Growing Healthy Food and Children

A grandiose post on education. Sometimes it’s just gotta be done.

Now that I have a rare moment wherein time is somewhat suspended (the woman is sick and passed out and I’ve finished grad school work due tomorrow), and I’m imbibing some Dominican ambrosia and just relaxing and feeling reflective, I think I’d like to verbalize some thoughts on public education, as right now it’s surprisingly caught the drift of a lot of national attention, due in no small part to Waiting for Superman (which I pledged to go see but never did, because  . . . you guessed it, didn’t have the time (but that’s what Netflix is for, in any case (plus, I’m opposed to seeing movies in movie theaters any more))), as well as concurrent talking points like Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, Michelle Rhee, Cathie Black, reformed systems of teacher evaluation, bullying and deaths in school, etc.

The strange thing about education is just how damned political the whole undertaking is. The field of education is a messy conflux of policy and politics, with many stakeholders taking often quite adversarial positions even when they ostensibly have common goals. Education is a hugely dynamic and complex field, and it doesn’t really make sense to view it through the lens of only one stakeholder.

Therein, perhaps, lies the crux of the issue. No one can really quite agree on what public education is supposed to do, exactly. We certainly agree that we should be teaching our children, but often in actual application, it would appear that us adults (whether parents, teachers, administrators or policymakers) are quite confused about what is worth teaching and might need some further schooling ourselves. Often we end up simply capitalizing off of children, in the same manner that giant corporations capitalize off of war, and industries capitalize off of prisons.

An Analogy

Coinciding with the rise of public education was the rise of agribusiness. Both of these services to society, I would argue, were crucial and entirely necessary. The drive to efficiency and scalability of agribusiness has resulted in some unforeseen issues, however, such as rampant dependency on pesticides and herbicides, and the ravaging of topsoils. Awareness of these detrimental side-effects has grown, and the organic and whole foods movement has caught on at a mainstream level in order to address some of these imbalances, though the jury is still out on whether we’re even capable of rectifying them. At the very least, society is beginning to recognize that short-term gain is not always worth long-term detrimental effects, including impacts on global and personal health.

There are links between food growth and education that I think should be elucidated. When you grow food, you are not simply growing a product, you are sustaining soil life. The more vibrant and diverse that soil life is, the more abundant, sustainable, and healthy your final product is. In education, you are not simply building student dendrites and promoting academic development, you are cultivating a community. The more inclusive, diverse, and vibrant that community is, the better the academic and other outcomes will be for students. We don’t need research to tell us this.

The Big Idea

The big idea here is that post-modern farming and education, as in the permaculture approach, is all about fostering foundational systems of interconnectivity. When you are dealing with complex systems of life, you need to promote those interconnections at all cost, or else you will end up weakening those systems at an incalculably large cost to greater society.

It’s this idea that I think can promote a unified vision for where education needs to go today. It’s not just about technology or knowledge work or global competitiveness or what have you–it’s about societal health and a sustainable future for our nation. If we can’t cultivate self-sustaining communities that are vibrant, interconnected, and teeming with diversity, then we will be able to do little else than continue infusing unhealthy doses of industrial era, one-size-fits-all reforms into school systems, propped up on federal money and compliance based policies.

Appreciating Social Media

It may be trivial and superficial and irrelevant and narcissistic and voyeuristic and all that, but . . . well, that’s what it is if that’s who we are.

Envision the following scenario: you’re sitting around the waterhole with fellow colleagues and someone mentions their Facebook account, and one person says, “Huh, Facebook! Why would I want to post a bunch of shit that no one needs to know” etcetera, and then another person says “Hear, hear!”, and then another person says they’ve deleted their Facebook/MySpace account because they are so over it, and everyone sits there shaking their head at what unknown tragic end this world is coming to . . .

This seems to be kind of a common theme with some people in general–even those who utilize social media–you know, this deep-seated urge to bitch about how evil social networking is. Some kind of strange shame or guilt about posting things about yourself online or looking at other people’s info online, or something. You’ll see it in the news: the deleterious effects of the internet and how you can’t trust what is posted on-line, and how someone has been fired from their job because of a comment made on Twitter, ad nauseam.

