It’s time once again for a roundup of all the childhood-related stories I’ve noticed since the last such post that don’t fit in elsewhere.

In addition to the standard post, I have a personal note, which is that unfortunately our current nanny’s health does not allow her to continue, and thus we in the process of searching and doing interviews for a new full-time nanny for our three children here in Manhattan. I hope to have someone in place by the end of the week. If you are or know someone we should consider, please do quickly contact me right away with the relevant information. You can DM me on Twitter, PM me on LesssWrong or email me through substack (or email directly if you know it). Thanks in advance.

We All Need a Friend

Sorry you are being bullied, here’s some gold? In this case, $40k raised for some reason for a kid who went around asking to make friends. But no friends.

Evan Zhao: Phenomenal super villain origin story

I feel his pain. Finding friends for my kids has been difficult as well – if anyone has kids about 10 or younger reasonably close to lower Manhattan and wants to try setting up playdates to bring the kids over, please reach out.

Time Spent on Children is Historically Anomalous

Reminder that working mothers today spend more time on childcare than did housewives of the 1960s. Quality time is great, quantity time has gotten out of hand.

Bryan Caplan points out in his version of my old post More Dakka the alternative hypothesis that also explains all the ‘parents don’t matter’ measurements.

Take parenting. Most readers summarize my Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids as “Parenting doesn’t matter.” But that is only one possible interpretation of the twin and adoption data. The data is also consistent, however, with the theory that most parents are barely trying to get results – at least on many relevant margins. I pondered this in depth before I started homeschooling my kids. I’m always stunned by all the economists who fail to teach their kids about supply-and-demand. All my kids know about these holy diagrams. What’s the difference between their kids and mine? I did ten times as much.

Yep. I interpret the ‘parents don’t matter’ statistics in a similar fashion. If you fail in one or more of many ways one can fail, that does a lot of damage.

You can then do vastly better than baseline, but that requires you to put in unusually more work or work unusually smart, or both. That doesn’t happen often enough to show in the stats. There is still a lot of room to make a big impact on the margin, but also not in ways systematic enough to show up in the statistics.

Claim that twin studies overestimate environmental influence on educational attainment, that reanalysis reduces 43% influence to 26%.

I do worry some people will take such things too far. I continue to disbelieve all the claims that nothing matters, or it matters little, or that all that matters is not doing something massively stupid or harmful. I think this is such studies reliably failing to capture the inputs and also outputs that matter, and also comparing remarkably similar environments. It is trivial to say that with a sufficiently different environment you can explain an arbitrarily large share of educational attainment differences.

Let Your Children Play

Jon Haidt and Peter Gray present a plausible hypothesis: Play Deprivation Is A Major Cause of the Teen Mental Health Crisis. There is little doubt that real-world play has declined dramatically in scope and quality over the last few decades, as electronics rise as an alternative and we grow massively overprotective of children when they do physical activities. We are especially bad in America about this deprivation of play, so it could also explain why we have an especially bad mental health issue, which the smartphone hypothesis alone cannot explain.

Note also that to count as play it has to be outside adult control, exactly what we are dead set against so often.

[Research] shows that play is a direct source of children’s happiness. When children are asked to depict or describe activities that make them happy, they depict or describe scenes of play. There is also research showing that when children are allowed a little more play—such as when schools offer a little more recess—the kids become happier. Research also reveals that children consider play to be activity that they themselves initiate and control. If an adult is directing it, it’s not play. The joy of play is the joy of freedom from adult control.

Research shows that people of all ages who have a strong internal locus of control (internal LOC),that is, a strong sense of being able to solve their own problems and take charge of their own lives, are much less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than those with a weaker internal LOC.

Moreover, two retrospective studies with adults have shown that those who recall more instances of independent play when they were children are, by various indices, happier and more successful in adulthood than those who recall less such independence.

I find it convincing that this is at least a major part of the puzzle.

Great news: Five states now have ‘Reasonable Child Independence’ laws with two more expected this year. This creates safe harbor, hopefully avoids headlines like ‘Michigan parents let 6-year-old walk to store, two cops show up.’

“They said, ‘She’s not old enough,’ and I remember thinking, ‘That’s your personal belief. You don’t know my kid at all!’ But I remember thinking, ‘I need to tone myself down.’”

His prudence paid off. “The cops said, ‘We don’t want to bring Child Protective Services into this,’” indicating that they certainly could, if pushed. So Tom gave them his name and identification, and promised, “I’ll make sure she’s inside our house going forward, officer.”

And that’s what he and his wife have done. They have changed their parenting, not due to actual danger, but to other people’s perceptions.

This, in turn, has changed their daughter. After the thwarted walk, “She wanted to try almost immediately again,” says Tom. “But we did not allow her to. Because if she tries again and they find her again, they’re definitely calling Child Protective Services on us.”

The spunky little girl asked a few more times. And then…she stopped asking.

Parents are often not helping matters, yes this is TikTok cherrypicked but still:

Lenore Skenazy: Confused TikTok Mom Asks for Help When Random Child Comes Over To Play With Her Kid

“I don’t know this kid, I don’t know his mom, I don’t know where he lives,” she said in a viral video.

