Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review and More on Raising Children Without Fantasy Fiction

Just finished The Effects of Sociodramatic Play on Disadvantaged Preschool Children and it solidified even more my belief that fantasy fiction is terrible for children. (Of course, it didn't meant to. It meant to do then opposite.) Here is my review:

Ridiculous study, but this book is clear, well-written, variables were controlled, and ideas clearly explained!

The authors of this book want foreign children to do better in their schools. They have noticed that the foreign kids fail to fit in (and therefore fail to feel successful at) Kindergarden and this starts the cycle of failure that sticks with them through all of their academic career.

The solution is to teach the Arabic and African children how to play dress up like the Israeli children, so that they can fit in and feel successful (because dress up play is the main focus of Kindergarden).

Of course the authors of this book think that there really is something wrong with the foreign kids and right with the western kids. They try to make dress up play with friends about our ability to organize and integrate information in our brains. Rather than "You will fail at the System of Progressive Education if you don't know how to play their game," they authors turn it into "you will fail to have an organized brain if you don't do well at dress up when you are 5."

It just doesn't work. Look at Montessori schools. Kids don't play dress up ever in Montessori schools yet Montessori schools turned out the creators of Google and Amazon. Sorry guys, right off the bat, dress up does not correlate to an organized brain or a functional adult in Western societies. Hmmm, unless those brilliant entrepreneurs are actually seen as problematic individualists mucking up a more ideal collective society, then it COULD be argued that dress up correlates to success at life.

Make believe play is nothing more than an aid to imitation, children playing dress up are trying to practice real life (they say this in the book). Montessori did not think the solution was to teach kids who aren't interested in dress up how to play dress up so they can be someone's idea of normal. She questioned normal, got in tune with the needs of the kids, and decided the solution was to scrap dress up and teach kids about real life.

Perhaps Montessori education prepares a child for one kind of school and life (individualistic) and the kind of school described in this book (progressive) prepares a child for a collectivistic school and life experience. Annoying that this book acts like there is only One Kind of School and Life and only one way to succeed at it.

Moreover, children generally want to please the adults around them. A study that proves that children will play how adults encourage them to play hasn't really said much.

But it is still interests me that:

-The culturally disadvantaged (foreign) children in this book are from homes in which there are two, still-married parents who have a warm and loving relationship with their children.

-Piaget's theory of development is Not correct for non-Western children as they do not pass through the dress up with friends stage but still reach the games with rules stage that comes after.

-Western children play dress up games with their friends and many non-Western children don't. My current theories (and this is ME, not this book) is that:
1) the Western children are constantly placed in groups of children of identical ages and therefore play games that are particular to that exact age rather than games that children of diverse ages can play together. Is it possible that sociodramatic play is not normal but rather a phenomenon of putting twenty three-year-olds in a room together?
2) Many non-western children are not encouraged to talk very much. Because children not encouraged to talk are generally behind in their talking (though not necessarily forever) Western children, it would make sense that they don't develop the ability for symbolic play (which requires a certain level of verbal ability) by the ages (3-6) in which it would have interested them. By the time their verbal skills have developed enough for them to engage in symbolic play, they have matured to the point that they would rather play games-with-rules, hence, them skipping this particularly Western developmental step.
3) Western child rearing is very influenced (though unaware of it) by Steiner's ideas (Waldorf) of forcing a "childhood" onto unwilling children. Western parents play pretend with their children from day one (Santa Claus anyone?). Children who are not "taught" to play dress up by their parents won't generally engage in it on their own.
4) Before the age of 2-3 children's play emphasizes reality. After 6-7 it does again. (They say this in this book.) Children outside of the Western world never lose that emphasis. Why is it so accepted in the Western scientific community that the reality break from 3-7 is Normal? Or good?
5) "In sociodramatic play the child's efforts are aimed at reproducing, as exactly as possible, the world as he observes it, as he understands it, and insofar as he remembers it." How can they say this and then condone Disney movies? How can they say this and then think it's not a little weird for today's kids to spend all day playing princess and superhero? Kids are not playing. They are practicing what they think is life.

Some quotes and my *sarcastic* responses:

"The D [culturally disadvantaged] child's satisfaction during play comes mainly from imitative activities. The closer his actions are to the adult's actions, the more satisfaction he gets." [How terrible! That poor kid! Get him some Disney movies NOW!]

"In most cases there is no evidence of dramatic text, verbal identification of the child with his role." [Oh no! That child does not know how to be an abstract version of himself rather than his actual self?! Tragedy!]

"According to Schiller, children manage, through their "play-drive," to free themselves from the shackles of reality. We found no hint in Schiller's theory that could explain why some children (underprivileged) do not achieve this freedom." [Wait... these kids don't know how to free themselves from reality!???? Oh man, that is a real problem. Children shouldn't live in reality! Why would they want to do that?!!!]

Book Review - Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

The huge claim of this book is that morality is synonymous with justice and that justice is synonymous with equality. The purpose of this book is to argue that moral education (which for him is justice education) should be part of public education. Kohlberg insists that justice education is not value re-education of other people's children because what he is interested in is the growth of the concept of justice in the child (the complexity or level of abstraction of the child's thinking about justice) rather than any particular idea of justice. Fascinating idea!

But then--

This has to happen in school because Kohlberg does not think anyone will think deeply or clearly unless they are "stimulated into it." If I did agree that children need to be "stimulated" into thinking deeply, I would still find it annoying that Kohlberg assumes that school is better at achieving this than the child's parents or life in general. Moreover, I find it annoying that Kohlberg thinks school even can accomplish this since my experience in school was that it was unable to stimulate (force) those who were not interested in thinking deeply to do so and it was a cumbersome waste of time for those of us who were going to think deeply anyway.

But this is neither here or there because Kohlberg's arguments, for anyone paying attention, are all subterfuge. Kohlberg absolutely wants value re-education of other people's children. He wants America to buy into his idea of equality (Harrison Bergeron style socialism). He wants to accomplish this through the education system.