But stop. Just stop for a minute, and think about the big picture here. Scan your brain back to 10 years ago, if you’ve been around for that long. Remember how we used to base all of our understanding of the wider world solely on the newspapers and TV? Well now scan back to now. Now, if you are savvy and Twitterized and blog literate and Facebooked and Buzzed and what have you–well, you keep up with the news of your friends and sorta friends and remote acquaintances and people you went to high school with and so forth. You see that Belinda over in New Mexico has just betrothed and has a new collection of abstract art viewable on Flickr, and you see that Zachary from your workplace is blitzed in Puerto Rico and that your cousin has a hamster that is sick and that girl from across the street that you thought was kind of cute is having her third kid, and so on and so forth. In other words, we are slowly converting over to getting our news from where it should be gotten from: from our friends.

It may be trivial and superficial and irrelevant and narcissistic and voyeuristic and all that, but . . . well, that’s what it is if that’s who we are.

Because we can still get the serious stuff from the newspapers or Google news when we need it. For all the rest of it–it’s just human nature converted into modern technology, now, ain’t it?

A Way to Subvert

A cross roads of sorts eventually asserts itself from the mist as you trudge ever onward towards inevitable oblivion. Is the inner development that you require necessitated by your outer reality? Is this really what you need? To be beaten down into submission before the homogeneity and failures in communication of the onslaught of desire? Everyday that you attend to reality, there is a reason to hate humanity, to give up the effort of continual sustained professional growth. There is a reason to shrink up within yourself and seek a means of escape.

But observe the one who maintains integrity: the way, the light that follows the heat. It isn’t about formulas, or scriptures, or any other formal adherences. It’s about following your heart. It sounds like Hollywood, Bollywood, but missing the essential main ingredient: your active oxygenated attuned rhythmic pulse conveying the life force that is you and all of the world but only you. Intuition. Empathy. Creation. Love. This. Moment. Only. Known. Now. Now. Now.

Rebel. Reinforce. Reinvigorate. Challenge the cold distant regularity and expectations that define your reality. Everyone that you know—including yourself—seeks comfort and coalescence in the face of an explosive and potentially destructive alien and dissociative desire. Ignore and let fall the immediate and reactive demands of public demand. There is something higher. Something quiet. Something powerfully calm and removed from immediate accessibility.

Life isn’t about Top 40. You make money? You plunder lots of virginal gullibilities? Let’s see how far you fare within your own tabulation of your life’s worth. Just awaiting your own death? Or what? What?

It’s about us. It’s about community. It’s about town, city, state, nation, world, way. It’s about identity as related to growth. It’s about me as related to you and them. It’s about everything. It’s about enemy, lover, and happenstance commuter companion. How much can you respect yourself in relation to me?

Enough. Either you are in, or you are out. Something within you or without you has determined this cosmic stance. What matters except your own life force of will, of choice, of effort? The confinement of the everyday delimits us all. Only the procreative will will find a way to subvert. Yes. And no. And Yes.

Collaborative Interdependence

I’ve been undergoing a mild case of “writer’s block” lately, wherein everything that I attempt to write just comes out flat or completely uninspired. Frustrating, because then it drives me to playing mahjongg instead of articulating deeper sentiment (mahjongg here being the virtual “bottle” in which to drown my woes).

One of the things I’ve been constantly trying to write about but having trouble clearly spelling out is my perspective on enacting progressive change. I’ve discussed elsewhere my evolving views on politics and economics, and I’ve been trying to find a way to more fully explicate my new views while still embracing, intellectually speaking, the perspectives which I’ve developed out of, such radicalism, anarchism, anti-globalization, postcolonialism, etc.

Rather than present a cohesive thesis, therefore, let me just discuss what my thought process is at the moment vis-a-vis these general topics and maybe I can work my way over the obstacles I’m currently facing just by talking it through.

I think what I’m finding is that I can still relate very well to viewpoints such as socialism and anarchism because such perspectives are ultimately humanist, in that there is an idealistic attempt to extricate humanity from what are perceived as inhuman and oppressive structures. There is still a lot of misunderstanding out there about what “anarchism” really means, and you can see this quite powerfully in The Dark Knight as depicted by the Joker, as one current example. People think of chaos, terror, pimply youth in black apparel heaving Molotov cocktails as an expression of aimless hormonal angst. But anarchism is not about chaos and terrorism: it is simply a philosophical rejection of the need for institutionalized systems of governance. Extending out of this are many disparate branches of anarchist philosophy, but that is its central tenet. Contrary to being a negative and nihilistic perspective, this is in actuality an extremely positivist take on human nature, in that anarchists believe that human society will run much more efficiently and naturally when not subsumed to overarching systems.

