Tag Archives: ethics

Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

We splurged on a big one, hoping it would help us all center somewhere in the home landscape, be a spot of choice for our teens, fun for the younger ones, and an attraction for all their friends. They are all using it, for exercise, for fun, for a dry place to lie and chat while scanning the sky and fir tree silhouettes as the dark falls, and for sleepovers after that.

It took me about a week to get up on it myself. Just didn’t get around to it until then. I was surprised how good it felt, how uplifting. And a good workout. Keeps one accountable in the area of remembering to do one’s Kegel exercises, too, which one occasionally neglects, doesn’t one? It’s kind of modeled after a pelvic floor itself, in a way. I remember the feeling of my son trampolining on mine in utero.

The city children’s hospital has a vegetable patch in the picnic area by the cafeteria. We looked at growing chard, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, and ate fish and chips. My son expressed the hope that some of it would be served in the cafeteria. Been thinking a lot about food lately, since starting listening to the audiobook Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Carefully researched, clearly articulated, gently communicated, and illustrated with stories from their family’s year of eating food produced as locally as possible. I understand better now the true cost of the low prices I’ve been paying for food, the ways I’ve participated in the system that drives small farmers into bankruptcy.  Time to be more proactive in my food choices for the family. And to try to take the author’s gentle approach at attempting to coax themy into better purchasing and eating habits. We use our share of processed foods, feedlot meat, and vegetables from megafarms which destroy living ecosystems, impoverish soils and guzzle fossil fuels, all subsidized by us, the taxpayers. Time for me to research what to cut out and ways to replace those things, or not.

There’s the garden, of course, containing the most local food of all. We are blessed with a sunny, fenced back yard which is now graced with a large, organized, productive vegetable patch, complete with greenhouse (formerly a large, muddy, productive garden that needed a lot of upkeep). I’m recording the expenses and inputs (labor aside–that’s a pleasure and free exercise anyway), as well as outputs in the form of seedling and food production. So far, though we started late, we’ve had abundant salad greens, onions, beets, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, and a few berries. As soon as we use our store bought potatoes I’ll dig some of our own reds, yellows and bakers, which always mature before I expect them to. The tomatoes are just starting to produce little green balls, and in a month or so there will be cucumbers, squash, beans, cherries, aronia berries, and eventually peppers and apples. My goal is to have the family eat and preserve all we can use, as well as save seeds, and give away all the rest. I’m also planning to be more insistent that the children participate in this, so they can learn at least the basics of harvesting food. That’s the fun part, which I hope will help interest them in the planting and cultivation aspects later on. Not much time now to refine the seed-to-table techniques of my oldest, and to expand their healthy meals recipe repertoire.

Now I shall jump to my conclusion, leaving you with the link to the site related to the book, with seasonal recipes for your garden or local farm produce:

Bon appetit!





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Do we really believe Bill Gates’s main objective with this is better education? And what’s his definition of better, anyway?

I’ve been trying to make sense of the so-called Common Core State Standards Initiative, wading through the rhetoric, promotional material, vehement objections, sometimes muddled and paranoid rants (though “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”–Kurt Cobain). I want to know if it’s ethical or advisable to have my children taught and tested under this system. The school district is set to implement high school testing, for example, next year, and I got a notice from our high school that a non-scored practice test is scheduled for next week. I plan to find out how much instructional time will be lost and what other resources will be funneled away from academics into this, and make a decision whether to send my daughter those days and/or request further services to compensate for this intrusion that doesn’t serve the interests of the students being tested. To that extent I’m already not going with the flow. But it’s a pretty powerful flow, and some of headwaters seem to come from underground..

