"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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T.K. Coleman: Entrepreneurship As A Theory of Social Change (1h14m)

This episode features a talk by serial entrepreneur and education activist T.K. Coleman from 2016. “I want everyone to leave there feeling convinced that we have a tremendous amount of power to create a freer world without relying solely or primarily on politics. Moreover, I want them to have concrete and inspiring examples of how this is being done and how they can get involved.”

Listen To This Episode (1h14m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntaryist voices”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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The Problems We Must Solve Are Too Important to Reduce to Left vs. Right Politics

When considering a way forward, the discussion initially seems to be complicated because there are a lot of things that have gone wrong in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death.

Looting is wrong. Blaming the wrong people for looting is wrong. Using the wrongness of looting to drown out discussions about what preceded the looting is wrong. All of the aforementioned things are wrong, but the key to finding a solution lies in identifying a more subtle form of wrong that blinds us to the answers we need.

And that is the tendency to reduce discussions about race and riots to the same old “Left vs. Right” talking points.

Not only is this also wrong, but it’s a form of being wrong that condemns us to a cycle of repeating our past mistakes.

If our underlying framework for discussing solutions is wrong, then everything that follows will be wrong as well.

We don’t need to pretend that the battle between Left vs. Right is unreal or unimportant, but we do need to remember that this battle is a manifestation of a broader and more fundamental battle between Freedom versus Force, Creativity versus Coercion, and Central Planning versus Voluntary Markets that allow all individuals to opt-in and opt-out of services based on their basic human right to decide for themselves what their preferences and priorities should be.

As everyone searches frantically for a specific group or political figure to blame, lovers of liberty are being presented with an opportunity to take the conversation beyond the familiar mudslinging at personalities and parties.

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Milton Friedman wrote:

I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either…

The message here is apropos for our times:

Trust incentives more than individuals.

This applies to corporations and governments. This applies to leftist organizations and right-wing organizations. This applies to the religious and the secular. This applies to academia and entrepreneurship. The basic economic principle that “people respond to incentives” applies to us all.

If the incentives of a system are bad, even the work of those who mean well is compromised.

If the incentives of a system are good, we don’t have to place so much faith in our ability to always see things the same way.

The way we’re going to move forward in this world is not by finding a person who’s good enough to make bad systems work, but by investing in systems that incentivize even the bad people to make themselves accountable to creating value for others. And we know of no other system like that than the free market.

The world is more ready than ever to hear from voices who are willing to show them something that offers meaning, healing, and hope in times of conflict and crisis.

There is no better time for us to show those who are hurting how much the free market creates and delivers even when their enemies condemn and disagree.

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Technocracy is Evil and Inhumane

The instant, simultaneous, total state takeover of the “civilized” world revealed how dire our situation is.

The battle of this generation is liberty against technocratic control; living, organic order vs. dead, clean chaos.

 

Order is natural, emergent, dynamic, unpredictable, useful, creative, and meaningful. It can’t be wholly contained, but it can be harnessed, guided, played with, adjusted to, and discovered in a continual dance. It is moving into the future. It is an infinite, positive-sum game.

Chaos is stripped down, unnatural, incapable of growth or change, dead or decaying, empty, and devoid of depth. Once natural order is made wholly legible and containable, it has been killed. Life and control are anathema. Chaos is the result of attempting total control. It freezes the present and reverts to stagnate snapshots of the past. It is a finite, zero-sum game.

Chaos is not the result of freedom or the state of nature, order is. Chaos is the result of efforts to defy the freedom of the state of nature. Chaos results when liberty and life are stripped from the world and all that remains are sanitized elements easily countable, reducible, and containable.

Architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander made a life’s work of studying the concept of “aliveness” in footpaths, windowsills, buildings, neighborhoods, and natural and designed systems of all kinds. His books offer many side-by-side photos of homes or other scenes, and ask the reader to, on a gut level, decide which is more “alive”. Every single person agrees easily and quickly. We know the more living from the more dead when we see it, but understanding why is difficult. Alexander made great progress. Living systems are in harmony with natural human tendency. For example, humans are phototropic. We also like to sit after more than a few minutes. So a chair placed near a window harmonizes with these subconscious patterns, while a chair facing a windowless wall does not.

Social architects (who dwell in brutalist buildings that suck all life from the ground where they stand) do not observe and contemplate life. They calculate and scheme control. They want legible, definable utility, based on static definitions and stale answers without questions. They kill the human spirit the way a giant parking lot kills the view.

The Great Sanitizer

The state and the obsessive, maladjusted, soul-dead busybodies who pull its levers are always seeking to remove impurity and unpredictability from the world. That is the same as removing life itself. This is what Ayn Rand meant when she called collectivist, command and control philosophies “anti-life”. That is the essence of what they are. To control is to kill.

