I HAVE TWO THEORIES ABOUT PERSONAL EDUCATION. First, I believe people ought to never stop educating themselves, because what makes human beings different than any other life form is our ability to reason, so we become more perfect humans the more we exercise that attribute. It is always useful to have knowledge and its not more difficult to carry around more ideas. Second, I think people ought to try to learn a moderate amount about as many things as possible, rather than becoming “experts” in one arcane area only. To me, “knowledge” and real learning are two different things. (It might be useful to know that a certain square has four sides which each measure six inches. It is much more useful when one comes to understand that all squares have four equal sides, because that is a universal principle which can be applied to any particular square from that point forward).
I have a practical reason for believing we should try to learn about lots of different areas of knowledge. When you know a lot about different areas, you come to understand basic laws of physics and human psychology that guide the world. For instance, through my studies of boat building, green energy, and sleep psychology, I have come to understand how physical bodies like boats and brains use energy at a “most efficient level” where increasing the amount of energy input into the body has an exponentially lesser effect on performance after a certain threshold. (In boat design this is called the “hull speed” of a boat and expresses the relationship between the horsepower of the motor and the length of the hull; in human psychology it might be called “concentration” and expresses the relationship between attention and mental energy [which I believe is "re-charged" by sleep.] This in turn has led me to understand how the “law of diminishing returns” applies to all physical objects which use energy to perform a function, and in turn I have been able to apply these physical laws to policy, as I will describe in an essay on this page entitled “The Law of Diminishing Returns.”
I have always held this view as a matter of pragmatism. Interestingly, I recently came across this quote from Cicero in his book On Duties, which argues that one should learn about many topics instead of one, for moral reasons: “We are all drawn to a zeal for learning and knowing; and we think it glorious to excel therein, while we count it base and immoral to fall into error, to wander from the truth, to be led astray. In this pursuit, which is both natural and morally right, two errors are to be avoided: first, we must not treat the unknown as known and too readily accept it; and he who wishes to avoid this error (as all should do) will devote both time and attention to the weighing of evidence. The other error is that some people devote too much industry and too deep study to matters that are obscure and difficult and useless as well.” (Cicero, On Duties, Book I, vi.-vii.)
MY FORMAL EDUCATION is pretty average. We didn’t have musical instruments or a lot of books in my house growing up. My mother did not go to college while my father holds an Associates degree in Accounting from Hudson Valley. But my mother used to read a lot and write poems sometimes, and after dinner Dad used to ask my sister and I math questions like “if Dallas is on a train going 30 miles an hour, and Laura is on a bus going 20 miles an hour, how long will it take Laura and Dallas to go 120 miles?” and stuff like that. I hated multiplication and my father despises algebra.
Around 7th grade I started to read a lot more because my sister incessantly teased me about my spelling and I figured reading was the best way to improve that. But I didn’t know what I was “supposed” to read. I read a lot of books on Extra Sensory Perception and UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle. By ninth grade I started hearing about famous books from history and so I started to read those. I spent my evenings after school taking baths and reading 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and other works by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. In that manner I got exposed to famous works of modern fiction. I’d skip lunch to go to the library where I would wander the shelves until I found something that sparked my interest. In that manner I read books on the evolution of submarines, the Hindenburg disaster, the Battle of Wake Island, famous sea battles, and other random topics which have since come in handy equally randomly.
When I was a senior in high school my AP English teacher gave me his old copies of Plato’s dialogues and that changed my life. I learned that philosophy is not some mystic hard-to-understand stuff, but a practical attempt to live a good life. I was amazed that Ancient Greek citizens from 2,400 years ago were describing reality more accurately than I had ever imagined possible. Every dialogue was a 60 page answer to some interesting question about how to end up most happy, intelligent, and successful in life. I was surprised that in Plato’s Republic–a book all of the Founding Fathers were familiar with–Socrates describes democracy as only the second-best form of government, and advocated a “philosopher king” with powers most of us would consider authoritarian today. From the time my teacher gave me that stack of Plato’s dialogues I have had a continual interest in virtue, ethics, and reason that has guided me through life.
