Parents and Teachers Starting “Learning Pods” Are Done Waiting for Permission

The widespread “pandemic pods” that are emerging as back-to-school alternatives this fall are models of parental ingenuity, educator adaptability, and entrepreneurial agility.

These learning pods, or in-home microschools, involve small groups of families coming together to take turns facilitating a curriculum for their children in their homes, or pooling resources to hire a teacher or college student to lead instruction. They are a creative, spontaneous response to uncertain or undesirable school reopening plans that make at-home learning easier, more practical, and more enjoyable for more families.

These pods are also a prime example of what Adam Thierer calls “permissionless innovation,” where new solutions and discoveries are born without explicit regulatory blessings. In his book, Thierer explains: “The best solutions to complex social problems are almost always organic and ‘bottom-up’ in nature.”

The organic and bottom-up nature of the pandemic pod trend has the potential to dramatically reshape American education, now and into the future. Parents are reassuming control of their children’s education, opting out of centralized school systems, and challenging regulatory regimes.

New Hampshire Commissioner of Education, Frank Edelblut, sees these pods and microschools as promising signs of education transformation. “They are decentralizing education, moving away from a central bureaucracy,” he told me in a recent interview. “Parents and teachers are creating microschools that are reflective of the goals and aspirations of the families who engage in them,” he says.

At a time of such educational turmoil and societal disruption, parents, educators, and policymakers should embrace the idea of “permissionless innovation” regarding pods, encouraging enterprising individuals to experiment and create.

Entrepreneurs are already rising to the occasion, with startups such as SchoolHouse and Weekdays acting as managed marketplaces to connect educators and parents who are now forming pods and microschools. As Thierer writes: “For innovation and growth to blossom, entrepreneurs need a clear green light from policymakers that signals a general acceptance of risk-taking—especially risk-taking that challenges existing business models and traditional ways of doing things. That’s permissionless innovation in a nutshell…”

In some places, these pandemic pods are accepted and encouraged.

In New Hampshire, for instance, existing homeschooling law allows for these pods to emerge, even if their terminology and context are new. Parents submit a simple home education intent form and then customize a home learning plan in whatever way they choose, including forming pods and microschools. “This is totally legitimate in New Hampshire,” says Edelblut, who homeschooled his own children in the state. “Homeschooling law here says that parents are responsible for their child’s education, but they can work with other teachers and parents in homes or elsewhere in the community,” he says. Perhaps not surprisingly, New Hampshire is seeing surging interest in homeschooling this summer.

Pandemic pods show the remarkable ability of free individuals to self-organize to solve societal problems, without government interference. Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation explains that these pods are civil society’s response to the pandemic and its impact on education. Burke recently hosted an online panel discussion to help parents and educators create more of these pods. She told me: “These pods show that parents are ready to and capable of directing their children’s education, and that while too many districts are still determining whether or not to reopen schools, parents aren’t waiting around any longer.”

Jason Bedrick of EdChoice, which co-hosted the pod-building webinar, agrees that these pods are a source of parental empowerment. He believes that pods are here to stay. According to Bedrick: “There’s a reason that microschooling was already taking off before the pandemic: they’re adaptable, affordable, and can provide a great deal of high-quality, personalized instruction. Most of the new ‘podders’ wouldn’t have considered this form of education but for the pandemic, but I anticipate that a significant portion of them will continue microschooling once the pandemic is over.”

Pandemic pods are positioned to dramatically redesign education. As parents realize that they are capable of guiding their children’s education, and can collaborate with others toward this end, they will be more skeptical of inefficient, coercive, one-size-fits-all government schooling. They will also demand that education dollars get redistributed more equitably, ensuring that all parents, regardless of income, have the opportunity to take advantage of pods, microschools, and similar educational options. As Burke says: “States need to work quickly to make sure children from low-income families in particular have the same chances to form pods or enroll in microschools, and should work to provide education savings accounts (ESAs) to all families immediately.”

Policymakers should work to expand education choice and encourage innovation, while parents, educators, and entrepreneurs continue to craft new and better education models. When it comes to creating pandemic pods, parents don’t need to raise their hands to ask for permission to do what is best for their children.

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Educational Neglect, Fatherhood Relevance, & Disliking Our Grown Kids (34m) – Episode 343

Episode 343 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following questions from Quora: “Is unschooling educational neglect?”; “Do you think that fatherhood is relevant or irrelevant in general?”; and “Is it normal to get to the point where you can’t stand your own grown children?”

Listen to Episode 343 (34m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Get Ready to Homeschool This Fall

As schools and districts across the country finalize back-to-school plans amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some parents are instead choosing independent homeschooling. My inbox has been filling lately with messages from parents who may never before have considered homeschooling but are worried about their children’s potential exposure to the virus at school. Others are turned off by social distancing requirements being implemented by many schools, such as wearing masks all day and limiting interactions with peers.

Fortunately, research shows low infection rates for children, who seem to avoid the virus’s worst outcomes. New findings out of Germany, where schools have been reopened for several weeks, also suggest low infection rates for young people. Despite these encouraging signs, more parents are looking for schooling alternatives. As The New York Times reported recently, “a growing number of families are thinking about home schooling this fall.”

Here are six tips for parents considering homeschooling for this academic year:

1. Investigate Local Homeschooling Requirements

Many school districts recognize what a challenging time this is for families and are offering flexible back-to-school options, such as continuing with distance learning or allowing for part-time, in-person attendance. Some parents might find that these options work for them, and they can continue with remote learning tied to the child’s school. Other parents, however, may choose to go off on their own, separating from their school or district. In this case, parents will need to comply with local homeschooling regulations, which in most states involves registering as an independent homeschooler with local or state officials.

Connect with homeschoolers near you. Grassroots homeschooling groups and networks have reported surging interest during the pandemic, and these resources will provide the most relevant, up-to-date support and information. Search for Facebook groups in your area (by state, city or region), or Google homeschooling resources in your location. Nearby homeschoolers will be able to share the nitty-gritty on how to register and report as a homeschooling family, as well as offer guidance on curriculum, approach, learning tools and nearby classes and activities.

2. Consider Your Educational Goals and Approach

Some parents may see homeschooling this fall as a temporary measure and plan to re-enroll their children in school once the pandemic ends. These parents may feel most comfortable following a standard curriculum that reflects typical grade level expectations. Other parents may opt for an eclectic approach, blending some formal curriculum with a variety of informal resources and learning tools. Still others may want to use this time to “deschool,” or move away from a schooled mindset of education toward an unschooled approach where a child’s interests and curiosity drive much of the learning.

Independent homeschooling allows for maximum freedom and flexibility, so you can decide how structured or unstructured you want your homeschooling experience to be.

3. Discover Curriculum and Learning Tools

There are so many curriculum offerings and educational tools to choose from that it can feel daunting. The pandemic itself has led to many more free online learning resources. Here is some curriculum guidance by grade cohort:

For preschoolers and kindergarteners, play should be the foundation of your homeschooling environment. Allow your child’s incessant questioning to guide learning, and read lots of books together. Here is a good list of books as your children are just beginning to identify sight words, sound out words and read simple stories. And here are some great books for early independent readers. The But Why? Podcast from Vermont Public Radio is an excellent resource and an enjoyable listen for both parents and kids. Sparkle Stories also offers a wonderful collection of original audio stories for young children.

For elementary ages (PreK-6), the Brain Quest workbooks by grade level offer abundant activities that are aligned with state curriculum standards so your child can stay on track with daily learning. Free, online tools, such as Prodigy Math for math learning, Duolingo for foreign language learning and MIT’s Scratch and Scratch Jr. for introductory computer programming, are playful and interactive educational platforms. Outschool offers thousands of low-cost, online classes for children of all ages. Classes are taught live by educators over Zoom and you can search by subject, age and day/time.

Many of the above-mentioned resources will also work well for middle school age children (typically grades 5-8), but there are some other resources for this group. Khan Academy is the leader in free, online learning videos in a variety of subjects, and is especially known for its math programming that is used in many schools throughout the U.S. Parents and kids can track progress and identify strengths and weaknesses. Khan Academy has also added new features and functionality as a result of the pandemic, including daily learning schedules for children ages 2 to 18. NoRedInk, is a free, online writing curriculum with a paid premium option that provides writing and grammar lessons for middle schoolers and above. Additionally, here is a good list of middle-grade fiction books to encourage your kids to read.

For high school age learners, Khan Academy continues to be a good resource for free, advanced math instruction and practice, and here are some suggested books for high schoolers to read. While some high school age students may want to take classes through a local community college, others may want to enroll in a full-time, diploma-issuing, accredited online high school, such as Arizona State University Prep Digital.

Some high school homeschoolers may benefit from year-long, online courses in a variety of subjects. Thinkwell offers classes for homeschoolers taught by acclaimed professors in subjects ranging from high school and Advanced Placement mathematics and science to American Government, Economics and even public speaking. Blue Tent Online also offers year-long, online high school and Advanced Placement math and science courses for homeschoolers, as well as high school and Advanced Placement English classes.

Teenagers may want to use this time to build skills in an area of interest or develop knowledge related to a career goal. Classes and certifications offered by prestigious colleges and universities through EdX and Coursera (many of which are free), are worth exploring. Teenagers may also consider becoming entrepreneurs, developing a business around a personal passion or unmet need in their neighborhood.

4. Explore Neighborhood Resources

Most homeschoolers will tell you that the pandemic has caused just as much disruption in their lives and learning as it has for everyone else. Being disconnected from the people, places and things of our communities has been tough on all of us. Typically, homeschoolers spend much of their time outside of their homes gathering with friends, learning from teachers and mentors in the community, engaging in classes and extracurricular activities, visiting libraries and museums and so on. According to recent research by Daniel Hamlin at the University of Oklahoma: “Relative to public school students, homeschooled students are between two and three times more likely to visit an art gallery, museum, or historical site; visit a library; or attend an event sponsored by a community, religious, or ethnic group. Homeschooled students are also approximately 1.5 times more likely to visit a zoo, aquarium, or bookstore during the course of a month.”

This fall will likely be a very different homeschooling experience, as classes are more limited or non-existent, and libraries, museums and similar organizations operate with social distancing restrictions. Still, it’s worth seeing what in-person daytime programming and resources will be available near you. Again, connecting with local homeschooling networks through Facebook and elsewhere can help.

5. Collaborate With Others

Many parents are working from home during the pandemic, and may continue to do so indefinitely, which can make learning at home this fall more practical but also challenging. While many parents work and homeschool too, it can take some flexibility and planning. Viewing your role as a facilitator rather than a curriculum-enforcer, collaborating with other local parents and neighbors, relying on babysitters and being creative with your fall learning plan will make homeschooling in 2020 more feasible and fulfilling.

Some parents are connecting with others in their neighborhood to form small homeschool microschools this fall. As Good Morning America recently reported, the microschool movement is growing during the pandemic. Microschools are usually home-based, multi-age learning communities with no more than a dozen children that are facilitated by one or more instructors and/or parent guides. Parents may take turns teaching and supervising a small group of children in their homes, or they may band together to hire a teacher or college student to help. A modern take on homeschool co-ops, microschools can make homeschooling this fall a reality for more families who are eager for this option.

6. Enjoy This Moment!

This is an unprecedented time and a historic moment for our children. They will tell stories to their children and grandchildren about what it was like to live and learn through the 2020 pandemic. Experimenting with homeschooling this fall can offer some certainty and continuity in what is otherwise a tumultuous time. This doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment. Enjoy this time at home with your children, watch their curiosity and creativity grow and don’t feel pressure to replicate school-at-home. Learning and schooling are very different things.

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Lenore Skenazy: Overparenting and Bad Public Policy (48m)

This episode features an interview free range kids activist, author, and syndicated columnist Lenore Skenazy from 2019 by Trevor Burrus and Aaron Powell, hosts of the Free Thoughts podcast. Should children ride the NYC subway by themselves? When did children stop having unsupervised and unstructured time? What did ‘strange danger’ do to change the way we parent? What are the consequences of over‐​parenting?

Listen To This Episode (48m, mp3, 64kbps)

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"Pandemic Pods" Make Homeschooling Easier For Parents and Profitable for Teachers

This tumultuous back-to-school season has parents and teachers alike scrambling to make sense of the madness: from ever-changing district directives to COVID-19 response protocols. Some school systems have announced that the academic year will start with remote-learning-only. Others are pursuing partial reopening options with both online and in-person instruction. Still others are planning to fully reopen for in-person learning.

Amid this chaos, parents and teachers are increasingly opting out of the conventional classroom entirely to find or create schooling alternatives this fall.

Parents have been vocal about their back-to-school concerns, with growing numbers of them choosing to homeschool this fall rather than contending with remote learning options or confronting viral exposure and dystopian social distancing measures in schools.

But it’s not just parents who have back-to-school worries. Many teachers, too, don’t want to go back and are upset at reopening plans.

Teachers’ unions are now battling districts over these plans. In Florida, where schools are scheduled to fully reopen for in-person learning next month, the state’s largest teachers’ union sued the governor and education commissioner this week. The Florida union is asking for smaller class sizes and more protective gear for teachers.

More parents and teachers are choosing to avoid this bureaucratic mess altogether and are pursuing their own educational solutions.

Entrepreneurial Educators Build A Better Way

Some parents are hiring tutors to augment their homeschooling experience this fall, and entrepreneurial teachers are serving that need and cashing in on the opportunity. One high school English teacher in Illinois, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that she made $49,000 a year teaching 9th grade and AP English, but several families have approached her for private tutoring and she realizes she can make more money as a private tutor, with fewer hours and more flexibility.

In addition to homeschooling, some parents are forming pandemic “pods,” or home-based microschools that allow a handful of families to take turns teaching their children or pool resources to hire a teacher or college student. The Wall Street Journal reports that these pods are sprouting throughout the country, fueled by parental unrest at school reopening plans and facilitated by informal Facebook groups connecting local families.

Recognizing this mounting demand for schooling alternatives this fall, entrepreneurial educators are helping to create more options for families. In Maryland, longtime educators Steven Eno and Ned Courtemanche created Impact Connections, a microschool enabler connecting educators and parents and providing learning support.

“COVID-19 exposed so many of the shortcomings we already knew about in education but also presented new opportunities to step up and help parents and their kids,” Eno told me in a recent interview. “Microschools offer a powerful, and largely untapped, opportunity to educate our kids in the COVID era and beyond. The best microschools offer highly-personalized instruction that is free of curricular red tape for a fraction of the price…,” he says.

The legality of these pandemic pods and microschools is sometimes unclear. As a new model that blends features of homeschool co-ops with small, private schools, regulations in many places haven’t caught up. Additionally, the sheer numbers of parents choosing not to send their kids back to school this fall, and the pandemic’s overall disruption, may make enforcement of any existing regulations more difficult.

This presents an ideal moment for what Adam Thierer calls “evasive entrepreneurship,” where entrepreneurs push boundaries and challenge existing systems. Thierer writes in his book, Evasive Entrepreneurs:

Increasingly today, evasive entrepreneurs–innovators who don’t always conform to social or legal norms–are using new technological capabilities to circumvent traditional regulatory systems, or at least to put pressure on public policymakers to reform or selectively enforce laws and regulations that are outmoded, inefficient, or illogical. Evasive entrepreneurs rely on a strategy of permissionless innovation in both the business world and the political arena. They push back against ‘the Permission Society,’ or the convoluted labyrinth of permits and red tape that often encumber entrepreneurial activities. In essence, evasive entrepreneurs live out the adage that ‘it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission’ by creating exciting new products and services without necessarily receiving the blessing of public officials before doing so.

Not Just For The Wealthy

Criticism over these private education options has surged over the past few weeks, as commentators claim that homeschooling and pandemic pods will widen gaps between higher- and lower-income families. An op-ed in The New York Times this week decried these private pods, saying “they will exacerbate inequities, racial segregation and the opportunity gap within schools.” These criticisms ignore the fact that some parents create no-cost pods in which they take turns educating their children in a co-op format, and as an article in today’s New York Times points out, “the population of home-schoolers — before the pandemic — was less affluent than average.” Homeschooling, and its current “podding” variation, are not just for the wealthy.

Moreover, if education funding supported students rather than school bureaucracies, more families would get access to an array of education options–including these new models and ones that have yet to be invented. Taxpayers spend about $700 billion each year on US K-12 education. If that money was redistributed to families in the form of education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, tax-credit scholarship programs, and other education choice mechanisms, parents would have many more options beyond an assigned district school.

Corey DeAngelis, Director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation, has written and spoken much about this, stating: “More families would have access to these alternatives if education funding followed children to wherever they receive their educations. Teachers could also benefit from such a system, which would likely offer them smaller class sizes, more autonomy, and higher salaries.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting many of the systems and structures that have prevented choice and innovation in the past. Frustrated parents, along with entrepreneurial educators, have the opportunity to experiment with new models of teaching and learning, and education choice policies will make these new models accessible to any family that wants them.

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The Dystopian Nightmare is Already Here

Based on what we are seeing right now at both the government and corporate level, it is clear that the 2020 “pLandemic” is being pushed as a strategy to exclude rebels and freethinkers from the market and to ostracize them from society altogether. It starts with demanding masks and temperature checks, but it will soon include mandatory vaccinations and biometrically encoded “COVID-passports” being required at both government and corporate checkpoints.

It doesn’t stop there, of course. We must also factor in the already pervasive surveillance state, perpetual smartphone tracking, and a “cashless” society as traditional currency becomes first unaccepted and soon after unavailable. Here we have all the necessary ingredients for a dystopian nightmare that will put its fictional counterparts to shame.

This isn’t some paranoid fantasy, either. These are all things that are either already happening or actively being supported as “solutions” to the supposed problem of non-conformists having the audacity to exist.

If we do not take action NOW (meaning today, this week, and this month—not next year), the Orwellian future I describe (or worse) will become our despotic reality before we even realize what has occurred. We need to do more than just talk about it or even engage in small acts of defiance and civil disobedience. We need to be actively preparing for life in a society that is aggressively working against us at every turn.

We need to organize our resources and build networks of trusted partners with whom we can trade and barter. Traditional means of obtaining goods like food, clothing, precious metals, guns and ammo, and many other necessities will soon be restricted only to those willing to surrender their bodily autonomy and self-ownership to the irrational and harmful demands of governments and their corporate enforcers.

The goal of the tyrants is to force us into submission through deprivation and isolation. Rather than resorting immediately to direct violence, they will use access to the market as a carrot to bribe people into compliance. Those who refuse to bend the knee will face a bleak future of scarcity and seclusion.

Those who survive will not be left alone indefinitely, however. Phase 2 will be far more violent. The state will seize children, confiscate property, and eventually kidnap and cage those who refuse to submit to the state’s demands. Those who continue to resist will be hunted down and executed. They won’t call it that, of course. They will claim that our sustained opposition caused them to “fear for their safety.”

This is why we need to make sure that we are well armed and ready—both physically and mentally—to defend ourselves against whoever may attempt to deprive us of our life, liberty, and property.  We must never forget that a central component of the radical left’s agenda is forcibly disarming individuals so they cannot defend themselves against tyranny.

How committed are you to protect yourself and your family from being muzzled, injected, tested, and tracked? How much hardship are you willing to endure to avoid the state’s toxins? Are you willing to use lethal force if necessary to defend the life and health of you and your family?

The time has come to make some very serious decisions about your future. Those who are willing to compromise their principles now—because “it’s just a mask”—will find it much easier to keep surrendering as the pressures and threats escalate.

I will close with the immortal words of Patrick Henry. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

I have chosen my course. Have you chosen yours?

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