This repetitive, contradictory, and boring mess of a book should have been a concise report on a very small (and disorganized) study that Kohlberg did on 50 similar boys and how their concept of justice developed over a decade or two and how that compares to 1 philosopher Kohlberg likes. Of course, it would have been dismissed instantly, since Kohlberg completely failed to control any variables, but at least it would have been clear. Instead this book tries to be Piaget's theory of development as applied to the concept of justice. And since Kohlberg draws on many fascinating ideas and even appears intelligent at times, the reader who is not paying attention may mistake Kohlberg's mess for actually proving something. Kohlberg does not have the research to back up the conclusions-for-all-of-mankind that he makes and I seriously hope, for his sake, that this book was a giant attempt at manipulation via distraction because otherwise he is a just a terd who should not be taken seriously who wrote a book called, "No one should be allowed to be prettier than anyone else!"

Kohlberg claims that he is not arguing for any one specific idea of justice, but since all the level 6 philosophers he includes agree on what is just... he is. (And note that by "all" the level 6 philosophers I do not mean the claims Kohlberg makes about Martin Luther King or Jesus, but rather the one or two who participated in his study which I have a sneaking suspicion were both Kohlberg.)

Kohlberg's theory of justice is equality. He says, "The rationale for government is the preservation of the rights of individuals, that is, of justice." Let me clarify this since Kohlberg struggles so much with clarity: You have a right to be as smart as your neighbor! You have a right to be as pretty as your neighbor! Your government is here to make sure equality prevails! To make sure no one has the freedom to be better at anything than anyone else! Your government will preserve your rights to have no freedoms whatsoever!

It entertained me when Kohlberg tackled Objectivists on page 156 (I believe this is what he was doing, he never stated it explicitly): "The metaethical questioning that appears typically as a transitional phase in the movement from Stage 4 to Stage 5 does not always lead directly to stage 5 thinking. Instead, it may generate a number of ideologies whose common feature is the exaltation of the self... Although our work suggests that such college student ideologies are usually short-lived... there is no doubt that under some social conditions such ideologies become stabilized orientations... At their best, they celebrate a moral conscience little distinguishable in its principles from the stage 3 or 4 moral sense but held as the sacred possession of an inner self whose moral integrity comes before both community welfare and rational discussion."

Lol. All rational people know that community welfare is best served by making everyone wear a mask so no one is prettier than anyone else!

According to Kohlberg, you cannot "move past stages 3 and 4" unless you:
1. buy into Rawl's veil of ignorance and
2.  agree that the highest value above all, is human life and that preservation of that life is the standard of morality in all situations. "We know that it is alright to be dishonest and steal to save a life because it is just, because one person's right to life comes before another person's right to property."

This drove me insane while reading this book. Over and over in this book we are told that property is subordinate to human life. Never is it mentioned that to create property requires the time of a human life and to take his property is take his time--which means, to enslave him. You cannot get to stages 5 and 6 unless you agree that enslaving in order to save a life is moral.

The other thing that drove me insane was the failure to question in any form the veil of ignorance theory. (ISN'T THAT WHAT ADVANCED COMPLEX THINKING IS ABOUT KOHLBERG?!!!!?????)

Kohlberg's sorry excuse for a study revolves around the Heinz dilemma: Your wife is dying. You cannot get enough money for the drug that will save her. Time is running out. Should you steal the drug to save her?

Kohlberg says: absolutely, and every highly evolved moral person agrees, that stealing the drug to save her is the right thing to do. Because the preservation of life comes before property and you must chose to live in a society without knowing what role you will play (i.e., in this scenario, you may be cast as the wife and in that case you would definitely want your husband to steal the cure).

So first, I hate this moral dilemma because in real life, there are always other solutions (like making a deal with the guy who has the drug to work off the cost).

Second, let's clarify this question. (Yay! This is what makes books like this fun for me!) The moral dilemma is:
-Would you enslave an enemy so that your wife may live? (Of course! Though I would not argue that it was just.)
-Would you agree to be a slave so that you may live? (Ummmm, for how long?)
-Would you enslave your husband for ten years so that you may live? (Is he okay with that?)
-Would you enslave your child for fifty years so that you may live? (Nope, I'd rather die.)
-Would you enslave the children of 100 strangers for fifty years so that you may live? (Hmmmm)
-Would you enslave 100 of your closest friends and family for fifty tears so that you may live? (Definitely not. I'd rather die.)

My point is this: The veil of ignorance combined with the preservation of life as the highest moral value is incorrect. Yes, we all want to live. But there is a limit. There are prices we are unwilling to pay. It's easy to enslave a stranger. It's hard to enslave those you love. But I would rather live in a world where the moral idea is that we do not, in fact, enslave each other. We can understand that desperate people  make desperate choices without claiming that it is moral or without condoning it legally.

Let's call this the Darth Vader Syndrome. In the Star Wars story Anakin Skywalker kills an untold number of people, because that is, he believes, the only way to save Padme from certain death. But when Padme finds out what he has done "for her" she doesn't appreciate his gift. Moreover, he has become a bad guy in order to save her life. Rawls theory has to be wrong. Anything that requires immoral action has to be wrong. It's not that I am an impractical moralist. It's the humans know deep down that the ends are never worth the means, no matter how practical those means seam.

My favorite chapter was "The Question of the Seventh Stage." These folks are post-morality. They contemplate the questions: Why be moral? The universe isn't. They renounce their demand for justice. They have to find a new reason to live and new way to face death. Which, I mean, if that's the 7th stage, doesn't it kinda kill Kohlberg's whole argument? Kohlberg claims that all level 7 folks find their answer is selfless servitude to people suffering.