A mom took to TikTok, begging for advice: “My kid was outside, another kid was walking outside somewhere, and then they stopped and started playing together.”

She was baffled.

The mom went on to explain that the unknown kid was 8 years old. He was polite and seemed well cared for. He came into the house with her son, and they proceeded to play video games all afternoon. The polite, nameless boy didn’t leave for six and a half hours.

That was the issue.

The mom didn’t understand how a child could make a new friend, come over, and play  without his mom or dad freaking out and searching for him. If her own son had disappeared for six hours, she added, she would be calling the police.

The boy’s parents, she reported, “were not concerned in the slightest. That was wild to me!”

What’s wild is that a capable child went out to play on his own, made it home by curfew, and nothing bad happened—and it was considered news.

Mostly this is actually good news. The mom in question was confused by why the other kids’ parents were not freaking out, rather than freaking out herself or not letting the kids play. She recognizes that it was fine.

The fear of strangers or neighbors calling Child Protective Services (CPS) on you is not a mirror of the phantom fears about the safety of such actions. It is a highly legitimate fear with high base rates.

Jerusalem: This is… a wild stat. 37 percent of all US children are subjects of CPS reports (28% of white children and 53% of Black children experience CPS involvement before their 18th birthday).

Abigail: I had a neighbor threaten to call cps beccause I let my kid play in my fully fenced backyard while I watched from inside. She came over, banged on my door, threatened it in front of that kid. People these days call over nothing. Everyone’s scared of it. Moms talk about the fear a lot in my experience.

Some of those CPS reports are cursory, such as those automatically triggered by certain injuries as a precaution. Many others are not. With such high rates of reports, everyone scrambles to avoid being the target, which makes everyone else have to scramble all the more, and so on.

Or, alternatively:

Chris Amade: Six year olds walking home from school, on their own, is one of those things the rest of the world understands as normal but the US sees as criminal


Julie Fredrickson sums it up.

Julie Fredrickson: All the risky behaviors are down and everyone is miserable.

Derek Thompson: The surge in sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts among teenagers has coincided with other behavioral trends: – Reports of smoking are down – Drug use and drinking are down – Sex down, too – Bullying has not increased.

This seems important, too: CDC reports a notable increase in teens—especially Black teens—missing school “because of safety concerns.”

Well, yes. Why do you think all the children are miserable? Because we have defined being a child as too risky, put everything on rigid guardrails, and are not letting our kids be kids. This is not a case of ‘in spite of’ it is a case of ‘because of.’

Mason and RFH are also on point.

RFH: The amount of time women are spending with children today is historically unprecedented and making both women and children insane.

Working moms today spend more time on childcare than housewives did in the 50s and no one seems to think that this is a serious problem and likely contributing to women no longer wanting to be moms, the workload and the pressure of motherhood has gotten out of control.

Women are losing themselves into motherhood and the children are unable to form an independent personality, everyone is becoming manic and formless.

Kids need time alone to feel bored and to learn to self direct, moms need time to talk to other adults and address their own wants. I feel ill when I see parents following their eight year old around on the playground, let them figure it out on their own and meet other kids!

Mason: Children need parental/caregiver *availability,* not omnipresence That looks very different for an infant and a 12-year-old, but I’d argue the principle holds for both It’s very hard to offer this now, largely because of concept creep re: “neglect.”

Hypothetically, trads should understand this better than anyone (and I think they often do) The ones who don’t are the same ones who valorize female/maternal suffering and have chosen their path specifically to create more work for themselves.

If this was because the extra time brought joy, that would make sense. It isn’t (paper), at least not the extra time that happens when the mother is college-educated.

College-educated mothers spend substantially more time in intensive childcare than less educated mothers despite their higher opportunity cost of time and working more hours.

We find that among all mothers, spending time in childcare is associated with higher positive feelings compared to spending time in other activities.

However, college-educated mothers experience no more positive feelings and no fewer negative feelings during intensive childcare than other mothers.

Moreover, college-educated mothers report substantially fewer positive feelings for time spent in management activities and substantially more negative feelings for time spent in educational activities with their child.

This makes intuitive sense. You have two inputs, a sense of obligation and a genuine desire to spend time because it is joyful or useful. Whether higher output is associated with happiness will depend on which effect is driving.

Illusion of Safety

Schools starting to require transparent backpacks out of innumerate fear of guns. I dread to think what it would have been like if I’d had zero privacy for the things in my backpack. I’d still take this over periodic active shooter drills, it seems modestly less traumatic.

Post ends with a perfect this-is-something-therefore-we-must-do-it sighting out in the wild.

“I don’t feel like it’s going to really do much,” said Sheneman. “But whatever is available to us, I will do.”

Reminder that strange abductions are not a thing. They can be safety ignored.

Lethality Jane: Stranger abductions make up less than 0.1% of missing children cases in the United States. Most missing children cases are runaways. For abductions, the vast majority are committed by noncustodial parents. People constantly worry about the wrong things.

