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Bereavement can be a gradual thing

Is this a frog in a slowly heating pot scenario? If so, it’s not always a bad thing. When there’s a necessity of radical change to avert disaster, such as climate change, the frog dies a stupid death. But if something has to die, if death is coming slowly closer just because it’s natural and inevitable, well then, let’s not have any shocks along the way, splash around, enjoy the view through the beaker glass, and hardly feel those nerves as they cook and shut down.

Sometimes I stand back and observe myself in action, amazed. I putter in the kitchen or garden, joke with one of my kids, get irritated at a mess on the counter, post a photo online, respond to my husband calling, plunk down to chat with him, check to see whether he wants his pain meds on time, rub some essential oil onto his tailbone, all normal-like. There I am, in the moment, as if nothing unusual is going on. I receive visitors and care givers, arrange hospital visits, make up to-do and grocery lists, take my son to drum lessons, and go to bed with my husband at night. We adjust without noticing to an infinitesimally shifted normal each day. It only seems shocking and surreal if we compare our life now to a few short months ago, when my husband weighed sixty pounds more and was concerned with work, the games on TV, the newest iphone, and trying to get the kids out skiing more, wondering how my oldest was doing in his final year of college. And staying awake to welcome me into bed at night with more than a bony, hand extended hand and a sleepy “I love you” before dropping off to a fitful sleep.

The last few days the neighbors and we have been painting our new shared fence, the one that my husband built last year, with sealer. I’m thankful the neighbor is driving this project—I wouldn’t have had the gumption, but do enjoy seeing the progress and being able to offer our youngest son some paid work. Other projects will be picked up in the wake of this—finishing the top of the new retaining wall my husband built, improving the soil by the fence, and planting some nice shrubs and flowers–some daisies, foxgloves, currant bushes, maybe strawberries to hang down by the hot tub my husband installed less than a year ago. There are the trees to prune, and next year’s…next year’s compost pile to layer up. Berries to freeze for the new year, canning and picking for the future. The future will come, and be full of more ordinary moments. Right?

Things will change soon, though–the water temperature will jump and we”l feel it. My husband’s body continues to lose the battle to pancreatic cancer, despite his belief that he is getting better. I’m trying to prepare, trying to help the kids, and my husband, prepare, but it’s my first time with this, and I don’t know what I don’t know. I try to learn as much as I can, ’cause that’s what I do, as a Type 5, but there’s no way to preview what’s about to happen, when, how quickly, or how each of us–wife, children, parents, siblings, and friends, will go through our grieving process.

 

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Guest post by the amazing E.J.

High school it stupid and a waste of time. It’s so dumb, you can skip it every day and still get A’s. The only reason W (community college, Running Start program)  is better, is because you don’t have to go to classes eight hours a day. It’s crazy that some people don’t go there, because school is a dumb system, with dumb classes, and dumb administration. There are some gem teachers, but not enough to make it worthwhile. That’s enough and I’m going back to my lair.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2018 in Culture & Society

 

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Upsize, same-size, downsize

When tech was bubbling, our software business was there in a minor way, my husband contracting for a billionaire who wanted his MP3 and image collections database set up and made accessible from his various homes and yachts, and was willing to hire a whole team and pay well. We bought land then and paid off our “starter” house in town, a 1200 square foot rancher plus garage. Not a dream home, but acceptable, and affordable. We invested not in the stock market, thank heaven, but in land–our own twenty acres, the dream property that satisfied my husband’s longing for woods and mountains and water view, and mine for enough light for a garden and lots of cool places to explore with the kids.We got to work on it right away–smoothed the driveway, cut down alders and blackberry vines (after harvest), scraped away a ledge for the garden, planted and watered it from the dusty well, planted miniature daffodils around an old willow, and fenced the garden to try to keep out deer. Then we planted apple trees, killed a porcupine that was devouring them, and skinned it at midnight back at the house, me holding the light and giving directions as a former novice trapper. I don’t recommend learning this skill on a porcupine.

