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Category Archives: Economics

End of summer regrets and anticipations

I’m going to try to get at the root of my feelings here. I’ll have to part the complicated net of stress about various things–starting a new teaching job, not having done enough planning for the time I have left before classes start, wondering whether I will make some new friends there, if the commute will bother me much. Put aside my sense of regret at not having the time I wanted for concentrating on my two youngest children’s journey and growth, or my own projects. A sense of loss at having had to say goodbye to the school I so enjoyed working at last year.

I’ll have to brush away the awareness of my diminished energy as I age, the early signals of impending menopause. Have to put aside the sense of sadness about saying goodbye to my two oldest children as they head off to college, and the sad changes in my extended family that have begun to occur more frequently. The awareness of a need to process with my mate some of the conflicts and negative patterns that we have developed so that we can head into this new phase in the right spirit.

And now, just as I have come to place where I should start the paragraph about why I am motivated to teach after all, restoring my sense of purpose and vision, I have succeeded in disheartening myself. I have created a picture in which I am turning my back on the duties, delights and calling of my own abode to serve other families’ children in the “greater society.” And so ultimately I reveal my bias that deep down I feel that charity begins at home. But apparently I also believe if that charity is hard to muster or is not received in the way I am able to offer it, or if one has to lay up a bigger nest egg or refine marketable skills, then it’s time to go out and get a job. It’s good for a home maker to get out there and broaden her horizons, to see what she can do, to be recognized, paid for once, for her skills and service. To meet new people, try new things. And, they say, it’s good for the kids to see that you’re not just a mother, wife, home maker, domestic engineer. That you “have a life” outside raising them.

Yesterday afternoon my husband helped me put together the new cider press I bought. It sits in the living room, a handsome classic in wood and cast iron, ready to grind and juice the harvest of apples I have grown or got permission to glean.

On the floor in the kitchen sits my canning pot and two boxes of jars and lids, ready to hold sauce made from two large bowls of fresh tomatoes on the counter. Outside the basil is ready to pick and dry, the savory and onion seedlings ready to plant.

In the garage I have stored the parts of a chair I refinished and the pillows I recovered, needing a few day of labor to finish up repairs and reassemble. Also there is a laundry plunger, which I had planned to use to set up a non-electric laundry system that would get our things much cleaner than the half-hearted tumbling actions of our handsome new front loader from the big box store. My sewing and craft supplies are stored there, too, not used except in cases of necessity.

I have ideas for a writing project, a yard redo, a bicycle storage shed, an organic permaculture expansion. Somewhere I stored away my daughter’s partially finished quilt, and fabric for projects I was going to do with the kids to teach them to sew.

Out of my office window (I have to vacate in a few weeks) I see a father and small son heading past the dock on a standup paddle board. I bought one of those, too this spring, and have not yet found the time to use it. Since my foot and knee started complaining, I have been hoping to transition to more water based exercise and cycling. Last week my husband was urging me to shop for bicycles now that they are on sale, knowing mine is shot and that I’d wanted to ditch the car for a good commuter bike when I had the chance. I had to tell him it’s still not practical, since we have no bike storage, and now my job is twenty miles away up a busy route.

Outside in the boat repair yard I spy a woman sitting on her dry docked sail boat taking a break. She drove here to be by herself and decided it’s better to sit on a boat in a parking lot than wait months for the time and money to repair it and get it on the water. It’s a Sunday, and I think she expected to have privacy, to be able to feel the sea breeze, hear the lines snapping and gulls cry while she collected her thoughts, or let them go.

Let them go. Let it be. See the positive. The medicine for my soul’s illness I can find within. God is in control, and in all things he works for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Look on the bright side. Stop it, in other words.

I can do that. I have this sad ability to switch off certain emotions if I decide that they are processing badly. Not sure where they go, but I can suddenly stow them away and apparently move on. It’s been good to get them out there, and maybe that’s part of the coming to terms.

On to what I hope to accomplish this year, so as to begin with the end in mind.

The teaching of math part really doesn’t grab me, I’ll have to admit. So in my math classes, other than to help the students get the grounding and practice they need, I just want to help them get along and to know that they are valuable and important, part of a community, responsible for their own success. My job is to stay a few steps ahead, come up with various ways to teach to various students, and have a management system in place that helps them pace themselves as they get the work done at school and at home.