In closing: What I take away from this book is that human beings are a obsessed with justice. They will do immoral things in the name of their desire for justice. If I want the freedom to be anything, to be myself, to strive, to work, to keep that for which I strove, those with whom I live must agree that it is fair, just, and right for me to be or do so, otherwise, they will rob, enslave, and punish me. Because humans are obsessed with justice.

But of course humans are obsessed with this abstract idea because they are repressing what they are really feeling and needing which is usually compassion, acceptance, and visibility. So instead of obsessing over justice, read NonViolent Communication!

My favorite quotes:

"Why is freedom to be one-self good--by what standard is it a good thing?" page 72

"Anyone who understands the values of life and property recognizes that life is morally more valuable than property." page 123

"The fundamental norm of relationship between people is justice: that is, reciprocity and equality." page 166 (note that Kohlberg relates to other human beings with control).

"Like it or not, teachers are moral educators (or miseducators) as creators of the "hidden curriculum" of the moral climate of the classroom. Insofar as educators do not critically examine the values that govern life and discipline in the classroom or simply opt out of enforcing existing conventions, they "cop out" from really dealing with the values issue, and they engage in subtle or blatant forms of indoctrination. Therefore, teachers must face Socrates' question "What is virtue." somewhere near the beginning.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reading Changes Your Brain,p104,d0

If the link doesn't work this is the clip from DNews called Reading Can Change Your Brain!

This is not the first time I have read about how reading can change your brain, but that is not what interests me about this piece. I am more interested in how the fictional worlds we choose to expose ourselves to affect our psychology and the choices we make in life.

One day when I was in high school a group of my girlfriends were singing a song at the top of their lungs that went something along the lines of "I'm a loser." I don't remember the exact song but when I hear it I remember it. It struck me then that we hypnotize ourselves (or something) to buy into these ideas/memes/stories/ways of seeing life that art sells us. At the age of 17 I started going through my music collection and deleting all songs that had words that I didn't want in my head, life mantras I wanted to reject. The project took me 8 years and by the end of it, I didn't have much music left and that music I had left was usually love songs and country music--because songs about love generally have memes I am willing to take on and, sorry country music haters, their lyrics are far more philosophically sound than any other genre I have found. Today, I actually prefer music without words.

But music is just one way bad ideas hypnotize their way into our minds. (And I am using hypnotize for lack of a better word.) TV and movies are extremely hypnotic. And reading, that thing we are oh-so-good if we do, is another. I have many years of research left into this topic before I see myself forming any conclusive conclusions but I have long been extremely wary of any form of fiction I expose myself to. The above clip from DNews, for me, is a confirmation for me that I am on the right track.

But it also makes me want more philosophically sound fiction! I want books to read that feature characters using NVC and relating to each other and themselves in emotionally healthy ways! More books in which characters treat each other with the respect that the heroes of Atlas Shrugged did. I think this is not just the number one way I would get better at NVC, but perhaps the best way to change the world.

Right now every TV show, every book, every movie (or almost all of them) show us example after example of people relating to each other with coercion, manipulation, threats, bribery.... I would really like to see more freedom and respect oriented fiction! (Please let me know if you run across any.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving, an Ancient Harvest Festival Reappropriated

Just now I overheard someone try to be politically correct about the history of Thanksgiving by commenting on the poor Native Americans and how we wronged them, so I want to correct some historical inaccuracies here--Thanksgiving is an ancient holiday and has nothing to do with pilgrims or Native Americans. It was an attempt by the US government's to reappropriate a holiday that had been going on all over Europe for a long time--the autumn harvest festival.

The harvest festival was traditionally held on the first full moon after the fall equinox, the "harvest moon." This happened in early October. Which is why the original date of Thanksgiving was in October, not November. Which is why Canadians still celebrate in October. And why I attend a Swedish harvest festival every year around the equinox.

It makes perfect sense for a bunch of farmers to get together and give thanks for their harvest and everything else going right in their lives while feasting on their bountiful, autumn harvest-foods. It makes perfect sense for some of the people who came to America to also recognize the Native Americans who helped them survive here while they were celebrating their fall harvests that they would have celebrated anyway. It makes perfect sense that the government, wanting to have a very patriotic country, reappropriated the summer solstice celebrations (4th of July) and the fall harvest festival by adding a story that was perhaps only true for very few. If the Christians hadn't so successfully reappropriated the winter solstice (Christmas) and spring equinox (Easter) already, those would have become patriotic holidays as well. The government would have found some historical thing that happened around those times that fit into how people were already celebrating those holidays, and totally exaggerated it's importance. Perhaps the Civil War was really the Egg War somehow, and we remember that war every year by hiding eggs. And the winter solstice (aka the festival of light) was really a remembrance of that war when the light was so important that it never went out....

Most of us today are not farmers and we can eat yams and cranberries the entire year, so this holiday is a little silly in that it has nothing to do with our actual lives. We can make it just about gratitude, the day of the year we sit around and try to force ourselves to feel grateful, but without the true connection of a harvest to our actual lives, Thanksgiving is just another meaningless day (with tasty food) that we try to force meaning into and wonder why it is just a little empty and forced.

Or to put it another way: a holiday about gratitude is a holiday celebrating an abstract idea. When our concrete reality (the harvest) actually reflected that idea, it felt meaningful. Today we celebrate an abstract idea that does not reflect our concrete reality, so it cannot feel as meaningful. To be meaningful a holiday would have to celebrate something concrete that our senses were actually perceiving and tie that into a meaningful abstraction that we wanted to celebrate.

But anyway, man who annoyed me this evening, please don't pretend that by talking about dead Native Americans you are correcting the historical inaccuracies surrounding this holiday. Being An American used to be about pride in conquering other people, now it's about guilt for having conquered them. You are a good little American spouting what your government wants you to spout--the story changed but the meaning of the holiday--AMERICA!--hasn't. The truth is, Thanksgiving is not about being an American at all and guilt for the Native Americans just keeps us pretending it is an American holiday.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Scenes With My Toddler

Anders is 2 years 9-11 months in these stories.