The state wants to aggregate, categorize, sort, label, and track. James Scott describes in his several works the driving force of the state to make all persons and property “legible”. If they cannot be defined into conceptual submission and measured until all surprise is extinguished, how can they be controlled? So states set about to kill the creative, generative forces that make life worth living.

C.S. Lewis, in the final installment of his sci-fi space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, describes a scientific institution (called N.I.C.E.) with aims at global domination. The reason isn’t a lust for power per se, but a desire to make the world clean, free of germs and dirt and bugs and unpredictability, and all the shifting variables which make complete legibility impossible. In other words, they want to snuff out that pesky thing fueled by liberty that we call life.

Stranger Than Stories

These ideas used to seem a bit much to me.

Sure, some people are control freaks. Yeah, religious devotion to science is a contradiction to all reason and sometimes gets nasty. Yes, unspeakably awful ideas like eugenics have been a major part of every government in modern history (much as they might now deny it), but total rule by technicians whose greatest foe is unpredictability? Isn’t that the stuff of bad Bond villains?

No.

It is the outlook I see as the greatest present threat to all that is good and true and just and humane.

Total global lockdown – the literal imprisonment of entire populations without even the pretense of wrongdoing by the state’s own absurd and shifting standards – and introduction and embrace of oxymoronic phrases like, “Social distancing” came about not out of fear of some feigned foreign enemy or revolt against some unpopular dictator. They came about in an instant solely because the idea of planned chaos (to quote Ludwig von Mises) has so overcome the notion of spontaneous order.

Devotion to the fiction that men with guns and laws and stolen money can control microscopic pathogens we barely understand animated the acquiescence to complete boot-licking servitude. Anything – anything! – but unpredictable organic nature in all it’s life-giving danger and beauty. We must collectively pretend we can eradicate uncertainty, all physical and spiritual casualties be damned.

When Science Died

The oxymorons in the air are rooted in a deeper one.

“Belief in science”.

That’s a phrase people have been unironically uttering with increased frequency for at least a few decades.

“I believe in science” is a contradiction in concepts. It is meaningless, used only to signal superiority by unthinking people who are scared of unknowns.

Belief means to assume the truth of something and act on that assumption without fail. Science means to assume the fallibility of everything and never stop trying to prove it false. I would like to be charitable and say that people simply mean this in a tongue-in-cheek way, to say they are religiously devoted to questioning everything.

Except the complete opposite is true everywhere you see “belief in science” trotted out, or true skeptics called “deniers of science”. The scientific process is nothing if it is not a perpetual threat to the consensus view. Yet the word has come to mean nothing more than blind defense of the consensus view. Scientism is antithetical to science.

Similarly, those who question mainstream ideas (not merely ideas, but the violent imposition of those ideas) are called “believers”, and those who crouch and lick the hand that whips them are called “skeptics”. If Orwell never seemed relevant before, he surely does now.

A History of Inhumanity

Those with rabid, hateful, desperate, lurching faith in state agents to neatly destroy organic order and replace it with clean chaos are naive about the power of the state to do harm. Even granting stupidly charitable assumptions about the state’s goals being good to begin with, bureaucracies being capable of carrying them out perfectly, and no unintended consequences resulting, there is no instance in the history of the organized crime that calls itself government where states did not venture far beyond what the public knew or desired.

Did you know every single state in the United States had forced sterilization programs at one point? Health departments with an explicit goal of reducing the population of blacks, handicapped persons, poor people, and other “undesirable” individuals surreptitiously injected people to prevent them from procreating. The last state to finally end the practice was North Carolina, and it didn’t end until the 1980s.

Citizens are aghast at the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. We would’ve resisted such horrors! Except most of the time we don’t know they’re happening. Because we trust the scientific central planners.

Liberty is Life

We don’t understand reality.

Hayek famously said the “curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”.

Not just economics. The task of every thinking person is to discover the limits of our knowledge. To replace answers with questions, arrogance with curiosity, intellectual death with life.

One of the greatest casualties in rule by diktat is experimentation and discovery. We don’t know anything about the human body, virology, epidemiology, or any of the other specialized fields of human health. The absurdity of assuming one small body can accurately surmise and prescribe a single path for all people in all places and times is beyond the pale.

Millions of messy experiments. People with dramatically different risk tolerances, trying dramatically different approaches. Sharing their feedback. Profiting from effectiveness, losing from error. This dynamic churn is the source of all progress. To decree a single plan backed by the threat of murder (as every single government law is) is to destroy humanity’s best hope of flourishing.