Preparing to teach biology (two classes) and environmental science (one) are absorbing much more of my time and energy. This is where I’d like to make a long term impact. I hope to instill/nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about life, a good understanding of how living systems work and how science works, what questions we should pursue and how, and how useful science can be to help humans make decisions about how we live personally and organize our economic, social and industrial activities on this planet. I want them to understand that technology has no merit in itself, that it is how we adapt, whether poorly or well, to the realities as we understand. I want them to see the big picture, to get a sense of the possible philosophies that can drive scientific inquiry and technological innovation. I want them to choose quality, equity, justice, love, whether they go into agriculture, nursing, journalism, or management.

And so, writing this out was helpful after all, and has sort of a happy ending, all things considered, some more than others.

 

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In which the teacher wonders whether she will be able to fit in at her new school

More on the job search; new development: I got a full time position. Nice to know a month before starting–lots of time to plan, but maybe too much time to brood. Now there’s just a week, and I’m still feeling unsure.

I had hoped to be called by my district–the one I live in and which gave me the job I finished in June–about a middle school science or high school biology job. I thought I had a pretty good shot at it, with experience, good references, a few connections. But the weeks went by after my application was in, and no calls, no emails, and then “position filled” on the jobs website, same as last year. Also hoped to be able to bike to work, was poised to buy the bike, set up the storage rack inside the garage, now to be vacated by college age child. But no response to the applications I put in.

Six nearby districts had no relevant postings at all. The seventh had a maybe–a posting for high school math and science at an alternative school I’d never heard of, serving homeschooled students. I read the requirements, and I was a one hundred percent match, and more. So I applied, and got a call the next week, had my interview set up for that Friday. I should have been pumped– full time, alternative, fully qualified. The forty minute commute was regrettable, but we had been looking around for properties, and could easily settle closer if things worked out in that district.

But it was in that very religiously conservative town that I’ve written of before, the one I’ve never been interested in living in, never felt I fit in culturally. Even when I was more religious I was never conservative enough in the right ways, felt too edgy, likely to offend or be judged. On paper I looked like a good fit, but deep down I wondered if I would fit in. The school served homeschool families exclusively in a parent partnership model, which meant I needed to bridge those worlds and be super flexible about the different ways families approached education, which working within the public education professional paradigm.

I didn’t prepare much–just refreshed my mind with notes I’d taken for previous interviews, and wrote down my questions for them. My goal was to find out if this job would keep me on track for working with some of the “tougher” kids in the system, preferably back in the city, and maybe even in the school I worked in last year, after it had its new, larger building and needed more science teachers. I interviewed with the principal, who also teaches part time, and a teacher leader who was serving as a kind of assistant principal.

The school uses part of a building shared by a church and several other Christian ministries, including health services (free pregnancy tests) and a clothing distribution center. The principal and teacher were sharing a joke when I walked in the outer door, warmly asked me to wait a few minutes, then I was invited into the office. They asked me to tell about myself, nodded with appreciation at the places in my narrative that indicated a fit to the position. Asked me what was the worst lesson I ever taught. I said I couldn’t think of a specific one, but in general I mostly regretted times when I talked too much and listened too little, or where I was not relaxed enough to be myself and teach in my natural way. The teacher asked me whether I had used a particular curriculum as a homeschooler. I was prepared for this, having resolved not to let on that I had raised my children in Christianity, feeling that this information had no legitimate place in a public school teacher interview. I said I had used various things, and a literature rich approach. She pressed, which approach was that? I confessed that I had used Sonlight Curriculum. Ah, they both sighed in satisfaction–that was a good one. So the cat was partially out of the bag.

I asked them what they felt were the strengths of their school, and the challenges. Strengths were the tight knit team and close community of the student body, challenges included dealing with strong willed parents. Tied to that, I asked them if in the course of teaching some aspects of biology to children of conservative Christians, there sometimes arose conflicts over certain scientific ideas such as evolution. Because although I was brought up a believer, I only became familiar with creationism later, I said. I was interested in others’ viewpoints, indeed had sought out creationist books at a homeschool book fair to see what the most educated creationists had to say. Yes, sometimes, the principal said, there were sometimes parents who objected, but he would be there to help deal with that, and besides, he said, you don’t have to teach everything. This got my attention, as it implied that it might be best to sidestep such conflicts by cutting out science content. For example, he continued, once he worked at a school where the librarian wanted to have Harry Potter books in the library, and he had said to her that he had nothing against having books like that, but why did she have to have them?

