What you teach only matters if they remember it …



RealSchooling and the Homeschool Nation Podcast exist for many reasons. Chief among these reasons are, firstly, to enhance the benefits of the limited time we have to educate our children and, secondly, to make life a little easier for all involved. Few things aid both of these missions as effectively as giving teacher and student alike the tools for retaining information and knowledge. Retention is different than knowledge. For example, as you read the first paragraph, you understood every word. Yet, if I asked you to rewrite the words that you’ve just read, verbatim, I doubt that you’d do very well (I wrote them, and I don’t think that I’d do very well)! That’s because, while you had knowledge of the words, your brain didn’t have any reason to think it was important to memorize them. Even if you did have a reason to memorize them, without knowing what tools would allow your brain to succeed would be like expecting someone to solve “3×3= (?),” without ever having introduced them to the concept of multiplication; it’s just not going to happen.

So, how do we teach for retention? The process, discovered over a hundred years ago (and effectively proven, and reproduced, in subsequent research), is called spaced repetition, spaced learning, or the spacing effect, and, if you want the extremely detailed explanation, you can read about it here. If you’re just interested in actually applying it, then read on.

Some of it is very obvious, and only seems to be forgotten when placed into the context of education, ironically. People have short attention spans. The less interested we are in the topic, the shorter our attention span. So, new material should be taught in 15-30 minute bursts. 45-60 minutes later, that material should be reviewed with a short quiz (3-5 questions will usually do the job). A 5 minute review that evening would be a serious bonus – especially if it is in the form of the student explaining the content to another family member (ideally, the non-homeschooling parent). The following day or two present an opportunity for the student to teach the information to the teacher. The more thoroughly the student can explain, the deeper their understanding of the subject actually is. Then, the material is reviewed every other day, then weekly, then monthly, and so on. As the student demonstrates retention, less and less time need be spent reviewing the material.

The following bullet points are taken from the linked article, on the brilliant, Farnham Street Blog, found at FS.blog:

  • A schedule for review of information. Typical systems involve going over information after an hour, then a day, then every other day, then weekly, then fortnightly, then monthly, then every six months, then yearly. Guess correctly and the information moves to the next level and is reviewed less often. Guess incorrectly and it moves down a level and is reviewed more often.
  • A means of storing and organizing information. Flashcards or spaced repetition software (such as Anki and SuperMemo) are the most common options. Software has the obvious advantage of requiring little effort to maintain, and of having an inbuilt repetition schedule. Anecdotal evidence suggests that writing information out on flashcards contributes to the learning process.
  • A metric for tracking progress. Spaced repetition systems work best if they include built-in positive reinforcement. This is why learning programs like Duolingo and Memrise incorporate a points system, daily goals, leaderboards and so on. Tracking progress gives us a sense of progression and improvement.
  • A set duration for review sessions. If we practice for too long, our attention wanes and we retain decreasing amounts of information. Likewise, a session needs to be long enough to ensure focused immersion. A typical recommendation is no more than 30 minutes (for older students – less time should be taken for elementary school students, in particular), with a break before any other review sessions.

For further insights on memory and forgetting, see the forgetting curve and Hermann Ebbinghaus.

Parenting Advice From The Ancients – The Procrustean Bed


Good ole Procrustes (pronounced pro-crust-eez)… well, at least ole Procrustes – he wasn’t really what one would call “good.” Actually, he’s a total jerk, but, we can still learn more about our society (and, in some cases, about ourselves) from him, than we are comfortable with learning despite the passage of a few thousand years since he showed up on the scene.  Procrustes was an inn keeper/Greek God, in Ancient Greek lore. He would invite every passerby to spend the night. Sounds nice so far, right? Well, the thing is that Procrustes’ guest bed was oddly sized and made of iron. It seems that no one was ever a perfect fit for the bed. However, Procrustes had a solution. Anyone that was too short for the bed, he would physically stretch (like, not in a good way) and anyone too tall, he would amputate their limbs. That way, everyone fit the bed. Aside from now knowing why Procrustes was never a “fan favorite,” among the Ancient Greeks, you might think that reading this has been a bit of a waste of time. After all, we don’t engage in Procrustean behavior, do we?

