[p2p-research] Towards a post-scarcity New York State of mind
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sun Aug 2 23:24:38 CEST 2009
Ryan Lanham wrote:
> Societies enjoy many benefits from schools that do not inure from
> homeschooling, so the basic premise doesn't work.
Ten years ago, I would have written much the same reply as you have in
response to someone saying let's give US$20K per child each year to parents
instead of to a state institution. I'll try to explain what I know now that
I didn't know then, or how my values have shifted.
Let's go point by point through these objections and see how we differ in
assumptions and values in the context of shifting the balance back towards a
more person-to-person meshwork educational system, as opposed to being way
out towards a state-to-person hierarchical educational system.
By the way, as a start, a stigmercically peer-developed resource about
Strangely enough, I've never thought to look at that page before now. I see
an interesting study listed there that I had not seen before (or remembered
if I had):
During this time, the American educational professionals Raymond and Dorothy
Moore began to research the academic validity of the rapidly growing Early
Childhood Education movement. This research included independent studies by
other researchers and a review of over 8,000 studies bearing on Early
Childhood Education and the physical and mental development of children.
They asserted that formal schooling before ages 8–12 not only lacked the
anticipated effectiveness, but was actually harmful to children. The Moores
began to publish their view that formal schooling was damaging young
children academically, socially, mentally, and even physiologically. They
presented evidence that childhood problems such as juvenile delinquency,
nearsightedness, increased enrollment of students in special education
classes, and behavioral problems were the result of increasingly earlier
enrollment of students. The Moores cited studies demonstrating that orphans
who were given surrogate mothers were measurably more intelligent, with
superior long term effects – even though the mothers were mentally retarded
teenagers – and that illiterate tribal mothers in Africa produced children
who were socially and emotionally more advanced than typical western
children, by western standards of measurement.
Their primary assertion was that the bonds and emotional development made
at home with parents during these years produced critical long term results
that were cut short by enrollment in schools, and could neither be replaced
nor afterward corrected in an institutional setting. Recognizing a necessity
for early out-of-home care for some children – particularly special needs
and starkly impoverished children, and children from exceptionally inferior
homes– they maintained that the vast majority of children are far better
situated at home, even with mediocre parents, than with the most gifted and
motivated teachers in a school setting (assuming that the child has a gifted
and motivated teacher). They described the difference as follows: "This is
like saying, if you can help a child by taking him off the cold street and
housing him in a warm tent, then warm tents should be provided for all
children – when obviously most children already have even more secure housing."
OK, for the rest of this, bear I mind there is specific evidence suggesting
early mainstream schooling is harmful to children even in the case where the
parents are mentally retarded teenagers.
You can also see an emotional movie about that topic here:
"I Am Sam is a 2001 drama film telling the story of a mentally challenged
father and his efforts to retain custody of his daughter."
Although, in order to understand why school is still around as it is, it is
important to understand that if the goal of powers in society is to produce
more compliant workers for 19th century factories and more obedient soldiers
as cannon fodder, and to prevent most people in the society from forming
productive peer networks, then emotionally and intellectually damaging
children from a young age is probably a good idea. :-( Even to the point of
convincing the children this damage is being done for their own good, and
for the good of all of society.
> First, you get to educate
> students in collective citizenship and social relationships--a vital role of
Yes, I used to believe this too. :-) Even despite my own experiences. :-)
If the goal is to get children to participate as informed citizens of a
democracy, then why are not all schools structured as democracies where
children can learn about issues important to them, vote on how to structure
their surroundings, and see the effects of their voting? Clearly such
schools exist and have generally good results:
So, if the alternative works, then why are so many things about mainstream
schools undemocratic? Why are school newspapers censored? Why do students
have no rights about the privacy of their lockers? Why do kids need special
permission to go to the bathroom? Why are children rarely allowed to talk to
each other for most of the day? And so on.
Clearly, schools as currently structured teach one how to survive in an
authoritarian country like North Korea, not a democratic one. Is this the
kind of collective citizenship you are saying they should learn? Obviously
not. So, why do you think schools teach democracy? It is true that schools
teach *about* democracy in the same way they may teach *about*
dictatorships. And if you get lucky, like I did, you might get a few
classroom periods where there is a mock legislature deciding about national
issues you have little understanding of, with the decisions having no impact
on the actual school or neighborhood. Some few kids when they are seniors
might get luckier, and may be encouraged to do a campaign about a local
issue, it is true, but that is also no that common, and those issues would
rarely impact the children's lives or the school structure or functioning.