By this I understood that, at the very least, this was a principal of the Golden Retriever personality type, a peacemaker who doesn’t stand up for principles where that brings interpersonal conflict. That’s a red flag for me, as I enjoy bringing up and discussing controversial issues in order to learn and teach, and do try to adhere to principles of truth even when that brings on some heat. Not that peace making isn’t an important principle also, and it could be a great thing to work with an administrator who prioritizes mutual good feeling. It all makes me wonder about the balance between teaching from who I am, which includes teaching about evolution, sex ed, whatever, because these are important science, and the need to respect local community values and parental authority over children’s education. That last was big for me as a homeschooling parent–I didn’t appreciate a paternalistic attitude in school personnel, as I viewed them as having only delegated authority and only over a certain aspects of children’s lives. But I do have values to inculcate as a teacher, too, and that includes a respect for reason, logic, and empirical evidence.

I got a call from the principal as I was pulling into the fabric store on the way home. He offered me the job, said he had already spoken to my references, and would be please to hear my answer that Monday, if that worked for me. I thanked him and said I would give it careful thought. I accepted the job on Monday, not having been able to give the final word to my red flags, glad to have a full time opportunity, and knowing I would benefit from the need to learn the curricula for all six courses I would be teaching. Six is a lot, but only Mondays and Wednesdays and heavily supported by home assignments supervised by parents.

My other source of discontent is that I don’t really feel that homeschool kids need the kind of support I want to give. The have supportive families, are economically stable enough to be homeschooled, and are mostly independent, self- motivated learners. I really wanted to get back into serving the tough kids, the kids who didn’t fit, the kids who had something that needed to be discovered and busted out in a special supportive setting, who were the ones mostly driving the best efforts of education leaders and making schools a more authentic place of learning and growth. I missed my school from last year.

There is one way in which I could see these homeschool students, the ones from the religiously conservative families, needing, at least in my mind, what I had to give. I could maybe get some of them them hooked on biology/ecology, more knowledgeable about the natural/created world, help them understand the value of rational scientific thinking about it and see it as a powerful aid to growth and developing purpose rather than a tool of the enemy. I grew up on the hymn “This is My Father’s World,” my earthly father reinforced the Bible’s teaching on stewardship, and I enjoyed and still enjoy reading the Psalms for the way they celebrate the beauty and power of the creation. Later my conservative Christian teachers emphasized, in reaction to New Age religion, that we are to worship the Creator rather than creation, which I had though was a no-brainer, but whatever. The only people with whom I shared the values of living lightly, recycling, cutting down on energy use and preserving biodiversity, besides my father, one Regent College professor, and several friends who I was able to influence, were decidedly non-religious. Inter-Varsity Press, NavPress and Multnomah Press books on how to live the Christian life, think critically and biblically about the issues, were light on stewardship. I was aware that liberal Christians were more into environmental conservation, but they were not very helpful in the struggle with personal morality and purity of thought life.

I’m planning my biology and environmental science classes now, and intend to do what I can to support critical thinking, evidence-based reasoning, and the development of an environmental ethic rooted in a value for sustainability. In other words, let’s understand natural systems, lets’ understand how humans depend on and affect them, and let’s not promote the destruction of human society. Valuing all other life forms will have to stem from long term self interest with a primal drive rooted in our selfish genes. There is no conservative without conservation, no religion without human society, no traditional values without sustainable traditions. There is no intelligent design of humans in God’s image if those humans don’t know how to design intelligently.

 

 

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Be a teacher and change lives: the only reason worth doing it, including summers off

Mainly I’m a volunteer, supported by tech dollars. So many teachers are, is my guess, especially in science and technology, where getting a better paying job is pretty easy. It would be an interesting study, to see how teachers’ families make it, and how many family members are really supported these days on teachers’ pay. I brought home less than $900 last month–thought there must be some mistake, until I realized I had to take two sick days. Good medical insurance, though, for the whole family, for a few hundred dollars less, too.

Still, I love my job, and am thankful that my husband had parents who both made a huge impact as teachers, and so his heart is in this endeavor too, despite the long hours beyond the four and a half per day in my contract. As if a half an hour before and a half after could be enough for any sort of decent planning, even if I wasn’t in my first year on the job.

My husband’s dad grew up in a logging town, learned everything mechanical, worked as a machinist until he was injured, then got a teaching credential. He had the tough kids in the shop and on the football field, and related to them, being a dyslexic, having moved out of home at sixteen, encouraged to do so by his dad, who had a new, young wife only a few years older than the stepson. Was insecure around the other teachers, got teased even as an adult at not being able to spell words correctly on the blackboard. He had a temper too, but a soft heart for the boys he taught, and he taught them well. Died early, probably from shop fumes plus a botched esophagus operation, and decades later his widow still hears from students whose lives he helped set on a firm foundation, both as a teacher and as a man with an open door policy toward his sons’ friends at home.

