Issue #8

To say that this issue presents the best achievement in my career of At Home Schooling is such a gross understatement that I can't even find click baity enough click bait to introduce this month's topic. How do you combine math (great pay out of college) with writing (CEO earnings by 40)? The answer is philosophy.
Issue #8
To say that this issue presents the best achievement in my career of At Home Schooling is such a gross understatement that I can't even find click batey enough click bate to introduce this month's topic. How do you combine math (great pay out of college) with writing (CEO earnings by 40)? The answer is philosophy. This field combines the rigors of math problem solving with thinking and writing skills, and throws in a heavy dose of arguing.
From the Editor
Issue #8 is a leap in thinking.

The very first issue of Competitive Parent Magazine was published in My goal with CPM was to refine problem solving skills using Algebra and make some headway into writing skills, with some chores thrown in. That and my kids were getting older. It's one thing to teach the cognitive skills needed to pass the GAT test, but quite another to prepare for long term success. Specifically it takes more writing on my part. The core skill set is still the same whether the child is 4 or 14.

This issue transitions from math to philosophy. There are few high paying careers in STEM, but every large company has a CEO. Can you take a child's mastery of problem solving skills and turn them lose on everything else? I first approached philosophy as a bridge between math and writing. I now think of it as a bridge between thinking about math and thinking about everything else.

I laid the groundwork for philosophy by 6 months of writing exercises. Writing got pretty boring after the first month, so we switched to reading a page or five of something interesting followed by 30 minutes of discussion. I turned to philosophy when I ran out of other topics to discuss.

Fun with philosophy

Most philosophers throughout history were arogant, drunk morons. There is no other way to explain how they could come up with such stupid ideas...

Fun with philosophy

If you have gifted children, defined as average children who are consistently exposed to gifted level exercises, then you probably have argumentative children. This is the hallmark of a gifted child. You may not notice this if you have a single child and you don't hang out at the playground listening to their conversations. If you have multiple children, then every dinner conversation topic (e.g, 'pass me the ketchup') devolves into a vigorous debate over who is right. Mom's hate it. Dad's are too busy arguing to notice, (e.g, the ketchup bottle is in reach, stop moving it, you already have enough ketchup, no that's not the exact amount that belongs on a fry).

Lately, my favorite At Home Schooling exercise is to state the thesis of a philosopher and then invite my children to evaluate how totally right this person is on this particular topic. It's hard not to smile. The first reaction I get is a 10 minute look of disbelief at how wrong I must be while my child unpacks the logic. With a really good argument, it might take a few days.

In fairness to long dead philosophers, we have much going for us today that was not available in the 18th or 19th centuries. Kant and Descartes provided some really powerful tools for thinking that might not have been accepted as widely back then as they are today. The IQ of the average 13 year old today is much higher than the average IQ of an 18th or 19th century philosopher. Eighth graders don't drink wine during breakfast or lunch, and so have a greater capacity to think through a complicated problem after dinner. The only commonality between an 18th or 19th century philosopher and the modern teenager is that both are convinced that they are right and everyone else is stupid.

As a side note, I never understood why The Left decried the narrow focus on studying the Eurocentric view of the world. After all, math is math, and math historians are careful to point out where other cultures discovered Algebra, Trig, Calculus and number theory before it was rediscovered and codified by European academics. Granted, it's well known that historical research is usually wrong; this reputation is well earned by European and American historians who are blind to the fact that there may be something they don't know. Since I started studying philosophy a few weeks ago, my eyes are opened to just how arrogant and clueless the average European philosophers is, and this field would benefit enormously from input of the other continents.

An example of stupidity

The whole field of ontology is based on the same faulty premise as alchemy. According to Anselm's famous logical fallacy, God is the best thing you can think of, but this thing would be better if it existed, therefore God must exist. What?

We thoroughly debated a few of these arguments realizing that the definition of God, no matter how carefully defined, will not logically prove his existence.

On the other hand, Karl Popper's description of what is science versus what is not science is as profound as it is simple. (Thanks Crash Course in Philosophy on youtube). For every 10 philosophy arguments that I read, one of them is really good. The other 9 are the reason I think 8th graders are smarter than 18th and 19th century philosophers.

The never ending debate

Every philosophical concept and argument is fair game for learning. Some of these are not only good for learning, but age appropriate as well.

How do you define the self? I put this question to 3 thirteen year old boys. Here is the list I received from the first one, we'll call him Arthur: "I'm humorous, play video games, and have friends." So if you're travelling abroad and in a bad mood and all you have is a book for company, then you're not you? The next friend, Stuart, proposed "International, sports minded, sarcastic, and not Arthur." Well played. You're still you on a trip.

We didn't even get into the philosophical arguments on self since this discussion took so long. Are you your cells, your brain, a soul, etc. The next morning Arthur announced "I have 4 moods. Humorous, serious, bored, and before a cross country meet I go like this a lot (flailing about)". So he is still himself on a trip abroad. But that's not the point.

