It’s More Than Just Willpower

It breaks my heart every time I pass someone sleeping in the street. I go through a mental process, wondering what circumstances, preferences, and choices get a person to a spot where sleeping on the sidewalk is better than the next best alternative.

I do not want to deny free will. It’s possible there’s a homeless person somewhere who thinks my life is miserable and theirs is better. It seems more likely nobody really wants to sleep on the sidewalk, but somehow they get to a place where that seems better or easier than whatever would be needed to sleep indoors.

I think about my own life. There are a lot of things I experience that I don’t really want to experience, but I lack the creativity, willpower, or knowledge needed to make choices that would help me avoid those experiences. I’m always living sub-optimally in some way. It’s always a combination of circumstances and choices. I’m always choosing at least a little less than what I know would be best, and sometimes a lot.

I’ve had mostly good incentive structures around me. In part from circumstances I was born into, in part from those I’ve created. To the extent that the incentive structures are good, my behavior and outcomes are good. When those structures are neutral or bad, my choices typically follow.

I think willpower can be built over time, such that a person who’s learned to make good, tough choices gets better at it. But in the beginning, and at the individual point of choosing, I don’t think any two humans are that different. We seek our self interest as defined by our subjective preferences given our current information, resources, and understanding. Those variables of preference, information, resources, and understanding are the elements of the incentive structure.

I try to find, cultivate, and stay in good incentive structures because I know that without them, my choices are capable of leading me somewhere I don’t want to go.

So much for me. What about the people still sleeping on the street? I don’t know. That’s probably why my attention turns to my own life pretty quickly. It’s something I can work with and control at least to some extent. I don’t know what to do for them. That’s part of the heartbreak.

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100 Reasons to Homeschool Your Kids

This is my 100th article for FEE.org, so here are 100 reasons to homeschool your kids!

