Making Pizzas – (the before)

>> January 24, 2020

>> Blog Post #17

Today is Friday. On Fridays’ we have pizza for dinner. It has become some sort of a tradition at home to sit back and relax on Friday evenings with the family. No cooking, no dishes, just some time together. So, it’s pretty fitting that I’m going to be reading and thinking about pizza in this post.

As part of the educational plan that I have for my kids and that I started describing yesterday, I want to bring one new item to think about or learn every month. I have somewhere around a dozen ideas already in stock, so I know finding topics definitely won’t be difficult.

What I don’t know, is how I’m going to do, how well I’ll be able to carry this out. I want to present my kids with things that they wouldn’t learn at school, to complement what they are already learning with qualified professionals. I’m not saying their teachers are bad, I actually do not believe them to be, but I want to make sure that they get more than just that typical public or private school curriculum that I find appallingly indigent.

I therefore need to touch on topics that are poorly taught, not taught early enough, or not taught at all. I also really want to make sure that the teaching is more practical and hands on and includes areas that are often overlooked. Why wouldn’t my kids learn how to grow things, or weld, or understand combustion?

However, this complementary education will be a little bit of a novelty both for me and the kids if I start giving them lectures. I must therefore introduce all of this slowly and gradually, both for them and myself.

My first activity will be something we do very frequently. We’ll read a book. Nothing very new here. The only difference is that I will try to discuss more than we usually do. It isn’t rare that after a specific read we discuss it for a couple minutes to share thoughts or questions. But this time is different as I want them to work a little more, think a little more. I want the topics to be explored in a little more depth and give room to their discovery of these topics. I will obviously introduce my bias in there, whether I want to or not, but I will try to minimize it as much as possible for their sake. The only way to do it, will be to be honest with them about my shortcomings: I don’t know much, and I can be wrong, and make sure that they understand that the same holds true for everyone else they know.

The book I chose is “Nobody knows how to make a pizza” by Julie Borowski. A friend told me he had just bought it to read with his daughter. After I’m done with my little experiment here, I’ll check with him if he ever got around to read it with her and if they discussed it at all. And we’ll probably end up exchanging feedback.

Nobody Knows How To Make a Pizza

The back cover of the edition I have of this book says the goal is to teach economic principles to kids in a fun and engaging way.

The author also indicates on the inside of the front cover that she was inspired by the “I, Pencil” essay by Leonard Edward Read. I had never heard of this essay before but had already watched Milton Friedman talk about its underlying concept in his “Free To Choose” videos from the 1980s. The argument he makes, is the same as the pizza argument in Borowski’s book. We often do not realize just how many people have a role, contribute, in making the most ordinary objects in our lives.

You need base materials who are transformed several times by a lot of different people, who do not know each other, sometimes at the other end of the world, before eventually, refined products or ingredients are assembled in a finished product.

I read “Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza” in less than 10 minutes. It is extremely short and very simple.

One of my kids is having a friend sleepover tonight, so the house will be even more full than usually. I’ll try to spark a discussion at the dinner table about how pizzas are made. I want them to try and list ingredients, determine where they come from, who made them etc. I will not tell them about the book and my only role will be to act as some sort of moderator during the dinner discussion. If we can spend 5 to 10 minutes discussing this lightly, I think it will be enough. That will be the exploration or discovery process. Hopefully I will see if that is useful, fun and engaging.

Then on Saturday, I’ll read them the story before bedtime and once the book is done will revisit both the book and the Friday discussion to see what their thoughts are.

One element that I am particularly interested in touching upon is the reason why so many people contribute to the pizza or the pencil. The way it is described is a major difference in my opinion between the pizza book and the pencil story.

While Julie Borowski and Milton Friedman both agree on the fact that all of this happens without central planning, the underlying force is not described in the same way.

Julie Borowski explains that the one element that makes all of this possible is money. The illustration of that page in the book is Mr. Cheese Pizza flashing a handful of greenbacks. I must say that I cringed when I read that. I don’t like the imagery that comes with it, or how sometimes I feel like money is given too much importance in our everyday lives.

My personal opinion is that money is a tool. You could describe money as a language or a protocol that enables exchange to happen. Money in itself is not what you seek or what you should seek. What you want is what money offers you, a fancy car, bragging rights, whatever…

Now I do understand that this is a kids’ book. It is therefore much easier to use money as the one factor enabling the making of a pizza than the “magic of the price system”, which is the way Milton Friedman characterizes it in Free to Choose.

However, this is exactly why I want to participate more actively in my kids’ education. If I stop at money tomorrow night, I will have considered it a failure on my part. Or actually let me rephrase this. Eventually, I want them to move behind the concept of “money the goal” to the concept of money as a tool of exercising freedom and human action. I believe that to be what human activity is all about. That is not taught in school, at least not the ones I went to or my kids go to. It is suggested in the “Nobody Knows How to Make a Pizza”, but only if you are able to discern it. My kids could read it for the next 10 years and fail to see it as it is not obvious and probably requires the reader to possess knowledge they can’t be expected to have as a child.

What I will try to get out of this can therefore be resumed as this:

  1. I want to stimulate my kids’ curiosity and let them explore how we are surrounded with things that are incredibly complex and interesting yet often overlooked. Kids seem to be much more sensitive to that naturally and I think it should be encouraged. I think adults seem to lose that curiosity out of laziness and boredom.
  2. I want to be able at some point to have them see the economy through the lens of human action. Maybe they will like it, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll subscribe to this school of thought or move on to another instead. It will be their choice, not mine. But at least they’ll have been introduced to the concept.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy discussing and reading the Julie Borowski’s book with my children. I’ll report back on how much they got from it and if I was right or wrong in believing that it falls short of explaining what is really at play here.

In any case, I believe you should check the book out for yourself, or if you would rather hear what I find is a much better presentation of the argument, watch Milton Friedman explain it in just two minutes. Definitely not as kid friendly, no question. But once I make enough progress with the children, I’ll let them watch it to.

6,209 thoughts on “Making Pizzas – (the before)”

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