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Archives - August, 2009

Avoiding Educational Headaches – August 31, 2009
This morning, I received a press release with tips from doctors at a children’s hospital for parents wanting to help prevent kids’ headaches as they head back to school. Apparently, the change in schedule, new teachers, new friends and schoolwork can increase stress and its related headaches. A study was quoted, which found that more than a third of children suffer from recurrent headaches – headaches that occur more than once a month. Most are tension headaches, but 25 percent of them are the more severe migraine type. The headache prevention tactics include getting kids into a routine schedule at least two weeks before school starts and enforcing earlier bedtimes. More sinister remedies involve investigating “emotional disorders” and the application of various medications. There is no mention of avoiding the cause of the stress. But, then, I imagine that would give many parents their own headaches. And, after all, school is supposed to be good for kids, isn’t it?!
Posted: 2009/08/31 9:25 AM

What Does Age Have To Do With It? – August 30, 2009
Occasionally, a child who is learning and living in a non-traditional manner is removed from his or her parents’ custody. But here’s an instance of government arrogance, ageism and abuse of rights that tops them all. Laura Dekker is a 13-year-old Dutch girl who is an experienced and highly skilled sailor, having been born on a boat and sailing solo since she was six. She now wants to sail alone on her 26-foot boat for the next two years until she has circumnavigated the globe. Her parents are supportive – although her father was skeptical at first – and she has some corporate sponsors backing her too. She was all set to leave on Tuesday but, last Friday, a court ordered her into temporary state guardianship while child psychologists decide if she can cope with the adventure. The Dutch Council for Child Protection is fretting about her “development” and her motivation, as well as her education. According to this interview from CBC Radio, they plan to “decide what’s best for Laura now and for the rest of her life.” Whew. Psychologists are apparently concerned that her desire to be the youngest person to sail solo around the world might be fueled by ambitious parents or some deep-seated need to please or be praised, especially since her parents are divorced…and, in a bizarre and circular argument, precisely because her parents are accomplished sailors. All of this raises some interesting questions about children’s and parents’ rights and the role of state protection in our lives.

The government’s intervention came about because Laura plans to continue her education via correspondence, for which her father asked permission. (There’s a mistake if I’ve ever seen one!) Dutch law specifies that if kids aren’t in school, they must be homeschooled under the supervision of an adult. It’s more than a little condescending to suggest that someone determined to sail around the world would goof off from a few hours a week of studies, but such is the mentality of those who think they know best. Even if she did get tired of her formal lessons, her adventure would provide an arguably better education anyway.

Meanwhile, Laura’s lawyer reportedly told a Dutch television station yesterday that he’s not sure she would accept a ban on her trip. In fact, she has said that, if necessary, she will renounce her Dutch citizenship in order to escape the control of that government. Passion, determination and a dream can take one anywhere…even around the world. I wonder when we will stop using age as a measure of ability and maturity. I wonder when we will start trusting parents and children to live their own lives.
Posted: 2009/08/30 3:45 PM

Frank Zappa on Schooling – August 26, 2009
“Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts.” ~ Frank Zappa
Posted: 2009/08/26 11:51 AM

Who’s Bamboozling Whom? – August 25, 2009
Earlier this month, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged four smallish companies with deceptively labeling and advertising clothing and household items as made of bamboo fiber when, it says, they are really made of rayon. The FTC also charged the companies with making false and unsubstantiated “green” claims that their clothing and textile products are manufactured using an environmentally friendly process, and that they are antimicrobial and biodegradable. The FTC, unfortunately, doesn’t substantiate its counter claims and issued a notice with a rhetorical headline accusing the companies of “bamboo-zling” consumers. That led to some grossly over-simplified coverage by both mainstream media and bloggers that smeared the whole industry.