Why don't you want to die? "Because I can do fun stuff and death is boring". I had to help here - we don't know death is boring but we don't know that it isn't, but we know for a fact that today's fun stuff is in fact fun. I'm not 100% sure of this, but I don't see this argument in the body of material on the death of philosophy. A fun discussion, but again, not the point.

What is the point?

The point is that the kids are learning to 'see'. I develop this skill in pre-math kids who learn to 'see' shapes and shape attributes in a complicated diagram during COGAT test prep, or 'see' the missing equation in a complicated math word problem at age 8. Now they're learning to 'see' relationships and characteristics and logic that they didn't know existed behind a simple word like 'self'. This is not just a skill, it's a super power. When paired with the super power of vocabulary (ontological, abductive, etc) I've got a kid who's going to do well in AP English. This assumes that their grade school teachers are doing the same thing with literature, which they are, or I would be doing it at home.

Apparently philosophers, despite their hang overs and limited IQ's, knew this all along. Philosophy is about asking questions and extending, changing, refuting, or proposing arguments. In other words, it's really great preparation for getting papers done quickly and not being challenged by college despite taking advanced courses.

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How to torture your child with philosophy

Our At Home Schooling math program got lost on the road to arguing and veered into philosophy. Next we added our normal rigorous methodology...

How to torture your child with philosophy

There are so many different fields within philosophy. The only two that I'm familiar with are logic (known as logic) and the structure of a good argument (known as arguing). There are so many fields. Where to begin?

I settled on this question. Did mathematicians discover the circle, or did they invent it?

The first step

This is a nice baby step. A child as young as 10 should immediately appreciate the need to define 'invent' and 'discover' before answering the question. My job as the team member is to follow up each assertion with a question doubting it's validity. Of course, there is no answer, and I don't care for one. I want to see thinking.

This is also a good exercise for 'going deeper', although ironically my 10 year old went much deeper than my 13 year old. Here's the potential of this problem:

  • Did Columbus discover America even though there were people living here already?
  • Or did he discover it for the queen of Spain who didn't know it existed?
  • Does anyone invent anything?
  • Does every invention exist within an infinite permutation of words, colors and atoms, or do they just pluck it out of the realm of possibilities that already exist? (That was my contribution.)
  • Does a painter create a painting or does he just make one that already exists conceptually?
  • Does he invent the concept or just put together things that already exist?
  • Then is an invention really new or just a combination of things that exist?
  • If I tape a flashlight to a broom, did I invent something?
  • What is a circle? Did they discover it by looking at the sun?
  • Or is it all points equidistant from a center point, in which case it doesn't exist in nature?

The second step

I presume the second step is a framework for tackling the problem. Something like a solution strategy. We're not making progress, just asking more questions. Maybe our questions are the formulation of a strategy. We're not that far along yet as philosophers.

We need baby steps here is well, like assuming the definition of invention and discovery and then applying it to the circle. This is a solution strategy from math. Or we look for examples of invention and discovery and categorize them looking for patterns. Again, math. Or take the simplest of all examples - use a stone to break a rock, and see what comes of it, working our way up from there (stone tied to a stick). Math. The only thing you can't do strategy-wise is try out every answer from a pick list because even though I have one I won't share it. That leaves adding the missing equation, working backwards, and problem decomposition, but these solution strategies naturally emerged from analyzing the problem.

In case you're interested, I just paraphrased the Big Five solution strategies from math plus The Solution Super Strategy (aka the stone). I wonder if the mechanics of philosophy presents an additional strategy or just redefines the usual suspects from math.

The torture

We're getting no where. Switching sides, changing our minds, tossing out steps of reasoning that lead no-where, and asking a lot of questions. My counter questions are frustrating because every answer has multiple follow up questions. I think this is the point of philosophy.

My philosophy partner decided that ideas can be invented, and an invention is the application of the idea or concept to a bunch of prediscovered objects. Each person can discover something or be told about it from the discoverer. The same thing can be discovered by many people. That's why Columbus was able to discover the new world, even though there were people already living there that obviously already knew about it. If you attach a flashlight to a broom, you invented the concept (The Night Sweeper 2000), but you didn't invent or discover its parts.

Good enough for now. Your answers may vary.

Philosophy and Writing

My original concept for an At Home School writing program was something that involved writing. It's morphed into the skills you need to ...

Philosophy and writing

My original concept for an At Home School writing program was something that involved writing. It's morphed into the skills you need to sit down and bang out a solid A paper without a lot of effort. I haven't formalized the list of writing skills. Here's where I am:

  • Writing skills have a little to do with math so we'll start there.
  • Writing skills have a lot to do with philosophy skills which is why we're focusing on philosophy now.
  • As a kid practices skills, he gets faster. After a lot of practice, he moves quickly, avoiding mistakes and dead ends from past experience, characterizing new versus old problems quickly, and applying the skills much more elegantly the next time.
  • There are no new skills in writing, but practicing them in the context of math doesn't help using them in the context of writing. Mostly.

In the last article, I summarized math solution strategy skills in the context of philosophy. In short, the broader list of problem solving skills includes reading the question, devising a strategy, getting the wrong answer and trying again, and checking the work. 'Seeing' and 'Vocabulary' are super powers and not skills but play a major role in all fields. Creating fancy algorithms to solve all problems in this class of problems is another Super Power.

I call these the Big Five Problem solving skills. The first 4 in the list above are the first 4 of the Big Five, and the last one is called bucketing - taking on work that you won't be able to solve until next year and then looking like a genius when you get to it in school because you're already familiar with the material. The 3 Super Powers of problem solving emerge with practice on the right types of problems (aka problems that need seeing, vocab, and algorithms).

Here is my view of the exact same skill set in the context of writing.

  • Understanding the rubric on a writing topic is a bit like reading the question in math and philosophy.
  • The 'question' phase in writing involves additional information gathering and organizing the thoughts.
  • The solution strategy also includes organizing the sub-topics and determining the best way to present them.
  • I feel like getting ready to write and actual writing are two phases that each need application of the Big Five problem solving skills.
  • Making mistakes, trying again, and proofreading are identical and already well known as the secret to good writing.

As I mentioned before, I see no benefit to writing from practicing the Big Five in the context of math. The reason is that the 3 Super Powers don't develop for writing without actual writing. Vocabulary might be an exception, but the seeing and algorithm skills require topical practice. An algorithm in writing is a way of presenting material in an interesting and compelling way. Organizational skills in math which we haven't seen since we tackled geometry proofs aren't going to help a young writer crank out best selling novels like James Patterson.

At one point, we spent time writing. Our records are 4 straight hours crafting improvements to phrasing and word choice (my son did this to spite me) and 90 minutes writing a summary of The Brotherhood of Steel until I cried uncle. Then our insane 7th grade writing teacher made the kids write 7 1/2 hours a day for the last two weeks of school in preparation for more work in 8th grade, so I started focusing on the other parts of writing that don't involve a keyboard. Mainly talking. My kids are learning to 'see' deeply into questions they never saw before, like what is the self, organize and argue. They are developing something to say and practicing it in the context of conversation.

At one point long ago, Plato complained that the introduction of scroll in the education system is ruining education. Similar complaints followed the introduction of the printing press, what with the masses getting a hold of the material reserved for the educated class. I used to think of that when people complain about people standing on the side walk reading mobile devises. Lately I think Plato might have been on to something.

Philopophy in Spain

Normal people show up to work on Monday and say things like 'How was your weekend' and 'Did you see the Bears lose again'. I show up and say things like 'We're studying philosophy - do you known anything about Kierkegaard?' This is approach, while social inept, helps a lot with my ongoing research.

I found out this week (on Monday) that philosophy is taught in high school in Europe. Furthermore, there is a comedy team that ends every set with 'Que va, que va, Yo leo Kierkegaard'. This is very amusing to Spaniards, but I'm not the slightest bit amused that US schools don't teach philosophy. How is the US going to maintain it's superiority complex if our education system is sub par?

Resources for Middle School

Here is my list of resources to help you get started with philosophy. Think of it as the new math or Math 2.0. Same brain part, bigger challenges...

Philosophy resources for middle school

An internet search for 'middle school philosophy' turns up websites that are not helpful at all. You'll find either questions or a directive to create a syllabus. One exception is the Plato website which is loaded with canned lessons (thanks plato website, just what I need). You may note that I stole their picture of bored middle school students having a discussion. We don't find the topics boring at all, such as this topic which involves an explitive.

I'm just beginning to experiment with the material on the Plato webstie. My approach is to peruse philosophy for my own enjoyment, making note of questions or themes that are age appropriate. Some of these are duds, like anything truth or beauty, and some of these are gold like the concept of the self. My go to website to prepare material is Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy if you're weird like me. If you're normal, PBS put together a series on youtube call Crash Course in philosophy.

Our syllabus for middle school philosophy is to view all 46 eight minute videos from the Crash Course. The challenge with these videos is that they are too fast for kids. One of my child's teachers uses Crash Course for history, but he slows down the video. My approach is to watch it and propose the questions to my child. Then he has to watch it or he doesn't get to play video games. A discussion argument follows, sometimes for days. Sometimes I wiki the topic to bolster my argument. The topic concludes when my student can articulate his position. It's like the Word Board all over again.

What I'd really like to do is make my kids watch Shelly Kagan's course at Yale. I'm afraid they would be as bored as I am fascinated. Would it help the kids to get a real live taste of a college course? I don't think so. It would just turn them off to philosophy. They can experience it when they're ready to appreciate it.

Jumping into the debate so late in the game, I've noticed that all of the arguments for God, the soul, the afterlife etc are now hopelessly out of date and invalid. I can't tell if the students at Yale came to the same conclusion because I don't grade their papers. For example, the concept of a soul credibly existed because science could not explain the mind. In fact, philosophy is the bucket of knowledge that can't be explained by science. The material in this bucket is shrinking. I think we need a brand new set of unexplained concepts to explain with philosophy. I'm working on it.