So, that's about it for most kids actually learning democracy by living it.
Given that school time takes up a big chunk of most young people's lives,
and young people experience so much more that in new and so live more in
each hour that older people, essentially, most of the time lived in our
society that claims to be a democracy is lived in a dictatorship. So, is it
any wonder the young don't vote? They've never had the experience of voting
changing anything, unlike old people.
If the goal is to socialize children to function in a diverse society with a
diversity of settings, then why do children in school generally only get to
interact with peers of the similar age, demographics, and test scores? Why
is there so much modeling in schools of authoritarian bullying, which in
turn leads to children doing it to each other? Why are there cliques and
even gangs dominating the social life many schools? Why, if in normal social
interactions as adults you generally have the right to walk away from a
relationship with a stranger if they are behaving badly, are children forced
to be with the same children day after day even if they do not want to? Why,
if the goal is socialization, are not children spending a lot more time in a
variety of social situations than an authoritarian class room? And so on.
Let's see what some science says:
"And Shyers, from the secular perspective of his research, looked at how
homeschooled children treat other children. Shyers found no significant
difference between his two groups in scores on the Children's Assertive
Behavior Scale. But direct observation by trained observers, using a "blind"
procedure, found that home-schooled children had significantly fewer problem
behaviors, as measured by the Child Observation Checklist's Direct
Observation Form, than traditionally schooled children when playing in mixed
groups of children from both kinds of schooling backgrounds. This
observational study was reported in some detail in the 1992 Associated Press
article. Shyers concluded that the hypothesis that contact with adults,
rather than contact with other children, is most important in developing
social skills in children is supported by these data. "
Why is one of the most common reasons people give for pulling their kids out
of mainstream schools and doing homeschooling precisely to improve the kids
social setting because they are learning bad habits including consumerism
from kids in school, or being bullied, or being left friendless from
cliquishness, or getting involved with schoolmates escaping by using drugs,
and so on?
In almost every homeschool setting, the ratio of adults to children is
probably about one adult to two kids on average, where the purpose of the
gathering is generally to get kids together to play together as small groups
or to do some larger group activity together. Compare that with a typical
classroom ratio of one adult to twenty children, where children are
generally actively suppressed from talking to each other unless explicitly
permitted. Those different ratios (1:2 and 1:20) should tell you a lot about
the type of social behaviors that will be learned.
Granted, in a one room schoolhouse, one adult can manage twenty, thirty,
forty, even one hundred children of different ages engaged in different
learning activities (including helping younger peers learn to read), but
that is a totally different model of education than Prussian-derived
schooling. That one room classroom style was a part of US American democracy
historically, and although the time spend in such classrooms was generally a
small fraction of the time spent today in Prussian classrooms, far more
difficult content was learned. (You can compare the classroom primer books
to see the difference.)
> Second, society gets employment for large numbers of persons.
> School districts are typically the largest employers in most US counties.
Yes, this is quite true, and it does make change difficult.
But there are a few issues here in a democracy.
Presumably, in a democracy, even one with a right to a job, no one has a
right to a job hurting others. So, if schools are hurting children, then it
would be better if those jobs did not exist or if they were done
differently. But, as was mentioned at the start, the real point of school,
as it was set up in the USA based on the 1850s Prussian model, is to hurt
children, so they can not function as whole human being in a peer economy.
It is to make them forever dependent on the state for their direction. As
Gatto outlines in some detail, like here:
"The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher"
So, are you saying that some people have a right to a job hurting children?
Of course not. So what do you really mean here? Politically, the people who
hurt children for a living have a lot of power and political clout?
Please note, most teachers as human beings are wonderful caring people (or
at least, started out that way). This is a comment about the institution,
not the individuals. Schools as currently structured are essentially prisons
for the young. Philip Zimbardo has studied prisons and prisoner abuse and
written a book about that and other situations called "The Lucifer Effect".
"In 2004, Zimbardo testified for the defense in the court martial of Sgt.
Ivan "Chip" Frederick, a guard at Abu Ghraib prison. He argued that
Frederick's sentence should be lessened due to mitigating circumstances,
explaining that few individuals can resist the powerful situational
pressures of a prison, particularly without proper training and supervision.
The judge apparently disregarded Zimbardo's testimony, and gave Frederick
the maximum 8-year sentence. Zimbardo drew on the knowledge he gained from
his participation in the Frederick case to write a new book entitled, The
Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, about the
connections between Abu Ghraib and the prison experiments."
Now, obviously, probably no US schools are identical to Abu Ghraib. But the
same sorts of social dynamics apply, either pressures on the jailers or
pressures on the inmates. As Gatto outlines here:
At the age of fourteen [in the 1870s] House was sent to school in Virginia.
The cruelty of the other boys made an indelible impression on his character,
as you can sift from this account:
"I made up my mind at the second attempt to haze me that I would not
permit it. I not only had a pistol but a large knife, and with these I held
the larger, rougher boys at bay. There was no limit to the lengths they
would go in hazing those who would allow it. One form I recall was that of
going through the pretense of hanging. They would tie a boy’s hands behind
him and string him up by the neck over a limb until he grew purple in the
face. None of it, however, fell to me. What was done to those who permitted
it is almost beyond belief."
Now, you may say guns are no longer allowed in schools, and this abuse above
was not done by the teachers. But this would all miss the point of schooling
as an institution to teach a social form that creates such situations. I
think we can assume that Sgt. Frederick went to school. Why was he not able
to resist becoming an abuser, given the state had spent vast sums of money
on his schooling? Could it be that the form of the school created the
character we saw in Abu Ghraib as an amplification of it?
So, sure, school is a jobs program. Let's find a way that that people
(including people now teachers) can have an income without having to hurt
people. That what Gatto said when he resigned.
"John Taylor Gatto: Walkabout London: An Unscientific Look at Open-Source
John Taylor Gatto was a public school teacher in New York City. Named the
city’s Teacher of the Year three times in a row, and the New York State
Teacher of the Year in 1991, he must have been doing something right. In the
prologue to his book, The Underground History of American Education, he
details some of the ways that the administration tried to get rid of him for
being, well, a good teacher. The same year he was named the state’s Teacher
of the Year, he resigned by writing a letter to the Wall Street Journal in
which he said he did not want to “hurt kids to make a living.”
The plan I outlined, giving the $20K per year per child directly to parents,
will still create a variety of jobs in the local areas. Parents will have a
lot more money for hiring tutors, paying for private schools, expanding
their homes to have more room for learning spaces, buying nutritious local
food to help their kids have healthy brains, and so on. The total number of
jobs could stay roughly the same -- the only issue is what sort of jobs.
And, as I suggest, it is possible that we would see enormous economic growth
from all the businesses created by more creative self-confident people who
are better able to function in a variety of social contexts.
> Third, there is a great deal of doubt that most people could fulfill the
> role of home education without enormous personal costs...
This is absolutely right.
Homeschooling is, for most families, a lifestyle shift more than anything.
You have a lot less money by losing one income in a world where two-income
families have bid up the cost of everything (and bid down the wages of
jobs). That is one reason that more people don't homeschool.
But, the proposal would put US$20K per year per child in the hands of the
parents (and gradually, the child as they are able to say more about their
likes and dislikes), so there would be much less personal costs, some
homeschooling would be more approachable by all.
> and even then, some
> (many) may well not have the capacity.
Yes, I would have believed that once too. But John Holt and others have
shown that most any parent without profound disabilities can do a better job
of producing a happy and productive member of society than schools can, if
they want to.
"Your Top 5 Homeschooling Fears"
"Unless you are neglectful or abusive, you can’t do worse than public
schools. Whenever I’m convinced I’m the world’s worst parent and my children
are doomed, I remind myself of the statistics on homeschooling. Most home
educated students excel academically and socially, and go on to homeschool
their own children."
"What Does This Mean? You can provide your child with an education better
than that offered by public schools regardless of your race, income level or
even whether or not you finished high school. Further, home education
reduces differences in achievement between males and females, and whites and
minorities – all without government supervision. You don't have to be rich,
white, college educated and certified to successfully educate your children."
