Astra Taylor: The Unschooled Life (1h12m)

This episode features a lecture by Astra Taylor from 2012 on what it was like for her growing up without school. Raised by independent-thinking bohemian parents, Astra was unschooled until age 13. Join the filmmaker as she shares her personal experiences of growing up homeschooled without a curriculum or schedule, and how it has shaped her educational philosophy and development as an artist. Purchase books by Astra Taylor on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (1h12m, mp3, 64kbps)

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The Women’s March Stance on Reproductive Rights is All For The Erasure of Fertility, Not For Women

When I think about “women’s rights” and what that means, it isn’t much different than what I think about human rights. The right to life. The right to health, vitality and the opportunity to thrive. The right to happiness, freedom and personal autonomy and sovereignty. The right to resources and information and truth. The right to embodiment and a deeper connection to the universe and self.

Sure, some of that might seem idealistic and super meta, but I don’t aim low. If you know me, you aren’t surprised.

The 2019 Women’s March is coming up in three days and I am seeing women everywhere gearing up to, once again, march and “fight” for their rights (of which I am still confused about those they claim we supposedly don’t have. I am also in disagreement about what constitutes as a “right,” but I digress….).

When I think of many of the tenants of modern feminism, I don’t always hear, “fight for your rights,” so much as I hear, “fight for your right to pick your poison.”

On the Women’s March website under “Unity Principles,” it says the following on reproductive rights:

“We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.  This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.”

If the women’s march and Planned Parenthood (one of their main sponsors) platform cared about reproductive freedom, then why do they not include anything about the daily occurrence of obstetrical abuse and violence? Or the reality that obstetrics is inherently violent and rooted in slavery at its core?

What about all the women who are harassed and invaded by CPS for choosing to birth their babies freely in the comfort of their own home without being overseen by a figure with a stamp of authority? No mention of birth freedom. Life freedom.

How come it isn’t mentioned that there are still states that midwifery care is illegal, and mostly unaffordable where it is legal? So being for women means we make “care” affordable and accessible to women who don’t want children (contraceptives and abortions), but we don’t include making care affordable and accessible to women who do?

Or even worse, how it is illegal to call oneself a midwife unless the government has granted you the title, meaning government owns the conditions of birth, and if women do not abide by these conditions then they are at risk for being tormented, interrogated and persecuted. Modern day witch hunts, in essence.

What about advocating for women to rest for 2-3 days when they bleed?

It’s because the women’s march, their platform and sponsors don’t actually care about women’s freedom in regard to their health and life giving abilities. They only care about furthering the modern feminist and Planned Parenthood agenda which includes the erasure of fertility, an abandonment of our hormonal matrix that distinguishes us as women, and sterilization. These components are what helps us further advance in joining the ranks of men and a world dominated by men. Modern feminism, AKA be more like men. The workforce and Planned Parenthood don’t really benefit when women stay home from work and opt out of medical care in order to take their care into their own hands.

For what it is worth, I love men and the roles they offer and provide. I just don’t want to be one. I am different, and offer value in other ways as a woman.

The thing is, and what I want women to know is…..

Women already have all the rights they are fighting for. They have them by virtue of their womanhood. They were given the power by nature to control birth or to terminate it if need be (and abortion is often caused by living in a society run by masculine ideals and values, not a solution to it, but I digress again). What I want women to know is that they don’t need to be wasting energy fighting men to feel autonomous over their bodies. We already are, and we have a vast well of resources and knowledge that is available to us that we have been robbed from by growing up in an industrialized, modern society. We don’t need to be marching on Capitol Hill. We need to march on over to the living rooms of our community sisters and relearn the art of DIY healthcare. It’s really not that hard, trust me, I do it. Not only do I do my own healthcare, but I train second year medical students (I know, how ironic. Another post.) how to perform the well-women’s exam and I’ll let you in on a little secret….

If you’re reading this, you could do the damn thing yourself…..

As much as I see myself as a woman who radically cares for the health and well-being and rights of women, I just can’t get behind the modern, liberal feminist movement that feels so rampant today, precisely because I don’t see that it carries similar values as I do. It touts that it does, but I see it all as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The amount of disconnect between women, their bodies and the foundations of true health in the feminist movement is astonishing. I can’t support women demanding their “rights” for pills (that were invented and created by men) that screw up our hormonal health, (which is inextricably connected to everything else), and is responsible for many deaths.