We worked on a house design, a modified mirror-image of one we found in a magazine. It was to be a homeschooling family house with room for crafts, a shop, lots of light. But it always ended up too big, too overwhelming to tackle, and too much of a leap, seemingly, into exclusivity, and the promise of an enormous tax bill once the land was changed from woodlot to view residential status. I couldn’t imagine myself living such a privileged existence anyway. And in trying to combine our ideas and preferences, we kept getting stressed and stuck. One wanted a soaring ceiling, one wanted a cozy height. One wanted a huge shop, the other a small one. One wanted rooms for every type of activity, the other didn’t wanted to multi-use to cut down on housekeeping. And we both cared about wood finishes, colors, styles, and furnishings, so even that couldn’t be divided and conquered. The discussion was taking too much, time, too much energy, and was generating too much conflict. We had children to raise, other things to accomplish, so we shelved the house plans. We didn’t have time and mental space, as my husband was commuting to the city and I was raising the four kids, homeschooling, keeping the books. It was a very busy, absorbing time without extra projects.

The property sat idle, produced trees, thistles, deer, butterflies and spring peepers faithfully. We’d go now and then, drawing in our breath at the beauty and peacefulness—a fern-dressed creek hidden in the gorge at the back, the aroma of live woods, at the view–southwest over the Puget Sound, but it never did feel like the right time to build our house. So we just camped there when we could, set up a big tent, a repurposed sink to wash up, solar shower, gas barbecue, even electricity for the cooler. The kids ran around, dug miniature rivers and lakes, carved sticks, built forts, caught lizards and snakes and hunted for shed antlers and fossils. We had all their birthday parties there, with Capture the Flag, water fights, an evening campfire and sometimes tent camping. kids running around in the woods, up and down the gravel lane between tall alders and arched blackberry brambles. The parents visited around the food tables and campfire, and sometimes we camped around in various clearings. We mowed now and then, tried to keep back some of the brambles, and left it houseless (though we did pour a foundation for a cabin above the main site).

A neighboring property sprouted a castle-like house, complete with emerald lawn, tidy ferns, picnic park. The neighborhood gate opened and closed to its various coded inputs, we paid our dues to help with road maintenance, but went to the property less and less. We started looking for an already built house elsewhere in the county, but everything we both liked, and these were few, and overpriced, because it was the Bubble. Then tech slowed down, and instead of investing in overpriced real estate, we banked on our savings for a two and a half year study sabbatical overseas. The property would be a fun place to visit, and a long term investment to atone for low retirement savings. It grew cedars and regrew alders where we were away. for another few years while we were away

We came back rich with experiences, but financially broke–more than broke, as the economy continued to flag, and we had little work. We chose to resettle in our same town instead of closer to urban-based tech work, and I was to return to teaching. But my credentials were outdated and I had no recent references, and responsibilities at home were still heavy, our kids adjusting to life back in the states, to public school, and getting involved in athletics, music lessons. Plus our house had been water damaged and needed updating, so when my husband got work, extra cash went into the remodel, which we did mostly ourselves, and so it took a long time. We couldn’t afford to add on, so reconfigured the inside and set up a bedroom in the garage for two of the kids. Smaller than our overseas apartment had been, it was tight with six of us; there was tension, our oldest two moving into adolescence and wanting more space we didn’t have. A psychiatrist friend mentioned research on rodents kept in cramped quarters.

We pressed on to finish the fix-up so we could upsize, but to that rare entity, a house with arable land on the south side. Prices were down–in some cases to almost half. But so was our income, we couldn’t get a loan because of our years off work, and savings were non-existent. We’d even dipped into retirement and borrowed from family on both sides (and paid a penalty).

The castle next to our dream property, one our neighbors there built on spec, sold for several million. We met with the neighborhood association for the first time, all very nice people, but not the type of cultural experience I wanted for us–I felt like an oddball among such wealthy and semi-retired people with no children at home. I foresaw feeling awkward about sharing my home with friends because of my obvious privilege, rather than enjoyment of the perks of the gated life. I hated the message of the gate, though I understood its usefulness- don’t explore, camp, dump garbage here; we paid for this spot. And I could see myself being lonely way out there, especially as the kids started to go on their ways to university, college, work, travels. I’d miss my runs on the trails, walks down to the local coffee shops, random encounters with neighbors and friends living close by. And access to the pool was so easy for the kids and me. The prime time for a happy family home in the woods had passed.

