Thoughts on lots of things, especially education, psychology, culture, religion, and personal growth.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Fix Poverty

If the government truly served the people, solving poverty would be one of its top goals. And poverty could be solved with a few simple policies. So simple, my 4th grader can understand them. Here they are:

  • Evaluate the cost of living and set a poverty line, updated annually. We already set a poverty line, but our current thresholds are absurd. They are set based on the cost of food alone! (wut...!!)  Cost of living should be set, based on the sum of the following:

    median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment

    median cost of utilities for a 1-bedroom apartment, including internet access

    median cost of transportation

    cost of food

    PLUS 1/3 the sum of the above, to account for other expenses required for being alive in the modern world.  (Clothing, grooming, medications, furniture, communications, etc.)

    The sum is the official poverty line.

  • Mandate that minimum wage be tied to whatever it would take for an individual to be above the poverty line if they worked 35 hours per week and took 2 weeks of vacation/sick time. Mandate that minimum wage be automatically updated annually, based on this calculation.

  • Set an income cap, so that nobody in a business is allowed to earn more than 50 times the lowest paid employee or independent contractor in that business.

  • Subsidize childcare, so that no family falls into poverty due to having a child.
  • Mandate that disability payments hit at least the poverty line, updated annually, so that no family falls into poverty due to disability.

  • Subsidize health care (including mental and behavioral health), so that no family falls into poverty due to health expenses.

 That's it. Poverty solved in six steps.

What would this look like in 2021?  I'll run some quick and dirty numbers.  (I'm sure these would need finessing.)

  • Median rent 1B apt: $1,124 x 12 = $13,488 / year
  • Median utilities: $2,060 / year
  • Median transportation per car: $4,271 / year  ($9,737 per household / 2.28 cars per household)
  • Food: $4,450 / year
  •  TOTAL $24,269 
  • 1/3 of above, for miscellaneous expenses: 8,090

POVERTY LINE:  $32,359 (one person)

Thus, minimum wage should be set so that a person working 35 hours/week can hit the poverty line, with two weeks vacation. So 50 weeks x 35 hours = 1750 hours per year.

32,359 / 1750 = $18.49 / hour minimum wage in 2021

32,359 / 12 = $2,697 / month disability payments in 2021

If we combined these wage increases with subsidizing childcare and healthcare, nobody would live in poverty in this country. Imagine all the social ills this would cure! So many of our problems are tied to poverty. 

Additionally, the income caps would solve all the problems related to income inequality.    For anyone worried about this kind of thing "killing innovation and motivation to succeed," please note, there is still room to grow, because the calculation is a ratio not a fixed number. It's just simply the case that if the boss wants to give himself a raise, he has to raise everyone else as well.  Everyone contributes to a company's success; everyone should benefit from its profits.  There are still people who are higher earners than others; they just cannot exploit other people anymore.

I have a final, more radical, idea that would be MUCH more disruptive than the above policies, but would seriously be a much more ethical way to run a modern society.  I'll share it in the next post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Past is Yet to Come

 I woke up a few days ago, after a long, tearful night, with a new phrase ringing in my mind:

The past is yet to come.

And then came a flood of memories that wanted to be heard again.  I can't say I know why.  I won't know until after I write it.

In addition to a personal situation making me inordinately tearful, the current socio-political situation in the United States is also bothering me deeply.  I don't know how I will resolve my personal situation, but on the political, I believe I do have something to say. Even though I do not know how these memories that surfaced recently have any direct relation to the situation I'm dealing with now, I felt an unexpected sense of calm after surrendering my mind to remembering them.  Perhaps, somehow, my own personal healing process can be a mysterious part of the healing process of society as well.

My earliest memories mostly involve church, which we attended several times per week.  I remember driving out to the squat building on the edge of town with the distinctive blue circular structure, and the letters tacked onto the side: Cornerstone Church.  At the time, I understood, that's how churches were supposed to look.  Now I know what a freakish architectural oddity that building is. Flat and plain, the building's only windows are deeply set under a long, low arch that furrows over them like a large heavy eyebrow.  At one end is a strange circular structure that looks like a grain silo has been cut in half, painted, and slapped onto the building.  

Here's how the building looks on Google Maps today:

I remember the circle tower thingy being bright blue. They, apparently, have painted it purple since then.  I think they used it as a storage closet. What else would you do with such a large circular space, anyway? It's not tall enough to use the shape for acoustic purposes. There are no windows, so it won't conform to fire safety standards.  All you can do is stuff your extra chairs and unused seasonal decorations into it.

Weird building, right?  But it boasts a certain boldness. "Dare to be different," it says. "There is an enormous, ridiculous concrete tower (that isn't even tall enough to be a tower) on one end of me, that nobody else would think to create. But we thought of it." 

Weird, bold building for weird, bold people. Out on the edge of town.  Questioning and reshaping reality.

I remember the music. Bright! Fast! Exuberant! Loud!  The singers had perms.  The guitarists had mullets. The drummer was in the center of the stage.  My mother was the keyboardist.  People waved their arms and danced in the aisles. I remember watching with fascination how the stomach of a very fat man would jiggle around himself as he danced and laughed, as the Holy Spirit washed over him and the music roared. I remember people running.  They ran around and around the sanctuary when the Spirit became especially strong sometimes.

I remember a friend my age, Jessica. Sometimes we stood next to each other during the music service and played a secret game.  We each sang as loudly as we could, and when we hit the same high note at exactly the same pitch and with a loud enough volume, we would feel the mutual resonances of each other's voices vibrate in our skulls in a particularly delightful way.  Only we could feel it, because we were right next to each other, creating it. At least, I was playing that game; I don't know if Jessica felt skull vibrations when we hit the same note. Maybe she was just smiling at me because I was smiling at her. 

