Category Archives: Uncategorized

Homework: A Failure of Society

(Artist: Pawel Kuczynski)

(Artist: Pawel Kuczynski)

I have some pretty non-traditional views of schooling. From the time I was 5 to the time I was 14, I went to a school where the pupils sat at desks attached to and facing the wall with large dividers between us. Quiet ruled the air, and distractions did not exist. Our work was largely self-directed – we chose what we wanted to work on each hour and each day as long as we kept a consistent pace among all subjects over time. If we finished a certain amount of work before the school day was finished, then the rest of the day was yours. We even checked and graded our own work day-to-day. That school closed down when I was 14, and I was homeschooled until 18. There was no formal curriculum in my homeschooling (some might know this as “unschooling”), and my learning was then entirely self-directed.

During the nine years I went to that formal school, I can recall having homework perhaps ten times, or just about once per year. Now my children get homework that many times in a fortnight. Some schools are giving their students as much as three hours of homework a day. Even my six year old nephew gets homework daily. Immediately as a child starts formal education, does the school intend to own that child’s evenings forever?

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When Minimalism is Too Minimal

This room is missing something. (source: wisley)

This room is missing something.
(source: wisley)

Minimalism, or Simple Living, can mean a lot of things. For many people, it means minimizing your possessions. If you don’t have a lot of furniture, you don’t need to dust it – simple. If you only have one slow cooker instead of three, you don’t have to decide which to use – simple.

I used to live the opposite of minimalism. I had years of magazines from multiple subscriptions piled up under my desk. I bought a new shirt every few weeks, and stuffed them into my closet. Some things I had just for the sake of having them.

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Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Topics from parenthood to politics get an honest treatment from several sides in this book about an unwanted child who commits terrible acts as a teenager. If you have any opinion about what parenting should be like or why children grow up the way they do, I believe you’ll find something in here.

Kevin was creepy and almost frightening. All of the characters were hard to like, but I felt like they were real – many real people can be hard to like, if only they’d write down their thoughts on paper. The book could probably have been about 1/3 shorter if the author had left out a few thousand needless adjectives, that’s why it lost a star. Otherwise it was an interesting, engrossing read.

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Review: They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life

They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life
They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life by Oliver James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very interesting book, and one that goes farther than anything else I’ve ever read in nature v. nurture. The answer, according to Oliver James, is about 99.9% nurture. Plenty of evidence and examples are given, such as the fact that many child abusers were themselves abused as children, i.e. ‘nurture’ made them that way. Highly successful people are much more likely than anyone else to have lost a parent when they were a child, and their despair drove them to achieve. Babies born to poor, uneducated, nutritionally deficient mothers, when adopted by well-off highly educated people, become just the same as a child from those same middle-class people. Even genetically identical twins, when separated from their parents at birth, turn out very differently from each other. I have to admit, I’m convinced by him (or at least 99.9% convinced). If you have any opinion at all on the spectrum from genes to environment, I think you would be interested in this book.

Now that I have the information, though, what am I supposed to do with it? How to stop from f***ing up my own children? Other than not beating them, the book ends without anything in the way of practical advice.

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Review: Grass

Grass
Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Suspenseful and very subtly creepy for the first half, with a wonderfully built world populated with intriguing alien species, new religions, and strange rituals. I stayed up hours past my usual bedtime for several nights in a row just wanting to find out more about the world and everything in it.

The second half focuses more on the characters, though, and since I don’t think they were nearly as strong as the world it wasn’t as enjoyable – but still good. Apparently this is part of a trilogy, but I feel like this book stands well on its own with all loose ends wrapped up, so I won’t be reading the others.

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…If You Can Call This Living

[The exciting conclusion of last week’s Eating to Live post.]

After a week of eating undelicious foods, I can sum it up in one word. I can, but I’m not going to*. Here, have a thousand words instead (there are also four pictures, so make that five thousand words):

We were very surprised to discover how much joy we truly get out of food, and that the joy isn’t even mainly from eating food. We enjoy planning out our menu each week and buying the food. We enjoy making the food. Cooking a delicious meal for others is one of life’s greatest pleasures, perhaps as good as eating the food, and we both felt unsatisfied making food for the other that we knew wouldn’t be enjoyable. Emma runs the Around the World in 196 Recipes blog, which has us trying all kinds of interesting and (usually) delicious foods from around the world, and of course we do the Saturday Sandwich here at Family Against the Flow. Anticipating the delicious food we’ll be eating later in the day brings us pleasure, and at the end of the day we can always look back on the day and think about the wonderful food we’ve eaten. This past week, we’ve had none of the joy in this paragraph at all. Continue reading

Review: Johnny Got His Gun

Johnny Got His Gun
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book starts slowly, but it really gets going. I put it down only briefly, to sleep, and finished it as soon as I woke up. It amazes me that war can still exist when ideas like those written in this book are freely available for anyone to think. War does exist, though, and I was further amazed when I read the author’s introduction after the main story and read that even he, a man who was one of the Hollywood Ten and lived in exile in Mexico because of his blacklisting for his political views, believed that censorship (even of his own anti-war book, Johnny Got His Gun) during times of war could be a good idea, as long as it was a war he agreed with.

If you’re a fan of the Metallica song One, you might be interested in reading the book it was based on.

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Eating to Live

For most of us in the developed world, food is always delicious. For my wife and me, I know it certainly is. Everything we eat is a mouthwatering array of flavors, and we make sure of that when we plan our weekly menu. We don’t eat anything we don’t love – ever. For myself, the things I love are savory: spaghetti, curry, meat pies, entire hogs basted in barbecue sauce and their own juices. My wife has an extra love of sweets: chocolate, cake, doughnuts, whole swans dipped in fondant and sprinkled with nibbed sugar. Hardly a day goes by where both of us aren’t having the things we love to put in our mouths, and frankly it’s hard to find that many swans and hogs at this time of year. Continue reading