I have some bad news. Our education system does to our children exactly what Procrustes did to his unwitting guests. In traditional education, we see a mirror image of Procrustes. Public schools have deliberately dumbed down the educational standards, in an effort to “level the field,” thereby punishing academically gifted kids, cutting off their ability to rise to their full potential, while still stretching those that do not thrive in the classroom environment to the point of absurdity. We have so destroyed the drive to “discover,” by commingling the idea of learning with the poison of what we call “school,” that kids – and even adults, openly express a disinterest in learning, even outside of school! The perception is that learning is something to suffer through so that we can get on with life.

To further compound the problem, parents have jumped on the Procrustean bandwagon, having decided that our ten year olds must participate in scheduled activities, around the clock. How else would they fill up their resumes and get into the best school, so that they can be “successful?!” We struggle to define what this success is, though, often failing to see that we are pushing them in the same direction that we took – into lives which the majority deem to be unfulfilling. To make matters worse, we are harming our kids in the process, as these actions have a net negative effect, as opposed to a neutral effect. Depression rates amongst I-gen (or Generation Z, whichever you prefer), are higher than any other generation on record. Suicide rates are up, too. But, here’s the real kicker – a study recently conducted by researchers at Harvard University concluded that Graduate students, across the spectrum of studies are suffering from mental health issues at a significantly greater percentage than the general public, and, other recent research suggests that there is a mental health crisis amongst graduate students – these studies included students at the nations top schools. If this is all the case, then we can only conclude that, in addition to engaging in parenting styles that are damaging our kids, even if they reach the pinnacle of academia, they will suffer further harm; meeting an even more grim existence than they are presently enduring. So much for that success that justified ruining youth.

To the homeschooling parents, I would encourage you to be very careful not to substitute your own Procrustean education for the one that your kids would have endured in a traditional setting. I’m not saying that anyone needs to toss their curricula and go full unschooling. I’m also not saying that unschooling is a bad idea. I am saying, you owe it to your kid to work to figure out what the best combination of educational approaches helps them learn (after all, that is what education is about right?) and sets them up for fulfilling life (which is, itself, something that will vary from person to person).

Become a teacher, they said. There are going to be SO MANY JOB OPENINGS, they said…

When I was in school (up until I started homeschooling, in eighth grade), every teacher I had told me (and everyone in my class, for that matter) that we should consider becoming teachers because there was going to be a “shortage of teachers,” when we graduated. Guess what: if you tell everyone that they should become a teacher because there are going to be a lot of job openings for teachers, the result will be that wayyyyyyy too many kids decide to become teachers and they flood the market and end up (mostly) jobless. In keeping with our Procrustean theme, be wary of pushing your kids into any given direction because everyone keeps saying that there are going to be so many jobs in that field. If your kid has a passion for that field, then awesome! By all means encourage them and equip them to succeed in that field; their passion will fuel their efforts and even if there are very few jobs, they will likely stand out from those that only followed a similar path in the hopes of finding job security. Otherwise, figure out which way everyone else is going/telling kids to go, and go the opposite direction.

By the way, Procrustes met a pretty nasty end. He was done in by another Greek God who (no joke) decided to punish him in the same manner that he harmed his victims. We all have to live in a world with these kids that we are currently doing a solid job of screwing up, and, for the sake of all involved, we might want to rethink our approach.

(Ed. Note: If you’d like to learn more about the currently demonstrable consequences of the approach we have been employing for the past few decades, see: “The Coddling of the American Mind,” by Haidt and Lukianoff. See also, although less explicitly on point, “Antifragile,” by Nicholas Nassim Taleb.)

The Best And Worst Things To Tell Your Kid When Discussing Careers…


When I was a kid, my parents told me that I “could be anything that I wanted to be when I grew up, as long as I put my mind to it,” and they meant it. They fully believed that, if I tried my best, I could accomplish anything. As I’ve grown up, I’ve discovered that most of my friends were given the same advice. Here’s the thing… there are some serious problems with that advice. It’s time to roll out “you can be anything you want to be, as long as you put your mind to it, version 2.0.”

