If And When To Homeschool

Homeschooling has a bad rep, mostly because it’s the religiously-motivated homeschoolers who get most of the press. But I was homeschooled for one year (eighth grade) for entirely practical reasons. Namely, there weren’t such good schools anywhere around when we moved to upstate New York.

It was an invaluable and memorable part of my childhood in which I:

  • finished an entire state-approved curriculum for the year in four months
  • was tutored in chemistry and Latin by Bard College students
  • learned history and literature from my mom, and a little computer programming from my step-dad.
  • self-taught everything else.
  • attended college-level art seminars, also at Bard
  • played on multiple county basketball & soccer teams, some which I was the star of
  • freely roamed our 100+ acre former farm building forts, swings, and shelters, including one in which I rode out a serious snow blizzard
  • weekly, as a family, broke down a beaver damn which was causing flooding to our basement
  • alternated with my sister our responsibility to cook lunches for each other
  • at the end of the year, was admitted and accepted entry into a prestigious New England prep school for freshman year, where I immediately tested into sophomore-level math, science, history classes.

Down the rabbit hole of charity, altruism, and moral philosophy

Weekend reading on these subjects:

From which we get this anecdote which will stick with me:

I won’t even get into how low an opinion people seemed to hold of the United Nations. If anyone can figure out how to take $10 to give a refugee $1, they will.


Who counts as an expert

The New Music Box has a story on that very question from earlier this year. It crystalizes for me a key problem with both the wider world, and with my personal efforts at both career advancement and talking about my own creative work. More on that in a sec.

Here’s there key part of the story, as they explain why things tend to get oversimplified (this is all in the context of a debate over the future of music industry, btw):

A parallel factor may be the trend towards “explainer journalism” sites, which “have built their core identity around explaining complicated issues or situations to a well-informed general public” as Henry Farrell, um, explains. The inherent claim to expertise in this mode of writing doesn’t exactly encourage intellectual humility or the weighing of different theories, but encourages boldly assertive claims as an exercise in self-branding and generating traffic.

This is an era that rewards simple explanations: TED Talks that prescribe neat solutions, the ability to learn “everything you need to know about X in one chart.” It’s nice when such things exist, but it’s easy to lapse into a preference for falsely totalizing narratives, and “expertise” is awarded on the basis of whether you can offer such a narrative (bonus points awarded if you can work in an affirmation of entrepreneurial progress that’s basically compatible with our prevailing neoliberal power structures).

Perception is Reality – David Hume Edition

Wonderful to see this excellent articulation of David Hume and his application to the existential angst and depression of real life. He was one of my favorite’s in philosophy school, if not THE favorite. Via a story in The Atlantic:

In his Treatise, Hume rejected the traditional religious and philosophical accounts of human nature. Instead, he took Newton as a model and announced a new science of the mind, based on observation and experiment. That new science led him to radical new conclusions. He argued that there was no soul, no coherent self, no “I.” “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself,” he wrote in the Treatise, “I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception…

“But here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.

The “Neo-Liberal” Arts

This is a must-read for anyone who cares about or is involved in higher education. See The Closing of the American Mind for intellectual foundation and background. Full story is in Harper’s:

It is not the humanities per se that are under attack. It is learning: learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake. It is the liberal arts, but understood in their true meaning, as all of those fields in which knowledge is pursued as an end in itself, the sciences and social sciences included.