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Archive for December, 2007

Controlling weather

Here’s an article expressing a view I can’t say I’m familiar with. I had no idea the military and a slew of corporations have already been intentionally and successfully impacting local weather. It seems there are various ways to control local weather phenomena, but what’s more difficult to predict or control is the impact that experimentation has on surrounding weather and overall climate patterns.

Gives a new meaning to the oft-repeated propaganda that global warming and climate change are caused by humans.

I’d be tempted to write off the article completely except for the fact that I’ve heard so much bizzareness lately that I figure anything’s possible, and the fact that Congressional bills are actually cited by number.

I think I may look at the next snowstorm a bit differently… Was it nature? Or was it on someone’s daytimer?

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Disbilities and politics

A couple days ago I was packing my daughters’ lunchbag in preparation for dropping them off at a friend’s house for babysitting while I had coffee with a friend.  Right on the cover of L’s Brown Cow chocolate cream top yogurt snack, was this endorsement:  “Add a Brown Cow to your gluten-free diet!”  So, gluten-free diets have become so common that advertisements refer to them and promote their product as a good complement.

And it’s true.  Right off the bat I could probably name five or more people I know whose entire families have gone to a gluten-free diet on account of one or more of their children having some issue with gluten.  This is no small undertaking as gluten is in any food that contains wheat, oats, and some other common grains.  Many families who are gluten-free are also dairy-free, which I’m sure would perturb the makers of Brown Cow yogurt to no end.  Eliminating either dairy or gluten from one’s diet can be very difficult.  But eliminating both?  I can’t even begin to imagine.

I’m hearing more and more about children who have special needs, meaning a whole range of health, allergy, behavioral, and learning issues.  I know of more children who have died of cancer than I ever thought possible.  I know of several babies who have diabetes.  Babies younger than two years old!  Apparently something like one out of 166 or one out of 98 children are diagnosed with autism.  I talk to moms who have children and more of them have children with issues than don’t.  I’ve already dealt with a few mild in comparison issues myself.  It seems to be everywhere.  People I know who are currently childless have expressed a fear of having children.  Newsweek recently ran an article about food allergies and the great lengths schools are taking to accomodate those allergies.  Everything from having nut-free zones to children coming to school with several different kinds of medications just in case they happen to get exposed to the wrong food, the medication often making the difference between life and death for a child who accedentally eats a bit of peanut.  The article says food allergies are rising exponentially.  I can’t arrange a play-date with another mom without having to ask if there is any restriction on what I can provide for a snack or meal.  Most of the time there’s something I have to avoid.

There are various theories that attempt to explain why so many children are dealing with so many issues.  Poor nutrition comes up as a possibility.  I’ve heard vaccines blamed.  I’ve also heard that it’s because we now live in such a chemically saturated society.  Heck, it might even be Bush’s fault.  The last time I checked on anything political it was quite the fashion to blame Bush for every social ill imaginable.  Whatever the cause, I believe it’s reaching the magnitude of a social crisis.  How long can a society last with such a huge number of its children debilitated?

No doubt as the government becomes more aware of this, it will begin to throw money at the problem.  I can imagine all sorts of entitlement programs to help parents get gluten-free and dairy-free foods, extra funding to public schools who take the food allergy problem seriously, special programs for diabetic children to get their insulin, and the list could be endless.  I’m sure the extra money will come as a blessing to those afflicted parents whose salaries aren’t quite able to cover the increased medical costs.  However, as honorable as financially helping afflicted families is, it misses the point.

It is important to get to the root of the problem.  Something is going on and that something needs to be ferreted out.  After all, money can not make diabetes go away.  Money can not make a child who now reacts anaphylactically to peanuts suddenly able to eat them.

I submit that in a general, vague sort of way, the root of the problem has to do with the fact that our way of life has become unsustainable.  The only way to solve the problem is to take definite steps to live in a more sustainable way.  What does it mean to be sustainable?  People have offered all kinds of definitions for sustainability.  At its most basic level it means that the way you are living now can be continued indefinitely.  In other words, you’re not depleting major resources.  The soil that grows your food does not lose its fertility, rendering the quality of the food lower and lower.  Water is not getting contaminated and otherwise wasted.  The list goes on, but my point is that our way of life is currently not sustainable.  Quite frankly, it’s incredibly wasteful.