Still, some parents will decide to put their own career ahead of being with
their kids. That is IMHO their choice, even as they still remain responsible
for how that affects their family. With US$20K per child, such parents can
pay for private school, for tutors, nannies, or for whatever the public
school becomes if it continues to have an all-day day-care option.
So, on the one hand you are saying teachers need jobs, but on the other hand
are you saying a teacher would not take US$100K a year in income as an
independent contractor to supervise the education of five compatible
children with busy parents?
So, even for case where the parents don't want to try, there are plenty of
Which leaves the case where the parents take the money and neglect the
children. Well, that should be obvious to the community, who can either help
out in a neighborly way or do something else. And, again, there is no 100%
here. Some kids may suffer under the new approach and fall through the
cracks; the issue is, will less of them suffer than are suffering now under
It is undemocratic to make 95% to 99% of children suffer because some small
percentage of parents may be neglectful under certain circumstances. It
makes a lot more sense to help those few families directly be the best that
they can be. Again, repeating from Wikipedia: "This is like saying, if you
can help a child by taking him off the cold street and housing him in a warm
tent, then warm tents should be provided for all children – when obviously
most children already have even more secure housing."
> The system would overwhelmingly
> favor the rich and affluent...leaving the poor to languish...as most voucher
> systems do.
I'll agree that something like vouchers, that takes money away from public
schools, and underfunds alternatives, and only allows you to choose between
a few local alternatives that are formally schools, is a problematical idea.
It's mostly a compromise for the teacher's union.
I guess I can see how someone might say any change to public schools will
create a bigger rich-poor divide, if you believed they were working against
that somehow. The current system of public schooling sure sounds democratic,
especially given that is what you are taught in public schools. :-)
But the fact is, we in the USA have an enormous and growing rich-poor divide
already. Remember, this proposal decouples the wealth transfer aspects of a
school tax from the issue of how education happens, thus allowing a move to
a more peer-to-peer and/or market-based solution.
Wealth makes a huge difference in who gets to go to "Prep" schools, or live
in "good" public school districts, and thus get into the top tier
universities and from that into the highest levels of governance. Sure,
Michelle Obama is a bit of an exception, but, as she points out in her
Princeton thesis (as I spin it :-), even for those with blue collar or
minority roots, the purpose of an institution like Princeton is to alienate
a person from their roots and shift their allegiance to an elite model of
society (one that presumably justifies big rich-poor divides and a
centralization of political power in society). We're from Princeton, and we
are here to help. :-) Am I undermining my own point here, well probably, but
so be it. :-) I like the quote often attributed to Lila Watson (but really
arising out of a peer group process): "If you have come to help me, you are
wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up
with mine, then let us walk together."
I am here on the p2p list because I see my liberation as bound up with your
Sure, there are democratic aspects of the current system. I grew up in a
mostly blue collar town and went to a public school (although a private
kindergarten so my mom could work, and I wonder if that made a difference?)
and I had some great teachers. Still, I'm certainly into writing and
abstraction, so school suits me in a way it did not suit many of my
age&demographic-peers, a fact I did not understand at the time. In the sense
that school acted as a filter for people with assignable curiosity willing
to make killer robots on demand, school did a good job of finding me and
promoting me. (I got a Navy Science award for a science fair project of a
radioactive material transporter robot, not exactly a killer robot, but the
kind of step towards killer robots, that could in practice support killer
submarines, which the Navy encouraged thirty years ago.)
So, the current system overwhelmingly favors the rich and affluent, and is
quite willing to sacrifice boys like I was to genetic horrors or front-line
combat to support the status quo. From the guy who also wrote that money is
a sign of poverty:
"In all the human societies we have ever reviewed, in every age and in every
state, there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males
prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of
their elders, and what you call heroism is just an expression of this fact;
there is never a scarcity of idiots." (Use of Weapons)
Yes, I am saying, in that context, I was an idiot, and that is why I got the
Navy Science Award and *both* first prize and most creative at the Albert
Einstein Science Centennial at NYIT, instead of the kids doing solar energy
research. Those kids I look back on and say now deserved prizes far more as
for looking towards social utility and promoting intrinsic national security
in creative ways. I also went to Princeton because I was an idiot (even as I
was earning lots of money writing a computer game). Although a tiny part of
not writing more such games instead was that I did sense something was wrong
with writing addictive games about killing, and to the extent there was any
value in my educational aspirations and accomplishments, it was to deal with
that disquiet. I can thank a few great teachers like the late Michael
Mahoney or the late Steve Slaby or others there for helping me see things
from new perspectives -- Princeton is one of the few schools where the
faculty is more liberal than the students. And when I went back to thank
Michael Mahoney he said something like, you hope to reach at least one
student each year. But there have been many other influences of varying
subtly, various people in my life, including my wife. Also, while I reject
the dogma, I can say that some of the better core values and better stories
of the Protestant church I was raised in remained with me.