That’s too bad, because things are not black and white. The bamboo industry as a whole – including the process of turning the plant into fiber and then into fabric, as well as the labeling regulations – is young and evolving, as writer and organic expert Ed Mass wrote in a definitive article that we published in Natural Life magazine earlier this year. The government has only recently created labeling guidelines; previously, U.S. Customs accepted the term bamboo fiber when companies imported it from China but now the FTC has decreed that the term doesn’t exist. The manufacturing processes vary and, with them, the environmental friendliness of the product, so all fabric made with bamboo cannot be described as environmentally unfriendly. One of the ways bamboo is turned into fiber is the same one used to make rayon and that can be very environmentally unfriendly, although some processors apparently recycle the chemicals they use. That’s the process the FTC is focusing on. As for bamboo being antimicrobial, that claim can be supported, and research has been provided to the FTC by the companies charged. Biodegradability is a moot point; no fiber biodegrades in a plastic bag smothered landfill.

Greenwashing is rampant these days. But I wonder whose interests this sort of anti-greenwash fervor is actually serving. I prefer my tax dollars to be spent in support of companies that are trying to turn an extremely environmentally friendly plant into products that are truly green…rather than to protect their environmentally unfriendly counterparts. Oh, and where is the FTC when you need them to react to that magazine ad I recently spotted proclaiming the greenness of pesticide- and energy-intensive conventional cotton?
Posted: 2009/08/25 8:38 PM

Getting an Education, Living a Life – August 24, 2009
Recently, someone tried to talk me out of using the term “life learning” and encouraged me to “support” use of the term “radical unschooling.” And that, he said, is because most people only understand education in terms of schooling, so “unschooling” is a good first step to get them to think more broadly about ways to get an education. He quoted author James Marcus Bach who says he doesn’t oppose schooling, he opposes “schoolism:” the belief that schooling is the only way, or the best way, to obtain education.

While I certainly agree that school is not the only or best way to obtain an education, that is not what I – nor, I suspect, many who call themselves “radical unschoolers” – mean when we discuss the lifestyle we are living with our families. Using a term like unschooling seems to support the notion that one needs to get an education, but just not at a school. And that once the education has been acquired, life and that odd phrase “making a living” can proceed. The dictionary meaning of the word education involves a process of drawing out an individual’s latent potential, inferring that an education is done to a learner by an educator.

When I use the term life learning, I’m referring to all the types of needs-based learning that happen continuously throughout one’s life – from birth (or even pre-birth) to death. Some of that learning will be what we call “academic” in nature, some not. Some of that learning will involve life skills such as walking and talking, building a house, growing a garden and caring for a loved one. Some of it will involve those moments of insight that help us continue to fine tune ourselves as compassionate, emotionally well balanced human beings. Compartmentalizing and differentiating among various types of knowledge and when and how they are learned is encouraged by those who commodify education. Some bits of knowledge are deemed important enough to be taught in schools (or obtained by other educative means) and measured and tested; others aren’t. When we talk about getting an education or becoming educated – in school or otherwise – we are talking about academics – reading, writing, chemistry and history, as opposed to gardening, plumbing, bicycle repair or playing the harp. In fact, the latter bits are scorned in academic circles, considered frills at best and, at worst, a place to relegate kids who can’t or won’t do academics.

Unschooling – even the radical sort – is about obtaining an education; life learning is about living a life and learning what one needs along the way.
Posted: 2009/08/24 12:31PM