I constantly see things on Facebook saying people can’t return shopping carts to the corral because what if someone kidnaps their child and guys there is no armed militia waiting for the chance to break into your locked car while you spend 60 seconds returning the cart.

When stranger abductions do happen it’s normally things like a child playing outside alone. There is not an epidemic of people snatching babies from shopping carts in the grocery store and making a run for it.

When stranger abductions do happen it’s normally because the stranger calls the police to report a child that is not being sufficiently directly supervised, and then one thing leads to another and strangers from the state abducts your child.

Social Media is Badly Named

Mitch Daniels joins the chorus warning about kids and social media. You can tell from the framing and execution of the piece that the man has talent as a politician. I am sad he has not thrown his hat into the ring. As a good politician, of course, he offers no concrete proposals or actionable solutions.

A theory of social media as harmful to kids exactly because we won’t let them be social absent the media.

Conservatards fail to understand that if the damn kids are on their phones too much it is because they have created an RLHF torture chamber of arrested development for adolescents, in which the only possible vector for creative growth is talking to strange people online.

We need to abandon with prejudice the idea that teenagers are “children”. Once you turn like thirteen you’re a person capable and desiring to take creative strategic actions in the world. The problem is if you do this with no oversight at this point you’ll fuck up and get hurt.

What teenagers should be doing – useful labor in apprenticeship roles in guilds (repeal child labor laws) – doing prosocial work and exploration in scouts-type programs guided by older peers – artistic and cultural clubs – making remix art in Discords and grinding for clout

What teenagers are doing – 8 hours of sitting in class – 3 hours of homework (demoralization therapy to assimilate one to bureaucracy) – 2 hours of sports, “fun” in which you are yelled at by a man as defective if you don’t put yourself through more pain – psychiatric therapy

Conservative freaks respond to zoomer culture by saying that suburban America should be even more of a Hitlero-Stalinist RLHF Black Iron Prison Rome than it already is, fifty years ago you could let eight year olds run around outside the house, today 12 year olds have babysitters.

The theory continues along similar lines. The core insight here seems right to me. If you do not want kids lives to be dominated by screens, they will at minimum need to not be physically prevented from engaging in real world physical activities.

The same applies to phones in school, where children are even more held prisoner.

Jonathan Haidt: Adolescents get 237 notifications per day (median). 97% of them use their phones during the school day. There is not much attention left over for everything else. This is madness. Schools can give them all 7 hours off, 5 days a week. Go phone free.

David Deutsch: They’re forbidden real-life conversation. When they briefly escape the crushing boredom you call “everything else” by reading, passing notes or just looking elsewhere, they’re punished. For learning. Framing a further restriction as ‘giving them time off’ doesn’t make it so.

You want to take the phones away from kids, to free them from constant interruptions? Great, but you also have to allow them things worth not interrupting.

Kids Respond To Incentives

In this piece that mostly focuses on reparations, a black former student notes:

In the early 1950s, Weathers was the first black kid to go to the local public high school. The teacher picked on him; so did the white kids. 

“If I raised my hand, she wouldn’t call on me, because she didn’t want the white kids to see I knew the answer,” Weathers told me. “She called on me when I kept my hand down to make me look stupid.”

I wonder how long it would take such a child to use a mixed or reversed strategy. Do this to me three times and I’m going to start raising my hand only when I don’t know the answer. The primary lessons of school are often different than the ones we think.

Let Them Eat Lunch

Transaction costs rule everything around you, and they are not always financial. It makes no sense to be charging for school lunches in public schools, it makes even less sense than it would to charge tuition.

Paul Graham: “Imagine: Children just walking into the cafeteria and getting fed. No accounts that parents have to keep up, no time spent assessing families’ incomes or processing payments or running down parents who haven’t paid — no ‘lunch shaming’ — none of that.”

Joe Weisenthal: At my elementary school, on the first day, they made kids raise their hands in class to ask for a paper application for free or discounted lunch for the rest of the school year. Even as like a 9 year old, without much broader awareness, remember thinking how messed up that was.

The regulations can always be stupider and more expensive, UK childminder requirements to provide food to children edition.

Childcare is another case – the number of registered childminders in the UK has fallen by 80% since the 1990s (and is still falling), probably driven by increasing requirements for qualifications and “death by a thousand cuts” mini-regulations, like the fact that a childminder today has to register with the Food Standards Agency and keep a legally-required “food diary” recording what food products you have bought, who you bought them from, the quantity and date, and log incidents like having “found a pack of sliced ham out of date in the fridge”.

No Child Left Behind

Paper claims that graduate rate rise in wake of No Child Left Behind is ‘real’ and represents a substantially increased stock of human capital. A few different things jumped out right away.

The first was to simply defy the data on strategic behavior, and presume that various forms of cheating and adjustment were going unmeasured. Graduation is largely about negative selection. Did you fail anything? It is easy to send the message to teachers not to fail their students. It is easy to, on the margin, disregard a few extra unexcused absences, or not expel a student. None of that would be measured here as ‘strategic behavior,’ which was categorized as changing graduation requirements or cheating on tests. One does not need to formallyalter requirements to radically alter them in practice. As for the tests, yeah, I’m willing to guess some of them got easier. I know for sure there was a lot more teaching to the tests.

Second, we provide descriptive analysis of the trends in state graduation rates by whether states have graduation exams (or experienced changes in graduation exam policies during the panel period). If the rise in graduation rates was entirely due to strategic behavior, we would expect that the states without graduation exams experienced larger increases in graduation rates. But we see the opposite, suggesting that the upward trend in high school graduation is not because schools lowered their academic standards to make graduation easier.

I see the theory here, that tests are the hardest thing to cheat. Except that when the tests are what is gating graduation, it seems plausible schools can find ways to pass those tests without building human capital, or even by sacrificing it. Worst case, state can respond to pressure by issuing a weaker test, or teaching directly to it. One can also see this as, places with gating tests had slack in the form of students who could plausibly graduate otherwise, if only some right answers can be made to appear in the right places.

It is also very easy to see how NCLB can harm human capital development. If you are focusing on children not failing, and on them passing tests, you are going to invest less in building their actually valuable human capital. You are going to alienate your best students, waste their time, get them out of good habits and teach them the wrong lessons.

So it’s hard to presume that all of this largely lines up with human capital. It lines up with the capital of saying you graduated, but to what extent is that an absolute good versus a positional good? Similarly, one could presume that NCLB need not be all that causal here, as the economic cost of non-graduation has been rising, which also should lead to higher graduation rates, and also schools being more hesitant to fail a student since it would ruin their lives more.

In conclusion, I am not convinced here.

Then there are the schools where no children are left behind, because no child is going anywhere at all.

Fox Baltimore: The Maryland State Department of Education’s 2022 state test results report Baltimore City’s math scores were the lowest in Maryland. Just 7 percent of third through eighth graders testing proficient in math, meaning 93 percent do not read at grade level.

In 23 Baltimore City schools, there were zero students who tested proficient in math. Not a single student.

School Reinvented

The latest trend in home schooling is… school? They’ve reinvented a school? It sure sounds like they have. You take a few kids, you hire a ‘guide’ to help them and work through learning exercises and enrichment activities while the parents work. Almost as if education were a product, and you could form a market for it, and provide it vastly better (via vastly smaller student-teacher ratios, and being in a nice home rather than in a dystopian hellhole building, and customizing the content, and so on) and cheaper.

Families pay Prenda $2,199 per year, plus additional fees set by the guides, which can range from $2,800 to $8,000, Smith said.

For comparison, the average public school student costs the state roughly $13k/year. State funding for these micro schools seems much lower than that.

Another data point is that NYC schools have been “defunded” to the tune of $38k per student. I realize that space is not free exactly and there is a lot of paperwork, and costs in NYC are higher, but one has to notice this is utterly absurd.

Even at $13k, one has to wonder about the ‘get a few kids and hire a teacher’ option.

Matt Yglesias says it is wild American schools get so many tax breaks. The obvious response is to point to the full public funding of the public schools and the need to compete with them. You pay your property taxes either way. It does seem wild if and when they get vouchers similar to the amount public schools are funded and then also keep a lot of tax breaks on top of that.

Whereas Labour is saying in the UK they will add a 20% VAT to private school fees via removing their exemption, which they then say they will use to ‘raise educational standards’ since money is not fungible.

Did you know that letting kids learn what they are curious about helps them learn?

She picks and chooses topics for study based on student interests, not a set of state standards.

She pointed to one of her students who wants to be a judge. “She wants to learn about the Constitution and government. So why should I say, ‘No, you should learn about ancient Egypt.’”

The two obvious concerns are socialization and situational tail risk. For socialization, I would continue to make the case that most socialization in schools is not the kind you want, and that a few close friends from a micro school or otherwise is vastly superior, and you can find friends in much better and cheaper ways and situations. The real issue is that while most micro school situations with attentive parents are going to go quite well, some parents are not so attentive or caring, and some children could end up in bad spots in ways that are highly blameworthy, as opposed to it happening in a public school where if it happens everyone followed procedure, and admittedly things could go farther south this way.

Presumably the solution for that is some form of periodic check-in, a test if you will, to ensure that things are going all right. If you are doing very well, warping things to pass the test will be unnecessary, provided it is not too particular (e.g. the student can demonstrate mastery of the Constitution or Egypt, and either counts for history).

Richard Hanania makes ‘The Old School Reformer’s Case for Privatizing Education.’ It is the standard set of true observations about what schools are and what it means to force children to spend thousands and thousands of hours in the place the government decides, when they decide it, doing what the government decides, without the right to go to the bathroom without asking first. And that public schools are a pretty non-optimal set of answers to those questions, so perhaps we should let families decide what is best for their children. I mostly don’t disagree yet found it inessential.

Everyone tells me the lives of kids must be structured around having them ‘socialize’ with others exactly their age, a ‘peer group.’ I agree with Rohit that this is dumb.

