Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Madame Anthromama's Art Lesson

I know that according to Waldorf early childhood principles, I should not use too many words or abstract concepts with my children. But sometimes, I just can't help myself....

SillyBilly loves to tell his sister what to do and how to do it. This often occurs when they are at the table "arting." They sit facing each other, sharing a large bin of paper, crayons, construction paper, etc.

SillyBilly is always telling Napoleona, "that's not how you draw X" or "that doesn't look like a Y."

This makes me crazy.

So, the other day I got fed up. I went to the shelf and pulled out Gombrich's The Story of Art, and called the boy over.

I showed him pictures of the Annunciation throughout the ages (chosen simply because they are ubiquitous). I asked him, do any of them look the same? He said no. I pointed out that none of them are "wrong."

Then we looked at some paintings by Van Gogh, one of his favorite artists. I asked, does the sky really have swirls in it? He said no.

I asked, do people really have green and purple and yellow and orange spots on their faces? He said no. And I pointed out that these are still beautiful paintings.

I hope that I didn't go overboard, but it just seemed so important to me that he understand this. I hope that he sees that there isn't just one way to do things, and that there are ways to do things that don't necessarily depict what's "real" but are still valid. And I hope that pointing out "reality" doesn't crush his imagination in some way.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How can pasteurized almonds be raw?

They can't. But evidently the USDA thinks they can be. Almonds must now be pasteurized, yet they can be sold labeled as "raw."

This seems to be yet another case of government double-speak, which though cloaked in the guise of "protecting consumers," really just deludes consumers with false advertising.

Sure, we all want our food to be safe, yummy, and healthy. Many people choose raw foods for those reasons, and accept any perceived inherent risks in doing so.

But in this case, the two salmonella "outbreaks," in 2001 and 2004, sickened a few dozen people. Let's put that into perspective: according to the article, the US produces 1.3 billion pounds of almonds every year.

So to counteract an extremely rare occurrence of food contamination (one that could be prevented through better-enforced or enhanced cleanliness measures in processing plants), all almonds must be sterilized? With a chemical so carcinogenic it was banned as racing fuel?

And here's the real kicker: according to the article, less than 10% of almonds consumed are raw anyway.

So the USDA is going to take away the option for an informed consumer to obtain raw domestic almonds (unless you are lucky enough to live in California's Central Valley, where all US almond are grown, and can find them in a farmer's market or farm stand where selling raw almonds will still be legal), and will yet again drive small farmers out of the business because of onerous and expensive processing requirements.

Makes me want to vote Libertarian, I tell you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mom goes shopping, gains $142.51

My lovely husband Anthropapa just sent me a link to this, which is the funniest eBay offering I have ever seen.

Who knew that someone could get someone else to pay that much for a package (opened, even) of Pokemon cards just for writing a witty description? Makes me want to consider my "I'm not a writer, I'm an editor" stance.

Sometimes I wonder why Anthropapa isn't doing something more constructive with his time than perusing Digg, like cleaning something or writing that grad school essay, and then I remember to be thankful for the entertainment break, and go back to my own constructive work, blogging.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Multifarious distractions

I should be working right now (modernizing the style of a philosophy book translated into overly formal English from German many years ago -- I just can't get excited about it right now!) but instead I'm gazing out the window at some amazingly tall wildflowers waving about in today's rainstorm.

Ooop, yes, that's got me out of my seat and searching for my wildflower book ... very tall upright plant, bright yellow flowers, petals arching back ... crosscheck with Google images ... YES! We have identified it: Rudbeckia laciniata, the green-headed coneflower.

The kids are at Camp Enchantment, hubby is puttering around in the kitchen making homemade bread and soup (bless him!) and I'm seriously considering turning off the computer and lounging on the bed with a cat and a book.

It's that kind of day.

I'll end with some photos from last weekend's trip to the Met Museum.

Here's SillyBilly excitedly telling us something we didn't know about the Neo-Assyrian Nimrud reliefs. Note: he picked out that outfit, I wash my hands of it!

A detail of E. A. Abbey's King Lear: Act 1, Scene 1, which completely shocked me as I rounded a corner in the American Wing. This is a massive painting [54.25 x 127.25 in. (137.8 x 323.2 cm)], and was created during the late 1890's, one of my favorite art periods. The full painting can be seen here.

And this room in the American Wing, which despite its Victorian fussiness felt oddly homey and comfortable to me. Maybe it was the absolute lack of toys, cat hair, and dirty dishes?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Do you wonder why we call her Napoleona?

Heard said after we came in from playing one afternoon:
Napoleona: "I took off my hat. My hair is too beautiful to cover up with a hat."

