Law, Legislation, or Unholy Writ

Related to, and expanding on, yesterday’s ENMN column:

I have less than zero respect for what passes for “laws” these days– in other words, for legislation.

Law was discovered; legislation is made up.

Law isn’t subject to anyone’s opinion.

Legislation is nothing but the foul opinions of perverted thugs.

Law doesn’t change nor does it get added to.

Legislation changes all the time and continually grows like some sort of alien blob monster.

Law is about recognizing natural human rights– and respecting them.

Legislation is about finding excuses to violate natural human rights.

If it protects rights, it is law.

If it violates life, liberty, or property, it is legislation.

Laws include: don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t kidnap, don’t steal, don’t trespass, don’t vandalize.

Legislation includes: pay this tax, don’t smoke that, don’t have consensual sex with that person, don’t sell that, don’t add on to your house, wear your seat belt, don’t park your car on your own property, don’t paint your house that color, don’t drive faster than this arbitrary speed, don’t open a business there, etc.

Legislation is counterfeit “law”. It harms individuals and therefore it harms society.

I know law when I see it. I am clueless about most legislation details. That seems to suggest I could reasonably (but not “legally”) call myself a “lawyer”, but not an attorney. Maybe that’s why so few attorneys call themselves “lawyers” anymore. If they are that self-aware…

Cops are “Legislation enforcement officers” who violate law in order to enforce legislation. That makes them bad guys, even when they sometimes do the right thing. They’ll go right back to doing the wrong thing at the first opportunity.

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Building a “Family Wall” Against Oppression

In Forty Autumns, author Nina Willner tells a beautiful family history of life in a family divided by the wall between East and West Germany.

Particularly interesting were the coping tactics of her family in the totalitarian socialist East Germany. Her grandmother watched as this family weathered the arrival of the Soviets and the rapid transformation of East Germany into a surveillance prison state.

Neighbors were forced to spy on neighbors. And worst of all, children were trained to report on their own fathers and mothers. As a physical reminder of East Germans’ imprisonment, a border wall went up to keep citizens from escaping to the free West – best remembered in the form of the Berlin Wall.

In the face of this walled society, the family’s matriarch Oma begins guiding her family in building what she called a “family wall”: whatever politics might have prevailed outside, they weren’t allowed in the family. Even though Oma’s children were pushed through the Soviet-influenced youth programs and teacher training, within the Willner family itself there was none of the mutual distrust and betrayal and fear that hummed in the background of East German life.

Oma and her family put family – and doing the right thing – first, and it kept them sane and united until at last Germany reunited in relative freedom.

We can learn something from the Willners about surviving and resisting totalitarianism.

Organization is an important tactic for resisting totalitarianism, and the family is both the smallest and easiest group in which to organize resistance – even if that resistance is only psychological and internal. “A cord of three strands is not easily broken,” as the proverb says. It’s no wonder that family is always one of the first institutions to come under attack by those who would take power.

So it’s worth considering how to cultivate deep trust with those closest to you, even under better circumstances than those in East Germany. If you know you can trust a few people to put your wellbeing above ideology, above politics, and above even fear of an all-powerful state, you are better off than a great many people.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Grateful I Don’t Live in California

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to be thankful for life’s little blessings. Recently I was reminded to be grateful I don’t live in California.

My electricity went out for a little while a few days ago, but the power company was on the ball and power was restored in no time; long before it could have become inconvenient for anyone but the least prepared among us.

By contrast, the electric utility in California plans to shut off power to hundreds of thousands of its paying customers. On purpose. For hours or days or however long they feel is necessary — without much warning or a chance to properly prepare — to prevent their substandard system from starting wildfires.

Do you think this will cause many Californians — both those personally affected and those who aren’t — to start taking the idea of “prepping” seriously? I have my doubts, but I’ll hope.

For most of my life, people have either joked about those who prepared for emergencies, calling them paranoid, or they quipped “If society collapses, I’ll just come to your house.” Showing up empty-handed at the house of someone who has spent years of planning and piles of money for just such a crisis will only be welcomed if the residents of the house are out of meat and hungry enough to consider adding you to the menu.

If you don’t value your own life enough to plan for emergencies and put those plans into action, why should anyone risk their own life and the lives of their children to save you?

Anyone should be able to see the value of preparing for natural disasters, and political disasters — like the one playing out in California — may become more common in the coming years. “It’s not political,” you say? Sure it is. When political deals grant a power utility a monopoly over an area, and state laws and “green energy” policies prevent proper infrastructure, capacity, and maintenance, then the problem is political, no matter who you would rather blame.

It’s even more directly political when laws require a prepper to handicap himself by staying hooked to the electrical grid and shut off his system in the event of a blackout so as to not have an advantage over his less-prepared neighbors — as is the case in California.

Any real solution begins with barring politics from the discussion. Then, plan for what happens if politicians interfere anyway. And take a moment to be grateful you don’t live in California.

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Chicago Teachers’ Strike Shows Why We Don’t Need Public Schools

As the Chicago teachers’ strike continues with no end in sight, 300,000 students spend another day outside of the public school classroom. Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, says this is damaging to children.

“We need to get our kids back in school,” the mayor said Thursday, CNN reports. “Every day we are out, that hurts our children.”

But Are the Children Really Hurting?

As the Chicago strike shows, when government schooling is not the centerpiece of a child’s life, community organizations step up to provide support and care. Museums, churches, libraries, and a multitude of civic non-profits are opening their doors to children displaced by the teachers’ strike, and public parks and playgrounds abound.

Some of the organizations that are offering a safe place for children to gather include the YMCA and its 11 locations across Chicago. As CNN reports: “Depending on the location, these programs may include classes, swimming, math lessons, arts and crafts, and sports.”

The Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, as well as a similar but separate organization, the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club, are open all day for children affected by the strike. Many arts organizations throughout Chicago are offering special programming for students in a range of topics, from theatre to dance to visual art.

The city’s aquarium is offering immersive exploration opportunities for the children, along with an after-school care option. Other science organizations are doing the same. Sports camps are sprouting through local athletic and recreational organizations, and area gyms are opening up and offering adult supervision.

Churches and religious organizations, including the Jewish Council for Youth Services and The Salvation Army, are providing care, activities, and in some cases meals. For the estimated 75 percent of Chicago children who usually receive their meals through the school cafeteria as part of the federal school lunch program, they can still go to their local school building, staffed by non-unionized administrators, and receive their eligible breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals.

Finally, there are the Chicago libraries, which are scattered across the city and open to everyone. Libraries are models of true public education, inviting all members of a community, regardless of age or background, to learn without the coercion characteristic of compulsory mass schooling.

Library patrons can take advantage of optional classes and lessons, ask for help when needed, or pursue their own curiosities using the library’s abundant physical and digital resources. Libraries are incubators of community-based, self-directed public education. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, which claimed the 2015 National Book Award: “I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free” (p. 48).

What a Vibrant Civil Society Could Look Like

For many children in Chicago public schools, the classroom is quite jail-like, with metal detectors and armed security officers on campus, and school performance measures that should make us cringe. According to Chalkbeat, “nearly half of Chicago schools failed to meet the state’s threshold for performance on its new accountability system,” as evaluated by the 2018 Illinois Report Card.

Teachers’ strikes often show, however inadvertently, why we don’t need public schools to provide education to the public. Without government involvement and compulsion, civil society steps up and quickly mobilizes to care for children and families.

We see just a small glimpse of this in the brief time that the Chicago students have been displaced due to the teachers’ strike, but imagine how much more would emerge if the shadow of compulsory public schooling didn’t loom so large. Neighborhood organizations and businesses, churches and non-profits, non-coercive public spaces like parks and libraries, and families, would be empowered to support and educate the children around them.

Indeed, this is how education worked prior to the mid-nineteenth century passage of compulsory schooling laws that narrowed a broad definition of education into the singular concept of forced schooling.

Children don’t need government schools to educate them. Instead, they need a vibrant civil society that buttresses families and inspires communities to come together and educate their own children in a variety of ways using a variety of resources. The teachers’ strike impact only gives a glimmer of what a vibrant civil society could look like if it were consistently charged with caring for and educating children.

Far from hurting children, the Chicago teachers’ strike shows us the way to truly help them.

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Doubly-Damned Lies

Nobody asked but …

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about lies, damned lies , and statistics:

Mark Twain popularized the saying in Chapters from My Autobiography, published in the North American Review in 1907. “Figures often beguile me,” he wrote, “particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”[2]

Alternative attributions include, among many others (for example Walter Bagehot and Arthur James Balfour) the radical English journalist and politician Henry Du Pré Labouchère (1831–1912), Jervoise Athelstane Baines,[3] and British politician and man of letters Leonard H. Courtney, who used the phrase in 1895 and two years later became president of the Royal Statistical Society. Courtney is quoted by Baines (1896) as attributing the phrase to a “wise statesman”,[4] but he may have been referring to a future statesman rather than a past one.[5] The phrase has also been attributed to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.[6][7]

Edward Tufte, a master statistician, said, “It is straightforward for me to be ethical, responsible, and kind-hearted because I have the resources to support that.”  But it takes more, because too often, too many people with resources choose exploitation, irresponsibility, and mean-spiritedness to gain more resources, pointedly those of power.

I have begun to get the impression that the actual cost of living is not accurately reflected in government-produced statistical indices.  I have spent hours perusing the federal presentation of statistics.  The amount of data is stupendous, but I can’t tell you where it begins and ends.  The amount of information that you get from that data is unknowable.  Part of the problem is that there is no verifiable central repository, and even if there were, the configuration would evolve from moment to moment.  There is no reliable standard for answering the questions about who, what, when, where, why, and how (process, how much, how many, etc.)  There are no conceptual handles for grasping the associations and relationships among the data.  It is a miasma.  It is a sargasso sea of loose ends.  I now understand how the Pentagon could lose trillions, or why we will never know how much particular programs cost, or why boondoggles are endless.  If the government does accounting like it does everything else, why are we keeping score?

— Kilgore Forelle

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When the Quest for Education Equity Stifles Innovation

In March, efforts to open an innovative public high school in a diverse, urban district just outside of Boston received a devastating blow. Powderhouse Studios was in the works for seven years, with grand hopes of changing public education from a top-down system defined by coercion to a learner-driven model focused on student autonomy and self-determination. The vision for this school was so compelling that it won a $10 million XQ Super School innovation grant and was positioned to lead efforts to inject freedom into a conventional schooling system characterized by force.

The school was set to open this fall in Somerville, Massachusetts, clearing high hurdles along the way, including gaining the crucial support of the teachers’ union. Everything looked ready to go. Then, in a startling turn of events, the local school committee voted unanimously in March not to approve the school’s launch.

Boston’s local NPR station ran a story about the Powderhouse debacle. While the school committee members said they appreciated the high school’s novel approach, which would focus primarily on project-based learning tied to student interests, they decided they couldn’t approve a school that would only serve 160 high school-age students when there are 5,000 students in the district who wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the program. According to the NPR reporter:

The biggest concerns for committee members center around equity and resources.

It wouldn’t be fair, school committee members concluded, to allow some young people to attend Powderhouse if not everyone could attend. As the school committee chairperson told NPR:

I can’t look at Powderhouse in isolation… I have a responsibility to the 5,000 students currently in our system. If we approve the school, some of them will go there, but what does it mean for everybody?

In the all-out quest for educational equity, innovation is systematically stifled. If not everyone can have something, then no one can.

An All or Nothing Approach

Just imagine if Motorola had the same perspective regarding its invention of the first cell phone. Imagine if company leaders (or politicians!) said: “We can’t manufacture these mobile phones because not everyone will have access to them and therefore no one should.” Fortunately, manufacturers didn’t pay attention to equity, and as a result, over five billion people around the world now have a cell phone. Five. billion. people.

At first, cell phones were incredibly expensive and only a few people could own them, but thanks to the power of innovation and the timeless laws of supply and demand, the costs of cell phones dropped dramatically—even as their features became more state-of-the-art. This is how innovation works in the marketplace—when it is not halted by government central planners who think they know what is best and most “equitable.”

I wrote about Powderhouse in Unschooled, before the March vote, and even then I was pessimistically hopeful. The school sounded like an ideal incubator of educational innovation, where teenagers would be responsible for designing, managing, and executing in-depth, multiyear projects leading to mastery in various subjects in a more authentic, hands-on way. There would be no assigned classes, no grades, no age-segregation, and no testing. Teachers would act as mentors and guides. The space would look more like a research lab than a school, and project mastery would ultimately be mapped back to district-wide core competency expectations.

Self-Directed Education

Dreamed up by Alec Resnick, an MIT graduate inspired by social reformers like John Holt (a teacher who coined the term “unschooling” in 1977) and Ivan Illich, who wrote Deschooling Society in 1970, Powderhouse had a bold vision to move self-directed education into the public sector. Resnick was also very concerned about equity and access, ensuring that students would be selected into the school by lottery and that the population would be reflective of the demographic diversity of the larger district. The new school could be a beacon for change. But then the March vote came.

This outcome shouldn’t surprise us. The historical track record for innovative public schools like this one is dismal. They will sometimes succeed in launching with much fanfare and excitement and then eventually get reabsorbed into the larger district, ultimately becoming virtually indistinguishable from other conventional schools. True educational innovation must occur outside of the public schooling system.Since its 19th-century inception, the compulsory mass schooling system has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to change. The future of Powderhouse is unclear, but the past is often prologue.

The Powderhouse story is just the latest example of why I believe that true educational innovation must occur outside of the public schooling system. Like they did with cell phones, entrepreneurs will be the ones to create meaningful and lasting change with the potential to reach more people—with lower costs and better results. Entrepreneurs can catalyze far greater educational equity than well-intentioned central planners ever could. That is, if they are not halted by elected officials and government bureaucrats who think they are the guardians of us all.

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