We took up the possibility of adding on to our little house instead of buying another one. I used CAD to design a two bedroom, one bath addition with cozy library, my husband got ready to dig the hole for the slab, and then suddenly we dropped that plan too. We’d go back to house hunting, he decided–cheaper overall, and less hassle, and we’d built up some savings and a better income history. We went to open houses, had our realtor keep his eyes open, and searched online and across the county by car in our spare time for what turned out to be another impossible dream– a house on property that we could afford, that we both liked, and that was in the right spot to commute to the city and had a neighborhood I felt I could relate to. I brought my husband to the table three times to make low ball offers on fixer-uppers he thought were acceptable and I saw some magic in, but over a span of about five years, nothing. Instead, I was expanding my garden, with my husband’s help, no longer willing to wait for the dream garden property, under the guise of improving the attractions of out little place to future buyers. People are into raised beds and mature fruit trees, I reasoned. But in my heart, these became MY apple trees, MY blueberry bushes, and I was ready to settle down. We had lived in the place almost twenty years, after all, way past the average of seven before up sizing. Yes, it was a tighter fir than ever, and our teens were going out a lot to socialize in friends’ houses, struggling with covetousness at times, or finding their personal devices useful in making them feel spaced out.

The other factor was two were just about ready to head off to college, and the years would fly by, and soon we’d be empty nesters. Sure enough, in two years, we had some more space. Not to use for new purposes, because the bedrooms had to be kept, but relational space, at least. It wouldn’t be long, I said, and our house would be just the right size again, so I held the line. My husband, tractor parked in front of the Subaru in the driveway, still longed for a mini-farm. My longing was fading, along with my sense of the likelihood of our finding the place, and as my attachment to my nurtured soil, fruiting young trees, and plans for a rainwater harvesting system and bike shed grew. I quietly turned over another foot of lawn’s edge to convert to vegetables. My husband’s protest was out of habit only–his vision of playing touch football and croquet with the kids on an expanse of green lawn was fading. He even seemed to like my ideas for a writing studio/office extension on the tool shed. We replaced most of the fence, which was falling down, and build a retaining wall in the process, although my husband chose to view that as improving sales appeal. But then, I admitted that I would be okay with getting a hot tub–something he’d wanted long ago but we’d decided wan’t necessary, as the kids could swim at the pool down the road, and what time did we have in those days to hide away in a spa, anyway? Now the kids were grown, and they could enjoy it with us, or with their friends, and we had mid-life stresses to soak out. We installed oneon the windowless side of the house in a corner of the fenced area, and the house didn’t feel too small at all any more. The hot tub became our away room.

As it turned out, we all needed that spa. Not so much as a place to hang out together, but to get away and de-stress, calm down, process feelings, and shed tears. In the process of setting up the hot tub, my husband we fighting some kind of gut flue, it seemed, that didn’t o away. An herbal cleanse made it worse. There was something wrong. He finished installing the hot tub,  but was feeling so bad, with bloating, nausea, and sensitivity to smells, he didn’t want to try out the steaming, bubbling waters in case the bromine made him gag. During the process of seeking answers about his condition, cancer was suspected, and then it was confirmed though various scans and biopsies that he had through the diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Expected survival of three to six months. He started a super-healthy diet, and started a few medications, decided to stay away from the even greater discomforts, and uselessness for cure, of chemo. He also stayed out of the hut tub. For the rest of us, except my oldest son, who was away at college, it became our refuge. A soak in the steaming water that winter, looking up at the dark trees, the stars, feeling the cool rain, and sometimes, snowflakes, was so, so, soothing and healing.

I wanted my husband to enjoy it too, especially as he became more bedridden and butt sore. I urged him to see if he too found it comforting and soothing, promised to let the bromine dissipate, and finally, in he went. It was so good. For the next three months, he  soaked for a few hours several times a day, finding relief for his body as well as that sense of being enveloped in warmth that feels unspeakably comforting. Sometimes we’d soak together, not saying much, or just me chattering away about the kids, the garden, whatever.

To me the discussion about upsizing is irrelevant now. My husband still enjoys talking about the dream, even seems to plan on it–they tractor stays in the driveway, and he is ever hopeful. But now, it really is just a dream.

