October Reads

These were the best:

Books

HPMOR

Becoming Trader Joe by Joe Coulombe.

Articles
1. What made America the greatest technological country?

2. Was it size of industry? Was it social control by the government?    

3. A Columbian Exchange. Making Columbus Day arguments cool again.

4. Finding good influences on the internet. 

Poem

“The Highways Considered as Gods” Dana Gioia 

Podcasts

“Ted Gioia” Conversations with Coleman

“Of Boys and Men” Conversations with Coleman

September Reads (not “books read” because I need more time to read books)

Dipped into:

The Essence of Chaos by Edward Lorenz

Poor Economics by Duflo and Banerjee

Articles

Building technological society is actually very difficult. No, even more difficult than that.

But why couldn’t we just make threshing machines in the Middle Ages?

Are you sure it’s that hard to make threshing machines?

“The Economic Lives of the Poor” elucidates what it is like to never be able to get out crushing poverty. Plus some great insights about labor participation, entrepreneurship, and tithing.

The Floppy Disc business is long-lasting and Lindy. There’s a lesson here about why not to over-adjust to visions of the future.

The opposite business model is building a space program on satellite deployments. Deeply in-depth look at Starlink.

AI will be able to do this and more in our decade, even if this demo is bunk.

Aristotle as Optimist.

Safety, properly understood, is an aspect of progress.

Duflo and Banerjee mistakes about education. Private education is the norm in poor countries and consistently outperforms state education, even given less resources.

Finally, the explanation I’ve been waiting for on how transistors work. This site is remarkably well-written.

Philosophy posing as an insightful discussion of business expansion. Very helpful for me.

“The idea that you can be whatever you want to be, or build whatever you want to build, is a sure path to a short, unhappy existence.”

Three papers on chaos.

Just going through the motions… is good enough.

These two videos are great for the same reason.

Fool’s Gold: The Perfect Five Day School

Here’s my bet: hybrid schools will proliferate over the next 20 years.

The advantages of school are obvious: learning at school gives a social dimension for a social creature. Friendship, role models, and social expectations motivate learning. It’s a fact of nature that the formation of the rational soul requires society. There is no gene for phonics or temperament of trigonometry. Manners and milieu maketh the man.

And the basic unit of society is the family.

Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with an immortal line about the special uniqueness of all families.

“All happy families are alike; all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.”

But Tolstoy is exactly wrong. The more we conform ourselves to the Logos, the more individual and happier we become. We cease comparing ourselves to others and competing, and instead become the saint only we can be. The golden calf appeals to the mob, not the man alone on the mountain.

The hybrid model sits on the frontier of the trade-off between family & self-cultivation and peer interactions & peer-pressure.

What the hybrid model does for the high school student is provide structure, friendships, social expectations, and role models without creating an environment of conformity. Students have the space to self-pace and detach from the school peer group. They are free to grow in their uniqueness. By giving students multiple institutions to participate in, church, family, and school, the awesome power of social conformity dampens.

Let’s ask a different question. Are we moving towards a future where the best opportunities for learning are centralized in one building with lots of other people? What indications do we have of that? Very little.

Our milieu is the age of increasing decentralization.

Technology has transformed and will continue to transform the nature of society. It creates immense opportunities for the virtuous to grow in knowledge and capacity, and for the foolhardy to fall into fictions and fantasies. Decentralization of learning institutions will continue.

For us, this means that offering the best high school formation cannot all be school-based. The lion’s share of great souls and roaring saints will be deeply individual and inimitable. They will need their church, families, jobs, outside associates, in addition to school for true soulcraft to occur.

School as a learning factory, school as a holding cell, school as place where entire age cohorts are subjected to each other’s peer pressure for long periods day-in and day-out, even in the best circumstances, such as that of Catholic boarding school (my own experience) costs a high school student their family bond, the bond which the papacy and specifically the local bishop has commissioned us to bolster through this mission.

When the Jesuits started their education system in 1599, their schools met four days per week. Wednesday was the off day. Still in France around 80% of high schools are four-day. School is not education. Don’t let school stand in the way of education.

At JPII, we have two home days. Those two days to work on our education without school holding our hand. Those days ours to become our true selves within the context of our family and community. This is the cutting edge of the JPII Ministry.

Shaw on Physical Hardihood and Spiritual Cowardice

“If there are dangerous precipices about, it is much easier and cheaper to forbid people to walk near the edge than to put up an effective fence: that is why both legislators and parents and the paid deputies of parents are always inhibiting and prohibiting and punishing and scolding and laming and cramping and delaying progress and growth instead of making the dangerous places as safe as possible and then boldly taking and allowing others to take the irreducible minimum of risk.

“It is easier to convert most people to the need for allowing their children to run physical risks than moral ones. I can remember a relative of mine who, when I was a small child, unused to horses and very much afraid of them, insisted on putting me on a rather rumbustious pony with little spurs on my heels (knowing that in my agitation I would use them unconsciously), and being enormously amused at my terrors. Yet when that same lady discovered that I had found a copy of The Arabian Nights and was devouring it with avidity, she was horrified, and hid it away from me lest it should break my soul as the pony might have broken my neck. This way of producing hardy bodies and timid souls is so common in country houses that you may spend hours in them listening to stories of broken collar bones, broken backs, and broken necks without coming upon a single spiritual adventure or daring thought.”

A Treatise on Parents and CHildren

It’s better to teach someone to swim, chainsaw, and parachute through practice and explanation and practice rather than deadly Darwinian experience. The same goes for the moral and intellectual hazards of life.

August Reads

Dip

The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

Liber Regulae Pastoralis by St. Gregory the Great

Dive

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Hammond

Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric

  1. Russ Roberts critiques utilitarian economics.
  1. Will MacAskill denies he’s a utilitarian, just as I predicted.
  1. Charitable giving advice from Tyler 
  1. The dissolution of the monasteries and economic growth. Interesting.
  1. Difference in gullibility between nonbelievers and believers.
  1. Prompting yourself to be a better writer.
  1. Media outlets that didn’t pass High School writing and research.
  1. Aesthetics matter.
  1. Athens and Jerusalem and Silicon Valley: Three Cities 

Podcast episodes that made my mind dance to the exact chord that animates creation:

Tyler grills Will. Will responds well. It’s a glass bead extravaganza.

Zohar elicits deep insight about the nature of Torah and economics.

This. Agnes Callard offers a vision of a new literacy which allows us to know ourselves.

July Reads

Devoured all these:

Hybrid Homeschools by Mike McShane

A quick and tasteful overview of one fast-growing model of school. The type that is 1 day a week or more in a traditional classroom, but not 5 days a week. It’s a good book, and a great model. More people should try both.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer 

I can’t tell if I like the style, in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t like it. The condescending tone of the narrator at times bleeds into the condescension of the author. Though there are some things about the tone I do very much appreciate. I can’t tell if I like the author. She sometimes seems to be a total show off and other times convinces me of her brilliance. I know that I like the world that she created, and find it believable, albeit melodramatic. And I know that I am intrigued by the themes she’s developing.

The Deluge by Adam Tooze.

Adam Tooze’s epic globe-trotting foray into the politics and economics of the interwar period. The book sometimes suffers from a heavy reliance upon characterization, but the genius of the work is how states interact with each other as though they are unitary actors, yet each state knows that the political conditions on the homefront determine the boundaries of the diplomatic negotiations, and so there is deep complexity about what each state can credibly commit to. Some moments were absolutely cinematic. The negotiations at Versailles, the domestic politics of Japan, basically everything about Lloyd George. The vision of the post WWI liberal order changed my historical worldview about the force of ideology in history, upgrading it a good deal. It’s not only the Soviet’s who were possessed by an Idea. At the same time, I also adjusted my views about the relationship between economic crises and internal political decay in the US and abroad.