  1. Homeschoolers perform well academically.
  2. Your kids may be happier.
  3. Issues like ADHD might disappear or become less problematic.
  4. It doesn’t matter if they fidget.
  5. YOU may be happier! All that time spent on your kids’ homework can now be used more productively for family learning and living.
  6. You can still work and homeschool.
  7. And even grow a successful business while homeschooling your kids.
  8. Your kids can also build successful businesses, as many grown unschoolers become entrepreneurs.
  9. You can be a single parent and homeschool your kids.
  10. Your kids can be little for longer. Early school enrollment has been linked by Harvard researchers with troubling rates of ADHD diagnosis. A year can make a big difference in early childhood development.
  11. Some of us are just late bloomers. We don’t all need to be on “America’s early-blooming conveyor belt.”
  12. Then again, homeschooling can help those kids who might be early bloomers and graduate from college at 16.
  13. Whether early, late, or somewhere in the middle, homeschooling allows all children to move at their own pace.
  14. You can choose from a panoply of curriculum options based on your children’s needs and your family’s educational philosophy.
  15. Or you can focus on unschooling, a self-directed education approach tied to a child’s interests.
  16. Homeschooling gives your kids plenty of time to play! In a culture where childhood free play is disappearing, preserving play is crucial to a child’s health and well-being.
  17. They can have more recess and less homework.
  18. You can take advantage of weekly homeschool park days, field trips, classes, and other gatherings offered through a homeschooling group near you.
  19. Homeschooling co-ops are growing, so you can find support and resources.
  20. Homeschooling learning centers are sprouting worldwide, prioritizing self-directed education and allowing more flexibility to more families who want to homeschool.
  21. Parks, beaches, libraries, and museums are often less crowded during school hours, and many offer programming specifically for homeschoolers.
  22. You’re not alone. Nearly two million US children are homeschooled, and the homeschooling population is increasingly reflective of America’s diversity. In fact, the number of black homeschoolers doubled between 2007 and 2011.
  23. One-quarter of today’s homeschoolers are Hispanic-Americans who want to preserve bilingualism and family culture.
  24. Some families of color are choosing homeschooling to escape what they see as poor academic outcomes in schools, a curriculum that ignores their cultural heritage, institutional racism, and disciplinary approaches that disproportionately target children of color.
  25. More military families are choosing homeschooling to provide stability and consistency through frequent relocations and deployments.
  26. While the majority of homeschoolers are Christians, many Muslim families are choosing to homeschool, as are atheists.
  27. Homeschooling has wide bipartisan appeal.
  28. More urban parents are choosing to homeschool, prioritizing family and individualized learning.
  29. Religious freedom may be important to many homeschooling families, but it is not the primary reason they choose to homeschool. “Concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure” is the top motivator according to federal data.
  30. Fear of school shootings and widespread bullying are other concerns that are prompting more families to consider the homeschooling option.
  31. Some parents choose homeschooling because they are frustrated by Common Core curriculum frameworks and frequent testing in public schools.
  32. Adolescent anxiety, depression, and suicide decline during the summer, but Vanderbilt University researchers found that suicidal tendencies spike at back-to-school time. (This is a pattern opposite to that of adults, who experience more suicidal thoughts and acts in the summertime.) Homeschooling your kids may reduce these school-induced mental health issues.
  33. It will also prevent schools from surreptitiously collecting and tracking data on your child’s mental health.
  34. Your kids’ summertime can be fully self-directed, as can the rest of their year.
  35. That’s because kids thrive under self-directed education.
  36. Some kids are asking to be homeschooled.
  37. And they may even thank you for it.
  38. Today’s teens aren’t working in part-time or summer jobs like they used to. Homeschooling can offer time for valuable teen work experience.
  39. It can also provide the opportunity to cultivate teen entrepreneurial skills.
  40. Your kids don’t have to wait for adulthood to pursue their passions.
  41. By forming authentic connections with community members, homeschoolers can take advantage of teen apprenticeship programs.
  42. Some apprenticeship programs have a great track record on helping homeschoolers build important career skills and get great jobs.
  43. Self-directed learning centers for teen homeschoolers can provide a launchpad for community college classes and jobs while offering peer connection and adult mentoring.
  44. With homeschooling, you can inspire your kids to love reading.
  45. Maybe that’s because they will actually read books, something one-quarter of Americans reported not doing in 2014.
  46. Your kids might even choose to voluntarily read financial statements or do worksheets.
  47. You can preserve their natural childhood creativity.
  48. Schools kill creativity, as Sir Ken Robinson proclaims in his TED Talk, the most-watched one ever.
  49. Homeschooling might even help your kids use their creativity in remarkable ways, as other well-known homeschoolers have done.
  50. With homeschooling, learning happens all the time, all year round. There are no arbitrary starts and stops.
  51. You can take vacations at any time of the year without needing permission from the principal.
  52. Or you can go world-schooling, spending extended periods of time traveling the world together as a family or letting your teens travel the world without you.
