Jim Verhulst - Deputy Editor of Editorials
Virtual reality home-schooling, killer robots and COVID masks | Column
Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
Could virtual reality headsets change virtual education?
Could virtual reality headsets change virtual education?
Published Sept. 9

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From “Virtual-Reality School Is the Next Frontier of the School-Choice Movement,” by Emma Green in The New Yorker at

The context, from the author: The conservative education activist Erika Donalds envisions a world where parents can opt out of traditional public school by putting their kids in a headset.

The excerpt: The virtual school is part of OptimaEd, a company in Florida founded by Erika Donalds, a 43-year-old conservative education activist. During the past school year, the academy enrolled more than 170 full-time students up to eighth grade from all over Florida — a number that OptimaEd will roughly double this fall. Starting in third grade, full-time students wear a headset for 30 to 40 minutes at a time, for four or five sessions, with built-in pauses so that the students don’t experience visual fatigue. (Younger students do something closer to regular virtual school, using Microsoft Teams and Canvas.) In the afternoon, kids complete their coursework independently, with teachers available to answer questions digitally. OptimaEd is possible because of Florida’s distinctive education-policy landscape.

From “Big Pharma Is Massively Overcharging Americans,” by Andrew Perez and Matthew Cunningham-Cook in Jacobin at

The context, from the authors: Drugmakers are up in arms over a new program allowing Medicare to negotiate prices on some drugs. The real scandal, of course, is the absurd prices the companies set for these drugs’ sale in the United States, when they are sold for so much less elsewhere.

The excerpt: In some cases, Americans — whose tax money subsidizes the development of virtually all medicines approved for sale in the United States — are being charged 1,000 percent more than foreign patients for the same drugs. Drugmakers have filed multiple lawsuits to try to block the new Medicare negotiation program, claiming that price reductions will harm American patients. However, some of those same companies recently raked in upward of $4 billion in revenue last quarter selling six of the targeted pharmaceutical products in foreign countries at lower world-market prices. That’s more than $47 million per day — or $2 million an hour.

From “Robots Are Already Killing People,” by Bruce Schneier and Davi Ottenheimer in The Atlantic at

The context, from the authors: The AI boom only underscores a problem that has existed for years.

The excerpt: Robots — “intelligent” and not — have been killing people for decades. And the development of more advanced artificial intelligence has only increased the potential for machines to cause harm. Self-driving cars are already on American streets, and robotic “dogs” are being used by law enforcement. Computerized systems are being given the capabilities to use tools, allowing them to directly affect the physical world. Why worry about the theoretical emergence of an all-powerful, superintelligent program when more immediate problems are at our doorstep? Regulation must push companies toward safe innovation and innovation in safety. We are not there yet.


From “Taylor Swift’s Popularity Is A Sign Of Societal Decline,” by Mark Hemingway in The Federalist at

The context, from the author: Audiences and elite tastemakers alike have decided Taylor Swift’s narcissistic lyrics and cliched music are a cultural triumph — but why would we celebrate this?

The excerpt: The over-the-top celebration of (Taylor) Swift’s success says volumes about the stagnation of pop culture. At some point, we have to recognize that even if you embrace the limits of pop music, the distance between middlebrow entertainment and the lowest common denominator is enormous. Our need for shared artistic connection cannot be allowed to overwhelm a duty to also collectively seek out music that takes us places and challenges us with insights into the human condition, revelations about ourselves we didn’t know (or maybe didn’t want to know), and otherwise produces insights into the problems of others. And I, for one, already know enough to know Taylor Swift just doesn’t have it in her to do that.

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From “Resurrecting COVID,” by Anastasia Kaliabakos in The American Conservative at

The context, from the author: Frankly, it’s annoying to have to think about COVID again. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been following the headlines creating unnecessary panic over the virus, feeling an unpleasant sense of 2020 deja vu. I am holding out hope that all this fuss will turn out to be mere fear mongering and virtue signaling, but it seems that the likelihood of new lockdowns and mask mandates increases with every day that passes.

The excerpt: Lockdowns and mandates bring something sinister with them. Over the years of pandemic restriction, we saw people conflate blind adherence to COVID measures with being a good person and questioning the government response with being anti-science, racist, or even white supremacist. During peak pandemic, there seemed to be few issues that rivaled the divisiveness of the masker vs. anti-masker debate. After everything we now know about COVID, especially the questionable effectiveness of masks and the vaccines, why are we rushing to bring all of these negative “solutions” back?

From “Republicans Don’t Think They Can Lose in 2024, Even with Trump,” by Noah Rothman in The National Review at

The context, from the author: There’s a strange mix of catastrophism and overconfidence surrounding the 2024 election that dominates the thinking among Republican voters.

The excerpt: The circumstances in which Americans find themselves are so undesirable that (Donald) Trump polls competitively against (Joe) Biden before the campaign has even begun. Why should the Right give its critics the satisfaction of abandoning Trump when there seems to be more risk in putting an unknown quantity up against Biden in 2024? Republicans don’t think Republicans can lose, and they seem determined to test that proposition over and over in the most improvident ways imaginable.