My husband’s mother went back to school and then work at Head Start, on her husband’s insistence, in case anything happened to him and he couldn’t work. Proved to be a good move, as a few years later he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and it was a long haul through which his wife cared for him, and had that other space in which to succeed and have a change of scene, as well as be in community. She came to be an administrator, not the usual kind, but a person known for always believing that the caregivers in the child development centers did their best work when believed in and supported rather than checked up on and scolded.

I’m putting away that thought that it takes more now than caring for kids and an interest in helping them learn, more than a desire to make a living sharing what you know while learning more than you could possibly guess about yourself, the subject, the clients, the community, the meaning of existence, more than all that to choose teaching as a profession. Now it’s also about finding something that will pay the bills, keeping up with the rate of inflation, procreation, and non working vacation. And the strain of being so many new things to those kids, doing the impossible or letting it go a little every day.

There seems to be a growing correlation between the growth of a populace poorly educated, easily swayed voters and that failure to fund and design education, and otherwise inspire and support new generations of teachers. Serves us right, I guess, though I don’t know if I’m ready to turn the show over to either the mob, the moneyed, or the intellectual elite just yet.

I’m reading Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed–a nice, slick library copy, and got so fired up I ordered my own copy, all the way from Georgia to my local independednt bookstore, who hadn’t had a copy in the store in the thirty years it has existed.

I feel it–tha tacit go ahead from my fellow workers at the school to make a difference in any way I can, and there’s this articulation in Friere of what I’m hoping to do in some or other semblance. Yes, even as a science teacher. I’ve only read the preface and a few paragraphs of the introduction, and already I have enough burning inside to start working on communicating that choice all these young people have to be a Subject working to transform this world, rather than a victim. First awareness, then criticism, then action. I guess there will have to be a continual influx of hope and idealism, too, cause when life gets ’em down, there’s the why not just smoke some weed and make out some more in the car with the dark windows method, feelin’ good for this moment seems like a good compromise to stressing out or acting out. Been shut down a few times already for getting on my high horse about the evils of weed. My humbler approach will me a mere appeal to come to class mentally alert at least, for the advantage conferred on efforts to learn enough to graduate.

Yesterday we were chatting in my last period class–a remarkable atmosphere there, with some truly cool and very positive people whose attitudes spread to almost everybody when there’s a group project or discussion or tough assignment to do, even though it’s my largest class at eighteen when full. Anyway, the point was to fill in the newer students on the story of how there had been a new science teacher before me who had had to leave…

“Not ‘had‘ to leave, chose to leave,” said one, that hurt still showing.

“It was hard on everyone,” I said, “and I came in new, and the students were like, ‘Oh you, you’re just the new teacher–whatever..’ with this sour attitude.”

“They were sulking, and wouldn’t give you a chance,” said the same student who had spoken before. She hasn’t any patience for anyone’s bad attitude, doesn’t yet see that a lack of empathy can be a problem, too. Though she’s always had my back, for some reason of her own. “Did you know when we found out your name, we FaceBooked you?”

“Yeah, the principal mentioned it. You didn’t Google me, too, did you? What comes up there might have been keeping me from getting a job at all.” Collective gab for the smart phones, eyes lit up in anticipation. “It’s not what you think…” Not a conviction or former career as a stripper or anything,really. But they were hooked.

“There’s a whole article here!” said Mister positive, and he quoted the title.

“Yeah, that’s me.” He starts reading.

“This is awesome!” They perceived the ant-establishment stance, were feeling the support I was trying to give in that letter to the editor, that opposition to the way “socioeconomically disadvantaged” students are forced through loopholes that only cut them down and make them less likely to succeed. And I was starting to think, what was I thinking, mentioning that? Asked them to keep it quiet, at least until I get a permanent job, and the word was, “Sure thing,” so I’m hoping. Still, that search result hasn’t barred me any way from this position sticking up for kids who got diverted here from the mainstream, so be it as it may, whether forgotten or not.

 

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The value added home

How much is a home maker worth to a household, to a community, and to society? Do they earn their keep?

Within a household a home maker provides services that include:

  • house cleaning
  • child care
  • laundry
  • lawn maintenance
  • driving and errands
  • accounting/bookkeeping and related administrative tasks
  • food shopping, meal planning, preparation, service, and cleanup
  • yard maintenance and/or food gardening

Investopedia values these services at $96,261 if they were done in the context of a professional career. All free for the household served by the home maker, who should therefore be highly valued by the other household members and treated accordingly.

