[p2p-research] Towards a post-scarcity New York State of mind

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sun Aug 2 16:36:02 CEST 2009

New York State current spends roughly 20,000 US dollars per schooled child
per year to support the public school system. This essay suggests that the
same amount of money be given directly to the family of each homeschooled
child. Further, it suggests that eventually all parents would get this
amount, as more and more families decide to homeschool because it is
suddenly easier financially. It suggests why ultimately this will be a
win/win situation for everyone involved (including parents, children,
teachers, school staff, other people in the community, and even school
administrators :-) because ultimately local schools will grow into larger
vibrant community learning centers open to anyone in the community and
looking more like college campuses. New York State could try this plan
incrementally in a few different school districts across the state as pilot
programs to see how it works out. This may seem like an unlikely idea to be
adopted at first, but at least it is a starting point for building a
positive vision of the future for all children in all our communities. Like
straightforward ideas such as Medicare-for-all, this is an easy solution to
state, likely with broad popular support, but it may be a hard thing to get
done politically for all sorts of reasons. It might take an enormous
struggle to make such a change, and most homeschoolers rightfully may say
they are better off focusing on teaching their own and ignoring the school
system as much as possible, and letting schooled families make their own
choices. Still,homeschoolers might find it interesting to think about this
idea and how the straightforward nature of it calls into question many
assumptions related to how compulsory public schooling is justified. Also,
ultimately, the more people who homeschool, the easier it becomes, because
there are more families close by with which to meet during the daytime
(especially in rural areas). And sometime just knowing an alternative is
possible can give one extra hope. Who would have predicted ten years back
that NYS would have a governor who was legally blind and whose parents had
been forced to change school districts just to get him the education he
needed? So, there is always "the optimism of uncertainty", as historian
Howard Zinn says. We don't know for sure what is possible and what is not.


I recently wrote a very long (and probably way over-the-top :-) screed
against compulsory schooling, comparing it to a dystopian future envisioned
by Marshall Brain where most people end up in "Terrafoam" welfare housing. A
tiny excerpt:
   "Terrafoam and schooling and peer networks"
Then, we can dispense with the childcatchers we pay so well in the USA:
and justify with this sort of rhetoric:
"School truancy is when a student is absent from school without permission.
Truancy can be a serious problem, especially when children are left alone
with no adult supervision. At worst, truancy can lead to violent crime. At
least, it can lead to an unsuccessful, unproductive life. Read on to learn
how to launch your career as a truant officer."
   See, that is the false choice -- suggesting you either confine a child to
prison or they will commit their first violent crime and have to be
imprisoned. That is a very dim view of human nature, neighborhoods and
families. Yet, it is a self justifying view, in part destroying the very
neighborhood fabric it claims to be defending. So, we are left with streets
that are safe because there are no people on them. We have successfully
destroyed the village in order to save it, using compulsory schooling
instead of napalm.

Frankly, writing that screed left me feeling very unhappy. When one really
dwells about the enormity of what goes on inside most Prussian-derived
schools when seen from either a democratic or homeschooling perspective, or
how they create a Silent Spring of empty streets, it is a very heavy weight
on your heart (like the world in Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time").
Homeschoolers can at least save their own kids from Prussian schooling, but
they cannot save their kids from having to deal with the results of an
undemocratically and authoritarianly Prussian-schooled society, or
essentially, living in 1850s Prussia (but 150 years later on another
continent, as John Taylor Gatto suggests). Still, it is very sad to think
about all the lives cut short in some way by schooling (usually just cut
short psychologically, but sometimes also physically). So, I wrote this new
essay in part to cheer myself up and atone for writing such a scathing
document about compulsory schooling. So, here is something that in the end
is much more positive and suggests a specific action plan and why that plan
makes sense both for homeschoolers and everyone else. I also stuck a bit of
humor in the middle, envisioning what an economic recovery and politics in
NYS might look like if it flowed from the suggestions here. :-)

This essay builds on the most positive part of that screed, where in the
context of an imaginary conversation with my local school district
superintendent, I wrote:
"But maybe if every family could just use the school building as a hangout
place when they wanted, then it could be like a community center for everyone?"
"But then how would children learn anything?"
"They'd learn from their parents, from friends, from relatives, from
neighbors, from the community."

So, this essay builds towards how such a thing might work in practice.

I've seen slightly different figures about the cost per child in school in
New York State as an average. It seems to me it is about $20,000 per child
in school per year for NYS. The exact figure may depend on what you count.
I'd suggest it might even be a lot higher if you count in the economic
impact of lost creativity and lost happiness and lost opportunities, but
I'll go with just the direct dollar costs.

I've seen that $20K figure here, by a conservative-libertarian group:
"A look at the numbers explains why: New York has one of the largest
private-school populations in the country, with almost 16 percent of all
K-12 students opting out of government institutions. And when all costs are
counted, the state's public schools spend a whopping $20,000 per pupil."

And there is a fairly similar figure here:
"The state Commission on Property Tax Relief, headed by Nassau County
Executive Thomas Suozzi, found that New York schools outside of New York
City spend more per student than any state in the nation - an estimated
$18,768 this school year."

It sure is strange then, that kids are running away from all that money
spent on their behalf as "truants". Very strange. Related:
"Education at Gunpoint - Legal Force a Misguided Way of Ending Truancy"

If school was a family, someone might even be calling in a government agency
to investigate why the kids were running away so often. It is unlikely that
a government agency would return children to the school's custody until they
had satisfied the agency that school was a good place to be for all the
children. School saying the trouble was that those youths were just bad
children who deserved to be punished more would not cut it, would it? And
school saying $20K per child was not enough to "help" them might be a bit
hard to believe, too. Clearly, if viewed as a family, school would be seen
as dysfunctional, likely because it was excessively authoritarian, but also
because it was being neglectful of many individual children's needs,
overwhelmed by its large family size (millions of unique kids but only one
parent, the state, with one standardized parenting method for all of them).

I would not have thought about this issue this way except for a calculation
in NYS Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto's online book:
"The cost in New York State for building a well-schooled child in the year
2000 is $200,000 per body when lost interest is calculated."

That's a lot of money. Why would anyone run away from that much money?

Well, there are reasons to run away from lots of money, but they are
different than why kid run from schools:
"Why Affluent, High-Achieving Teens Are Often Depressed"

Costs have gone up since 2000, of course, with productivity rising in the
USA about 20% (even if real wages for most have gone down). And Gatto's
subsequent mathematical calculation in that paragraph about this are flawed
(essentially, he counts interest twice to come up with a million dollars per
child, and I have pointed that out to him). But I can cut him a lot of slack
for getting at the heart of the problem even if some details are confused.
He is one of New York State's true heroes, IMHO. This essay and this
essayist owes a lot to him.

The heart of the matter Gatto raises is that NYS is spending a lot of tax
money on children every year, but who gets to make those decisions about why
and how that money is spent?

I am suggesting that the parents (and over time, the child) are in the best
position to make those decisions about how to spend that money.

And even if parents are not able to make such decisions well at first, would
that not be another example of the failure of previous schooling of the
parents, and a reason for trying something new and giving it a chance to
work out over time? :-)

At $20K a year, with 9% annual interest (stocks), that would be about
half-million dollars in future value for thirteen years of K-12 schooling
(delivered when a child turns eighteen). Or, at 5% interest (bonds), that
would be about $350K in future value. This assumes no inflation, otherwise
things get even messier. That's how much kids don't get in money when they
get handed a piece of paper that is a high school diploma. That is what that
diploma has cost them, besides thirteen years of much of their waking hours.
So, the deal of school is, not only are you in prison for thirteen years,
but you essentially get a six figure fine, too. All for being guilty of
youth, another thing that is removed as well in the process. So school takes
your money, your time, and your youth, and you are supposed to be happy
about all that because it gives you a piece of paper in the end. Presumably,
by that logic, armed robbers will stop being convicted if they start giving

But the key point is, anyway you count it or invest it, hundreds of
thousands of dollars is a lot of money. It's a vast amount of money. It is
an amount of money that is a big chunk of most working people's lifetime
earning, especially if the have minimum wage jobs. It is like the amount of
money so many working people who play the lottery dream of getting if they
win, with dreams it would change their life. Yet, in a way, every child born
in NYS has already essentially won the lottery at birth, being born into
such a great state with so many amazing people producing so much wealth, and
with much of that wealth being directed somehow (through taxes) towards
children. These newborns just have been prevented from collecting their
lottery winnings. :-( Instead, that money is drained away in other
directions, to prop up an obsolete schooling system designed around an
outdated 1850's Prussian society, along with all the other negative economic
and negative social consequences that flow from that in the 21st century.

Those interest rates are somewhat historical, as right now rates on most
investments are obviously pretty low as the economy collapses. That collapse
is a related issue to schooling. Why train kids for an 1850s lifestyle
anticipated to be revolving around jobs that will likely be automated or
redesigned out of existence soon (like with robots or 3D printing), as
opposed to just using the same money to give them a basic income for life
and letting them build in their own lifestyle by extra work on that base?
So, if we do see a jobless recovery, as some economists expect, then for
most kids, I can wonder if they would be better off without the high school
diploma but with the money when they turn eighteen. They could use it to buy
a house and a safe car. Over the past year, well schooled 20-somethings have
been rioting in Greece because there are no jobs for them. Is that otherwise
our future in New York State?
"Are the Greek riots a taste of things to come?"

Or, perhaps, children could get the money in the form of a monthly annuity,
so they might not even have to "work" once they graduate, unless they wanted
more than a subsistence life (which no doubt many would)? For any child who
wanted to work in the arts, or to be a writer or poet, or to be a free
software developer, or to work at a struggling non-profit is a volunteer,
that supplemental basic income for life might make such career paths much
more feasible. So, school is really closing out those options of public
service to a digital gift economy or physical voluntary economy for all but
the wealthiest and luckiest children who can afford to take low-paying jobs
but still have a trust-fund lifestyle.

For more on that last idea of a basic income for everyone in society:

Still, it is possible it would be better for the kids and their parents to
get the money now, to use in building a better life now. Because, who knows
if there will even be a future if we can't make a better now? So, maybe kids
should get that money now, not after they turn eighteen?

Following the basic income idea, and unlike some libertarian-leaning
homeschoolers, I don't object to NYS saying it will tax wealth from the
community to redistribute it to children (or anyone else). As was suggested
in the Triple Revolution memorandum given to President Johnson in 1964, a
revolution in modern cybernetic technology (robots, automation, better
design, telecommunications) is breaking the link between having a job to do
and having a right to consume. I also don't object to any state holding in
trust other sources (like Alaska's Permanent Fund related to leasing natural
resources) to give money directly to citizens or to spend money on their
behalf for public works. Like the original natives of NYS, I feel every
human being has a claim on part of their surrounding commons whether they
"work" for others or not. The US Constitution already borrows heavily from
the Iroquois Confederacy, and most of the positive changes to it have been
just adding in more of the Iroquois Confederacy's features, like giving
women the right to vote. :-) So, one could see this proposal in that light,
of affirming some more traditional New York State values. :-) Obviously, you
still need to bother to pick up your basic income check or to go to an
abundant nature for picking up fruit or other sustenance in the old days;
see "The Original Affluent Society" by Marshall Sahlins for more on that theme.