[We are at a hotel in Nicaragua.]

Mama: There's some leftover steak from last night if you want some.
Anders: No. I just want juice. My body says it needs all the juice in the lobby.

Anders sees football game on screen at restaurant. Says: "They're having a running party right there!"

Anders (to Mama): Give me water truck.
[Mama is confused. Anders appears to be pointing at the fire truck but he definitely knows it is called a fire truck.]
Mama (handing him the fire truck): You mean the fire truck?
Anders: No, water truck. Carries water? Oh! Carries fire?

Mama: Anders, next month you are going to turn 3. And that means that you will be old enough to take classes if you want to. Are there any classes you want to take, like in swimming or dancing or karate?
Anders: I want take a class in airplanes.
Mama: Oh. What do you want to learn about airplanes? Do you want to build them or fly them or look at them?
Anders: I want to fly them. Real airplanes. Not toy airplanes. Real ones. Yeah, that's my class. That's the class for me.

Anders: I have to pee!
[Anders runs to his little toilet and sits down. He is wearing only boxers but does not pull them down.]
Joe: Anders, don't you need to pull your boxers down?
Anders: No, it goes right through.
Joe: You are right... but then your boxers will get so dirty!
Anders: They're already dirty. See, I got ice cream all over them.
Joe: You are right... but...

[Anders picks a mushroom out of his scrambled eggs.]
Anders: This a worm.
Mama: Oh?
Anders: I looooove worms.
[Anders pops the mushroom into his mouth and then several more.]
Anders: Soooo yummy. Looooove worms. Thank you, Mama, making me worms.

Anders: Papa, look at all my ouchies! I have one on my knee and one here on my foot and one here on my toe. My body has a looooot of work to do!

Mama: Anders, we have two choices for this morning, either we can go to the farmers market or we can go to Erewhon. Which one do you want?
Anders: Nooooo. Those aren't my choices. My choice is to stay home.
Mama: Oh. Hmmmmm. Well... I wanted to make a nice dinner tonight, and in order to do that I need to buy some food. I want you to be happy, but I also want to make a nice dinner. What should we do?
Anders: What you want, Mama? I love you want you be happy.
Mama: I.... want to go to the farmers market.
Anders: Okay. I'm ready in five minutes.

[Papa has been very busy with a project at work for the last couple weeks, and Anders has seen very little of him.]
Papa: I'm going to leave for work early again tomorrow, Anders. Just one more week and then I will be done with this project, and we can spend more time together again.
Anders: You wanna go to work I might hit you! I hide your car keys you can't go!
Papa: Oh Anders, you feel so mad! Do you want to hit my hand?
[Anders makes a swing at Papa, misses his hand gets his wrist.]
Mama: Or do you want Papa to hold you? Sometimes when I am mad, what I really need is to cry and cry.
Anders begins to wail and runs to Mama.
Anders: I want Mama hold me!
Anders runs to Mama and buries his head in her lap.
Anders (while crying): I wanna hit him!
[Mama hugs Anders while he repeats this a few more times.]
Mama: You miss Papa.
[Anders cries a little more, then the feeling has passed and Anders raises his head with a smile.]
Anders: I wanna eat Papa cause I love him and I wanna be my friend!
[Anders runs to Papa.]
Anders: I'm gunna eat you!!!
Papa: Ahhhhhh!
Papa pretends to run away.

SCENE 10, OCT 16
Mama: I'm so excited for your birthday coming up!
Anders: I want to have a digging party for my birthday.
Mama: That sounds great. We could go to Home Depot and buy some extra sand, so we can all dig.
Anders: Lowe's has sand.
Mama: Yeah, we could go to Home Depot or Lowe's.
Anders: No, go to the brick store. They have looooots of sand.
Mama: What's the brick store?
Anders: I go there with Papa buy bricks.
Mama: And it's not Home Depot?
Anders: No. It's on Ventura Boulevard.
Mama: And they sell sand?
Anders: Yeah, they have big bags. Suuuuuper cheap.
[Mama goes to find Papa to verify this story.]
Mama: Anders says you guys went to a brick store that sells bags of sand?
Papa: Yeah, Lowes?
Mama: Oh.
Mama: Do they sell sand?
Papa: Yes.
Mama: Is it cheap?
Papa: I think so.
Mama: Huh.
[Mama returns to Anders.]
Mama: Anders is Lowes the brick store and I just wasn't listening?
Anders: Mama, you have vaginas?
Mama: Oh, I just wanted to make sure--
Anders: Excuse me, Mama, I'm talking. You have vaginas?

SCENE 11, OCT 18
[Anders and Mama work in the back yard. Anders digs holes and Mama picks up leaves.]
Anders: Thanks for doing all that haaaaard work, Mama. Here, let me pay you.
[Anders reaches into his pocket and pulls out... a real five dollar bill, which he hands to Mama.]
Mama: Um... Thank you.
Anders: When I was a kid, I worked reeeeeally hard at my job made a looooot of money. In Oxnard. I built Kendra a house.
Mama: Ahhhhh... So Anders, I noticed that you gave me real money, and I am wondering where you got it from?
Anders: From your purse.
Mama: Hmmm... I don't want you to take money from my purse.
Anders: I'll give it back when I'm done. Oh look, there's Joe, I need to pay him too!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Finding the Best Nanny or Babysitter

A reader emailed me recently asking for any advice I might have regarding the hiring of nannies and babysitters. Here is what I said:

What I do is post an add looking for someone willing to learn (i.e. read). Qualifications and current knowledge are often cumbersome--I have found that training a blank slate is usually easier than retraining someone who thinks they know what they are doing. My only qualification is that the person is interested in learning and growth.

The first thing I have my potentials do is watch the 4-DVD set on caring for infants at I find the attitude of respect in those DVD's helpful even though my child is no longer an infant. Then I have my prospective nanny watch my 2 lectures on YouTube. After that we can have a real discussion about whether or not she/he would enjoy relating to children in the way I describe.