Among the first things I noticed is that the CCSSI is a misnomer, because it is not initiated by states at all. Maybe should be called the Federal-Corporate Partnership on National Educational Standardization or something (but that would make it look unconstitutional, so the word “state” was inserted. It’s driven by folks we shouldn’t trust with our children’s education and personal data, because their vested interests are not lined up with the best ideals of parents and communities for children’s education, and because voters have no say in what they are doing. Many of these CCSSI proponents are powerful and/or rich folks (not that that necessarily means unethical, but it means they don’t have to wait for the people’s consent if they don’t want to) pursuing what they see as worthy goals but who have a skewed and merely pragmatic vision, and a true-believer enthusiasm that blocks out people’s concerns and objections and even ridicules them for it. Bill Gates and other corporate sponsors who in their main line of business sell computer systems and software and educational curriculum and testing materials (think access to data on school children, marketing, monopoly…) are bankrolling much of this.

Bill Gates explains his reasoning for supporting the Common Core in the first video below. It it he says, “[the Common Core and aligned curriculum and tests]… will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching. For the first time there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.” [my emphasis]

Developing customized products state departments of education, districts, schools, and even parents will buy depends on obtaining and analyzing data on children, as Jane Robbins explains in the second video.

As I said, the Smarter Balanced practice tests were scheduled for next week according to an email from the principal’s office, but guess what: My daughter was sick this morning, and when she went in late, she found out that the first test had already been administered during English class.


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Urine, You’re on!

So cynical, perfectionist, always looking for what’s wrong with the way I and most other middle class folks live. The things we use, technologies on which we depend, kilometers we drive (or miles, for that minority backwards folk called the USA and UK–oops, I did it again), the expectations of the good life, ignoring for the most part people who can’t reach it no matter how hard they work.Except we have compassion if they live very, very far away. Such as in Africa. We give money to them thanks to Bono. Not to group all of “Africa” as if it’s homogeneous, full of Africans and mysterious hot diseases. There is also South Africa, which has white people (and took a long time to recover, too!). And Egypt–no way, is that a part of Africa?

Always I harp on problems. Isn’t it time to offer solutions? Yes, I like solutions, don’t you? Except you’re not going to like this, and neither do I. From what I can tell, we’ll be able to make huge strides toward solving the energy and water crises (to start somewhere) by all becoming anal. For example, every morning I get up, rinse my mouth guard, and take a pee. How can I make that a better process, I ask myself? Maybe I rinse the guard with rainwater and dump that in my watering can, and maybe instead of using a flush toilet I pee into sawdust (from the local wood shop, delivered for a tip by children pulling wagons), flip the handle and it drops down into the compost pile below, like one of those hatches in an airplane toilet except without the sucking sound. It’s nitrogen-rich, you see. But I mustn’t be taking antibiotics or eating anything with heavy metals in it. Someone once told me that was the reason we can’t use human waste as fertilizer, so we’d better make sure.

That’s the first five minutes. You see, there are so many little events in life where we can make a difference. But there are certain barriers to each one. The composting and reuse of urine as fertilizer, for example, has a psychological barrier in that most people think it’s gross, I mean grosser than it is necessary (the other gross things we do, we see as necessary, so they don’t bother us as long as they don’t show up in movies or books). But I’m sure we’ll change our minds eventually, when natural gas-derived and mined fertilizers become too expensive, so why not just switch over now based on practical logic, matter over mind? Do we really need to jet activists and government officials around to conferences, debate environmental bills, create educational campaigns, wait for the big plumbing corporations to retool so they can get in on the updates (“Wal-Mart sells pee pots for less”), before we do the right thing?

I for one don’t care if it’s gross–not any more, since I’ve been living with this idea and have got used to it. It’s way less gross than all the diapers I’ve had to deal with and than picking up dog poop, anyway. I’d be proud to work on setting up a waterless pee pot in my bathroom (though I’d want it outside in the summer). But I’m intimidated by my children and husband’s probable reaction, to tell you the truth. Shall I do it anyway, put my sawdust where my fertilizer is, and just update you on how it goes down at my house? I feel bold. I’ll do it. Back in a week. If you want to join me, here’s my plan (any refinements you can offer are welcome):


  1. Nail together or adapt a simple bench with hole, strongly constructed and nicely refinished with marine shellac (I have my tools out already from another project). Covered in front, open in back. Room for extra stores of sawdust. Stir stick?
  2. Install toilet seat on top. I’ll use the one from the not-yet hauled toilet in the back storage area. WIth a prop for seat-lifters.
  3. Put sawdust in bucket or tray below.

I’ll have to experiment with the right amount of sawdust and the dimensions of the apparatus to minimize splashing, of course, and for now I’ll do all the dumping and refilling.

Wish me luck!

Week 1 update


Posted by on December 11, 2013 in How to


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Welcome to Eaarth

I’m reading Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, getting an update on how our planet’s systems are already on Tilt, already irreversibly different, while we muddle around, send our leaders jet-setting to climate change initiative conferences, reading in the papers how they fret and fuss about who can and will pay the price of even responding to present crises, let alone preparing for the next. Taking notes, hoping to have an influence in my circles. I am floored, thinking about it all, asking what do we do, and how do we get everyone on board faster, faster? How do we act justly toward the poor countries who are most affected by our voracious consumption, our addiction to growth, our willful blindness to the laws of physics and ecology? Quickly, before mammalian survival instincts take over and the higher human values of justice and equity get trampled? Quickly, while “the preservation of the American way of life” is still positively correlated to preserving lives in other places? How do we divert our tremendous drive and creativity away from making junk and trouble to solving our problems and creating a new paradigm for our culture?

Between chapters I am aware of the irony, the hypocrisy as I drive one son forty miles to a swim meet and back (and out to a coffee shop for my treat between events). And why is it the trucks and SUVs seem to be the most likely to be going ten mph over the speed limit, anyway? Because SUVs and new pickups have such a smooth, quiet ride, drivers can’t hear the pistons pumping, the engine laboring, so it feels like nothing at all to press down the pedal, can still hear Pink Floyd crystal clear on the Bluetooth audio. Me in my ’93 Accord, I can feel and hear that gas burning (and some of the oil, too), and it makes me want to cut down. Lord, save us from too much luxury, insulation from realities we need to know about.

How about a series of training seminars for auto salespeople, helping them realize it’s not responsible to sell big machinery to people for commuting down the freeway, getting them to seed the whole auto-buying clientele with the idea that we all want to power down. FERC warning labels on low fuel economy vehicles too, like cigarettes, if people insist on buying them. Only takes ten per cent to believe it, and it’ll spread like wildfire (whether it’s true or not–see the article). Sell gas-guzzlers by permit only, with special controls on weekly mileage and speed. Discounts for shared ownership in the New Sharing Economy. Neighborhoods, through the new online neighborhood social networks, for example, organize the ownership or lease and booking of the heavy duty truck for hauling recyclable metals to the recyclers, prunings to the community composting site, a load of lumber to the building site.

The next day I drive my son a few miles down the freeway to early practice, and go back and pick him up an hour and a half later. I go for a run before breakfast lest I become too flabby and weak from living my sedentary lifestyle. Then I drive my son to the bus stop because our bikes were stolen, and so he can avoid straining his back carrying heavy textbooks and swim gear.  My husband drives our daughter to her school because she stayed up late doing homework after procrastinating all afternoon with her smart phone. Then he drives alone sixty-five miles to work for the week. At noon I drive my younger son to Phys. Ed. class so he can stay in shape too, and I take another walk to drop off a check to pay for my weekly exercise class. At five I drive a few miles to the high school athletics meeting, where we hear about the positive life lessons the kids learn in high school sports, and find out about all the swim meets we’ll all be driving to and watching in nice heated indoor pools.

Time to get more serious about using my bike, when I’m not hauling bulk groceries or working through my checklist that takes me all over town, or picking up kids, dropping off kids. Time to stop ferrying the kids around to everything, time to say “Sorry, here’s the bus schedule.” I’ve been trying to resist that pressure, explaining why I’m trying to limit driving, why when my teens get their licenses, they won’t automatically get a spare car and not have to take the bus.