Still, I was a very *clever* idiot, of course, which is one of the worst
kinds. :-) Naturally, as I became less and less of an idiot, my career in
academia started to falter. :-) Even though I am a persistent idiot, so I
continued trying in a variety of programs and universities, even as there
were far better opportunities for happiness in community at non-profits like
the New Alchemy Institute or in positive green business ventures (like
making solar panels at Chronar). It has taken me a long time to come to this
view of things, with a lot of sadness and frustration along the way. By the
way, Larry Niven's "Pak Protectors" always have the same thought as they
emerge from a previous growth stage: "What an idiot I have been all my
Although, unfortunately, Pak Protectors seem too stupid to understand the
concept of mutual security and peer networks, so they spend all their time
destroying each other and their world, unfortunately. So, sounds like they
are just even cleverer idiots. :-(
Please note that for what I was groomed to do in a military-dominated
context then (robotics), others have been groomed to do *economically* as
billionaire wannabees. Most of the graduates output by Princeton University
goes to Wall Street, and helped bring about the current collapse and
increasing rich-poor divide.
So, even when a poor boy or girl makes it to and through Princeton, the
flagship university of global capitalism (in its own eyes :-), there is
often not much left of them when they get through. So, in that sense, social
mobility is an illusion, even when it happens. Still, are there a lot of
dumb poor people? Sure. But school is intended to make them that way, and
keep them that way.
So, getting back to the main point, when I propose that parents get $20K per
child per year instead of the schools, you reply that somehow directing
wealth directly to the families is going to prop up the rich-poor status
quo. Well, I guess I can try really hard to see if I can see how you see it
that way, but I am failing, and maybe you are thinking about some other
proposal? Maybe I can see it if we go with the Social Darwinism assumption
that the poor are poor because they are completely stupid about everything.
I'm sure there is a little truth to that, but, as I see it, the market,
while very good at producing a diversity of things for people with money, is
also good at concentrating wealth. So, the rich get richer unless some other
force steps in.
Or, as above, maybe you are just operating from the assumption most parents
are defective at looking out for their childrens' interests in a market economy?
If that last is the case, why do think so highly of the market if most
people are unable to make good purchasing decisions when their child's
current and future happiness is on the line and they have a significant
amount of money to spend towards that?
I'm trying to make the market work here, given the USA is so market
oriented. But you are trying to advocate a non-market solution. I just want
to point that out that irony. :-)
> Finally, the system would make mainstreaming children with
> special needs all but impossible.
The current governor of NY was refused help by his school district (as a
legally blind person) unless his parent placed him into "special education".
His parents fortunately were able to move to another school district where
he could be "mainstreamed". If his parents had gotten $20K per year for his
education to spend as they wanted, would they have had to move?
And if his education had required more than that, then Medicaid, the
country's charity program for, among other things, people with disabilities,
could have potentially helped under this plan, as I mention in the essay.
This would completely separate out the issue of "special needs" from the
power of schools. And, from what I hear, especially from homeschoolers with
special needs kids who pull the kids out of school, getting help from
schools for "special needs" can be really hard. Even when you do it, in the
bargain you need to stick a label on your kid that may affect their
self-image for life.
> Most educators believe a standard curriculum is important.