I can’t cry for free access to a healthcare system that is dominated by the ideas of men and predicated on abuse and the perpetuation of chronic disease. A system that persuades women to part with their breasts and womb in the name of profit. I can’t hoot and holler when they make toxic feminine hygiene products “tax free” that wreak havoc on our bodies.

Like I said, the Women’s March platform mentions access to birth control and abortion, but says nothing (zero!) about a woman’s right to a healthy, physiological, sovereign birth and support around that (with the exception of maternal leave). I only see the erasure of fertility within feminism everywhere I look. Plug it up, take a pill, kill it.

I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. How is it not painfully obvious that (wo)man’s abandonment from nature, and now destruction of nature is what got us where we are today? And in a hierarchy where hu(man) thinks he can dominate that which sustains him (nature), it has translated over to women’s bodies, and feminists have taken the bait, and are now demanding free and total access to a world that was never created in support of their biology. I simply don’t resonate with anything that separates women from what makes them women, or attempts to make our unique, biological functions and gifts a burden that we need to abandon ourselves from.

To my mind, things like top-down, big medicine, hormonal contraceptives (or any pharmaceutical drug), and medicated/technocratic abortions are not components that can help “liberate” women, but rather, they only further exploit women. By no means do I see these as solutions to our problems, but rather, some inevitable outcomes to our deeper distresses.

Last year, I discovered a term called Ecofeminism. I can’t believe I had never heard of this before. It’s. So. Me. Sure, it’s just a label, and why the need to label myself? It’s less about the label and more that I know there are women who see the correlation between the oppression of nature and how that has translated into the oppression of women. Women who get that we are nature and trying to ignore and override it is the true “patriarchy.”

Some tenants and ideas of Ecofeminism are:

  • Ecofeminism uses the parallels between the oppression of nature and the oppression of women as a way to highlight the idea that both must be understood in order to properly recognize how they are connected. These parallels include but are not limited to seeing women and nature as property, seeing men as the curators of culture and women as the curators of nature, and how men dominate women and humans dominate nature.
  • One ecofeminist theory is that capitalist values reflect paternalistic and gendered values. In this interpretation effects of capitalism has led to a harmful split between nature and culture. In the 1970s, early ecofeminists discussed that the split can only be healed by the feminine instinct for nurture and holistic knowledge of nature’s processes.
  • Vandana Shiva says that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions and this connection has been ignored. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce “wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes”. She makes the point that “these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth (23)”. Shiva blames this failure on the West’s patriarchy, and the patriarchal idea of what development is. According to Shiva, patriarchy has labeled women, nature, and other groups not growing the economy as “unproductive”.
  • In Ecofeminism (1993) authors Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies and Evan Bondi ponder modern science and its acceptance as a universal and value-free system. Instead, they view the dominant stream of modern science as a projection of Western men’s values. The privilege of determining what is considered scientific knowledge has been controlled by men, and for the most part of history restricted to men. Bondi and Miles list examples including the medicalization of childbirth and the industrialization of plant reproduction.

There are many philosophies within ecofeminism, some are even conflicting just as they are within Christianity or modern feminism. I don’t agree with them all, but ecofeminism is the closest thing I have found that can articulate my personal views of feminism and what true health and empowerment for women is.

If being a feminist means I must support women in their choices no matter what, then I am not a feminist. Often times, supporting women “no matter what,” means watching women fall prey to toxic patriarchal exploitation cloaked in “women’s liberation,” and I can’t (and won’t) sit back and swallow one iota of toleration for something I view as doing so much harm. Which doesn’t mean I’ll jump down your throat about it, either, or even bring it up if we don’t have a relationship built on a lot of love and trust.

If being a feminist mean I think women deserve equal treatment, respect, and pay for the same work (they do) as men or any other human being, then of course, I am a feminist, and quite frankly, who isn’t (with the exception of some assholes)?

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Market Failure Theory as Reproach to Government Practice

The theory of market failure is a reproach to the free-market economy.  Unless you have perfect competition, perfect information, perfect rationality, and no externalities, you can’t show that individual self-interest leads to social efficiency.*  And this anti-market interpretation is largely apt.  You can’t legitimately infer that markets are socially optimal merely because every market exchange is voluntary.