So, I don't object to paying a fair share of taxes on labor I perform or
assets I own (even as people can legitimately argue about what is "fair"
based on disagreeing values and assumptions). The USA had lots of general
prosperity back when marginal taxes were 94% after WWII. This reflects the
idea that markets are better at creating wealth than they are at
distributing it.

Still, as a parent, I *do* object to *not* having much of a choice as to how
that $20K per child per year is spent in regards to my own specific child.
Right now, there is only one option to access that annually available $20K,
which is to put a child into a local public school, to become part of a
system of what Gatto calls Prussian-derived education designed to meet the
needs of a 19th century society. Maybe Prussian-derived extremely
hierarchical schooling made sense 150 years ago; maybe it did not. But in
the 21st century, especially with the internet, I would expect we could do
better, focusing more on learning-on-demand (like through using the
internet) than learning-just-in-case (like following a state-wide curriculum
based around the idea that one-size-fits-all). So, the current system is
actively suppressing diversity. We need a better balance of top-down
hierarchies and bottom up grassroots meshworks (to borrow from Manuel de
Landa) in order to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the 21st
century. It is true kids need to learn to be part of a society, but they
need to learn to be part of a 21st society, with its opportunities and
pitfalls, not an 1850s Prussia.

For most homeschooling families (typically with two or three kids) giving
the same amount of money otherwise spent on schooling per child directly to
the families would mean $40K to $60K in extra annual income for those
families. For many families currently homeschooling, that might mean either
lots of extra travel and tutoring and educational toys as well as less
parental anxiety about money. There would be even more options for children
to develop unique interests to make their own unique contributions to
society. Or, instead, that extra money might mean both parents could choose
to be home to help with raising the kids instead of needing one in the
workforce. Either way, one might expect the children of homeschooled
families to then be better off and achieve more for themselves and society
than by being in school. They might potentially achieve *much* more than
most schooled kids in some case. In general, they and their families just
might be a lot happier, which would be a big win even if they are not much
more productive in other ways. Happiness in the now has a lot to be said for
it, given such an uncertain future. And happiness now might lead to
happiness later. And, for many people, learning and "hard fun" (Papert) are
some of the best sources of happiness. And more often as not, school is
actually in the way of such happiness through learning.

For families with two or three kids that don't currently homeschool, the
possibility of getting such a payment would make the choice to homeschool
much more feasible. For two or three kids, or $40K to $60K per year, that
amount is about the median US family income. And it is approaching a big
chunk of the median NYS income for a family of four.
   "New York State Median Income for FFY 2008/2009"
So, by itself, it is enough for most families to live off of, if they are
frugal, and they would have more free time for being frugal.

Naturally, this benefits should extend to private schoolers too, to be fair.
So, for example, the world-renowned democratic Albany Free School (which
still costs some money) could then think about expanding statewide in
hundreds of locations for the families where both parents decide to keep
working outside the home, by helping local communities make their own free
schools with related educational communities of networked families. There
might be no end of educational alternatives created to suit unique needs and
special circumstances, and there would be plenty of money in the hands of
all families to spend on these diverse alternatives. Truly, no child would
be left behind, only for real this time, and all would be on a bus going to
a happier place than mainstream school as we know it now.

The cost to the state of all these changes would ultimately be minimal. Only
current homeschoolers or private schoolers would cost the state any new
costs, which according to the Cato figure above would be about 18% or so
(16% private schoolers plus 2% homeschoolers). While significant, those
costs might be more than offset by lower crime rates and greater industrial
productivity from a more uniquely educated and more creative population. In
the long term, this process might produce a vast increase in the wealth of
New York State, but more importantly, it would produce a vast increase in
the *happiness* of New York State.

Naturally, if this proved popular, there might be a huge demand by people in
other states to move back to New York State, leading to a state wide housing
boom, and rising real estate values again, as well as greater demand for all
sorts of services and products. So, this might be a huge win for every New
Yorker, rather than just listening to the current moaning about people
leaving New York State due to high taxes. The biggest issue is maybe not the
taxes you pay but what you get for them, and whether your job or pension
pays well enough so you are happy not just despite the taxes, but because of
the taxes.

Why would someone wealthy be happy despite high progressive taxes, up to 94%
in the past in the USA, where the poor pay nothing but the wealthy pay a
lot? Because you have guaranteed medical care including access to huge and
normally mostly empty emergency rooms (sized for pandemics and disasters,
not routine needs). Because you are surrounded by happy kids, and everyone
smiles at you, and so your community has safe streets. Because when you drop
your wallet on the ground it comes back to you with more money than was in
it to begin with. Because there are an endless array of products and
services available to spend your money on, and many more for free. Because
every pregnancy is celebrated as another guest for an ongoing village party.
And so on. You are no longer a Tom Golisano living in the one gold hut in a
Prussian village of one hundred mud huts occupied by depressed villagers all
complaining about high taxes (with your gold hut payed for by your cleverly
removing the need for many village jobs by inventing Paychex, which would be
a great thing to do if the increasing wealth was shared, but it wasn't).
Instead, you are a more enlightened multi-millionaire Tom Golisano happily
paying vast amounts of taxes that go directly to individuals as a basic
income to be spent in the market you are so good at improving. So, you are
living in a happy and healthy post-scarcity 21st century New York State
civilization, where everyone is helping each other, and everyone on the
street says, "Thanks Tom, for simplifying our lives and bringing more wealth
and happiness to our community with information technology". It is said, "Be
careful where your treasure is, for there will your heart be also." Or, I
might add, your long term security. Is it better that your treasure and
security be a village of happy people living in abundance (so, you have
wealthy friends everwhere if you get hurt), or is it better that your
treasure and security be a pile of gold you hoard? The thing is, the gold
can't love you. Money is a tool, like a shovel. And while money can't buy
you love, money well spent (or time with a shovel) can help create a village
infrastructure that helps let love happen naturally everywhere. This is the
decision we need to make as a society. It matters little to most what
decisions Tom Golisano makes, or whether he spends more time in Florida or
New York these days, What really matters are the attitudes of all the
billionaire wannabees in New York State who want to follow in Tom Golisano's
footsteps and win the billionaire lottery to escape a dreary existence in
the 1850s Prussia we have recreated for ourselves in NYS. Those are the
people who shape much of our politics today, as the shock troops for the
current collapsing order of things:
   "The Wrath of the Millionaire Wannabe's"