If the potential nanny or babysitter likes what (I will use "she" but it could be either) she has learned thus far and talks about being inspired, I continue with her. If she comments on the ideas being weird, I let her go and find someone else.

Then I begin training which involves her just coming to hang out and watch how I interact with my son. Then I watch her interact with him and give feedback. At the end of the first day, I pull out a stack of 5-10 books (most likely the ones from my recommended reading list) and show them to her and ask her which one she would like to read first. I loan her that book and tell her that when my son is busy, she can read. This is a double bonus: she is being "paid" for the time she spends reading and she ends up not "helicoptering" over my son all the time. Many of the girls I have trained have taken the books home and continued to read them in their free time. Some say they hate reading and never get through the first book--what I have found is that those people won't last long. It's a sign that the proper care of children is not interesting to them--and none of us will last that long or do that well at a job we are not interested in.

Recommended Reading List Link:

UPDATE: a reader wrote to me the following in regards to the above advice about how to hire a great nanny--

I wanted to thank you for your insight; we hired a nanny! I spoke with her on the phone and got the feeling that she was definitely open to finding out more about what I was talking about. Then when we met in person, SHE asked ME if I had any books or resources she could read. I gave her Baby Knows Best, as my MIL is currently borrowing my RIE DVD's. She's currently coming to shadow about once a week or so for the next month so she can see us interact with him, and she's very inquisitive.
I felt a lot more confident looking for someone who was willing to learn instead of scouring for someone who already knew what I was looking for. It's almost embarrassing that I hadn't considered the idea myself, haha. I saw that I prompted a blog post, so hopefully others find your ideas helpful as well.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review - The Nature of Order, Book 1 by Christopher Alexander

All artists, designers, builders, landscapers, and Objectivists interested in art would likely benefit tremendously and most likely enjoy reading this book! Though it is really long.

I love how Alexander’s books are beautiful. It made me happy every time I picked up this book because I was holding something so lovely in my hands. And it annoyed me that other books written about beauty don't try to be beautiful. Also, this book reads as if it is written in NVC. The author writes so respectfully and so compassionately. So not only does the book look lovely and wholesome, it feels lovely and wholesome to read it.

This book is a study of how architecture enriches our lives or diminishes our lives, it is a study in how we can feel more alive, how we can feel more free in our daily lives, and how we can feel more awe when we look at the world.

Alexander argues for an objective rather than a subjective worldview and especially for an objective defintion of beauty. (WOO HOO!) He laments the loss of objective definitions that happened about a hundred years ago. He understands the history and ramifications of the subjective “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” philosophy that took over, but he does not argue against them from a philosophical standpoint but rather a physics/mathematical/biological standpoint and sometimes a psychological one. “Not all nature is equally beautiful. Not all of it is equally deep in its wholeness. Some of nature may be “better” than other parts of nature.”

He argues that there is no dichotomy between head and heart, just people not trained in consciousness, that there is no difference between form and function (the moral is the practical...) but there are people who can see beauty and people who can’t. But seeing beauty is a skill anyone can learn. It is also a skill we are all born with that is taken from us due to our schooling or socialization. He makes the claim that children are better at seeing beauty, so I did a test on Anders, age 3, who I have always thought has very good taste. Anders he did well, choosing what Alexander would have called the objectively beautiful picture 80% of the time.

From a child psyc point of view: what Alexander refers to as their ability "to see beauty," and his art students' ability "to blur in order to see beauty," is perhaps what has been studied in children and is called “lantern consciousness” versus “spotlight consciousness.” This is the skill many Western adults lose that prevents them from "seeing" beauty in its wholeness as opposed to its pieces. And yes, this is one of the goals of education.

His essay, “The personal nature of order” is his version of Ayn Rand’s "The Romantic Manifesto." Her’s is better though because: he argues that we all feel the same about a given work of art (or building or whatever) whereas she argues that we will all feel the same about a given work of art BUT that we will all feel differently about that feeling, so our response to the art will be different. So whereas he insists that beauty would make everyone feel at peace, she would argue that beauty would make everyone feel at peace, but there is a secondary emotion and that is how we feel about feeling at peace. When some people feel at peace they feel deeply happy and content. When others feel at peace they are troubled, like something is wrong, and seek a stimulant. So whereas Rand recognizes this psychological issue of secondary (and tertiary emotions--that can hopefully be fixed with consciousness), Alexander doesn’t. Though both would agree, “If you are properly educated you will feel the correct thing." Alexander calls this “real liking” as if to say: "You may think you know what you like, but I really know." All that being said, to a certain extent Rand writes arrogantly and Alexander writes compassionately, making Alexander much more accessible.

Alexander argues that freedom is the most important thing for human happiness, that freedom IS happiness, the freedom to act and pursue our goals. He says, “True freedom lies in the ability a person has to react appropriately to any given circumstance… A person actively solving problems is more alive.” Anything that gets in the way of your pursuit (like the government) hampers life. Rand and Branden agree when they say: "It is not the pursuit of happiness, but the happiness of pursuit. The freedom to pursue the achievement of our values is happiness." Alexander reminds me of Schopenhaur in his Freedom of the Spirt chapter—happiness can only be experienced when we are free from pain--and oh how rare that is!

Being surrounded by life (energy centers) increases our life because the outside world is our mirror. Our outer world creates our inner world and vice versa. You can know all about a person’s psychology by seeing their home—how cluttered, how bogged down, how dusty. The space you create IS your inner life as represented by you. This is why people, clear people, energetic people, are those people we all want to be around. Because of the mirror neurons. Happiness, peace, joy--they ARE literally contagious. As are misery, sadness, anger.

Our mirror neurons work not only with people, but with the outer world.