Our house is, if not perfect now, a home I see myself living in for a long time. The garden is my exercise, my useful work, and my interesting distraction between times of caring for my husband. There’s life, change, always a new season past and another one coming, but so much in the present every day. I planted sweet peas and sunflowers by our bedroom window where my husband can see and smell them, and each morning now I pick berries for his breakfast granola. Whether we, I ever make any more improvements has become less important, and the feeling of our mortality and the shortness of this life has made home mean something different to us all. All four children are home, even our oldest, who is in transition between graduating from college and having enough to get his own place. It’s way too early in my husband’s life for something like this to happen, but here we are in our little easy-care, nothing fancy, neighborhood house with a garden, all together, and life is good.

 

 

 
 

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Catholic priest washes the dishes, then kicks off the party

I went to the local country church as a kid, the one nearest to our home, though not the denomination of either of my parents. Not really a denomination at all, only an amalgamation of other failing ones, leftover liberals from when the conservatives took a stand on biblical infallibility and split, or leftover conservatives from when the liberals took a stand in on women’s rights and split–a kind of catch-all: the United Church of Canada. My parents wanted to join whatever was local, as long as it wasn’t too weird or conservative, and the United Church was only a few kilometers away, less if you tool the train tracks. They believed one should connect with the community, like it or not, and expect some hospitality at least.

It was pretty close by road, and even closer by train tracks. The tracks route was quieter, cleaner, and prettier—one could admire undulating fields, streams, and forest thickets full of birds as the level track cut through or bridged over, inhaling the heady mixture of fir tree, blossoms, and tar. You could walk on the rails or keep an awkward short stepped pace on the massive wood ties, interspersed by a leaping gait that took two, or even three ties at a time. Timothy grass swishing, grasshoppers and crickets singing, the thickets alongside full of birds, crows announcing the loner on the tracks with unknown intent. Once I saw a mother skunk tailing three or four kits, making me extra attentive at that spot from then on.

For the church youth there was Tyro (meaning novice or recruit) for the boys, and for us, CGIT–Canadian Girls In Training. The adult women did the kitchen work and had the real control, and the men moved the chairs and tables–but not the piano, by God–that was donated by so-and-so and to move it was an act of social affront as well as likely to make it lose its tuning. The older men drank, danced, and played cards, but not at church events. No, drinking and dancing were not the Protestant Way, however amalgamated and liberalized.

Then I got invited to my Catholic friend’s church in town. I’d have to go to Mass, she said (she showed me what to say and do as I received the wafer–I was nervous to get it right). Then we could go to the youth dance. The idea that a church would hot such a thing was golden–I was crazy about dances, shy as I was/. I loved music, wantes to move to it, and let it carry me to…BOYS. Tough I would not see my greatest crushes there, there would be boys. I had a great time, developed a fifteen-minute crush, and concluded that although Catholics had some weird habits in church, they knew how to party.

This was confirmed when I found out in college at a Catholic wedding that not only did they use real wine for the Eucharist, they brought it out at parties, too. But that was nothing to my first experience at a Sabbath meal in Israel.

We were living as a family in student housing, and a rabbi would periodically set up tables in tents in the quad and hold a celebratory mean, complete with plenty of sweet wine, he being a heavy partaker. We left early with our children when it became a little too raucous, though I’m sure the dancing would have been a lot of fun for college students, and led to a deepening of community ties and maybe late night conversations about what God required of them, anyway.

So I was pleased that my husband and I were invited to our current Catholic friends’ fiftieth birthday party, with mass beforehand. Sure, I had Protestant, even evangelical, friends who enjoyed a wine or a beer on occasion, but they never could bring themselves to incorporate this into their services, or even potlucks, except for a little red wine in the sauce and real vanilla in some of the cookies. A shame, living this double life. So, not even because I enjoy a drink–I generally don’t / makes me sleepy and I prefer coffee. But I like seeing people willing, as the Bible teaches, to use wine and strong drink to make the heart merry, to comfort or relax the stressed, and especially, render us more willing to dance.