How did it get that way?  Well, I think a major problem is the way we measure what makes a good economy.  Right now, the economic indicators have to do with spending.  If people are in a spending frenzy, our economy is said to be growing.  I think it’s time we questioned whether that is the best way to measure the value of our society.  I think if the basis of the indicators change, that will make it easier for overall change to take place.  I also think urban zoning makes it difficult to live sustainably.  Most cities do not allow for people to raise even small farm animals, for example.  Instead, they have to buy substandard food they could be raising themselves, or pay a premium for food that is more high-quality, such as meat, milk and eggs from pastured animals.  Then they have to expend fossil fuels to mow their lawns because they aren’t allowed to raise the animals that could do it.  So the urban zoning penalizes the urban-dweller at both ends.  They pay extra for good food, or suffer from eating substandard food (which is what is in most grocery stores), and they pay to keep their grass cut.

Our country is engaged in a war that is largely impacted by our dependence on oil, so people can at least keep mowing their lawns and commuting to their stressful jobs.  Is it perhaps time that we ask ourselves isn’t there another way?  I’m not saying the war shouldn’t be fought, as I know the reasons for our involvement are varied and many.  But would it not make sense to at least increase our national options by actively working on another way to fuel our lifestyle?  Maybe it’s time to look at our lifestyle itself.  I’m not in any way advocating that people should be forced to make drastic changes.  However, there are times when I feel compelled to continue in a lifestyle that I no longer believe in.  I would appreciate more freedom to make those changes I personally am already motivated to make.  Not to worry, though, I have by no means exhausted the possibility of changes I am able to make without changing where I live.  I wouldn’t mind someone throwing some money at me so I could afford some of those changes but little by little we’re getting there anyway.

In the mean time, I do wonder about the next generation of adults.  Will they all overcome their grave health issues plaguing them now as children?  I really hope at least a few powerful people are pondering this issue.

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There’s a movement within the home school movement that emphasizes completely child-lead learning.  No curriculum, no textbooks (unless the child wants one), and from what I can understand, no structure beyond the normal routines of the family.  This approach to education is called unschooling.

I’ve gone back and forth over how I feel about unschooling.  I’ve seen both my daughters spontaneously learn what they needed to know as they grew from baby to toddler to (in L’s case) preschooler.  It seems logical that they would naturally continue that learning.  A neighbor of mine home schools and a number of time I’ve been at her house, she was nagging her children to get their work done (or start it) and there was the general sense that if she wasn’t hovering over them they’d just laze around all day and watch TV or engage in some other mindnumbing activity.  That’s the fear a lot of parents have about unschooling, that if someone isn’t breathing down their children’s necks, their children will just be blobs.

I’m not worried that my children will be blobs if I don’t direct their learning.  What I do worry about is will they learn everything they need to know.  And that’s when I have to ask myself just what is the “everything they need to know?”

That’s a pretty complicated question.  I remember being in junior high and the common whiny question we liked to ask the teacher was “When are we ever going to use this?”  It was a pretty regular refrain.  The teacher would either supply some lame answer or tell us to quit whining and start working on our homework.  What did I know about the real world as a child?  How was I supposed to know just what I’d need as an adult and what I’d wind up forgetting how to do?  A drill I really hated in school was diagraming sentences.  I had this English teacher from 6th grade through 9th grade who delighted in diagramming sentences.  I remember taking home anywhere from ten to twenty sentences and having to use a ruler to neatly show the different parts in their proper places.  I’m sure I wondered when I was ever going to use that skill.  I mean, who writes a sentence with all the modifiers in slanted lines underneath?