And it is in large part for those billionaire wannabes out there for which
this essay is written. Stop shooting yourself in the wallet by trying to buy
a lottery ticket out of 1850s Prussia. Start making the place around you
better by more enlightened social policies, and raising happier families,
and building better communities, in part by supporting better ways of
spending progressive tax dollars that are already being spent on schools.
Start with New York State and the go global. The best way to get out of
1850s Prussia, so that no child is left behind, is to make where we live
into a 21st century New York State. That is a place that doesn't exist yet
by these "standards", even as the government and schools inside which we are
living liks to *pretend* that where we live now is a 21st century New York
State. Ultimately, the 21st century is a post-scarcity state of mind.

The terrorists on 9/11 did not destroy our future in New York State, because
we had no future, only a past we are living in together with them and
Prussian-style governments and Prussian-style schools and Prussian-style
politics. We need to leave that *all* behind in the past by moving onto a
post-Prussian future. A post-scarcity future. A happy global village future.
A future that goes full circle back to the better parts of our
hunter/gatherer past in terms of abundance and gift-giving. New York State
has all the resources it needs to do that, just by itself.

But it doesn't need to do it by itself. The entire globe wants this change,
and it working towards it. Or as Paul Hawken puts it:
"From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.causes, these groups
collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no
name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians
and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in
every city, town, and culture. and is emerging to be an extraordinary and
creative expression of people's needs worldwide."

Still, New York does not do things in a vacuum. If employees of various
companies start demanding to be relocated to New York State over this one
issue, of $20K per child going directly to families instead of to schools,
New York might see an enormous influx of new companies for its tax base.

Every artist and writer in the country with kids might want to move to New
York State. New York State might see an enormous increase in its cultural
capital, which again would attract people wanting a good place to live, even
if they do not have children. It would be hard not to be hopeful for New
York, surrounded by so many families with children, so many artists,
writers, poets, innovators, and so on.

Of course, other states would notice New York State's success and emulate
it, so in the long term I doubt New York State would get overcrowded to the
point where families with young children were seriously stressing the
system. But New York might still have a relative advantage for a time in
attracting families and companies.

If such a change was made, then there might also be an enormous pressure by
homeschoolers to *increase* the mandated compulsory age all the way to
birth, in order to get $20K per child from birth for all families. Which is
something many NY legislators have long been pushing for, on behalf of the
teacher's union, with homeschoolers pushing back because of not wanting
additional paperwork. So, this is a win/win solution, at least on that
issue, as far as I am concerned. :-)

And there might even be some push on the other side, to extend this benefit
to age twenty-one or beyond, maybe even someday up to age sixty-five when
Social Security starts. :-) That of course would mean a huge tax increase,
but by then New York State might be such a hub of global innovation that the
people of NYS could easily pay for that all and have more money than they do
now left over after taxes.

Granted, a lot of this is handwaving about what people from other states do
in relation to NYS and about how much the economy would grow from this new
strategy. If there is a weak point in this proposal, it is that a local
initiative in this direction may have issues that a national or global
initiative along the same lines would not have, like if lots of poor people
moved to NYS and just became a burden on the state without offsetting
advantages. That has been a historic complaint in relation to NYS tax policy
(and "welfare trains"). So, exploring that aspect would be essential in
building a better case for this change, including thinking about what role
the Federal government would need to play eventually, if any.

So, yes taxes might go up some, especially if some poor people move to New
York State just for this reason. But, Europe has somewhat higher taxes than
the USA, but they also have much happier kids. So, sometimes we do need to
make a choice. But the biggest choice is really in how we spend our money,
and this proposal puts control of that in the hands of parents (and,
gradually, their children) to spend the money through the market. This idea
would be actively trying to do something about this issue that has been
totally ignored by the mainstream press:
"British and American Children Are the Worst Off in the Industrialized World"

This approach is not the same as "vouchers", because those (as proposed) are
only a small fraction of the total cost of public schools, and most vouchers
can only be spent at other formal schools. So, vouchers just continue to
support the same (according to Gatto) broken system. This idea of giving the
cash directly to the families with children is much more flexible and
comprehensive than vouchers.

Is this unfair to families without kids? It's too bad we can't ask Mother
Theresa. Still, everyone benefits from happier communities. Everyone,
whether they have kids or not.

Some homeschoolers (especially propertarian-libertarian ones) have said in
response to this idea that it would better to just eliminate the school tax
altogether, but that misses out on the value of a society directing
substantial resources to help the youngest members of the society (and the
families they grow in). The market may be good at producing wealth (ignoring
externalities it causes like pollution), but the market is often pretty bad
at distributing wealth. Simply eliminating the property tax most
homeschoolers pay to support public schools in most cases would be a much
smaller amount than the cost per child spent by NYS. For example, most
families with two kids might save, say, $4K in taxes rather than get $40K in
extra income. The school tax is already there, so it makes sense to think
about how NYS can get more benefit out of such a progressive idea, rather
than throw it away entirely.

Also, in the past when I have raised this issue elsewhere, some
homeschoolers suggest that if the state paid money to each family, this
would mean the state would get more into regulating homeschooling. As in,
"Be glad you don't get all the government you pay for". :-) But I don't see
that New York State would have any constitutional basis for that (but I
might be wrong), and in any case, NYS is already involved in overseeing home
education. So, especially if NYS homeschooling families having a lot more
pocket money to pay for legal defense (or legal campaign contributions :-),
I'd suggest that that scenario is not an issue to worry about. In fact, I'd
suggest if homeschoolers got $20K per child per year, they would have so
much economic and political power that even the current regulations would be
changed to be more like those in New Jersey (where you pretty much don't
even have to do any reporting. :-) With so much income going to
homeschoolers, and so reducing the pressure on those families to work as
much outside the home, then a lot more people could afford to be as learned
and as generous with their time as John Munson of the New York Home
Educators Network (NYHEN).

For example, it has taken thousands of hours for me to develop these sorts
of ideas and read on these sorts of topics (even as incomplete and roughly
presented as they are). That was made possible only by my wife's past career
success at working half-time for a good income, and so letting me be a
stay-at-home Dad also with time for other things like reading and writing
about homeschooling and unschooling and lots of other social change topics.
I'd like everyone to be able to do that if they wanted while still having
time for their kids, and this plan would accomplish that.

Think what the NYS homeschooling movement would be like with hundreds of
people around like NYHEN's John Munson, or thousands, or even tens of
thousands. While everyone is different, more homeschooling parents would
have the time to develop as homeschooling advocates with more income in
their own unique ways, since they could work less outside the home. They
would also have more money for hiring tutors or babysitters now and then.
So, more people could follow in John Munson's footsteps, but again, in their
own unique ways as appropriate for their own circumstances and neighborhoods.

Sometimes one person (or a small group) is denied a chance to do something
on the argument that others of different circumstance and less skill might
do it too and get hurt. I still remember in kindergarten when I was told I
could not climb a tree using a ladder I had found because other, younger
kids, might try that too and get hurt. But sometimes the opposite happens,
and the one person (or small group) can get the right for all people to do
something (like Susan B. Anthony, based in Rochester, NY, worked long and
hard to get women the right to vote, although she was helped by others in
that struggle). So, I am trying to get the right of economic freedom for all
people, via a basic income, starting with families with children.

What is freedom if you can not use it to help free others? What is wealth if
you can not use it to help make others wealthy? (To paraphrase from Theodore
Sturgeon, in his intro to "The Skills of Xanadu" in "The Golden Helix".)

Whether or not this approach is politically feasible right now, it seems to
me that this is what the economic landscape of fairness for homeschooled
children and their families would look like. Maybe sometimes we are too
afraid of just defending the hard won right to homeschool that we do not
push towards more equity? Now, that fear may be justified, because the
school system is indeed powerful, with lots of damage they can do to
people's lives by abusing their power. But ultimately, even if we are afraid
of something, we may still need to take non-violent action. And sometimes,
the best defense is to move forward in some different way, like a
non-violent way that is win/win for (almost) everyone. And anyone who would
suffer under this plan could perhaps be made whole in other ways.

NYS thinks it is valid to make claims on my time in terms of paperwork about
my child who is of "compulsory" age. But sometimes obligations work both
ways, otherwise they are unfair. Would it make sense to write to Governor
Paterson and ask for $20K a year then, as part of the idea of reciprocal
obligations? If the funding of the school system is justified by the benefit
to the children, then in some sense is not each homeschooled child
"entitled" to $20K a year from NYS (as much as anyone is "entitled" to
anything)? Is not the current policy of *not* giving money directly to
homeschooling families to spend as they choose then *discriminatory* against
my child and my family? Would this even possibly be the basis of a statewide
or countrywide class action lawsuit, including to recoup the past decades of
economic unfairness to all homeschooling families? I don't plan on doing
that, but it is interesting to think about, or ask for commentary on it. :-)

Yes, I know that paying reparations for discrimination would only accelerate
NYS's or even the USA's financial crisis. The government would suddenly be
on the hook for many billions of dollars owed to past homeschooling families
(even though there seems to be no problem with the Federal government
printing money when it will go directly to bankers). But if schooling really
worked so well, why are all these well schooled people messing up so much
with the economy? And why are all the well schooled voters letting them? So,
in my mind at least, there seems some grounds for such a claim of
discrimination against people of good will trying something different, given
that NYS will readily spend money on children put into a system that has
proven inadequate to the needs of the 21st century.

Public school systems might have a valid practical objection that they have
fixed costs for a physical plant and various salaries and pensions
regardless of how many children they have under their control. Still, if
most families chose to do home-based education, then schools could be
repurposed as homeschool resource centers. They could essentially become
like public libraries where anyone who wanted to learn anything could come
there and use the facilities. Public libraries seem to be working out quite
nicely. So, the physical plant and administrative salaries might remain in
any case. But the staff might have to study somethings about how public
libraries interact with patrons.