  53. Your kids can have healthier lunches than they would at school.
  54. And you can actually enjoy lunch with them rather than being banned from the school cafeteria.
  55. Your kids don’t have to walk through metal detectors, past armed police officers, and into locked classrooms in order to learn.
  56. You can avoid bathroom wars and let your kids go to the bathroom wherever and whenever they want—without raising their hand to ask for permission.
  57. Research shows that teen homeschoolers get more sleep than their schooled peers.
  58. Technological innovations make self-education through homeschooling not only possible but also preferable.
  59. Free, online learning programs like Khan Academy, Duolingo, Scratch, Prodigy Math, and MIT OpenCourseWare complement learning in an array of topics, while others, like Lynda.com and Mango, may be available for free through your local public library.
  60. Schooling was for the Industrial Age, but unschooling is for the future.
  61. With robots doing more of our work, we need to rely more on our distinctly human qualities, like curiosity and ingenuity, to thrive in the Innovation Era.
  62. Homeschooling could be the “smartest way to teach kids in the 21st century,” according to Business Insider.
  63. Teen homeschoolers can enroll in an online high school program to earn a high school diploma if they choose.
  64. But young people don’t need a high school diploma in order to go to college.
  65. Many teen homeschoolers take community college classes and transfer into four-year universities with significant credits and cost-savings. Research suggests that community college transfers also do better than their non-transfer peers.
  66. Homeschooling may be the new path to Harvard.
  67. Many colleges openly recruit and welcome homeschoolers because they tend to be “innovative thinkers.”
  68. But college doesn’t need to be the only pathway to a meaningful adult life and livelihood. Many lucrative jobs don’t require a college degree, and companies like Google and Apple have dropped their degree requirements.
  69. In fact, more homeschooling families from the tech community in Silicon Valley and elsewhere are choosing to homeschool their kids.
  70. Hybrid homeschooling models are popping up everywhere, allowing more families access to this educational option.
  71. Some of these hybrid homeschool programs are public charter schools that are free to attend and actually give families access to funds for homeschooling.
  72. Other education choice mechanisms, like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and tax-credit scholarship programs, are expanding to include homeschoolers, offering financial assistance to those families who need and want it.
  73. Some states allow homeschoolers to fully participate in their local school sports teams and extracurricular activities.
  74. Homeschooling may be particularly helpful for children with disabilities, like dyslexia, as the personalized learning model allows for more flexibility and customization.
  75. Homeschooling is growing in popularity worldwide, especially in India, Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, and even in China, where it’s illegal.
  76. Homeschooling grants children remarkable freedom and autonomy, particularly self-directed approaches like unschooling, but it’s definitely not the Lord of the Flies.
  77. Homeschooling allows for much more authentic, purposeful learning tied to interests and everyday interactions in the community rather than contrived assignments at school.
  78. Throughout the American colonial and revolutionary eras, homeschooling was the norm, educating leaders like George Washington and Abigail Adams.
  79. In fact, many famous people were homeschooled.
  80. And many famous people homeschool their own kids.
  81. Your homeschooled kids will probably be able to name at least one right protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, something 37 percent of adults who participated in a recent University of Pennsylvania survey couldn’t do.
  82. Homeschooling can be preferable to school because it’s a totally different learning environment. As homeschooling pioneer John Holt wrote in Teach Your Own: “What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth in the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn’t a school at all.”
  83. Immersed in their larger community and engaged in genuine, multi-generational activities, homeschoolers tend to be better socialized than their schooled peers. Newer studies suggest the same.
  84. Homeschoolers interact daily with an assortment of people in their community in pursuit of common interests, not in an age-segregated classroom with a handful of teachers.
  85. Research suggests that homeschoolers are more politically tolerant than others.
  86. They can dig deeper into emerging passions, becoming highly proficient.
  87. They also have the freedom to quit.
  88. They can spend abundant time outside and in nature.
  89. Homeschooling can create strong sibling relationships and tight family bonds.
  90. Homeschooling is legal in all 50 US states and has been since 1993, but regulations vary widely by state.
  91. In spite of ongoing efforts to regulate homeschoolers, US homeschooling is becoming less regulated.
  92. That’s because homeschooling parents are powerful defenders of education freedom.
  93. Parents can focus family learning around their own values, not someone else’s.
  94. Homeschooling is one way to get around regressive compulsory schooling laws and put parents back in charge of their child’s education.
  95. It can free children from coercive, test-driven schooling.
  96. It is one education option among many to consider as more parents opt-out of mass schooling.
  97. Homeschooling is the ultimate school choice.
  98. It is inspiring education entrepreneurship to disrupt the schooling status quo.
  99. And it’s encouraging frustrated educators to leave the classroom and launch their own alternatives to school.
  100. Homeschooling is all about having the liberty to learn.

