336. How to Educate Your Children | Jeff Sandefer - Transcripts
Hello, everyone. I'm pleased today to be speaking with Jeff Sandifer, who's someone I've known for a number of years and worked together on a variety of projects. We're going to talk today about childhood education and about his background, depending on which platform you're viewing. Jeff is an entrepreneur and a Socratic teacher, which is a teacher, by the way, who tends to ask questions rather than provide answers. He began his first business at the age of 16, then trained as an engineer, and then went on to graduate from the Harvard Business School. He has started and run many successful businesses, the most recent of which is Sandifer Capital Partners, an oil and gas investment firm with several billion dollars in assets. He's also started multiple academic programs and schools, I'm going to concentrate on that today, such as the Acton School of Business, whose students were named the most competitive MBAs in the nation by the Princeton Review. He's extended this work over the last 15 years into the K-12 realm, kindergarten through grade 12, with the Acton Academy, a cutting-edge program that blends the one-room schoolhouse, the Socratic Method, and 21st century technology to aid each student in changing the world, themselves and the world. So, Jeff, we get a chance to sit down and talk today and to share that with a very large number of people. Jeff and I were talking before this podcast about what we wanted to talk about, and last night we thought about construing this in terms of educational reform, but really the proper way to set this conversation up is to talk about education, not so much reform, but education per se. Let's start a little bit by talking about your background, though, and we might as well go back to, I guess, your early experiences in early adulthood, and let's lay that out
and then we can place in the educational discussion as a appropriate subject for you. Sure. And I think, as you say today, that I'm here more as a father and a husband than an educator or even a Socratic teacher, but I really started life as an entrepreneur. Age 16, I had my first real business. We made $100,000 in profits, which as old as I am back then, that was real money. By age 26, I had taken a million dollar investment and within four years turned it into $500 million in profits. What was your first business? Oil and gas exploration. At 16? At 16, we were actually painting tanks out in the hot West Texas sun and my father had had me working in the oil field as a laborer and I didn't want to do that anymore. So I found I could hire the high school football coaches at our local high school and instead of paying workers by the hour, I paid them by the job. They hired their football players underneath them and their productivity was nine times higher than the average crew.
So we went out and competed, charged two-thirds where our competitors charged and had 80%
So why were they more efficient? Because they were getting paid by the tank, by what they did and so they would show up at the break of dawn and work till dusk. The people who were being paid in those days $2.15 an hour had no incentive to work hard. So it was just purely incentive, work ethic. You can imagine football players and coaches are conscientious.
And so, you know, it was a home run and you had the incentives and so they would show up and run. Why did they take you seriously when you were so young?
I think because if you think about coaches during the summer, they had nothing else to
do. What did they have the chance to work with their team?
Right. And what do they have to lose? Right? They're not doing anything anyway. So it was kind of one of those things where you could put together pieces of a deal that make the pie bigger for everyone. Right.
Right. And it just worked. It's exciting to give people an opportunity to experience a direct return on their immediate investment. I mean, one of the things that's nice about hands-on labor carpentry and contracting and so forth is you immediately see what you produce and the harder you work, the more there is of it. And so obviously you built those incentives in. And so then you took that money and you further invested it, you said you into something that
generated a million dollars and how did that happen? Yes. So we went off and got an engineering degree, went to Harvard Business School and then when I got out of Harvard Business School, I raised a million dollars and we went out and we drilled oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. And through hard work, a lot of luck, good timing, we turned that million dollars into five hundred million dollars in profits in four years for our investors and our employees and ourselves. And so I'm at now age 29, I've got more money than I'll ever spend. I don't spend much money. Yeah. I'm a cheap guy. What do I do next? And so I decided to take a year off to become a Socratic teacher and lead case discussions at the University of Texas MBA program. And that changed my life. And so for 35 years now, I've been going on 40 years, I've been a Socratic teacher.
Okay, so let's define that for everyone. So Socratic teacher and this case method.
So let's go into what constitutes a Socratic teacher first. So you're putting the shoes of someone facing a real life dilemma where there is no right answer. They're moral choices. You're going to have to trade off efficiency and money and what you want to do with your life. And then you've worked maybe 10 hours preparing this case, this 10 to 100 page case, might be about Enron, might be about Acton Academy, we have a Harvard case about Acton, our school. And then it's Mr. Peterson. You're not a doctor then. You're going to be younger. Mr. Peterson, what would you do, invest or not? So then you have to make your case, there are counter cases and the Socratic method is interesting the way we practice it.
There's only two questions.
So would you do A or B next? And then the second question is, what do you mean by A? It's definitional. So the entire Socratic method is just helping people understand what to do next and why.
And when you say what you're going to do, exactly what are you going to do? So it's the interrogation of a story. So the thing about a story that makes it unique is that it provides a deeply contextualized representation of something complex. You see this happening in a court case, when we're trying to decide whether someone is guilty or innocent, really what we do is set up a dialogue between competing narratives. So the defense mounts a defense narrative and the prosecution mounts a prosecution narrative, and then what you're attempting to do is weigh the narratives. Now using the Socratic method as well, as you pointed out, you're going to be asking people questions and getting them to inquire after definitions. And then you said, this is very strategically oriented, so it has to produce a binary outcome, a decision related outcome with a strategy associated with that. In psychotherapeutic practice, one of the things you learn very rapidly, pretty much all therapists of any school of repute who are well trained know this, is that you can't really give people advice about what to do. You have to ask them to delineate out the problem. You have to ask them to lay out what they might see as a solution, and you can interrogate that and then encourage them to step through all the intermediary steps towards a solution. And I think the reason that works is that unless people walk through all of that, if they're just delivered the prepackaged solution, they actually have a, no idea how to implement
it, but also no real motivation to implement it. There's no drama to it. There's no part of life. I mean, something I've learned from listening to you about the power of story, you don't have any of that. And also, for the real world, there's no action. I mean, there are consequences. Eventually, you're gonna go out and do these things yourself. And I think I was a straight A student and a good student when I was younger, but it was all about learning to know. And so this method is more about learning to learn what are the routines and the recipes that we go through, learning to do something that requires courage, and then that leads
to learning to be who you're gonna become. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like it's something like an analysis, not so much of what the facts tell you the next step should be, because you never really get to that point. It's more like a delineation of the principles by which you're going to operate and an exploration of what principles you're willing to put faith in. And I would say the reason I would use the language of faith is because you have to leap into the unknown. Absolutely. Right, and so you wanna be informed while you do that, but you don't have the data at hand and you won't until you run the experiment. Right.
And so where were you doing the case studies? Well, so I learned the method at the Harvard Business School and then I took that in my own exploration of trying to figure out what to do with my own life and at age 28 was teaching a roomful of 28-year-old graduate students at the University of Texas. And so that was, and as you said, what you're doing if you do 100 cases, you're seeing pattern after pattern after pattern, much like the stories you might see in the Bible. Yeah. And you're learning through these patterns and to have the courage to then go do it yourself
as you point out in the face of uncertainty. Yeah, well, you know, you're doing something that brought up two ideas for me. One is, well, you're exposing yourself to a number of, a diverse number of cases, right? Yes. And then what you're doing, you do the same thing that these advanced language processing models do now. Yes, yes. You're looking for commonalities across the narratives. And as you gather more and more narratives within a certain domain, you start to understand the underlying principles. Yes. So this is what happened in the book of Exodus, by the way, because before Moses has the commandments revealed to him, he sits for an unknown amount of time, dawn till midnight every day, judging the Israelites and their complaints. And so he hears thousands and thousands of cases, right? And then you can imagine that the revelation is the, it's the revelation of the substructure of what constitutes justice itself.
Yes. And, but you can't get to that without this case analysis. So why with all the money at your disposal and the hypothetical freedom that that might've bestowed upon you, why did you decide to, well, stay actively working, stay actively employed? Now you were a professor at U-Texas?
Yes, yes. And then of course, you're looking to look.
Yes, yes, I was an adjunct. You were an adjunct. Yeah, yeah. And in the business school? In the business school. And so you decided to continue doing that.
And what was driving you to do that? Because I was fascinated with asking questions and, you know, the difference from a judicial setting and the way we practice the case method is, in the judicial setting, eventually a jury or a judge is gonna decide what's right. In our setting, it's the actor themselves playing at the acts. So I was fascinated, and frankly, I didn't know what to do with my own life. I mean, I had first started my first business to get out of the hot sun. I started the second business, so I was gonna make more money than my father. I wanted to overcome him. Oh, yeah, yeah. But then I did that and it's like, you're 28, what next? I didn't know. So I went to actually learn myself
and by asking questions and digging in and then. Were you ever tempted on the hedonistic front? I mean, you're pretty young at that point. You have the world at your feet in some real sense, so.
Well, I'm not exactly Brad Pitt, so I don't think the hedonistic part of tracing girls were more than well. Well, money can make up for that. Well, no, it does help, it does help. Apparently, it didn't help enough, but no. No, I just never was interested. The hedonistic thing just didn't really appeal to me. No, it was fortunate for you. Well, I had a father who I loved dearly, but he was rich one year and broke the next, but always lived as if we had money. And there was something about that I didn't like. Now, I'm sure there's something our children don't like about me, so that's a typical father or son thing, you know, judging it, but I think that it set up something in me that I've always been more about competence than prestige. And so chasing prestige to me just never felt right. And so the hedonistic roots would have felt like-
Well, money can make up for that. Well, no, it does help. It does help.
It's unfortunate for you.
Well, that's our take. Prestige over competence is narcissism. Yeah, so I just-
Fundamentally. Yeah, so I just- Fundamentally. So I just, that just wasn't appealing.
But I was lost. I was lost.
And so how long lost when? Well, I was lost at 29. I mean, look, people only ask, they're only desperate when there's no hope and they hit rock bottom. Or you get to the top and you ask, is that all there is? So I'm at the top and I have to ask, is that all there is? And I said, I don't know what to do except to go Socratically explore with a group of people.
Well, that's a good thing. If you're somewhere and you don't know what to do, exploring seems like a good idea. It is definitely the case that the only genuine pathway to exploration is something like the pursuit of the questions that honestly plague you, right? And so, and there's a destiny in that too that's extremely interesting because a different set of problems plagues each individual, right? So you're gonna have doubts, everyone does, but you're gonna have your doubts. And the strange thing about your own doubts is that your doubts contain the seeds of your progress. Yes. Because if you pursue those doubts, first of all, they're stopping you because they're doubts. If you pursue them and you rectify them, then you're gonna find a pathway forward,
but you can't do that without honest questioning. Well, and to foreshadow what will happen later, this set up everything that my wife, Laura, who really gets credit for the schools we built, but it sets up everything. It's the hero's journey story, right? It's Pilgrim's progress. It's the hero going out, looking for the grail, fighting dragons and monsters. And then you realize when you get to the end, it wasn't about the grail at all. That's how the hero changed in the process. And so it really began to set up that pattern
over and over and over again, right? Internal transformation as a consequence of learning. One of the things I've thought about Joe Rogan a lot because Rogan's success on the media front, I would say is unparalleled. He has the number one podcast in a hundred countries. Right, I think he's the most significant media figure who ever lived, possibly, in terms of sheer numbers and breadth of reach. And he runs a shoestring operation. It's really just him and his producer. He picks all his guests and all he does is ask them the questions that he actually has. And what's so interesting about that is, well, it's made Joe an incredibly well-informed person. I mean, because he's, I think he's done, it's some thousands of podcasts now. So he's had thousands of hours of case studies, let's say. But he also can bring his listeners on the same journey because the probability that if he's asking an honest question, that that will be a question that resounds with his audience is extremely high.
And it's so interesting to see how much power there is in that is that his stripped down approach, which also requires virtually no editing and certainly no special effects, his stripped down approach is the most compelling approach. And I think it is because it's based
on an honest Socratic method. But it does require curiosity and it requires a genuine interest in true choices. And one of the hardest things as a Socratic teacher is if you never ask a question, you know the answer to it. It has to be an equally balanced question. It has to be fair, right? If you're trying to put in your thumb on the scale, the other person immediately will know it. And so when I've listened to you on Joe Rogan and Rogan's podcast, he's incredibly good at listening and asking a very honest question. There's no, and people would spot it if he was.
Absolutely, yeah. If you're trying to put in your. There is an old, a very old religious insistence that pride is a cardinal sin and that humility is the virtue that counters pride. And then you have to ask, well, what does it mean? What does humility mean? And it means something like admission of ignorance. But what's so useful about that and why it's a virtue and why it's something very useful to practice is that if you do admit to your ignorance, which is to note what you don't know and to dare ask it, then you immediately rectify. I told my daughter, for example, oh, you know, very straightforwardly. You only have to ask a stupid question once if you listen to the answer, right? So she's been in many situations where, you know, she was in over her head like, well, like we all are. Yes, yeah. Very often.
Like me today. Well, and it is very tempting to pretend that you know and to not ask the stupid question. But first of all, almost everybody around who's participating, let's say, in the conversation has the same stupid question. And second, if you don't ask it, well, then you remain stupid. So that's not helpful.
And then, yes, very often.
Like me today.
Well, and it is very. Well, and I think, you know, I think this was a great lesson of, like a lot of learned about parenthood and about having the same approach with your children. I mean, you know, this, and I've seen you with Julian up close of, you know, being genuinely interested, but offering choices and listening and caring as a parent. And so, you know, I didn't have children at this point, but I have a room for 28 year olds that are bright and we can explore life together and entrepreneurship and how you make money and what it means if you make money. And that ended up being, I spent quite a time at the University of Texas, we built up the entrepreneurship program. We won all sorts of awards
and then spun off our own business school. Why did the, why was it well received, do you think? And why did the, why was it also, two things. It's well received by the students, but obviously it was also well received by the administrations or something.
Okay. It was well received and you know enough about academia, the teachers, so the professors who were teachers loved us. What we did though, is we had a very firm, very hard contract of what was required to be in the class. We graded on a forest curve when everyone else gave all A's. The harder we made the program, the more people we attracted. Yeah, yeah. And so, but at some point, I think our teachers who were all entrepreneurs who had been successful, so all adjuncts. Oh yeah.
Won the teacher of the year award 11 out of 11 years.
Oh yeah. Which. And how big a group was that? Well, for the, there were 141 professors and our group of eight were teaching 25%
of all the elective hours in the school as adjuncts. Wow, as adjuncts. And so.
So being paid nothing. Yeah, so you can imagine what happens next in this story. Yeah, right. So we're basically all fired or we all quit depending on which story you want. Yeah, yeah. But we go start our own school. And we focus on. When was this?
This would have been 2000. And what was, I see. And so that was after eight years? Yes. Eight years. And what was the rationale for the firing slash quitting?
Probably that I was too disagreeable, which was fair. But I will say I got a call from inside the school from someone and he said, look, a tinkered professor. And he said, look, I have to tell you, they're going to fire half of you this summer and the other half at Christmas. Because, and we were at that point attracting more than half of all the students to the school and teaching a quarter of them. And they said they just, you know, the tinkered political faculty just doesn't want you here. So we decided we were gonna teach one last class off campus, across the street from the campus. And 130 people showed up for no credit. They drove from Waco, from Houston to Austin, from Dallas to Austin. So they came from all over, including faculty from those schools. And we thought, you know what? Maybe we should have our own MBA program. Now we knew nothing about that.
That was impossible, right? No one ever told us you couldn't get a credit. But we managed to build a program. We ended up winning all sorts of awards from Princeton Review, with really Navy Seals, Olympic athletes, and young entrepreneurs. And we built this 100 hour a week, 10 month program that was just brutal,
but changed our lives and changed the lives of the students. So that was right after you were
at the University of Texas? Yeah, we were fired and it was right. The next thing we did was have this free class.
And the next thing after that was launch our own MBA program. And so what was the rationale for dispensing with you guys? I mean, it must have been somewhat difficult, given the fact that, well, it was half the students, it was very popular.
Yeah, there was an outcry, but as the Dean put it to the students at that point, you are not our customers. Our customers are the pursuit of scholarly knowledge. And so your opinion doesn't really matter was what they were told. So anyway, we spun off. It was successful, it was a lot of fun. And really, I'm now still doing some business things, mostly teaching, this program's a lot of fun. And then we come to kind of one of the most important things in my life, and that is our two young boys
are in Montessori school, and they're just about- So you had them after you left the University of Texas and started this now independent program.
You didn't have accreditation for the independent program? Right, so this is, we did get accreditation. We did. We managed to get accreditation because we won all these awards
and they had to give us accreditation fee.
And who awarded you accreditation? SEX, we had SEX accreditation through a small university that my great grandfather had been president of at the turn of the century. And SACS is? Oh, the Southern Accrediting Association. So it's one of the regional accreditors.
Right, so you got associated with a small college, but it didn't matter, because as long as you have accreditation, you have accreditation. Right, right. And so accreditation was set up so that, well, so that in principle, so that there was some, what would you say, consistency, reliability, and validity to the assignation of a degree.
I mean, that's the theory. That's the theory, what it really serves as, of course, is a protection of the cartel. Right, right. I mean, it's not really that, but we managed to get it, wasn't an issue. And we built the program. By then, I've got these two children, Charlie and Sam, and they're about to leave from Montessori to get ready to go to elementary school. So I go to see the very best teacher in the very best middle school in Austin
that's teaching our daughter, who's older.
Right, right. And I said, when should we move the boys into regular school? And I'll never forget this gentleman was an African-American. He looked like Abraham Lincoln, tall, stately. You know, very, and he said, as soon as possible. And I said, well, why? And he said, well, once they've had that kind of freedom, they won't want to be chained to a desk
for eight hours a day and talk to them.
So get them in chains young. And I was kind of stunned. And I said, well, I don't blame them. I just blurted that out. And he looked down at the ground for the longest time. And he looked up and he had tears in his eyes and he shook his head very quietly. And he said, I don't either. So I went home that day and I told Laura, I said, I don't know if we're gonna homeschool. I don't know if we're gonna start a school, but our boys are the best teacher in this town just told me not to put them in traditional school.
So we're gonna do something else. Do you know Paul Gotti? No. Okay, Gotti, I hope I have his name right. He was teacher of the year in New York state a number of years. And he wrote, he died. Unfortunately, I wanted to interview him, but that was never possible. He was no admirer of the current education system, let's say. And he wrote a history of the education system, which was extremely interesting. He pointed out that the public education in the United States, I was investigating this because I was wondering why our school systems are so bad at fostering individual vision. Because it's such a lack. I thought, why?
This is such a lack. There's something going on here. Okay. The Prussians established the first public education system. And the reason they did it was because the Prussian emperor wanted to produce obedient soldiers. You know, disciplined, obedient soldiers. No, I don't wanna get cynical about that because in a society that requires a military, disciplined people who can follow rules are arguably necessary. You know, obviously that can go very badly, but we gotta give the devil is due. And the Prussians actually put forward a very effective military training system. Now that was adopted in the United States in the late 1800s by industrialists, mostly, self-proclaimed fascists. So at that time, of course, it wasn't Mussolini, Hitler, like fascism, it was far the early precursors of that, but they were people who believed that the state and the corporate world could integrate at the highest levels. And there might be some utility in that, which is a very dubious claim, nonetheless.
So they noticed that they knew that all sorts of rural people were pouring into the cities to start working in factories. Their kids needed to be cared for while they worked, and then their kids were likely to have factory jobs. And so the purpose of the public education system, and this is why there's rows of desks and factory bells and this insistence on timing, was to produce disciplined, obedient workers, certainly not to produce people who were autonomous. And that was adopted in the US. The Japanese adopted it and militarized like mad, and part of the consequence of that was the outbreak of the Second World War. But obviously, but that being chained to a desk, that's not a bug, that was a feature. And you can also even say, oh, let's give it some credence, a rural worker. Their time schedule is much less stringent than someone who's gonna work on a factory. Right there on an agrarian farm or on a farm. You're much looser in your time sense, and it is the case that industrialization requires clock. And so you have to give the devil his due, but in a somewhat post-industrial world, which is what we're in now, it's not obvious at all that obedient worker slash soldier is the right model for human development. And so, okay, so back to your kids.
So now you have kids and you've been, so back to your kids, so now you have been. So really not knowing any of that, which I would find out later, we just wanted something different for our children. So we started out with a blank sheet of paper. This is all about the time Khan Academy and some great new things on the internet are bubbling with the Socratic method and said, what would we design for our children? And this is you and your wife. My wife gets to be careful, just like Tammy's special. Laura is the one that did all of this. And I kind of come into the picture later, but she's, I mean, I'm helping from behind the scenes, but she's really the person who's building this. We started out with seven children. Where did you get the other kids? By talking to everybody in town and seeing who would be crazy enough to join us. Now, by that point, the Acton MBA named after Lord Acton, power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts, absolutely.
The Acton MBA is pretty well-known in town. So the fact that we start this thing called Acton Academy, it has a little bit of linkage in Austin to be something people might trust us with their children.
Right, and this is you and your wife. Right, right, right. So you got a bit of communication cloud fair.
Yes, so there was enough reputational, you know, we were able to attract some very committed families. The school takes off, it starts to grow. It's all based on one mission we stayed true to from the start, that every child who enters our school is a genius who deserves to find a calling that will change the world. Now, by genius, we don't mean 180 IQ. What we mean is a special talent at something, because if you're the best plumber in town, you're gonna make more money and be happier
than the average Ivy League graduate. Plus your customers won't be knee deep in sewage, which is also, well, that's a major plus. That's a very plus. You know, when I was at Harvard lecturing there, one of my students, who you know, Daniel Higgins, we were working on formulation of theories of general cognitive ability and then personality predictors of success. At the same time, Howard Gardner was working at the Faculty of Education there, and he produced this theory of multiple intelligence. And it's a preposterous theory on psychometric and scientific grounds, partly because Gardner famously noted that he didn't really care about measurement. And that's a no-go if you're a scientist.
It's like, well, there are multiple intelligences. Well, that's a major plus.