We Shouldn’t Export Our Broken Schooling System – August 22, 2009
Just heard an Oxfam ad on the radio. I’m usually a fan of that organization and occasionally donate to it. But they have it wrong this time. I’m supposed to send money to fund “health and education for all.” I, too, believe that education is a right for everyone – girls and boys alike. (Two-thirds of the hundreds of millions of illiterate adults worldwide are women.) However, they’ve confused school and education…and that is a serious, albeit common, blunder. The radio ad told me that one of the things the kids will miss if they don’t go to school is the excitement of the school bell ringing to let them out for recess – getting sprung from the building being one of the iconic experiences of school. That is condescending and trivializing of the nature of the school experience for many Western children. As David Albert writes in the fall issue of Natural Life and Kirsten Olson writes in her book Wounded by School, many Western kids suffer life-changing trauma in school. We should not be arrogantly exporting this broken system of education to developing countries like so many well-meaning but misguided missionaries; we should be encouraging and enabling those countries to develop something better and more specific to their needs, something that does not harm children, something that encourages personal and societal independence rather than dependence on a coercive institution, something that is inherently democratic, non-hierarchical and non-patriarchal. I’ll donate to that.
Posted: 2009/08/22 1:53PM

The Ramifications of Cheap and Free – August 21, 2009
I often have two or more books on the go simultaneously (I’m a short attention span Gemini). And right now, I’m reading Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell and Free by Chris Anderson. I picked up a copy of the latter at a local bookstore and paid $34.95 (even though it’s available for free online) because I would rather support the book publishing industry as opposed to free info online. (Ironically, Anderson apparently picked up some of the sentences in the book for free from the Internet.) Both books deal with the psychology of pricing but argue from different ends of the topic. Cheap’s thesis, with which I agree, is that rather than encouraging good old fashioned frugality, our appetite for cheap products has led to an explosion of “shoddy clothes, unreliable electronics, wobbly furniture and questionable food” and that the wastefulness contributes to our current environmental problems. Free, on the other hand, demonstrates how some companies are giving away stuff (or information), sometimes in order to sell other stuff, which is hardly a new idea, but in other cases simply because technology allows it. The trouble is, somebody always ends up paying – my purchase of Free contributes to Anderson’s presumably hefty royalty fees. And if nobody pays, then the quality suffers (perhaps because people take shortcuts!). And I’m not the only one to think that is a problem. Fortunately, Free and its assertion that, as Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand famously said, information wants to be free, is already out of date; Anderson’s trumpeting about how newspapers tried to charge for online content but stopped has been negated by the same newspapers recently reinstating fees for content. Aside from the quality issue, the bottom line for me is that just because something is cheap or, yes, even free, does not mean it has to be consumed. Mindless acquisition is always problematic.
Posted: 2009/08/21 6:26PM

Keeping The Kids Under Their Thumbs – August 20, 2009
Awhile back, the government here in Ontario introduced the idea of “full-day learning” (ie. attendance) for kindergarten students, accompanied by an extended day of supervision for the convenience of working parents. The proposed model (which has already been tested and is in place in some other jurisdictions) would have supervision shared by regular school teachers and early childhood educators (who typically work in daycare settings). Not surprisingly, the teachers’ union doesn’t like the idea of its members sharing their classrooms. At their annual conference this week, they voted to begin a campaign to “protect the integrity of the teaching profession.” In a press release, the union also said, “The resolution also reflects the concern that kindergartens will suffer the same fate as many elementary school libraries, where teacher-librarians have been replaced by library technicians. Because there is no instruction by teacher-librarians, very little learning takes place,” [my italics]. I guess these folks missed the memo about the mounting body of research that says learning is not primarily the result of instruction by anyone, no matter how much education or arrogance they have.  Learning is not something that teachers do to children. It happens when children are allowed to retain their motivation, interest, curiosity and integrity…and to be active. Although the curriculum the union recommends is play-based, you can be sure it’s also adult-directed (or why would it matter who supervised it?). And that’s too bad because there is another growing body of research indicating that what children need the most is time for unstructured play. Nor does this learning and play have to take place, as the union recommends, in a “publically-funded elementary school.” (In my opinion, that’s one of the places where it’s least likely to happen.) If you’re going to protect your job, say so, and don’t pretend it’s for somebody else’s benefit. Any institution will be used if it’s useful and therefore doesn’t have to be compulsory. Likewise, if the teaching profession does, indeed, have integrity (not to mention usefulness), it will find its place in an evolving world.
Posted: 2009/08/20 12:45PM

