His First Opinel

>> February 13, 2020

>> Blog Post #29

We were having dinner with friends this week and had a little discussion about kids and what to teach them. It all started by one of them noticing that my youngest was using a very sharp knife to cut slices of dry sausage, the kind that is tough to cut through.

I explained that my son had just received it as a gift for his recent behavior, which really surprised everyone at the table as they obviously felt he was too young to be handling such a sharp blade.

I proceeded to explain my reasoning behind the gift of the knife and the expected behavior that my son and I had agreed upon.

The knife he received this week is an Opinel, an extremely popular folding knife made in the region of Savoy in the French Alps. Apparently Opinel sells a knife in the world every ten seconds. It wasn’t his first knife as I had given him his first swiss army knife a few months ago as a reward for some success at the indoor climbing gym. He had seen me use my own swiss army knife, that I’ve owned for decades, a few times recently and I could tell he was curious about it.

As a kid, I remember how my grandfather had taught me how to use a knife and had gotten me my first Opinel. I’ve since owned quite a few. The oldest swiss army knife I own was actually a gift from my father when I was in my early teens. I knew that one day or another I was going to buy one for my son to perpetuate some kind of loose tradition, but I did feel it was too early, much to my chagrin.

However, another friend made me change my mind recently and that’s why my son, at the ripe age of 7 now owns two sharp knives. With the knife, came some very clear and strict rules. I simply copied my friend’s rules and made them very clear to my son.

  1. The knife is my son’s property.
  2. But it must remain at all times in the kitchen drawer.
  3. When my son wishes to use it, he has to ask me if he can use it.
  4. His usage of the knife is done under my supervision.
  5. Once the knife is no longer in use, it has to find its way back to the kitchen drawer immediately.

There is another rule, but it is for me to follow and I did not explain it to my son. The rule for me is that if he asks me to use the knife, I should always say yes and take the time to supervise him. Generally, his play time with the knife lasts for 5 minutes or less.

The reasoning behind all of this is as follows:

  • I strongly believe you can learn at any age
  • There are obviously things that you are more suited for with more maturity, physical strength, experience, etc. But a lot of things can be explained very simply.
  • I am not offering a knife, but really teaching my kid how to be responsible.
  • I would rather have him do things that might be risky under my supervision because he knows I am willing to take the time to do it with him and teach him properly.
  • For example, all of my children know how to start a fire. During winter, I will let them setup the logs and light the fire. I will let them move the logs around and stoke the fire if needed. But this, again, is done under my supervision. The process is the same as with the knife. They are absolutely not allowed to do it by themselves unsupervised, but I will never refuse them the fun of starting the fire if they ask me too.
  • I believe that by teaching them to be responsible, I have less risks of them doing something foolish when I am not around just because of the prohibition.

What do you think about that? I am perfectly aware that some people might have other opinions about that, and I probably consider my view to not be standard, but I will tell you this: I am 100% convinced that my son has followed these rules to the letter so far. And there is something more, the moment he looked the proudest and the happiest wasn’t when he was using it but when he learned that he had earned it. That’s what he likes to talk about. He feels responsible. I believe you should never wait to teach your children what responsible means.

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.

Why Education Is So Important To Me

>> January 23, 2020

>> Blog Post #16

You often hear questions about what you need to teach people and what methods you need to follow or tools you need to use to teach or learn well. The focus is on the content and the format. But I find it rare to hear people discuss why teaching is important.

I think of education as intelligence, culture, experience, memories. It is the ability anyone has to use the full extent of his or her own knowledge and skills to think, act, adapt.

Cogito Ergo Sum – I think, therefore I am.

The higher your capacity to think for yourself, the more liberty you have. That is my opinion. Being particularly keen on increasing my personal liberty as much as I can, I have a strong interest in my own education. I actually shared with you, in my very 1st blog post, the desire I have to use this site as a learning tool and as a way to formulate theories I may have more clearly.

Investing in your own education is investing in yourself. You will therefore read about educational topics that I am researching for myself on this website.

However, I also have an interest that might take even more room here, my kids’ education. Being a parent, makes you take an interest in education whether you want to or not. Education becomes a daily topic, something unavoidable. Having to check your kids’ homework also opens a window to your own past and forces you to search for some perspective on the meaning of education.

My particular perspective is that I should most definitely not rely solely on school for education. It might sound obvious when you say it like that, but I was surprised to see how much I had actually fallen into that trap. It was both gradual and unconscious, dangerous.

Obviously, education comes from all of your experiences and teachings. You can learn at the dinner table, when you go on holidays, during after-school activities, sports, etc. But my kids spend so much time in school that they barely have time for anything else. Drop them off at 8:30 am and pick them up at 6:30 pm – that’s right an insane 10 hours at school per day – and you can well imagine that you don’t have much time left before bedtime, once homework, a shower, and dinner are squeezed in. This to me has become a huge problem.

My kids now have limited sources of education, with one – the school, representing the large majority of that. My kids therefore have access to one set of facts, one set of rules, one set of way of interpreting it and analyzing it. Not good.

Of all the things you can learn, I have been convinced for years that the most important one was critical thinking. It is not enough in itself, but it is mandatory in my book. I therefore need to give access to my kids to a wider range of topics to learn about, ponder, when they are learning to think for themselves. I also need to give them tips on how to think critically. This is something you can learn.

I want my kids to grow up as their unique selves. I want them to be able to disagree with me because they are capable of articulating complex thoughts, that are their own and that are backed by a vast landscape of knowledge or skills they will have developed over the years.

Learning is a lifelong path. I’m interested in this because I look to the future. My kids’ future just as much as mine. I look a few years down the road. Not a few months, but decades actually. Low Time Preference is probably key in education, that’s how the compounding interest effect becomes exponential, something I truly believe in. And you have to remember one thing, contrary to goods or products, education is something that you gain once and for all. It is not perishable, nor can it go bankrupt. It is a superb investment product.

Education is not a finite game. There is no winner, no looser. There is also no beginning and no end. You could consider that from the moment it is born a child learns – experiencing that the world is brighter and louder than in the womb for example. So, this is not a beginning, just a renewed interest in making it more of a priority in my life and that of my children.

Specifically, what I want to do this year, is to prepare one activity every single month, that I will bring to my children for educational purposes. I already have a few ideas and am sure a lot more will come once I get started. I’d also be more than happy to hear any suggestions anyone might have, or some feedback on experience folks would be willing to share.

My first experience will take place in a few days and I’ll describe it here, probably before and after.