I gained a lot of experiences by joining numerous clubs and teams in high school. I was several times captain of the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk JV and Varsity soccer teams. It was through playing soccer that I overcame asthma as a kid, learned how to push my body harder than I thought was possible during soccer tryouts (it was an amusement for the team when I vomited on the first day of “double-sessions” every year), and learned how to take pride in a team of people trying hard and training to achieve something together, each playing his own part. I was frequently the lead male role in our school’s drama productions, such as Harvey and George Washington Slept Here. Through that I learned how to make cue lists in my mind to suggest the order of memorized paragraphs, I learned how to speak loudly and build a connection to an audience, and how to be calm in front of lots of people. I often helped design the set and donated props and outfits. I created a mechanism to make it rain on stage. Through this I also learned how to work under pressure with other people. Individually, I won two national goal medals (in Boston and Miami) as a member of the Future Community and Career Leaders of America. I learned how to go hungry during Forty-Hour Fasts at St. Patrick’s Church, during which time we would also visit elderly persons who could not leave their homes. The solitude of these people was often extremely depressing. I served as a student advocate for the passage of a bonding proposal to expand and update RCS facilities in 2001, while maintaining that a swimming pool should not be included in the proposal, because it was likely to diminish support for the otherwise necessary improvements. I wrote two letters to my town newspaper as a high schooler, in protest of the apathy of the townspeople toward the general decay of the community. I was elected Vice President of my class twice, President twice, and served on the overall school government as the Parliamentarian and President for two years. I received numerous scholarships upon graduation that allowed me to pay for my first semester of college, and was asked to deliver a speech to our class at graduation (this I viewed as a great honor). Through student government I learned about politics in a microcosm, and through my social interactions with my many friends and acquaintances of different clubs and teams and classes, I learned a lot about all different kinds of people and often what their family life was like.
WHEN I STARTED COLLEGE I WANTED TO BE A HISTORY TEACHER. But as I started looking at course requirements I decided to major in English Theory, for this involved reading a lot of psychology and sociology, and I figured out that I could minor in History, Philosophy and Psychology all at the same time by using individual classes to satisfy the requisites of multiple fields. This was a lesson in the value of killing multiple birds with one stone, a principle I try to apply to everything I do (which I first learned when I learned to bartend.) When I was done I had studied the philosophy of law and virtue; the histories of various geographical regions of the world; American history; Abnormal, Social, Cognitive and Bio-Psychology; some physics, sociological and anthropological history; Latin, the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Melville, and Joyce; modern philosophy and political theory, and much more.
In college I continued to work and as I describe on a link about work experience I learned all kinds of things from my various jobs during that time. I continued to develop an interest in creative writing and a short story of mine, Flowers and Cigarettes, was selected and read by a professional actor for an audience at RPI (the other winner was a professor from CUNY). Having my work read aloud by someone else taught me that people sometimes interpret what a person writes as text differently–or at least in a different voice–than the writer intended. I received my bachelor’s degree with a 3.8 in my major field in December of 2006.
I’VE LEARNED AS MUCH AFTER COLLEGE through my own reading and personal projects as I did from the books I read at SUNY. I got involved in a scavenger hunt in Greene County that had dragged on for 14 years with a cache worth $11,000 which taught me about cryptology and Greene County history, and took me on trips through Palenville, Cairo, Coxsakie and Catskill in particular. This stimulated further interest and research into our local history and has led me to speculate on the location of several sites which should be classified as national archeological sites (such as the location of a run for the Croswell-Parsons Paper Mill ruins on the Hannacroix Creek). In an attempt to advocate the use of green energy instead of foreign oil I built several “green” boats to float from Coeymans or Albany to Manhattan. Over the course of five years I read numerous volumes on boat building and seamanship and Hudson River history. I learned the different characteristics of varieties of wood, learned how to epoxy and fiberglass, and, through use, the skills to operate the thousands of dollars worth of woodworking machinery I collected. I taught myself about electricity and alternative energy generation methods, and drew the attention of at least 10 local newspapers, the New York Times, and was the subject of a lengthy article in the national Outside Magazine. Following that adventure, and finding myself with a knowledge of wood, woodworking skills, lots of wood working tools, and with knowledge of how to create energy out of thin air, I decided to build myself a workshop where I design and build furniture. At the same time, for most of this period I was working at the New York State Assembly learning the research, negotiation and drafting skills I will need to be successful as an Assemblyman. I managed to remain unconnected to a party during my tenure there, through my hard and good work as an expert at evaluating bills and their potential effects. I consistently offered non-partisan, creative solutions to complex or difficult bills, and I believe anyone will testify to that who has ever worked with me, even if they stood on the opposite side of an issue the Assembly Majority ultimately decided to adopt or ignore.