He marries Objectivism to the hippie "we-are-one" philosophy quite well as he doesn’t believe seeing the world as individual entities is helpful, so so much as seeing the world as “life centers.” He argues that for something to be beautiful all energy centers which are not absolutely required must be avoided—form and function are one. Which means--goodbye government!

Great quote: “I am more likely to succeed in creating a thing that a Japanese person truly likes by making a thing that I truly like than by following a handbook of modern regulations and Japanese style.” But remember he is a qualified "liker". Most people are not.

A few times in this book Alexander makes cutting, uneducated remarks about money and businessmen, and how they have destroyed architecture. Sigh. He would really benefit from studying Austrian economics. He has no idea how perfectly his worldview fits with theirs.

Therefore: Alexander is like an Objectivist-Anarchist who thinks he is a Hippie.

I want someone to create a Pattern Language line of jewelry and clothes SO BAD.

On his efforts to explain what he wants to explain I think studying psychology would help. For example:
-I would use the word “energy” instead of “life” as I think “energy” more easily conveys what Alexander means. He says, "There is a certain amount of life in every rock," but it may be more accurate to say, "There is a certain amount of energy in every rock, e.g. emanating from every rock, every center, has an energy field that has more or less energy, everything has different energy frequencies emanating from it." That was "life" can define organisms that live and "energy" can describe that feeling we get about everything being alive.
-He also uses the word “feel” when I think using “feel connected to” or “relate to” would make his message more clear.
-He talks about people who “radiate life,” but I would call it "presence" and "vibrance."
-He talks about art trying too hard and ending up feeling fake. I would use the word "authentic" and "inauthentic."
-He uses the word “personal” when “beautiful” or even “peaceful” would work better.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Trauma-Free Halloween - A Non-Fiction Update

Halloween was always my least favorite holiday when I worked with small children. There was always some costumed person the child saw while trick-or-treating that scared him or her to death. For years I spent every Halloween comforting traumatized, crying children. One little boy had nightmares for over a week following the holiday. 

I have long wondered if Anders would find costumed people scary. He has no concept for the scary things people dress as on Halloween i.e. would seeing a person dressed as wicked witch scare you, if you had no concept in your mind of evil witches using magic to ruin your life? Would a person dressed as a witch be scary if you had no concept of magic? Some of the costumes in the windows around Los Angeles are pretty evil looking, but Anders has no real concept of evil, so I have been curious to know how he will think about these things. Will he find evil faces scary or will he just think they look weird?

I have told Anders about the holiday coming up, Halloween in which people wear costumes, and recently I took him to a costume store. He knows about the concept of wearing costumes from the Renaissance Fair (which he loves) so costumes are a pretty positive thing for him. He has shown no interest thus far in the role-play costumes that kids his age often get into. For example, he loves construction and pretends to do it every day, but when I offered to buy him a construction outfit on three different occasions he said, "No,"

At the costume store (Cinema Secrets if you know it) there were some pretty fantastic and gruesome costumes on display, one in particular, a witch, was pretty horrifying. Anders pointed to it and said, "What's that?" I said, "That's a costume for someone who wants to pretend to be a very ugly, old lady. Some people call ugly, old ladies 'witches,' and when they are pretending to be a witch they laugh like this, 'He he he he he!'" I said, "Do you think this costume is scary or or ugly or just weird?" He said, "Not scary." I said, "Do you think it's ugly?" He said, "No." I said, "Weird then?" But he had already walked off, which means his answer was, "Boring." We looked at other things. He was most interested in the makeup that made people look like they had huge wounds, but he did not think that was scary either.

Anders does not want to dress up on Halloween, though I imagine if his father or I were going to dress up he would possibly change his mind, but we have no plans to. The only costume Anders showed any interest in was a bear costume, but he didn't want to wear it and in the end just wanted a little bear figurine to play with. (He is very interested in bears right now thanks to the Disney Nature Bear documentary I bought for our plane rides over the summer.) 

A side note: Anders is not afraid of the dark. He is afraid of falling when there are no lights on, but perhaps since he has never heard of ghosts or monsters and we have spend a lot of time playing with shadows, he has always been comfortable with the dark, inside and out, and has never needed a nightlight or anything like that.

Anyway, just a development update for those of you who are interested in knowing what happens when you raise your kids without fantasy fiction! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

More Media for Libertarians

(started keeping track in 12/15)

The Shop Around the Corner: "I just want an average girl." Because being average is the ideal. And let's not forget the proper time to ask for a raise is when you need more money to get married. Otherwise you are a nice guy and work for ten years without a raise because you don't need it...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"I don't like you" says Anders

Anders, almost 3, is playing with Devonna, his new babysitter. I come out of my room and Anders sees me. He runs to me and says, "Mama, I don't like Devonna."

Devonna feels hurt and starts to remind Anders of all the fun they have had together this morning. I tell Devonna that what Anders meant to say is that he has suddenly realized that he misses his mom and he would rather play with his mom right now than Devonna. I confirm with Anders that this is true.

Many kids, when they are done playing with someone, will say something like, "You're stupid." Anders has never heard name-calling so he used an "I" statement instead. (This made me happy!) Either way, it all goes back to NVC, to listening to one another and respecting each other's feelings instead of trying to defend ourselves or convince someone he doesn't feel what he says he does.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What Anders Pretends

Anders plays a lot of pretend games. They are a little different from the pretend games other almost 3-year-olds play since he has never been exposed to fantasy. There are no dragons or superheroes in his head; all of his games have to do with the life he has lived.

Here are some the games he plays:

-He pours water in various cups into the bathtub and talks about how dangerous these things are and how no one should touch them. (This is from his experiences taking care of our pool with his Papa, adding chlorine and whatnot.)

-He pretends that he needs to build a water system. This involves making a long shopping list for home depot and getting all his tools organized. He generally builds the system out of string.

-He pretends that he has a good dog who is always looking for food. (This is from Boo, Robs dog, who lived with us for a little while and became Anders bff and then moved to New York. Anders misses him a lot.)