As I contemplate the eventual spiraling down of the oil-powered economy, the abandonment of extraneous or dilapidated and unfixable facilities and infrastructure and wasteful habits in order to focus on basic needs, I’m thinking, what are essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes that have value in all times and places? Getting adequate food – fishing, hunting and gathering, food storage, preservation and preparation. Getting clothed and sheltered – making coverings and dwellings from local materials. Having fun together/building community-music, poetry, story telling, dance, service. Staying healthy – first aid, medicine, nutrition, safety, defense, peace making. Parenting – raising children to be content and capable. Teaching. Writing. Woodworking, ceramics, metal work, fiber craft. Natural history. Spiritual guidance. Teamwork, leadership, respect. And we will need plenty of knowledge and wisdom and we might not be able to Google it, so I won’t get rid of my books just yet.

“Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.”

I listen to the news, and now I have enhanced filtration that makes a mockery of the economic policies explained by politicians there. The push for more oil pipeline and rail transport, more new overseas markets, moving to an even more global economy. In TV it’s ads for new cars, Black Friday specials on housewares, sports gear, toys and games, the newest gadgets. The jingle bells all ring hollow. Time to retrain everyone, time to reform the whole system–what we produce, what we promote, what we sell, to whom we sell it. In a positive way, of course, not through pressure and panic. Sharing the vision–we have to work together to figure out our common bottom line and make sure it all adds up to something positive.

This year at the family Thanksgiving I took charge of the compostables and recyclables for the first time. I live in a green city and have extra space in my bins, and my in-laws live in a non-recycling, non-composting kind of county, so it was something I could do to help. First year I stepped up to do that–leftover food, paper cups, aluminum foil, and plastic water bottles (Grandma needed to simplify on dishwashing this year–good for her) were all going into the same bin and I swooped in to quietly separate them. I had never done this before, been reluctant after in the past being what I would call undiplomatic about my green habits when I first came into my husband’s family. I was seen as extreme then. But it went very smoothly with a minimum of digging in the garbage, and the cat got her treats set aside too. Garbage reduced by two thirds.

I’m concerned, yes–very, but I’m looking forward to making myself useful on this tough, new planet.


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A stay-at-home-mom looks toward the future

A stay-at-home-mom looks toward the future

Am I missing a strategic time to get back into a paid career path, by taking yet another year at home with my children? I’m back at home full time this year, with one son who is learning at home. My other three went back this year–one to community college (in Running Start, so technically he’s still in high school), one in regular high school, and one in middle school.

I enjoyed the work substitute teaching last year–it was a confirmation for me that I do want to keep working with teen people and that I have something to offer, if I can keep it alive. I keep coming back to that drive–to help kids busting into that abstract thinking, individuating stage figure out who they are as learners, knowers, feelers, doers, communicators. It’s a charge just to be with them–they’re so interesting, so varied, and so important to this world–not just in the future, but now. And they need all the help they can get as they develop their ethical principles, ’cause without ethics, how can they keep from adding to the mess this world is in, let alone be useful, or genuine leaders and heroes of all kinds? Over and over, when I read and hear of corruption and dishonesty in our leaders, and bovine acceptance in the workers under them, I get fired up about it–ethics! Ethics! And I mutter under my breath with Uncle Digory, “I wonder what they do they teach them in these schools.” And at home. Fresh-faced young people, some of whom are not so fortified against the temptation to incorporate cheating, meanness, theft, bigotry, conformity, laziness, exploitation, tyranny, arrogance, … into their personal repertories in some effort to succeed, rebel, or make a mockery of the best intentions of educators. So we work at that, questioning, encouraging, setting examples before them of greatness, and ask that question: Who do you intend to become? Not just what.

I still have the appropriate teaching license, and still feel young enough, though I would need to update my skills and learn a new groove–regular schedule, call in a sub when I’m sick, rules, paperwork, accountability to lots more folks. Coursework in the new technology, latest educational research, current cultural and psychological considerations. An internship or two would be great, and I need to make contacts in my home district, which was closed to new substitutes for several years so I had to commute.

But I am just not done with being a stay-at-home mom yet. Nor could I imagine having enough left over after teaching all day to keep up with home management and staying connected with my kids. Even with three in school full time, I’m amazed at how much of a challenge it still is get the house clean (they all still make messes, and have hardly any time now to pitch in), the pantry stocked and a bit of yard work done, organize bills, accounts, inputs and outputs, supply clothing, school supplies, and so on. And of course there are the roles of homework helper, proofreader, sounding board/consultant, after school driver, and planning assistant. I don’t do near the job I’d like to, though I’m making progress, and the kids are more independent, which counts for a lot. The older ones actually liked to hear about my substituting experiences, and were tickled to see me so energized.

I’ll take it a year at a time. My husband is currently shouldering the money burden so I can be at home more, and homeschool our youngest boy. We weren’t in a financial position to do that for several years, so it’s a privilege now. I feel very useful in my current position, for the housework and logistics even, but more for the homework help, support, just being there, having enough physical and mental energy to field concerns and questions my children bring to me, the ways I can try to fortify each young person in his or her individuality, sense of responsibility, commitment to becoming equipped to use their skills, knowledge, gifts to be a blessing. I get to ask them in various ways who they want to be, remind them they’re practicing with the folks at home who they’ll become. Not so pretty sometimes, and I’m not so proud of my own example sometimes.

On occasion I’ve try\ied to get out there, volunteer a bit, go to a few meetings, but when it comes down to adding more responsibilities, I have had to back off. I don’t want to hear myself turning a kid down for homework help, a tea date or invitation to walk the dogs together because I have to do a write-up or make a poster, head out for an event or make a bunch of phone calls. All I can manage is a few late nights to myself blogging, to see if I have anything to say, and learn to say it better.

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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Parenting & Family, Personal Growth


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“It’s a shame they have to move away from home just when they’re starting to become such good company.”

“It’s a shame they have to move away from home just when they’re starting to become such good company.”

My sister-in-law, mother of four now in careers or college, said this a few years ago, and I’ve been thinking of it lately as my oldest child starts figuring out study and career choices. Although I’m excited for him and his big launch, I wish he could stick around here, because we’re becoming friends. I am proud of him (most of the time), enjoy talking with him about serious and intellectual topics, about the ways of humans, and trying to make him laugh. I love witnessing the special moments he shares with siblings: listening to his little brother, seven years his junior, talk excitedly about science fiction worlds they know together, playing Legos with him when the homework and athletics load is light enough; encouraging or instructing his sister on swimming or discussing relationship and school experiences; thanking his younger sister for a treat she has made for him.

Shepherding him through this process involves a lot of self-restraint. If he can’t listen to his heart and make some good choices by now, I guess I missed my chance or have no wisdom to impart anyway. All I want is to make sure he listens and learns all he can, makes well thought-out decisions, and remembers to ask God for wisdom. Meanwhile I’m strewing information about that I pick up from books and other means–the benefits of a start at community college, the importance of a grounding in liberal arts, the great things to be gained by studying languages and cultures abroad, the options of job shadowing and internships, ways to get an education without paying much or any tuition. In years past we have discussed the importance of training for work that will use his gifts, support a family, and benefit the world in some way, of maintaining integrity and being a blessing rather than part of anything useless or worse. Our several years on government assistance while work was scarce and we were broke from our sabbatical years overseas gave him an appreciation for the usefulness of money, so I’m sure he will be practical enough on that score.

There were times when I stressed about his and my other kids’ future. Did they lose something important by our decision to live overseas for several years without any formal schooling in English and a distracted homeschool mom? So-and-so already has her kid the same age part way through community college and the PSAT! Will they be able to get scholarships?Oh-oh, no Washington state history in 7th grade–have to have that to graduate high school!

I’m much more chill now, and really, chill is more my nature. I lost touch with that driving, overachieving parent and listen more to my neighbor, none of whose post-high school children have officially “graduated” and for whom that never posed a problem in higher education and career. I’m letting go, watching my kids ask good questions, think intelligently about their futures. My ego must stay out of it. The book The New Global Student by Maya Frost reinforced that well for me this week. She talks about parental fego, which equals fear + ego, leading us to pressure our kids to go the same route as everyone else, keep up the scores, grades, athletics and so on, causing us to fear the idea of time away from academics on some other path, an unconventional approach, non-accredited, independent paths of learning. Already my son is interested in living somewhere in the Middle East so he can learn Arabic (he learned Hebrew when we lived in Israel for several years, and they are not very different) and studying programming and other cyber-technology. I hope he’ll continue some of the things he used to enjoy–making stuff, drawing, music, memorizing poetry. Currently I have up on the wall near the fireplace Tolkien’s “I sit beside the fire and think,” and I think he’s allowing it to sink in.


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Reactions to a Memorial Day school assembly

Reactions to a Memorial Day school assembly

American patriotism still makes me cringe sometimes. Having come on strong there, I must say I also recognize the value and importance of loyalty, and sacrifice to protect one’s people. I have also have grown to appreciate some of the foundations for American patriotism, beyond mere attachment to one’s place of birth. The American Declaration of Independence is awesome. But I’m wary of too much patriotism, when early foundations of patriotism (the “we’re all American and isn’t that great” of early education) is not exchanged for a more balanced and objective appreciation of and loyalty to one’s country.

Part of it comes of being a Canadian and a Maritimer by birth. One rarely sees a  “Proud to be Canadian” bumper sticker anywhere, of the border, but Maritimers sometimes think of themselves as inhabiting a country of their own, a region apart from the rest of Canada. At one time we might have become part of the U.S., and even now, lying east of Quebec, which has always had national aspirations, we necessarily regard our bonds with the west as somewhat tenuous, since our proximity to and shared heritage with Quebec might make us part of that new country some day, with an English-speaking minority.

In Canada, we tend to be brought up to be more internationally minded than in the U.S.. Children pass on from Canadian history to world history early in their lives. I was never required to memorize the names of the prime ministers. We are a mosaic, valuing the countries of origin of our immigrants, not a melting pot like the U.S., which expects that everyone take on a new American identity. Canadians have been seen in a more positive light when traveling internationally (hence the occasional maple leaf on backpacks to ensure our welcome in hostels). We give more development aid per capita and per GNP, and less of it is tied to huge industrial developments that benefit us in the end.

I married an American who knew some world geography and promised we could live within the broadcast range of CBC radio. I’ve lived among Americans for nineteen years, and no longer feel much different, now that I’ve got a community here. But when I get to attend a patriotic American event, I do feel that sense of strangeness, and that I’d better be careful how I express myself.

This Memorial Day I was working as a substitute teacher in a high school. In the morning I enjoyed several hours of reading and discussing Shakespeare with students, then trotted off with them to the gym for a patriotic assembly. The cadet drills were very good. Young men and women in starched uniforms, in order, dance-like, marching, turning, pounding rifle barrels on the gym floor in booming unison, in obedience to the leader’s quiet commands. I admired their discipline, coordination, submission for the service of the group. Something valuable, in its place. In its place, along with other important aspects of individual self-government. There was also a reading of a letter from a Yankee soldier to his sweetheart, before he died, with a background of live music. Love of country over love of mate. Laudable, even by the mate, in the proper context.

But when the poem “My Name is Old Glory” was read, I could hardly help but roll my eyes. Not only was it (to my untrained but moderately literate ear) a bad poem, but it was full of patriotic claptrap. Now there was a topic for someone’s sociology, psychology, history class to discuss and debate at length. And, Lord, I hope someone used the opportunity. Or is it too risky to analyze and even critique a poem about the American flag? Might be considered dangerously unpatriotic. If I get audited next year, I’ll know. Maybe it’s just nitpicking, like criticizing a hymn sung in church for its bad theology (which I did in my Old Rugged Cross post).