The priest, who had given the sermon in the church across the road from the hall just before the party, gave the blessing, and then went to wash the dishes. There was a dance instructor, and we danced, though this was the beginning of my mate’s yet undiagnosed illness, and he was not up to many sets. I had a lovely time, met some new folks, and went home  tired and cheerful instead of frustrated and disappointed, which has been a frequent result to my regular daytime church visits over the years. I say to the pastors, priests, and rabbis out there, if you can’t give an intellectually and spiritually challenging sermon and help people connect deeply over coffee, prayer, or discussion, then throw a foot-stompin’ hoe-down, with biblical refreshments served.

 

 

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Testing, testing, testing, eight, nine, ten…

What do you think about standardized testing in the life of a homeschool family? Is it:

  • Necessary for the parent, and future teachers, to gain information about their children’s progress?
  • Unnecessary because homeschool parent know their students and have a higher investment in their success?
  • Useful if conducted in an alternative, personalized form?
  • Merely a waste of time and money?
  • Misleading and harmful to students?
  • A necessary evil, since the law requires it and kids will experience testing some day?
  • A travesty of the best educational principles and something to be resisted?

Washington State law says that:

a. Homeschooled students between the ages of 8 and 18 must be annually evaluated using an approved standardized achievement test or a written non-test assessment.
b. Standardized test scores and/or written evaluations are to be kept as part of your child’s permanent records.
c. If your child transfers to a public or private school, copies of tests results are to be provided if requested.

At first I thought nothing of this requirement, nor of the one that I register each child when eight years of age as a homeschooler. One piece of paper to the district, a few days to a week of testing per year, and wouldn’t I get some useful data after all? Personally, I enjoyed standardized tests as a kid. So on a friend’s advice, I ordered Iowa grade school SATs, which could be administered at home by a parent with an undergrad degree.

Over the years I’ve developed a more ambivalent attitude about standardized testing, leaning toward the negative.

Real homeschoolers are very aware of their children’s academic progress and motivated to do their best for and with them. The testing rules are there because some parents have not been responsible. At least I suppose that’s the reason. Or because someone assumed it was a good idea, do make everyone “equal.” Of course it would be relatively easy for a parent to avoid any sort of registration of their children as “school age” at all, and they could stay under the radar and not bother with the rules at all, unless someone ratted on them. But if they take the time to follow testing rules, here’s what can happen:

They can communicate the message to their children, that

  • the common curriculum, with its standardized and graded content, sequence, and omissions, is the proper curriculum
  • multiple choice tests are good for evaluating useful knowledge and skills
  • failure to achieve high test scores is cause for concern

Maybe another reason for tests is that they trick some parents into thinking, because their kids don’t do the state scope and sequence, that they’d better buy the What your –Grader Needs to Know series by E.D.Hirsch and get with the program or their kid will be left behind. No child left behind, right? Behind what? The bandwagon, I guess. So even though school people talk about individualized learning and unique potential, standards are the backbone of the system, because, after all, it’s a more efficient way to run, evaluate, fund, and tweak a machine.

I wanted to test my students at home rather than in a group session to lessen their stress levels and distractions, as well as set a flexible schedule. We set aside a week each spring for testing–some students take only a few days, others space their sessions out over a longer period. I try to set a comfortable pace for each student and one that works for the family. I now order only the test of basic skills, having found the other tests an unnecessary expense of money, time, and energy.

The first time I gave my oldest son his test at age eight, I stressed about it, he stressed about it, even though I knew, and told him, that his test results would not reflect on his intelligence or abilities. He was a late reader, so he struggled with most of the language arts questions, except those I could read aloud to test his vocabulary. He did poorly on reading comprehension until his reading skills took off around age eleven, and the tests before that age did nothing for him but undermine his self confidence. I had to talk him through it, reassuring him that he was plenty smart and the test makers just couldn’t account for differences. I just wanted a general idea of what he did and didn’t yet know. I probably should have let him skip certain sections entirely. I realize now I was being hypocritical telling him it was completely normal that his reading abilities were on a different schedule, yet forcing him to labor through each question as if it was important to get a score. I even checked for errors when he was done and took notes on what he “should” know before the year was out. I remember he had trouble on a social studies question that showed an illustration of a teacher writing on a blackboard and asked what was the job of that person. He had no idea, because he’d never seen a blackboard!

My daughter had an even harder time with testing, and I thought we’d never get through. Although she was an early reader and good speller, she absolutely hated being time tested, and became very upset despite my reassurances. I plied her with hot chocolate, encouraged her to breathe deeply, and hoped that the experience taking a test would help her in the future, in institutional settings where such things were an unfortunate necessity to sort the masses out onto the bell curve.

