of 50 or 100 years from now – the breakdown of families, climate change, erosion of individual freedom, what have you – will spring out of behavioral precedents we set now. So in case we needed another reminder to “do unto others” as we would have them do unto us, this is it.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content