I was drawn to anarchist philosophy because of this deep humanism, and some anarchist writing is the most well-articulated writing out there on politics. You don’t feel like you are being talked down to. Go here and browse through the library to see for yourself. It isn’t much at all about violence or chaos. It’s about believing in a world that can be better than what we are taught to accept.

However, one of the problems with this perspective is in answering the question: well, how do we get from here to there? There are many different answers to that, some of which I will agree with, but ultimately, what one comes to understand is that holding the highest of ideals makes it extremely difficult to come to terms with the existing state of the world, generating anger, bitterness, and violence and/or apathy.

I will devolve into an oblique comparison here: in a long-term relationship with another human being, you come fairly quickly to realize that compromises must be made between you and your partner’s ideals in order to live together. If your ideals are too high, it may be that instead of coming to terms with the human reality of your partner and accepting them as they are, you are rejecting parts of them in order to try to fit or mold them to your ideals. These high expectations can blind you to the beauty of the person that already exists right before you, if you could allow them to be themselves rather than what you want them to be. You both can work together on developing towards the ideals that you share and cherish.

This does not mean that you should accept a drab reality. What I am getting at is that there is a process in working towards ideals. There must be development and evolution in order for ideals to become reality. Perfect harmony does not just fall into your lap without extensive effort. So one could feasibly hold anarchist philosophy as the ideal state of human society, but still work within and around existing government and market structures in seeking to achieve that ideal.

That is fairly self-evident, I suppose, but as I talked about in my other post, it seems to me that there are a lot of idealists out there who are constricted, rather than motivated, by their ideals.

In any case, even though I sympathize with the philosophy of anarchism and of radical thought in general, I ultimately feel that it is misguided. Anarchists and other philosophies of dissent rightly perceive that there are problems with institutional and market systems, but they wrongly perceive the correct redress as being a complete rejection of these systems. To use another obtuse analogy, it is like looking at a fan which doesn’t blow air very efficiently or equitably about a room, and deciding that the solution is to throw out the fan. While such a solution might appeal to instinct, it would make much more sense to attempt to analyze the failure of the fan and seek to alter, jerryrig, or otherwise upgrade to a whole new model.

To say this, however, doesn’t mean that one couldn’t choose to live ones life according to anarchist or other radical ideals. One has that right and capability. But what I am talking about is being involved in the greater community, and subsuming some of those ideals to accepted law and policy in order to extend greater influence.

Another issue I think I see with philosophies that reject existing market and government systems is that they are often mired in a mentality of a bygone era. We have come into a time, due to the unforeseen confluence of technology and rapid information dissemination and sharing, in which civil society and individuals as a whole have a power and command that they did not once have. Civil society thus is becoming evolutionarily enabled to play the critical part in balancing and restraining and guiding the efforts of institutions and markets in providing a fairer and more sustainable society. Demonstrators and protesters, even when not covered explicitly by the big media outlets, have a strength that corporations and governments have had to pay close attention to. Anti-globalization protesters, though misguided in their conclusions (multi-national corporations and interconnected markets = evil), have had a tremendous and positive impact on drawing attention to economic inequity and iniquitous barriers to trade. Similarly, the increased influence and power of “bloggers” has given big media a run for its money. Due to this increased power of civil society and of individual citizens, people are not simply oppressed workers underneath the inhumane strictures of the one-dimensional demand of capitalism. In collaboration—not opposition—with public policy, the legal system, and economic investments and incentives, civil society, government, and the economy can work in tandem to address the problems that exist in society.

This is not an argument against dissent or protest. What I’m attempting to get at is that the process of speaking up and getting involved and asking critical and probing questions is in fact a necessary and positive aspect of well-organized and functioning social systems. It is not a movement against the “system” or against the “machine” or whatever one chooses to call government and business structures: rather, it is a movement that enhances, collaborates, and guides these systems into greater harmony.

I have argued elsewhere for the need to view these systems in the sense of design, with a holistic, whole-systems approach. This is especially apparent when it comes to entrenched issues such as the current failure of many of our public schools to adequately and equally educate all our nation’s children, irregardless of race, class, or gender. Educational policy, on both a federal and state level, often nobly, but wrongly, attempts to tackle their problems solely within the confines of the classroom by initiating misguided programs that work to increase performance on standardized tests. Obviously, there are circumstances outside of the classroom that are critical to a child’s success, such as family, friends, and wider local community support, in addition to institutional programs. It will take a multifaceted approach, addressing not only education, but furthermore socio-economic conditions, access to information and technology, not to mention access to healthy, positive, inclusive environments and public spaces for children to study and play in.