Not included but at least as valuable from the perspective of the family unit are:

  • education, training, nurture and emotional support of children before, beside, beyond, because of and/or instead of formal schooling
  • savings in business apparel not needed
  • home security – house is occupied more and at less predictable intervals
  • home organization
  • special skills such as sewing, hair cutting, home repair and improvement, furniture repair and refinishing, interior decorating, financial asset management, landscape design and maintenance
  • food gardening, raising livestock and other forms of production

Home makers also often provide benefits to the community, such as:

  • Keeping an eye on the neighborhood and neighbors
  • Carpooling other children (e.g., of dual income families)
  • Child and pet care for other families
  • Serving and preparing food for neighbors, as well as school, church, team, and other community events
  • Savings in health costs due to healthy food prep
  • Being there for neighbors & friends – someone to talk to, keep an eye on neighborhood during “work” hours, lend and share, help with projects, advice, crisis

Beneficial effects of the role of the home maker on larger society are harder to enumerate, but could include stabilization of communities through the nurture of children, informal social services, lessening demands on government.

However, governments and others tend to view homemaking as a choice of the privileged, nowadays, and not something that should be directly supported by government. In fact, when the services listed above are provided by home makers by choice, the government has very little influence over how these jobs are done and has no mandate in taxation of their services.

  • Lost revenue from employee- and employer-paid taxes
  • Lost business and tax revenue from commercial providers of the services listed above, and from their employees’ paychecks
  • Lost business and tax revenue from the purchase of clothing, products, and services (e.g. hair styling) that create a “professional” image
  • Lost business and tax revenue from sales of ready-made convenience food products from restaurants, delis, and grocery stores
  • Lost business and tax revenue from sales of auto fuel, service, repair and supplies needed for work commute
  • Lost revenue from salaries of government workers in social services, regulation and oversight of industries mentioned above
  • and much more

Billions of dollars in lost revenue, that is. Some of this revenue would go to government social services programs, but the increased need for workers in those services (and the business they generate just by being employed away from home) would provide additional tax revenue.

Home makers can thus be seen as a drain on the economy, part of the unemployed and underemployed. They also generally operate outside of the influence of regulation, so can legally bring up their charges in a variety of ways, to adopt a variety of perspectives, and have a tendency to see the family unit as the main building block of society, and community after that, rather than any -ocracy, protocol, or state mandate. They form cells of like minded people, which interferes at times with the melting of the pot and large scale cultural diffusion (though not with true multiculturalism). They are even allowed to mix religion with the education of their children. Also, ideally, they teach their children skills that keep them equally independent of the various branches of the care giving economy listed above, perpetuating the problem.

Hence the state has very little incentive to support the role of the homemaker. Other important social roles can also be seen this way–the non-professional healer, the friend in need/shoulder to lean on, the folk musician, the elder, the volunteer teacher or mentor, the spiritual or relationship guide.

In other words, homemakers, don’t be surprised at the pull into the work place, the temptation to dislike and devalue your work, the pressure to hand it off and get a paying job at something more “satisfying,” the isolation you feel as others move on out of those community connections. Don’t be surprised when in asking the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” no one will openly aspire to be a home maker. The fact that the role still exists at all, even in industrialized society, is a testament to its inherent value, and maybe that will have to be enough for now.

 

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2015 in Culture & Society, Economics

 

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Will it be the hot water bath or the pressure cooker? Or hung out to dry?

Will it be the hot water bath or the pressure cooker? Or hung out to dry?

An uncle in my husband’s family, now deceased, made it his mission to collect all the family records, photos, and news, and organize them into albums. Now and then my mother-in-law would forward a request from him–she was the one most in tune with my husband’s branch–for current photos or dates of significant events. It pleased me that someone was taking the time, and that he extended his attention to anyone grafted in to the branch of the family he had married into (he was probably keeping records of his birth lineage also). Someone might want this information some day, even need it, and he didn’t want it to be lost.