You Have To Live It To Learn It – August 19, 2009
In my spare time (ha!) I’m plugging away at a book of memoirs It Hasn’t Shut Me Up. And I’m currently writing about my stint as leader of the Green Party of Canada in the mid ‘90s…and why I resigned. So I found it interesting that today I heard from the Media Awareness Network that they, along with Equal Voice, have developed some lessons plans for elementary and secondary schools to encourage girls to get involved in politics. The lesson plans and handouts are designed to examine and overcome the stereotypes of male politicians – promoted most explicitly in the media – that keep women from seeing themselves as political actors and portrayals of female politicians that make them seem like unattractive models to young women (or the lack of portrayals and role models at all).

I’m enthusiastic about getting more girls and women into politics (in Canada, only 20 percent of the seats in the House of Commons are held by women and it’s less than that in the U.S. Congress). And I applaud these groups for their intentions. But these lesson plans are depressing to me, let alone to the kids who will have to sit through them. Oh, they meet government standards, they are written in the time-honored lesson plan format and accompanied by lovely handouts and overheads. The teacher is told what to write on the blackboard, what “correct” responses to elicit from the students in order to create the pre-determined outcome. Some bios are provided of women activists, as opposed to actual politicians, in order to “redefine” politics. At the end, students are told to choose from a list of women politicians and write a bio of that woman.

Unfortunately, this is all in vain until young people are allowed to experience democracy (and its accompanying politics) during their daily lives at school. The hierarchical and patriarchal institutions these kids attend (and the curriculum to which they are subjected) are part of the problem! They do not encourage young people of either gender to be active and engaged in governing themselves or to work for change. Courses such as these are too little, too boring, too engineered and too late.
Posted: 2009/08/19 3:19PM

Teaching Kids About (Not) Purchasing Beauty – August 16, 2009
I’m getting old(er) – okay, the word is highly subjective. Although I try to embrace my inner crone, on some days I have mixed emotions about the state of my knees, my thighs, my eyelids and…well, I’ll spare you. The unhappy side got a boost earlier today when I looked at a wonderful photo of my beautiful 35-year-old daughter in the bloom of womanhood – i.e. she’s no longer a kid. However, I have bounced back to my normal state of fretting about something more important. So I was interested to spot this article on a site I love but don’t visit enough. Cahoots Magazine is a (now) online magazine based in Saskatoon, Canada and their website is full of great articles by women writers from across North America. This particular article focuses on a new children’s book designed to help women explain to their children why mommy is going under the knife to change her body. What it really does, says author Christine Orchanian Adler is help “parents teach their children that a body you’re not happy with is not a healthy one.” My body is a “relatively” healthy one, and I’m happy to help it get even healthier, rather than change it to mask the wonderful wrinkles and droops that tell my history. And I am sure that if I was even tempted to try and “fix”  those wrinkles and droops, my beautiful daughter would teach me to be happy with them.
Posted: 2009/08/16 5:55PM

Finding Meaning and Purpose in Education – August 15, 2009
Infusing more meaning and purpose into class lessons can help improve children’s outlook on life, curb depression and boost grades, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman told a conference of the American Psychological Association held in Toronto last weekend. Seligman is the author of books like Learned Optimism (Knopf, 1990) and Authentic Happiness (Free Press, 2002) and is known for his theory of learned helplessness. Apparently he studied a bunch of ninth-grade students and discovered that those who took a “positive psychology” course got better marks than those who didn’t. “Under conditions of high well-being, more classroom learning occurs,” Seligman said. Well, that’s if you think there is any correlation between marks and learning, which I don’t. (Maybe “classroom learning” is something different – like retention of facts until the exam.) But I can’t argue with the idea that meaning and purpose will curb depression! (I guess it’s  not his specialty to ask why kids in school are depressed in the first place.) At the same time, I think it will take a lot more than adding positive psychology courses to the curriculum to infuse our education system with meaning and purpose…like tearing schools down and starting over with a self-directed model of community-based education.
Posted: 2009/08/15 1:10PM