Napoleona: "I want to be a princess for Halloween!"
Papa: "Really?"
Napoleona: "Of course, I'm a princess all the time."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes, VIII

SillyBilly: Are Hansel and Gretel real?
Mama: (dodging and weaving like #42) That depends on what you mean by "real."
SillyBilly: Real means real!! (He said this as if he'd already reached the stage where I am a complete idiot. Five going on fifteen, that's my boy.)
Mama: Remember our conversation about thoughts and feelings being real even though you can't see or touch them?
Papa: When you feel hungry, is that real?
SillyBilly: YES!!! (As real as our grocery bill. I'm waiting for the day it exceeds our rent. By then I'm sure the owner of our local Chinese food buffet will have made enough off us to buy that vacation house in the Bahamas.)
Mama: But you can't see your hunger, right?
Papa: So stories are real in the same kind of way. But if you're asking if there were people named Hansel and Gretel who had an adventure with a witch, then...we don't know.
SillyBilly: When we die and go up to heaven, we can find out what's real.

This conversation happened the day after I chose to read the kids Hansel and Gretel while waiting in a doctor's office. It was really too scary for them: the mother was dead? the stepmother wanted to leave the kids in the forest? the witch wanted to cook the kids and eat them? It's really a story for ages 6 and up (according to wise Waldorf kindergarten teachers).

But we just couldn't resist getting all philosophical about "real." Don't get me started on The Velveteen Rabbit.

Ed.: I just realized that I had a previous conversation written down that would explain how we had already talked about "real":

SillyBilly: What's reality?
(Papa hands off to Mama, even though he's the philosopher in the family.)
Mama: Some people say that reality is things that we can touch or see, and things like stories and pretending aren't real.
Papa: But other things like thoughts and feelings are real.
Mama: Some people believe that God is real even though we don't see him or touch him.
Napoleona: God is a spirit!
SillyBilly: God is the biggest spirit of all.

We were being bad Waldorf parents, using lots of words and abstractions with preschoolers who are more in movement and the will. But on the other hand, we were meeting SillyBilly where he is now. How to balance that?!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

More Waldorf school PR struggles...

...this time in Australia.

I don't know how the state schools incorporate Waldorf/Steiner methods in Australia -- if they are fully independent, charter schools (as in California) where some state requirements must be met, or some other structure.

But I do know a bit about the methods of education and the anthroposophical thought behind it, and feel moved to respond to some of the comments in the article:

"Critics say that its philosophical basis is too religious -- even comparing it to Scientology -- to be in the secular public system.

But supporters deny Steiner education is religious and argue it is a holistic approach to learning."

Anthroposophy is spiritual. In the anthroposophical view, all of human existence is imbued with spirit. Therefore any human interaction -- be it in a Waldorf/Steiner school, a public school, the grocery store, a prison -- involves the spiritual world. Only when we come from a materialistic, dualistic viewpoint does the concept of "secularity vs. spirituality" arise.

Waldorf/Steiner schools do not teach a religion to the students. They do foster the natural sense of awe, wonder, and respect for the world that children have. Anthroposophy is a philosophical world-view, not a religion. You can follow any religion you like, or none at all, and still work with anthroposophy.

"Supporters of Steiner are adamant anthroposophy is not taught to children, and that Steiner himself said the spiritual science was only for adults who chose to do it.

But parents and religious experts are concerned that Steiner teachers learn about anthroposophy in their training and these beliefs seep into the classroom. 'What a lot of people don't get is that Steiner is based on a spiritual system not an educational one,' says cult expert Raphael Aron.... It is implicit in everything they do."

Anthroposophy is never taught directly to children (though in some schools here in the US I believe it is included in some high school senior classes about world religion). Steiner specifically stated that teachers should never speak of anthroposophy directly to students: "If anyone thinks the Waldorf School is a school for Anthroposophy it shows he has no understanding either of Waldorf School pedagogy or of Anthroposophy." (Spiritual Ground of Education, lecture 8 of 8/24/1922.)

But yes, of course, it is the foundation of Waldorf/Steiner methods. Of course the beliefs "seep into the classroom," but only in that everything that the teacher brings to the students is informed by the anthroposophical worldview, not that it is included in the curriculum. If teachers are including anthroposophy in their curricula, they are making a mistake.

"[Aron] said there was a lack of transparency in the schools and often parents were not told about what Steiner believed, making it not dissimilar to Scientology."

I can't speak about Scientology, but I believe that it is possible, and perhaps even common, that schools are not forthright and clear enough with parents about anthroposophy. Part of the problem stems from what I perceive as a fear of talking about some of the beliefs outright, because they are far outside the mainstream. Guardian angels, etheric bodies, reincarnation, karma, elemental beings...these all come into play, albeit mostly in minor ways. And personally I don't think these things are the crux of the pedagogy anyway, but I can see how some of these beliefs could come as a shock to parents, especially if not presented in a clear way.

However I also think that it's unreasonable to expect schools to discuss every belief that informs the pedagogy. Steiner gave about 6,000 lectures during his lifetime -- how would it even be possible to fully "disclose" anthroposophy to prospective parents? Do Catholic schools describe every bit of doctrine to parents? Do Montessori schools give parents all of Maria Montessori's writings?

"Mr Pereira, who is from Sri Lanka, said his concerns about Steiner's racist beliefs were realised when his children were not allowed to use black or brown crayons because they were "not pure". He said Steiner teachers at the state-run school recommended they not immunise their children because it would lead to the 'bestialisation of humans'."