I am in the thick of preservation of a different kind this fall, as the tomatoes, plums, and apples pile up and I boil up sauces and jam and pack and boil the jars, slice and array fruit on screens, bunch herbs to hang from the light fixtures, roll seeds out of their crackling pods and blow off the chaff. As well as putting food by, I am preserving the tradition of my parents, who did this kind of thing. Instead of settling in the suburbs and shopping and the superstore, though their children tried to drag them into the late twentieth century where life looked so much more socially acceptable. For some reason the subsistence of my dad’s parents on rabbit, fish and salmon from the Gander River watershed never left him traumatized and clamoring for economic progress and a “higher” standard of living. He still had Shakespeare and art, and the salty bay to swim in. My mom’s folks weren’t exactly subsistence, but living by the river with a teacher mom and a journalist/gentleman farmer dad, she caught on to the handwork that makes a home from scratch, and being a hardworking, creative person, used it as a creative outlet. Said the best wool for dying and hooking into rugs came from her dad’s old stump socks. Living in the sticks between the St. Nicholas River, she still picked up Acadian French culture at the hardware store and overheard interviews her dad conducted in the living room with the reel to reel, heard the clacking of the typewriter on the roll top desk. It was all a kind of free range parenting, I guess.

Because of my parents’ decision not to get a television–it really hinged on that, which makes me very skeptical now of the rush to get all children “connected,” I picked up a few things too. Not so much through being formally trained, but because I saw that using the sewing machine, paint, pen, wood and whatever, was a way to get things done–to create, capture, produce, build, get a meal without getting a ride into town. And other than being coerced into helping with weeding or grinding or winding wool now and then, I was free range, too.There was school, but homework wasn’t demanding and could be done on the bus, and sports was floor hockey or touch football with the principal and vice principal before the late bus came, so it didn’t take up much time. Time, a world of books and the outdoors, free of so-called twenty-first century essentials, was for the mind of a child like warm, damp compost to worms.

In the old days, seasons came–fishing season, planting, haying, harvesting, hunting, storing away, and winter trapping, and someone was around doing similar work and able to lend a hand—neighbor, spouse, child or uncle. Now, when anyone an be anything they want to be and we lean on a college education and the world economy for our livings, seasons are interchangeable in the global economy, and there’s always something more fun and entertaining to do than hoe the garden, weed, pick berries, shell peas, or make apple sauce. So I’m often alone in the garden and in the kitchen. Alone experiencing the satisfaction of accomplishment and sense of security and good sense (as I add up the savings in grocery bills and fuel costs, and possibly health costs) of a job well done. Here’s to home economics and shop.

Here’s my justification for the reintroduction of home economics shop into the curriculum: No matter whether robots take over our carpet cleaning, factory work,  telemarketing, and lab research, being capable of growing food (along with finding wild food) can never completely become obsolete. Nor mechanized—it’s both too complex, requiring intelligence, adaptability, physical strength and endurance, and creativity, and too simple, relying on fundamentals like sunshine, microbial life, rain and air, all of which have no technological substitute. The temptation to modernize, mechanize, and outsource is there, but one soon finds that the costs outweigh the benefits. Growing and storing food handy to the house is immensely satisfying, meeting the human need to labor and build, providing great opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth, and enhanced by team work and community. There is rhythm, change, beauty, and surprise. There is the call to be creative and innovative within the complex rules of ecology and the limits of conditions and available supplies. There is abundant life, from the succulent Swiss chard and rambling pumpkin vines to the daily visits of hummingbirds, discoveries of multicolored varieties of leaf hoppers and spiders, pollinators large and small. In this season, there’s a sense of the miracle of such abundance, as I go back again and again to fill yet another bowl or basket with produce. Then as the shadows of the trees lengthen across the yard I heat up water, slice and blend and boil and hope that this time we can get through an entire winter without buying store potatoes, frozen beans, or dried oregano. Certainly we’re good on tomato sauce and applesauce.

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Just missed an interview on CBC which I could possibly have tied into this post, which was meant to be about refusing to focus on success according to standards that one deems unworthy. Probably not, though–the interviewee had written a book about how great it was to quit, which is not exactly what I mean, though it seems to be a similar sort of IN YOUR FACE attitude. I’m seeing so many folks in education, for example, trying to measure up to those hyped up, advertised, promoted, propagandized, peer pressured, internationally benchmarked, mandated, brainstormed standards of success, designed to get our young to the top of the heap, every last worthy one. One would hope not to be striving like the caterpillars in Hope for the Flowers, which climbed blindly over the backs of others, crushing all others in their paths, to get up to, well, I recommend you read the story. This is just a bit of (federally and regionally mandated) friendly competition (CASH PRIZES) among ourselves in which all of us (must) win (RACE TO THE TOP), and the ones who don’t, well, who they are depends on your inherited style of blindness; they would have brought it upon themselves to be crushed anyway. Practically begging to be crushed, right down into those cracks between the floorboards, and we can always vacuum, sand and refinish when the grit starts to squeeze out like little ant hills between the slats. But I didn’t mean to mention them–don’t even look there between those boards under your feet. Anyone can succeed in America, you just have to follow your dreams and believe in yourself, and don’t stay on welfare longer than you really need to, even if it means a cut in pay and deteriorating health.