Articles

Already a classic biology essay.
Today is better than then!
Modernism is history.
Time to Rekindle Poetry

Books on the Pros and Cons of Different Educational Models

There is no end to the writing of books on education and for every book pulling one one way, there is another pulling differently. Although the best advice for finding what to do with your child, I think, is to start with looking at the details of which options are actually available to you as opposed to starting exclusively with the theory and a wish list of school qualities.

Nonetheless, here are the books that I think are the most useful for thinking about education from several perspectives. 

Disclaimer: I don’t endorse less than half of half the books on this list, and I do endorse more than half of half the books removed from it. 

There are no books on pedagogy here. Those will be for another time.

Books about Education and Learning

Why Knowledge Matters by E.D. Hirsch

Argues that a carefully planned curriculum that imparts communal knowledge is essential in achieving one of the most fundamental aims and objectives of education: preparing students for lifelong success. Hirsch examines historical and contemporary evidence from the United States and other nations, including France, and affirms that a knowledge-based approach has improved both achievement and equity in schools where it has been instituted.
The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them by E.D. Hirsch

Argues that, by disdaining content-based curricula while favoring abstract–and discredited–theories of how a child learns, the ideas uniformly taught by our schools have done terrible harm to America’s students. Instead of preparing our children for the highly competitive, information-based economy in which we now live, our schools’ practices have severely curtailed their ability, and desire, to learn.

The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan

Why we need to stop wasting public funds on education. Despite being immensely popular – and immensely lucrative – education is grossly overrated.

Why Students Don’t Like School by Thomas Willingham

Research-based insights and practical advice about effective learning strategies.

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

Schools have failed our individual needs, supporting false and misleading notions of ‘progress’ and development fostered by the belief that ever-increasing production, consumption and profit are proper yardsticks for measuring the quality of human life.

Homeschooling

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist

Home educator Laura Berquist presents a modern curriculum based on the time-tested philosophy of the classical Trivium—grammar, logic and rhetoric.

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Ruth Beechick  

This classic gives nitty-gritty help for each subject in each grade. Become an informed, confident teacher, free from rigid textbooks. Learn how to individualize spelling; how to use “real books” in history, reading, and other studies; how to make arithmetic meaningful; how to avoid the grammar treadmill; how to develop advanced reading skills; and much more.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer

How to give your child an academically rigorous, comprehensive education from preschool through high school―one that will train him or her to read, to think, to understand, to be well-rounded and curious about learning.

Home Education by Charlotte Mason

My attempt in the following volume is to the suggest to parents and teachers a method of education resting upon a basis of natural law; and to touch, in this connection, upon a mother’s duties to her children.

Hybrid School

Hybrid Homeschooling: The Future of School by Mike McShane

A quiet, readable, encouraging guide to parents and educators, filled with examples, anecdotes and first-person accounts, on what may be the fastest growing sector in American education.


Charter School

Charter Schoolsand Their Enemies by Thomas Sowell.

A leading conservative intellectual defends charter schools against the teachers’ unions, politicians, and liberal educators who threaten to dismantle their success.  

Public School

The Death and Life of the American School by Diane Ravitch.

An urgent case for protecting public education, from one of America’s best-known education experts.

June Reads

Devour

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. A phenomenal compendium about designing physical space to promote and pull people into human flourishing. Some of it is starry-eyed wishful thinking, other aspects deeply practical advice. Everything from how neighborhood streets should be arranged, to a living room, to front porches and offices.

Dive

Institutio Oratoria by Quintilian. I’m searching for clues into the process of great great formation in education. Quintilian was a staple for a reason!

Dip

Autobiography by John Stuart Mill. Some great examples of how forced elaboration hones the understanding of a subject. His father would go on walks delivering him a lecture on political economy, and then have him dictate back the lecture the next day – a grueling exercise that caused learning.