The Perils of Wooing the Media – August 12, 2009
This is the time of year when PR firms and corporate marketers rev up their promotional activities. In the last month, we’ve received – unsolicited – a sample of granola, three brands of flavored water, a selection of household cleaning supplies, enough sun block to last the rest of my life, four pieces of organic cotton clothing, a solar toy, three CDs, an organic hemp backpack, a travel mug, a stainless steel water bottle, a solar key chain, a year’s supply of yarn and eight books. These have been variously packaged in reusable bags, a tin gift box, too much paper, bubblewrap and wicker baskets. In addition, I’ve been offered a sample of “enviro-friendly” fiberboard, an all-expenses-paid trip to an eco-resort in Costa Rica and one to Arizona to test drive a new hybrid car, a one-day family pass to a local conservation area, three invitations to champagne-fueled company launches, a dinner for two at a locavore restaurant, tickets to a film and a whole bunch of homeschooling curriculum products. It might seem like we’ve tapped a goldmine here, but we actively discourage samples and gifts, and don’t write about these companies and their products. The mainstream media outlets typically have a similar policy because it’s just too difficult to write objectively about a gift.

But some giveaway publications and many bloggers don’t adhere to this sort of policy, happily (or innocently) blurring the lines between advertising/sponsorship and editorial. In addition to writing positive reviews about products after having been showered with large quantities of the product,  some publish “articles” written by advertisers (some advertisers refuse to buy an ad without being given “advertorial” opportunities). Others charge a fee to “review” a product or won’t cover a product or book unless it’s available for them to get a commission on Amazon.com. I understand that, unlike Natural Life, some magazines depend upon advertising to pay their bills and that bloggers might appreciate the gift of products as a way to pay for their time and bandwidth, but it really threatens your integrity. The self-regulating advertising industry and even governments are worried and trying to figure out if they can regulate things, or at least encourage people to disclose whether they’ve been given the products they’re saying nice things about or if a company is sponsoring their site or greasing the wheels.

Aside from the journalistic ethics, which are being smashed minute by minute on the net in many other ways, I am concerned about how this unbridled commercialization of the so-called “mommy blogs” is affecting relationships between women. And I am pleased to see that is one of the topics tackled in a new book called Mothering and Blogging.
Posted: 2009/08/13 1:33PM

Parents Are Spanking Less…Well, At Least Dads Are – August 11, 2009
I’ve been reading a press release about a study just presented to the American Sociological Association about how parenting practices are changing and how that relates to the way people were themselves parented. There is much there to think about. According to these researchers at Ohio State University, when it comes to how people raise their children, mothers today tend to follow the same practices their own mothers did. Fathers, on the other hand, don’t seem to use their moms as parenting role models as much. The researchers studied thousands of parents over a couple of generations, considering how often parents spanked, read to and showed affection to their children, and compared that to how these parents were treated by their own mothers.

The second generation of mothers closely followed what their mothers did. For example, mothers who were spanked at least once a week are nearly half as more likely to spank their own children than mothers who weren’t spanked at all. In most cases, there was no relationship between mothers’ parenting practices and the parenting practices of their sons – the one exception being spanking. And in that instance, fathers who were spanked as children were less likely to spank their own children. Only 28 percent of the second generation of fathers reported spanking their children, compared to 43 percent of mothers.
Posted: 2009/08/11 2:05PM

Learning by Tinkering – August 10, 2009
The wonderful TED website has offered up another inspirational tidbit. It’s by Gever Tulley, a software engineer who is also the founder of something called Tinkering School, a camp where kids get to, well, tinker…using power tools and other great stuff they aren’t always allowed near because people think they’re dangerous. He, on the other hand, trusts kids to play, tinker and learn. He says they learn life skills and the “realization that you can figure things out by fooling around.” The bad news? Tinkering School’s hands-on learning experience lasts only six days. The good news? Unschoolers learn like this every day.
Posted: 2009/08/10 5:33PM