Rohit: One of my more controversial hypotheses on education is that having kids primarily be surrounded by other kids, especially of the same age, is bad actually, both for educational and socialising purposes

Mat Bateman (Quoting Montessori): “The education of today is humiliating. It produces an inferiority complex and artificially lowers the powers of man. Its very organization sets a limit to knowledge well below the natural level. It supplies men with crutches when they could run on swift feet.”

School Choice

School choice is on the march.

Andrew Prokop at Vox: Very suddenly, that has changed. It started with West Virginia in 2021 and Arizona in 2022, and then continued with a flood this year — Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana. More may follow. “It’s happening!” Corey DeAngelis, a conservative activist who describes himself as a “school choice evangelist,” regularly tweets, joyfully chronicling each new victory.

Governor of North Carolina declares state of emergency because school vouchers are about to come online, and he wants to raise awareness. That is quite the mockery of the term ‘state of emergency.’ On so many levels.

A new NBER working paper by Christopher Campos and Caitlin Kearns finds that LA’s zones of school choice, where families could choose where to send their kids, resulted in marked improvements in educational outcomes versus areas outside such zones. Some form of competition and choice between schools seems clearly necessary if you want good outcomes. In sufficiently wealthy places you can get that competitive effect in other ways, in less well-off places you need families to be able to choose.

Magnet schools mostly aren’t real. They don’t use objective tests. Instead, the principal mostly decides who gets in and mostly that means whoever is local. Then they sit back and collect the extra funding. Whereas the few real magnet schools, the ones that use real tests and provide differentiated high-quality experiences like Stuyvesant High School in New York and Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, are largely in the process of being dismantled so preferred groups can be preferred.

Here are some survey results on homeschooling.

Matt Bateman: Only 34% of homeschooling parents are motivated by religious instruction, but 68% are motivated by moral instruction.

Mason: – majority concerned with violence, bullying, academics, and moral (but not religious) instruction

– only slightly more religious than non-homeschoolers

– more likely to identify as independent, less likely as D (R about the same)

I would caution that providing religious instruction is distinct from shielding a child from outside influences, so perhaps that number is too low, or is better expressed as ‘moral instruction’ that is largely about religion. Also noteworthy is that parents robustly say there is too much school focus on gender identity, 31-16 among those with kids in school and 53-16 among home schoolers.

School Hidden

Heritage Foundation proposes banning considering college degrees in not only public hiring, but also private hiring, including any algorithmic screenings. This fits the pattern of our hiring laws where we tell people to ignore Bayes’ Rule and not care about their own preferences, because we don’t like the implications, and we think that if we tell people to disregard Bayes’ Rule and their own preferences then they will go away.

Except, they don’t go away. Which means everyone who ever hires anyone is breaking employment law constantly. It’s not like you can look at resumes, or talk to people, and avoid learning who has a college degree.

You can try toban algorithms from considering college or various other things, and perhaps with some bespoke work you could even kind of do it, which would then mean you’d want humans in the loop to fix that, I guess, if you did in fact care about such things in either direction. It’s hard not to do that when everyone else is doing it, various signaling game dynamics, and so on.

What you can partially do is ban using college degrees as a requirement, so that anyone with statistically observable size has to give those without one a chance. However this risks making things even worse for those without degrees when such discrimination can go undetected, because they will now have no sign of where they can and cannot usefully apply. Then again, right now the requirements at such places are often only suggestions, so it is not obvious much would change.

Ryan Radia, ultimate reply guy, notices that one of those requiring college degrees would be the Heritage Foundation. Except that’s exactly the point. If you have the option to use college degrees as a filter, it is in your interest in such situations to use it, which helps you at the expense of forcing lots of people to waste years of their lives. It’s the opposite of a gotcha.

School Evaluation Hard

I intended for this section to be longer: New study of 2k children allocated via lottery to attend or not attend one of 280 charter schools shows dramatic long term impact from KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools if and only if the kids stay from middle through high school.

I did some back and forth exchanges with the author of the paper, attempting to reconcile the claims that KIPP was effective with statistics that said that giving students access to KIPP middle schools did not make them substantially more likely to graduate from college, which seems like the best endpoint measured here. I haven’t had time to get sufficient confidence in my understanding here, so I’m pushing that for later, while asking if any of you have a reading here.

A Metaphor

There has been a bunch of recent discussion of the concept of Two-Parent Privilege, as described in the book of that name by Melissa Kearney. Here is a Financial Times piece on the book. A common response is to claim that everyone agrees that two married parents are better than the alternatives, and two parents of any kind are better than one, of course we (or the elites or liberal elites) know this and profess it. Yet we do not often say this, or emphasize it, or put force behind the message.

Matthew Yglesias: One of the weirdest sentiments I read on here is the idea that the “elites” won’t tell you about the value of marriage, physical fitness, friendship, healthy eating, etc — look up the stats and it’s college grads doing way better on all those measures.

Rob Henderson: Scenario: Rich right-wing anchors say getting a vaccine is just as good as not getting one, implies vaccines might be harmful, promotes broad skepticism about them. And then personally ensures they and their families are vaccinated.

Very smart cultural critic: Why are people saying rich right-wing anchors won’t tell you about the value of vaccines? Look it up, they’re all vaccinated.

Tyler Cowen views this in terms of shame. We used to shame one-parent families, and also some other things such as suicide. Now we instead shame other things.

Brad Wilcox challenges that this is merely about failure to be loud or to shame.

Brad Wilcox: Plenty of folks, including @mattyglesias, have asked: Where is the evidence that left-leaning elites don’t support marriage?

Here is some polling evidence from the American Family Survey (2022).

“while 91 percent of college-educated conservatives agree that “children are better off if they have married parents,” only 30 percent of college-educated liberals agree, according to a report to be released next week by @FamStudies.

Children are better off if they have married parents. That does not mean that every child’s parents should get or remain married. It does not mean that you should not have children in other circumstances.

What it does mean is: Children are better off if they have married parents. If you fail to agree with this, presumably it is because you do not care for the implications.

I would also add: Children are better off being raised by two parents than being raised by one parent, even if marriage is not strictly involved.

One problem is that those who would traditionally ever be willing to apply any pressure to anyone can’t keep their eye on the ball, instead worrying more about the genders of everyone involved. Those in the red faction really, really do not want gay or lesbian or unmarried couples having children.


The sleeper thing to notice is that only 76% of conservatives think it is acceptable for a married couple to decide not to have children.

The weirdest one of all is an unmarried man and woman raising a child only get 58% approval, versus 70% for a single parent. Presumably this is because the unmarried couple could choose to get married whereas the single parent cannot not have a kid. It still seems like this is actively going to point incentives in the wrong direction, when most of the approval benefit of getting married is also available if the father leaves.

Matt Bruenig responds (directly to Ross Douthat, but mostly to the broader claim) with the counterargument that we are asking the wrong question:

Matt Bruenig: I responded to this argument by rehashing what I take to be the common view on this topic, which is that parent cohabitation is sometimes good and sometimes bad, depending on the characteristics of each parent and how those parents get along. Based on this view, the relevant inquiry is how many of the 22 percent of kids who live in single-parent households would actually be better off if their specific parents lived together.

  1. One of the parents may be dead, in prison, or living remotely for job reasons. This is not a huge slice of people, but it probably does shave a couple of percentage points off the total.
  2. Dad might be a bad guy.
  3. Mom might be a bad lady.
  4. Dad and mom might be alright but don’t mix well.

That is the question of what to do about a particular child, in isolation, already faced with a non-ideal situation. And yes, sometimes given who the parents are, their circumstances or their relationship to each other, it will sometimes be impossible or unwise to retroactively ‘fix’ the situation in this way. The best time to intervene and change the situation is before it gets to that point, including on a broader scale. The second best time will in a particular case sometimes be right now, sometimes not.

Matt then makes the claim that since upper class people marry upper class people but mostly don’t marry lower class people, they are only providing evidence that marriage is good when you marry someone upper class. There is certainly a coherent position that says something like ‘if you have a good enough situation lock it down, otherwise don’t until you get one.’ I would argue that if anything this throws shade on arguments of the form ‘lower class people should be able to get the message from the actions upper class people take.’ Instead, they often take to heart that they need similarly secure circumstances first, which they rarely will get. So all the more reason one must say the full arguments out loud.

This all follows the common pattern where we used to get good thing X via method Y, then we realized (usually correctly) that Y is terrible and stopped doing Y (or we got it via mechanism Z that went away or changed for other reasons), except now we are getting steadily less X and we don’t have a solution. We need more X, so we need alternative methods for getting more X.

The most obvious X is fertility, which makes this particular situation even trickier.

The obvious thing to do is some combination of financial support for X or some alternative mechanism Z that causes X, or financial punishment for ~X or ~Z, or supporting helpful norms and other cultural features. In general, people say ‘it is impossible to get more X’ or ‘X is outdated’ or ‘we cannot afford X’ or some such, before trying much.

More than that, they refuse to say X is good, or that we need more X, because they associate that with support of nasty, no-good method Y or outdated mechanism Z, or otherwise the use of force or shame or pressure. We are against shame, but we also don’t see any way to offer praise or honor for X without considering that shame of ~X.

Meanwhile, more and more forms of punishment are being considered Ys.

Every parent knows this dilemma well.

We need some knob, somewhere, that we can turn to reward the good and discourage the bad. What to do?


Liars, liars, pants on fires.

Eucaliculia: This poll is likely biased by lots of parents only having kids who are <10 years old. I can definitely tell when my 2 year old lies to me more reliably than I could a 16 year old.

I am with Eucaliculia here. At first, children can’t lie without giving the game away. Then, slowly, they skill up, until finally they can mostly lie with impunity absent evidence, and they get good at knowing when their story can get double checked. By the end, I was very confident that most of my lies were getting through, and was willing to rather aggressively lie to my parents despite a strict honesty policy for everyone else.

Whereas with my kids right now, they’re young enough that I’m very confident they almost never successfully fool me. I do expect that to change, but as we say to the God of Death: Not today.

I do, however, think that parents likely systematically overestimate how often they can detect kids’ lies, and kids overestimate how often they can get away undetected, because parents don’t always tell you that they know you’re lying.

Rick from Baltimore asks Tyler Cowen, given he does believe in the value of two-parent families, what would his pro-parent plan look like?

Rick’s suggestions mostly involve a variety of proposed cultural shifts towards favoring marriages by moving back towards some older cultural norms, including better tax incentives and perhaps job programs and otherwise helping create more eligible men. Tyler responds that he does not know what would work, but that it could not hurt to indeed get buy-in that this problem really matters and is not a hopeless one, and asks who is on board.

I am definitely on board. I also notice this kicks the can down the road and dodges the question, and that Tyler would point this out in other contexts. If you want to get buy-in for the importance and tractability of X, you need to help move towards or at least affirm some method Y of getting more X, or it’s all talk and also people won’t know what they are getting behind.

The answer necessarily involves a combination of financial incentives, lifestyle changes, cultural and norm shifts and attributions of status and honor. Which is dodging the question again, although less so. Concretely, where should we start?

I would say there are three distinct fronts here – pro-fertility pro-child actions in general, direct pro-marriage incentives and cultural factors.

We should do the pro-fertility and pro-child actions anyway. Doing this has other benefits that justify doing so, it would make marriage and raising a family more attractive and help move the needle here as well. So much higher subsidies for those who have children, and even more than that get rid of the various albatrosses we tie around parents’ necks, that are doubtless driving potential fathers away.

We can and should combine that by tying some of those financial incentives to marriage, and ensuring that the tax code, including various virtual taxes (such as the taxes imposed by schools in the form of usually-discounted tuition) essentially never penalizes marriage.

The obvious way to start on this is to offer a universal option – couples can be given the option to file as individuals if filing jointly would be more expensive. And we should make it illegal to consider spousal income or wealth in need-based educational or other similar assessments. Yes, there are obvious concerns and details that need to be worked out there, and it won’t be cheap, but the alternative is forcing people to choose.

Cultural shifts are harder to mandate. Financial incentives help, but culture also has a life of its own. That part is less my area. I would start with a bigger fight, where we have developed a norm that when a choice has superior outcomes, we are afraid to point this out and reward those who make that choice or say things that look down upon those who do not make that choice, even in relatively mild form. We are going to have to walk some of that back.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Another kind of lie is that unhappy childhoods are good, actually. They’re not.

Paul Graham: It’s bullshit that you have to have an unhappy childhood to do great things. You *can* do great things despite having an unhappy childhood, and that misleads people into thinking that it has a positive benefit.

I want my kids to do great things, and I’m not trying to give them unhappy childhoods so that they can. Exactly the opposite. I know from talking to thousands of YC founders that the best way to make people ambitious is to encourage them.

It’s certainly a powerful motivation to want to prove people wrong. But if you’re at all independent-minded, you’ll encounter enough resistance to give you plenty of this motivation whether your childhood was unhappy or not.’

Yheushen.eth: @WalterIsaacson has a slightly different opinion on this.

Paul Graham: That was what made me write this. It’s not just bullshit, but very dangerous bullshit, because it will allow abusive parents to rationalize and thus continue doing the bad things they’re doing to their kids.

There is indeed a failure mode where you prioritize your child’s present happiness so much that you do not prepare them for the future. What is good for them will not always be what makes them happy. So sometimes you shouldn’t do what makes your kid most happy. Tradeoffs are a thing. That is very different from happiness being an active detriment to ambition or success.

You Might Learn Something

Argument that on-campus education is valuable because being a club officer position is valuable, and generally thousands of students get to ‘practice working’ together, giving practical leadership and other experience in a low-stakes environment. That’s not an argument for education. That’s an argument for work. For doing real things. It’s also saying that on-campus education right now is less fake than online-only education, because the things students do among themselves are real while the core educational experience is fake. Got it.

An all too common form of RLHF:

Romeo Stevens: Hypothesis: people with inaction bias were ‘Copenhagen punished’ as children i.e. they were punished under the Copenhagen interpretation of ethics whereby they were held accountable if they did something poorly instead of rewarded for trying something at all.

This is standard procedure. Constantly, as children and as adults, we are taught that if something is going to go badly, we should avoid interacting with it. If we are going to mess something up, better to not try, we will only get blamed. Parents who understand this problem will go to extraordinary lengths to do the opposite.

Restorative Justice Does Not Scale

What is up with schools and restorative justice?

Armand Domalewski: A recurring pattern I have noticed in education is that it seems particularly prone to fads. New ideas that show initial promise become rapidly adopted at scale without a lot of rigorous evaluation or evidence of success.

Pittsburgh study found that academic performance actually got worse at schools that tried restorative justice, with math test scores for Black students being the hardest hit. But it’s unclear if this is because of bad policy or bad implementation.