My observations as a parent, substitute teacher, and district home tutor (who gets around, keeps her finger to the wind, keeps her eyes and ears peeled), as well as my research into these things, makes me think we need more everyday folks (defined as too busy or focused on other things, but still in agreement) to get with the radicals (haven’t we seen that opportunity before in history regrettably lost?) and resist reliance on common academic standards imposed from above (with assistance from corporate America). Not just for the reason that so far they seem to be pretty low standards, slapped together and expedited and skillfully networked down almost to the grass roots by savvy business people who have their own public relations departments, but faulty, and skewed toward digitally accessible and numerically testable knowledge and skills–surely a small subset of the world of worthwhile knowledge. Not just because they’re generating a wave of curriculum materials that aim to meet the standards without meaningful participation from teacher’s hearts and minds. Not just because they minimize important aspects of education such as mathematical accuracy, reading for enjoyment, discovery of personal writing voice, clarity, and the kind of critical thinking that leads to conclusions that might impede the workings of this great new, progressive, twenty-first century, economy-building machine. But I object to them because I’m considering the source: powerful people whose education and training (for the twenty-first century) occurred primarily on Wall Street or at the helm of an ice-breaking, groundbreaking private enterprise that now dominates that street.

But I still can still hold my tongue in the teacher lunchroom (barely–easier when the talk is all football or lunch recipes), and in job interviews (should I have one soon), about how the education of children is fundamentally the right and responsibility of parents, not the state. That local schools and their teachers have a delegated task, delegated by parents and community elders, not by the state. And personal choices in education, such as home schooling, unschooling, and of course non-state schools and community cooperatives, don’t even have to involve the state much at all. The best school districts understand that chain of command, and the most responsible parents don’t delegate that responsibility (if they do) lightly. But things get muddied by the way the money moves around. For this explanation I consulted my state’s summary of that, found here. A very interesting document, whose tab someone misspelled for a little humor. There’s a helpful “page intentionally left blank” right after the cover page so one can mentally prepare after reading the imposing title. Another one after the first subtitle page. Oh, and another, and…in total, there are–I counted them–sixteen, not including the ten additional pages whose content–titles and tables and contact information–could have been formatted into the previous or following pages. Perhaps for a little low impact “test” for the auditors of state school funds, to see if they notice that every “intentionally left blank” page printed costs $0.06, and is that being well spent? It might be worth paying the auditor at least that much to tell us the wasted total. Not to mention that of the additional typist time to vary the wording on some of the blank pages to “This page left blank intentionally.” “Blank” being inaccurate, and perhaps a staff writer could be called in to fix that–I suggest “This page contains only this statement,” to instill confidence in the accuracy and importance of the other information presented in the document.

Just as an aside: I have to say the document “Organization and Financing of WA State Schools “referred to above is a fine work. I myself would have enjoyed writing it, as I take pleasure in creating detailed, complete, organized accounts of how things are and have been done, with charts and graphs and beautifully written and edited sections and subsections. Although when I do, part of my conscience tweets that most of the time such documents are completely unnecessary where the doers themselves are wise and trustworthy. That would be the ideal scenario, since the creating of finance and budget documents is rather expensive, though great for job creation if the additional funding can be attracted from sources other than that earmarked for items that directly improve classroom practice. Perhaps that’s a grant proposal that could be submitted to the Gates Foundation as well as the Waltons, rather than allowing them to mess with actual instructional content like we do. Maybe Microsoft can even glean some helpful data points from the online habits of the “This page is intentionally left blank” writers while they work, leaving school children to key in their responses unobserved.

I am starting to sound a bit frothy, if not exactly flaky, no? Shall I give you my homemade granola recipe (yogurt recipe here) and call it a night? Then at least I can be useful to those of you of a practical and earthy disposition. I feel I’m that, too, though it might not show. Today I didn’t even curl my hair, and I only do so on week days because it helps me fit in so I can infiltrate the system. Besides, I like the smell of scorched keratin–brings me back to my teen days when I’d stand in front of the utility sink getting ready to board the bus for that forty-five minute trip, then fearfully walk the school halls as my blonde curls relaxed to their incorrigible straightness, which at that time was not fashionable. I wanted wavy hair, whiter teeth, and a curvaceous bust. My hair started to wave of its own accord in my thirties, and I can use bleach on my teeth these days, but apart from my eight years of breast feeding, I have had to accept that I will never have trouble with excessive bouncing when I run, or be able to float on my back and read, except in the Dead Sea.