First, the deficiencies in the original advice:

  1. It isn’t exactly true. If you are Stephen Hawking, it probably doesn’t matter how much effort you put into practicing, you’re not going to become the world’s best opera singer. People have limitations. This doesn’t mean that you should discourage your kids from working towards something, just because you can’t see their talent. All it means is that you need to mentally prepare them for success and failure – they will surely meet both in their lives.
  2. It doesn’t actually help them accomplish anything. It just places the blame on them if they don’t accomplish their goals – because failure can only mean that they didn’t put their mind to it, or try hard enough. It encourages doubling-down, instead of teaching them how to know when to cut their losses, and at the same time, manages to provide absolutely zero guidance in the child’s quest to accomplish their goals.
  3. It encourages the child to fixate on the things that presently interest them, while turning a deliberately blind eye on everything else, resulting in many missed opportunities.
  4. You probably still don’t know what you want to be, because none of the careers that you have imagined are likely to be anything like you imagine them to be. So, this is a condition even more exacerbated by the inexperienced nature of youth. Your kid (probably) doesn’t have a blessed clue what they actually want to be when they grow up, unless you have put a great deal of time into helping them understand the realities (good and bad) of many different career options.

How do we improve upon this advice?

  1. We take an active role in helping our kid(s) figure out what they enjoy, where their talents and skills are, and the ways in which they can employ all three, in their pursuit of a career.
  2. Try to identify the paths that lead to the career that might interest them, and guide them accordingly.
  3. Don’t get frustrated with them when they change their mind a thousand times – because everything that we learn along the way is a benefit to us.
  4. Help them understand that nothing is perfect – and that includes their dream job. We need to help kids see the reality of a number of different careers and help them understand what each will require. It isn’t that we should be telling them how awful what they want to do is, but rather, giving them an objective list of pros and cons and helping them to decide what they really want out of life.
  5. In terms of that last one… you cannot pick a career and pretend that it exists in a vacuum, and that it won’t deeply affect the rest of your life. Some people live to work, and some work to live. If you haven’t helped your child figure out what their priorities are in life, then there is very little chance that your efforts at helping them pick a career are of significant value. You cannot have a one hundred hour a week job, carry a mortgage on a mansion, drive a Mercedes, spend time with your spouse, have a meaningful relationship with your kids, and maintain close friendships. The idea of “having it all,” is a myth. Steve Jobs spent his final days developing Apple’s product line for the years following his death. He did not choose to spend those days with his wife or child. No part of me finds that relatable. So, if I try to shove little Stevie Jobs in the direction that makes sense to me, he isn’t going to end up being where he wants to be –  and if we don’t give our kids any guidance at all, then we are on the wrong end of the old adage: “failing to plan, is planning to fail,” on behalf of some of the most important people in our lives.

Bonus Tip: When I was in middle school and high school, everyone that you ever met was telling you that if you wanted to be sure to land a job out of college (because, duh… you’re going to college, dumbhead), you should become a teacher. You know what the most common course of study I heard friends say they were pursuing? You guessed it: teacher! You know who struggled for years to get jobs? You guessed it again! All of those new prospective teachers. So, when you hear everyone tell you that you should have your middle/high schooler become a [insert career here], because there’s not enough people to fill those jobs, thank them for their advice, spin your kid 180 degrees away from that option, and give them a good shove forward… unless, of course, the flavor of the decade also happens to be their passion. There have been plenty of artists that were willing to starve – and some teachers, and my guess is, there will be some tradespeople in the coming years that fit that description. Just make sure that it is their passion driving them towards the flavor of the day and not the echoing of society’s conventional wisdom – because that is hardly ever right.

The Immeasurable Value Of Covering Material With Which You Disagree.


Ed. note (Oh, boy… it’s never good when we start with an editorial note): Please read the whole blog post before gathering the pitch-forks and torches. I promise, I will be even-handed and it really won’t take you much extra time. Who knows, you might even find more ammo against me!  

One more challenge before you read on – Remember: Only cowards don’t click on links that they’re afraid of.

As I was preparing an interactive stock markets course for this fall, I started to wonder who would represent the majority of the class. Would it be the Christian Homeschoolers or the Secular Homeschoolers? Obviously, as homeschoolers, we defy traditional categorization – we don’t fit neatly into any box. However, I had some guesses, based on traditional notions of where we all fall on the sociopolitical spectrum. I suspected that this class would see higher enrollment from the conservative side of things, since they are more often affiliated with free markets and all that. I further imagined that a number of those on the secular side, would be more likely to view bankers, and markets, as evil, due to the fact that this is a liberal ideology and the secular crowd tends to be more liberal. However, the fact that I even had these guesses made me start to think about the significance of teaching material with which we disagree – and not from the perspective of, see why those people are evil?  The “see why those people are evil” approach is not teaching,  it’s brainwashing. Unless we are teaching all information outside of math with the critical analysis and an even hand, we aren’t actually teaching. Allow me to explain.

So, stock markets are incredibly complex, although, they can be broken down and explained to any high school student, and plenty of middle school students, by someone who has a solid understanding of them. I understand that some of love them and some of you hate them – and I can equally understand the reasons for both, as well. What I cannot understand, is how one can support or reject something that they don’t understand. In light of how much of an impact the markets have on our lives – consider that the market crash of 2008 wiped out millions of jobs and lead to a nationwide foreclosure crisis. It comes up in politics, it comes up in investment and retirement planning and it is a significant part of our society. If you don’t know what an option is, or what it means to short a stock, let alone knowing what a credit default swap is, then how can you possibly know which parts you oppose, or why? Unless we are outsourcing our decision-making authority to politicians and talking heads on tv, in which case, we are really in trouble.

Here comes the even-handed part: Christian Homeschoolers, are you engaged in the sciences? I don’t just mean teaching creation as fact and “teaching” evolution by making it seem like something that is patently absurd and false. There are many extremely intelligent Christians that believe in Evolution. I also don’t mean accepting evolution as a proven, objective fact – “strong evidence,” is not the same thing as objective fact. What I do mean to ask is: are you showing the science behind the theories. Showing it from a secular perspective, then showing from a competing perspective – both secular and religious. Yes, there are secular scientists that challenge the theory evolution. Few things are as settled as we choose to believe they are. In fact, it is only arrogance and misinformation that cause us to believe otherwise. The early church took over three hundred years to settle the question of whether they believed that Jesus was fully God. Beyond that, even with Roman Emperors killing people for so much as possessing a different viewpoint of Christianity than the officially sanctioned government view, we still end up with many different interpretations of the bible (as evidenced by the sheer number of denominations). Meanwhile, in far less time than it took for Rome to force the church to decide whether Jesus was equal to God, science has come up with myriad explanations – and changed almost all of them, as to how and why we are here, along with incalculable proclamations – many groundbreaking and many turning out to be completely wrong (1)(2). With that being said, we owe it to our kids to equip them with all the information available, teach them how to think critically, and allow them to figure out what they believe. As I am sure (almost) any Christian will tell you – one cannot receive salvation on the coattails of the faith of one’s parents. I would argue that the same is true of Atheists and those embracing the cult of scientism – your belief cannot sustain your child into adulthood. If they are told what to think, instead of how to think, they will have a weak mental framework, or foundation. It will eventually collapse under the weight of scrutiny. It is this belief that allows RealSchooling.com to honestly and unequivocally say that we are not hostile to religion or science – nor do we endorse atheism or any particular faith. We endorse the great search for objective truth and understanding, with the firm belief that the better we all understand one another, the better off we are.


Jeffrey D. Hoffmann, Esq., Founder of RealSchooling.com and RealSchooling.blog


Being A Parent Means Being A Coach… So, What Kind Of Coach Are You?


My 11-year old was taking a math test today and he had a weepy, frustrated, angry meltdown, when he was told that, despite getting all 20 questions correct, he needed to go back and show his work for each problem. Anybody else been there? Now, as the parent, I have a few options.

  1. Yell. Yelling is always great, isn’t it? I know that, personally, I prefer to be yelled at, as opposed to being spoken to calmly. Especially, when I’m already anxious, stressed or upset said no one ever.
  2. Threaten. This is an option. Sometimes, it is the required option. However, once you get threaten, there is no more discussing. No room for a teachable moment. Compliance by coercion teaches obedience – but, the message of this lesson will extend far beyond schoolwork. So, you might want to ask yourself if the adult that you hope to help mold is one that responds to situations by simply doing what he is told for fear of the consequences of thinking or feeling differently about the situation?
  3. Coach. Put yourself in their shoes. See the world through their eyes. Try to remember a time where you felt the way that they are feeling. Ignore your own frustration. In this case, it was pretty easy for me… You know the feeling: I’m almost done, I’m almost done, I’m… I’m being told that the program crashed, or that my application was lost or that I misunderstood and need to start over. That’s pretty relatable. As an adult, I still want to cry in those situations. Now that I’m not focused on being personally annoyed at having to refocus my attention on my kid and away from the other projects that I was working on, and now that I’m thinking of my role in guiding him, and not quite so focused on myself, I can talk him through it. I Don’t mean do it for him, but, I can give him the tools that he needs to get through, and learn from, the experience.


All three of the above options are available to all coaches and every coach has a different idea about the best way to approach whomever they are coaching. I would argue, that, where the immediate safety of your child is not at issue, the ideal order of approaches here is Coach, Threaten, and then Yell (note: you do not have my blessing to yell, unless you have read to the end of this blog post), and I’ll explain why below. Before we get into that, though, let me tell you what I told my son, to help him get through his meltdown.

My kids all play ice hockey and are all die-hard Flyers fans. They know hockey history extending back before they were born and are familiar with the good, the bad and the ugly sides of coaching. They know that there are what are called “players’ coaches,” the guys that the players will go to war for, because that coach has proven that he cares about his players. They also know that there are coaches that get players to go to war for them under threat of extreme punishment and making life completely miserable. So, I got down on one knee and looked my son eye to eye and asked him why he was upset. I then told him I wanted to tell him a hockey story and that I needed him to really pay attention to me.

This is the story that I told him:

Me: Do you remember when the Flyers were in the playoffs and they had lost the first three games of the best of seven series, only to battle back and win the next three?

Son: Yeah… then they gave up the first three goals in the first period of game seven…

Me: Yes! And then the head coach called a time out. Do you know what the microphones caught him saying to his team in the timeout?

Son: No… What?

Me: He said, “One goal at a time. You can’t go out there and score three goals at once. You go get the first one, then we’ll start thinking about the second one.” If you’re focused on all that you have to, on scoring three goals, or on doing twenty math problems, it’s completely overwhelming and you never get started. You just end up sitting there; paralyzed by your own anxiety and stress. So, don’t think about anything except the question that you are on now. Then, go to the next one. There is only ever what you are working on right now. Deal with what comes next when the time comes.

The perspective seemed to have helped tremendously. Will it always? No. Sometimes, you will have to calmly say, “listen, I understand that you’re frustrated. I understand that you are overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed sometimes. That’s just a part of life. But, when we can’t find a way to push through that, there are consequences: people lose their homes, their jobs, their spot on the team; or, in your case, if you can’t push through this, you’re going to miss [event or fun thing] so that you can get this done.” Then, if they don’t get it together, you have to follow through. But, there will still have been a value in taking the time to approach it this way. You may need to have the say conversation with them 1000 times before it all clicks – after all, think about how many times you still need to hear things for them to click for you! If it never clicks, at least you will know that you did everything that you could and that you didn’t leave them to figure it out alone – because you were too busy being frustrated/annoyed/proving you were the boss – you pick.

Yelling. Ohhhhhh… I almost forgot about yelling. I don’t think that yelling at someone out of anger or frustration ever accomplishes anything good. Even if it resolves your issue, because the person does what you want just to get you to shut up – it still isn’t productive in the long run, and you are modeling behavior for your kids. If you yell at them and then discipline them when they yell at you or each other, you escalated to modeling hypocrisy – do as I say, not as I do. However, sometimes, you just need to scream or yell and let it out. I’d recommend just embracing the fact that you’ve gone off the rails and just yell. Not at anyone, but, just you know, let it out. Then, once your kids know to expect this, you can all have a good snicker about it, and it will likely alert them to the fact that you’re a touch edgy today, and it might be best to try to get you extra grace and try to be a bit more cooperative. My parting thought: I’m telling myself, as much as I am telling you. We all need to work at this. It doesn’t come naturally.

Would You Have Solved This Social Media Mystery? So Far, I Was The Only One.

“do you really want to know?” I responded, truthfully, “No one’s ever asked me that before! The answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.”

Don’t be a sucker…


The other day, I saw an amazing quote on a friend’s social media page by an ancient Greek philosopher. Whenever I see a quote that I either love, or hate, I do what everyone does – I check to see if it’s legit. You totally do that, too, right? Never mind, back to my story… So, I start looking for quotes from this ancient Greek philosopher and, not only can I not find any quotes from him, I can’t find him, anywhere. Now the guy that shared this quote is very smart and has written his fair share of research papers. I deeply doubted that he would be unaware of the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) most of the quotes strewn across the internet are completely unrelated to the person to whom they are attributed. On the other hand, that left me with only two possibilities: 1) He shared this quote from his cell phone and it autocorrected to some truly bizarre word that rendered finding the actual author of the quote completely impossible; or, 2) GASSSSPPPP – he’s the ancient Greek Philosopher! I sent him a message later that day, out of a desperate need to know the answer, because, that’s who you’re dealing with here, folks. I couldn’t let it go. I needed to know the truth! “Hey, buddy!” I said, casually… “I was just wondering about the origin of that awesome quote you shared earlier. I couldn’t find the author anywhere.” I see the typing bubbles… He asks, “do you really want to know?” I responded, truthfully, “No one’s ever asked me that before! The answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.” Before he could respond, I hammered out the words required to indicate that I believed it was him. He confirmed my suspicions. He theorized that people would become more engaged in a cool quote written by someone famous – or famous sounding, then they would in a great quote by himself, so, he created someone famous sounding. In fact, over roughly two years, he’d used the ancient pen name more than half a dozen times, to increased engagement, without anyone ever calling him on it. No one knows that this ancient philosopher, whose quotes they are sharing isn’t real – or at least isn’t ancient. Or Greek… No one, that is, except for me.

I want to make an important point here: I fact checked my friend’s quote, even though I believe him to be the type of guy who is unlikely to quote something that was not verified; the type of guy that doesn’t share news stories which are easily debunked. Why? Because I fact check everyone. I fact check my own writing, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, or lean too heavily on something lacking the appropriate amount of credible support. I don’t place blind trust in anyone, because everyone makes mistakes.

I didn’t always do this. Actually, I started when I was looking to see where one of my favorite quotes came from, only to find that it didn’t exactly come from anywhere. Do you want to know which quote I was looking for? Brace yourself. You’re not going to like this. What if I told you that Einstein never said the “fish quote?” You know, the one where the fish spends its whole life feeling stupid if you tell it that it has to climb a tree, or whatever… I’m not going to bother quoting it perfectly – because Einstein never said it! Someone did say something like it, though. That guy actually wrote a great piece on education and Einstein gets the credit – c’mon people! Didn’t Einstein get enough credit for things that he actually did?! Do we really need to give him some other guy’s credit, too?

Once I discovered that Einstein was reaching out from beyond the grave to use the internet to steal credit for other people’s quotes, I became suspicious of other quotes. It turns out they’re all fake. FAKE. Ok, maybe not all. But, your favorite internet quote? FAKE. If not fake, then, misattributed, which is even more messed up, in some ways (because if the person that actually said it can be identified, shouldn’t they get the credit?).

Okay, but really, who cares that they are fake?

Why does it matter? For so many reasons. First, because we give more weight of credibility to the words of well-respected people. It means more to us if we have Einstein, Plato, Jesus, Michael Jordan, or Mr. Rogers on our side of an argument – subject to the topic, of course; I’m going to Jordan for basketball pointers, not Plato – but, I digress. More importantly, it reveals how bad we are at identifying what is real and what is a fraud. It runs the gamut, from the brief quote, to the social and political articles that proliferate social media.

I suppose it makes sense. The basis of K-12 education is, “I teach you the answer, you reproduce the answer on the exam.” There isn’t much critical analysis, there (note: that isn’t a dig on teachers. They are handcuffed by the system – any decent teacher will readily tell you how frustrating that is). You can tell me that it isn’t really like that, however, I went to law school – I sat in a room full of highly educated people as they struggled desperately to grasp the concept that there wasn’t necessarily a “correct answer.” There were different possibilities; different potential outcomes. They had spent seventeen years of schooling getting straight A’s, because they learned how to remember and reproduce an answer. So, when we leave the classroom, we have been trained to listen to an answer and accept it as truth – at face value. This doesn’t work – in the classroom or in the real world. If we don’t learn how to question, and fact check, we will always play the role of the useful idiot; the tool that someone uses to get a vote or sell a product (or news channel – you pick, Fox, CNN, MSNBC… they’re all selling you the opinion they think you want to hear).