Hechinger Report: In surveys, teachers at the schools that tried restorative justice said that their school climate improved. But students reported that teachers struggled more to manage classroom behavior. I wondered if disruptive behavior in the classroom might have detracted from learning time, or perhaps even worthwhile and productive restorative justice conversations ate away at precious instructional minutes. Either way, it could potentially explain why some kids’ performance suffered.

The Maine study, published online in March 2019 by the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, found no difference in school climate between middle schools that tried restorative justice and those that didn’t. It didn’t look at suspension rates or academic outcomes. But the fact that bullying and other school climate measures didn’t budge is another sign that restorative justice programs aren’t a slam dunk solution to addressing student misbehavior.

“Conceptually and theoretically, restorative practices should work,” said Francis Huang, an associate professor at the University of Missouri’s College of Education who is conducting another study of restorative justice in schools in Brooklyn. “But it’s harder.”

One bright side for restorative justice was that the more that Maine students reported that they personally experienced elements of restorative justice, such as discussing problems in circles, the more that student felt connected to his or her peers and the less cyber-bullying he or she experienced.

Rand report key findings:

  • Implementation of restorative practices through PERC improved overall school climates, as rated by teachers.
  • Implementation of restorative practices reduced the average suspension rate: During the study period, average suspension rates decreased in both PERC and non-PERC schools, but rates decreased more in PERC schools.
  • Suspension rates of African American students and of those from low-income families also went down in PERC schools, shrinking the disparities in suspension rates between African American and white students and between low- and higher-income students.
  • Academic outcomes did not improve in PERC schools, and actually worsened for grades 6–8.
  • Arrest rates among PERC schools did not decrease.

The core problem with restorative justice is that it is not justice.

That is not a claim that it is a bad thing. Most useful policies are not justice.

Instead, it is a claim that:

  1. This is poorly named. This should be called conflict mediation or something.
  2. This aims to address root causes of individual conflicts, which can be great.
  3. But which is not incentive compatible with preventing future conflicts.
  4. Nor does it provide an actual sense of individual justice.
  5. Thus, it needs careful implementation and a mixed strategy, or will backfire.

If you have a system that is mostly working well, where people are mostly cooperating, then such initiatives have the necessary groundwork and can succeed. If you do not have that, then you are giving the green light to bad actors and such policies seem doomed unless you also fix the other problems. Thus it is an especially strong candidate for working in a pilot program and then failing when scaled up.

Other Things In Brief

Studies keep showing sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.

West Virginia University cuts 7% of faculty and 9% of its majors, including moving its foreign language instruction online. The reduction reflects a larger reduction in enrollment. It also seems like they made highly reasonable cuts, to the extent one cannot trim the administrative staff instead.

Daycare is often thought to be an inadequate substitute for individualized (maternal or otherwise) child care. The results from Quebec’s universal daycare, including for infants under the age of 1, do not seem great. I look at what went into our children, especially at young ages, and even if you discard all other considerations I have no idea how to duplicate anything like it at a 5-to-1 caregiver ratio. Someone needs to give direct attention to that kid more than 20% of the time. Do the math. The efficiency gains available are limited. There are also huge issues with continuity of care, which definitely matters.

Most homework is truly evil. It is work justified in the name of training children that their time is not their own and they will later be forced to do endless piles of pointless busywork, so they’d better do pointless busywork now.

Katharine Birbalsingh: Out of 6.5 hours, you can’t find the time for an hour’s homework?

Mike Solana: before middle school, homework serves no purpose but to traumatize children. do your job and teach them in the classroom. when they’re home, let them play.

Mason: A really sad trend I’ve noticed is parents who appreciate homework because it gives them a prescribed, unambiguous way to be an “involved” parent and because they don’t respect the ways their children choose to use their time when they’re not forced.

Imagine if I said the same thing to a worker, you have 6.5 hours at home and you can’t find time for this hour of extra paperwork that we don’t even use? People somehow don’t think children’s time has value if it isn’t being used on school. Let your children play.

I would go so far as to say that it’s fine to ask children to do some amount of homework-style work, but if it’s so valuable then set aside school time for that. When the work is done, the work is done.

The Lighter Side

At least someone’s password is not so easy to guess.

Patrick McKenzie: Lillian is having trouble playing Guess the Password in math class because the material assumes the kids can’t do the math, and because she hasn’t yet learned how to play Guess the Password with an American teacher.

Humorous example:

Diego’s homework had a page torn off. He was trying to add 243 and 100. The two remaining digits were 54. How can his teacher know he is incorrect without seeing the digit in the hundreds place?

Justify your answer. This was in a lesson about odd plus even equals odd, etc.

The answer the question “wants” is “Because an odd number plus an even number is an odd number, an even answer is always wrong.”

The answer Lillian wanted to give: “She can add, because she is a teacher.”

Me: Let’s pretend she can’t do that in her head.


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Sorry you are being bullied, here’s some gold?

At least you didn't burn down my village. :)

We can enforce companies not screening on which university you went to easily.

Just make it legal to lie on resumes.

Then everyone, even the IQ 80 burger flippers, claims to have a PhD from Harvard, and companies can no longer screen on university education.