Julian Simon famously shot down the doomsdayers who fear human life and liberty above all (excepting of course their own) by winning a bet about the availability of resources as population expands. But his bet was a gimmick compared to the profound insight of his masterful book, The Ultimate Resource. Simon points out that individual humans, free to explore and try and fail and succeed and compete, are the source of progress not only for the human race, but the entire natural world.

We are relentless problem solvers. But we do it in messy ways not fun to watch and even harder to catalog in textbooks. We teach and learn through experience and consequences. We progress when we do the most outlandish things all the smart people thought were pointless. Our glories and triumphs are utterly illegible. Historians and bureaucrats have no choice but to guess, fudge, lie, and misinform, because to accurately chart the true path and nature of progress is impossible.

We don’t know what ingredients matter most or what will work best. That is precisely why we need the free and open contest of liberty to discover it.

It is the same with ideas. John Milton said it is best to let truth and falsehood grapple, because truth is the stronger in the long run. The sycophantic obeisance by every major media outlet and online platform to moronic political power-seekers is the opposite of this dynamic discovery process. Labels and warnings about “fake news”, removing ideas that deviate from those spouted by humanity’s lowest lifeforms (politicians and bureaucrats), and propping up “official” ideas are bad for curiosity, bad for liberty, bad for progress, and bad for life.

The Renegades

Historian Thaddeus Russell (driven from academia by the mindless literatti) documents how the least reputable people tend to expand human freedom, and thereby progress, opportunity, happiness, and meaning. I don’t think you have to be a deviant or a scoundrel in order to enhance liberty, but I do think those who resist the drive for a sanitized world will be labelled as such, and those already labelled as such are less likely to cave to prestige and pressure.

The cold dead hand of Communism could no longer control Poland, not because respectable ideologues educated enough people on the virtues of freedom, but because the illegal underground market became bigger than the respectable above ground one.

Humanity needs gray markets, black markets, shady people, fringey people, all kinds of people running all kinds of experiments. Ideas bumping into ideas and exploding into new ideas. Bad ones. Good ones. Easy ones. Hard ones. Dangerous ones. Safe ones.

Unpredictability, unknowability, dynamism, the organic nature of emergent phenomena, entrepreneurship at the edges, opposition to expert consensus – that is human liberty. That is life.

We don’t need more experts. We don’t need more controls. We don’t need to eradicate variability. We need gritty, dirty, messy, imperfect, unpredictable, wild, untamed, dangerous, beautiful human freedom.

Fuck the cold metallic gloved dead hand of human chess playing technocratic ghouls who want to squelch and contain and document and track and sterilize it to death.

The man who knows freedom will find a way to be free.

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Are Kids Learning More at Home During COVID-19?

More than one billion students around the world are currently missing school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several US states have already canceled school for the remainder of the academic year, turning to online learning when possible, and other states are likely to extend their school closures soon. Some educationists panic about learning loss while children are at home with their families, and headlines abound about how “homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children.”

Learning Outside of a Classroom

Rather than focusing on the alarmist narrative of what is lost during this time away from school, it is worth emphasizing what is gained. There is so much learning that can happen this spring, within families and outside of a conventional classroom.

In many school districts across the country, any assigned coursework has been deemed optional, compulsory attendance laws have been relaxed, and annual testing mandates have been removed. This regulatory respite can provide an opportunity for parents to regain control of their children’s education and expand knowledge using the abundant online learning resources now at our fingertips. Free from state and federal curriculum and testing directives, parents can nurture their children’s education and development, helping them to explore new interests, dive into self-directed projects, and reveal passions and talents.

Whether it’s taking a virtual tour of one of 2,500 museums around the world, listening to a live concert, learning in-demand technology and coding skills for free, engaging in livestream story or art time with renowned authors and artists, or just enjoying special, slower moments together as a family, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to disconnect from standard schooling and discover how much learning can really happen.

Some worry about children’s learning slipping away during this time at home. Writing recently for The Washington Post, former Tennessee education commissioner Kevin Huffman notes the alleged “summer slide” phenomenon when students purportedly lose during summertime much of what they learned during the academic year. He suggests several strategies for combating the learning loss that he says will occur during the pandemic, including adding “more instructional days next year and beyond,” and “opening schools in the middle of the summer, lengthening the school day and the school year, or potentially eliminating summer vacation for the next couple of years.”

Does Learning Loss Occur?

But as I’ve written previously for NPR, we should be skeptical about the overall idea of “summer slide,” or learning loss when children are away from school. If learning is so easily lost when a child’s school routine is disrupted, did they ever really learn at all? They may have been effectively schooled—that is, trained and tested on certain material—but they likely never learned.