This to me sounds like teachers trying to explain concepts, and failing.

In early childhood, it is thought that children should experience color in a moving, feeling way, without too much hardened form, because that is the state of the children themselves: moving, feeling, still soft (bones, rounded bodies, etc.) and not fully incarnated. That is why children in Waldorf/Steiner schools do watercolor paintings instead of coloring pre-drawn images, and that is why black and brown are discouraged -- these colors are "earthly" and tend to create form instead of color experiences. I would say that calling them "impure" is not accurate.

And there are numerous explanations and thoughts about discouraging immunization, but using the word "bestialization" seems excessive and inaccurate. I've talked before about the issue of Steiner and racism; linking crayons and race is just silly. I think that people bring up the race card about Steiner because it immediately causes fear and doubt, and obscures real discussion.

"Rudolf Steiner Schools of Australia executive officer Rosemary Gentle said anthroposophy was not taught to children, although teachers were introduced to the subject during their training.

'It has nothing to do with what is taught. It is just the approach to teaching,' she said.

'The teachers are given an anthroposophy background ... and it allows them to look into a child more deeply. You look at children as you would in a family. You strive to understand the child and recognise their emerging personality.'"

Perhaps my comparison with Catholic schools was problematic, because it is an inherent goal of that school system to create more Catholics. Waldorf/Steiner schools do not work that way. Sure, if you think you've got the best way to view reality, you hope that everyone else will climb on your bandwagon so that everyone can benefit. And if you have a world-view of any kind, be it intellectual development at the expense of artistic and social skills or religion as the basis of all reality or anthroposophy or secular humanism or whatever, it will surely inform your actions.

But the commonly stated goal of Waldorf/Steiner education is not to create more anthroposophists. It is to provide a developmentally appropriate and healing curriculum to help the children become balanced, socially aware, and able to integrate all parts of their selves -- body, soul, and spirit -- into a healthy adult life.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Something extremely frivolous

This will take up far too much of your time, but I thought it was hilarious:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Potterdammerung.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Babes, VII

Tonight at dinner I said something about bread, and SillyBilly made a joke about cows being bred (can't remember what exactly -- must keep my Moleskine notebook at hand!). I told him that was a synonym, and explained that means two different words that mean the same, or almost the same, thing.

We have talked about antonyms before: hot/cold, dry/wet, in/out. And homonyms: sale/sail, meet/meat, pale/pail. But synonyms were new.

Then Napoleona pipes up: "Like plate/dish!"

Napoleona is 3 years old, and she can spontaneously think of a synonym.

Then SillyBilly said, "Mama, I want to do copy editing just like you do!"

We are in serious trouble.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Does the parenting guilt ever end?

No, I think not.

SillyBilly has asthma. For almost a year after we relocated from California to New York, he had no wheezing. We thought perhaps he had grown out of it, or maybe something in the air in Cal. had caused the problem.

In the last few months things have started to flare up again. We had to renew prescriptions, and started to actually use the nebulizer that we had hardly ever used before.

We finally got an appointment with the anthroposophical doctor, who prescribed several remedies to be taken daily, as a long-term constitutional approach.

SillyBilly was thrilled to learn that one of the remedies is actually made of meteors! (ferrum sidereum -- helps with incarnation as well as finding equilibrium between outer influences and inner responses, e.g. asthma as a response to allergens).

We were doing well, remembering to take the remedies twice a day, plus an added bonus spoonful of local honey to assist with allergies, when early this week SillyBilly seemed to have a sniffly nose. The next day he had a little cough, but I wasn't too worried about it.

The next day he was having a lot of coughing and wheezing, so we arranged another visit to the doctor. He prescribed different remedies for the acute phase of asthma.

I dutifully gave SillyBilly one dose of these remedies when we got home, and within half an hour he was having a severe asthma attack! I gave him some albuterol through the nebulizer, and called the doctor. He called back and told us to stop all of the other remedies and just use the acute remedies every two hours.

So far, things are calming down. We have only given SillyBilly one nebulizer treatment today, which is down from several a day plus once or twice in the evenings, which is a whole lot of albuterol for a little guy. He even got to go to the last day of summer day camp, though he came home early because he was not feeling great. (Though that turned out to be more just needing his Mama than anything physical.)

Where does the guilt come in?

Well, SillyBilly has had trouble with his lungs since his birth. He had severe meconium aspiration after being overdue 4 1/2 weeks. He was in the hospital for 31 days, had to have VV ECMO (blood bypass to allow his lungs to rest) for 10 days, and almost died.

I am having trouble not blaming myself. I chose to skip being induced at 42 weeks. I chose to go with a lay midwife at the last minute instead of continuing with the allopathic doctor. And I have a hard time not thinking that those choices "caused" SillyBilly's lung problems.

I know it's both incorrect and unproductive to blame myself. SillyBilly has his own karma to work out, as do I. But dealing with a sick child now makes it all the harder to knock off that kind of thinking.