Aphorisms in Honor of Liberty, Part Four (24m) – Episode 347

Episode 334 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following aphorisms written by Jakub Bożydar Wiśniewski: “A businessman calls himself boss, but his goal is to serve others. A politician calls himself servant, but his goal is to boss others.”; “A collectivist in a libertarian society may be an odd duck, but an individualist in a statist society can only be a milk cow.”; “A fool complains about the lack of equality of opportunity. A person of reason appreciates the abundance of diversity of opportunity.”; “Fulfillment: the frame of mind in which success is neither a process nor an event, but a state of being.”; “A libertarian boor is a possibility, but a statist gentleman is a contradiction.”; “A scientist believes that science is a source of knowledge. A pseudoscientist believes that science is the source of knowledge.”

Listen to Episode 347 (24m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Get Ready to Homeschool This Fall

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

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

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

1. Investigate Local Homeschooling Requirements

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

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

2. Consider Your Educational Goals and Approach

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

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

3. Discover Curriculum and Learning Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Explore Neighborhood Resources

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

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

5. Collaborate With Others

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

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

6. Enjoy This Moment!

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

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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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Aphorisms in Honor of Liberty, Part Three (31m) – Episode 334

Episode 334 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following aphorisms written by Jakub Bożydar Wiśniewski: “A bad economist believes that prices should be policed by the state. A good economist believes that police should be priced by the market.”; “A barbarian believes that liberty erodes community. A civilized person knows that liberty creates community.”; “A fool believes that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. A person of reason knows that a civilized society is the price we pay for taxes.”; “Bad may be less bad than worse, but that doesn’t make it any better.”; “A fool believes that the way to destroy culture is to commercialize it. A person of reason knows that it is to subsidize it.”; “A little knowledge makes one believe that he knows everything. Some knowledge makes one afraid of how little he knows. A lot of knowledge makes one accept that he knows nothing.”

Listen to Episode 334 (31m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

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Coronavirus vs. the Non-Identity Problem

Many people think that if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, the coronavirus crisis would have been less severe.  On reflection, this is a drastic understatement.  If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, it is near-certain that the coronavirus crisis never would have started.

To see why, let’s review what philosophers call the Non-Identity Problem.  Consider the following statement: “If my parents had won the lottery before my conception, I would be rich today.”  Sounds true, right?  On reflection, however, you should rather say, “If my parents had won the lottery before my conception, I never would have existed.”  Why not?  Because winning a pile of money would have changed when you parents had sex, which would have changed which of your father’s hundreds of millions of sperm impregnated your mother.  Indeed, even if the timing of the sex was unchanged, winning the lottery would have led your father to jump for joy, reshuffling his sperm, and again nullifying your existence.

Philosophers often invoke the Non-Identity Problem when they imagine one of our descendants moaning, “If only our ancestors had stopped polluting, I’d be better off.”  While it’s true we can help our descendants, the very acts of helping them changes who our descendants will be.  If we had cared more about the future, the moaners wouldn’t have been around to moan.

What on Earth does this have to do with coronavirus?  Simple: The birth of a new pathogen biologically parallels the birth of a new human.  A new virus is the result of a perfect genetic storm – DNAs ultra-improbably combine, then ultra-improbably get into a human body, then ultra-improbably infect that body with an ultra-low viral dose instead of being destroyed by the host’s immune system.  That’s why new pathogens are so thankfully rare; the odds are stacked massively against the rise of any specific strain.  If matters were otherwise, virologists would detect what arson investigators call “multiple points of origin” for novel pathogens.  To the best of my knowledge, they almost never do.

Given this knife-edge origin process, it is extremely likely that any major change in the events prior to the rise of coronavirus would have precluded the rise of coronavirus.  Hillary’s election would have led to different Chinese policies, which would have reshuffled human behavior in China, implying no coronavirus.

Doesn’t the same go for thousands of other changes?  Absolutely.  If Trump had negotiated a different trade deal with China, coronavirus would never have happened.  If China had left the Uighurs alone, coronavirus would never have happened.  Indeed, if Avengers: Endgame had been released a week later, coronavirus would have never happened; the movie grossed $614M in China, so it must have indirectly changed the space-time positions of a bunch of people in Wuhan.  If something alters which humans are born, it can also easily alter which pathogens are born.

Wait, does this mean that if Hillary had won, we could have had a worse virus instead?  Absolutely!  Given how bad this virus has been, however, that’s unlikely.  If Hitler had never been born, maybe Germany would have been taken over by an even more bloodthirsty dictator, but smart money says otherwise.  Nevertheless, over the very long-run, the uncertainty becomes great indeed.  Without Hitler, World War II could have been fought fifteen years later… with nuclear weapons.  As Tyler explained a while back:

For small changes to translate into large final effects, we need only postulate that some individuals, or some leaders, play a significant role on the global stage. Even if most individuals do not matter, or most small changes wash out, some of the small changes today will alter future identities, once we look a generation or two into the future. So the argument requires only that a very small number of personal identities matter for the course of history. If Hitler’s great-great-grandfather had bent down to pick one more daisy, many of the effects might have washed out; nonetheless Europe today would be a very different place.

In my experience, non-philosophers stridently resist non-identity arguments.  But that’s their problem.  The arguments are sound.  Whenever the conception of a crucial critter is on the line, small events have massive consequences.  The crucial critter could be a human or virus.  Strange but true: This whole mess could have been avoided if Chris Hemsworth had a minor accident while shooting the latest Avengers movie.

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“You Always Think You’re Right!”

I once had someone tell me something along these lines, delivered as a sort of condemnation.

This is one of the trickier attacks a person can make on your character. It’s effective because it makes you seem like an arrogant person. Broken down, though, it doesn’t make much sense.

By definition, you believe your beliefs are correct, or else you wouldn’t hold them. You may understand and acknowledge at a meta level that you are probably wrong about some of them, but this doesn’t change the fact that you sincerely think your individual beliefs are correct, or as correct as they can be.

This is true of every human being, and it is true of the accuser as well.

We always think *we* are right, even if we know we (statistically speaking) won’t always hit the target. And I have no moral obligation to discount my beliefs because you hold yours strongly, just as you have no obligation to discount yours for me. Morality does not come into play, and character is not at question. The only question should be “can you convince me otherwise?”

If you cannot convince me to change my mind, you bet I will continue to think I am right. And I won’t feel guilty for that.

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