Slow Sunday – August 9, 2009
The other day when twitter and facebook were both down and many folks were feeling lost without them, I was feeling relieved at the lack of pressure to post and the seemingly slower pace of my working day. Checking through my favorite blogs (a much slower form of writing and reading that is, by the way, apparently on its deadbed), I saw that Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow and Under Pressure, is also a twitter newbie and has also been musing about twitter-speed. And he’s come to the same conclusion I have: Online “social networking” is neither good nor bad, but one needs to be prudent (i.e. balanced) in its use. If Honoré is correct that there is a “right speed” for everything, blogging – not to mention paper magazines and books – isn’t dead but is just another tool in our communications kit. Long-form writing is hard work and it’s slow; sending off a five-word tweet is easy and quick. (Actually, it can be hard and slow too, if done well – requiring all the conciseness and care of a haiku, which is partly what attracted me to twitter in the first place. But most of us don’t take the time to update our twitter or facebook status that way.)

Anyway, this is Sunday. And from Honoré, I learned about the Slow Sundays initiative in the UK. People are encouraged to spend their Sundays slowing down and taking part in simple actions that symbolize a rejection of commercialism, a passion for the planet and a desire for change – things like baking bread, planting a garden, taking a walk. Not surprisingly, neither tweeting nor blogging have been suggested! So I think I’ll shut off the computer now and remember what a slow Sunday feels like. As someone living with the chronic autoimmune disease lupus, I need to learn this lesson well.
Posted: 2009/08/09 12:07PM

Taking LEGO™ to the Next Level of Fun – August 8, 2009
I’ve often said that LEGO should be made the official unschooling toy, since so many life learning families seem to play with it non-stop. I have fond memories of the countless hours of fun we had with our daughters making castles, trucks, villages and especially marble chutes. We even published an article once in Life Learning magazine about what you can learn through LEGO play. So I’m very excited to learn that funsmith Bernie DeKoven, who has written for us in Natural Life magazine in the past and knows how to have more fun than anyone I know, has been working with LEGO to develop a new, fun project.
Posted: 2009/08/08 1:11PM

Paying For Quality – August 6, 2009
One of our regular contributors to Natural Life Magazine just asked me if I think the concept of simple living is compatible with paying more for things that lessen one’s negative impact on the environment – especially since one’s choice to live more simply often results in less income. I responded that paying for quality is usually a good thing, both for simplicity and for the environment – whether it’s investing in more durable and worthwhile items (less shopping and less garbage) or paying a bit more to buy organic food that’s better for the environment and healthier for our bodies. It’s about integrity, I said. And, I might have added, that includes our consumption of media. On my walk this morning, I picked up a free copy of a health magazine from a rack in front of a vitamin store that I passed by, barely missing a step. I intend to replace that magazine on the rack on tomorrow morning’s walk because it wasn’t worth reading, let alone the second it took me to pick it up or the burden on our municipal recycling program as I dispose of it. The entire content of that “magazine” was either supplied directly by advertisers or written to attract and please them. They are clearly making money with this approach, but I prefer information that’s not commercially biased, like we present, for instance, in Natural Life. ( Here’s where you can read about our approach.) Unfortunately, I’ll never get rich doing it this way because, especially in this economic climate, advertisers and their PR representatives are increasingly pulling the strings. However, I’m happy with our business and sleep well at night, knowing that there are sufficient numbers of readers out there who understand that integrity and quality are worth paying for. Thanks for every one of you who subscribe to either the print or online editions of Natural Life Magazine and who buy our books! If you care about integrity, quality and simplicity, please pass the word along.
Posted: 2009/08/06 5:51PM

Learning What We’re Bad At – August 5, 2009
I’ve just been glancing back at the bits I highlighted when I first read Kirsten Olson’s book Wounded by School. School left me with many wounds, some of which are poignantly described in Kirsten’s book. Perhaps the major one is perfectionism. I have a need to do things correctly the first time, which leads to a disabled sense of adventure. Even though I was a good student as a child, there were, inevitably, things that I wasn’t so good at. The humiliation I was made to feel at my lack of pitch, my inability to memorize multiplication tables and my physical clumsiness negated any pride I took in my physical attractiveness (I thought I was ugly until well into adulthood), my ability to read and write well, to articulate my insights, to lead groups or my other considerable strengths. For much of my youth, that humiliation hobbled my self-esteem, blinded me from learning new things, and prevented me from taking on challenges. In fact, it has been my life’s work to fully heal. So was fascinated by a posting that I read a month or two ago on the Ecology of Education blog about a guy who finished last in a golf tournament but turned it into a learning experience. His list of ways in which he turned his failure around is entertaining and illuminating, but I wish he’d analyzed how he overcame his school-inflicted wounds in order to accomplish that – smiling all the while. In his article in the upcoming fall issue of Natural Life Healing Trauma and School Disease, David Albert says that one way to alleviate the pressure and heal the school disease problem is to homeschool. Intuitively, both Rolf and I knew that before we had children, and vowed to keep our daughters safer than we’d been. That’s why I get so infuriated when social workers, school administrators and other pro-schoolers suggest that not sending a child to school is abusive. And that’s why it is so important that we get brave works like David’s and Kirsten’s as much coverage as possible.
Posted: 2009/08/05 12:48 PM

Speed Reading – August 4, 2009
I’ve been playing around with Twitter as a tool for making more connections and telling more people about our work (http://twitter.com/WendyPriesnitz, http://twitter.com/NaturalLifeMag, and http://twitter.com/AlternatePress). True to my original concern about signing on to it, it’s fast. It requires me to write quickly, to post quickly, to keep checking other people’s tweets and to respond quickly. Otherwise, there seems to be no point. Unfortunately, I’m a relatively slow thinker and writer, so I’m feeling the pressure, even though I’m intrigued by the platform and think it could be a good thing for us. And what if it isn’t even about the content? It might be mostly about the connections – the networking. It makes me think about a book published a few years ago by Pierre Bayard, a professor of French literature at the University of Paris. In English, it was entitled How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (Bloomsbury USA, 2007). Bayard’s thesis seems to be that the associations that tie books together – book as a system – are more important than the actual content of the books. And that, in one sense, is what Twitter is doing – giving participants a speed reading version of what’s out there and how it all relates in the overall scheme of things. James Harkin expands on this idea in his book Lost in Cyburbia (Knopf Canada, 2009), connecting social media to systems theory and Marshall McLuhan’s idea about the medium being the message. This is all very depressing for a writer and editor, but I’m willing to go along for the ride awhile longer and see if Twitter helps me connect with more readers. The kind who read books and magazines.
Posted: 2009/08/04 11:11 AM

Learning by Heart – August 3, 2009
When I was a child, the term “learning by heart” was used in school and church to refer to rote memorization. At some point as a teenager, I wondered what “heart” had to do with it, especially since my heart definitely wasn’t in memorizing stifling old bits of poetry or biblical passages that I neither understood nor enjoyed. Years later, I stumbled upon Roland Barth’s book Learning by Heart (Jossey-Bass, 2004) and delighted in a new meaning for the phrase – one that contradicted the very concept of rote memorization, which, by then, I knew isn’t learning at all. And today, I discovered this lovely piece of the same name in the Irish Times, adding yet another element to the meaning of the phrase. It helped me remember that although one’s children may grow up and temporarily vanish from one’s life, they’re still there in heart and memory.
Posted: 2009/08/03 2:34 PM