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Education Entrepreneurs Are the Only Ones Who Can Disrupt the Status Quo

Transforming entrenched systems and industries comes through disruptive innovation and entrepreneurship. Coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, disruptive innovation is the process by which new ideas and inventions create value and ultimately topple existing competitors. A visionary individual or group spots opportunity and develops new solutions that meet consumer demand faster, better, and more cheaply. This innovation improves our lives through efficiency and cost-effectiveness, allowing us to keep more of our hard-earned money with better service and satisfaction.

Independent and Innovative Education

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of the organizations I highlight in Unschooled are independently run. Disruptive innovation may originate with individual ingenuity, but it is fueled by consumer demand and value creation within the private sector. Not that the public sector hasn’t tried. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, there was a surge of interest in reforming mass schooling from within. The Open Classroom movement emerged, encouraging less restrictive classrooms and more choice and freedom for students.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1967, the city’s public school system launched its Parkway Program, sometimes known as the “school without walls,” in which young people were able to select their own classes and learn throughout various spots across the city, including private businesses, museums, local universities, and public spaces. In 1970, the New York Times called the Parkway Program “one of the nation’s boldest experiments in public education,” noting that over ten thousand students applied for only five hundred available slots.

Any meaningful and lasting transformation in American education must come from the private sector.

Within a decade, though, momentum for programs like Parkway waned. New public education fads appeared and old ones faded. Ultimately, Parkway was reabsorbed into the larger school district, becoming indistinguishable from Philadelphia’s other public schools.

More recently, a fully self-directed district high school that I also write about in Unschooled was set to open this fall in Somerville, Massachusetts, a city just outside of Boston. Powderhouse Studios had everything going for it, including relief from onerous public schooling requirements under the state’s Innovative Schools legislation and a $10 million grant from XQ Super School, an organization co-founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc. After seven years of concessions and compromise by the school’s leaders, the city’s school committee ultimately voted unanimously this spring not to approve Powderhouse’s opening.

Private Sector Reforms

As much as many parents and educators would like to believe that meaningful reforms can occur within the mass compulsory schooling model, real education innovation occurs most successfully and enduringly through the private sector. Free from state curriculum requirements, standardized testing mandates, and restrictions on hiring and firing, private educational organizations are able to experiment and innovate, with parents as the key stakeholders to ensure accountability.

Many of these schools and organizations are tiny non-profit enterprises that serve a small group of children and are often financially inaccessible to many families. But disruptive innovation in education has the capacity to bring real change to the masses—if educators embrace an entrepreneurial, free-market mindset.

In his book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey writes about his early days immersed in the left countercultural movement of the late-1960s and 1970s. He lived on a commune in Texas for two years and became active in the local food co-op movement.

Entrepreneurship and Capitalism

Mackey writes in the book’s introduction:

Politically, I drifted into progressivism (or liberalism or social democracy) and embraced the ideology that business and corporations were essentially evil because they selfishly sought only profits. In contrast to evil corporations, I believed that nonprofit organizations and government were “good,” because they altruistically worked for the public interest, not for profit.

The longer Mackey was part of the non-profit food co-op movement, the more disenchanted he became with its ideology. He writes:

I ultimately became disillusioned with the co-op movement because there seemed to be little room for entrepreneurial creativity; virtually every decision was politicized.

Discovering the power of free-market capitalism, Mackey was able to scale his vision for healthy food and a healthier planet in ways that small, local, non-profit food co-ops were unable to, leading many more people to have access to organic food and many more jobs created to provide that food.

Mackey writes about his path from progressive anti-capitalist to proud entrepreneur:

I learned that free enterprise, when combined with property rights, innovation, the rule of law, and constitutionally limited democratic government, results in societies that maximize social prosperity and establish conditions that promote human happiness and well-being—not just for the rich, but for the larger society, including the poor. I had become a businessperson and a capitalist, and I had discovered that business and capitalism, while not perfect, were both fundamentally good and ethical.

Education needs its own Whole Foods moment. It needs entrepreneurial innovators to move small, non-profit organizations into larger-scale, profitable enterprises that serve more families and students with better outcomes and lower costs. Now with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, the potential for greater accessibility at lower costs increases.

Seeds of an enterprising moment in education are beginning to sprout. Acton Academy is a low-cost, self-directed network of private schools, often operating on a hybrid homeschool model, that is expanding across the country by educators committed to entrepreneurship and educational creativity. In an article for Forbes, Bill Frezza describes Acton Academy’s potential to remake the educational landscape. He writes:

With the right program as a model, anyone who home schools his kids can operate an Acton Academy. And not just for his or her own children, but for a schoolhouse full of them. Run the numbers and you can even make a lucrative living while charging tuition well below than that of most conventional private schools.

Standardized Equals Restrictive

Similarly, the Academy of Thought and Industry is a for-profit network of schools that could trigger necessary disruption in education. Founder Michael Strong acknowledges the power of profit-driven free enterprise to create lasting educational change that is higher-quality, lower-cost, and ultimately scalable. He says:

Any time something is profitable, that is what makes it able to go to scale. The reason we have low-cost groceries now (compared to 100 years ago) is because it’s profitable to bring food to millions and millions of people.

