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Self in Society Roundup 50

Homeschool and abuse, social media for kids, Russian butchers, Jesus and Buddha, indigenous pseudoscience, immigration, drug policy, Nazis against trans, three bodies, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
April 9, 2024

Homeschool, School, and Abuse

Here is a good example of bullshit journalism, from Dave Davies of NPR: "Reporters found [regulation of homeschooling] varies widely and is often lax, leading to criticism from some advocates that home-schooled kids are being shortchanged academically and are more vulnerable to child abuse."

Davies does not actually offer any evidence suggesting that homeschooled children are abused more or that they achieve less academically relative to children in regular schools; he just says that some "advocates" claim as much.

Meanwhile, we know that many children in schools are bullied (this is the main reason that some families homeschool), some are abused by teachers, and most are doing poorly academically (for example, see Colorado's standardized test results).

Incidentally, my homeschooled third-grader just scored in the 99th percentile on the California Achievement test, so the idea that he'd do better academically in "real" school is laughable (yes, that's a one-off anecdote).

Davies does discuss a case from Michigan in which a woman hid her abuse of a child behind homeschooling laws; basically, she made sure other adults never witnessed her abuse or the results of it. Davies's guest, reporter Peter Jamison, describes a legislative effort in Michigan to require "home-schooled children . . . to check in . . . at least twice a year . . .by some form of mandated reporter of child abuse, whether that's a teacher or a doctor or psychologist."

I'd look at a proposal, not specific to homeschoolers, that says that every child must be seen by a doctor or nurse at least once per year, but this would raise problems of funding and enforcement. I think if government is going to require such a thing it would have to fund the visits. And of course parents should be free to choose the doctor or nurse if they prefer. We also should remember that government can do harm by interfering with families by mistaking, say, a bruise caused by a fall with abuse. My sense is that government resources would be far better spent checking on children showing signs of abuse, rather than trying to monitor the overwhelming majority of good parents.

At any rate, for Davies to lump typical homeschoolers in with murderers (the case of abuse mentioned resulted in the murder of a child) is extraordinarily unjust, and the worst sort of journalism.

Haidt on Phones and Social Media

Social Media and Mental Health: This is quite the review by Candice Odgers: "Two things need to be said after reading The Anxious Generation. First, this book is going to sell a lot of copies, because Jonathan Haidt is telling a scary story about children's development that many parents are primed to believe. Second, the book's repeated suggestion that digital technologies are rewiring our children's brains and causing an epidemic of mental illness is not supported by science. Worse, the bold proposal that social media is to blame might distract us from effectively responding to the real causes of the current mental-health crisis in young people."

Haidt Replies: Jonathan Haidt: "[M]any experiments support[] my claims of causation. . . . My story is about two major factors (end of the play-based childhood, rise of the phone-based childhood), each of which has many components that bring a variety of harms to different children in different ways. . . . There is a great deal of evidence for my claims that something terrible is happening to teens in many countries, and that a major contributing factor is the sudden international arrival of the phone-based childhood." (HT Cowen for this and the above.)

Haidt with Cowen: Haidt starts off his interview with Tyler Cowen by noting that children of "right wing" parents tend to be happier because they are "more rooted in community." Churches especially foster community. But it's not like secularists need to drift alone through the world! My family is fortunate to be part of some rich secular homeschooling social groups. I find Haidt's thesis about phones and social media often blocking important in-person interactions basically persuasive. But I don't think he sufficiently recognizes how people, including young people, can use social media in healthy ways. I think Cowen effectively argues that for a subset of young people the internet, including social media, is awesome.

Some Benefits of Phones: Jessica Schleider: "The fear and focus on social media's possible harms (on which the science is actually quite mixed) may prevent key decision- and policymakers from considering another possibility: social media holds unprecedented promise to support adolescent mental health, especially for teens facing barriers to treatment."

Ritchie and Chivers on Phones: See also the Studies Show podcast episode about phones. Stuart Ritchie and Tom Chivers discuss some of the background, including Jean Twenge's 2017 article, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" They discuss the difficulty of figuring out if social media worsens some users' mental health or if some people with worsening mental health turn more to social media. They also talk about how self-reporting of mental health and attempted suicide has changed.

Quick Takes

Putin's Butchers: Robert Zubrin: "I just returned from a trip to Ukraine. . . . I became acquainted with many fine Ukrainian engineers, including one who had spent two years in the Ukrainian army. . . . This gentleman . . . was in the first wave of the UA forces when they liberated the town of Bucha from Russian occupation on April 1, 2022. Riding on one of the lead vehicles of the liberating forces, [he] took a video with his phone. . . . The scene in the video is shocking. As [his] vehicle moves into the town under light freezing rain, we see bodies littering the landscape. Bicyclists lie dead by the side of the street, apparently shot down as they were riding. Executed civilians—shot, their hands bound behind their backs—are lying everywhere. . . . If Ukraine loses, it will be solely because of the outrageous stupidity of both the Biden administration and its Trumpist opposition."