That's a very plus. But we can't measure any of them. Right, right. But, you know, having said that, again, you have to give the devil his due, is that cognitive ability does seem to have a unidimensional structure. There's sort of, there's one dimension of being smarter, not being smart. And the smarter you are, the faster you can learn a complex job. And so for complex jobs, that's very useful. But the idea that there are multiple talents, that's a fine idea. And you see that reflected more in temperament is that open people are creative and agreeable. Yes. People like to take care of people and disagreeable people are competitive and tough, and conscientious people are hardworking and dutiful and extroverted people like socializing. And so the idea that each person is composed of a composite of traits and that that composite is unique and that out of that unique composite, something unique and valuable can emerge,
that seems extraordinarily probable. Well, and I'd say the biggest finding we've had has been that children are capable of far more than you've ever imagined. Children will play down to an institutionalized system, but if freed along with structure and responsibility the systems they will build are capable
of incredible things. You know, in the Michaela School, which takes a very different approach to you in the UK, it's an inner city school and there's a wide range of general cognitive ability as a consequence. So you can imagine in a typical class of 30 kids, there would be kids with an IQ of 90 on the low end, likely up to maybe 85 on the low end, and then maybe up to 130 on the high end, right? So a real distribution. But they're teaching at a very high rate and 75% of their graduates get accepted to Russell Group universities in the UK. And Russell Group includes the big UK universities. So they've managed to set up a system where, regardless of that immense variability in innate intelligence, let's say, there's tremendous emphasis on rapid learning.
Well, so here's where we might differ a bit, or at least what we've discovered. And what we've discovered is IQ, no question, is the most important determiner of success or socioeconomic success. But it's still only, what, 25%? Yeah, it seems about 25%. So what we found is, regardless of IQ, if we can build a tribe where every person there believes that they have a calling to change the world, that there is a place in that tribe. Now, if my IQ's 100, I'm not gonna be doing three-body orbital problems. Right, right. I mean, I just can't do that. Advanced physics, mathematics. Right, I mean, frankly, I can't do that, right? So that's okay, there's other things I can do. So what we've found is there's very little variability in the ability to learn to do things.
If you provide people with a compelling story and reason, if you provide them with a recipe, which is now you can find a recipe for anything on the internet, and if you provide them with some sort of rubric so they can among themselves judge it, and you provide them with some gamification, some way to keep score that's fun. Right, just related to the uptime. It builds a tribe. Yeah. And if you can do that, and we do this in groups of 36, the tribe is so complex and interesting, it's all about the tribe. Once the tribe works, we get learning happening at a two to three times average rate, and most importantly, the academic subjects become unimportant. They all happen. I mean, it happens at a rapid rate, but you're learning self-management, self-governance, and how to get along with people and build a culture. And you can have all the artificial intelligence you want.
You can't do those three things. Yeah, right, right. I mean, I just can't do that. Advanced physics.
Right, I mean, frankly, I can't do that. Yeah, right, just related to the uptime.
It builds a tribe. Okay, so how, okay, so now let's go back to when you started building this school and walk through it step by step, because I'd really like to understand more deeply how these schools operate. I know in the Michaela school that I referred to, it's very structured, and the teachers do the guiding, and it's clear that the teachers are the ones in control. And I was very impressed when I went there, and her results are also very impressive. The children are very secure, and they're very pleased to be there. We had about six of them take us around, and they were just randomly selected from the school population. And I asked them a lot of questions, and so they're liking this. You're taking an approach that also requires the children to participate in their own self-organization. Yes. So you could imagine that you could have a system where the basic rules of engagement are established by the authorities, but the game is actually playable. Or you could have a system where the game that's looser, which would be the system that you set up, where the demand for self-governance is placed in there
to a large degree right at the beginning.
Yes, yes. And so this is very similar to a Tocquevillian society that develops the bottom-up. We are providing, though, they don't have to invent democracy, or a democratic republic, or a tyrannical government. We'll provide them with choices, so you don't have to invent everything from a blank sheet. But by experimenting, it's a very Hayekian from the bottom-up series of experiments, and they learn by doing. And I will tell you that the environment is, it's tyranny one week, and Lord of the Flies the next, and they learn to find a medium between freedom and responsibility,
and they're continually working on the society. Okay, so what would the experience, so how young, what's the youngest children
that you have in the program? The youngest will be preschool, so four or five, six.
Okay, so what did four or five, six, okay, so what did they experience,
their first day of school? Okay, so at that age group, it differs a little bit, so there's 36 in the room. It's mostly Montessori-like learning to do real work, so the routines of real work, and free play. And it's only, and so you're beginning to learn to read and write, and I'll get back to that in a minute. Elementary studio is more about important work, so you're doing real chores, you're doing real work, you're helping to start running the studio, and you're playing hard games. And that hard game may be learning math, but it's a hard game, I mean, so these are games. Now, by middle school, you're tackling real world things, you're beginning apprenticeships as early as age 11 or 12, and so you're actually beginning to take those talents out in the real world, so it changes from studio to studio.
Right, so it starts to broaden. So what happens with children's games is that as the children mature, the games become more and more like real world occupations. That's what we're doing. And then you could also say, interestingly enough, on the adult side, the more you can turn your real world occupation into a genuine child's game, the better you are at it.
So it's weird how those things meet and then eat. Well, and that's part of playing this is the realization, if you're always saying, we believe you're a hero who's gonna change the world, here's a story about Martin Luther King. Here's a story about, so when I said there's a why to doing this, you're continually being given archetypal hero real world stories of flawed heroes, right? Not perfect heroes, and you're having to work this out at the same time you're working out whether I'm gonna hit you in the head at age five, and if I do, there are consequences, but those consequences are largely meted out by eight-year-olds who are forming their society and learning to form their society. And I will tell you, in our high schoolers, in our middle schoolers, 80% of them are better than anybody that graduated from my Harvard Business School class in culture, because all they do at what? At culture, at forming a healthy culture. So is that better at negotiating? It's negotiating, it's caring. I'll give you a quick example of how you move up. So no grades, the standards are held by the community,
very high standards, but here's how they work.
So is that better at- You keep track of the work you've done, and you earn points, that's effort. Yeah. So how much effort are you putting in? Yeah. Every six weeks, there's a public exhibition. The public's invited, it's not a science fair, it's going to be an exhibition of learning. For example, if we're doing the medical biology quest, these young people will be diagnosing diseases of people coming in who have a stack of cards that are their disease. In the winter of the game, most accurately diagnosis real diseases for real with real cost. So what do they learn? They learn to manage their own healthcare,
which in the United States, it's probably going to- So you reward progress, but you actually have standards of attainment at the same time. Yes. And there's an overlap between what you're doing in the Michaela School, because they're also extremely good at rewarding both progress and actual levels of attainment.
And so the attainment here- Yes. And so the attainment here is, did most of your patients live at a low cost? And through that, you're going to learn to actually listen and diagnose diseases, even for yourself. So badges are attainment, public exhibition, points are effort. Last piece, which is important, is 360 peer reviews. Every person's asked, is Dr. Peterson warmhearted one to 10, or is Dr. Peterson tough-minded enough, one to 10? And then I give you feedback and it can't be, you're stupid. It can be, you know, when you interrupt me when I'm working hard, that's really frustrating. Would you please, when I have the red flag up, not interrupt me when I'm working hard. So I'm requesting, so I'm learning how to be a good friend, a good citizen.
Okay, so now you've got three things happening. So you've got reward for progress, you've got an absolute standard of attainment, and then you've also got something like evaluation of the manner in which you conduct yourself within the culture, within the group. Okay, so in the 360 process, just for those of you who are watching and listening, is that it's not that easy to figure out how to evaluate people inside a corporation. So for example, if you're trying to evaluate middle managers, you can't get a direct measure of their sales effectiveness because they're three steps removed from any sales process. And so the question is, how do you know if they're succeeding and how do they know? That's a big question because you can't even get rewarded unless you know what the criteria are for success and failure. And so one of the ways that corporations have learned to deal with this that's actually quite effective is by doing these processes they call 360s. And in a 360, your subordinates rate you and give you feedback, your peers do and your superiors do. And so then that's aggregated. And you can set that up so that it's not, so it's as unbiased with relationship to the hypothetically desirable outcomes as you can manage. But it's an effective way. Compiling multiple reports like that is an effective way
of gaining valid, say, diagnostic information. A great way to learn to give and receive valid criticism, that it's helpful criticism and it's positive criticism.
Yes, and criticism, we should also point out that's not, here's what you're doing wrong. Here's what you're doing really right because the core criticism is what you're doing right but here are things you're doing that as far as we can tell are interfering with what you're doing right.
It's the separating of the wheat from the chaff. And that's why almost all that's offered at this school is growth mindset and praise. We appreciate the method of what you're doing. Now, again, adults can't do this. Adults can never make a declarative sentence on campus. Adults can only ask you questions. And there are very few adults because the young people run everything. So let me fast forward a bit to the story and then we'll come back. We're running these, it's a lot of fun. A researcher comes down from my old professor, Clayton Christensen at Harvard and says, we're gonna pick you as one of the top elementary schools in the United States. We've only been around 18 months, that's really silly. They call back and the researcher says, we're actually gonna name you the top elementary school in the United States, the ones we've studied.
And this is the Christensen Institute, so it's a big deal at Harvard. We're kind of shocked. The researcher and her husband, who's CFO of Hawaii Airlines, fly from Hawaii to Texas for their first visit. They said, can we come visit? We said, yes. We get an email from them at the DFW airport while they're changing planes going back to Honolulu. We decided we're moving our family and five children to Austin so they can attend the school. Wow. And so we said, wow, maybe we have something. About this same time, a dear friend and former student who's very successful in Guatemala asked if he can start a school. So we hand him a big stack of mimeograph stuff. Yeah, yeah.
And six months later, we're learning more from him than he is from us.
Right, right, right.
So you're starting to franchise at that point? Well, actually it was just like, here friend, a parent moves out to California and she tells her husband, I'm not leaving if I can't take the school with me. So we hand her a stack. We're learning more. I said, okay, let's start 10 of these
and we can learn from each other. Yeah, are you still operating fundamentally at the preschool and early school?
Well, we're now beginning to have a middle school and that's why I step in and I end up running the middle school and the high school with 45 students. I do that because we've hired this traditional teacher who's won a lot of awards and the week before we're gonna start, he turns to me and says, you know when these middle schoolers get out of line, you just jack them up against the lockers and tell them who's boss. And I went back and told Laura, I said, you're gonna fire this guy. So you might as well do it now. And she said, well, middle school is gonna start in a week. What am I gonna tell the parents? And I said, well, I'll step in for a little bit and I'll help. And that was my introduction. And then for 13 years, I did that. But suddenly we have three of these schools now. We're gonna have 10 and it just takes off. And fast forward to today, we have 18,000 people who have started an audition who wanna start a school.
We have 300 schools in 26 countries and 43 or 44 US states. And so we've built a model with all these wonderful entrepreneurial parents and most of the people that run the schools are people like you and me. They wanna do it for their children. And it's a loose consortium. It's almost like building Legos or Unix or it's a network that's continually changing a model, that's improving it. And so now we've got 300 people contributing to the improvement of the model, which changes really weekly, gets better. Almost all of it though, handing more freedom and responsibility to the children
and younger and younger ages. Yeah, well, that's a great decentralized model though too. And we can get back to what that means on the cost front. Okay, so now a kid goes, kids five goes to one of your classes. You said that there's some formal learning taking place, so with regard to reading,
but there's a lot of play. Well, but there's a lot of play. Well, so there's a lot of play. They're learning math on Khan Academy. Once they can learn to read, I mean, so they're learning to read and really children when they want to learn to read unless they're dyslexic. We'll learn to read, I'll get to how we do that. If they're dyslexic, they need a little extra training. But if you just, some children learn to read at four and some learn to read at seven. I mean, there's a span of when they're ready.
You see the same on the speaking front. And there's actually, you might think that the smart kids learned to speak earlier and there's actually no evidence for that. So yeah, kids can vary substantially in the date at which they pick up language. At the date at which they formulate full sentences.
I wish you would talk to some of our parents who are panicked that their child isn't, it's like, if you'll just be patient, the child will come.
Yeah, you will in virtue. There's almost no children that don't develop language.
It's such a universal human prayer. So they're around all these peers who are helping them and it's multi-age. So remember you got older and younger and they're mixing around and you can't really tell who's the smartest because everyone's good at something. But the way we handle reading, and I've gotten criticism this is, you can start with comic books or a magazine. Yeah. And so, well, let's make them read the classics. And I said, if you make them read the classics, they will hate the classics. But what happens is- Well, you can't have them read something
that's too difficult for them to write off. You have to- Right, right.
Then there's no reason not to use incremental move forward. You have to do forward. Right, let's read the Iliad at six. It's like, okay. But once they start reading comic books and magazines, then all of a sudden you see them pick up Harry Potter. Yeah. And then by 11 or 12, some are reading Democracy in America, War and Peace. Now, if you read that or 11 and 12, you need to read it at 21, 31, 41. Right, I mean, but they love to read as a group. And so reading becomes something that's just-
41, right. How successful- What's your failure rate on the literacy front, excluding the dyslexic kids? Well, we could talk about that too. Zero, zero.
It's zero. Zero, zero. Uh-huh.
It's zero. And so what are your, what's your criteria for evaluating literacy, say by the age of 10?
Or thereabouts, or thereabouts? So you read something, you get a badge for something called a deep book. You have to pitch the book as being important, rated by experts when there's a whole criteria. Right, so you teach them how to select good books. Your classmates have to agree that it's a deep book, and then if it is, it goes on a list. So you can choose from the list, or you can pitch one that you like. Yeah. But these are all real books. I mean, they're really- They're books that would anybody- And so you have to read that book. You have to tell why it impacted you and whether you would recommend it to someone else, and that becomes a badge. It's probably like a six-page theme that you create to try to pitch the book to someone else. Right, right, right.
So how do we know that they're good? As you look at the badges. Now here's the thing, who approves that badge, right? No adults in the room. Well, the answer is the standards of excellence are, if you've never done this before, did you put your heart into it? Yeah, okay, so that's effort. If you've done it once, is this time better than last time? Right, great. If you've done it enough times that it's hard to see the incremental gain because you've kind of plateaued, let's compare it, critique it to a master. How is your short story compared to Hemingway? Right, right, right. And if you win some sort of contest in the studio or an external contest, it's excellent.
So Dr. Peterson signs off on my badges, excellent. Now you're gonna imagine with human nature, there's a little log rolling that's gonna go on, right? We're buddies, I'm gonna approve yours,
you're gonna approve mine. But if you're real buddies, you're not gonna game the system
so that the results are no longer good. Yeah, but there are no free riders and so that starts to happen. But there's an audit committee. So the audit committee will put out a survey, that's anonymous, every six weeks and say, whose badges should be audited? And you take those three because who knows whose badges should be audited, right? The people in the room know. And you don't embarrass those people.
How do you stop that from turning into like an informer festival
and getting free riders on that front? Well, I'll get back to kind of when you have toxic, I mean, toxic sub tribes and things. So that can't, but generally the group is one tribe by this time and so you don't really have that, that's not really tolerated by the group. But so what will happen is, who volunteers for the audit committee? Yeah, well that's tough people, right? Easy people don't wanna do the work. So now you've got the toughest judges, they'll take the three people that the studio said should be audited and at random choose three more. Now, no one knows whether you were chosen at random or you're on the list. Kind of everybody probably knows, but then we're gonna do a deep audit of those badges. If Jordan Peterson approved Jeff Sandifer's badge and it's rejected, then you lose a badge of the same value. So you just lost six weeks of work and now all of your badges are gonna be audited.
So we've had learners, we've had learners, we've had learners, we've had learners. Real strict, what would you call it? That's some, that's free rider control essentially. So for those of you watching and listening, so the population prevalence of dark tetrad traits at a clinical level is about 4%. And so the dark tetrad is Machiavellian, narcissistic, psychopathic and sadistic. And that cross-culturally, that seems to be about one person in 25 who's enough like that to be a serious problem. And they're basically in the extreme, they're something like parasitic predators and they'll gain well-functioning systems to attract credit to themselves with no work. And so you always see, people think that societies can just be set up on a cooperative basis and that you can just assume the best about everyone and that'll work. But it, and it does work 96% of the time, but it really doesn't work 4% of the time. And that 4% is toxic enough to bring the whole damn system crashing down. So you need to return tit for tat essentially. There has to be control mechanisms set up in a well-functioning micro society so that the freerider narcissist types can't get a toehold.
And that takes a certain amount of tough-mindedness. Often that's the, often the sort of thing that's lacking among the utopian minded, utopia minded educational reformers. Cause they have a, well, we don't need competition in our schools, for example, it's all cooperation. It's like, yeah, that's fine till the freeriders come along and then it's not fine at all.
You need justice and mercy, you need both. And so if you think about it, warm-hearted, tough-minded, the 360s, that's what we're measuring and encouraging and giving people, but you need this system of audit.
Well, that's interesting that you use both warm-hearted and tough-minded because that's reflection of a trait on the agreeable dimension. And agreeable people are compassionate and polite. They're maternal, that's really the right way of thinking about it. The kind of maternal that would be properly devoted to a very dependent infant. And so there's something lovely about that, right? As lovely as maternal love. But on the other end, which is the more masculine end, there's more, let's keep the freeriders at bay and then let's also only reward actual attainment. And there's love in that too. But it's more like, it's the love of discipline
and encouragement, that's all. Well, in those of us that are tough-minded and I'm tough-minded and disagreeable, need to learn when to be warm-hearted. The ones that are too warm-hearted need to learn for their own good when to draw boundaries. And so that's what develops in all this. Now, by the way, we do see, for us, it's about one out of a hundred, we see someone, we see highly toxic children come in. I can't explain why, I'm just telling you their behavior. I'm not saying they're damned or they're doomed. Because you can always actually be asked to leave the community and come back. You can repent, but you see every once in a while. Now, there's also often a strong correlation to the family. You can listen, but sometimes not, you know? But that's the only time an adult will step in
if they see that happening.
And so I can't explain why, I'm just telling you.
And what markers do you have for that? They're telling very small lies just like the dragon book. You just can catch them because otherwise the system will correct. But the system can't take someone who's smart enough to parse the, you know, they're always staying right inside the lines and they're lying a little bit. And so over time, the tribe will learn, even the young ones, to recognize that, but when you're fresh and new,
and so what an ownable, you're an ownable. That's why psychopaths, like in the real world, psychopaths are itinerant. Because they can't stay long enough. But they can't stay because people figure out their games and then they stop them. And you know, one of the problems with the virtual world right now, is that it allows the psychopaths to be continually itinerant. Yes. Which is essentially what you are if you're anonymous. Right. Is that nobody can get a handle on you. You can't track the reputation. And, you know, the people who promote the benefits of online anonymity say, well, what about the heroic whistleblowers? And it's like, fair enough, but they're 1%.
Right. Yeah, the heroic whistleblowers, but what about the enabled psychopaths? Well, but they can't stay because the whistleblowing is worth the psychopathy.
It's like, yeah, it doesn't look like it. It's interesting because the group gets pretty good, even in an early age of recognizing it, but the first time they see it, it's like when you've said before about a dark triad or a dark quadrahed male can take advantage of a young female, but the females will learn. Yeah, yeah. Well, eight-year-olds learn too. Yeah, yeah. But we will step in and say, here's a transition contract. If these things don't happen, you're gonna need to leave and reapply. So we will pick out, but it's one out of 100. Yeah, that's pretty good. We'll see someone who's, and so we're probably drawing, you know, from some segment that's slightly healthier because they won't apply, maybe.
But about one out of 100 can see. Yeah, yeah, yeah. One out of 100 can see. Well, you see it with kids. So there's a pretty good literature on this. If you group two-year-olds together and watch them interact, about 4% of the males, it's almost none of the females, about 4% of the males at age two will kick, hit, bite, and steal. Okay, so that's not very many. That's 2% of the populations, one in 50. So it's not much different from, but most of those kids, despite their temperamental proclivity to be aggressive, are socialized by the age of four. Almost all of them. If their parents socialize them. Or someone does.
Someone does, right, right. Could be siblings, right? But someone has to socialize them, maybe help them either control that aggression or integrate it, better to integrate it. The kids who don't have that integrated by the age of four, they're in for a pretty dismal ride. There isn't a lot of clinical evidence suggesting that if those traits are still in place at the age of four, that they can be ameliorated at that point. And so, and those are the kids that turn into bullies
and then delinquents and then criminals. If their parents socialize them. Or someone does. Someone does, right. Could be siblings, right, delinquents and then criminals. And we see something very similar to that. And I wanted to ask you, because we see something else, and I'm curious what the literature says about this. It appears to us that the tribe in these systems and this Tocquevillian society will shape conscientiousness until about 13. Yeah. And so there are some people that are naturally conscientious and there are others it seems to shape. Our experience is when we take someone after the age of 13, if the culture is spun up, they will behave in a conscientious way. But without the culture,
they will regress back to where they were. Well, part of what happens at 13, okay, so imagine you have these aggressive kids, okay, at four. Now they maintain a high level of aggressive behavior. Okay, now at about 14, the boys join them under the influence of testosterone. And so, and then for the normal boys who have this spike in aggression, that decline start to decline pretty rapidly around 18. And then goes back down to where you'd expect it if you just tracked it linearly. Whereas the criminal types don't desist. What happens with the criminal types, generally speaking, is that they start to desist in their late 20s.
And so the fundamental,
to have the hard-headed penological theory for repeat offenders, 1% of the criminals, 65% of the crimes. So for true repeat offenders is you just keep them in jail till they're 30. And then it might be delayed maturation, something like that, you know?
But that costs most of the problems, yeah, right. But after that, they're not as big a threat.
Yeah, yeah, they start being so incentivized.
By the way, the thing we see over and over and over again, and I can't stress this enough, and I think it's my theory of why the United States works, is the 80-20 rule is one of the most powerful rules. And so what you see is, if you believe every child's a genius, you find the child that's good at each of these different things, but they all have a place. Just like I can get a plumber, an airline pilot I can be, but you see that in these societies as they grow.