I remember going to Sunday School in the side room. Sadly, I cannot remember the name of the teacher, but she had dark wavy hair. She was very nice and happy, very good with kids. She taught us songs like "The Fruits of the Spirit" and "I've Got the Joy." We often had puppet shows, and I distinctly remember a puppet show performed to "Girls Just Wanna Serve God."  (It was a remake of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," of course.  The Christian world is full of redemptive mimicry.)

I remember walking out of the building at the end of each service, and the gregarious Pastor Duane wanted to give everyone a hug or shake their hand as they left. I was painfully shy and always drew away from him, but I did trust his wife, Mary, who was also a quieter personality, and I sometimes let her hug me.

I remember church people exclaiming how much I looked like my dad, as we had the same color hair and eyes, and we both have square-shaped faces.  I had already taken society's gender messaging to heart, even at 4 years old, and I always felt pained to correct these well-meaning friends: "I am a girl, and Daddy is a boy, so we don't look alike.  I look like Mommy, because she is a girl."  (Actually, my mother and I look nothing alike; her features are fine and lithe, and her coloring is totally different.) 

I learned that the Lord is good! and the Gospel is the power of God for salvation!  I learned that Jesus loves everyone, SO MUCH, it's hard to even describe how much. Sometimes you just have to dance and shout and run around and sing really loudly, to understand how much Jesus loves you.  I learned that the Bible is completely true, and it contains absolutely everything you need to know in life.  Sometimes other people don't read their Bibles the right way, or they don't read them at all, and that's why they do bad things.  But we know that we are reading the Bible the right way.

My grandmother taught me to read when I was 4. She had taught elementary school for decades, and she said I was her easiest pupil. She said it was more like reminding me how to read, than actually teaching me.  Of course, I immediately tried to read the Bible.  I remember an old, red, leather-bound Bible we had, with a zipper you could close it up with, on the 3 sides that weren't the binding side.  It wasn't real leather; it was some synthetic material, and it was cracking apart. The pages had gold on the edges.

I remember reading the book of Revelation and feeling a sense of suspense and wonder at the part where the Apostle John was about to write down what the voice of the seven thunders had told him, but an angel told him to seal it up and not to write it.  I remember exclaiming to my dad, "I really wonder what the thunders said!"  He responded, "you and everyone else!"

Wow. I had something in common with the rest of the world!  We all wondered what the seven thunders said!

And then I was 5. And then I had to go to Kindergarten.  It was unthinkable to send me to a public school, where the world and the devil would corrupt my spirit.  My parents had to send me to a Christian school, and there were only a few choices at the time.  The one that was doctrinally closest to the Gospel my parents firmly believed in was run by the Assemblies of God.  My dad fretted about their stance on faith manifestation and healing; mom wondered if it was too mainstream since it was part of a (gasp) denomination. But we were poor, and to get a discount on tuition we had to attend that church.  So we changed churches.

First Assemblies of God was on the other side of town and also on the edge of town at the time, but it was in the part of town that was growing rapidly.  The building was enormous. It had two stories of audience seating. Their music team included an orchestra.  They had a grand piano.  Their drumset was off to the side.  People still waved their hands in worship, but much more discretely than at Cornerstone.  Pastor Ray had a deeper voice and calmer personality than Pastor Duane.  Sometimes he said, "God works in mysterious ways," which infuriated my dad, who believed God can be known.  But still, it was better than the Lutheran school. At least the Assemblies of God people believed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  And it was better than the Catholic school, where they committed idolatry.  And it was, for sure, better than public school!

And Jessica was also entering Kindergarten with me.

I remember pretending not to be able to read, because I didn't want to hurt the feelings of the other kids, who were clearly struggling.  I remember making handprints in plaster of paris.  I remember circle time and nap time and "Who Stole the Cookie." I remember the feeling of dread when the teacher served bananas as snacks; I hated bananas, but I was scared to tell her. I thought it would hurt her feelings. Once I was eating my banana so slowly, all the other kids went out to recess and came back again, and I was still sitting there with the barely-nibbled banana on my desk. That's when Mrs. Borchardt realized the problem and pulled me out of the room to talk to me. "You don't have to eat anything you don't want to! You just need to tell me!"  What a relief!

I remember eagerly memorizing Bible verses, one per week, for each letter of the alphabet.

A! "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

B! "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."

C! "Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed."

I remember Nathan Gardner, the class rascal, bragging that he had looked ahead and memorized Q in advance: "Quit ye like men, be strong."

Be strong. I don't remember much about being bullied, but my mom says I often came home crying, because the other kids said mean things to me and didn't want to play with me.  I was weird. Maybe I was too smart, too conscientious, too shy, too poor, too out of touch.  I had strange habits like spinning my hands and walking on my toes, and I stared into space often.  I was quiet, but if I did speak up, it was usually something awkward but full of enthusiasm. I didn't understand or care about the social movements happening among the kids— who had a crush on whom and whose parents knew which important people.

There is a video of me at a friend's birthday party singing "Happy Birthday" way too loudly. After the song finished, I immediately belted out a second verse. And then a third verse.  People began to look at each other warily, or with amused chuckles.  Fourth verse. I'm the only one singing. Fifth verse. Finally I realize it's time to be done, and my friend blows out the candles at last.

Nobody was talking about autism or neuro-atypicality back then, especially not for girls, and doubly-especially not Christians. I was just "weird," and it was a label I would eventually grow to wear proudly instead of with shame.  

But I hadn't grown to that point yet.  Instead, my heart was broken.  The other kids—kids whom Jesus loved SO MUCH, and for whom I felt a glowing love as well—did not love me back.  Only Jessica played with me at recess, but not enthusiastically, once she realized I was weird. Anyway, her family moved away, halfway through the year.  

Eventually Katie started playing with me. I don't know if she didn't think I was weird, or if she just didn't care.  I don't know what she saw in me, but we clicked.  Her boisterous exuberance and my quiet receptivity were like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle. We are friends to this day.