Our schools have become effectively segregated due to the seemingly innocuous effort by well-to-do parents to place their children in “successful” schools. The successful schools being the ones with money and community support. It is thus apparent that investments must be made simultaneously not only in education and the public school system in general, but furthermore broader investments must be made in low income neighborhoods, to provide access to healthy public spaces, to provide access to technology and information, to provide smart planning for a sustainable future in employment, etc. The more that the middle class divides itself from the poor, the greater problems will become.

What is evident in an issue such as this is the approach that I am talking about: a whole systems, collaborative approach. Civil society must do its part to draw attention to the problems. Government must do its part to respond with effective and unbiased policy changes. The market must do its part with directed investments and innovative micro-businesses. What is apparent, to me at least, is that we can’t rely on any one of these systems to do the job for us. The market is not going to solve any of our problems unless we direct it and harness it with policy and incentives. Government will not update its policy or open up funding unless it has its attention drawn to the problem. Civil society, NGOs, citizen organizations must agitate, petition, utilize the media, and organize to focus on the problems.

Furthermore, policy making and business governance and legal affairs cannot be over-specialized. They can’t be compartmentalized and vivisected such that they can’t work effectively across the fields of public health, education, fiscal tuning, management philosophy, environmental departments, etc. They need to be able to unite and work within these fields all at once.

This kind of approach demonstrates that no matter what ones particular ideals may be, what is the most important is a pragmatic and responsive attention to the current climate and issues in our society. Putting our heads in the sand, whether due to reactionary or radical or centrist thought, is simply unacceptable. Good management, governance, and policy practices are forged by looking ahead to the future, constantly and consistently. Our future lies in our children. Whatever our beliefs may be, we all want our children to be healthy, to be successful, to have access to the resources that will empower and enable them. We want them to be educated, to be well fed, to be well read, to be sound of body and of mind. We want them to be positioned to respond effectively to reality, to be positioned for a market that looks ahead to sustainability.

The process, therefore, in achieving an equitable and sustainable future is determined by the collaborative interdependence of differing aspects of human identity, mind, infrastructures, and society. Only when these multiple points converge and work together are effective and positive changes made. It is misguided to focus ones efforts solely in rejection and opposition to existing systems. The more positive approach is to focus on working across boundaries to enact changes beneficial to all.

Phew. You can see why I’ve had trouble laying this out. It’s kind of a big mess in my mind. I’m working on getting this out in a more concise manner.

Movement Towards Inclusion

“The bell jar [as described by Braudel, signifying the exclusivity of the capitalist sector of society] makes capitalism a private club, open only to a privileged few, and enrages the billions standing outside looking in. This capitalist apartheid will inevitably continue until we all come to terms with the critical flaw in many countries’ legal and political systems that prevents the majority from entering the formal property system. . .

Few seem to realize that what we have here is one huge, worldwide industrial revolution: a gigantic movement away from life organized on a small scale to life organized on a large one. For better or for worse, people outside the West are fleeing self-sufficient and isolated societies in an effort to raise their standards of living by becoming interdependent in much larger markets. . .

Like computer networks, which had existed for years before anyone thought to link them, property systems become tremendously powerful when they are interconnected in a larger network. . . .

Political blindness, therefore, consists of being unaware that the growth of the extralegal sector and the breakdown of the existing legal order are ultimately due to a gigantic movement away from life organized on a small scale toward one organized in a larger context. . .

The primary problem is the delay in recognizing that most of the disorder occurring outside the West is the result of a revolutionary movement that is more full of promise than of problems.”

Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

De Soto’s insights are tantalizing: his essential message is that the poor are seeking to become a part of the larger market system, but are denied access through exclusive laws and fiscal policies. Faced with the inability to become a part of the global market, the poor then must operate within small-scale, community “extralegal” markets and negotiations. I have referred to this market activity, so visibly abundant and active within South America, as a “micro-economy,” not recognizing that this teeming market life was not necessarily included within the larger economy in a formal sense.

What I also like about De Soto’s vision is his recognition that the poor have always historically recognized the opportunities inherent in a larger market. The movement to urban centers during the Industrial Revolution is well documented, and the same movement is now occurring in developing countries daily. The poor innately recognize opportunity when they see it, and recognize that fundamentally, global markets can provide access to a wider network of capability and progress.