Once I changed schools beginning my sophomore year I never diagrammed another sentence.  If you asked me to diagram a sentence today I’m not sure I could do it.  Yet today I’m very thankful that I was compelled to diagram as many sentences as I was.  I credit that exercise more than anything else for my ability to write ever since.  I’ve written copy for newspapers both in my first couple years of college and now as a not-so-young mother of two.  Most of the time my copy has needed very little editing.  I’ve kept journals at various junctures in my life and it’s been possible because getting my thoughts down in writing has been a fairly effortless process.  My junior year in college my English composition teacher told me several times he liked my writing.  This teacher has himself published several poetry books.  Come to think of it, my writing has been affirmed by just about everyone who’s had anything to say about it except for that English teacher who made me diagram so many sentences.  Well, her and a really weird one in high school.

So what do I do when my daughters are around eleven or twelve and I want them to diagram sentences because I now see the value of it but maybe they don’t?  Do I wait a year or two and see if they spontaneously develop a desire to delve deeply into the workings of sentences?  Or do I make them do it for their own good?  Is it possible that I am the only one in that school who truly benefitted from that exercise?  I mean, maybe it was good for me because I have always been destined to be a writer.  Maybe no one else cares.  But even people who don’t enjoy writing blog posts, journal entries, articles for magazines, and a novel in their spare time still have to write just to communicate.  So, I’m pretty sure most everyone in my class diagramming sentences and hating every minute of it is better off today for it.

I always go back in my mind to this experience of diagramming sentences when I ponder the merits of unschooling.  I know my children will learn a lot on their own, but will they get the growth from doing something of value that seems boring and tedious at the time even when they don’t want to?  Or is that a false dichotomy?  Maybe there is a way to make sentence diagramming, not to mention long division and other school exercises, something exciting and interesting, something that every child would want to do.

That’s what I want to find out.  Learning is something that can be fun and exciting.  To be perfectly honest, I have learned and retained so much more since leaving college and my full time job than I think I’ve learned in all my seven years of higher education.  I learned how to take full advantage of my library card, and when I got an interest in a subject, I simply checked out books about it and read voraciously.  The first subject had to do with finances.  In all my many and varied school subjects, I somehow missed the one about how to manage my own money.  I did learn a fair amount of that from my parents, but even they left out a lot of stuff I’d need to know once I got married.  Somehow, the everything I needed to know wasn’t covered in my formal education, and I survived.  I just put myself (and my husband) through a self-directed crash course and six years later we’re still doing OK in that department, and we also have much to learn.

Then there’s the matter of stuff I learned in school that is no longer applicable or that I have since come to learn has another side to it and may not even be true.  I remember the Food Pyramid being a fundamental tenet of health class.  Well, today, not eveyone subcribes to the Food Pyramid as the definitive guide for human nutrition.  I also learned that vaccinations were the most important way to ward off disease.  I now know that vaccination status actually ranks pretty far down on the list of effective preventative measures.  In junior high I learned that genetic engineering was a horrible evil of society because it was tampering with God’s creation.  Then I majored in agriculture where genetic engineering was something I did in genetics lab, and over the course of my studies determined that it wasn’t evil.  Now I’m rethinking that view and wondering if maybe it is evil after all, though for rather different reasoning.

When it comes right down to it, much of what we learn is opinion and subject to change.  There are some fundamentals, like faith in God, the ability to read, basic math, and grammar (yes, even grammar does change, but pretty slowly compared to say, computer programming).  I’m sure there are some that I am forgetting.  But beyond those fundamentals, everything else is subject to change.  Either new research will come along to clarify old theories, or they will be proven erroneous.  And the process of debunking old and false notions has historically been a messy one.

I’m not sure what method of schooling I will pursue with my children–I expect I’ll be experimenting with various methods and approaches.  I do hope that my children learn the fundamentals, and that I always remember there is way more out there to learn than could possibly be crammed into a school program.  I expect over time I will gravitate towards more child-lead learning.  I can see myself heading that way already, because frankly, it’s easier.  But I imagine that will be interspersed with me being more insistent than usual that my children learn a particular academic skill.

Like maybe knowing when it’s time to quit blogging and go to bed…

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