Any meaningful and lasting transformation in American education must come from the private sector. Public schools have tried to innovate; yet compulsory mass schooling has become more restrictive, standardized, and all-consuming of American childhood than at any other time in our history. To enact real, scalable change in education—just as Whole Foods did with the organic food movement—entrepreneurial parents and educators will need to imagine and implement new models of learning. These models must be rooted in the time-tested principles of free-market capitalism, or what Mackey describes as

the heroic nature of business, its essential virtues, and its extraordinary potential to do more good for more people in a sustained manner than any other social or economic system ever invented by humankind.

Entrepreneurs can help to replace an obsolete schooling model of education with a new learning one fit for the innovation era. In fact, they may be the only ones who can move us from where we are to where we could be.

Listen to Kerry McDonald discuss unschooling with FEE president emeritus Lawrence Reed (12:00 mark):

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Preparing for the Brush Fire

The best stuff comes from unexpected bursts of inspiration. Lightning strikes.

But what separates all the bursts that fizzle into those that set the world ablaze? The conditions of the environment when the lightning strikes.

You’ve got to create the conditions for a brush fire. You’ve got to ready the tinder and kindling and forests. This is boring, tedious, inglorious, and doesn’t have much to show unless and until the lightning strikes. It’s the daily discipline, but without it, the lightning strike breaks a tree or two and no one remembers. But with daily discipline, the lucky strike leads to an inferno that forever alters the landscape of the world. In fact, if conditions are good enough, lighting may not be needed at all. A few good days intense sunshine could do the trick.

This belabored metaphor is all to say that creativity requires inspiration. But inspiration without discipline is useless, even destructive.

Get to work. Don’t worry about inspiration. Control the conditions.

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The Hardest Thing

The hardest things are often the best things.

Parenting is the hardest thing in my life. It’s a series of new situations that require new modes of thinking, always in moments where you are too pressed for time to do much thinking. So they are a test of instincts and habits. Whatever gut reaction comes out of you is usually the best you can do in the moment.

This puts enormous pressure on out of the moment self work. You can’t wait until situations arise to deal with them (my typical MO) if you want a high probability of a good outcome. Most situations are so new there’s no telling what your instinctive response will be, what recesses of your brain it came from, or whether it’s what you’d have chosen given time to reflect.

So the best parenting work is prep work. You’ve got to level up your habits so your gut reaction in the moment is the one you want. This is why subsequent children are easier than the first.

Creativity is tiring. Parenting demands lots of it. (Kid sleep schedules are also tiring. Add exhaustion to the pile of sub optimal decision conditions.) The easy solution is usually less effective than the creative solution. This is where side constraints are helpful. If you commit to abstain from certain actions, it forces you to get very creative with the options left on the table.

Of all the things I do, parenting is the one I’m the least confident of my mastery in.

It’s also the deepest and most interesting.

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This Is What Peace Looks Like

When I walk in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park these days, I get a few moments where I see at a deeper level.

I see hundreds of smiling people. I see couples in love, parents with children, and happy dogs trotting ahead of them. I see people playing soccer and football, throwing frisbees, roller-blading, running, biking, picnicking, and doing (popsicle) business.

I see extreme diversity and cultural integration. I see people respecting each other and sharing a park with each other, despite differences in belief, sexual orientation, race, politics, nationality, and ethnicity. By and large, people in a park on a sunny day genuinely don’t care about divisions.

I see people wearing all kinds of clothes, rocking different hairstyles, riding around on the strangest contraptions (hoverboards?), and generally doing what they want to do. By and large, people in a park on a sunny day don’t care about control.

And I realize something: this is what peace looks like. This is what freedom looks like.

This – here, now, concretely, in front of me- is a small vision of what I and all of my idealistic friends and forebears talk about when we talk about the world we want. This is what people have fought and died for. This is it.

Peace becomes far more interesting and compelling when it has a face. And that face is far more beautiful than any of the allure of war and conflict.

War has only one face: the death mask. But in the park on any random Saturday in Atlanta, I can see far more faces and far more expressions of human joy and creativity – with new expressions being born every weekend.

We have a lot of work to do still. Most of the world is not so lucky. But it helps to have a solid image of what we want to spread. Peace isn’t an abstraction: it’s a park full of happy people.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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