-He packs his suitcase and says goodbye to everyone and tells us about the trip he is going on.

-He pretends he is a scorpion that stings people. (This is from our weekly encounters with scorpions in Nicaragua. No one was ever stung but we talked about it a lot! We also watched some documentaries on scorpions afterward.)

-He pretends to be a mama bear getting food--fish--for her cubs. He also pretends to be a cub who has lost his mama. (From the Disney documentary on bears that we watched on the plane--and now watch once a month or so.)

-He pretends to call his friends or that his friends are coming over. He likes to invite them inside.

-He pretends to do the dishes, he spends hours making beds, and organizing drawers (though he is not competent in any of these tasks, these are definitely games not actual help for me for example, it may be more accurate to say that he spends a lot of time unmaking beds while discussing how one makes a bed.)

-He pretends that he has a baby boy to take care of who often wants a bath or to go to bed. 

-He pretends that he is a baby who can't walk or talk yet and needs to be cuddled and taken care of.

Here are some things he has babbled to himself:

"I went on an airplane. I catched my propeller airplane. It was on the ground and it landed and I caught it and my friends caught another one and flew with me."

[While playing with his trains and animals.] "Train to carry a pig not the donkey. No donkey. I gunna take a ride with donkey. No horsey. Horsey sad. No room for goat. A little bit of room." [He rearranges the train car so they can all fit.] "Soooo happy! I wanna play cars and trucks? Are you sure or nope?" [Then he makes car noises.]

Scenes with my Toddler

Anders is 2 years 7-8 months in these stories.

Scene 1:

Anders: Mama! Look at the spider! Come see!

[Mama comes to see what Anders is looking at.]

Mama: Oh, I see it. That spider has a small body and very long legs.
Anders: Yeah. He needs to trim his legs.

Scene 2:

I am working in my office. I hear Anders go into the bathroom, singing to himself the whole way: "I need to poop. Gotta poop. Got poop in my butt. Gotta poop in the toilet. Now I need to wipe my butt. Now need to shower. Taking a shower. Gotta clean my butt!"

I peek into the bathroom to see if what is going on is real or a game--it is a game. Anders is fully clothed in the shower, just practicing life.

Scene 3:

Mama: Let's go to the Indian restaurant and get dinner
Anders: Nooooo, that's not fun.
Mama: What about if we just pick up the food and take it home?
Anders: No. They're closed
Mama: Really?
Anders: We have ice cream for you.
Mama: Ooooh. You want to have ice cream for dinner! Okay, well, I really want Indian food. How about we have Indian food and ice cream? Then we can both get our needs met.
Anders: Yeah.... maybe later.
Mama: We can go to the Indian restaurant later? Like in 5 minutes or 20 minutes?
Anders: 5 minutes.
Mama: Sounds great!

Scene 4

It is the 4th of July. We are at a party. We have been there since 6pm having a great time hanging out and now it is around 8pm. Music goes on--very loud music.

Anders: That's loud.
Mama:  Yeah it is! It's going to get louder now. Soon, there will be more people here and fireworks. Anders: I'm ready to go home.
Mama: Okay, let's go.

[Mama and Anders get in their car and drive home. When they pull up at their house fireworks are going off! They are not very far away from their house and they are in three directions. Anders looks terrified.]

Anders: I'm scared! Hold me!

[Mama holds Anders while she opens the car door.]

Anders: Close the door! Close for loooong time. Don't open the door.
Mama: Oooh, because when I open the door it's louder.

[Mama holds Anders for a while. They watch fireworks from the car. Anders loves them but is also very scared.]

Mama: I have an idea! Let's call Papa!

[Anders and Mama call Papa. He comes outside to join them in the car. After ten or so more minutes watching fireworks in the car and having a wonderful time, the family heads inside. As soon as we are inside, the noises of the fireworks no longer bother Anders at all.]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Are You Afraid Homeschooling Will Make Your Kid Weird?

Answers to some questions I was recently emailed in regards to nonreligious homeschooling:

Home-schooling is great in theory, but aren't you afraid your child will end up weird?

The reason some home-schooled kids seem weird to other kids is that they spend more time socializing with adults than children i.e. they get along better with adults. Which means they will get along with their peers just fine--once their peers are adults. The adults I know who were homeschooled as children--who I thought were weird when I was a kid--do not seem weird to me now. And vice versa, my adult friends who seem a little weird to me now, were not homeschooled as kids.

Which is to say: homeschooled kids don't end up weird. And people who are going to end up weird, are not "fixed" by going to school.

Aren't you afraid your child will be weird (as a child)?

First, what is "weird" about homeschooled children? I knew quite a few homeschoolers when I was a kid and, like I said above, I did think they were weird. They were all extremely different from one another i.e. they were weird in their own ways, but thinking about it now, what made them weird to child-me was how authentic they were: they weren't afraid to like really random things, they were very honest, and very themselves. No one had taught them about not being themselves and playing a socially acceptable role and liking only socially acceptable things.

They also got along way too well with my parents. As a kid, that bugged me. As an adult all I can think is, "Children who get along great with adults sound great!"

Second, is it truly horrible to be considered "weird" as a kid by the other kids? It's probably more horrible to be "weird" and at school than to be "weird" and at home. I was a "weird" kid. But I wasn't home schooled. I went to pubic school but I was being raised by hippies out in the hills. I had no access to most "normal" foods, or radio, or television.

On Facebook the other day a friend of mine noted that she had to rent Frozen for her child so he could understand how to play with his friends. My parents would never have done that. I was the kid who never saw those movies, who never quite got the game, the joke, what people were talking about or why certain things were considered cool. I was always an outsider studying my peers. But as a kid, I never concluded that I was the one who was "weird." I thought the other kids were weird.