I didn't know it, but there was a problem.  My parents had to warn me before I went to play at her house.  Katie's family was Mennonite.  They don't believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They don't dance in church. They don't even have drums.  But at least we all believe that the Bible is absolutely true, and we can accept each others' differences. And Katie doesn't bully you, and it's important to have friends.

I do not know why Katie's parents chose the Assemblies of God school instead of the Lutheran school, but I'm glad they did.  With Katie, I had to pretend not to care about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it didn't end up mattering. There were games to play, nature to explore, other conversations to be had. And at the end of the day, we each believed that Jesus was the only savior of the world, the Bible was the foundation of truth, and God was the ruler of the universe. That's what mattered.  And from that place of trust, we went on to build tree forts, play on tractors, wade in creeks, go on long bike rides, dress up in fancy clothes, bike by ourselves to the convenience store several blocks away, sing karaoke, bake new recipes, make crafts.  After setting aside doctrine, we were able to engage with reality in a beautiful way.

I mostly hate looking back on my past. It's not that I had any major traumatic experiences— I didn't.  It's just that I feel like most of it was a huge waste. I gave myself 110% to a belief system and way of life that was ultimately toxic and empty.  Instead of learning how to relate to the world in healthy ways, I was off exploring vapid theologies and working out details of irrelevant doctrines.  I can never get that time back, and that makes me angry and sad.  But I am grateful for people like Katie who grounded me and accepted me and explored the real world with me, with gusto and love.  She redeems my story, makes it not a complete waste.

I want to pivot here, to a commentary on the political happenings today.

Back then, all the churches were pretty insular. They tolerated each other and worked together when they could, because they shared some common goals, like developing viable Christian schools.  But generally, each church had its doctrinal reasons to disapprove of all the other churches, and to believe that only they were getting it truly right. Each church was located on the edge of town, each in their own weird little building. Suspicious of the town. Suspicious of each other.

Over time, many of these very different streams ended up coalescing into a political entity now labeled  Evangelicalism, which has become a mighty, fearsome political force in the United States. I actually do know how that happened, but I don't want to focus on that right now.  I want to focus on some of the unspoken animus behind the violent and intractable rebellions that Evangelicals are displaying.

What is going on? Why do they refuse to accept science, facts, and reason?  Why did they gather around someone who is the antithesis of Christ? There are many theories, but here's my analysis.

Although Evangelicals collectively make up one of the largest religious and political groups in the United States, individually, they each still feel like that little church isolated on the edge of town. Nobody can accept them, because they are weird. They've never been able to fit in, and actually, they don't even want to.

Unconsciously, the Evangelical worldview is nihilistic. It rejects reality —ostensibly in favor of a different reality called "the kingdom of God," which they define as relationship with God, mostly at the individual level— but this kingdom has absolutely no basis in any of the five physical senses.  Evangelicals are explicitly taught to ignore or reject any reality that does not conform to God's kingdom.  Eventually, after death, when we go to Heaven, the material and spiritual realities will be in harmony, but in the meantime, there is a split that cannot be resolved. Ultimately, their sense of reality rests on an elaborate structure that is actually nothing. It's all abstractions and doctrines and mental extrapolations; there is no real experience to undergird it.  That's why I say it is nihilistic. Evangelicals believe in nothing.  It's a twisted nihilism, though, because they believe that they believe in something... but really it's nothing. (I am wildly over-simplifying this, for the sake of my point. There is so much nuance that I'm glossing over)

If their nihilism could speak, it might say, "the world exists, but it shouldn't.  I exist, but I shouldn't.  I do not know how to reconcile these things, and that fills me with rage."

Denying reality is fundamentally painful.  It puts you on the edge of town. It labels you as hopelessly weird.  You can learn to identify with that weirdness and wear it as a badge of honor, but deep down, the separation between you and the rest of the world hurts like hell.  Humans are meant to be connected— to nature, to each other, and to the real world.  Separation and isolation are inherently and inescapably painful.  Most evangelicals keep that pain buried and are not aware of it.  But it is always there, waiting to be tapped.

I think Evangelicals are acting wild and irrational because their biggest secret, which they've kept even from themselves, is finally being exposed: their entire existences have been built around nothing.  They would rather go mad than face that fact.  They would rather burn down the entire world.  The idea that their entire lives have been a waste of time, ultimately toxic and empty, is horrifying.

Somehow, Evangelicals need a Katie: someone who can love them for who they are. Who can inspire them to set their doctrine aside and jump into the joy and messiness of experiencing and embracing the real world.

Perhaps this is what the voice in my head was referring to in its prophetic numinosity:

The past is yet to come.

The world is often a hostile place. But there are people like Katie who will come along and see something that nobody else sees. If it happened before, it can happen again.  And if it happened for one little girl, it can happen for an entire movement of people.  I don't actually know this for sure, but I desperately try to believe it... the past can be redeemed.

Monday, November 18, 2019

What I saw in a past life regression meditation

My name was Ilicus.*

I was a man in his mid-50's, with salt-and-pepper hair, and a sturdy muscular body.  I lived somewhere and some time in the Roman Empire.  I was of medium importance in the community and considered a respectable person.  I and my family lived comfortably, not extravagantly, and my work was vaguely political in nature.  Maybe a city accountant or something like that.  I had served in the military in the past.

I was dying.  There was pain on my left flank.  I don't know if it was a wound, or liver failure, or what.  I was in bed, and my wife, Jaia,* was attending to me.  She was so beautiful, so faithful, so perfect.  I wanted to express my gratitude to her.  I wanted to express my love for her.  I looked at her and realized I had no words to express my feelings.  I had never expressed emotion to her before, so how would I know how to do it now?  I felt so at a loss.

I looked at Jaia's face, and realized with shock that she hated me.  In a rush, I realized what I had continually refused to think about for years—I had hurt her in countless ways.  I was cold, unfeeling, harsh, critical.  I had made her feel alone and unloved.  I almost never spoke to her.  I had even been responsible for the unthinkable...

My memory flashed back to an undefined number of years earlier. There was a woman being whipped.  The mists cleared: it was Jaia.  It was my fault she was being punished, but I did not get the details of what had happened.  The only thing I saw was that she was tied to a post before me, naked and in agony as a soldier did his duty.  Each lash of the whip shot through my soul like fire.  How could I have let this happen?  My precious Jaia, and it was my fault. 

I wanted to weep, but I didn't know how.  I hadn't wept since I was a very young child.  In fact, standing near the whipping, I didn't even flinch or cringe.  I didn't show any feelings at all.  As Jaia looked over for a brief moment, to search my face for any sign of concern or support, my memory told me that she probably found nothing there.  As usual.  This is why, I now realized in hindsight from my deathbed, when I had cradled her to take her home, she had not looked at me again.  Pain shot through my heart as I began to understand the scope of the wounds I had caused her.

"Jaia," I faltered.  What could I say?  Panic began to arise in my chest.  I began to realize that my entire life had been lived wrongly.  I had prioritized everything except this woman, whom I now realized had been the most important thing in the world, all along. I had completely missed the point.  Now she was going to be glad I was dead!  The opinions of anyone else in the city did not matter to me.  I wanted her to miss me.  I loved Jaia deep in my soul; I always had.  But why had I never told her?  I had always wanted to be close to her.  Why had I never made that a priority?  I had failed at the only important thing in life: love.  I saw why she hated me.  I now hated myself.

Surely, I couldn't have been that bad!  I hadn't completely neglected her.  I was a responsible husband.  I had provided a secure lifestyle.  Our finances were in order.  I felt a small sense of comfort knowing that she and our son would be comfortable after my passing.  But that did not feel even close to enough, at this moment, as I saw the emptiness and bitterness in her eyes. The bitterness born of years of pain— wave after wave of pain that I had caused her.  I began to feel those waves myself.

There was another memory flashback.  Jaia was in bed —the same bed I was now dying on.  She had just given birth to our son.  I was elated, joyful, absolutely delighted with him. With her. With everything.  I held the baby, love surging in my chest.  I looked down at Jaia.  Our eyes met.  Could she see my joy, flickering behind my eyes?  I think she did, because she smiled.  Did she know I loved her?  Probably not.  But how could I tell?

"You should have kissed her."  My memory's narrator chided me.  "You should have knelt down and squeezed her hand and told her how beautiful and amazing she is. You should have offered to give her some food or water."

Did I not do all those things?  I didn't?  How could I have just stood there like some kind of dumb fence post, and then idiotically stumbled away to let the midwives finish their work, without even SAYING anything?  That hurt Jaia too.

I was near the end.  I had only regrets.  I wanted to try to make things right, or even just to let Jaia know how sorry I was.  I tried to say I was sorry.  It sounded hollow.  My body floated to the ceiling; I saw the scene from above.  I was desperate.  Everything was wrong.  How could I do something, even one small thing, to make this better?  I realized that since I was dying first, that meant that Jaia might die alone, and that seemed wrong.  She should be with me.  I tried to call out to her—"I will come to you when you die, and I will be with you. That's a promise."  But I no longer had any physical voice.  I hoped her soul heard me.

I blinked, and I was in a silent, warm forest clearing.  It was all green and gray. There was moss underfoot, and the trees were impossibly tall and close together.  There was no sound, just the green and gray light. 

Guilt racked my soul.  I had it in my head that the only thing I could do at this point to make things a little better was to provide some comfort for Jaia when it was her turn to die, by being there to guide her soul through the passage.  I waited anxiously.

I saw an opening, and I saw that it was her time.  I walked over, but I could not draw near.  There was a powerful, invisible force that kept me at a distance.  Then
 The Goddess and her consorts
appeared, and THEY escorted Jaia —my Jaia— to the Beyond.  I was not allowed.  Jaia did not want me.  I would never be united with her.  My heart broke completely, and I wept.

Green and gray, and gray and green
Moss and tree and stone
I ignored my love, my love ignored me
And now I am alone

"What can I do!" I cried.  "I am guilty!  I was wrong!  How do I make it right?  How can I be united with Jaia?  How can I heal the wounds I gave her?"  I was crushed by the sheer impossibility of going back in time.  What I had done, was done.  Written in stone for eternity. There was absolutely no way to change it, and no way to atone for my sins.  My sobs choked me.  I was nauseous and terrified, completely overwhelmed by my guilt.

Did this mean that Jaia's pain would last through eternity?  No... Surely not.  She would receive comfort in the afterlife.  She was a good person.  But could I comfort her?  That would be the only way justice could be achieved, right?  If I could only make it right, if I could only heal her wounds!

Green and gray, and gray and green
Moss and tree and stone
I ignored my love, my love ignored me
And now I am alone

"The Goddess will heal her wounds," an invisible voice spoke to me.  "You must sacrifice to The Goddess."

I looked around.  "There is no water here," I spoke out. "There is no grain, there are no animals.  What do I sacrifice to The Goddess?"

In answer, silence echoed around me.  For a thousand years. 

It must be part of my punishment, to contemplate the impossibility of atoning for my sins.

At this point, the voice on the guided meditation track began to drone that it was time to return to my current life.  Tears were on my current face, the life I'm actually living now.  I was aware of nausea and a tightness of throat.  I felt incredibly guilty.

"Ilicus," I spoke. "That's easy. You sacrifice yourself.  The Goddess will take your body and your mind, your imperfect self, and dissolve them.  She will absorb them, she will transform them, and she will create new pieces of life from them, to heal Jaia."

I scrambled out of bed, still crying and somewhat in trance, and found the only image of the Goddess I have at hand, a beautiful painting of Brigid.  I set it on the floor, and enacted the sacrifice.  Weeping, offering my body, prostrating myself.  "Take me, dissolve me!" I called.  "Burn me in your fire! Consume me until there is nothing left!  And please, let Jaia know that I do this for her!"  I repeated these words, until a calm settled.  My guilt began to lift.


*I don't even know if what I saw is true, much less whether my vision of it has any fidelity to what may have been the real story.  I am terrible at meditation to begin with; additionally, everything that I experienced was processed through my conscious mind.  Most details were vague.  Any details I sensed, like names, are highly likely to contain at least some element of fabrication.
I do know that the imagery and emotions of this vision resonate with my current life, which indicates to me that there is a shift happening somewhere in my psyche.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Is Character Determined by Nature or Nurture?

I was so excited to run across this study.   The sample sizes were large, carefully controlled, and pulled from Finnish, German, and Korean populations.  Results were highly stable across all populations studied, so it looks likely that this is an accurate insight into human nature.

So, we finally have an answer to the question of whether human character is based in nature or nurture!  At least part of the answer, anyway.

Turns out, the answer is (drum roll, please)...

50-58% of character traits are attributable to genetic, heritable factors. (Nature)

So roughly half, or a little more than half, of our personalities are "determined," which means that the other half (or slightly less than half) are affected by Nurture.

This is amazing!

The next question in my mind would be, of the 42-50% of remaining attribution, how much is due to external situations, versus internal choices?  (So we move from "nature vs. nurture" to "free will vs. fate.") I'm sure the answers are extremely messy, and, of course, there are probably no hard and fast rules.  But this is cool to see.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Top Five Stupid Things Schools Do, in order of how easy it would be for them to fix

Schools do a lot of things that are extremely annoying and counterproductive. In my opinion, these are the top five bad habits of schools (at least the several dozen or so that I've encountered first-hand), ranked in order of how easy it would be for them to stop doing these things. (Easiest to hardest.)  I also give my opinions on more productive things schools should be doing instead.

1. Fundraisers

Fundraisers are bullsh*t.  I hate them.  I refuse to do them.  Not just because they are an inconvenience to my busy life—and they are.  And not just because I am somewhat shy and don't like approaching people to ask for money — and I am.  But mostly because the whole premise of fundraisers is SO WRONG!

A) Why is this bad?

Well, first of all, as a matter of principle, children should not be performing capitalistic labor for for-profit companies (or any company that accepts money, whether technically for-profit or not).  Yes, companies that create those [chocolates, wrapping papers, popcorn tins, and the whole lot of things designed for children to sell as fundraisers], are usually for-profit.  Their business model is to make unpaid workers —children— their sales force, then share a sliver of their profits with the fundraiser beneficiary (usually the school).  This is unethical on so many levels, which should be enough of an argument to settle it.  But there's more.  Fundraising also sets a bad pattern for the children's developing self identity.  (Learning to see themselves as worker drones of capitalism instead of as citizens of a democracy.) 
I can hear someone arguing, "well, shouldn't children be trained to do chores, as a matter of contributing to their community?"  Yes, they should.  Fundraising is completely different than chores, though. I won't argue this out completely here, because I still have 4 other headings to get to, but I think the differences should be pretty obvious.  The kids help clean up the messes that they help make around the house, but it is my job as the adult to pay the rent/mortgage so they have a house to live in. It is not their job.
(As a side note, my kid once came home with a fundraising packet for a whole-school effort for The American Heart Association... not even for the school itself!  This practically made me apoplectic. For slightly different reasons than the ones I already listed and won't get into here, but still!  Ridiculous!)

Second of all, We The People should be funding our schools properly.  Period.  That includes enough funding for field trips, music equipment, laptops, the whole shebang.  Whatever the school determines it needs a fundraiser for, WE SHOULD BE PAYING FOR IT from our taxes (or the school should go without.)  I like the quote I saw on a bumper sticker once: "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." 
It really is a matter of getting our priorities straight.

B) What should schools do instead?

This is easy.  Just refuse to do the fundraisers.  Schools should keep striking and putting pressure on politicians (yay #RedForEd!!!), to demand better conditions.  Part of a comprehensive strike strategy should be to refuse to participate in fundraiser activities.  Don't send the packets home with kids, don't let the salespeople in the door to schmooze the principal, don't set up competitions, just don't do it.  Every time a fundraiser is proposed, the principal sends a letter to our congresspeople demanding proper school funding, and the teachers a letter to the parents telling them to contact their congresspeople as well. Here's a letter I would love to get from a teacher:
"Dear Parents,
Our school is recommending that all students take a fundraiser packet home, and engage in a competition as to who can sell the most products. Instead of putting these packets in your child's backpack, though, I am taking this opportunity to ask you to please contact Congresspeople [Jane Doe] and [John Doe], and tell them that education funding is high on your list of political priorities.  I want your children to focus on learning and developing into their best selves, not competing to sell trinkets, just to fill in the gaps the adults aren't filling.  Please contact your congresspeople today, and ignore the fundraiser packets.

Thank you,
[Mrs. Jones]"

2) Homework

Homework is bullsh*t.  I'm sick of dealing with it.  Not just because it's an inconvenience to my family's busy life —and it is.  But really, because the practice of assigning homework is based on  principles that are truly wrongheaded.

A) Why is this bad? 

There is no good evidence to support the use of homework in elementary school.  Homework seems to be only somewhat, tenuously supported in middle school and high school (and its benefits seen in studies are very modest and could easily be gained via other methods besides homework).  The #1 proven, consistent, reliable outcome of homework, though, is a suppression of the love of learning.
On the top-10 list of predictors for academic success?  Love of learning.  Kill that, and you kill the education of the child.  Nurturing it should be the MAIN GOAL of schools!!  And yet they require something known to kill it!  It would be like a doctor prescribing cigarettes to her patients. SO DUMB.

B) What should schools do instead?

This is also easy.  Change their policies to require that teachers do NOT send homework packet home with kids.  Don't take away privileges for not doing homework, don't throw parties for the kids who do homework.  Keep school at school.  Make learning fun.  (But also, do offer parenting resources, such as information about how to raise intellectually curious children... like visiting libraries regularly, reading to children, engaging in complex discussions, spending time in nature, etc. A parent's involvement in a child's education is also crucial.)

3) One Recess or less per day, and taking away recess as a punishment

Not getting enough recess is bullsh*t.  When I was in grade school, we got three recesses per day.  Today I am extremely hard-pressed to find a school anywhere that has more than one recess.  And I have looked at a lot of schools.  The most number of recesses per day I've seen is two; some schools don't have any recess!  Compare this to Japan and some other countries, where students get 10 minutes of unstructured recess per 50 minutes of classtime!

A) Why is this bad? 

 Studies show that recess is extremely important to child development.  By recess I mean unstructured free play time. PE class is not recess.  (PE is important, don't get me wrong, but the unstructured free time is the important element here.)  "Structured recess" is slightly better than none, but still doesn't hit the spot.  Children need downtime to let their brains rest, get their wiggles out, socialize, be creative, and develop their imaginations, while connecting with nature. Schools that stick to a higher number of recesses per day get better educational outcomes than those that only have one per day.

Additionally, using removed time from recess as a punishment is completely counterproductive.  Many children misbehave because they can no longer focus, they are bored, they have pent up energy... THEY NEED RECESS to keep them from misbehaving! 

Just today, my kid's teacher took away his recess because he didn't turn in his homework. (We lost it. Looked everywhere, couldn't find it. I'm not making excuses; I searched high and low for an hour, because I didn't want him to be punished. But alas.)  Hearing about his punishment made me so angry.  She took away something that's proven to improve cognitive outcomes (recess) because he hadn't done something that's proven to worsen cognitive outcomes (homework). SO BACKWARD!

B) What should schools do instead?

This would require a bit of restructuring of schedules, so it wouldn't happen overnight.  But it could be done.  Make sure every student in K-6th has at least three 20-minute recesses per day.  Older kids would benefit from breaks, too.  We ALL benefit from breaks!
Part of the reason schools are reducing recess has to do, again, with slashed funding. They remove two of the three recesses, shorten the school day slightly, and save on their electric bill by closing the building earlier.  Again, though... This is not a good reason.  We must demand adequate funding for our schools!

Another part of the reason schools are doing this has to do with No Child Left Behind tying funding to test scores in reading and math. Schools want to be SURE their students can pass those math and reading tests (by non-evidence-based deadlines), so they devote twice as much time to these subjects as before, at the expense of things like recess.  They are shooting themselves in the foot, though.  Students may indeed fly through the NCLB hoops due to more time focusing on these subjects, but they lose out on a lot of other really important developmental things.  This stifles their academic growth long-term.


4) Cutting the so-called "extra-curriculars"

Cutting extra-curriculars is bullsh*t.  After "No Child Left Behind" was implemented, schools started cutting their art, music, sports, and other programs that were not directly related to reading and math.  Much ink has been spilled about the disastrous consequences, so I won't go into it all.  I'm sure most people agree, schools should include bountiful opportunities for other classes besides the so-called core subjects.  And just one music class per week or one art class per month doesn't cut it.

A) Why is this bad? 

A rich environment full of diverse activities is healthy for a developing brain.  The more kids do things besides math and reading, the better they get at math and reading.  It's counter-intuitive, maybe, but it's true.  Science knows this. Policymakers should get on board.
And really, it shouldn't be counter-intuitive.  Math and reading are both tools... means to other ends, not ends unto themselves. The human mind is wired to search for meaning, and it performs better on tasks its finds meaningful.  When a child engages in things like designing an art project or developing a strategy for winning a game of soccer, their brain lights up and builds all the wonderful connections it needs to mature properly.  And the amazing thing is, in the process of doing these things THE CHILD IS USING MATH AND READING SKILLS, albeit indirectly.  She is using the skills of math and reading in the ways that they are supposed to be used--as tools to accomplish other things.  Then, when she has to focus on the actual tools themselves, the math and the reading classes, she has a a plethora of meaning-based schemata to work from to help her learn.
Cutting out all these "extra-curriculars" cuts out the opportunities for the child to build truly rich academic skills.

B) What should schools do instead?

This is pretty tough, because schools are stuck following wrong-headed guidelines coming from the Feds. Additionally, with state budgets being slashed left and right, sometimes the art teacher is the first salary to look expendable...  This part goes back, again, to my first point about continuing to strike, and demand proper funding. We The People should simply not put up with Ayn Rand-grown zombies trying to destroy our great system of education. Fight back.  (Easier said than done, I know, but I'm trying to put this in a nutshell!)
 Schools, themselves, meanwhile, need to recognize that the arts, sports, emotional intelligence programs, project-based learning initiatives, and other programs that aren't so-called "core" are absolutely vital to the proper development of the core learning we claim to want.  Fight to keep them, tooth and nail.

5) Grade Levels

 This is going to sound weird, maybe, but hear me out. Grade levels are bullsh*t.  I don't believe schools should divide kids into "First grade," "Second grade," and so on.

A) Why is this bad? 

I'll have a hard time arguing that grade levels are bad, per se, in the sense that my other four points are about morally bad things.  It's more like, they are an extremely clumsy tool that misses the mark most of the time, and we could do a lot better for our kids.  Not every child develops at the same rate, in the same way, as his peers of the same age.  And there's nothing wrong with this.  Cognitive diversity is normal and wonderful and healthy!  Meeting children where they are is an important component of teaching.
Additionally, children do not benefit from spending most of their time with a crowd of people that are all the same age and maturity level as them.  This breeds a lot of unhealthy socio-emotional habits, and is completely unnatural.  Older students benefit from de facto mentoring relationships that develop when they spend time with younger students, and younger students benefit from looking up to older ones.  Silo-ing children by age is weird, from the perspective of human history.

B) What should schools do instead?

Most schools have already caught on to the concept of differentiated instruction and its wonderful benefits, but differentiated instruction usually only goes so far.  We could take the concept a lot further, in ways that nurture and energize our students to achieve thier maximum potentials.
I envision classrooms that are intentionally built with a whole spectrum of ages, from 5 years old to 12 years old, all together.  (But no more than 25 students per classroom... ideally, 15-20 students per room.)  These classrooms are "home rooms," where the cohorts develop close relationshisp as they work on projects together, with each student contributing to the projects according to their abilities.  Then, students leave their home rooms throughout the day to attend classes that are at their level. 
Individual subjects would be divided by "levels."  For example, take the entire scope of elementary reading curriculum, and divide it into 100 "levels."   When a student passes one level, they go to the next one, at the pace comfortable for them.  So the same student might go to Reading level 1, Math level 14, Science level 10, and Social Studies level 3, all on the same day.  There would be no shaming allowed for a student being at a lower level of something... it would be completely normal, because everyone would do it.

I have two very bright children, who could be working on course work several "grades" ahead of where they are forced to study right now.  I have talked with them about homeschooling, so they could soar to higher academic levels, because it really bugs me that they are stuck studying things that are way too easy for them.  Their answers? "I don't want to be different from all the other kids."  How sad!  If we had schools that allowed and encouraged each child to perform at the levels they are capable of, nobody would be artificially held back due to social pressures.


 There are other school habits that bug me, but that's the top 5.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

signs and synchronicities and spirituality

You know how there are people who can't wear watches because they always make electronics short out? And people who, when they are upset, start having everything around them suddenly break down? Or those who win drawings/contests all the time? It's like, some people have spiritual gifts or energies that just "attract" certain situations, for whatever reason, and it's usually happening at a completely subconscious level. It's just part of their energy signature, I guess.

I am realizing that some people "manifest" spiritual signs and synchronicities around them all the time, and this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with their spiritual growth, health, or maturity... it's just... part of their energy signature, for whatever reason.

This is blowing my mind a bit. 
I imagine it can be confusing for those with the gift/signature/whatever as well.

I try to walk by the spirit, and I've noticed that when I focus more on that part of my life, I tend to get more signs and synchronicities show up around me.  They sort of function as encouragements, in a way, to keep doing what I'm doing. So it seems logical that people who have lots of these signs around them all the time would be more "spiritual," and/or mature, too. 
(Though, I am just realizing as I type this, I'm not sure why those two things --spirituality and maturity-- necessarily have to be conflated!) 
But I am realizing, based on some recent experiences, that if someone has this energy signature, they would have things like this happen all the time, even if they WERE NOT on the right path of maturity and growth. The signs could actually be a distraction, in that case, because you think you're getting validation for your choices, when you're actually just getting your normal radio static.

If I'm honest, sometimes my signs and synchronicites have led me astray. For example, I had a vivid dream once where a doctor's name, hair color, and ethnicity were revealed to me, and the doctor was helping heal me. I had never heard of her before. I googled her and found her...someone waaayyy on the other side of town, and set up a visit... and turns out, she didn't help me or listen to me at all. As another example, I had "signs" that I was "supposed" to marry my abusive ex, even though my physical intuition kicked against it, and the logical "red flags" were there (though, to be fair, I hadn't had any training in detecting patterns of abuse, so I didn't know they were red flags...) 
Sometimes the spiritual signs work, but sometimes they don't. Turns out we live in a whirling soup of reality currents that can be maddeningly difficult to make sense of.
As another angle to this revelation, it's also interesting to note that you can can have powerful spiritual soul ties with people, but that does not necessarily mean that you have to keep that person in your life, or that that person is a healthy choice for you. 
I was talking to a friend today, telling her that I was having this budding realization, and the story that brought this to the fore of my attention.  Amazingly, my friend had just gotten out of a similar situation, about 2 years ago!  Her partner was codependent, domineering, controlling, and dysfunctional, but she also had all kind of spiritual signs and synchronicities occur around her all the time.  This was confusing, because it seemed like she ought to be the "right" person, the soul mate, based on all these spiritual things that happened. But she wasn't.  At one level, she used the signs as modes of gaining power over others, and at another level, she used the signs to actually distract herself from facing herself and growing in psychological maturity.  The signs might convince her that she wasn't walking in her ego, even though she actually was. My friend had to learn to let go of the awe and spectacle of the spiritual signs, and make a decision based on what she knew logically to be TRUE.  She shared her struggles, and I related.  
What are the chances? I imagine there aren't a lot of people who have this kind of experience.  It was amazing to get that validation today.  (Which, I suppose, is a sort of spiritual sign, in itself.)

I guess the moral of the ramble here, is that it's important to use your other "epistemological modes of understanding" all in conjunction, and not just rely on one. If a decision makes logical sense, and if your "gut" says yes, and if you get spiritual signs and synchronicities, it's probably a good choice.  (And even then, it might NOT actually be...)  But if any of those pieces are missing, it's not guaranteed you're making a good choice.
And another lesson I'm learning is that it's important to assert my will onto my situation, once I've made my decision about what is right and healthy, even if it violates what seem to be spiritual signposts. Those signposts might not actually be correct.  Just because something grows in your garden doesn't mean it's supposed to be there.  Make a choice, and then be single-minded in that choice.  In my case, I will probably have to keep cutting and clearing any spiritual pulls and ties that try to come back into my spirit from this person, until they stop occurring.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

new understanding

I have had another loss, and this one should not have hurt, because... we weren't even officially "together" this time.  And I saw it coming and knew it was bound to happen. And yet, there was this tiny ray of hope in my heart that maybe it wouldn't happen, maybe things would get better,  maybe it would be different this time, against all odds.