Of course, simply giving the poor land titles and opening up their economies to globalization does not necessitate a better life, due to the great imbalance of power and wealth in favor of developed nations and small populations within developing nations. De Soto’s simplistic diagnosis has thus been rightfully critiqued. But with corrected fiscal policy and global law, these imbalances can be addressed to become more inclusive. De Soto’s insights can very neatly be coupled with the insights provided by social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus. With the tool of microcredit, the poor can be given the ability to become included within the wider market and use their properties as capital assets.

The wider the embrace of networks can become, the more powerful and effective they will be. A market that can include and embrace all of the teeming activity of the micro-economies of the poor (and thus raise them out of poverty) is a healthy and balanced market.

What I also appreciate about De Soto’s vision is his emphasis on the global movement towards interdependence. Accepting membership into a greater community is to shed a degree of self-sufficiency and isolation. There is a strong undercurrent within environmental activism as well as nationalist reactionaries towards self-sufficiency and isolationism. It is certainly important to have integrity and inner strength. But at a certain point, interdependence within greater networks provides a greater strength and resiliancy.

I can best phrase this within the context of death: when someone you are close to passes away, you can feel a humongous hole cut out from inside of you. It makes you realize just how interconnected you are with everyone else in your life, and of how illusory is the concept that you are alone and detached.

When acts of violence and terrorism are committed, they are best viewed as perverted and desperate attempts to become included into the networks that they have been excluded from. The answer, therefore, in fighting terrorism is not in utilizing weapons and occupations, but rather in fighting poverty, by seeking to include, in an effective and positive manner, the developing nations and those in extreme poverty into the global market and body politic.

It is no secret that those nations mired in extreme poverty harbor terrorists. So what should we do? Bomb them? Or seek to include them into the greater networks of which they so desperately want to become a part of and which they have been routinely denied. Isn’t the answer obvious?

Natural Pornography

You know, whenever I check my blog stats, I am always perturbed to find that there are always the same search strings that lead people to my site, and they generally consist of something like, “nature porn,” or “porn in nature,” simply because I entitled one post Nature Porn, in reference not to outdoor humping, but to the commercialization of nature as embodied by Yosemite National Park. It’s just frankly weird, that men (I assume they are men, but perhaps I am being sexist?) out there are doing daily multiple searches for “nature porn.” Who cares in what environment the porn takes place? You’re just watching other people have sex. Is it that you are turned on only when the sex act takes place next to the phallic imagery of trees, or by the verdent spread of grass? Or is this some kind of weird environmentalist impulse? Do people also do searches for “industrial porn,” or “office porn,” or “yacht porn”? (I guess I’ll find out from my blog stats soon enough.)

If you’ve hit upon this post because you were querying “nature porn”, perhaps you could take a second before continuing on with your research to clue the rest of the world in to this mysterious erotic fetish.

Traffic and Fearlessness

It would seem that there is much less fear in general in Colombia: fear of death, fear of strangers, fear of sickness, etc. This translates often into brazen displays of recklessness, such as absolutely insane feats by buses and taxis, but it also seems to produce a greater social cohesiveness—it’s like every man for himself, but everyone accommodating each other in getting everything for themselves. This is seen most visibly in the manner that cars and buses and trucks nearly seamlessly merge and wend around each other in dense forests of flowing traffic, all without any concern for lanes or signals. The vehicles get literally within centimeters of each other and pedestrians, often while flying along at 80 mph on a residential road. Accidents certainly do happen here, but they don’t seem to happen any more frequently than in the States—if anything, the frequency of hearing the sirens of an ambulance wafting across the night air seems to be much less. Thus, much more attention is paid to your surroundings and the people around you, because it is recognized that your life may depend on it.

So it would appear at a glance that life is devalued by this apparent lack of concern for safety, but this is not so. Clearly, people here enjoy themselves and don’t seem incredibly stressed by fear or worry, even if many of them live well below modern “living standards”. This closeness with death rather translates into a relaxed enjoyment of fleeting pleasures. Dancing, music, sitting in the sun, etc. So perhaps it is a superficiality that is similar and contrary to the superficality of modern materialism in its way. In the United States, everyone is frightened of each other, frightened of death, frightened of cancer, etc. And I don’t know that we enjoy ourselves any more as a result of our worry and stress, even though we garner higher standards of living. I also don’t know that our traffic moves any more efficiently or safely as a result of our wider streets, multitudinous traffic laws, and giant SUVs. Maybe we need to just relax and enjoy ourselves a little more, and accept death a little bit closer into our daily existence as the inevitable reality that it is . . .