When I was a senior in college, Netflix and my laptop enabled me to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sex and the City, and Friends. It was a revelation. Everything that had never made sense to me about my peers in high school and college suddenly made sense--why my girlfriends talked about school and sex the way they did, why my friends thought friendship meant sitting around making fun of one another.

I am really glad that I watched these shows later and understood how they influenced my friends. Rather than shaping me, watching them (and any television I watch today) feels more like an anthropological study than anything else. I love that.

Which is to say: I am not afraid of my son being his authentic self instead of playing roles he learns in school and on television.

Aren't you afraid regular Americans will think your child is weird?

What is this desperate need for approval from this imagined judge who doesn't actually exist? Who is this "regular American" running around telling people if they are normal or weird?

How many friends do you need? How many people have to like you for you to love your life? Do other people's judgements of you matter at all if you like yourself? Would you do business with someone if you liked their product, but thought they were a little weird? Does being weird stop you from having an amazing life? If people meet my son and think he is weird--what will that do? What's the problem? What is it stopping him from achieving? What needs will it prevent him from meeting?

The three "weird" home schooled girls I knew as a kid grew up, found jobs, and are all married now. They married men who went to public school. Two of them have kids. They are functional members of society. The two I interviewed before writing this piece both plan to home school their own kids.

Assuming your child does end up weird, do you think he will resent being weird?

In order to resent being weird, my child has to look out at regular Americans and think they are super cool and wish he were more like them. I have a hard time imagining that happening. 

Or he has to think that being weird or different is bad in some way. Which is not how it went for me at all--if you don't watch television, you don't know that being weird is bad. You don't know that you are supposed to be deeply ashamed of being different or unpopular. You miss that memo. For example, when I was in 10th grade a girl made fun of me by saying that she was "Tommy Hilfiger", her other friend was "Calvin Klein" and I was "Kmart." What passed through my mind when she called me Kmart was not shame but confusion, "No. No. I shop at Walmart. They don't have a Kmart where I live," I said. She was confused for a minute and then she said, "No, I just mean your clothes are cheap," and I said, "What?! Walmart is so expensive!" Because I normally shopped at Goodwill. 

Like me, neither of the women I interviewed for this piece thought she was weird when she was a kid. Weird kids don't necessarily conclude that they are weird. They often conclude the opposite--that you are weird.

That being said: If my son was feeling unhappy about something, I would always try to help him solve the problem.

Don't you think your child would rather go to school?

LOL. Ummmmmm.... no.

That being said, from what I have read about homeschooling, I expect that at some point Anders will ask to go to school. I expect him to go and flee in horror in less than three months. This is what I have read is the norm among most home unschooling families.

Don't you think your child, once he is an adult who realizes he is weird, will wish he had gone to school?

No, because he won't be weird any more by the time he is an adult. And also--

I went to school. I graduated valedictorian from my elementary, junior, and senior high schools and did very well at Wesleyan University. I memorized everything I was supposed to. I jumped through every hoop. And I enjoyed the experience a little. But, looking back, I think they were a total waste of my time, damaging to my intrinsic motivation, and my authentic self. 

School, until I knew what I wanted to do, was fine. I didn't mind it that much. But when I was thirteen and fell in love with the stage and decided that is what I wanted to do with my life, being told to wait ten years was torture. At the time, I didn't mind all that much. So much life seemed to stretch before me I thought, "Sure, I can learn all these other things for ten years to make my parents happy." When I was 22 and finally free, it hit me that: I was ten years behind children who had had the support of their parents in pursing their dreams, I was $40,000 in student-loan debt and needed to get on the work-treadmill to pay that off, my fertility would drop 50% in 8 short years so if I wanted to have kids I would have to climb my career ladder impossibly fast or not have kids or accept the risks of having them later. My father told me the other day his only dream for his kids was that they went to college and didn't ask for money afterward. That was how he defined "successful parenting." No wonder he couldn't see me, the child in front of him, no wonder he couldn't help me meet my needs to create a life I wanted. He was just doing what it took to be a "Good Parent."

In The Case Against Adolescence and Escape from Childhood I learned that historically most people started their first business between the ages of 12 to 22. If you keep a child in school until they are 22, they are more likely to be an employee than an entrepreneur. I learned that we reach our peak of energy and brain performance between the ages of 13 and 16. I learned that most revolutionaries are 16-22. If you keep kids busy and distracted in school until they are 22, there will be a lower likelihood of political unrest.

I am not going to home-unschool my son and push him to have a career at the age of 13. I am going to listen to Anders and support him, to take him, and his dreams seriously.

If your child child did want to go to school, would you support him?

Would you support your child doing crack?

Like I said above, I expect my son to go to school and I expect him to not stay all that long. If he announced that he loved school and wanted to go forever I would ask what he loved about it and see if he could get those needs met in a way that would meet my needs as well. But I don't use force on my son and I don't plan to.

Moreover, I will always make every effort to see the person in front of me and listen.

What do you think are the disadvantages to being homeschooled?

Learning in a group can be easier and more fun than learning by yourself--but there are endless classes and camps for kids these days, especially in Los Angeles so I am not overly concerned about this.

I am a little concerned about the selection of kids that will be available for Anders to have as friends. However, I am insanely happy with the selection of adults Anders already considers his friends and since home schoolers tend to make friends with adults and get along better with their parents--I'm not overly concerned about this either.

My husband and I are very different from "regular Americans." It is frustrating at times to be so different from most of the rest of society. But in order to fit in, we would have to feed our bodies poison every day. We would have to think poisonous things and do poisonous things to others. We often joke that if we had it to over again we would take the blue pill but as time goes on we're finding our people and creating quite a life for ourselves. I am pretty excited about the path that we are on and I am unconvinced that mainstreamers are actually happier and less lonely than we are.

The main disadvantage I can see is for me, not my son. I am still trying to figure out how to "bring my son to life with me" rather than make my son my life. That is very hard to do in the time and place that I currently live. Ideas are welcome!