I’m trying to protect your credibility, here. If you can’t at least sort the real from the easily refutable, then you will lack credibility with anyone alert enough to distinguish between the two. Even worse, is when someone – like one of your kids, places a great deal of faith in your words, and believes them, almost, blindly. This person may be devastated when they discover that too much of what they learned from you was based on urban legends, and misinformation.

This whole thing should make you ask yourself how many things you’ve read and just chosen to accept as true. It presents some major issues when we consider our ideological, political, philosophical, and theological beliefs. In the end, it all comes back to my friends question: “do you really want to know?” For me, the answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.

Jeffrey Hoffmann is the founder of RealSchooling.com, Real Schooling.blog, and is a practicing attorney.

Hey, Homeschooling Parents! Are You Raising Skeptics?

What was it about the title of this blog post that made you click the link? Was it a fear of the possibility that you may be raising a skeptic or the fear that you aren’t? Well, before you decide whether you hope to raise skeptics or not, let’s make a distinction between two words that can get mixed up. Cynicism vs skepticism. Cynicism, or the act of being cynical, is defined as being: (a) contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives, or (b) based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest. Basically, cynicism thinks the worst of everyone, always. It is one step away from wearing a tin foil hat. Meanwhile, skepticism is defined as: doubt as to the truth of something. While I discourage cynicism, I’d make the case for skepticism – now, more than at any point in human history.

Before I get into the how and why of things, let’s just review a few objective facts:

  1. There has never been a single documented case of halloween candy tampering, despite all of those warnings that your parents, teachers, schools, and I’m pretty sure, even the government gave you.
  2. Pluto, is not (presently considered to be) a planet.
  3. Scientists recently announced that they had discovered a new organ – but, that claim was challenged by other scientists, because, well, we don’t even have a universal definition for the word, “organ.” Let that sink in. We can’t agree on the meaning of the word, organ.
  4. We’ve mapped out far less than 10% of the ocean – the rest is a total unknown to us.
  5. Only a few years ago, we discovered that, despite whatever experts had previously told us, there are hundreds of billions more stars in the sky that we believed were there.
  6. You do not need, for any reason, to wait an hour after eating before you go swimming.
  7. We know and have learned a great deal about life, our planet and the universe… but there appears to be vastly more that we do not know, than the total of what we do know – yet we often speak in absolutes, or with absolute certainty.  If you want a list of fifty more things that most of us are wrong about, click here.

Now that we have a list of things that we thought were true but have been demonstrated to be incorrect, let’s talk a little bit about why we should question nearly everything (in a good way). It is our nature to be drawn to things that reinforce our own beliefs. In fact, there is even a name for this: confirmation bias, and it afflicts all of us, to varying degrees. The extent to which there are varying degrees of impact relates to our own awareness of confirmation bias, and our personal desire to seek objective truth above our preconceived ideas. Absent this desire for objective truth, all human beings are extremely vulnerable to confirmation bias. The practical consequences of confirmation bias result in only reading articles that support the beliefs that we already held. Alternatively, the extent to which we read articles written from a differing point of view, is to only read them cynically, looking for ways to discredit the author and disregard the unsettling possibility that we are wrong about something. This approach doesn’t provide us with a complete picture, though. Instead, we end up with a very limited perspective. In fact, we never hear the other perspective, even if we encounter it, because we aren’t contemplating the actual merits of their position, we are only looking for an excuse to discredit them. This would be a great strategy, if we were never wrong about anything and possessed the ability to see all perspectives on our own natural intuition. Sadly, that turns out not to be the case. So the question becomes, how do we eliminate the inherent confirmation biases that we each carry with us?

Well, that is where the whole “being skeptics” thing comes into play. If we desire objective truth above reinforcing preconceived notions of truth, then we must:

  1. Engage the situation as a neutral observer –  meaning that we don’t care about being right or wrong, and we don’t have anything to gain or lose if the author’s position turns out to be correct;
  2. Consider the information being presented with a skepticism – which is to say, to ask, “how did the author reach their conclusion? On what information do they rely? What research methods were used to reach that conclusion? What are their peers saying with respect to their work?”; and
  3. Drawing our conclusions from the cumulative result of all of the information that was acquired.

Even after all of the above, there must be a willingness to reconsider the conclusion that you reach when presented with new information, in the future.