BUT MY PRIMARY EDUCATION HAS BEEN THROUGH PERSONAL READING since 2008. I had a dinner party the day after thanksgiving that year, and the next day it was snowing outside and there were a couple of open bottles of wine and left over spiral ham and trimmings. So I lit the table candles, went to the bookshelf, picked up a book by a man named Herodotus I had skimmed as part of an Ancient Greeks and their Neighbors class as an undergrad, and sat on the couch to relax all afternoon. For some reason, probably because I was forced to read it before, I had remembered the book being long winded and boring. But as I started to read I found out that it was clear and funny and fascinating. This book, The Histories, which gives the field its name, is written by a guy who walked all over the ancient Mediterranean world and wrote anecdotes about the history and traditions of all the cultures and tribes which were around then. He makes preposterous claims (like that ancient Russian tribesmen acquired cinnamon by lassoing the prey of condors, which flew up to their nests with the ropes on their feet, allowing men to scale the cliffs on top of which cinnamon supposedly grew), but at other times he makes perceptive statements about human nature, challenges our views of history and religion, and he even provides evidence that cannabis was used extensively by almost every culture in the ancient world, with no ill effects on civilization. He describes the causes of the war between ancient Persia and Greece (the war between Western and Middle Eastern cultures that continues to this day), and his book climaxes around the battles of Marathon and Thermopile (the subject of the movie 300). Three months later, when I finished the book, Athens was in charge of the ancient world. I knew the next book I’d bought for the class was by a man who was a general in the next war, between ancient Athens and Sparta, so I read that book which was equally fascinating and adventurous and enlightening. Finally I read The Campaigns of Alexander by an ancient Roman writer. Then I was interested in how Rome took over Greece, for I had heard little about that ancient city, but I knew from high school history that it would soon be the greatest conqueror the world had ever seen. I decided to read a book by an ancient author that covered ever year of ancient Roman history from its foundation through its fall. So far I have read a half dozen such books by Polybius, Livy and Julius Caesar, which have brought me up to the Roman Civil War which ends the Roman Republic and turns it into an authoritarian regime. These books have taught me about the nature of popular democracy, the relative functions of Senates versus Assemblies (how each were originally formed, why the first is considered the “upper house” while the second is called the “lower house”), and the cycle that leads from virtuous republicanism to moral decay, to civil war and back to tyranny.
I knew the Founding Fathers had an interest in ancient Greece and Rome. At the same time I was becoming aware that if I applied myself I would be successful in business or government. So I decided to read the biographies of the Founding Fathers and see if I could abstract practical lessons about how to be successful (since I judge the Founding Fathers to be the most successful geniuses in history). After reading biographies of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin and John Adams I wanted to know how the government they created turned into the government we have today. I figured the best way to really learn that was to read the biographies of every President in American History in order to appreciate how the country changed under each administration. I am so far up to the 13th, New Yorker Millard Fillmore. Since I was learning about law at the Assembly at the same time that I was reading about the formation of our country, I decided to read important works by the Founding Fathers and other writers of the time. So I read Alexis De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America which has been called “at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.” I read the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written by John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton which implores “the People of the State of New York” to ratify the Constitution. This work, written by some of the most important writers of the Constitution, explains the document clause by clause and is of inestimable value to students of Constitutional Theory, being the most frequently cited work in Supreme Court decisions in American History. I expanded my reading to modern political theory by reading John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and Henry Kissinger’s Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, one of only three books which have given me nightmares. I went back to read what the Founding Fathers had read, reading Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, which provides a blueprint for republican government, and John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, which explains the “social contract theory” on which our Bill of Rights is based. As I read more about American history I saw that periodic economic recessions have occurred in similar situations at somewhat predictable points (or at least following similar causes which were not always known until after the fact). So I began to augment my studies of Constitutional history with economic history and theory, acquiring Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, all of Hamilton’s Reports to Congress as the first Secretary of the Treasury and the creator of the US economic system, Jackson’s Veto of the 2nd National Bank, and the biographies of Rockefeller and the Morgan sons, who created American supremacy in the lending world, helped establish federal oversight of business, and ran the U.S. banking world through much of the 20th century. I read two more biographies of Alexander Hamilton which helped flesh out his banking system and character further, so that I have come to appreciate his good intentions while recognizing certain flaws his system has been unable to avoid so far. To augment my understanding of monetary theory and the effects of government interaction with the market I’ve spent hours pouring over theories of macro economics by Austrian and British academics and moderately comprehensive explanations of economic “rules”, policies and institutions, and all the different kinds of taxes, their precedents and effects. I’ll describe my feelings on this in depth elsewhere, but let it suffice here for me to say that I feel Americans are taxed too much for the good of the economy, and I’ve developed a theory of economic stimulation I call the “Capillary Effect Model” which argues that economic activity will grow when the largest number of persons have the capital at their disposal to spend as they choose.
Finally, I began full-time study in pursuit of a Master’s Degree in American Constitutional and Economic History at SUNY Albany in January, 2012. In Colonial and Revolutionary History I read 13 books on the times and policies of America from 1620 to 1791. For a class on World War I I read another 13 books on the causes and effects of that war on American diplomatic and economic history, as well as its effect on the centralization of power in America at the federal level. I completed two 30-page research papers on the relations between farmworkers, farmers and legislators in New York State and the statutory and political history of Unemployment Insurance in New York State (building off of the knowledge I acquired in this area of law during my four years at the NYS Assembly as an analyst of Labor Law).
I hope you will agree that my education has been the result of my own determination to learn as much as possible about important issues facing us today. The main reason I am running for Assembly is that I believe I have a moral obligation to run because I am aware of problems and have ideas to help them, and it would be morally wrong for me to focus on my own affairs instead of helping everyone generally. I also hope you will appreciate that the lessons I have drawn from life are not merely from college courses or books, but from actively thinking and applying what I know to real-life experiences and problems. Everything I’ve learned would be a load of garbage if all that I did with it was to sit around thinking or trying to learn more for no purpose. I guess I have a third theory of personal education, then. One should do something with it for the betterment of society.