I just said good day to a fascinating person, K, whom I recognized on entering as a woman I met on a local pebble beach a few months ago. With mixed feelings I recalled our meeting, and now that I’ve talked with her again they are still mixed. Remember the retired Vietnam pilot in “Independence Day” who claimed to have been kidnapped by aliens, then when they show up to conquer earth, he volunteers to be in the defense squadron and saves the day? Like that, except not an alcoholic, and those who are after her are her relations and the Mexican mafia. She plans to run for President as soon as she can, or get Canadian citizenship, since the Canadian government is the only one who is willing to look into the shadowy efforts of her relations and the Mexican drug mafia to disinherit her of her legacy of a twelve piece matched set of Tibetan prayer bowls and her writings. When I told her it sounded a little flaky, she assured me that it did unless one had the education to understand these things, and that ionized (or was it deionized?) water was the thing to make a person less susceptible to innuendo. Innuendo, as in do re mi; other word plays with musical and conspiracy allusions were listed. And that Hillary Clinton had already been in the White House as First Lady, and so it wouldn’t be right for her to have another term, nor Bill to get the First Gentleman (First Mate?) position so soon. And anyway, he can’t be trusted if he’d lie about sex. She was articulate, and sensible (except for the flaky stuff, but I acknowledge that could be my ignorance or blindness), and had pretty healthy social boundaries (on the extroverted side, of course). But we were talking loud, and when she went out to get another log for the fire, I apologized to the other occupant of the room for dominating the audio space, and told K I needed to do my quiet work now, so we signed off.

The fire is burning properly in the grate, dusk is falling, and all the interesting people who are coming in out of the misty street, who all seem to be acquainted with one another, are deciding whether to go watch the Sea Hawks game. I believe I’ve got more than the value of the price I paid for my blue bowl-shaped mug of latte and oatmeal chocolate chip cookie (same recipe I use–I’ll share that one soon, too). So, though the phrase may be under copyright, I have to murmur with a contented sigh as I turn for home, life is good.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2015 in Economics, Education

 

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Essentials

How much of our lives and culture is made out of nothing much? Of stuff, whether practices, beliefs, or physical objects, that in hard times would prove valueless and be soon abandoned? How much of our so-called social progress depends on the breakdown and replacement of these artificially menaingful cultural components and artifacts, and avoidance of permanence, depth, durability, true value?

Think of the contents of the average dollar store, say during some holiday season or other. Count necessities and what’s the total?

Think of what’s in your house, those carefully selected items large and small that someone in the household deemed necessary to make a home. Unplug the power for a week, and what’s left? Are you still using the soap, but no longer the clothes washer? Using the wood stove instead of the toaster, the wooden spoon instead of the mixer, the sun and the sound of birdsong rather than the wakeup alarm? Those hand tools and the fishing tackle are looking pretty useful, along with those buckets, that wagon, quality shoes. No radio, no news feed, so you get together with the neighbors to make hay and conversation while the sun shines, and plan the garden. Are you walking down to the farm market for exercise and carrying stuff instead of going to the gym? Thinking about which building will serve as the local community hangout, and who will play the next dance?

What about the books in your library? Copies of ones you read in your youth in which you now see the flaws, works of reference no longer relevant mixed in with some which will always be useful? Cherished life-changing volumes that helped you to see, really see, showed you life, broke through your pain, your egotism, your fear? Field guides? Now they won’t last the next few decades in this damp climate, so what will you keep? Do you have personal stories, family histories, songs and poems committed to memory? The screens are all off, the invasions into your living room by purveyors of vehicle love and the next entertainment series silenced. What will you want now? What’s worth working for?

And what do you have in your person, and here is where it might get a little uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t, no, not at all. Because eve if your place in the global economy has disappeared, you have the DNA for all you need for the local scene, and you’re in that wonderful gene pool of the community that still, even after all that domestication, can work it on this earth, at least enough.

Who are the folks that make up your neighborhood? As the electricity grid decays, the gas runs out, the refugees arrive, who are the pillars of the community now? Not the department store CEO or the hedge fund manager? Not the real estate broker or bank manager, or even the famous local actor or football hero. There’s the bicycle mechanic, the farmer, the philosopher, the minders of children, the story tellers. The builders, teachers, caregivers, preachers, prophets, and poets. The mail carrier, the horseman, the herbalist and the healer. The hunter, the brewer, the worker of stone, of textiles. Hewers of wood and drawers of water. Wise elders and energetic youth.

And how was your holiday?

 

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