Any evidence? Which educators? Ask any school teacher you know if "no child
left behind" focusing on increasing standardized test scores has been good
for kids. And even if you can find school teachers who will say that, there
are many, many educators in other contexts who will decry that notion of
standardization. Kids learn everything at their own pace and in their own
way. There are many types of intelligence too, many different learning
styles. Many different interests. Many ways of teaching. Many ways of
learning. To force that all into one path to produce "standardized minds" is
basically turning schools into slaughterhouses of the mind, producing canned
hams all of the same mental size (too big, cut em down, too small, add
filler). See also:
"Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What
We Can Do to Change It"
Even the *corporate* interests want something different:
"To fix US schools, panel says, start over"
"What if the solution to American students' stagnant performance levels and
the wide achievement gap between white and minority students wasn't more
money, smaller schools, or any of the reforms proposed in recent years, but
rather a new education system altogether? "
Though the proposals there are mostly corporate friendly to create better
workers from a corporate perspective, not a peer economy perspective. They
don't get at the heart of the matter, like building better families, or
using the market creatively to provide better education options coupled with
giving families the money they need to purchase those options (even if it is
just to let parents stay out of the workforce to teach their own).
> Also, most
> believe that being an educator is being more than a teacher...
No disagreement here. In fact, many educators are very frustrated being
teachers. Some stay and try to do what they can (Gatto), many quit in
frustration (also Gatto :-).
> that some
> knowledge of psychological principles, learning principles and disciplinary
> principles are necessary to do the job.
This is important: the skills needed to run a classroom of twenty
age-similar children to force them to jump through state-supplied hoops on
the state's schedule are a completely different set of skills from helping
children grow on their own schedule into happy healthy compassionate
productive people on a one-to-one or one-to-few basis. Totally different.
Most of what teachers learn that is of any application in their real
classrooms is about how to maintain authoritarian discipline (though it may
be sugar-coated discipline, of course).
> Few have these skills...including
> many current teachers.
The best way to learn something is to do it (with help sometimes, of
course). The fact is, most teachers have only limited opportunities to be
educators. So, they don't get in enough practice time. How can you, with
twenty kids to keep track of?
Now, one room schoolhouses can do some education, but they do it by getting
the older kids to help teach the young, so the teacher is more like a factor
manager than anything else. There are downsides to that too (limited
curriculums). But, how do these older kids in one room schoolhouses learn to
be educators? By supervised practice on younger kids. And of course, one
hundred years ago, families were often bigger, so many children had
experience helping take care of younger ones.
> If a child has a home disciplinary or parenting
> problem, overloading the problem to the same dysfunctional families
> compounds the issue and dooms many to terrible lives.
Except $20K a year per child can pay for a lot of private school.
Maybe some families will be neglectful. In fact, humans being a diverse lot,
we can be sure of that. But again, are you going to make every child sleep
in a tent because a few children need to sleep in tents because their home
Seriously, name a percentage. What percentage of families do you think are
so dysfunctional that they could not handle this situation?
1%? 5%? 10%? 25%? 50%? 90%?
Then think about what that means about the current effectiveness of
schooling on people's happiness and ability to manage their own affairs in
peer networks and/or the market.
> What you are really suggesting is that people get paid for having children.
No, that would be, "Wow, you had a baby, here is a million dollars!"
Which might be a good idea, but is very different than this.
This idea, to use your language, which I don't quite agree with, would be
that people get paid for taking care of children, even if the children are
their own. But, seeing it as pay implies it is formal "work" which has
negative psychological issues.
I'd rather see this as money that enables families to take better care of
their own children in a market economy, and money which helps give peers
enough affluence to reach out to other peers in the neighborhood struggling
to take care of their kids for whatever reasons.
> Many European nations are on the brink of that now given their very low
> population growth rates.
Yes, there seems to be something about modern society that is deadly to
> Conventional social democracies do not function
> well with population columns rather than population pyramids.
I can see that point. It is especially true for retirement plans that are
like pyramid schemes. Or in other words, our society is build around a
demographic pyramid scheme of the old living off the young, and we need to
do things differently as populations stabilize.
> School reform and new strategies are vitally needed, and homeschooling has a
> small role to play, but it isn't the answer to most countries, states or
> localities needs. Vouchers aren't a bad idea in some cases, but overall,
> they are probably a disaster for the weak and poor.
Well, we agree about some parts, and disagree about others. :-)
All the best. And thanks for the rebuttal. These are all concerns that 98%
of US Americans would have. So I am glad that you brought them up.
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