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What if most people are less well-informed than necessary for a free democratic society?

Was listening to a piece on CBC Radio “Ideas” that touched on surprising research findings several decades ago that the average American citizen wasn’t very bright, not bright enough to make informed, reasonable decisions in a democratic society. The conclusion being that manipulation was much more effective, a continuation of the techniques used to keep folks backing WWII efforts and getting men and woman addicted to smoking. In the case of the progress of democratic society, a benign manipulation along the lines of the well-informed and visionary direction chosen by the intelligent few. The invisible government, I think they called it.

Tonight as I finish up making a small dent in the housework I’ve neglected in favor of a volunteer sewing project for my daughter’s 4-H club, I sadly acknowledge that it’s still true, if not more so. I didn’t want to see it that way. For some reason all these years I’d been focusing on the immorality of corporate and government leaders in using the media to spin the news, cultivate brand loyalty rather than intelligent debate, and cultivate an image that instills confidence, rather than being informative, objective, and open to the wisdom of folks living in actual communities. Then as I considered the thought that most people just aren’t very smart, it was like turning to face another ugly truth that had been there all the time. No, it’s not a surprise. I know I’m on the continuum, aware that I so often don’t get things, don’t know enough, don’t articulate well enough, to contribute to the building of a better and more just world. Yet I’m told I’m highly literate, intellectual even, know lots about lots of things, have a good mind. Which is scary, because when I read some classic nineteenth century British or Russian novel, or Roman speech, I’m struck by the beautiful complexity of ideas, the rich vocabulary (even in translation) compared to many prize-wimnning best sellers today. I mourn the loss, wish I could emulate that style. Who can teach me? How hard must I work, and how will I find the space in my life?

What got me looking back at the idea that people just arent’ smart enough for true democracy was listening to my daughters and their friend giggling over YouTube videos in their bedroom on their smart phones. On for ten, fifteen minutes, more. I felt the sadness, the frustration at my seeming inability to pass on even what little I have of love of great literature, appreciation for good reasoning and communication in the service of humanity. I made the mistake of knocking and entering, making some comment on the stupidity of the content they were streaming in a flavor of lament. My daughters’ gaze hardened and the eyes of the guest looked surprised.

Today in the van, energized rather than fatigued, I was able to take a more positive approach with my daughters: making observations, even showing appreciation for a discerning consumption of pop culture, in order to study and consider, question and analyze, judge and discriminate, separate false from true. What online content do we create? What do we access and pay attention to, and why? How does it all affect us–differently for different people? In what direction are we being influenced to go, by whom or what force, and is it a worthy direction? What is lost? And so on.

Again that intense pull to get back into teaching. One area where I don’t feel discouraged about the “one starfish” scenario, knowing the explosive nature of education, of nurturing wisdom in even one student a year. It would be worth it. It is worth it. Proverbs 8:11: “For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it.

 

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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: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

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Everybody bike

Everybody bike

“Mom?” In my daughter’s sleep-husky voice. A word which, spoken ever so gently or from a distance blocked by intervening doors and hallways and the muffle of sleep, will always wake me. Six o’clock. “Will you drive me to school today? I just need to sleep some more.” The logic that there are always the same number of hours, lighted ones only expanding and contracting slightly with the seasons, and one must adjust, get to bed earlier and never have to sleep in and miss the bus or the quiet hour before breakfast or the sunrise, whatever may be the mark of one’s beginning, always escapes through the gap where the warm and ragged exhale of fatigue escapes.

“Okay, this time.” I let go of my logic that there should not be 24,000 lbs of petro-powered steel and vinyl to carry 2500 lbs of flesh that three miles when 20,000 could do it, with a savings of a few gallons that ought to be stashed away for her future. She’s tired and needs a little love and a half hour more of rest, after all.

Coward, says my conscience. The part of me I said I would not betray. But these are gray areas, aren’t they? If my intentions are good, won’t it be okay? As the engine runs, gas burns, more greenhouse gases and grit get pumped into the air, in the name of love–how is that loving? And why is it so difficult to convince the people we love that we can’t go on this way?

This all seems to have happened so fast–peak oil, steady climb in heat and storm power, realizing the folly of our headlong rush to lead the world in resource consumption, I haven’t had time to construct a new language of caring and love, a new understanding that would put driving one’s kid to school in the realm of the socially unacceptable. Maybe even worth a fine or, for repeated offenses, loss one’s license and mandated community service. It still seems so normal to jump in the car for this, for that–even–the irony–to take children somewhere to exercise! And not one of my kids really gets that it’s a problem. One doesn’t think that way as a young person, though I see beginnings of that kind of broader social conscience in my oldest. So I really must keep at it and set that example. Remembering my Dad’s persistence eventually paid off in his kids. If I can be more upbeat, humorous, instead of the heavy tone, the theme of which is NO. Can I try, “Sorry, honey–I can’t drive you; I’m rationing carbon output for your honeymoon cruise!”

 
 

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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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Helping our children learn to submit to legitimate authority and understand rights and responsibilities

Sounds high and lofty, no? I apologize to those expecting something more authoritative. Just trying to live out the principles, and here’s how it sometimes goes.

Having rejoiced in my previous post at a certain harmony established with one daughter, I now tell another tale, about a confrontation resulting in my confiscating the smart phone she uses–as distinct from “her smart phone,”as she calls it–due to her not fulfilling household duties and showing proper respect to other household members. Sloth and sass, one could say. Let’s see if we can make any headway here, in a realm in which I remember well being on the other side, and my parents having not really won the battle. It’s a battle not of parents against children, but parents for children, against their lower instincts, right? Helping them overcome. Now as an adult I’m on my own in my own battle not to be slothful and sassy, but I do want to help my kids along too, maybe give them an advantage for the future. And we parents who like to expect everyone to be reasonable and come around on their own have to force ourselves to be more assertive at times like these. They respect us more in the end, and appreciate the help with overcoming their vices. Strange but true.

We did explain that the phones (given to the three oldest) were lent, on condition that they pulled their weight and kept good relations with all family members as they were able. Yeah, yeah, whatever, might have been the thought. What kid being handed a wonderful toy ever thinks, “My, those are reasonable conditions, and I should consider whether I really intend to fulfill them”, etc..? Still, the dotted line was, figuratively, signed.

We have confiscated devices a few times before, but not effectively. Have had to face the implied challenge of a physical wrestling match (“No! You can’t have it! It’s mine!”) by waiting and swooping in when said phone was untended, or by cutting off service, changing network password, etc. Then yielding to a reasonable-sounding request–need to text a friend about homework, want to listen to calming music, etc., after hardly any time had passed. The lesson was not learned, the bedroom was still a wreck, the chores still undone. Their unspoken conclusion was, “Well, I guess I can get away with that without too much grief.”

But this time I just stood my ground, unmoved by shrieking, and insisted, insisted, insisted that she give me the phone, that it was a privilege and had conditions. And she actually yielded, with a snarl; I got the phone. I was frankly surprised! But she assured me that this wouldn’t work, would make it even less likely that she’d do what I wanted. And I was being totally unfair, because the other daughter still had her phone, and hadn’t cleaned up her room either. So tempting to justify, and I usually try, but this time, I just said, “This is about you, not about her, and I’m trying to teach you something important right now that will help you in life. I’ll do my best with each of you, but that’s not your concern.” Goodness, she should be thanking me for coming down on her–parents who love their children discipline them, as the Bible says.

Then she went through device withdrawal, and reverted to some childish methods to try to intimidate–yelling, accusing, dumping her glass of water on the floor, knocking over chairs, provoking siblings,slamming doors, even the silent treatment (not her specialty), refusing to answer when spoken to. All with an appearance of fury, but, in reality, not uncontrolled. She’s not throwing anything through the plate glass living room windows, after all, or doing any personal violence, knocked over a chair, not a lamp, and so on. I tend to wait this out–it’s no time to talk, after all when she’s in the “reptilian brain.” Just take note of things she’ll have to fix or clean up, or I will.

I wrote down the requirements for her to get back her phone and conditions on which she was keeping it. Specifically, clean up her room, acknowledge the legitimate authority of us as parents, be respectful of everyone, do some household chores for the common good. By the next afternoon, the paper had a hand-torn fringe, but she had cleaned up her room, done her chores, and politely asked for the phone. and of course I gave it to her.

All the reasoning of this process, and the waiting out of tantrums and her apparent suffering for the lack of her phone were pretty easy for me, but that part where I had to stand there and insist, not give up, dictate, act like a solid rock, that was hard. I can count on one hand the times I remember doing that properly. But as I said, every time I stayed strong for my kids, stood up to them, calmly set a firm limit or consequence, those were the times there was some kind of breakthrough in their ability to respect me as a parent, as well as their sense of security. It’s like they thank me silently from their soul for being strong when they can”t be.

