Sunday, January 26, 2014

Teaching AP History for the Dr. Lan Academy

(Picture taken when my wife and I stopped by to meet with members of the Lan Academy team, who were participating at conference at Cal Tech a few miles from where we live in Pasadena, CA. Pictured here are Dr. Sikun Lan and Ms. Elizabeth Paich.)

I have been hired by the Dr. Lan Academy, an online school, to teach AP European and World history. The premise behind the school is to offer private education that is both cheaper and allows greater flexibility to individual students. This is accomplished by eliminating the brick and mortar building and replacing it with an internet video chat system that one can hook up to anywhere. These are going to be real live classroom lectures. Students will be able to interact with me and with other students through text message or through video. I am excited to be involved in this endeavor because it speaks to three themes dear to me and which I have often discussed on this blog, libertarianism, Asperger's syndrome and Orthodox Judaism.

As a libertarian, I am always on the lookout for ways to shrink the size of government in the hope of privatizing services which the government now claims a monopoly over. This ranges from wanting to privatize the post office to schools and for some of us even to dream of private police and courts.  Fighting this battle politically is admittedly a frustrating and generally futile task. Government will not surrender power and shrink on its own. It is therefore exciting to be able to stand in the front lines along creative business entrepreneurs like Dr. Sikun Lan, who are offering alternatives to state run schooling. (Let me add that Dr. Lan is a true gentleman as well as a pioneer.) I do not believe that institutions the Lan Academy are going to put public schools out of business any time soon, but they are a step in the right direction. If we are going to ask the public to trust the education of their children to the free market then we have to be able to offer them a plausible option.

Students with Asperger's syndrome often struggle in formal classrooms. Such social situations risk sensory overload as one does not have the option of simply stepping away without drawing attention to oneself. Furthermore, formal classrooms require one to be in constant performance mode, making the right facial expressions and obeying the rules of conversation. The online classroom provides an ideal entrance to mainstream education. One is being integrated into a regular class with neurotypical students for the purpose of earning college credit to be used for making the transition from high school to college.

The recent financial downturn has forced the Orthodox community to begin to ask some difficult questions regarding the economic feasibility of its private school system. Certainly in the city of Los Angeles, the cost of Jewish schooling is out of control. Online schooling offers a clearly superior alternative to public schools. Let yeshivas focus on traditional religious education in the morning and let students deal with secular school in the afternoon with a company like the Lan Academy, which is very respectful of people with traditional values and actively seeks to accommodate people whatever their requirements.

I do not speak for Lan Academy and nothing I say should be taken as representing the school or its values. That being said, I find working for the school and its administration to be an act that accords well with my deepest beliefs. To those of my readers, who miss more regular posts and need a certified AP history class, here is an opportunity to have me as your teacher with my verbal antics performed live. To those with high school students or that know students, who could benefit from this opportunity, feel free to recommend me. My courses each need ten students. When we get them we will get started (probably this coming summer) with the goal of being ready for the AP exams in May 2015.       

Monday, January 13, 2014

DirectTV for Your Baby

My wife is expecting a little Izgad due soon after Passover. It is my hope that this little fellow have all the appropriate number tentacles and eat mommy first. We recently attended at baby expo with her parents to look at cribs, strollers and car seats. The place was a bazaar for a wide range of organic and other alternative types of baby care products. For this reason I was surprised to see a booth for DIRECTV. Regardless of the whether I plan on raising my child with a television in the house, I consider television as much a part of a complete and balanced childhood as fruity pebbles. That being said, I went over to the people manning the booth to thank them. For one thing, they are doing their job. The market should operate with similar values as the adversarial system used in courts. Prosecutors and defense lawyers may argue against each other, but they are really on the same side of justice. For this reason victims of crimes should be just as grateful to defense lawyers with all their shenanigans as they are to the prosecutors. It is the defense lawyer, precisely to the proportion that he abuses his position, who grants legitimacy to the prosecution. Without him all you would have is a lynch mob and the moral distinction between victim and perpetrator would disappear. Similarly, the market requires many different sides to educate the public by advertising their wares. This includes television as well as drugs and prostitutes. (And if the little one tries to take advantage of any future legalization of the later two in order to experiment with them, he will wish their was a legal system to lock him away to protect him from me.)  

There is another reason why I am grateful to DIRECTV. They offered me an opportunity to correctly apply R. Avigdor Miller's  "near and far argument." His claim to deduce the value of science and history books in a library based on the fiction section is nonsense. That being said it is useful to know that their was no controlling authority as to who received booths to the extent that even DIRECTV could receive one. Thanks to DIRECTV, I know that I should just assume that the goods being sold by every other booth are equally junk. Now it is in the market interests of those other companies to make sure I receive a different signal and insist that the expo demonstrate that it has standards by not including DIRECTV.