Silence is Stupid, Argument is Foolish

When I was young, I never backed down in an intellectual argument.  Part of the reason, admittedly, was that I was starved for abstract debate.  Before the internet, anyone who wanted to talk ideas had to corner an actual human willing to do the same.  Another big reason, though, was that I didn’t want to look stupid.  A smart person always has a brilliant riposte, right?  And if you shut up, it must be because you’re stumped.

At this stage in my life, much has changed.  Public debates aside, I now only engage in intellectual arguments with thinkers who play by the rules.  What rules?  For starters: remain calm, take nothing personally, use probabilities, face hypotheticals head-on, and spurn Social Desirability Bias like the plague.  If I hear someone talking about ideas who ignores these rules, I take evasive action.  If cornered, I change the subject.

Why?  Because I now realize that arguing with unreasonable people is foolish.  Young people might learn something at the meta-level – such as “Wow, so many people are so unreasonable.”  But I’m long past such doleful lessons.  Note: “Being unreasonable” is not a close synonym for “Agrees with me.”  Most people who agree with me are still aggressively unreasonable.  Instead, being reasonable is about sound intellectual methods – remaining calm, taking nothing personally, using probabilities, facing hypotheticals head-on, spurning Social Desirability Bias, and so on.

In classic Dungeons & Dragons, characters have two mental traits: Intelligence and Wisdom.  The meaning matches everyday English: high-Intelligence characters are good at solving complex puzzles; high-Wisdom characters have a generous helping of common-sense.

Using the game to illuminate life: Running out of things to say in an argument is indeed a sign of low Intelligence, just as I held when I was a teenager.  A genius never runs out of rebuttals.  At the same time, however, joining a fruitless dispute is a sign of low Wisdom.  You have better things to do with your life than tell hyperventilating people all the reasons they’re wrong.  A really wise person won’t merely break off such exchanges, but stop them before they start – and get back to work on his Bubble.

Here, in short, is wisdom: Be not a hostage to your own intellectual pride.

P.S. How do you know if a person plays by the rules until you actually engage them?  Most obviously, watch how they argue with other people!  If that’s inadequate, give promising strangers a brief trial period, but be ready to disengage if things go south.

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Ten Years After Lieberman’s “Internet Kill Switch,” the War on Freedom Rages On

In 2010, US Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Thomas Carper (D-DE) introduced their Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act. Better known as the “Internet Kill Switch” proposal for the emergency powers it would have conferred on the president, the bill died without receiving a vote in either house of Congress.

A decade later, the same fake issues and the same authoritarian “solutions” continue to dominate discussions on the relationship between technology and state. The real issue remains the same as well. As I wrote in a column on the “Kill Switch” bill nearly 10 years ago:

“If the price of keeping Joe Lieberman in power is you staring over a plow at the ass end of a mule all day and lighting your home with candles or kerosene at night before collapsing on a bed of filthy straw, that’s a price Joe Lieberman is more than willing to have you pay.”

A single thread connects the “Internet Kill Switch” to the passage of Internet censorship provisions in the name of fighting sex trafficking (FOSTA/SESTA), the whining of federal law enforcement and intelligence officials  for “back doors” to cripple strong encryption, and President Trump’s threats to ban video-sharing app TikTok, supposedly because the Chinese government’s surveillance programs just might be as lawless and intrusive as those of the US government.

That thread is the burning, pathological compulsion which drives politicians and bureaucrats to control every aspect of our lives, on the flimsiest of excuses and no matter the cost to us.

The compulsion hardly limits itself to technology issues (the war on drugs in a great example of its scope), nor is it limited to the federal level of government (see, for example, the mostly state and local diktats placing millions of Americans under house arrest without charge or trial “because COVID-19”).

That thread and that compulsion are more obvious vis a vis the Internet than “public health”-based authoritarianism because we’ve been propagandized and indoctrinated into the latter ideology for centuries, while the public-facing Internet is younger than most Americans.

Few of us can remember the days before quarantine-empowered “health departments” in every county, let alone a time when a five-year-old could walk into a store and buy morphine without so much as a doctor’s note.

But most of us can remember a relatively censorship-free Internet and the false promises of politicians and bureaucrats to respect the dramatically expanded power it gave to free speech.

That makes “kill switches” and “back doors” and TikTok bans a tougher sell. But the political class is still coming after the Internet. If we want to continue living in the 21st century instead of the 11th, we’re going to have to keep fighting them.

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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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"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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“Peak Libertarianism?” No, Thom Hartmann is Just a Sore Winner

“We have now reached peak Libertarianism,” Thom Hartmann informs us at CounterPunch, “and this bizarre experiment that has been promoted by the billionaire class for over 40 years is literally killing us.”

That claim is so bizarre on its face that it’s easy to dismiss. On the other hand, even the craziest claims can fool people if nobody takes the time to debunk them.

Even in its most watered-down, weak-tea form, Libertarianism calls for “smaller government.” That’s not its real focal point (opposing aggression is), but let’s give Hartmann the maximum benefit of doubt here and have a look at American government since 1980.

As of 1980, the US government’s total spending came to a little less than $600 billion. As of 2019, that number was nearly $5 trillion. Even adjusting for inflation, the US government spends about three times what it spent 40 years ago (that number will be WAY up for this year due to COVID-19 “relief” and “stimulus” spending).

Of course, spending isn’t the only indicator of size of government. There’s also regulation.  As of 1980, according to George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, about 100 new pages were added to the Code of Federal Regulations each year. After trending generally upward for 39 years,  that number has exceeded 180 new pages each year since 2016. As for total pages published in the Federal Register, that’s gone up and down, but is about the same now (70,000 pages or so) as it was in 1980.

Perhaps Hartmann is thinking of something like the number of cops out there enforcing laws? I couldn’t easily find numbers going back to 1980, but from 1992 to 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of full-time law enforcement officers went up from fewer than 800,000 to more than a million, from 3.05 cops per thousand US residents to 3.43 cops per thousand.

Or maybe it’s the “social safety net” Hartmann has in mind?

Social Security outlays are way up in both nominal and wage-adjusted dollars since 1980, and steady as a percentage of GDP.

As of 1980, about 21 million Americans received average monthly benefits of $34.47 through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (when I was a kid, we called it “food stamps”). As of 2019, more than 35 million Americans received average monthly SNAP benefits of $129.83. SNAP benefit growth has out-paced inflation and the number of beneficiaries has out-paced population growth.

The actual numbers say America hasn’t moved so much as a whisker in the direction of “peak Libertarianism” over the last 40 years. Rather, it’s continued steadily down the road toward “peak Hartmannism” ever since LBJ’s Great Society, with relatively few bumps in that road since FDR’s New Deal.

Faux-“progressive,” actually reactionary, Hartmann  desperately wants to fob the blame off on Libertarians for the consequences of 85 years of failed policies he still supports.

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Not Even Daycare

The most common misinterpretation of The Case Against Education is that it’s only about college.  In fact, my treatise analyzes not only high school, but K-8 as well.  Where there is education, there is educational signaling.

Whenever I opined K-8 education, though, I made a major concession.  While schools mostly waste taxpayer money and students’ time, they nevertheless provide one indeniably useful service: daycare.  Schools warehouse kids so their parents can work, keep house, and relax.  Until a few months ago, I thought this benefit was inevitable.  No matter how little useful knowledge schools deliver, the most bogus “education” of the young automatically has to provide daycare as a byproduct.

How wrong I was!  How very wrong.  Beginning last March, schools across the U.S. sent kids home – and started “virtual instruction” for kindergarten on up.  What a joke.  Obviously – obviously! – a kindergartener isn’t going to do virtual instruction unless a parent closely monitors him.  Any parent able to do kindergarten-level work might as well just teach the child himself.  The same goes for the vast majority of 1st-graders, 2nd-graders, 3rd-graders, and 4th-graders.  Mature 5th-, 6th-, 7th-, or 8th-graders might do their work without a parent breathing down their necks, but most won’t.  Once schools closed last March, I added my younger kids to my homeschool and haven’t looked back.

To be fair, you could say virtual education was an emergency measure, and almost no one treated it as a serious substitute for classroom instruction.  It was a classic, “We pretend to teach, they pretend to learn” situation.  Most parents went along with the farce to let well-liked teachers save face.

Now, however, many school districts are doubling-down on the absurdity of virtual instruction for young kids.  My school district, Fairfax County, initially announced that families would have the option to get two days of in-person instruction per week.  This in turn means two days of daycare per week.  That isn’t enough to let both parents work full-time, but at least it’s something.

Last night, however, Fairfax County Public Schools reversed policy.

Fairfax County Public Schools will begin the 2020-2021 school year with 100% distance learning, due to “worsening national and regional health conditions.”

Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand made the virtual recommendation Tuesday, and the school board agreed to accept his proposal, allowing the superintendent to move forward with his plans.

All instruction will be virtual for a full quarter.  At least.  The schools keep getting full tax funding.  In exchange, they refuse even to provide daycare.  This is poor service even by the low standards of the public sector.  For all practical purposes, parents of virtual schoolers will be de facto homeschoolers, so they might as well cut the red tape and aggravation and homeschool de jure as well.  At least in Virginia, homeschooling law remain lax.  Why be an unpaid employee of your school district when you can easily be your own boss?

You could say, “At least let’s give virtual education a chance.”  I refuse.  I will not even give it a chance.  I have been in school continuously for forty four years, and a parent for seventeen years.  Giving this madness a chance is not worth my time.  Sending my kids back to school to see their friends two days a week was a reasonable option.  “Sending” my kids “back to school” to “see” their friends is at once laughable and sad.  If my kids can’t play with other kids in school, they have no reason to be there.

I’ve been calling for massive cuts in education spending for a long time.  Now, however, the case for austerity is truly a no-brainer.  If schools won’t provide daycare, why on Earth should taxpayers continue to pay over $10,000 per year per child?  Every taxpayer in Fairfax County now has an ironclad reason to say, “I want my money back.”

Of course, since we’re dealing with government enterprises, you might as well save your breath.

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