Contrary to popular belief, however, market failure theory is also a reproach to every existing government.  How so?  Because market failure theory recommends specific government policies – and actually-existing governments rarely adopt anything like them.

What do I have in mind?

1. When markets produce too much of something, market failure theory tells governments to impose corrective taxes that correspond to the severity of the excess – then let people do as they please.  In the real world, in contrast, governments normally pass a phone book’s worth of regulations.  They rarely consider the cost of the regulations, and almost never just let people bypass regulations by paying a high fee.  Thus, you can’t buy your way out of an Environmental Impact Statement or heroin prohibition – and if the theory of market failure is right, this rigidity is deeply dysfunctional.

2. When markets produce too little of something, market failure theory tells governments to provide corrective subsidies that correspond to the severity of the shortfall – then let people do as they please.  In the real world, in contrast, governments tend to directly run industries with alleged positive externalities.  Public education and health care are the obvious example, but the same goes for national parks, government lands, etc.  Furthermore, government firms routinely offer even non-rival products for gratis or next-to-gratis – even when the products have clear negative externalities such as road congestion and subsidized energy.

3. While the theory of market failure abhors monopoly, actually-existing governments do much to stifle competition.  This is most grotesque for real estate and immigration, which most governments view with dire suspicion, but perhaps most blatant for occupational licensing.  Again, if negative externalities were the real rationale for these restrictions, governments would just impose taxes – then let everyone build, move, and work as they please.

I could go on and on, but general point is that market failure theory does more than complain about markets; it also tells governments how to repair them.  Any government that fails to comply with these impressively precise instructions ipso facto fails.  Indeed, non-compliant governments are a textbook case of government failure.  And while the severity of this government failure varies, every known government fails severely.

*Contrary to poorly proof-read textbooks, markets can yield social efficiency even if these assumptions are violated.  A polluting monopoly is the classic example, but there are endless others.  Standard assumptions are a sufficient, not necessary, condition for social efficiency.

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Why Steve Jobs, not Bill Gates, Was the True Education Visionary

When it comes to education reform, there are generally two camps: those who want to improve the existing mass compulsory schooling system through tweaking and tuning and those who want to build something entirely new and different. Not surprisingly, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was in the “think different” camp, advocating for school choice and vouchers, while Microsoft’s Bill Gates backed the Common Core State Standards and other incremental reforms within the conventional mass schooling model.

The Efforts of the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into K-12 education over the past 20 years, including $280 million toward Common Core, which people of all political persuasions came to despise for its standardization and government overreach. Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation announced an additional $10 million to train teachers on “high quality” curriculum. The charity is on track to reach its goal of dedicating nearly $2 billion dollars to K-12 education by 2022.

These huge philanthropic efforts, combined with the nearly $700 billion a year that US taxpayers spend on K-12 mass schooling, means Americans spend more on education than any other country but with far more dismal results. Chipping away slowly at standard schooling may not be doing much good.

Jobs Saw the Need for Disruption

Steve Jobs recognized this. He saw that true educational transformation requires disrupting the entire mass schooling model. As he did with his revolutionary Apple products, Jobs envisioned an education system that is innovative, experimental, and individualized for each learner. In a 1995 interview with the Smithsonian Institution, Jobs asserted his support for vouchers and entrepreneurial educators:

 I believe very strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher for forty-four hundred dollars that they could only spend at any accredited school several things would happen. Number one, schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to get students. Secondly, I think you’d see a lot of new schools starting…You could have twenty-five-year-old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is, I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years…But far less painful I think than the kids going through the system as it is right now.

For Jobs, vouchers were only one piece of the education transformation puzzle. He realized that an incremental approach to reforming the existing mass schooling model does not work because of the power structures and bureaucratic tendencies inherent in conventional schooling. In the same Smithsonian interview, Jobs said:

I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for, making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why should they work at a school for thirty-five to forty thousand dollars if they could get a job here at a hundred thousand dollars a year? Is that an intelligence test? The problem there, of course, is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.

