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.

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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.

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No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights

“If the facts are your side,” famed attorney and former law professor Alan Dershowitz instructed his students, “pound the facts into the table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table.”

As Republican attacks on the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry grow in fury, they more and more resemble the third instruction in Dershowitz’s maxim.

The latest Republican angle on the inquiry is that House Democrats are violating President Donald Trump’s constitutional rights under the Sixth Amendment.

“Impeachment is a legal proceeding,” writes Federalist Society Chairman and law professor Steve Calabresi at The Daily Caller, “and just as criminal defendants have constitutional rights in criminal trials so too does Trump have constitutional rights, which House Democrats are denying him.”

These rights, says Calabresi (and the US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment) include the right to a speedy public trial, the right to be informed of the charges against him, and the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.

At first blush, these might sound like cogent legal arguments — pounding the law into the table, so to speak. But they’re not. They’re just pounding the table.

Calabresi calls impeachment a “legal proceeding,” but that term appears nowhere in the Sixth Amendment. The rights protected therein are protected in “criminal prosecutions.” Impeachment is not a criminal prosecution.  The maximum penalty is removal from office. It’s an employee disciplinary proceeding of sorts.

To the extent that the process does resemble a criminal prosecution, the House inquiry function is analogous to a police investigation or a grand jury probe. As of yet there are no “charges” for the president to be informed of.  A House vote to impeach is the equivalent of  filing charges or handing down an indictment. That happens at the end of, not during, the inquiry.

If the House votes to impeach, there will be a trial in the US Senate. At that point the “prosecution” will identify those whom it intends to call as witnesses, and Trump’s attorneys will “be confronted with” those witnesses and have an opportunity to vigorously cross-examine them.

Calabresi’s claims are the equivalent of arguing that if a 911 caller reports a bank robbery in progress, the suspects’ constitutional rights are violated unless the police chief takes them and the 911 caller out on the bank’s front steps and lets them argue the matter in front of a crowd — before charging the suspects, and whether or not the caller would be summoned as a trial witness.

When Trump’s defenders merely pound the table, the presumptive reason is that they’re fresh out of fact and law to pound instead.

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Cheer the Fall of the Wall

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I explored Eugen Richter’s prescient dystopian novelPictures of the Socialistic Future.  Eventually I even wrote a new introduction to a re-release of this classic book.

For the 30th anniversary, let me share what is perhaps the most inspirational page Zach Weinersmith drew for Open Borders.  And if you object to the comparison between their walls and ours, think again.

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Impeachment: A Night at the Movies

The US House of Representatives soberly fulfills its constitutional obligation to investigate alleged wrongdoing by a sitting president, steadily building its case for that president’s impeachment.

The Deep State schemes to remove a sitting president, trumping up (pun intended) supposed “high crimes and misdemeanors” and gaming a faux-constitutional “impeachment probe” to deny that president due process to which he’s entitled.

Both of the previous paragraphs describe the same set of events. We’re living through them right now, and we’re in the grip of a second-level “Rashomon effect.”

Per Wikipedia, that effect (named for a movie in which four witnesses offer contradictory descriptions of a murder) “describes a situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved.”

Extended to the audience, the effect plays out as two people watching the same film, each seeing it so differently from the other that for all intents and purposes they’re “watching two different movies.”

Both viewers are quite sure that their interpretations are correct, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll come to any agreement as to what they both just objectively saw.

There’s one thing that both viewers probably know, though:

The House is going to vote to impeach, because the President Donald J. Trump impeachment version of Rashomon is directed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a student of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall,” wrote Chekhov, “in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

When Pelosi announced the House impeachment inquiry on September 24, she was figuratively hanging a gun on the wall of the House chamber, after 2 1/2 years of resisting impeachment talk and suppressing impeachment efforts in the House.

Why? In addition to her theatrical acumen, Pelosi also knows basic arithmetic. She saw the votes were there to impeach.

SOMEONE was going to hang the gun on the wall.

SOMEONE was going to fire the gun.

Pelosi could direct the play, or she could settle for a bit part (and probably lose her position as Speaker).

If Pelosi’s the director of Rashomon: The House Impeaches Trump, Trump himself is both producer and leading man. He’s been begging for this role since before his inauguration. He commissioned the script, donated the props, and spent 2 1/2 years trying to get Pelosi to take the bait. He loves drama above all else and expects, based on experience, to profit politically from this production.

You’ve got opinions on the impeachment process. I do too. We’re probably watching two different movies to at least some extent.

But in our hearts, we both know how this movie ends: The House will vote  to impeach Trump, probably before Thanksgiving (disclosure: I’ve got a small bet in a prediction market that it will happen before the end of the year).

Coming soon: Trump returns as Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men: This Time It’s Senatorial.

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The One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts

How do I pick book topics?  On reflection, I usually start with what appears to be a big blatant neglected fact.  Then I try to discover whether anything in the universe is big enough to explain this alleged fact away.  If a laborious search uncovers nothing sufficient, I am left with the seed of a book: One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts.

Thus, my Myth of the Rational Voter starts with what appears to be a big blatant neglected fact: the typical voter seems highly irrational.  He uses deeply flawed intellectual methods, and holds a wide range of absurd views.  Twist and turn the issue as you please, and this big blatant neglected fact remains.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, similarly, begins with a rather different big blatant neglected alleged fact: Modern parenting is obsessed with “investing” in kids’ long-run outcomes, yet twin and adoption researchers consistently conclude that the long-run effect of nurture is grossly overrated.  Yes, the latter fact is only “blatant” after you read the research, but once you read it, you can’t unread it.

What’s the One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts in The Case Against Education?  This: education is highly lucrative even though the curriculum is highly irrelevant in the real world.  Yes, it takes a book to investigate the many efforts to explain this One Big Fact away (“learning how to learn,” anyone?).  But without One Big Fact, there’d be no book.

Finally, the big motivated fact behind Open Borders is that simply letting a foreigner move to the First World vastly multiplies his labor earnings overnight.  A Haitian really can make twenty times as much money in Miami the week after he leaves Port-au-Prince – and the reason is clearly that the Haitian is vastly more productive in the U.S.  Which really makes you wonder: Why would anyone want to stop another human being from escaping poverty by enriching the world?  Giving this starting point, anti-immigration arguments are largely attempts to explain this big blatant neglected fact away.  Given what restrictionist arguments are up against, it’s hardly surprising that they don’t measure up.

On reflection, my current book project, Poverty: Who To Blame doesn’t seem to fit this formula.  The book will rest on three or four big blatant neglected facts rather than one.  Yet perhaps as I write, One Big Fact that Overawes All Doubts will come into focus…

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