Monthly Archives: August 2023

There seems to be a market failure in cultivating children's agency.

Watching this monkey eating a banana has me thinking about the market for nondestructive education:

Video 1

Video 2

My son is learning to orient in space by manipulating the banana. There's a natural reward involved in figuring out how to rotate the banana correctly, distinguishing between the sides in an internal model rather than gradient-descending towards one end (which may or may not yield the sweet flesh inside), figuring out the difference between bringing the peel to his mouth and bringing the inside.

The biggest thing that distinguishes this from how I mostly see people treating babies is patience - I had to sit through him getting confused and a little frustrated multiple times, and distinguish between challenges big enough for him to process, and the point where he was about to spiral into helpless sadness, and only intervene in the latter case. And of course I had to make other active choices as well, like giving him a banana, and not "baby food."

For some particular skills or fields that a child expresses an interest in, it may make sense to employ domain experts, but - especially at the beginning - it seems to me like what's most needed is someone to arrange an enriched environment in the first place, and give the child both the stimulation and the room to investigate freely the sorts of things that would be valuable for them to investigate.

More recently, he responded to me playing a few simple songs for him on the ukulele at first by bucking his hips in a simple "dance," but soon afterwards by deciding he'd rather figure out how to pluck the strings himself.

Another example - at early ages, the "language program" that would make most sense, would be to hire native speakers of the target languages, chosen on the basis of how valuable the target language is and the availability of suitable native speakers, just like my partner and I choose his foods and toys based on suitability. These native speakers wouldn't mainly have the job "language teacher," but "playmate" - around and willing to play with the children exclusively or primarily in their native language. Depending on the scale of the overall program, children could to some extent choose how much to engage with this, just like my son chooses to play with some objects more than others.

At present, I don't know how to pay for that kind of curation and facilitation oriented child care at any scale that would free up my time. I keep hearing good things in the abstract about things like Montessori schools, but in practice, it doesn't seem like the people I know have access to this sort of thing, no matter how much money they're willing to throw at the problem, no matter how well-connected they are - to the contrary, the success rate in having one's child accepted by any school as worthy of attention seems surprisingly low. People tend to talk around the problem, using language around developmental disability or autism - but they do so in cases where their child is very obviously not autistic, just very slightly rambunctious and uncowed. The majority of the families I'd have regarded as most promising seem to only barely have access to schooling at all.

Which would suggest offering to sell it instead - but my impression is that there's no market for it either at a price that would satisfy the Law of Iron Wages, i.e. be adequate to pay for the reproduction of my skilled labor.

Related but not the same thing: