Friday, April 03, 2020

Lawns are the enemy!

Westmeade works to be a sustainable community!  As part of my personal journey, during this time of sheltering in place,  I have been reading Douglas Tallamy's "Nature's Best Hope" which explains why lawns are an environmental disaster and offers how we can change that! 

Here are the five reasons we should rethink our lawns!

  1. Lawns displace the natural world! use two times the land area of all parks and reserves put together in the U.S.  They have wiped out the natural wildlife corridors that once existed in our landscape.  We add 500 sq. miles of lawn every year!
  2. Water use!  In the east 30% of our water supply goes to irrigation of lawns while in the drier west it is more like 60%.  That is 32 gallos for every person EVERY DAY!
  3. Chemicals.  
    • 40% of all lawn chemicals we use in the US have been banned in other countries because they cause cancer.  A big problem for pets and children who play on the lawn regularly!
    • 40-60% of these chemicals end up in our ground water and streams where they go on disrupting that food chain by killing plants and animals in the water.
  4. Time. We spend 3 billion collective hours on our lawns every year!  Think what that would look like if it were invested in growing food and perennials that keep the ecosystem healthy, store water and put CO2 back in the soil.
  5. Lawns are not productive!  They don't 
    • produce as much O2 as the native plants which it replace
    • produce food, 
    • provide habitat (especially for native bees), 
    • store water effectively or cleanse it as it is returned to the aquifer,
    • sequester CO2
    • or create soil by pulverising the bedrock as would perennials and trees do. 
Ponder this and tomorrow we will see what we could do differently!

Nature will nurture,

Soon I will be giving our families things that Warner Park Naturalists are designing for us to do with our kids in our own backyards or parks!  This poem by Mary Oliver is exactly what happens when we focus on the natural world!

"This morning, at waterside, a sparrow flew 
to a water rock and landed, by error on the back 
of an eider duck;  lightly it fluttered off, amused.
The duck, too was not provoked, but you might say,
was laughing,

This afternoon a gull sailing over 
our house was casually scratching 
its stomach of white feathers with one 
pink foot as it flew.

Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us to us, if we
only look, and see! 

Saturday, February 01, 2020

The three gifts that I would like to give to my young friends are the gifts of curiosity, wonder, and self acceptance.   I want them to turn to reading when they explore their world. I want them to turn to reading to ferret out the worlds wisdom.  I want them to turn to reading when they doubt themselves find that others have had the same struggles. zero waste school with a focus on nature education. I want my young friends to love every moment of the exploration. If they do these things they will have the observational and critical skills to live well and solve problems in the real world.  Virtual worlds are fine but our attention to them and has left us fraught. It is, in part, this recognition that drives us as we move to be a

NOW I worry that we force children to abandon the very things that make them children. We force their teachers to abandon that wonder of reflective time with children for a more focused, forced and formulaic approach to learning. Some of this push has been helpful for teachers to learn better methods of teaching and questioning, but the constant collection of data and the push to have all children achieve at the same level (determined by the chamber of commerce and its educational report card) is destructive.

I am writing this because the mother of a 1st grader (the kind of parent you love to have--one that is so engaged and supportive, well educated and wanting the very best for her child) was utterly distraught as she read a note about how her student was falling behind...

I encounter this child daily in the library and I want that parent to stop worrying. I want his teacher to stop worrying. I want them all to be able to enjoy learning together. The book "How to Raise a Reader"points out just how many of the things we have been told about reading are simply not true.  Reading early does not necessarily indicate much about a child's reading success.  So relax.  If your kindergartner isn't reading stop worrying.  We used to teach real reading in 1st grade, but now we push it out to ever younger populations.

I was the kind of child who would have engendered such a note, but when I was in 1st grade parents didn't get such notes.  As a young reader I saw no point to read the books I was being handed at school.  They were not nearly as engaging as what I was hearing at home in the evenings.  As a family we read books like "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" every night before bed . The basal readers of my childhood were nothing short of hideous! I lived in a rural part of Iowa, and there was no library in our town so the only books available for me to read were those from school like the Dick and Jane series of readers.

I hated reading until we moved to California and I went on bi-weekly field trips to the public library. My lovely new school did not yet have a library, so believe it or not we were swept away to the public library where I found a very old copy of "A Child's History of England" It was the first book I chose and read on my own. I loved it!  How could a non-reader go to a fluent one in such a short amount of time?  It is part of what makes learning so appealing to someone like me.  It is not linear!  Things that have been planted and are lying dormant can suddenly spring to life and surprise everyone, even the young reader.

I had the time and space and opportunity to find my place in education, to become a reader to not feel the sting of judgment at the age of 9!  What we do to children when we allow corporations to sell us everything we need from programs to workbooks to formulas for education is utterly antithetical to the transmission of knowledge. This kind of "education" may make some people wealthy, but it devalues teachers who watch as thousands of dollars go to expensive subscriptions for computer programs.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Someone I love and honor posted a meme.  It is not significant what the meme said.  What is significant is the fact that the meme was completely false and generated by someone knowingly creating it with the intent of promulgating misinformation on social media.

This meme has been picked up and published and re-published across the internet adding to the culture of those who say, "you have your sources and I have mine"  The internet has been a force for good in many instances, but fearfully it has also allowed the promulgation of malicious misinformation.

I responded to the meme by asking, "If you knew that this were false, would you publish it anyway."  The response I got was not a thoughtful one. "We are not to comment on each other's posts. I have honored that."  So we are to live in silos of belief.  If I believe the earth is flat --- so be it.  Do not engage me with information to the contrary.   This is a huge problem for someone who grew up, completely enamored of Jefferson's words, 

"For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."                                                                                                                     - Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820

But what if reason is not left free to combat error?  What then?  Jefferson never expected a world in which a lie could simply be repeated enough to win the day.  How did we arrive at this point?  I remember studying history and being fascinated by the role of propaganda in the rise of Nazism across Europe.  I remember thinking in a sort of naive "American Exceptionalism" way -- That would never happen here because the press would expose such a lie early and often.

Now a year into Trump's presidency I am disabused of such a notion.  The president simply says whatever is expedient at the moment and changes his statements depending on current perceptions of his base.   Our press has done a good job of exposing these lies, but the president has marginalized that with has his own network (Fox)  and his constant  tweets obfuscating and producing a confusing string of words.  We are called on to simply believe the most recent tweet.  We are not to look into the past tweets to compare.

Early in the campaign, I noticed these memes and tried to track them down to confirm their veracity.  I couldn't find their source.  It was so hidden that one could not find the original writer.  Some of these were particularly egregious, like the one about the Pizzeria in D.C. where Hillary was supporting child trafficking. Another report which had an "FBI agent suspected in Hillary email links found dead"  This one turned out to trace to  the Denver Guardian.  In checking on the Denver Guardian I discovered that it wasn't a real site at all. The Denver Guardian was nothing more than a web site with links that did not work, with no way to learn who was responsible for it.  It even had a fake street address.  So the information was created for the sole purpose of misleading and getting people to click on other fake news stories.

How do we fight this kind of thing in a world where my dear friend says he doesn't want to hear anything that might contradict what he believes?  Perhaps you are saying that I do the same.  I assure you that is not true.  For example when I see a meme or post that I really want to be true, my go to thought today is to check it out before I repost it or forward.  I acknowledge my bias to be sure, but I want to know the truth beyond that bias!

Monday, September 04, 2017


What does repairing a Reynolds Aluminum Box have to do with the School Garden or sustainability?
This question which is often accompanied by a quizzical look.  One of the biggest problems with making our world more sustainable is that our entire society is based around two things; consumption and convenience. 

I was cleaning the pantry because we had a wee mousie in the housie!  I picked up the box of aluminum foil (which I try to use sparingly and recycle when it gets used). The roll of aluminum immediately fell out of the box exposing that both ends of the box were broken.  I remember this moment of frustration from many previous encounters with this box.  I am at a turning point.  Either I am going to ditch this nearly full roll and go out to buy a completely new one (which has the potential of being equally quickly broken)  or I am going to have to repair the box making it possible to use up the remaining foil. 

I immediately started weighing the value of my time versus just getting a new box.  By now you are probably rolling your eyes and maybe even you have stopped reading.  But let me encourage you to assess things in your own life in this same intentional way.  If I throw this box away I will at least put the aluminum to be recycled.  That recycling will cost effort, time, and money.  I do not have the sophistication to determine exactly the cost comparison, but between my time/recycling foil/getting a whole new box. What I do know is that if things are going to be sustained we need to add INTENTIONALITY and REPAIR TO THE repertoire of things we just take for granted.  We cannot continue to live for personal convenience and gain alone.

This weekend I was dying for a coffee.  It was pouring rain (the remants of Harvey), I had gotten wet and for the first time since last June, I felt chilled.  I pulled into Dunkin' Donuts.  I was ordering my coffee, when I realized that they put their hot coffee in Styrofoam.  OOOpps!  I quickly changed the order to iced coffee....not what I had envisioned and explained to the clerk WHY I had changed my order.  When she tried to hand me a straw with my iced coffee I pulled out my stainless steel straw and explained how bad straws are in our environment.  Then when I came home I contacted the website and suggested that they switch to paper cups for the coffee, and use paper straws....Again, it is a small thing, but the beaches are made of small bits of sand (and now thanks to us - PLASTIC!  

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Retiring at 40!?

As we meet week to week to think about how our lives will change as educators and neighbors of Westmeade Elementary when we become the first environmentally sustainable school in Tennessee,  it is interesting to think first about how our lives need to change to make our planet sustainable and its people healthier.  Living simply has implications beyond just the junk that fills up our lives.  Our NWEI course book talks about the complex nature of our interaction with “busyness” work  and leisure.  

“Even as neuroscience is beginning to show that at our most idle, our brains are most open to inspiration and creativity – and history proves that great works of art, philosophy and invention were created during leisure time – we resist taking time off.  Psychologists treat burned-out clients who can’t shake the notion that the busier you are the faster you work, the more you multitask, the more competent, smart, and successful you are.”  

Our discussion seemed to center on how we might slow down, and a resounding agreement that multi-tasking is myth.  Since many of us are teachers, it was clear that we use the summer to decompress from the unhealthy kinds of busyness that the book talked about.  We were all surprised to learn that people in the mid-20th century thought life in the 21st century would be less hectic.  This fact brought some laughter.  After WWII, productivity, along with rising incomes and standards of living, led other economists to predict that by 1990, Americans would work 22 hours-a-week, six months a year, and retire before the age of 40.  

While accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1956, Dwight D. Eisenhower envisioned a world where “leisure…will be abundant, so that all can develop the life of the spirit, of reflection, of religion, of the arts, of the full realization of the good things of the world.”

We realize that these predictions were based a world which was quickly disappearing.  Following WWII the U.S. was uniquely positioned to sell its goods across the world.   As we helped war-torn countries re-establish their own industries.  As unions that had won high wages and benefits for workers were attacked and lost their power those who control corporate power were emboldened to require greater productivity with less reward.  The increase hours at work, fewer holidays, and significantly increased loads of work stripped leisure out of the equation.  In fact in 1975 50% of the GDP was wages, by 2012 they were 43.5

While we agreed that getting to this point was a complex and lengthy trip, so unwinding our consumerism and overwhelming dedication to acquisition over well-being  will  be complex and lengthy.  We took first steps last night.  We choose very small pieces that will make the whole.  Little things like always having the reusable shopping bags handy, to using stainless steel straws when only plastic are available are small things but if everyone does small things GREAT THINGS will be accomplished. Several of us decided to attempt some of the mindfulness exercises as well.  And I am thinking that it couldn't hurt to teach some of these concepts to young children. hmmmmm.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

FAKE NEWS intentionally misleads

One of the sad things about this horrific political season is the spread of "fake news" cites.  These sites have taken in my friends of multiple political persuasions.  The really frustrating thing is that these fake news sites reinforce what we already WANT to believe.  Here is an example of what I mean.

Over the course of this distressing political seaon I have posted about my personal walk through the land mined terrain. I have not posted unless I fact checked, I have posted when I thought the post might be helpful for thoughtful consideration and discussion. One of the most disconcertaing things about this election has been the amount of "fake news sites" that have promulgated false information with the intent of stirring the pot of hatred and fear. My friends on the right and my friends on the left have been prey to these sites. If you would like to see more click here to read my blog with memes and videos and citations. 

To my friend who sent this awful video suggesting that Obama is trying to create a WORLD ORDER that would supercede the United States I wrote the following, "You are absolutely right -- he said these words. just not in this order or context I am posting a link to the Washington Post's article about this speech which has the full transcript. it is what he actually said ...not an edited version lifting words in a way that makes them say exactly the opposite of what he meant --- please read the speech so you can see just how people for whatever purpose can take a video and use it to make someone say something they never said."  There is also a link to the real un-edited footage of the 35 minutes speech in this article.

From the other side....
This website suggests that Pence said Michelle Obama is the most VULGAR 1st lady we have ever had.  He didn't!  Always fact check.  Try to look at things from both sides.Whenever possible use primary sources and ignore the rest!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

An open letter to Paul Ryan and conservatives who think that feeding children for free at school is wrong.

Paul Ryan, a young leader, who holds family values dear spoke at the CPAC convention this year and attacked the government's feeding programs at schools.  My district last year offered free breakfast to ALL students (one way to keep the stigma of being a free and reduced lunch program kid).  Here is what he said.

He repeated a story Eloise Anderson, who serves in the cabinet for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, had related.  She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
He went on to say that “the Left” doesn’t understand this desire for dignity, not just comfort.
He went on to say that “the Left” doesn’t understand this desire for dignity, not just comfort.

 Dear Mr. Ryan;
I don't like labels, but I confess, that you would label me as a liberal because I believe that working together (my civic understanding of government is just that) we can provide what a child needs which includes a full stomach.  I have worked with children all of my adult life, and I know that without a full stomach a child will have an empty brain. I acknowledge the idea that is expressed above, knowing all too well that a child desperately needs to feel that s/he is important to another living soul.  Mr. Ryan, stop suggesting that people who YOU label liberal do not understand dignity.  That statement only drives us further into camps that attack one another.  Teachers spend a lot of time focusing on a child's dignity whether they vote Republican or Democratic. The food is not intended to fill up the child's soul.  It is meant only to make the child comfortable enough to learn and find the support and friendship that is available in the school to fill his soul.

You see, Mr. Ryan, school is filled with people who's souls are overflowing. The child has to be open to receive that overflow.  Teachers, counselors, librarians, and others there have chosen a life of service to children.  They are conservatives, liberals, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and yes, even Atheists who know the value of love and offer opportunities to their young charges to grow in love and caring.  Children have a natural desire to help one another.  I have watched as they accommodate a child in the classroom who is homeless and acting out in destructive ways.  I have seen teachers and parents who bring clothing and caring to the school to support these children.

Mr. Ryan you are quite right.  A full stomach doesn't fill the soul.   That job happens after the child has a full stomach.  It happens when teachers, parents and children come together to provide the love that is missing in a young life.  NONE OF THAT WILL HAPPEN IF THE CHILD IS HUNGRY!  If we (the government-- we the people) feed hungry children it is not an evil, soul destroying event!  It is not a panacea for a societal problem.  It is an opportunity to intervene and offer hope.