(To read the entire Old Glory poem, click here.)

I had my own children read the poem and make observations, and their responses were very interesting.

My ten year old loves poetry, enjoys memorizing and reciting favorites, and reads them for fun. He’s currently into Shel Silverstein. He has spent only third grade in public school so far, and studied native Americans in social studies. At home we’re up to the Civil War in American history. Here’s our interview:

Q:Here, read this, and tell me your impressions, what you think it’s about.

A: (Impatiently) I don’t feel influenced by poems; I don’t think things, and understand meanings, like, oh wow, that’s so spiritual. I just think, that’s a good poem–it has a good rhyme.

He reads it through, quickly, won’t slow down when I ask him to.

Q: What do you think of the poem?

A: It’s not a good poem, no rhyme or rhythm, too much repetition. And it’s like bragging–it’s all bragging.

Q: Why would someone write a bragging poem?

A: Because he thinks the flag is cool, and some people don’t.

Q: Do you think it’s a good one to read on Memorial Day?

A: Yeah.

Q: Even though you don’t like it?

A: Yeah.

My twelve year old is a straightforward person, not much of an abstract thinker either yet. She attended public school in fifth grade. She said the poem was meaningful, but we don’t know what the meaning is. She seemed shy or unsure about stating any opinions. Said the first stanzas reminded her of the stars for some reason. She couldn’t abstract the meaning in words. She liked the poem and thought it was a good one to read out on patriotic days.

My fifteen year old read and reacted to just about everything about the poem. She decided to take lines literally and rejected them as illogical. “It doesn’t fly, it sticks to a pole. It doesn’t stand for peace, honor, truth and justice; it stands for America, and America is not those things. It can’t bow–it’s just a piece of cloth. It should not be worshiped. No one is afraid of a flag. It wasn’t at every battle. People don’t rip up the flag for bandages.” She agreed with some lines. “True, Americans are arrogant.” Her closing statement: “I think flags are overrated. They symbolize America, but American isn’t the best country in the world. And it’s not a very good poem, because nothing rhymes.” As an after thought, she added, “You and Dad ruined me for life, so I’m not patriotic at all.” Oops.

My seventeen year old read the poem without comment. He knew, I am sure, why I was asking for his opinions, and was reluctant to give his own opinion, because he’s been working on being open-minded and less judgmental, as he develops his personal views about various things. He was objective: “It’s a song of praise for the American flag.” Was it a good poem in terms of form, in terms of meaning? “No.” Why not? “It’s inspirational for those who appreciate that stuff. Noble, nice, it helps the U.S. to feel proud of itself. But I don’t care about that. It’s not really into it.” He felt it was a good poem to read on Memorial Day. For all ages? Maybe not in high school. It was “a little much–I’d tone it down for high school, or maybe read a poem that focused more on the people instead of the flag.”

I think we ought to be careful, when children are young, to expose them to great poetry, and great ideas. If we expect them to say the pledge of allegiance, let them learn first what it means, to the best of their ability at each age. Perhaps we should instill in them, rather than a fierce love of the United States, a strong appreciation of its best principles and practices–freedom, equality, justice, loyalty, democracy, dissent, balance of power, universal education, environmental protection, and so on. If they are expected to salute the flag, let them associate it with these principles as worked out in America. Then as they learn their American history, they can measure historical events and people against these principles.

As young Americans study world history (more, please!), they can learn the roots of these principles and varieties of interpretation around the world and in different cultures. Were these principles around long ago, even more than 250 years ago? As they consider the acts of the American military and individual soldiers around the world and throughout history, they can be asked, who are the heroes and heroines of the wars–everyone who fought and died, or only some? Are there some war deaths that are not triumphant, but only tragic? Who are the war villains–are they only on the enemy side? Are there some reasons for joining the military besides the desire to serve one’s country and its highest principles? What are valid reasons to refuse to join or to fight?


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