The math section can be useful, I think, as one can test arithmetic better than other skills. But the kids and I know that there’s not much correlation in the science and social studies questions with our own “scope and sequence.” I didn’t even do any formal US history for the first several years I taught my kids–we studied ancient world history, Asia and the Middle East (including living there for over two years), first. And our science was mainly outdoor observation and drawing, reading together, vegetable gardening, and field trips.

By this time my children know not to stress about the topics we haven’t covered (most of which can be covered in one minute or less for testing purposes, if we were into that), and chuckle at the questions that oversimplify concepts and have to be “dumbed down” to make sense. Or the “cross cultural” elements with which my children weren’t familiar such as the picture of a teacher erasing a blackboard, something my kids had never seen.

We took my kids overseas in the middle of our homeschooling years, and we stayed under the radar there, continuing to homeschool and partake of some of the public schooling there part time. So my younger two had no experience with testing until we got home, and I don’t remember any stress about it–maybe because being home at all was such a treat after those years of trying to figure things out, learning a new language, and being away from our homeschooling buddies and family.

My kids started their first public school at various ages–the oldest as a freshman in high school, the youngest in third grade. Testing in school was even worse. Several weeks long, complete secrecy asked about the test contents, a score printout mailed many weeks later. The teachers privately resented it, but making time and prepping beforehand was all part of one’s duty to make the principal look good. No one mentioned the option to opt out, but we did whenever my kids wanted to, so I probably became known to the local middle school principal mainly as one of those test refusers. Later when returned to teaching, I felt awkward about subbing there.

Then I came on as a longer term sub, and after that started a contract position part time, and later settled into the full time position I have now. I have zipped my lips to be a good employee, too, but I feel exactly the same as I did about the tests. I’m working with homeschoolers now, to many of them know not to take the numbers too seriously, but let things reveal themselves through working with their children and through conversations with us who work with them part time at school. I have to say, we do use our scores to alert us to students who need a closer look, and/or to our methods, materials, and levels of support in math and English language arts. And we watch in amusement as various administrations at various levels shift and swing on quantities, areas, frequencies and uses of standardized tests, trying to please everyone. We conform, but keep our own council about student progress, informed by working closely with them, using tailor-made assessments so we can turn our instruction and support on a dime, and recognize the wonderful variety in learning styles, expressions, and rhythms across each class and grade.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2018 in Education, Parenting & Family

 

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Social evolution can proceed if it causes the genes (and memes) that carry its seeds to replicate better than the competition

Did you know that the biological definition of the “female” of a species is the one which produces relatively few nutrient-rich, low-mobility gametes (sex cells), and the “male” is the one which produces abundant, highly mobile but fragile ones? In human meiosis, the process by which a stem cell divides into gametes, each with only a half set of chromosomes, only one of the ova daughter cells survives of the four, and contains a disproportionate quantity of resources. All four male gametes normally survive in the production of sperm. The way eggs and sperm carry the genetic material of the parent is pretty much identical, except that the egg always carries an X chromosome, and the sperm may carry either X or Y, and which determines the chromosomal sex of the offspring.

In some species, sex switches depending on need. I don’t mean gender roles or behaviors, I mean the ability to produce a different kind of sex cell. Since we are used to thinking of male and female as genetically determined because we know about X and Y-chromosomes in humans, that seems strange, but in those species, sex changes occur if there aren’t enough of one or the other kind of gamete for fertilization to occur (the male gamete finds and fuses with the nutrient-rich female gamete). The fact that this dimorphism is so common across species means it has been successful in many environments too.

Another strategy that is common and therefore must work well in certain conditions is hermaphrodism, where one organism can produce both eggs and sperm, but cross-fertilization is still preferable for the variety of offspring characteristics that result. Variety being a kind of insurance that sets of genes will confer fitness in a variety of conditions. Many plants are hermaphroditic, as are earthworms, ensuring their ability to produce offspring even without contact with the gametes of a different organism, and to combine gametes of any other individual, without any “opposite sex.”