Education Feedback Loops: Natalie Wexler argues that providing students with quality instruction, then testing their knowledge frequently and offering appropriate feedback and review, is the key to improved academic achievement. This makes sense to me; it is basically how I tutor my son, who is doing fairly well academically.

Powell on Jesus and the Buddha: I found Aaron Ross Powell's comments on Jesus and the Buddha interesting: "[O]ne clear area of overlap is the values of kindness, friendliness, and compassion. . . . Buddhists reject the idea that we have a permanent essence, and so reject the idea that we have a soul. Further, because they argue that everything is constantly changing, and constantly the result of a chain of causes, the God of Christianity simply can't exist within Buddhist metaphysics. And Buddhism goes a step further to argue that the beliefs about the nature of the world that make God possible (i.e., that there can be permanent, unchanging, uncaused things) is a source of suffering." On the metaethics I'm more aligned with the Buddhists.

Indigenous Pseudoscience: It's extraordinary that many of the same leftists who reject anti-abortion policies because they are based on Christian dogma at the same time rush to accept policies based on religious beliefs of indigenous tribes. Elizabeth Weiss explains how the Biden administration has promoted mystical pseudoscience under the banner of "Indigenous Knowledge." However, Weiss grinds her axe with excessive zeal. Weiss ignores, for example, how European settlers nearly hunted to extinction the American bison. Weiss complains about a NASA publication that (NASA says) allows "cultural and scientific concepts [to be] explored together." But it's fine for children to learn about various myths; the materials clearly separate out cultural stories and art projects from science. Weiss also complains about "white guilt," "an unearned feeling of guilt for 'harm' allegedly caused by Western civilization." Uh, allegedly? European settlers intentionally stole native lands, often in violation of signed treaties, and intentionally drove many Native peoples to starvation and desperation. Some government agents slaughtered Native women and children. Hiding behind "science" to excuse atrocities also is a sort of pseudoscience.

Immigration Plan: Gregory Salmieri has a great immigration plan: "The way to admit many more immigrants with needed skills is to admit anyone who has a job lined up (and who passes a background check). Neither Biden, Trump, nor their minions have any clue which workers are needed. Employers do." To be clear, I think that plan is a great start. I don't think the U.S. should be in the business of blocking immigration of people fleeing oppression or generally seeking a better life. We should free up the economy so new immigrants easily can find gainful employment and economic housing.

Oregon's Drug Policies: Jacob Sullum: "Because Measure 110 did not address the iffy quality and unpredictable potency of illegal drugs, it is not surprising that overdoses continued to rise. Those problems are created by drug prohibition and exacerbated by efforts to enforce it. The government's crackdown on pain pills pushed nonmedical users toward more dangerous substitutes, replacing legally produced, reliably dosed pharmaceuticals with products of uncertain provenance and composition."

Rowling, the Nazis, and Transgender People: Erin Reed: "J.K. Rowling implicitly denied that transgender individuals were targeted and that books about them were burned in Nazi Germany. This assertion contradicts abundant evidence that transgender people were among the first targeted by the Nazis' rise to power in Germany. This culminated in the looting of the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute of Sexology and the infamous burning of the initial decades of transgender healthcare research, as well as the internment, forced detransition, and murder of transgender citizens."

Elite Theocrats: Tyler Cowen: "I am pleased to have spoken at [the David Network] yearly conference [in January]. If I understand them correctly (here is their web site), it is for elite college students—grad and undergrad—at Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the rest of the Ivies. No other schools. The group is explicitly religious (across religions and denominations) and also right-leaning and explicitly elitist. . . . Here is the thing—there were about five hundred people at the event."

Three Body: I finally got around reading The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. I thought I hated the book for the first third, but then the book reveals what's going on, and I ended up quite liking it overall. Spoilers: There are a few major themes in this book, besides the obvious one of aliens threatening the Earth. Many scientists stop trusting science for reasons the book eventually reveals; the lesson is that confusing experimental results provide no grounds to doubt generally that things act according to their natures. Then there's the anti-nihilist theme. Various humans commit themselves to helping the aliens either destroy or (alternately) remake human civilization. This points to the nihilism of certain strains of environmentalism, and to the strange interplay between mysticism and nihilism. Then there is the book's indictment of the insanity of the Cultural Revolution.

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