Assuming that most people begin to choose this option of receiving the $20K
directly. School enrollment would begin to decline, leaving empty classrooms
and underutilized other facilities like gyms and kitchens. Imagine if
everyone in the community could use the school building at any time for any
vaguely educational purpose, including just hanging out there to interact
with other homeschoolers by their choice. Ironically, then there might be a
demand by the local community to actually *increase* the size of schools.
There might be a demand for adding more conference rooms, bigger
playgrounds, better libraries, machine shops, organic gardens, cafes, rifle
and archery ranges, more computers, yoga studios, better kitchens,
automotive repair bays, a cafe, or anything else you might find at a YMCA or
TechShop, or at any other informal educational facility like a museum or
planetarium or space camp or whatever. With the rapid growth of FabLabs and
3D printing, schools might also expand greatly in their shop courses and
other vocational training aspects, stuff that is now just after-hours "adult
education". Schools might all get a new facility as part of a proposal for a
resurgence in local manufacturing nationwide:
   "21,000 Flexible Public Fabrication Facilities across the USA"

And for any new services related to public schools that were fee-for-service
(for some reason to kids not otherwise directly enrolled in full-time
programs at the school that served as day-care), homeschoolers would have
plenty of money to pay for them an desired based on the annual $20K per
child payment. So, for example, schools might charge homeschooler for sport
coaching or science laboratory use or foreign language classes, but
homeschoolers would have the means to pay for just the parts they wanted.
And homeschoolers would have the ability to walk away if classes were not
meeting their needs and to spend the money given to them elsewhere, same as
with adult education classes or college courses. So schools might have to
become more responsive places, and this change in culture would then improve
the life of even the children who did not have the option to leave the grounds.

On a practical basis, schools would have to rethink the nature of their
security policies as they became more open places mixing adults and children
like public libraries do. Still, homeschoolers manage to operate in village
settings and mixed settings, so humans have thousands of years of experience
making such things work well enough. No doubt many proposals could be
developed to make such places safe for everyone. But, it is true, such
places might have to tolerate some degree of risk for some degree of reward.
That itself might be a huge change in school culture. Still, despite all the
criminal background checks on teachers, abuse of all sorts goes on in
schools from a very few of the teachers, so the current system has problems.
Further, the school system itself in some ways is abusing children by its
very structure, whether from modeling authoritarian bullying, forcing
children into social situations day after day from which there is not
escape, or boring some children and frustrating others (and boredom and
frustration year after year could be considered a form of torture). So, it
is not clear that schools would really be more dangerous than they already
are now, all things considered. In any case, public libraries manage to deal
with the problem of mixing people of all ages (though in part due to
parental vigilance for young kids), so this is another thing that schools
could study. Technology like bracelets or necklaces with an integrated GPS
and cell phone and streaming video cameras for young children or transparent
surveillance for certain areas (where anyone could look at the security
cameras through the internet) might be another aspect of this. Security is a
complex subject, especially with a tradeoff with privacy, and no doubt many
people would work very hard to make such open schools as intrinsically
secure as possible. Still, ultimately, we have to rely on a basic confidence
that most people most of the time will do the right thing, and that the
benefits to most of being social and having places to learn together will
outweigh the problems cause by the few very rotten apples.

Schools might decide to specialize as well, perhaps negotiating with
neighboring schools on what made sense, so some schools might have amazing
state-of-the-art planetariums, or some might have nanotech fabrication
centers and electron microscopes, while others might have lots of space for
dramatic productions, and others might develop amazing playscapes, while
others might have incredible toy libraries. Schools could then form a
network, and perhaps then use their vast fleets of yellow buses to allow
anyone to travel between schools or ship physical materials for educational
purposes, as a sort of "public logistics network". Again, parents might need
some way of being confident that network was a safe place for their kids to
be if they traveled unaccompanied. Since transportation takes time, people
still might view some school district as a better match for their family's
interests than others. So, they might have to choose whether they would
rather live in a school district with a better nanotech lab or a school
district with a better space program or one with better stages for live

These might be difficult choices, but they would be different ones than,
say, when a Realtor was showing us a house in Chappaqua, NY and said that
you could tell the school district was one of the "best" in the country
because the teen suicide rate was so high. :-( So, again, such schools as I
am proposing here might be much safer for kids in many ways, even as they
may be slightly more dangerous in others.
   "Gever Tulley on 5 dangerous things for kids"

So, ironically, if schools were to give in gracefully to this idea, they
might even get bigger as they got more voluntary and broadened their
missions to include people of all ages learning anything. :-) So, the
current school superintendents would become more like college campus
presidents, and thus get more prestige, bigger offices with larger staffs,
and of course, bigger salaries to go with that all. :-)

Naturally, as schools expanded, this might cause various urban planning
problems, and parking issues, and demands for more local public transit to
get to them, and so on, but presumably we have a lot of good urban planners
in NYS who could help with that, even as they might quickly feel pressured.
Likewise, a rapid increase in construction and renovations around schools
might cause various local shortages of construction workers and other
tradespeople and so on. Likewise, all the families with young children
moving to the state would strain the capacity of real estate agents, and
overload the malls, and create traffic jams near supermarkets and toy
stores. The new businesses moving into New York following the best workers
(who would be attuned to new trends and want the best for their kids, or
even just in case they might have kids soon, or might want to visit their
grandkids, or visit their other relatives with kids) would put a huge
pressure on New York's legal professionals for handling all the new business
deals. The NYS Department of Taxation and Finance would face an enormous
crisis of processing an increased number of corporate tax returns from all
these new businesses blossoming in the state, causing follow-on difficulties
in hiring professional workers throughout the entire Capital Region. Many
people manning the unemployment office at the New York State Department of
Labor would no longer be needed and so would be unceremoniously laid off and
need to go on unemployment insurance until they could find good jobs working
at the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance. An people from around the
country and around the world traveled to New York to see what all the fuss
was about, hotels and airports would be jam packed with tourists, creating
considerable logistics difficulties in turn for their suppliers. Entire new
cities with millions of new residents would be constructed in upstate NY,
creating huge conflicts about environment issues, like where to put all the
solar panels coming out of the nanotech centers near Albany. In all, it
would be a real mess, and the Governor's office would be strained greatly in
keeping up with all the growth and change.

Still, I would expect most New Yorkers would feel like those were good
problems for the state to start having right now. :-)

But it would rapidly get even worse. The state legislature might once again
be in crisis and get locked out, this time after the top leadership gets so
tired staying up late trying to read report after report of success stories
and new developments that they would forget where they put the key to the
Senate chamber. Fortunately, some overworked legislators who fell asleep in
session as they trying to keep up with everything going on in NYS,
especially the mysteriously increasing tax revenues, would open the door
from the inside. Many people might start longing for the "good old days"
when things were quieter, especially if that billionaire who changed his tax
home to Florida to avoid NYS taxes, Tom Golisano, decided to move his tax
home *back* to New York State to take advantage of all the prosperity, and
to have another run at being governor, this time, after reversing his
ideology, and running on a platform of *raising* taxes since it seems to be
working so well. Tom Golisano's return to NYS politics would force a fierce
debate, that everyone would soon get sick of, over whether the issue was
really the tax rate, or if it was more what you got for your taxes, like
whether people can easily afford any taxes because they create a booming
economy if well invested in true education. People would grow tired of
discussions about how best to share prosperity brought about by taxing a
growing market fueled by New Yorkers imaginations, and by spreading the
wealth around as a basic income to all New Yorkers to keep the economy
humming. Tom Golisano would say this web page was just intended as a
publicity stunt to raise consciousness about good tax policy before his
"Why I’m Leaving New York (but still trying to change it)" by Tom Golisano

Roles would get confusingly reversed in that electoral campaign. :-)
Governor Paterson would be forced to go on record saying NYS tax rates were
too high because of the stress forced on the NYS legislature by coming up
with ways to spend all the new money being produced by all the breakthroughs
coming out of New York State companies from all these creatively educated
people. He would campaign to lower tax rates substantially to help his
colleagues cope with an embarrassment of riches, but the public sentiment
would be for raising taxes even higher and giving more money to families
with children and the open schools, since it worked well the first time.
This would put the compassionate Governor Paterson in a difficult political
situation of whether to go with public sentiment or to stand with his
stressed-out previous colleagues in the state Senate. It would be an ugly
campaign, with Tom Golisano accusing Governor Paterson of being anti-growth
with Paterson's plans to lower taxes, and Governor Paterson appealing to the
people of NYS to have compassion for the people running the legislature and
the Department of Taxation and Finance who were having problems processing
so many corporate tax returns. Tom Golisano would say Governor Paterson was
recklessly risking New York State property values by messing with the new
economic magic. Paterson would counter that property values in NYS were too
high and that several new cities were being constructed upstate to keep
property values under control for young people. Golisano would in return
threaten to move to New Hampshire, which by then would have put in place the
highest taxes in the USA on income and property. New Hampshire would also
have changed their state slogan to "Live *for* free or die", in accord with
a theory that soon automation and better design would put everyone out of
work and they would starve without a basic income; New Hampshire would
eliminate the local school tax in favor of a general tax and a statewide
monthly basic income payment of $2000 per person plus medical care to all
citizens regardless of age or wealth. Paterson in turn suggest a similar
idea was under study in New York, and that emigration to New Hampshire for
Golisano might be a good idea anyway though. Things would get really ugly
after that. Still, most New Yorkers would yawn at the frontpage headlines,
same old, same old, and turn to the homeschool page in the news, not very
concerned about economic issues anymore, and being far more concerned with
their children's continuing education and their own, just for fun.

Anyway, it's fun to imagine what a successful recovery in NYS might look
like. :-) We sure need a little bit of hope these days.
   "New York Tax Receipts Fall, Create $2.1 Billion Gap"
As Albert Einstein said, you generally can't solve problems by using the
same sort of thinking that created them.

One may ask the very fair question of what would happen to teachers if the
money went directly to parents instead of schools. For most teachers who are
any good, there would be an enormous demand for their tutoring by all these
homeschooling families with an extra $20K per child to spend, especially if
most NYS families decided to go that way and eventually diminished the need
for old-style large classroom teaching. These educators might make
good-enough money, if not more, and might enjoy their work a lot more
without school bureaucracy to wrestle with. So, any really good educator has
little to fear from this proposal. Such educators would become part of a
person-to-person learning network. They might face competition, including
from teenagers who have learned the best way to learn something is to teach
it, :-) but if they are truly good educators, they would still do well. A
good teacher, in a healthy relationship where both teacher and student are
learning at different rates, is irreplaceable -- and I have been blessed in
my life with many such good teachers, both in and out of the school system.
Teachers with their own children would benefit from $20K per child, and so
some might decide to just teach their own, and maybe to help neighborhood
kids now and then either for free or fee.

It is true that some not-so-good teachers might lose their jobs eventually,
or be unable to offer teaching services people wanted. This plan might
create problems for such teachers. But if they had, say, two kids, they
could live off of the $40K while they teach their own. :-) And, if these
not-so-good teachers have no children of their own, they could get jobs as
chaperones or nannies for a few children, helping those few children
navigate this new educational landscape, paid by parents who are unable to
homeschool during the day out of their $20K per child per year. So, parents
could afford to pay a teacher $60K to look after three children. Or, these
not-so-good teachers might decide to take up another career better suited to
their other talents. Or they might find that they are much better teachers
in small one-on-one settings.

Still, the transition would no doubt be somewhat stressful for many
teachers. But, the system is not supposed to be there mainly for the
teachers. It is ideally supposed to be there for the children and the
communities. And every teacher lives in a community, and most have children
of their own.