Now, children and their parents have an unprecedented opportunity to learn without school. While this is a stressful time for all of us, as our routines are altered and we are mostly stuck inside, distanced from our larger community, it can also be a time to use the enormous, and mostly free, digital resources that are sprouting daily to support learning and discovery. It can be a time to nurture and rekindle our children’s natural curiosity and creativity, qualities that are so often dulled within a mass compulsory schooling system focused on compliance and conformity. It can be a time to get to know our children in ways that might have been difficult during our previously packed, always-on-the-go days.

Most parents will eagerly send their children back to school when this is all over, but some parents will be surprised by what they discover during this break from ordinary life. They may see how much calmer their children are and how school-related ailments such as ADHD are less problematic at home. They may see that their children’s mental health has improved, particularly for teenagers who report the most unhappiness at school.

Parents may see their children’s love of reading and writing reappear, when they are allowed to read books and write stories that are meaningful to them and not tied to an arbitrary school assignment or grammar lesson. They may see a strong interest in science and technology emerge, as their children want to know more about how viruses work and what inventions are being created to help fight the pandemic. Parents may see real learning happen and decide not to send their children back to school.

Fortunately, there are now so many more ways to facilitate education without schooling, including hybrid homeschooling models, virtual learning, microschools, self-directed learning centers, and co-learning spaces. With more demand from parents for innovative, out-of-school learning options, more entrepreneurs will build experimental K-12 education models that will expand choices for parents and learners. Opting out of conventional schooling has never been easier or more worthwhile.

Rather than dwelling on the schoolwork that isn’t getting done this spring, let’s celebrate the immense learning that is occurring, in our homes and with our families, as we experience this historic event together. Let’s focus on what we gain, not on what we lost.

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Twitter and the Real World

I’ve never noticed as great a disconnect between Twitter and the real world as I do now.

I’m not sure if the divergence has grown over time, or if I’m just more plugged in to Twitter than I used to be so I notice it more. But the real world and the Twitter world are now two entirely different places. So different that they hold mutually exclusive descriptions and assumptions about the state of the world at any given time.

I joked yesterday that my neighbors are much more sane right now than Twitter people, and wondered if any of them are also Twitter people when I’m not looking.

So great is the disconnect between every social surface in real life and Twitter that I can’t help but wonder who the Twitter people are when they’re not on Twitter. Do they morph back into the normal people I experience out in the world? Or am I just experiencing two completely different sets of people, and they’d be the same online or off? Am I a different person on Twitter than in real life? I hope not.

My Twitter feed is fairly broad and generous. I follow quite a few people (over 1,500), I’ve never muted or blocked anyone, and I’ve only ever unfollowed maybe half a dozen or so. I like having a snapshot of a pretty broad set of people. The bulk of the feed are people either interested in startups, education, careers, personal freedom, entrepreneurship, cryptocurrency, the NBA, human liberty, or parodies of the same. There are other random accounts, but most would be strongly identified with one of those buckets.

Until about the last 6-12 months, I’d say on average my Twitter feed was pretty consistently more reasonable, logical, commonsensical, and intelligent than the real world people I interact with. On average, it’s a more technical, autodidact, curious, and dynamic group than most of the flesh and blood people in my neighborhood, at the grocery store, etc. So the Twitter people tended to have what I thought was a more reasonable take on most things.

That has completely flipped.

My normie neighbors are now quite reasonable compared to the more intellectual Twitter people in my feed. By a long shot. Something weird has happened on Twitter. It used to be that there were very unreasonable corners of Twitter, but the bulk of my feed was people poking fun at them for this. Now I’m hard pressed to find any reasonable quarters of Twitter at all. And anyone poking fun is in danger of some serious social censure. It’s disconcerting.

Twitter people seem like the most frightened, panicky, unreasonable brewd imaginable, capable of tolerating or advocating almost anything, no matter how inhumane and dark, if it allays their pet fears. And it seems to be re-enforced by the very intelligence that once made them more reasonable than the common folk.

Maybe when times are good, intelligent people are better. Maybe when times are bad, intelligent people are worse.

I don’t know, but for the first time in my life, I am somewhat troubled about most of the people I enjoy reading and following. They seem to me to be becoming the monsters they decry, while my neighbors, who mostly remain blissfully unaware of monster potential at all, aren’t becoming any worse.

Maybe it’s a return from two weeks unplugged that makes it more stark. Either way, my relationship to Twitter has changed. It’s not nearly as fun and full of open curiosity and play as it was. I still like it. I’m still using it (at least for now), but I have a more hardened, distanced experience than I did.

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