Mad Education

One of the many ongoing conversations I am having with my old college buddies is that of education. Of course, given our unique perspectives and attitudes, we aren’t discussing the usual mundane and empirically-oriented discussions as to whether school choice, prayer in classrooms, standardized testing, or mandatory attendance are good ideas. Instead we are discussing the definition of the word “education” (something for which I get picked on relentlessly), and whether or not it is true that “all children ought to be educated”.

As much as I wish I were prepared to write a full text centered on that question, I am not yet prepared and that conversation has not yet concluded. One participant in the conversation, someone you ought to be familiar with, likes to try to bring the high-altitude and categorical discussion down into our spheres of influence. This time he did so by directly asking me (the main antagonist and contrarian, as usual) what relationship I have with educating children, in concrete terms.

I proceeded to monologue about how Wife of Mad Philosopher and I have gone about preparing our daughters. I became very self aware as I went on and on, given that I was (once again) talking about myself at length. At the end of the monologue, though, I was given positive feedback and some questions for the sake of clarification. As that portion of our conversation wrapped up, I felt so good about how it went that I figured I could share it with my readers. I assure you, it pertains to philosophy.

The Wife and I are currently home-schoolers, it would seem. This decision happened somewhat organically, as we cannot afford private school (at least, not any private education worth paying for) and public schools are undeniably indoctrination centers for the creation of left-statist suicide cultists. I was homeschooled for a good portion of my junior high school years and skipped high school altogether, so I am not unaware of homeschool culture. My wife attended Catholic private schools in New Hampshire, and we both went to a Catholic University in Florida. Given that background, awareness of our Faith and a healthy regard for the GTB (Good, True, and Beautiful), and those are things that seem to be lacking in availability in the current market.

If any of you readers are familiar with homeschool culture, you may have a hard time finding a box to put us in. We’re certainly not the curriculum-hunters, moving from Alpha to Seton to Ron Paul to Tom Woods. Some people may want to call us un-schoolers but that isn’t entirely accurate, either. Besides, I try to avoid the term as it’s often used as an invective.

Ultimately, the best way to explain our methodology is to simply describe what we do and the intentions behind the actions in question. The short answer is we’re using a combination of the Trivium, self-awareness (Brandon, (((Rosenberg))), etc.), and more mainstream tools in a lifestyle approach. It will be difficult to simply say “here is what a typical day looks like, extrapolate that to two-thirds of the year,” because every day is its own unique experience.

This variation is due to the relational nature of our approach. Rather than simply establishing a “teacher-student” dynamic and declaring “I am in teacher-mode, now, so you must learn these things I have set out for you, student,” We explore the world around us from the perspectives of a bunch of little, beautiful, white girls ages six and under. On days when Wife has the physical ability, they often set up little desks and do level-appropriate literacy/numeracy exercises as long as attention-span and desire for the ability to do grown-up things persists. Some days, this is five minutes, other days it’s a whole morning. When she is having a bad day (Hashimotos+pregnancy+dietary mistakes= a bad day), there is a lot of web-based material available and educational television; we don’t force them to play ABC Mouse or watch Veritasium videos, but they often enjoy to opportunity when it is offered.

Logic is *always* emphasized in communication as well as NVC and other self-awareness methodologies. I make a conscious effort to speak in syllogistic phrases and reference rules of induction as well as fallacies and cognitive biases in my daily conversations, and I redouble that effort when speaking with my children. When discussing desires and engaging in conflict resolution, NVC comes in handy as well. This emphasis on logic and self-awareness is less a matter of some sort of concrete learning mechanism, but instead learning a skill set that helps oneself determine what one wants to do and how to do it. As a result of this approach, my children are able to engage adults and other children in dialogue directed at meeting their own needs.

On average, three times a week, there are group science/engineering, play, and field-trip get-togethers with other families. Some of these get-togethers are with my family (I am the oldest of eight kids and my youngest sister is seven years old), but many of them are with other homeschool groups.

My kids have their own money and property and are responsible for the investment and consumption of those resources, with some adult suggestion and guidance. They get this money and property by way of gifts for holidays/birthdays and exchanging goods and services with others. They get plenty of gift money, and they have already figured out subjective ordinal value by way of spending that money and selling things to each other and other kids (mostly my siblings).

I do not believe in allowances (paying your shildren for existing, in the hope they learn how to manage money), and establishing a scheme of “you do these chores and I pay you” seems contrived and puts a strain on our relationship. Of course, in the same way that I must care for my apartment and follow certain rules as pertains to my lease, my children must do the same with regards to their things and my apartment. If messes get out of control and are not cleaned in a timely manner, the messes are physically removed from the apartment.