So, overall, for almost everybody, this is a win/win solution. And it is
heavily market-based while still maintaining the progressive aspects of a
school tax. It thus follows the US-specific guidelines for social change
outlined here:
   "Planning Through the Market: More Equality Through the Market System"

One objection is that there are some "bad parents" out there who would take
$20K per child and spend the money on themselves for drugs and alcohol.
Well, it is true, that in some tiny fraction of families (1%? 5%?), that
might happen. However, even now, such "bad parents" exist and the school
system can do little to help with them, school itself even also being one
more "bad parent" for many unique children. Imagine if every family on a
block was homeschooling, with one parent (or even two parents) from each
household around the block all the time, and that all these other families
had a lot of income from this plan. Any child growing up in a neglectful
house next-door would then have lots of places to turn for help in this
local village ("it takes a village to raise a child"), lots of sympathetic
adults with their own children, willing to extend a helping hand to one more
kid. And it would be real neighbor-to-neighbor help, by neighbors with
significant incomes already related to helping children, not
institutionalized help that is often just someone going through the motions
or by someone who is overwhelmed and has no real solutions to offer. I would
suggest the overall outcome would be better across NYS, even for the cases
of children with neglectful parents, who would always remember the kindness
of the adults in their local village and want to follow that role model.
Also, many "bad parents" today may be cracking under the pressure of needing
to earn a living while raising kids in such kid-unfriendly communities, so,
this proposal might reduce the stress level of such parents, in turn
reducing the total amount of neglectful parents pursuing addictive escapist
behavior. No doubt there would still be some failures, but the current
system has lots of examples of schooled kids and their families failing
(including about 30% that don't graduate on time or at all), so this
approach doesn't have to be perfect -- it just has to be significantly
better that what we have now.

But isn't this just Soviet-Style "Communism"? The big difference is that the
money mostly goes to individuals to spend in the market, not by the state to
spend on their behalf, so the market structure is still in place. (Even
though one would expect a state to make some public investments into things
that only states could easily do or plan for.) It is true some millionaires
may be less motivated to become billionaires with a high progressive tax
rate or substantial property taxes (perhaps even progressive property
taxes). But, there are lots of people in New York State who would be willing
to work hard and create new businesses and new non-profits if given the
chance, but the can't for lack of money, because it usually takes money to
make money. This gives them the chance. So, the marketplace will function
better with wealth spread around, even if some millionaires may be
encouraged to enjoy their wealth more than try to get even more of it on
their way to financial obesity. Ultimately, all wealth rests on the commons.
And every human being has a claim on some part of the commons. But a market
system without regulation or taxation has no way of assuring everyone's
claim on the commons is recognized. That is why people starve or go homeless
amidst plenty (according to Frances Moore Lappe).

Some might argue that such a system would just get families to have more
children. Well, really, what is wrong with that? Most of the industrialized
world is facing lower than replacement birth rates, in part because raising
children is so hard in a consumerist society. It is hard work raising kids
well (even as it is best not to think of it as "work"), as any parent soon
discovers (although it is rewarding hard work in many ways, even if not
financially rewarding). Why discourage that hard work of being a good
parent? Why not help those who want to be parents be the best parents they
can be, including by taking away financial worries? And between Nanosolar PV
electric panels, algae turned into biofuels, zero-emission manufacturing,
advanced recycling, 3D printing, organic farming, composting toilets, and
even newer new technologies (thing that are in the works that do more with
less or make new resources available in environmentally responsible ways),
there is no reason more children can not be accommodated in NYS or on the
Earth. And NASA has in the past had plans for ways to support literally
trillions of people in space habitats in the long term. Other people are
developing ways to live on human-made islands in the oceans, with beachfront
property for almost everyone. So, there is plenty of room for more people to
live in harmony with Gaia. And the more well educated imaginative people
there are, the more people there are to solve the challenges of the 21st
century and beyond, as Julian Simon suggests in "The Ultimate Resource".
That is the major reason why in NYS adopted this policy it would become a
model of success the entire country, and even the world. Redirecting this
money would free the imagination of all New Yorkers to soar and bring
abundance to New York and then the entire planet and solar system. Sure,
there would be more kids someday. Maybe even trillions of happy kids
throughout the solar system. Let us hope.

There is another valid objection by schools that "special needs" kids should
get a bigger amount of the funding, and so they could not give everyone the
average. One possibility is to give a lesser amount to every family
(excluding the special needs aspect of the budget), and shift the special
needs funds to a needs-based charity program like Medicaid which would then
be responsible for providing supplemental funding for acknowledged medical
or psychological issues. Many of the families with the most profoundly
disabled children already can get Medicaid for their children, so this might
not be much more paperwork. This would breaking the link between labeling
kids and the schools power over families. Then, any family with "special
needs" (however that is defined), would make their case to Medicaid and
receive money to spend on whatever educational services were appropriate
from whoever supplied them (public or private). For families with kids who
have some lesser special needs (dyslexia, speech therapy, special
interests), the extra $20K per family would be spent as the family wished to
get what services they needed, given, to an extent, all kids are "special".

So, I suggest that New York State pick a few districts, and try out this
idea. I'd volunteer mine, but it might seem to self-serving. :-) But I have
little doubt that if a few districts tried this, within a few years, all
school districts in New York State would start moving to this new model of
letting the parents decide how to spend $20K a year per child. And the New
York State economy would start to grow again, faster and faster. From:
"The continuance of the income-through-jobs link as the only major mechanism
for distributing effective demand — for granting the right to consume — now
acts as the main brake on the almost unlimited capacity of a cybernated
productive system."

Anyway, just more procrastination while I need to fill out NYS homeschooling
paperwork. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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