Some works are so good that you can’t devour them. Instead they nibble at you. The Bible, the best poetry, and Moby Dick are like this to me. Like a fine glass of bourbon, I can’t drink but a sip before my head gets dizzy and my mind goes chasing after some invisible infinite thread. But I am almost finished with Moby Dick, at last. I say ‘at last’ because I have been on its line for a long time, unable to wriggle away, yet unable to devour the whole hook, line, and reel. A fast fish, soon to be loose again.

Best Articles in June

Don’t let the students “choose their own adventure.”
Evidence that Science is Hard and getting Harder.
Bengal almost industrialized.
The state of the art of nuclear power construction costs.
Secret Theological-philosophy.


Resources on The Content and Method of Classical Tutoring

Henrik the Great asked me to dust off what I know about the curriculum and practice of private tutoring. While I don’t know much, I do know the basics and the big names.

I assume you read my excerpts from Jesuit educational ideals already. which offers some pointers.

For a detailed example of an entire curriculum see Jesuit Education: Its History and Principles (1904) which, while a lackluster book for several reasons, does include a detailed course of study which would be fairly standard not just among Catholic but also Anglican and Lutheran teachers during the 17th – 19th century. For example, John Stuart Mill’s early education was very much in the same vein.

Here are the big works on pedagogy and curriculum:

Aristotle (all, but especially)

On Rhetoric

Roman

Cicero, Ad Herrenium, which lays out the entire course rhetoric and persuasion for the next 1800 years. It is also the first place that the use of deep memory techniques is briefly discussed. 

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, which reviews Cicero’s course and extends the ideas and practice.

Marcus Aurelius mentions in his meditations mentions the quality of teaching of many of his tutors, especially the method of writing dialogues on alternate positions. This method was popular enough that many early Christian writings are in dialogue form as well. 

Cassiodorus, Institutes of Secular Learning

Medieval

Peter Lombard’s Sentences were the standard method and textbook for 400 years.

Aquinas On the Teacher. Of course, Aquinas’s Summae tried to make a replacement for the sentences, but was not successful until well after his death (three centuries!).

John Buridan’s Summulae de Dialectica was a standard textbook on Logic and logical method for a couple hundred years.

I do not know of any medieval source who discussed and presented scholastic pedagogical method explicitly, although it was very influential. I need to check what would have been the standard reference.

Renaissance

Petrus Paulus Vergilius, De Ingenuis Moribus frequently translated as The New Education. Refocuses education on service to civic life.

Aeneas Silvius, On Education 

Erasmus De Ratione Studii, On the Method of Study, and Ciceronianus, which covers how he thinks schooling can excel beyond mere memorization and imitation.

I think it is easy to underestimate how much sway these older authors had on 17th-19th century education. They were giants.

I have some takeaways from these readings and my own experience being classically educated but am not yet able to fully articulate them.

Enlightenment

I am not well aware how tutoring curricula changed in the Enlightenment. I wouldn’t count the differences in method to be great, although the content certainly shifted to include more mathematics. The personal libraries of the great thinkers reflect remarkably little change from the interests of the Renaissance Humanists, as far as I know. Though, I am happy to be corrected.

March Reads

This month I wrote far more than normal. Three complete articles, two drafts, and comments on some papers. No dips and no devours; just some semi-weekly dives.

Dive

Utopia by Thomas More. Thomas’ in the Prologue of how difficult it is to find time for self-study and intellectual wandering was like a TUMS, calming my nerves.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Here are some choice cuts from this past week.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering—while I jerked him now and then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam him—still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life.

Chapter 72 The Monkey rope

[The context is that the giant head of a sperm whale hangs attached to the side of the ship. The crew has killed a Right Whale, and plan on balancing it out with another head of a lesser Leviathan].

In good time, Flask’s saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Chapter 73 Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole