RSS

Category Archives: Economics

Spam report

According to the algorithms behind daily email I receive, I am vulnerable to marketing for the following:

  • security doorbells
  • erection medications
  • women’s erotic zone tips
  • prostate support
  • drones
  • blood pressure monitors
  • diabetes cures
  • weight loss products
  • internet and WiFi boosters
  • vehicle trackers
  • connections to hot, sexy babes
  • tinnitus cures
  • (naturally) Coronovirus protection

To a lesser extent I get emails advertising:

  • nail fungus treatments
  • jobs in tech
  • specialized pillows
  • snoring products

Apparently the deluge into one of my email addresses, which I have not experienced in the prior decades of owning it, is connected to taking over my late husband’s email accounts in the same domain. The junk mail started suddenly last year, thirty or so emails daily, all clearly junk, and from randomly varying email addresses.

Fortunately I am relatively impervious to the temptations presented by these appeals to a target they believe is a heterosexual male and in his late fifties. Even if I am starting to wonder about the hissing in my ears when it’s quiet.

In contrast, my Instagram account is presenting ads that are more to my taste: shoes that cure bunions, natural fiber cat caves, comfortable, cute clothing, trays for growing microgreens, dog scratch proofing, reusable bags that keep vegetables fresh. Still, I try not to feast my eyes too long on any colorful, gyrating image, lest in doing so I give myself away. If truly interested in a product I do online research from a different device (clearing cookies regularly). The bunion shoes, alas, are reported to be ineffective.

I get that companies need to advertise, and use tech to target likely consumers. I also like the idea of supporting folks who produce equality, useful products, but only if I really need them or think they will  truly enhance my life or enable me to contribute greater things to my community. But even something that initially excites my interest, unfortunately for the sellers, rarely remains in my mind at that height, as I take my sweet time to gather information and weigh pros and cons, meanwhile getting distracted by the more important or urgent matters of daily living. Even what may appear to others to be an impulse purchase, such as the GoPro Hero 8 video camera I ordered yesterday, or the $20K crawl space encapsulation system installation I scheduled for May, is usually the result of months or years-long internal reflection, culminating in sudden action once I am sure. On my mind, not yet forgotten, are the possibility of a shorty wetsuit, a kayak (I already bought two paddles second hand), a pair of pear or plum trees, a mountain bike (mine died a few years ago), and a used camper van. The last is a long shot, but fun to contemplate. I may instead hire a few young adults to build me a yurt in the back yard, for a make work project and a place for my adult children to hang out between rental homes.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 18, 2020 in Economics, Places & Experiences

 

Tags: , ,

Life is short, and the second law of thermodynamics still applies.

Life is short, and the second law of thermodynamics still applies.

I feel oddly content being semi-confined to my home by necessity, to do my part to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The house is bright with sunlight. Not only am I out of my windowless classroom, I get an extra three days off to spend hours outside in the garden or out on the trails, doing errands when I feel like it. We will be back to working on Thursday, in some form, from home, but I’ll have regained the additional hour of my previous commute, and most likely not feel I need to start an hour and a half early and stay late as I did when classes were in session.

Local confirmed cases of coronavirus remain at three, deaths zero. I have traveled several times to our state’s ground zero to spend time with my boyfriend, yes, and he has visited me. But we had relatively little contact with potentially contaminated areas, I habitually maintain sanitary practices at school; he had been working from home for several months already, his contacts mainly with fellow skiers.

I had plenty of food and other basic supplies before all this started–dried, refrigerated, frozen, and even growing in the garden (kale, onions, chard, herbs). My supply includes several bins of non-perishables from the supply of the recently deceased sister of an acquaintance. She had kept a large emergency supply untouched as she slowly died, apparently of malnutrition.

I just bought early salad seedlings and planted my own flats of seeds. Already I see tiny leaves and stems rising up out of the soil; the rhubarb is unfurling outside and soon there will be asparagus coming up. The currant and haskap bushes are about to flower, and I pulled enough dandelions today to make dandelion root coffee.

Our infrastructure is largely unaffected, with phone and internet communication, online entertainment, information and shopping, power and transportation, other than confined public transport options, as available as ever. It could be months before things return to normal, but I expect to remain healthy, or recover relatively quickly if I do become infected. The return of my daughter from a ski resort in Colorado where she was working presents some risk, but she says a few tests have indicated that the illnesses in her residence seem to be the flu. Our local efforts will continue in any case to protect vulnerable folks from dying earlier that they would otherwise.

One thing that has struck me is that the economic slowdown has brought greenhouse gas emissions way down. Economic recession drives social anxiety and creates human hardship, but is a relief to the biosphere. Maybe this will contribute to a broader conversation about the unsustainability of economic growth, as David Suzuki and others have been warning. I don’t thing that’s an oversimplification, either. Though some argue that there are ways to decouple economic growth and carbon emissions. But even if the economy grows greener, until it becomes more like the economy of natural ecosystems, human society will still be exceeding the biosphere’s constraints. And it makes sense that living systems will sometimes reverse imbalances with large scale adjustments that could include great loss of human life, whether as part of a cycle, or an extinction event or punctuation and dramatic shift in the trajectories of human evolutionary.

This particular pandemic doesn’t seem like that large an event, but it alerts my mind to possible future events, and makes me wonder how all our various global perturbations of Earth’s systems will accumulate and return to bite us. Rather than a Gaia hypothesis or balance of nature-style restoration to equilibrium, with humans ensured a restored Eden-like role, seems more like a combination of this new theory of how life follows the second law of thermodynamics and chaos theory, where slightly different initial conditions and later events can lead to wildly variable results, even if they are deterministic according to the laws of physics.

And so my advice is that, no matter what happens, we be our best selves, and keep on hoping, dreaming, loving, and growing. Life was already short, so let’s try to be at peace with the fact that death is on the way for all of us, one way or another. I expect we will discover, or remember, great powers of resilience and creativity as we deal with the economic fallout of this, and I hope that our social safety net weavers will successfully combat the economic forces that tend to concentrate resources in the hands of the few who are in a position to channel them there during difficult times.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Culture & Society, Economics, science

 

Tags: , , , ,

Labor that may or may not deliver

Meanwhile in attempts to lift poor children from having little or no opportunity to go to that kind of place, or any college, to grow up educated and provide a decent living for their families, Bill Gates and other business entrepreneurs (a.k.a. social entrepreneurs), in partnership with the federal government, have launched their attempt to education everyone with “twentieth century skills,” ready for the work force.

Good, but why does that have to mean, among other things, less reading of fiction in favor of more extraction of meaning from informational text? Why limit the finer opportunities still available to those whose brain functions have not been culled by stress and poverty, who possess the desire and ability to long for deeper connection, more  far-reaching vision, a deeper understanding and expression through the arts and literature. Let’s not dumb down the culture in making it a more egalitarian one, elevate jobs and “productivity” over education in the best sense of the word.

And what about the obvious conflict of interest in having the owners of the tech corporations provide the software and classroom supplies and pedagogical philosophy for these children’s education experiences? We need workers, they say—this is the twentieth century as we envisioned it, so let us help you fit into the future we are creating, and all of us will be better off. If something has to go, let it be anything that makes workers question how we already know we should be doing things. You know, growing the economy, competing with other market powers, preserving the American way of life. Which is democracy in the sense that those with the power to sway the majority (those with  twenty-first century skills–not cumulative up to the twenty-first, but the latest set and open to re-training) can do so efficiently by means of a database so comprehensive and powerful that it allows media and “educational” products to be created that cater to each and every individual learning style.  And the part of democracy that allows us all to choose from fifty kinds of breakfast cereal in the aisles of the local supermarket and either traditional or “Simply” ripple chips, all produced by a few central manufacturing facilities staffed by twenty-first century workers. We can help students learn so effectively the practical skills they need to be “productinve members of a global democratic society” that the neural pathways needed to understand 1984, Brave New World, the MaddAdam trilogy, Animal Farm, The Hunger Games, and That Hideous Strength will be unnecessary and therefore atrophy.

An apology for the convoluted nature of my sentences, and how they go on and on, and have too many clauses. I’ve been told the “Ten Ways You Can …”, say, “Fight the Machine” format is so much more effective, but I haven’t mastered that twenty-first century communication style yet.

This existence of seems so contrived—since when in these thousands of years does one wake and not have to go about making a living? Making in the sense of obtaining food, shelter, and cultural context and materials from teh ecosystem. All aI have to do is create—to write, sew, paint, create and maintain human bonds, and that mainly based on the compulsion of angst about this modern life: what is it? What does it mean? Why are things not fair and I have this free time while others are laboring to the point of exhaustion for bread for their children and something to hide from the drunken consort? Why is it considered more valuable to go into database architecture, or game design, which pay a lot of trade tokens, than being a parent, home maker, friend of neighbors in the community, or teacher? In the division of labor, some make money doing work that is of dubious historic or spiritual value, so that others can do the important, though unpaid, work.

 

Tags: , , , ,

This week I said no a lot.

(Note: this is a post written four years ago that I forgot to publish – for those who know a bit about my family, so as not to be confused)

Heard on CBC’s “The Current” that Canadian parents spend an average of $480 to get stuff for their fifth graders to start school, and $970 for their twelfth graders. Big ticket items are fashion and tech. The advice was to cut back on the tech for elementary grades, since research has shown it takes away from the educational experience. Thank heaven for research. Also highlighted was that tendency for parents to imitate what they thought other parents were doing–to win social acceptance? a competitive edge for their kid? to assuage guilt? Looking at those shopping bags toted through the malls, feeling the panic to get the best selection, pick up the best deals.

Our school district made a smart move a few years ago, deciding not to require kids to buy school supplies, except an optional backpack or binder tote–all the basics would be provided–equality in pencils, notebooks, and planners for all, calculators only when necessary, a few items like organizers, poster board purchased by parents later. No more individualized school supply lists on racks in the big box stores, no more last minute shopping. There’s even a way for low income kids to get new school clothes at a special pickup day. And I know from experience, when you’re low income, you need all the help you can get.

So that one’s easier. I used to find myself arguing that the already sharpened pencils and only slightly used notebooks from last year were perfectly fine, that I had plenty of good colored pencils already with which to make sets, that we cold make really cool dividers out of cereal boxes. Even though I remember the pleasure of picking up new with my dad at the downtown office supply store, or even the dreaded mall. I loved printing my name on fresh, new notebooks, putting full length pencils, with erasers–O joy!, and pens into a new zipped case. Now the school hands over a starter kid the first day or even before. My high school kids also get slightly used leftover comp books and pens to round that out, and are content.

Food choices are another area where I’m putting my foot down, for both health and economy: The focus is on foods from the garden and simple healthy meals not based on too much white flour or expensive meats. I’ve been saying no to processed foods, GMO (which includes all non-organic corn, soy, canola, and beets), sugar drinks, store bought desserts. Not sure if I can make that stick, since my husband gets a little out of hand when he shops at Costco. Last time he came home with two kinds of ice cream treats, a huge rack of ribs, four large boxes of kid cereal, and two jars of Nutella. We’re dialoging about this, and he agrees with me in principle, but he just gets these Disney Dad moods. So I try to ration the special treats and mix in fruits, vegetables, cooked breakfasts, smoothies, and homemade granola and yogurt. Yes to local bagels, bread and bacon, homemade rhubarb cake and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, the occasional ice cream fruit shake. My son says I’m like the mom in the comic strip Foxtrot, if not quite so extreme. I do occasionally meet the kids halfway.

I’ve told the kids that if they’re desperate for treats, they have to make them in the kitchen, or pay out of pocket and pay mind to nutritional content. For example, my daughter learned yesterday (I asked at the window–she had a birthday gift card) that there are 42 grams sugar in a caramel Frappucino. That’s over 10 teaspoons of sugar in one drink. She’s putting it together. We discussed a phasing out plan, maybe having her go with a plain latte with one pump of caramel instead of four, for starters, and she was actually open to that. Also discussed types of lunches she’d like to have me make in the category of homemade/healthy/economical: clam chowder and minestrone being identified. I said no to individual cups of sweetened yogurt, and am pushing for her acceptance of my homemade kind with fruit jam. Have to pick the right moments to move the plan forward, and avoid a bossy or irritated manner.

My other daughter stated her resolve today, at the beginning of the high school swimming season, to eat healthier. Pleaded for more fresh fruit (besides the fresh and frozen berries we have on hand), and complained that there was nothing yummy in the fridge. I told her maybe not (though the fridge was full of food), but in combination it all could be made very yummy. So it’s time to teach her more recipes, besides potatoes fried with garlic and rosemary. Omelets with chard and cheese, baked potatoes with the works, salsa, tsiziki, potato salad. Food discontent is usually only a failure of imagination or experience, or plain laziness, and usually insufficient hunger. I also am helping her learn about seasonality–she was desperate for apples last month, but I explained I wasn’t buying apples that had either traveled around the globe or that had been in storage for a year; she’d have to wait until local fruit were in season. And no bananas except in special circumstances; no oranges until November. There were frozen berries in the freezer.

My youngest son loves treats and asks for ice cream pretty much every day if he knows it’s there, wants dessert after every meal, and I have to watch his portions of any sort of cereal or meat. But also loves to make and eat vegetable soup with lots of ginger. He’s shaping up to be my key cucumber consumer, loves green beans, and I hope to win him over to baked zucchini cheese melts.

Concerning clothing, which is a larger proportion of our budget that I’d like–most of the purchases being for my daughters, I try to conduct inventory of the girls’ clothes when they feel they need more, and we go to the second hand stores and look first. My daughters have finally accepted this, and are starting to enjoy the challenge. Now I’m encouraging them to buy a bit roomy so they won’t outgrow so soon, though that process is finally slowing down. My sons don’t care where we shop & let me pick out their stuff whenever possible (I enjoy picking out funky T-shirts, such as the one that reads “No Sense being a Pessimist–It’ll Never Work”). Not that they need much. They buy it loose, don’t care much about trendiness, and it lasts.

Driving was also a qualified no today. I took one daughter to the barn for chores–she earns a bit of money for her work, though I explained that I don’t want to spend $5 in gas and 45 minutes driving so she can earn $10. Once this commitment is done, she’ll only work when she’s there to ride also. Then the girls wanted to be driven to the lake for a swim. I said no–I had to finish job applications, and assigned the job to my oldest son, who baulked, until I reasoned with him and reminded him that his being able to use the little Honda was contingent on doing these errands. Then my friend and I both got out of driving our daughters to a sleepover across town and up a mountain, letting the host mom do the job. We’re not a big fan of sleepovers, since they leave the participants wasted the next day, and in my experience the bonding is not usually of a high quality type. I used to say no to them too.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 8, 2018 in Economics, Parenting & Family

 

Tags: , , , ,

Teach me to live in a biosphere, which is real, not a global economy, which is not.

Sat on the chaise lounge and watched the bumblebees work over the raspberry blossoms in a sea of green. After three days of warm, sunny weather I felt confident in my decision to put away all winter coats, turn off the pilot light to the gas fireplace insert and switch off the main furnace. I’d seeded another round of four inch pots in lettuces, peas, onions,herbs, and a few flowers, and sowed beans and chard in the new garden plot off the patio, reclaimed from another corner of lawn. The air was turning cool, with rain expected–perfect for the seeds, though the tomatoes would slow down a bit. Almost time to put a bird net over the cherry trees, and the gangly limbs of the apple trees definitely needed some training and support–they were loaded with baby fruit.

I was thinking about the ways in which some of my students, maybe even a decent body, had been brought to understand something of the laws of nature–the ones that we humans ought to stop trying to ignore–such as there being finite resources on Earth that needed to be continuously recycled, that evolution is a constant and inevitable process, whatever religion says, and that there are fascinating miracles to explore at every turn, as well as inexorable forces we must reckon with, organism among organisms as we are, perched on this spinning rock blasted with radiation more powerful than thousands of nuclear bombs.

I have a mental space full of faces, ever expanding as I go through these years of teaching. Names may fade, but I will never un-know these young people, the 35-odd students I taught last year, the around eighty this year, counting middle, high and third graders. For once I get to teach at the same school–another novelty I look forward to. Ninth graders I’ll see in Physics and Algebra 1 next year, this year’s group will move on to the next math and show up for physics, too. Could be teaching some of the younger ones, though mostly high school. All the same colleagues with the addition of a new teacher–I hope I like her, bet I will.

Dan O’Neill, writer I sublet my summer office space from gave me his book, The Firecracker Boys, to give to my father, and since he’s all the way across the continent, I’m reading it before I send it there along with my son when he goes to college. It tells the story of how the Atomic Energy Commission started a group that was eager to test “peacetime uses” of nuclear power, and their first project was to be blasting a new harbor into the coast of Alaska. Their ignorance about the systems of the Earth and the disastrous effects that would result from their plan is astounding, and even though I know how the story ends, with the killing of the project and all similar ones due to the newly birthed environmental movement that arose there, I feel sick just thinking about how it might have been.

In environmental science we discussed why humans can have, want to have, even, such an outsized effect on the Earth’s systems, and yet do not seem essential to any of them in comparison to other organisms, such as, say, ants or eelgrass. The students were in agreement that if all humans suddenly vaporized, nothing would fall apart. We also explored the question of why humans, of all organisms, deliberately flout ecological principles, and what effect that might have, long term, on our species, on society. And, could there be a way to reconcile our ambitions to discover, build, and create, with the limitations that scientists are discovering that we must live within? Not to overly credit scientists–it took them hundreds of years, two steps forward, one step back (or vice versa) to catch up to some of that instinctive body-knowledge, that innate genetic wisdom, of our pre-historic ancestors.

The Fall–when and how did it happen? Was it the dawn of agriculture, or just agricultural commerce? Did it derive from the spread of the expression of new genes of cognition and self awareness? Was it accelerated by symbolic language and institutionalized ancient religions? Or was all that, really, progress?

Nowadays, just like the real estate bubble, we are talking again, in education circles, economics, science and technology, as if trends, what is happening, are the same as vision. “It’s a global economy–it’s an information age, so let’s get with it.” As I asked a mom I confide in periodically about my doubts about the value of schools systems, “Who’s driving this train and why should I get on–just because it’s going somewhere?”

My younger daughter shared with me how stressed she was about school–with the drive to maintain good grades, the pace, the hours, the lack of joy, the social pressure. By all appearances, she’s a successful student, but here she was in tears, wondering what the purpose of it all was. Her teachers were part of the problem, just because they had bought in. Their success wrapped up in rigor and performance-based assessment, not impact, enlightenment, and empowerment. I thought about the pressure I put on my Monday/Wednesday high school students, how as the test approached, I accelerated the pace of content exposure, started giving them testing tips and practice (while advising them, as the testing websites claimed, that success did not come from “test practice”  or extra study.

Friday classes were different, with only “delight-directed” activities (such as we could manage), no grades, no homework. That too appears to be about to be corrupted by the managers of the system, with a drive toward more “accountability” and record keeping. Hearing this fact at the staff meeting, I expressed my displeasure, tried to voice how dear are the values, to many homeschool families, of freedom and flexibility, as they are to teachers and students. Yes, it would drive away some families, it was acknowledged, this change, but it was what the state needed for financial accountability. Yes, families should drop out–they should save themselves, I thought. Funny how this whole parent partnership started to rope back in some of those opted out families with our flexible.part time program, and now that they’re hooked on the funding and free curriculum, we change the rules.

I sanctioned some respite for my daughter, called in and excused some skipped classes without giving clear reasons to the voice mail recorder, ignored the alarming-sounding letters citing the Becca Bill and mentioning court. She explained why she was skipping–the others were doing standardized testing she didn’t have to do and there was a sub; she’d already done the work and they weren’t learning anything new; they were playing soccer instead of having a lesson; she wanted to spend a few hours on her ceramics project. The ceramics studio, and its teacher, being the sanctuary so many students needed, a kind, blind eye turned and no questions asked. Refreshing subversion.

School is definitely part of the problem. We only need school because we’re a modern industrial society on a crash course with our destiny of ecological disaster, and it takes a lot of rigor to learn all the techniques that have got us into this mess, let alone the ones that maybe could get us out without sacrificing any modern luxuries–the ones we need at the end of our twelve hour labors. The future is coming. Let’s get there first.

Or, we could learn contextually everything we really need to know, like a cub from momma lion–how to get food and water, defend oneself without unnecessary energy expenditure or excessive harm to anyone else’s system, key social norms and boundaries (with the option of challenging them), how to play a musical instrument, and never to poop  in the water hole.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tags: , , ,

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.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,