You gotta find your place in the, so the Pareto, this 80-20 rule, this is 20% of your customers produce 80% of your sales. 20% of the recording artists sell 80% of the records. 20% of the authors sell 80% of the books. The actual rule is the square root of the number of people doing a particular task perform half the labor. And so this drives inequality in every creative domain. But your point is there's a diverse enough range of potential Pareto contributions, it doesn't matter. Like you can be an off-the-chart plumber and I can be an off-the-chart mathematician,
and there's zero trouble with that. If we're only gonna measure how quickly I can memorize things for a test I'll never use again, and it's basically IQ, then there's only gonna be one winner of that or one group of winners. In this case, there's all sorts of ways you can win and it's so complicated you can't even keep track. But what you can keep track of are these stories that are repeated over and over and over again about heroes don't win. When they get knocked down, they get back up. And it becomes kind of a grit, a resilience. Hey, it's a challenge. We talk about, I may have gotten this from you, like what are the three monsters?
The three monsters are resistance,
resilience, distraction, and victimhood. It's like, if I can't, which one of those is standing in my way today? Resistance, I just need to take the first step, right?
Yeah, and that might just be apprehension
of sheer complexity, right? But what do you do? Take a step, okay?
And if you can't, then take a smaller, smaller step. Exactly, I mean, take one more step towards the elevator. And so distraction, it's what's valuable to you in focus. I mean, you have prioritizing focus. If it's victimhood, then gratitude is the only substitute, is the only elixir for victimhood. And so they learned that.
Yes, and we should also point out on that regard that gratitude isn't the naive insistence that the world is a perfectly delightful place and that everything is going to go well. Gratitude is a practice, it's a moral virtue. And the virtuous part of it is the courage to find, and even the darkest place, some light that can guide you through, right? And the willingness to do that, the understanding that that's a practice. I mean, when my wife was extraordinarily ill a few years ago, like fatally ill, so the story went, and one of the things she did that was of aid to her physically because it helped her be less stressed, and that's good on the immunological front, but also spiritually, let's say, was to strive very diligently to look for what she could be grateful for in each day and even in each moment. And in her situation, I think this is very often the case for people who are facing very serious illness. She was grateful for the love and support of her family and her friends. And that was also genuine, and also of genuine aid. But it's a courageous practice.
It's not a kind of naivety. And so if you're surrounded by a group that understands if you're playing the part of the victim, they don't say, don't be a victim. They begin to ask you questions about gratitude and give you space, right? Sometimes you wanna play the victim for a while. Yeah, well, sometimes terrible things are happening to you. Right, right, sometimes, yeah, your life's just, and so then you get someone who's actually, I'm very empathetic that that's happening. I'm sympathetic to you that that's happening. But then the answer is, once you're finished with that, what are we gonna get up and go do next? That's good for you, right? And we're gonna have this moment. So just imagine all these young people, and by the way, the high schoolers are going up and down to the middle school in elementary all the time. The middle schoolers are going up and down.
You'll see elementary students. So this is a family. This is like a neighborhood of young people moving around between studios, helping each other. Often you'll get a 10-year-old that's better at calculus than a high schooler, and they're up,
and it has to hold missocratic. Well, sometimes terrible things are happening to you. Right, it has to hold missocratic. What a deal for the 10-year-old. He gets to share his knowledge with older kids.
That's a predominant deal. We have 10-year-olds that actually sell tutoring services. So, they have to be Socratic. They can't lecture, but anyway, but that's the beauty is they're learning how to build a society. They're learning self-management. They're learning self-governance. They're learning how to treat other human beings. And guess what? The learning's exploding. Oh, and by the way, they've had six or seven apprenticeships in the world
by the time they're in high school. Yeah, and how do you set those up?
And what do the apprenticeships look like? It's the easiest and best thing we do. You go through a series of challenges of what you might want to do with your life, even at 11 or 12, like, what's exciting? I want to be a vet. Yeah. I want to be, and so then you learn how to go find out the owner of the vet service. What have they done in their life that's valuable? Then you write an email that says, Mr. Smith, I've so admired your compassion with animals. I know that you won this award. It has to be genuine. Right, right, right. Would you show you've done your homework?
But then the question is, I'm looking for this apprenticeship. I'm not asking you for it. I'm just asking, can I have a five-minute phone call to explain it? Right. That's all I want. So you get the phone call. Right, right, right. You listen for objections and try to answer them. Right, yeah. And the only ask then is, can I have two minutes in person? You show up in person, and you can imagine this 12-year-old that showed up ready, and they say, Dr. Peterson, would you give me a chance? Yeah.
I'll show up early. Yeah. I'll work late. Yeah. I'll wash the floors. Yeah. If I don't ever do one of those things, not only can you fire me immediately, but it's going to reflect on all my studio mates. They're going to find out.
But if you'll give me a chance, I'll prove myself. Yeah. The irresistible offer to most people.
The success rate on that is like 98% now. So what? No, that's interesting in and of itself. Because we're constantly bombarded with this insistence, especially from the radical left, that the reason that you might employ someone is to skim off their excess labor, let's say, right? The Marxist theory of labor. And it's basically an exploitative relationship. And you can be cynical about this. You say, well, no kidding. The businessmen are going to agree because now they've got free labor. But that isn't what happens. What happens is that you have to be unbelievably cynical and blind and believe that the world is motivated by power to believe anything other than this, is that the ability to act as parent proxy is there in all of us, to the degree we can be parents. And it's extraordinarily attractive to offer people the opportunity to establish a relationship with someone who's young where they're fostering their development.
I think that's a primary source of human gratification. I actually think there's also something that's, I wouldn't call it cynical, but it's a little more self-interested that the people who are being like very generous, because this is, you know, it's hard to have an apprentice. Yeah, yeah. But I actually, we've seen this happen at the acting MBA. I think it's, they're looking up to you as the Wizard of Oz, and you're seeing in them a young you. Right. And there's this sense of that reminds me of myself. Yeah. And, you know, and that's the best part of myself. The best part of myself. And in fact, if I had had this at that age. Right.
And so I'm so attracted to this, but anyway, through this process, what do you learn how to do? You learn how to find something to do that matters in your life serving someone else. By also-
And by the time you're serving, and that doesn't else. Right. But you also learn how to ask someone, you learn how to suggest in an attractive manner to someone how they might offer you an opportunity. Right. This is one of the reasons, it's so useful to teach your child, to help your child develop extremely polished manners. Yeah. what happens if you have well-mannered kids who say please and thank you and who know how to shake hands and introduce themselves and who are sensible enough to listen to an adult, then they will charm the adults not in an instrumental way, a manipulative way, but they'll charm the adults and the adults will reveal the best part of them and then they'll offer the kids all sorts of opportunities
and so what a deal that is for your kids. And we see that just happen over and over and what do we have to do? Nothing. We don't set these up, we don't matchboth. The young people go out and do it all with parental permission, and the parents have to sign off it safe. But they're out there doing, our boys went through amazing, they ended up, their final apprenticeships were SpaceX. Right, what a deal. And you know what, they did that on their own.
I mean, that was very, what a deal. Well, that's great, too, because that makes it their accomplishment. Oh, absolutely their accomplishment. That's another thing that's so useful about not doing too much for other people, isn't it? So one of the things that, as a therapist, it's very easy to steal your client's success and to slough off their risk. So for example, if you come to me and say, well, do you have some advice on the career front? And I say, well, this is what I think you should do, and this is how I think you should do it. And you go out and you do it. It's like, it's not obvious at all whose victory that is. Right, right. And then if you go out and fail, well, I failed as a therapist, but not as much as you failed. So it's like your skin, I'm gonna claim the victories and...
Let's slough off the failures. That's another thing, so it's like your skin's gonna live. I'm gonna claim the victories and... Let's slough of the failures, yeah. Well, this is why, by the way, we don't ever talk about the success of our graduates, because it's their success. You just wanna hear us talk about that. I mean, we just don't. It's their success, not ours to claim. And it also brings up the hardest thing we have. It's not the young people, it's the parents. And I asked our son the other day, a good friend was working on something about fatherhood. And I asked our youngest son, Sam, I said, you know, this whole fatherhood thing you would understand it better than I have because you're the customer, right?
You're the person. So what advice would you give my friend about fatherhood? And he said, you know when you're younger you just want your parents around and to pay attention to you. Yeah. Not coddle you not, but just to be there. And he said, but once you get into kind of middle school you're really around your peers and your parents, their job then is to be a good role model. And he said, and this is what chilled me. He said, so to be a good father, all you can do is work on yourself. And that's why it's so hard. And I stopped and I went, oh my gosh, have I worked on myself? But it was just like this from a 19 year old. It's like, as a father, I need to love my child and work on myself.
And that's the way the child will be healthy. The reason that when we have a problem, it's generally the parent over parenting are wanting to intervene for the child. And they're prohibited by contract from doing that. They sign a contract says, I won't do that. And then they'll do it anyway. Right, right.
Well, it's very hard for parents to let go of that if that's their habit. It is hard. And there is a narcissism in that too, because then the parent gets to take credit for the child's success and to trumpet that. And that's, well, that's that whole eatable mother nightmare that Freud outlined so brilliantly so long ago. It's like, and it's hard if you're a caregiver, again, to give the devil is due. And I think it's probably harder for women because they have to give their all to their infants in a self-sacrificing manner. Because infants require full, dedicated, this isn't about me care. The problem is, so the psychoanalyst said, the good mother necessarily fails. And what they meant by that was the woman is faced with this terrible necessity of dispensing with that full-fledged maternal care incrementally and letting the child, facilitating the child's movement forward. And I think it's very useful for a woman to have her masculine side developed for that or to have more likely to have a male partner around who's more oriented towards encouragement than let's say that intense maternal care. But it's definitely the case that you want to foster in your children and in the people you're mentoring that ability to do things on their own. There's a rule of thumb for care of elderly people.
It's a very good one. Never do anything for the person you're caring for, they can do themselves, right?
And that's, go over that. It is hard. That's their half.
Because you want them to keep doing everything they can. Yeah, well, and you want them to retain their dignity and you don't want to steal from them what responsibility they have left. And you want to encourage their autonomy if for no other reason, then you're not going to be overburdened with having to do everything, right? So, and that, well, okay, so let's, two questions here. One is to do everything, right? How do you develop that community ethos that orients the entire community to regulate the behavior of the members in a positive manner?
How do you bring that about? You're continuing to play game after game after game with different kinds of motivational systems. So sometimes it's the heroes journey and more Maslow's hierarchy kind of feeling or Jungian feeling. Sometimes it's being rewarded with extrinsic rewards. Sometimes those are squad based. Sometimes they're individual. Sometimes they're whole studio. Sometimes they're also, you're just playing game after game, after game. So it's an aggregation of playable games. It's a lot of experiments going on within a rubric that is rewarding this feedback and collapses. And then part of it is, it's hard because the studio will completely collapse. And as an adult, you want to step in and fix it, right?
And so we say, okay, step back,
take a deep breath, leave it alone. Okay, collapse in what way?
What have you seen? There's two clicks and they're arguing about something and the civility is broken down. And you know, social fragmentation or excellence. You know, the people who've kind of gotten blasé about excellence or I saw something interesting in our high school in our launch pad. They had built such a complex, cool society that the, and you know this from having run companies. You know, if you're not careful, you build up so many rules that your company becomes a bureaucracy. So they were getting to that stage where it was a beautiful society. And they looked at it and they said, you know, we're going to do away with all but three rules. And if we want to put a rule back, the first thing we're going to do is ask the person the rule is being instituted for. Why do you not want to be here? Because you know, right? So we're not going to put a rule for the EDGE case.
We're going to deal with the individual and try to listen to them. Maybe they need to leave for a while or maybe we need to help them more. And so you just see these complex set and simple and complex set of experiments and they're learning by doing and watching. And so when you either get, you know, a tyrannical situation or Lord of the flies going on, You step back once and then it always gets worse. You step back again. And here's the magic that happens. At that point, three or four of the sheepdogs, we call them, because they're the ones that get the wolves, will come to you and say, we don't want to live like this anymore. And then you say, secretically, well, do you think you would like to try a pure democracy or a democratic republic? They might not even know at age eight what that is, but to have the internet, they can go figure it out. And they'll come back and have a town council meeting and vote on a new structure. We had one time, we were actually the...
Right, so yeah. But they had a town council. Right, so now they have a problem with governance and now they have the motivation
to find out what good governance means. So we got actually ejected, as the guide, I got ejected from the studio because they didn't want me in there anymore. So for a week, there'll be a week go by and no adult goes in our middle school, it runs itself. So I was actually kind of asked to leave, so I left. And I thought, well, we'll see what they do with it. The studio broke down. I didn't really know what was going on inside. I came back after about 10 days, I was invited back because they couldn't create as good a learning challenges. The games they were creating weren't as good, so they wanted some more games. When I came back in, they had taken masking tape and they had divided the studio into like eight city-states because they'd been reading about city-states. Each city-state had a different governance system and people were voting with their feet where to reside. Oh yeah.
That kept going for about six months. It turned out to be an incredibly powerful way to organize the studio.
And then at some point that broke down their governance. And then at some point that broke down their governance. It's a competition between the invitations. I've been thinking about this on the religious front talking to, I probably have talked about this most particularly with some of the more fundamentalist Muslims that I've talked to, that the notion of holy war, jihad. William James said 150 years ago that we needed a moral equivalent to war. Something as difficult and challenging, but oriented towards the uppermost good, let's say. And I was thinking about the religious competition as a competition between invitations. And so the idea would be, and this is sort of like the idea that as an adult, you're a role model for your teenagers. Like, all right, so you've got this set of principles on the Islamic side, let's say. Are you such a shining example of those principles in practice that people look at you and think, man, I'd like to abide by that code. And that seems right to me is that a competition of invitations, first of all, it has the advantage of competition. It's like, well, there's a bunch and that's experimentation essentially.
And it can be intense competition, but if it's invitational, then people get to use freedom of conscience and free of association to choose. And that seems to give us the best of both worlds. So how did you manage to motivate yourself
to stay the hell out of it when things were? Well, it's where I was lucky that having been in Harvard Business School and been among the best Socratic teachers in the world, having practiced Socratic teaching, and we had all these hotshot entrepreneurs that came to teach with us at the MBA level, but you had to help and work with them and yourself to keep your ego out of it. So if you're teaching a case and you're, I mean, all of our teachers were very exceptionally successful entrepreneurs, you wanna step in and give the answer, right? Yeah, but that was faster. But that was forbidden. I mean, like you would get ejected from the teaching core for doing that. And so we all agreed to live by a contract and we had micro routines we would execute, just like in the studio, there's all these micro routines layered upon each other. And so I was just equipped. I mean, I wanna give an answer as much as anybody else in the world. And I do sometimes, I shouldn't. But I'm equipped to say it's so much more powerful to say,
would you do A or B next? Well, for the men that are listening, this is a useful thing to know about your wives. I mean, it's true in interpersonal communication in general, but, you know, your wife is gonna sit down with you and lay out her complaints about whatever happens to be happening. And you might think that you know what to do about that. And you might think that what she wants is for you to do something about it and to provide an answer. Now, that also might be your impatience because you wanna just get to the, cut to the chase and solve the damn problem. And so it's not all moral virtue on your side that you actually know what to do. But what you have to understand is that, when someone's first walking through a problem set, part of what they're trying to do is to figure out what the problem is. And so unless you let them lay out the problem landscape without interference, you don't even know that the problem you're solving is the correct problem. And so and that, you definitely see this in the psychotherapeutic relationship all the time is that, man, once you've got the problem properly identified, you're 90% of the way to solving it. But that wandering around to begin with, and the Socratic method is very useful for that. It also helps people build, well, to investigate their doubts thoroughly, but also to build the analytic skills necessary
to assess a problem properly and to start to strategize. I remember Laura was in a discussion with one of our top acting MBA teachers one time, we were in a case discussion, and he's a wonderful guy named Stephen Tomlinson, and he stopped her in mid-sentence and he said, ask yourself at this moment, would you rather be right? Or would you ever rather be curious? Right, right. And it changed her. I mean, she's always been a curious person, she was like, oh, I was trying to be right at this moment. And so it's those kind of revelations.
Yeah, that's curious. Yeah, that's the pharaonic temptation, as in pharaoh, is to be right. Now, a good way around that, I think, metacognitively is to think, okay, are there more things you know or more things that you don't know? Now, anyone with any sense knows that no matter how thick the book they've read, in total is, the book of things they haven't read or encountered is way thicker. And so then, the next question is, well, would you rather be friends with what you know or friends with what you don't know? And that's an infinite landscape. And so if you can learn to be the friend of what you don't know, then, and you're really afraid about that. It's like, no, no, I need to know here. I might be wrong in my presumption of being right. And then it opens up, I think that's part of what opens up the underlying motivation for true Socratic questioning. If I'm talking to my wife, I actually wanna know, you know, even though part of me doesn't, why she thinks what I'm doing isn't working, because it's possible that if I could listen carefully enough, I could find out something stupid that I'm doing and quit doing it. And I would rather stop doing stupid things because life's hard enough
without putting up unnecessary obstacles. Now, imagine these kinds of discussions going on. They happen for, there's a 15 minute Socratic launch in the morning. There's a 15 minute launch after launch. There's a 15 minute close. So you're having, these young people are having on a detailed moral problem of real relevance to them, these Socratic discussions over and over and over again, every day.
And then- So what would a discussion like that look like?
What kind of topic might come up for this discussion? It might be we're having an issue with clicks in the studio. And so there would be something about what is a click and how the clicks form, and the question might be- So it's applied- Well, I actually what we would ask you is, we would say, what's the biggest issue in the studio right now? Is it intentionality? Is it civility? Is it excellence? In which ever one they picked, it would be okay, okay, what should we do about that? Should we set smart goals? Should we run a 360 survey? Should we? And then after a very short while, they're leading these discussions. What should we do and why?
It's always relevant. There's probably a hero story. In fact, the way we do civilization, I've talked with Larry Arnett.
He'll still about this.
Well, actually, you'll be in a group of five, 10 year olds and you get a question to go research. And the question might be, was John F. Kennedy, the ne'er-do-well son of a rich man, or America's greatest president assassinated in his prime? Now 10 year olds have no idea who John F. Kennedy is, right? But he was assassinated. He was a rich, that's pretty cool. So they'll go spend 30 minutes researching or an hour researching all about Kennedy. Then they'll come back and they'll start debating that. And before they're done, it'll be like, well, what does make a great president? And what is your prime? And what is, no adult, these deep rich, and by the way, after that, you never forget who John Kennedy was, or the Cuban Missile Crisis.
But all it takes is one question and the right rules of engagement, and you can back away.
Yeah, well, that's also how you can set up critical thinking as a really motivating game. So in my fourth year seminar, we would go through scientific papers one by one. I would pick the papers, classic scientific papers. And then I would extract out some of the core questions. And then I divided, this was fun. I divided the groups, my students, there's about 20 into groups of four. And I put the introverts in one group and the extroverts. And the reason was is that introverts will talk, but their threshold for speaking is higher and the lag time is longer. So if you have an extrovert in with a bunch of introverts, because they're more likely to interrupt earlier. So I'd put the introverts together. So that was fun.
And I would assign and yeah, yeah,
because aside of the question arbitrarily, and the rule was, look, I don't really care what your opinion is about this issue, not because I don't care about your opinion, but because it's worthwhile to explore the entire problem set and it's very worthwhile to learn to think critically and to think critically after you take opposing sides. And so the students would have this discussion and then the rest of them would vote on the outcome and it was extraordinarily engaging and the students really liked it. And they would spend in-class time doing the investigation right then and there, right?
Without you having to do anything right. Well, we did the same with the Revolutionary War. You have the Tories, you have the Patriots and then you had this group in between. It was about a third or third and a third. And then it's like the two sides, the Tories and the Patriots have to argue and the people in the middle they're gonna vote with their feet and you're gonna see who won. So there's all sorts of just experiment after experiment
after experiment. Right, right, and so that, oh yeah, okay, so that's what Paggio, my friend, I have a friend who's a very deep religious thinker and he's developed a model of governance that's very much like that, that's extracted out of the Exodus story, has to do with the distribution of response. Imagine there's tyranny and chaos, and so that'd be tyranny and slavery, let's say. And then there's a model of good governance that is the alternative to both of those, and it's something like distributed responsibility and something like this idea of nested games. So in the subsidiary organization, an individual has responsibility for himself and then paired individuals have responsibility for their family, and then paired families have responsibility for the community, and then paired communities have responsibility for the state, and there's games going on at every level that are, well, they should be games that are guided by the spirit of the Logos, fundamentally. But it should be distributed at every single level. And that's the opposite of a totalitarian system. So instead, like in a totalitarian system, every single person lies about everything all the time. And, in a well governed system, the opposite of the lie isn't the truth. It's more like something like the humble approach to expanding knowledge. It's an experiment or something like that.
It's a way of generating new knowledge. It's an experiment or something like that. Well, so think about the individual, the squad, the 36 people in a cohort, and then the whole campus. And then you have people that are also doing, they're specializing in chemistry versus medicine. So you've got all these mixes like that going on
all the time, and out of that comes the culture. Right, and also because you have that diverse range of options. So the answer to the problem of inequality isn't equality. The answer to the problem of inequality is a diverse enough game so that the distribution of inequality is normal, right? So like you said, you can be a good plumber, you can be a good abstract mathematician. It doesn't matter. They're both infinitely playable games. And they're infinitely expandable games.
Well, and the question keeps getting asked over and over again, so one of the other things they go do is they go do what are called stars and stepping stones interviews, where you'll find people you admire, who are between, let's say you're in high school, you're age and 25, 25 and 40, and then over the age of 60, so there's a range. And you'll go, and what we found by doing thousands of those, is at the age of 60, most people ask the same three questions. They phrase them differently, but it is, did I contribute something meaningful? Was I a good person? And who did I love and who loved me? Those three questions, even at age eight, are always on the table. Say them again. So, did I contribute something meaningful? So meaningful, specific. Meaningful, was I a good person? Who did I love and who loved me? Now, I bring that up because we could pick, I mean, you and I could prioritize those differently and both win the game, right?
I mean, so you're always asking, and by the way, those questions mean something different. Was I a good person means kind of black and white moral choice at 11, maybe even 15. It probably, around your 20s, 30s or 40s, it's about, am I becoming who I was meant to become? I mean, good has a different meaning, right? It's slightly different. Right, it's not so much abiding by the appropriate rules. But while we keep offering these moral choices that allow you to kind of self-rank in different ways, it's not only aptitudes, it's also what's important in life. Because you got to ask, what's success? It's not how much money you make. Making money is great, but that's not the ultimate measure.
Was it being how kind you are? Making money is great if it facilitates the other things that you just described, right? Right, right. If it provides you with an expanded horizon of opportunity. It's not so great if it enables your hedonistic impulsivity. In fact, it can just kill you. I had lots of clients who were fine when they were broke. But the second, one client in particular, he used to get his unemployment check. He was disabled and workplace injury. And he was a pretty simple person. And he was easily exploited by psychopaths. And those were his friends.
And what would happen to him is, he'd get his unemployment check once a month. And so he'd have lots of money for three days. And it was off to the bar and nose deep in cocaine and face down in a ditch. And all his terrible parasitical friends would gather around him until his bones were plucked dry. And eventually that killed him. Wow. Yeah, and so money is an enabler. But it's also an enabler of vice. So be careful, right? Be careful with money. So, yeah, okay. So let's, maybe we should turn.
Right, right. If it's right.
Eventually that killed him. Okay, let's do something practical first. Okay. If people are interested in these Acton schools,
where can they find more information? Yes, sure. Acton, like A-C-T-O-N, academy.org is where the schools are featured. There's also something fascinating we do. If you want to take a mini step, it's called a children's business fair, where children will come and for one day, pitch a business. They'll have a business where they sell things. Oh, yeah. We will have this year, 1,000 of those fairs across the United States and across the world. And we'll serve about 50,000 young people. And all you have to do if you want to start one of those, that's kind of a stepping stone to an Acton, is put out seven tables in your front yard and have your kids tell their friends. And we have a whole system that we pay for everything. We provide prize money, just the thing our family wants to do.
And so- And where can people find information about that? Children's business fair, if you just Google that or childrensbusinessfair.org. There's a two minute video, shows how you can start one in your backyard or actonacademy.org
if people are interested in the school. Okay, well, we'll make sure we put those links in the description. Now, we haven't talked at all about higher education. Maybe we should diverge into that momentarily.
So we could talk about my misadventures in reform under Governor Perry, Texas Governor Perry. I think I'll leave those for something more positive. And just talk about what are we seeing from our super competent high schoolers who we call launch patterns because they're launching out in the world. And what we're seeing increasingly is a belief that many colleges are about prestige and what they're about is competence. And so, of course, if you get a free ride to MIT and you're a gifted engineer, you go to MIT, right? I mean, of course you would do that. Yeah. Would you pay 400? So far. So far, right? No, no, that could all change. Yeah.
If you're, you know, from, well, it doesn't matter who you are, should you pay $400,000 from a no name degree that won't get you a job from a place no one's ever heard of? No, that's a terrible idea. So we're seeing that with all of these apprenticeships, our launch patterns are coming out and they can get into whatever competitive college their scores are high enough to get into. Yeah. But about four out of 10 are going directly into industry and maybe hacking a degree somewhere on the side, but they've realized, so I think we're seeing our best and brightest begin to vote with their feet. Yeah. And began to think of college as a tool
that may or may not be necessary.
Well, it doesn't matter who you are or may not.
Do you think that's more true of the boys? No, I think it's pretty equally true. Now, I will say there is something to be said for college. If you want to go to football games, paint your face, be in a tribe, chase girls or guys. Yeah, yeah, right. That's kind of what college has left. Well, you know, there's nothing bad about that.
There's nothing bad about that. Well, we should also again give the devil his due. I mean, I've been trying to sort out why people will pay, let's say $200,000 for a four year degree. And here's a couple of reasons. You get away from your parents, you have a transition point, you establish a new group of peers and maybe you find a mate. Right. And especially the last one. Right. If that's your $200,000 investment and you have pooled around you eligible young people of a certain degree of, let's say, intellectual capability and discipline, somewhat selected, that's not such a bad deal. That's not exactly the fundamental purpose of an educational institution, but it's not trivial and it's not easy to place.
No, and I think that's why the game's continuing to go. Yes. So we're gonna have to find a way to replace that or it's gonna continue to be, in essence, a very expensive country club. Right. Yeah, I mean, it's a very expensive country club
and speed dating. Yes, now it's a very expensive country cult. Yes. So and that's definitely a problem.
And I think my friends that are in Higher Ed and that are thoughtful has seen this coming. The other issue that higher ed faces is, as you well know, they make all their money on the freshmen and sophomores, teaching them with adjuncts. Yes, right. And so, then the upper division courses are very expensive, taught by tenure faculty, but it's the internet that's threatening, it's all the distance learning is threatening the freshmen and sophomore group. But if they lose enough of that group or have to discount, then the whole model turns upside down and higher ed has no way to cut cost. Yeah.
They can't cut costs. Also, let's talk about cost. So, we were talking last night, you said in Austin, it's $32,000 a year per student. That's the public education cost. Right, for K-12. But that's also an underestimate.
So, let's walk. Yes, right, for K-12. Let's walk. So, my belief and what I've seen is that doesn't include all the facility cost properly accounted for. So, the number's somewhere north of 32,000 last saw. And that ranges from 20,000 around the country to much more than that. And I think you were saying cost at Acton Academy. We've got some incredibly successful campuses that now are running at anywhere from $1,000 per student per year to maybe $2,500 per student per year. Now, we have some that have tuition as high as $35,000 a year, so fairies. Yeah, yeah. But we're managing by the fact these young people are so super capable on their own. We're managing to create alternatives that deliver extraordinary, both academic-
Right, so that's 5% of the cost, fundamentally. Well, and let's delve into those numbers a little bit. I mean, a pretty decent teacher's salary is $60,000. I don't think that's unfair. Right. Okay, so that means each two students could, in principle, hire a teacher just for them. Now, maybe you could double that if you had to include the cost of a building, because generally, the infrastructure costs in the typical organization are about equivalent to the staffing costs, if you need a rule of thumb. And so that means that, in principle, what the education system is spending now would allow each group of four students to hire a full-time teacher. Yes.
Right, and so this is not an efficient system, obviously. Well, and if you look at the headcount, and this is true for all of our orchestras, by the way, not just public education, but it's about a five-to-one adult-to-learner-to-student ratio. Now, it's not five-to-one per teacher, but there's so many admin people. Five-to-one per student. Yeah, there's one adult for every five students. Right, right. That's a cross. And our rate is more like one adult for every 20
to 30 to 40 to 50 students. Right, and that's so interesting, too, eh? Because one of the claims that's constantly put forward by teacher's unions, in particular, is that, well, the only thing that really matters in education is teacher-to-student ratio. Right, there should be more, like, there shouldn't be more than 10 students per teacher. Right. And you can understand that, to some degree, if you believe that teacher attention to a given student is a marker for academic movement forward. But your model is more the idea that, no, if the institution is well-constituted, then you produce maximal autonomy on the part of the participants, and while they pick up the work, they do the learning that goes along
with picking up the work. Right, well, and the thing I say is fundamental is, education is not the same as learning. Education is something you do to someone. You educate them. Now, you self-educate, but if you're educating someone, learning is what the person experiences. It's like the delivery of a product. Right, and so I want to be careful here, because our model's just one model. There's gonna be 50 fun models and interesting models come out for learning as the world changes. And, you know, my great-grandfather was president of a university. He's buried on their campus. I mean, I came from a, my wife's mother, Joanna, was one of the incredible teachers in Oklahoma City. In fact, the quick story that's worth telling about that, we were having one of these exhibitions I talked about, and this woman comes up to me, and we're in Austin, Texas, and she comes up and she said, you know, this reminds me of my eighth grade science teacher.
And she said, I live in Oklahoma City. I came to see this, and it reminds me of her. And she started describing this wonderful teacher who was Socratic and who did all the things. And she said, she got finished, and I said, and her name was Joanna Anderson.
Right, and the lady said, how in the world could you have known that? And I said, because that's her daughter, Laura. And the woman just started crying. And she said, that lady changed my life. So adults have an important role to play in a child's life. That role shouldn't be to be an authoritarian, you know, having order to sit at a desk where a bell rings every 45 minutes. That's not the teacher's fault. That's the system, right? It's the system. Now you're participating in the system, but I always try to, you know, I try to divide the teachers are often the heroes, and sometimes not, the system's the problem. And I don't think there's anyone that doesn't think the system is broken. There are gonna be a lot of different recipes.
We've got a recipe that happens to be very low cost and seems to be powerful. And it's a work in progress. Also scalable. And scalable. We have one employee and our whole network, our staff, is one. One employee. For 300 campuses.
How do you facilitate communication between the campuses
and exchange, let's say, best practices? There's a forum where people are exchanging. Since we've been sitting here, we've probably gotten four new experiments on the forum. When I get off, I'll read them. So people are, and so there's a way, it's like Legos. There's a way to share experiments. Yeah, yeah. There's a way to report on them. There's a central place. It's almost like Unix code to store. And we've been very careful how the modules fit together so they're defined so you can swap out modules.
And so people are running all across the board. You have areas that you're... We just touched upon this a little bit last night. You have domains. Is that the right way of thinking about them? Like domains of learning? Yes, yeah, yeah, yes.
How do you structure the... Yes, yeah, yeah, yes. How do you... Yeah, so you would think about the typical reading, writing, math. I mean, there's ways to do that. But what we have are these six-week quests. And you might do, for biology, the medical quest we talked about where you're diagnosing disease. We have a great quest on living well and dying well. It's all about death. And so those quests last for six weeks. They're integrative and they'll teach you something about life. Personal finance, biology, applied chemistry, things you're gonna really do.
And then you have genres which are much like your essay product except they're different recipes for writing a white paper, a poem. And so you're actually practicing something you're gonna write and use in the real world and you can display in front of an audience. It might be a speech. So those chunks are well-defined and you could create one. I could create one. We can present it to the crowd and the crowd votes them up. And then that's shared among the group
and it becomes the standard until something replaces it. How do you stop or how have you dealt with the problem of ideological capture, let's say,
on whatever side of the political spectrum? Well, I think we're agnostic. I mean, we have a series of promises like we believe that economic freedom, religious freedom, and political freedom are one of our core beliefs. Right. So that's non-negotiable. Right, so that's non-negotiable. So there's a series of things like that. We believe every child has a genius who was destined to change the world. So there are set of those you agreed to and everything else is up for fair debate. If you can make a, and we've had- Right, so you have a limited number of- I had committed communists, in my group of high schoolers, they would debate why Marx was right. And it's fascinating to listen to him. In fact, there were times I was like, that's a pretty tag gum good point.
I'm a committed capitalist. It was like, you know, that's market fair. So everything's up for debate. Nothing is up for not saying something about the truth and it's all to be tested. So there is no ideological capture from the left or right. When you have to actually test things in the real world and debate them and can you be wrong? Of course you can.
Has the spread of, let's say, woke culture, to use a somewhat awkward phrase, has that produced a challenge to the operation of your institutions or are people just sidestepping that problem altogether within the confines of your organization?
Well, so if you came from, let's say you came from one of the protected woke classes that people talk about, if you want to be gay, that's, I mean, I'm gonna be tolerant of that. That's not, I mean, that's your choice, right? I'm not gonna, now we could talk about the impacts that's gonna have or what it's about these, but it's just an honest conversation. And so-
Right, well, though people who are different in their proclivity, like temperamentally or sexually, let's say, are still gonna have to contend with the fact that they have to integrate
that within a community. Difference is good. Now you stand up and say, I'm a victim. Yeah, right. And it's like, well, okay, well, why are you a victim? Well, let's explore that because victims aren't okay here. So what are you going to do about it? Well, I'm gonna post on Instagram. So what else might you do besides that? I really care about this.
I'm gonna post twice on Instagram.
Yeah, right. The problem with the victim narrative isn't so much the observation that unfair things happen to people and sometimes even systematically. It's like, for sure, that's the case. The issue is, do you remove from yourself all sense of agency and conflict power by construing yourself as the tragic victim of hyper-powerful and irresistible forces? And the answer to that is, yes, all my agency is removed,
then the victim narrative is actually what's victimizing you. Right, and so if you said life's unfair, the answer would be, of course it is, what are you gonna do about it? If you're not willing to do something about it personally, then it must not be that big an issue.
Well, it's also the case that life is unfair in weird ways. I mean, one of the things that the Marxist types, for example, point to is the fact that, well, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and that tends to be the case. And they tend to be older. It's like, yeah, okay, older people, one of the best predictors of wealth is age. But then you think, well, wait a second, are we really so upset about that? First of all, it isn't obvious to me at all that like the typical 75-year-old wealthy white male would probably give up 99% of his fortune to be an attractive 18-year-old male, right? And so there is biological capital. And when you're young, you have a lot of biological capital. And then possibly what you do is you exchange some of that biological capital for monetary capital as the biological capital deteriorates. And it doesn't look to me that like it's not self-evident at all that that produces all the advantage on the side of the people with the monetary capital, not at all. In fact, a lot of what you spend your money on if you have monetary capital is the attempt to regain biological capital. So that the analysis of where the Perito distribution
advantage lies is very unsophisticated. Well, and that's why, I mean, we'll have these kind of debates. And the question is, if you're concerned about an injustice, is there injustice? Absolutely. What are you gonna do about it? Like, what are you gonna do? Is there injustice? Of course there is. Let's go do something about it. There's either incredible opportunity or extremely unfair injustice. Go pick something to do. Well, if you're not willing to go get an apprenticeship or go do work or go save one person.
Yeah, well, that's the other problem too, is that I think that the universities have offered young people a really easy way out because they're looking for a pathway to virtue. That's part of the mis-cyanic impulse of late adolescence. And the universities say, well, all you have to do is identify the problem, one problem, when there's actually like a thousand problems. And not obviously reducible to a single problem. And then all you have to do is oppose the problem. And that's not right. Like I talked to this woman, Temple Grandin, who has redesigned all the cattle handling facilities in slaughterhouses across the world. Autistic woman from the University of Chicago, absolute genius, amazing person, amazing person. And she cared about animal welfare, but she was a realistic girl. She grew up on a farm. She knew what animals were like. She's no pie in the sky dreamer.
Autistic people tend not to be. And she spent her whole life working on that problem. And she's ameliorated a tremendous amount of animal suffering, but not because she was concerned about it. Because she was concerned about it. And then she devoted her whole life to it. Right?
And so, and that's how you accrue genuine moral virtue. Well, think of it. We would tell her story as a hero story. Like this is what you go do. Oh, by the way, it's going to cost you your whole life. Oh, and the other question is, if you're not gonna spend your life on that, you're gonna spend it on something. Yes, absolutely. And so, let's take one step. Yes. Let's go to help one cow at the, I mean, you're like, if you're gonna help animal cruelty, let's go do something about one animal to rescue it in a systematic way you could build. So we have people from the left, lots of left, right in the active network, but they believe in principles of fair play and freedom and they sign off and they say, and then you have a debate. And that's what reasonably competent people
who wanna fix something actually do. Yeah, definitely. So you've talked about what you're doing in pre-school, elementary, junior, high, high school, et cetera. Talked about the apprenticeship programs and the distributed games and the multiplicity of games and the idea that each person has something valid to contribute without that degenerating into a mindless equity outcome game. What's happening at, what are you doing on the higher education?
Well, so as we have kind of a moonshot project that probably won't work, but we're working hard on it. And it's this question of how do people discover their calling? Now at the Academy, because we start so young and they're in it all the time, people will find not their calling because when you're young, that's too big, but their next great adventure in life. Like what am I gonna do for two years? And so we think we've developed the right questions to ask and we've actually given back our MBA accreditation and closed the MBA school, successful as it was, because we could only serve 50 people a year and that wasn't enough. And so we've created a series of challenges you can do in the real world with a group or alone that are out in the world doing it that will help you figure out what you should do with your next great adventure in life. We've, we're gonna run probably a hundred people through it. We're running a hundred people through it now. And the end of this process is to be able to stand in a room full of people you've invited and say, this is what I'm gonna do next. Here's how I'm gonna measure it. Here's who I am and where I come from. Will you help me?
I need not money, but I need an introduction. I need a piece of factory floor. I need something. If you will, here's what I promised
to give back in return. So it's like an investor pitch in some sense.
It's like an investor pitch for your life and our foundation is willing to give up to a hundred thousand dollars per pitch. Now, a lot of them are a thousand dollars, right? A hundred thousand has to be extraordinary. It's tied to you actually following through. And the idea is if we can get this delivered out in the world and you're using a phone, it's not distance learning, it's like a GPS. Like it's something you can communicate with with your friends and get together. We're trying to see if we can find the patterns of how people actually stumble into an adventure or call it and then by these talks, having them like TED talks all around the country. And we're gonna use that for our high schoolers, but also use that to attract people of that age and college age to try to find what they wanna do in their lives. So that's a grand experiment.
It's in the early stages. Well, we tried that, as you know, we tried that a bit with our future authoring program. And one of the ways that we've helped people narrow in on that, it's like, well, what do you wanna do? Well, that's a pretty vague question and it's very global. And so it's complex and daunting. And so we broke that down into eight things that people generally do. What's your vision for an intimate relationship? Family, friendship, job and career, education, use of time outside work, civic responsibility and regulation of temptation, right? That's sort of, the big problem is, what's the purpose of my life? That's broken down into a set of domains of probable problems. And it's easier for people to answer those questions
generally than the meta question. I'm nodding because we subscribe and use, I mean, at Acton we use self-authoring as a tool. And also in this project, we've looked at those individual areas and broken them into something you might do. So example, for the family, you might have with your friends a Socratic discussion, it's your daughter's first dance recital, but your biggest customer just called, there's been a factory, there's been a fire at his factory. So you go to the dance recital or the factory. Whichever you choose, it gets harder. It's her wedding or it's your only customer. Or, so now I'm gonna do that with friends, but then I might actually have to write a spousal contract with my spouse or significant other and submit that to the group of, this is what we've each promised each other and here's how we're gonna measure it. And so, think of this as- These are visionary exercises. 300 challenges that are hard to do and require courage. And sometimes it might be going on and haggling for a discount to see what your relationship with money is. But we're testing those with groups and then asking, how is this gonna help you like self-authoring take the next step towards a target you've picked of where you can spend your valuable life?
And so that's the experiment. That's fun. We'll see how it's gonna go.
It's gonna be fun, it's gonna fun.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Right, right, right, right. Think of this three. See how it's gonna go, it's gonna be fun. It's gonna be fun. Yeah, yeah, we should learn a lot conducting that experiment. Yeah, well it's so nice that it's so fulfilling to provide people with methods to develop a vision for their life. I mean, we've been stunned by what the future authoring program was capable of doing. I mean our research indicated that it raised grade point average among students in high level universities, 35%. This was a 90 minute intervention, it's crazy. And the dropout rate, 50%, and most effectively among minority men who had a poor academic record. So it was even better at eliminating their dropout rate. Because they have a story.
Yeah, well. That's an actionable story. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and then they started to develop both a vision and a strategy,
and also to see themselves as, Yeah, well. That's an actionable story.
strategists, which is a metacognitive shift. Now, imagine this as there's 300 high schoolers or college kids coming together to do this program. You're invited by a friend to come to some mysterious party where it all gets kicked off, and you start doing these challenges and sampling them. Well, that's where you may meet your mate. Yeah, right. So that's where you're gonna paint your face and go to the football game. So we're trying to see is, can we create that in a bottom up way? And will we be successful? Nah, we'll mess it up, and we'll experiment. But it's a cool, it's an interesting experiment to see if that's the replacement, because colleges are not helping people find their calling. They don't do that anymore. I mean, and so we're really trying to say, can we get people off on an adventure?
So that's the experiment.
All right, all right, all right. Well, that's probably a good place to wrap up unless there is anything you can think of that we should have touched on in this part of the discussion. I'm going to move for everyone watching and listening. I do an extra 30 minutes with my guests. I'm very interested in how people's destiny makes itself manifest to them in the course of their life, particularly if they've been successful, because well, why wouldn't you want to hear about, why wouldn't you want to hear about multiple pathways to success, assuming that you're trying to accomplish something like that for yourself, which seems preferable to the alternative, by the way. And so we'll switch to the Daily Wire Plus platform. Is there anything else that we didn't cover today
that you think would be? No, I just want to thank you because your focus on story and listening to you and the archetypes and how story matters has greatly impacted all the decisions we've made over the last 10 years to be able to pride those same kinds of patterns for young people all around the world. And it would not have happened in the same way
without you, so thank you. Oh, hey, man. Well, when I hear you say that, I think, yeah, well, and that wouldn't have happened without all the great people that I read who knew that sort of, who knew that, who were able to provide me with that knowledge. You know, I mean, I had great instructors, practically my mentors, people like Robert Peel, and then also the people I was fortunate enough to be introduced to in various ways while I was in university. And so it's great to see this sort of information make itself manifest. You know, Camille Palia, a great literary critic, suggested to me at one point that had the universities turned to the Jungian school, Carl Jung and Murchia Eliada and Eric Neumann, then deep narrative analysts, instead of Derrida and Foucault, that the entire history of the development of higher education would have been different in the last 40 years. It's very interesting to see that starting to happen, and I really see it as spreading like mad, the idea that there are these fundamental, unifying narratives, contrary to the post-monetist viewpoint, that they don't point to power as the fundamental human motivation, but they're something like the ongoing, humble search for continued enlightenment, something like that. Yeah, it's a wonderful thing to see that all within
the last 40 years. That is the battle between good and evil. It really is. Yeah, yeah. All right.
Well, to everybody watching and listening on YouTube and the associated platforms. Thanks for your time and attention to the Daily Wire Plus people for facilitating this conversation, making it possible practically. That's much appreciated to the film crew here in Fort Worth, Texas, because that's where we are today. Thank you guys for your help today. And join us on the Daily Wire Plus platform for an additional half an hour of discussion with Jeff Sandifer. Thanks very much, everyone. Hello, everyone. I would encourage you to continue listening to my conversation with my guests on dailywireplus.com.