Against all odds.  Ha.  As if I've ever been lucky!

Anyway, it did hurt. And the biggest part of the pain has been not even knowing why it hurt. It shouldn't have.  The story just doesn't make sense. Why do I feel the way I do, for someone so undeserving, for someone who behaved so badly towards me, for someone who is so clearly not a good match? A week ago around the full moon, one of the horoscope writers I enjoy, Jessica Lanyadoo, wrote:
"Instead of tracking all the ins and outs of your stories, you can actually just let it all go. Stomach the discomfort of the unknown. There’s nothing to figure out; you just need to give it your best."  
It was timely advice. I was holding on too tightly to the need to find the story. Make it make sense. Understand.  And I couldn't.  So I rested and coasted for awhile. Letting myself hurt without knowing why I was hurt. 
I even got a very interesting event to underline the message.  I woke up the next morning with a huge, weeping wound on my foot, and I have NO idea how it got there.

(content warning... gross wound picture...)
This was after a few days of healing. It was worse when it first appeared. I joked that I was starting to get stigmata. Ha ha.

It was like, both the heart and the body have to endure pain without a known source.  The only thing I can do is wait for it to heal.  And I felt a deep intuition tell me, "when the foot heals, your heart will feel better as well." 
That's the plan? Just wait?  and meanwhile... self care as best as possible. OK.

However, grace came through, thankfully.  Last night, while taking a shower that served double purposes of cleansing my physical body (through shampoo and soap) and my energetic body (through Florida water, crushed eggshells, and astral light beams), I suddenly had a revelation.  The "story" I was seeking hit me.  At least part of it.

There are always many ways to tell a story, but I suddenly "got" an angle to the story that is helping me make sense of it.  It's only part of the story's entirety, of course, but it's my corner on the truth.

A little over three years ago I moved away from Kansas, hoping for a new start to almost everything. I wanted to make new friends, get better health, develop a new spiritual community, meet a new life partner, start a new job, find a therapist, find a doctor, find an amazing school for the kids, live sustainably, find new ways to make music, and begin the life of impact and purpose and bad-ass evil-fighting I've always desired to live. I hoped to do it all in Phoenix, or at least get a good start.
In the first week of arriving in Phoenix, I met him.  And the hopeful process of starting a brand new life, that conformed to my ideals and purpose, began.  He helped. He supported as I sought friends, the school, the job, the doctors... with varying degrees of success...  He wasn't nearly as supportive as I needed him to be, but it was so much better than nothing.  I took what I could get, even though something felt uneasy about him, and I definitely made some huge mistakes.  But I was making progress toward my dreams.  It was hard, so hard, but I was getting somewhere.  And then.
He couldn't.
He wouldn't.
He didn't.
And then he became dangerous.
And I had to cut him off, to protect myself and my children.

They say that many personality disorders happen because someone's psyche stops developing when a traumatic event happens in childhood.  I think something similar happened to me.  The breakup was traumatic (for both of us), and I see now that there was some sort of blockage that happened in me at that point. My progress toward my dreams stopped at that point too.  Oh, not completely.  I guess I did manage to buy a house.  But it wasn't the house I really wanted.  And anyway, a house is just a thing.  The deeper, meaningful items I wanted to do have just gone nowhere.  Because I no longer had his help, I had to radically alter my schedule and the activities we could participate in, and that sent us on a trajectory I hadn't wanted to go on, and the chain reaction was one of deep frustration and disappointment.

My list of things I want today is the same as the list I had when I moved here 3 years ago.  I have tried and tried and tried to make progress on them, and... yes, there has been some progress, I can't lie... but the progress has been lackluster at best.

The intermediary time from his departure to now has been all about blockages, delays, things not being "just right" but having to settle for 20th best, false starts, dead ends.  It even manifested in my plants.  My pomegranate bush has remained the same size since I bought it almost a year ago, though I planted it properly, and have been feeding and watering it faithfully. The grape vine has remained the same size...same story...  I bought two moringa saplings to put in the backyard, last January... Moringa is supposed to be a dramatically fast-growing plant around here, thriving in the desert conditions. People report 20-foot growth in a single year.  But these two Moringas just. didn't. grow.  They stayed the same height--about 6 inches-- from January through August, when I accidentally let the goats get them.  Even the cat we got for my son's birthday last year has not grown much. She still looks like a kitten, even though she's over a year old.
Kitty's first birthday. That's a tea saucer, not a full sized plate. She should be bigger by now.

Things are blocked! Not growing normally!  Not developing!

The first several months of being rid of him were a relief, since he scared me so much during the break up.  But after awhile, I started feeling haunted by him.  I think that haunted sensation was due to unconsciously realizing my stuckness, and trying to go back to the point of stuckness, in an effort to unstick it.  I think my psyche fixated on him, because he was the focal point of the blockage

Why did the breakup hurt? Because I have been unconsciously trying to heal what was broken and stunted, which has affected literally my entire life since it happened, and I'm seeing HIM as the access point, or object, of that healing. 

And of course, I realize that's too much pressure to put on a person.  Each of us is responsible for our own healing.  I wasn't doing it on purpose, but it was unconsciously creating an unhealthy co-dependent vibe.  (He had his own contributions to that vibe as well, though, of course. But I'm talking about my story, which is the only one I have the right to tell.)

I am not sure if there is more to the story of our connection... Is there a past-life thing? Is it real love, that just can't express properly due to dysfunction?  Is there another chapter in the future?  (Probably not, realistically.)  I have no idea. 
But this part of the story makes sense to me, for now.  I'm grateful for the insight.  It is healing to sit with it, and grieve with purpose, instead of confusion.  My foot is scabbing, finally, and I'm sure in another week or two, it'll be completely better, as will my heart.