Slow Money – August 3, 2009
When I came of age in the late 1960s, many of us had an uneasy relationship with money – the money that funded wars, the money that supported the patriarchal and corporate status quo. We talked about the evils of money, thinking it would taint the purity of our countercultural revolution. Although subsequent generations waste no opportunity to scorn how the Baby Boomers “sold out” and became as fat and sassy as preceding generations, some of us have retained many of those earlier values even as we realized the importance of money to pay the rent and raise our families. Over the years, I learned to see money in a different light – as a tool to accomplish the social, environmental and educational change that I want to see happen – but knew the underlying structural problems hadn’t gone away. The recent international economic meltdown and environmental and social crises underscore that. So I’m glad to see what feels like a surge of interest in fixing the problems. I have written a number of articles about the need for new economic indicators to replace GDP, and how the GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator is attracting interest. And over the past 33 years, we’ve published umpteen articles in Natural Life magazine about local food systems, local economies, micro lending, social entrepreneurship and alternative currencies. Now, there is a new and growing movement designed to take that concept to another level. It’s called “Slow Money.” It’s a spin-off from the Slow Food movement and based on a book called Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered (Chelsea Green, 2008) by alternative investment guru Woody Tasch. Tasch heads up an emerging multi-generational network of investors, donors, entrepreneurs, farmers and activists committed to building local food systems and local economies. These people have left behind that countercultural unease with money and are putting their money where their words were.
Posted: 2009/08/03 12:17 PM

Checking Out Chickens – August 2, 2009
The giant British supermarket chain Tesco is jumping on the grow-your-own-food movement by renting out garden space and selling live chickens and backyard chicken coops. Details of the initiative appeared last week in an article in Advertising Age. Presumably, they are counting on customers still purchasing some groceries in their stores. Municipalities in the UK are legally required to offer allotment garden plots, but there are often long waiting lists, a problem that Tesco’s allotment initiative is trying to address. Allotment gardens are often called “community gardens” in North America. The American Community Gardening Association website maintains a list of community gardens in the U.S. and Canada, as well as lots of info about how to start one in your neighborhood. You do need a small piece of your own property to keep chickens and they’re outlawed in many places in North America. That, too, is changing with the times, although I think it will be awhile before supermarkets begin selling chicken coops. Still, the Chickens in Your Backyard article that we published in Natural Life magazine in March received the largest number of favorable responses that we’ve had in the last year...maybe because it combined food and unschooling – a true life learning experience!
Posted: 2009/08/02 12:28 PM

Homeschool According to Charlie Brown – August 1, 2009
Nice little article in The New Yorker about the young members of a cast of a production of the musical “Snoopy!!!” – none of whom attend school. One of them says he thinks he can solve problems more creatively than kids who go to school. His sister says she thinks Snoopy represents the best of the homeschooled individual. And another actor says that when you don’t go to school everyone you meet is your teacher.
Posted: 2009/08/01 1:22 PM

Change For the Sake of Our Children – July 27, 2009
Léandre Bergeron is a parent, social activist and writer whose article in the upcoming September/October issue of Natural Life magazine illuminates the respectful, trusting way of parenting and educating children that I’ve practiced and championed for the past 35 years. Léandre suggests that we treat our children as “distinguished guests” – people we respect and admire for who they are and who grace us with their presence. He has much more wisdom and experience to share in his new book For the Sake of Our Children, which we’ve just published and is now back from the printer and ready to be ordered.

Collectively, we have much work to do to own up to the damage our society does to our children through the ways we parent and educate. I sometimes wonder if we are willing to make the sweeping changes in our institutions, public policies and personal lives that are necessary to reverse that harm to our children and to our society. But, recently, as I was listening to an album of old tunes by singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, I felt grateful for the increasing community of people who are pushing for those changes. We are, to paraphrase a line from Cohen’s song Anthem, taking advantage of the cracks that appear in everything, which is where the light gets in.
Posted: 2009/07/27 12:14 PM

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