Daily, Wife and I pray at our icon corner, read the Scripture passages from the Divine Liturgy, recite rote prayers (grace before meals, bedtime prayers, etc). We encourage participation, but we make it a point to not coerce it. We are at our Byzantine rite parish or a Roman Rite parish at least two times a week, but often three or four times. Our kids get plenty of exposure to our Faith, and they ask a lot of questions. Fortunately, Wife and I are sufficiently catechized and skeptical so as to be able to provide honest and concrete answers to many of their questions, instead of hand-waving and appealing to authority. You won’t see us saying “God just made it that way,” or “it’s a mystery, just believe it or you’re going to hell.”

Bedtime stories are always exercises in literacy and often pertain to classic literature, economics, survival skills, natural sciences, etc. My kids love the Tuttle Twins series, Survivor Max, My Little Pony Comics, 1001 Nights (Harvard Classics 1909-1911 edition) and the usual “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” type stuff. They pick out words, letters, sentences, etc. that they recognize and always, always, always, with the questions. My favorite ones are the questions we get from Tuttle Twins and Magic school bus, but even normal kids’ books generate fun and informative discussions.
And by now you should know me: every waking moment is a series of questions, arguments, answers… my kids are not spared that fate. Every assertion they make, I request evidence. Every demand they make, I ask for an NVC phrasing and a justification for their request. Every time they express that they think I’m wrong or unjust (“fair” is a banned word in our house), we negotiate. Of course, I have the brunt of the bargaining power, being the effective landlord, but that doesn’t mean they can’t improve my quality of life in exchange for whatever it is they want.

We do mild amounts of parkour, self-defense/martial arts, camping, and structured physical activity alongside a ton of simply running around in nature and roughhousing. Park trips, snowball fights, swimming in a nearby pool… it’s a blast. I share my vast knowledge of plants, creepy-crawlies, and other animals whenever I can (and they are interested); the Boy Scouts did at least that much for me.
And there’s the never-ending series of “Why”s that come from the children and they always get answer, whether it’s something I know off the top of my head or we need to go to my bookshelf for the answer.

When my bookshelf is insufficient, we just duck it.
By now, you can probably see why the “unschooling” label would be applied; our approach is more a lifestyle education process as opposed to a “sit in your desk and memorize this shit” curriculum. There is some of that, but it’s an added feature as opposed to the central approach.

Oh, and Wife and I don’t filter our conversations in front of the children, so they are exposed to conflict resolution, finances, political intrigue, rhetoric, etc. That’s where a lot of the “why”s come from.

Oh, and video games. We play video games.

Wife has a more disparaging view of our approach, but that’s because she doesn’t like to give herself credit when it is due. She even admits that it’s due to a lack of self-confidence, and I understand and empathize. At the same time, we’re getting results and it’s more fun this way. She is nervous about attempting something less Prussian. I understand why, she is a product of said system and she turned out intelligent, informed, beautiful, and morally straight… but she is the minority output of that particular system.

(A quick aside about the Prussian comment, if you are not prepared for several hours of youtube videos about the history of American education… The modern American education model finds it’s point of origin in the Prussian war machine, circa late 18th century. It was explicitly designed to create factory workers and soldiers. Essentially, a handful of education consultants visited Prussia/Germany during summer break, took some tours given by diplomats, got sold on the idea and came back to the US and created the public education system. Which, in order to comply with government monopoly, the private institutions copied.)

Relating this subjective instance to the general principles we were discussing in my group of friends:
It would be arrogant and naive for me to assume to know the specific teloi which may or may not exist for each of my daughters, but I am exposing them to reality in a manner that is digestible and intelligible with the intent of providing them with the tools necessary to determine subjective needs/responsibilities for themselves. I believe this is the “self awareness” aspect of our discussion.
Any one of them may be the chief engineer on Musk’s Tesla-branded inter-generational spaceship, or they may do something more appropriate for women such as producing offspring or joining a monastery. The necessity of numeracy, literacy, and even logic are dependent upon those outcomes, but the self-awareness provided by NVC, property negotiation, and Nathaniel Brandon’s brand of “self esteem” will certainly aid in making that determination. This is the case simply because my children have the capacity for intellection and delay of gratification. If they were… of lesser genetic stock… or somehow disabled, even this self-awareness could be optional.

This is why I am resistant to the claim that “All children ought to be educated.”

TL;DR: I don’t know how to make this more concise. It’s about how I’m contributing to the development of my children, a little bit about the reasoning behind this approach, and the results of said approach. Carpe Veritas isn’t just a tagline, it’s an imperative I live by and set the example for my children to do the same.

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2 Responses to Mad Education

  1. Joel says:

    “undeniably indoctrination centers for the creation of left-statist suicide cultist”

    I think I’ll go to the next school board meeting and try to get a name change passed. We’ll call the school “The Center for Indoctrination of Left-Statist Suicide Cultists.” I wonder if the enrollment will go down.

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