 

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Present kindness, future shock

A short run in the wild wind and spitting rain, partly to prove to my daughter that she didn’t really need a drive to school less than a mile away. It was wild and beautiful, a sea of tossing branches and flying twigs. But then I could change out of wet clothes and enjoy a warm gas fire afterward, while she’d have to endure damp clothes and hair dripping down her neck in class. So I drove her, along with so many other parents. Still, seems a matter of commitment to principle, which in this case would involve purchasing some excellent rain gear for her, and maybe adding a to-go hot chocolate as extra incentive. And a cash bonus (a deposit on her dreamed-of horse, or maybe a hydrogen fuel cell car). I’d offer to walk with her–I think she likes to be asked, though has not accepted so far, even if her dog goes too. And does the school make it easy to hang dry dripping, low emissions transportation gear? Should I offer to get a tandem bike and taxi her that way? Ah–I know a sure-fire method: riding by horse! Alas, the community stables are gone and have not yet returned.

 

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Aren’t we all just basically like me?

While a student delegate to a leadership conference, I heard a talk by one of the senior staff, also senior pastor at a large church, who in the course of his talk, said something like, “We have to admit that we all want to be in control. Let’s face it–that’s why we’re here, why we are in the positions we are.” It didn’t sit right with me, and I thought, even if it’s true for some in the room (all top level national student ministry leaders, almost all men in their forties through sixties), it seemed disrespectful, invasive somehow to make such assumptions about everyone based on the speaker’s own personality or inclination. Was I supposed to recognize that at the base of my interest in being a leader was necessarily a controlling personality? So I, we, could confess it, choose to “let go and let God” and so on. But that shoe just didn’t fit. I don’t really want to be a leader. I don’t like being in charge, and the more influence I may have over people, the more trepidation and sense of burdensome responsibility I feel. Sure I want to influence, but because of principle, and in the way I would want to be influenced–through education, reason, relationship, example, for my own good and willing usefulness to others. Not through any kind of control, however subtle.

Now I have a mental antenna for such statements, in speeches, books, sermons, advertisements, and conversation. When I read on a book overleaf that “Every educated person must read this” or “no one can fail to conclude…” or some such, I shake my head. It’s just another form of “Do this, and you’ll fit in with the group.” Again, it overlooks individuality, appeals to the herd instinct, that desire to be moving along with the crowd. I suppose some people want to be influenced that way–in a sense they don’t feel comfortable believing or doing things that aren’t already accepted by a critical mass of others, or seem to be.

We have all succumbed to the temptation to make choices based on majority choices. Which MP3 player to buy? You ask the guy working on the floor. He shows you the “best seller.” As if that’s necessarily the best choice. No intelligent person would think so. See, now I’m doing it to you–did you notice? “We have all…”, “No intelligent person would think…” making assumptions about you and inviting you to believe them in order to move you on to accept my next idea. Watch out.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a lesson here. It’s true, apparently, that influencing people, whole bunches of people, is about convincing a few, a laborious and seemingly fruitless process at times, but who then make the masses believe it’s the new normal, by a kind of cultural diffusion. It’s the scientifically tested ten percent rule. Essentially, once ideas are accepted by a critical mass of ten percent of folks, the majority will accept the same ideas. Read more here: http://news.rpi.edu/luwakkey/2902

Gives me hope that maybe soon we’ll reach the tipping point for ideas about peak oil, global climate change, the need to power down and transition to a low energy lifestyle and resilient local economies. A little late, because of the tipping point of the changes themselves, but still, maybe we can survive them better, lighten the blow on the most vulnerable, share the burdens, and eventually thrive in some new way.

That ten percent will be a hard-won accomplishment, a labor of generations, even. A constant telling and retelling. Talked to my dad on the phone the other night about that, how he had to tell us over and over to turn off the lights when we left rooms, close the door and keep the heat in, put on a sweater instead of asking to turn up the heat. We just want our kids to get it, understand the whys, and be motivated to do what’s right on their own, but instead there’s a need to remind over and over and at least help them form the necessary habits. I thanked him for not giving up, for telling and retelling us. He knew way back that our over consumption would come back to bite us, and in his writings, lifestyle and conversations chipped away at the erroneous majority opinion.

So press on, prophets, preachers, workers, writers, artists, parents, leaders, all. As the apostle Paul said, ‘let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Culture & Society, Parenting & Family

 

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