I started thinking about these things when reading a blog I came across which featured a seemingly endless series of posts, back and forth about gender roles, the usual interesting, controversial, socially and culturally constructed viewpoints debated, variously labelled “left,” “conservative,” “moronic,” and so on. There was an utter absence of consideration of biology and biological evolution. All the participants were extremely sharp, sarcastic, opinionated, strong-willed, and funny (except, apparently, for one, who kept being accused of being a troll because he kept posting polite, neutral questions). But all they did was rip apart social norms from previous eras or other societies on the grounds that–this was not spoken but seemed to be implied–they were inherently inferior because we are now enlightened and have a voice and can rise up and right the wrongs… no, that’s not quite it. I think the word that fits perfectly to describe what they objected to was the fact that these norms were primitive. Yes, this is the right word; it means, merely, “closer to the earlier form.” So what our blogger and her commenters were engaged in, in trying to shake off the primitive, was trying to generate evolutionary pressure. Evolutionary pressure often does cause change, a lot or a little, but not always — it can also cause extinction.

If one can use the theory of evolution (change) by natural selection, it should be true that attempts to change social norms only work if new points of view result in higher rates of replication and transmission in the populations in which their views are prevalent, and/or causes other populations with competing (more primitive) views to have a lower reproductive or survival rate. This is both a social (memes) and a biological (genetic) process (social being a subcategory of biological).

Examples of other kinds of social constructs that have been adaptive (read: generating more offspring over the long term and/or out competing other constructs in any given environment): Patriarchical societies where the female steps back to allow a man to go through the door first. Or where man hold the door for women and children. The males getting to sit in the front seats of the car. The idea of the sacredness of virginity. Polygamy, monogamy, matriarchy, monarchy, egalitarianism, infanticide, nuclear families, baptism, literature, mythology, neckties, tattoos, suicide, gender fluidity, and so on. Such traditions result from evolutionary processes such as natural selection, but also a complex mixture of chance, luck, and natural disasters — not all behaviors and social constructs that arise would increase fitness on a level playing field–some are pretty random and persist for random reasons. Evolution doesn’t even lead to anything “superior”–there is no superior in the way we like to think of it–a combination of power over nature, power over inferior races and species, or, as many less “primitive” societies prefer, peace and goodwill, advanced intellect, civilization, and ecological sustainability. Superiority is a relative social idea, while evolutionary fitness, possession of better adaptation, and has to do with replicability under a variety of conditions.

My daughter was commenting today on how strange it was that so many young people seem to think that because gender is a social construct, it must be eradicated. I said that going out to coffee for a chat was also a social construct, so maybe we should eradicate that, too. Social constructs are neutral, as are genetic variations, The proof is in the putting, and we are part of the putters, and can’t get outside the construct in order to objectively judge it. Am I making sense?

Disclaimer: This was an experiment.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2018 in Culture & Society, Ideas

 

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Molding the clay

Beautiful rain, dripping from the evergreens, dribbling down the pink slopes of the foxgloves planted by the front path, and still the hummingbirds are at it, whizzing from flower to flower eating bugs and drinking nectar from the kale flowers, borage, whatever’s open. The rain is such a relief after weeks of dryness, and much as I loved the clear, warm air and the way my tomatoes put out flowers and shoots in the warm nights. But I had to irrigate, which seems so unnatural. Some day I’d like to try to get through a whole summer without watering from the city system, instead using only stored rain and gray water. A bucket in the sink poured out over one bed of vegetables or herbs at a time is a start, but I’d love to collect the rainwater all spring and mete it out all summer, like the glaciers have done for the forests and meadows until recently. Keeping the soil covered with low growing clover, grass clippings, or just weeds pulled and left to decompose, keeps a lot of moisture in, and watering infrequently but deeply encourages roots to go deep. My clay holds on to its moisture, too much in other seasons, but a welcome property in the warm months. I read on every plant label that what is wanted is well drained soil, but that kind, when I work with it, purchased from the dealers in topsoil removal or manufacture, makes me tired, demanding continual watering and burning through the compost so fast I can’t keep up. Clay is good enough for the cedar, the Douglas firs, the Oregon grape, the huckleberries, and the foxgloves, so it’s good enough for me. I’ll work with my clay, slow, cool, fine, just fine.

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2018 in Beautiful Earth

 

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