Two Different Experiences, Two Different Outlooks

The vastly different education policy approaches favored by Gates and Jobs may be due in part to their own childhood schooling experiences. Gates attended a private day school, Lakeside School, in Seattle, Washington, and said in 2005: “Lakeside was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Jobs, on the other hand, had a far less favorable reaction to his public schooling. He recalled:

School was pretty hard for me at the beginning. My mother taught me how to read before I got to school and so when I got there I really just wanted to do two things. I wanted to read books because I loved reading books and I wanted to go outside and chase butterflies. You know, do the things that five-year-olds like to do. I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.

While both of these tech moguls dropped out of college to start wildly successful businesses, their opinions on K-12 education policy reflect many of the differences that came to symbolize their respective companies. Apple’s visionary motto of “Think Different” challenges the status quo, while Microsoft’s “Empowering Us All” may just capture the next incremental change on a well-trodden path.

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Rainwater’s Motivated Reasoning

Lee Rainwater was one of the most prominent liberal sociologists of the Great Society era.  He spent 23 years at Harvard; here‘s the Harvard Gazette‘s memorial to his work.  To be honest, though, I never heard of him until last week.  Yet after I stumbled upon his 1966 Daedalus article, “The Crucible of Identity: The Negro Lower-Class Family,” I was surprised that any academic would so candidly admit to motivated reasoning.  When I discovered that he was an intellectual leader of his generation, I was stunned.

Here’s what stunned me; Rainwater’s in blockquotes, I’m not.  He starts off promisingly enough:

The first responsibility of the social scientist can be phrased in much the same way: “Tell it like it is.” His second responsibility is to try to understand why “it” is that way, and to explore the implications of what and why for more constructive solutions to human problems.

Then he runs right off the rails:

Social research on the situation of the Negro American has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of Negroes, (2) to disprove the racist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages Negroes suffer lies squarely upon the white caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality whites would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

If you wanted to “tell it like it is,” of course, your goal would not be to “disprove” any ideology, but to fairly evaluate it.  Similarly, your goal would not be to “demonstrate” that responsibility lies squarely upon anyone, but to accurately apportion responsibility.  In any case, it’s hard to understand how both (3) and (4) could be true.  If whites would be better-off if the system were dismantled, how can the “white caste… derive economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system”?  I suppose you could treat “the white caste” as the subset of whites who profit, but then the claim is almost tautologous.  Or you could be really defensive and say, “He means ‘gross benefits,’ not ‘net benefits.’”

Are Rainwater’s words really so damning to his own intellectual tradition?  Well, imagine I wrote:

Social research on the situation of the American immigrant has been informed by four main goals: (1) to describe the disadvantaged position of immigrants, (2) to disprove the nativist ideology which sustains the caste system, (3) to demonstrate that responsibility for the disadvantages immigrants suffer lies squarely upon the native caste which derives economic, prestige, and psychic benefits from the operation of the system, and (4) to suggest that in reality natives would be better rather than worse off if the whole jerry-built caste structure were to be dismantled.

Would any judicious reader trust my work on immigration after this declaration?  No.  Why not?  Because I’m talking like a trial lawyer who wants to win a case.  The whole point of research, in contrast, is to stay open to the possibility that you’re wrong.  Sure, you’ve got suspicions.  But you’re supposed to not only verify your suspicions, but energetically look for counter-evidence!  Furthermore, you’re supposed to not just follow these standards yourself, but monitor your intellectual teammates.  The fact that your intellectual subculture wants X to be true urges self-scrutiny, not self-congratulation.

Speaking of that, how’s this for self-congratulation?

The successful accomplishment of these intellectual goals has been a towering achievement, in which the social scientists of the 1920’s, ’30’s, and ’40’s can take great pride; that white society has proved so recalcitrant to utilizing this intellectual accomplishment is one of the great tragedies of our time, and provides the stimulus for further social research on “the white problem.”

What’s most striking about Rainwater’s article, however, is that he provides a wealth of empirical evidence against his own point (3).  Indeed, most of the article is standard “culture of poverty” sociology, documenting high levels of irresponsible and criminal behavior among the underclass.  How then does Rainwater reconcile his theory with the facts?  Again, by the power of motivated reasoning.

Yet the implicit paradigm of much of the research on Negro Americans has been an overly simplistic one concentrating on two terms of an argument:

White cupidity———–> Negro suffering.

