Ideas, Facts, and Startup Proposals — A New Format for Thought Experiments

By Robert Oliphant

Like Alice's flamingos, ideas often give us trouble, sometimes dramatically so, as in Bertrand Russell's insistence that young Wittgenstein check beneath each desk in a very large classroom as a way of verifying the negative statement, "There are no hippopotami in this room." Given this cumbersomeness, most of us now rely on ideas without much factual verification, often buttressing them with colorful language and quasi-religious authority.

In my own discussions of American education, I've found interesting ideas usually impress those who already subscribe to them and offend those who don't. So I've trotted out our old friend, the "thought experiment," and translated it into a new form, the "startup proposal," which can fairly be described as an interesting idea accompanied by an implicit plea for financial support.

The money element, I feel, adds a little spice to the rhetoric (would you bet the family farm on this project?). But I hope the device also invites use by other "projectors," as Jonathan Swift called them. Surely most of us will agree that an idea like home school validation might put a few bucks in someone's pocket: probably a Cadillac-Man educator with a just folks manner (hence my own attempt at "good guy" prose).


My name is Bob and this is my first trial run as an American entrepreneur. It's patriotism that motivates me here since the Economist, a world-circulation weekly, has recently (10/8/11) slammed us Yanks ( employment.) by noting our decline in medium-sized startups from 80% of the total to only 20%: this as a basis for raising the question, "Can America find its entrepreneurial mojo again?"

Apart from a three-year stint ages ago with the Original Krazy Kats, my own workaday life has been spent teaching school on the university level, a traditional safe harbor for non-entrepreneurial dreamers. So it's as a response to the Economist's implicit challenge, that I'm presenting a startup proposal of my own. More ambitiously: here's hoping others — young or old, giddy or serious — will set their own inventive pots to boiling and bubbling along educational lines.

The fuel for my particular venture can be summed up in three phrases: home schooling (over 1.5 students according to USAToday, 7/4/09), home school validation worries (over 4 million internet hits, 10/12/11), and Spoken Professional American Dictionary English (SPADE). To me the first two phrases underscore my own direct experience with the demonstrable productivity of home schooling, as opposed to its frustrating inability to get official recognition of that productivity from American colleges and government agencies.

The substance and seriousness of our third phrase can be indicated more jarringly by the nonce-slogan, "Hey kids, don't let offshore worker bees steal our language and our Cadillac-Man upscale selling jobs," e.g., the nationwide use by Sallie Mae of several hundred educational counselors working out of cubicles located in the Philippines.

To put it more conventionally, this startup will offer American home-schooled children a testable mastery of SPADE, along with particular attention to forceful enunciation, public speaking fluency, vocabulary growth (size, figurative awareness, and proper names), and personal choice reading achievement.

The ultimate test of that mastery will be represented by high caliber performance on the verbal section in both the American GRE computer adaptive testing program and its offshore competitor, the Aspiring Minds Computer Adaptive Test International program (Mumbai).

The current name of this startup is "Achieving Mastery of Spoken Professional American Dictionary English" (AM-SPADE), and its background research (quite a bit) can be accessed via under Resources and "Robert Oliphant." As indicated here, AM-SPADE will provide home study and testing assistance, along with voice-print exams for public demonstration of home schooling achievement.

As indicated earlier, the home schooling market is a large and serious one and so is its need for both authoritative validation and measurable achievement, especially in connection with an international version of American English that is now conquering its traditional speakers. Even if this particular startup fails to fly, I believe its publicly accessible evidence will invite more attention to the American dictionary as an authoritative calibrated testing tool suitable worldwide for personal growth learning programs. . . . .