As an intellectual shorthand, and even more as a civil rights slogan, this simple model is both justified and essential. But, as a guide to greater understanding of the Negro situation as human adaptation to human situations, the paradigm is totally inadequate because it fails to specify fully enough the process by which Negroes adapt to their situations as they do, and the limitations one kind of adaptation places on possibilities for subsequent adaptations. A reassessment of previous social research, combined with examination of current social research on Negro ghetto communities, suggests a more complex, but hopefully more vertical, model:

White cupidity creates

Structural Conditions Highly Inimical to Basic Social Adaptation (low-income availability, poor education, poor services, stigmatization)

to which Negroes adapt by

Social and Personal Responses which serve to sustain the individual in his punishing world but also generate aggressiveness toward the self and others

which results in

Suffering directly inflicted by Negroes on themselves and on others.

In short, whites, by their greater power, create situations in which Negroes do the dirty work of caste victimization for them. [original punctuation]

Notice: As an ethnographer of black poverty, Rainwater offers little or no data on “white cupidity.”  Furthermore, a straightforward reading of his own evidence is that irresponsible and criminal behavior is, as usual, maladaptive.  All he directly documents is the final clause – the intra-racial “dirty work of caste victimization.”  Only motivated reasoning allows Rainwater to casually interpret these facts as proof of that the “white caste” is to blame for anything.

You could naturally protest that Rainwater is right for the wrong reasons.  Maybe so, but this protest misses the meta point.  Namely: If a brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholar of the 1960s could be right for such wrong reasons, the brilliant, eminent, and mainstream scholars of today could easily be mired in their own brand of motivated reasoning.  Indeed, so could you.  Or me.  There’s no easy remedy, but the first step is being hyper-aware that we have a problem.

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School Security Is Now a $3 Billion Dollar Annual Industry

US taxpayers spend nearly $700 billion each year on K-12 public schooling, and that eye-popping sum shows no sign of slowing. In fact, as more non-academic programs are adopted in schools across the country, the price tag for mass schooling continues to swell even as achievement lags.

The Cost of School Security

One ballooning school expenditure is the vast amount of money allocated to school safety. US schools now spend an estimated $2.7 billion on security features, from automatically locking doors to video surveillance and facial recognition software. That amount doesn’t include the additional billions of dollars spent on armed guards at schools. Federal spending on school security is also rising, with the US Department of Homeland Security recently awarding a $2.3 million grant to train high school students how to act like first responders in the event of a mass casualty, like a school shooting.

These enhanced security and training mechanisms may seem justified, particularly in the wake of deadly mass school shootings like the massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. But school shootings are exceedingly rare. As Harvard University instructor David Ropeik writes in The Washington Post:

“The chance of a child being shot and killed in a public school is extraordinarily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many people assume, especially in the glare of heart-wrenching news coverage after an event like Parkland. And it’s far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces, including traveling to and from school, catching a potentially deadly disease while in school or suffering a life-threatening injury playing interscholastic sports.”

Still, it’s natural for us to want to protect children from harm—and to get angry when our preferred method of protection doesn’t gain traction. Advocating for increased gun control measures, reporter Nestor Ramos writes in the Boston Globe: “In a nation unwilling to take even modest steps to prevent the next Columbine or Parkland massacre, schools have begun training students to patch up their classmates’ gunshot wounds.”

Gun control is only one possible policy prescription—and even respected researchers doubt that it would do much good in halting gun deaths. There are other “modest steps” we could take, aside from increased regulations and restrictions, that may more effectively reduce gun-related mortality in children—and they cost much less than current school security measures.

A Simple Solution

In states with generous school choice options, like charter schools and vouchers, the teen suicide rate was lower than in states without these options.

A simple but powerful step in saving young lives is to expand school choice options for families. If children feel trapped in an assigned district school and are subjected to daily bullying or humiliation with no escape, it can lead to severe depression and suicidal tendencies. Let’s remember that mass shootings and suicide are intertwined. Compelling research by Corey DeAngelis and Angela Dills shows a striking correlation between more school choice and better mental health. They found that in states with generous school choice options, like charter schools and vouchers, the teen suicide rate was lower than in states without these options.

When parents have greater access to education choices beyond their assigned public school, their children are happier. This is good news for those children—and for the rest of us who don’t need to worry that their depression may turn deadly.

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