Why Organic and Non-GMO

One often reads debates on whether organic produce is better for one’s health than produce grown with the use of herbicides and pesticides. The same is debated in regards to whether there are detrimental effects of eating foods that have been genetically engineered.

toxic-pesticide-apple-tree-cartoon

From what I have read, the evidence is that there are probably minor advantages vitamin and health-wise in organic produce, and particularly in micro-nutrients. While some pesticides and herbicides wash off, other may be ingested. And how much pesticides stay in or on the produce can depend on the crop as well as other factors. However, given all the multiple factors it is hard to really do a carefully controlled study with real human being under real conditions.

Regarding GMO foods, just too little is yet known to be able to make an informed judgment as to if there is any direct health risk form eating such foods. So, on that score we are really guinea pigs in a world-wide experiment.

Regarding the lab studies on the harm of pesticides and herbicides to people, those are almost useless since they are so far removed from how they actually get used in real life conditions—such as they are usually used in multiple combinations, and those synergistic effects are not tested.

Yet, really such issues miss the main problem with the use of pesticides and herbicides. The reason I eat organic and non-GMO foods has little to do with whether it directly effects my health. It is the effect on the environment that concerns me most. On that score, it is abundantly clear that the use of pesticides, herbicides and the use of genetically engineered crops damage our ecosystem.

These pesticides and herbicides end up in the soil. Then they work their way down into out aquifers and water system, into run off that ends up in stream, rivers, lakes and oceans. The worms and bugs end up ingesting them, then the birds that eat them. The same with the fish and other water microorganisms. These then all work their way up the food chain, collecting in higher dosages, affecting the entire food chain.

The use of these artificial chemicals also ends up depleting the soil, leading to loss of quality topsoil. None of that is really debatable.

Now, about GMOs. What is not generally known is what is the main engineered modification that agribusiness is using. The biggest crops that are genetically engineered are corn and soy, and a huge proportion of the world crop is now GMO. The main purpose of the modification is to make these crops more resistant to herbicides and pesticides. It has little to do with making “better” corn or soy.

Why are they doing this? It has to do with modern mono-cropping and profits. Under normal circumstances, insects and plants play an evolutionary dance. Insects eat the plants, but some plants are more resistant to the bugs than others, and those thrive while the others do not do as well. But some bugs in turn do fine with the new strain of the plant, and those bugs thrive while the others do not do as well. So, both bugs and plants continue to evolve in response to the changes in the other.

Now along comes the agro-chemical-business. They do not like changes in the crop. They want to have one uniform plant that they have bred to their specification. Also, a natural plant, or seed cannot be patented and owned. These large agro-chemical companies do not allow their plants and seeds to naturally evolve. They usually have sterile seed. Therefore each season the farmers have to buy new seed from these companies.

However, the bugs and weeds DO continue to evolve to overcome both natural pest resistance and manufactured pesticides and herbicides. Because of this, larger and larger doses of herbicides and pesticides are needed to have the same effect. But these larger doses also can be harmful to the plants themselves. Therefore, the plants are modified to be resistant to these larger doses of pesticides and herbicides.

The principle modification therefore of soy and corn is to allow higher and higher doses of pesticides and herbicides to be applied to our crops, poisoning our planet even more. The same companies that sell these GMO seeds to the farmers are also selling them the herbicides and pesticides, so they increase their profits on both ends with these practices.

Organic farming practices are generally designed to maintain the quality of the soil and respect our natural environmental ecology. Does it cost more? Only if you ignore the costs to the livability of our planet.

Relationships and the Company We Keep.

There are two basic principles that I think as a field, psychologists and learning theorist’s agree upon: The importance of relationships, and that we learn to be like those in whose company we grow up in (and want to be like).

In fact, a 32-year longitudinal study, with about 1000 participants, found that social connectedness was a better predictor of well-being than academic achievement. (http://dro.deakin.edu.au/view/DU:30046123)

caring

By learning I am not really referring to the remembrance of facts (though, even the remembering of facts depends upon the context of the above factors). There are studies that when they control for (which means do not take into account) all other factors find certain methodologies to be more effective than others—how many repetitions, the order presented, levels of mastery, and so forth. However, to me, what really a matters when we look at the big picture of schooling and learning, is what kind of people we become, what we care about, what is our attitudes toward others, toward learning, and toward the society we live in, and as importantly, how we view ourselves.

If we start with these, relationships and the company we keep as our basic principles of learning, then the design of our school, classroom, learning environment need to reflect that. In other words, do the designs of the above, hinder or support strong relationships and creating a context for students to be surrounded by the kinds of people that we hope they become?

One aspect of creating this environment is thinking about the time and space for all members of the learning community to get to know each other. One factor is class size ratios. With too large class sizes (or numbers of students a teacher has on their total class load), teachers cannot get to know their students (and their families) well. In California, with class sizes often around 30, (and for high school teachers, multiply that by 4, 5 or 6 as they teach multiple groups of students).  I argue that such large classes make strong relationships difficult. Half that, or maybe two adults in the room (or both) would make it more realistic.

I also recommend that students stay with teachers for more than one year. From my personal experience teaching, both having times when I had my students for only one year, and others where I had them for two or even three years, I found I was able to develop much deeper relationships in the second year. It also allowed for a sense of trust of giving students time to grow. (There are also many other advantages to multi-graded classrooms and keeping students for multiple years, for that you can read this previous blog).

School size also matters. The relationship built are more than just within the classroom. The school itself needs to be a community, with all the members having relationships with each other. This matters in part because students do move from teachers to teacher. It also matters because students see what kinds of relationships the adults around them have. They learn as much from watching others as they do form their direct experiences. They learn what it means to be an adult by watching adultas The teachers, and staff of a school are the adults in a working, non-family role that they see most, and most intimately.

However, the curriculum also has an effect. If the teacher’s job is to either be in front lecturing, or monitoring students doing worksheets, neither of these behaviors are likely to foster meaningful relationships no matter what the class size. Curriculum that allows the participants to share their ideas, work together and be creative are more likely to foster relationships. Curriculum that allows the teacher to tailor the the learning to the child/ren, to what is happening in the moment, also fosters relationships, caring.

Besides what goes on in the classroom is the larger learning community. In the majority of school’s children are told their job is to do what the teacher says, who in turn does what that principal says, who in turn does what the school board says, who in turn does what the State mandates. This is the company children keep during probably the majority of their non-family time—the time that represents larger society, a place that they are required by society to be.

If we want students to learn to be people who understand how a democratic society works, and how people who can make decisions over their lives and society act, then the adult in the learning community need to be doing such things. That means the way the school itself runs should be a place where the adults make the important decisions over what goes on in that community—the schedule, the work environment, and how the teaching and learning is structured. If the adults in the schools are mainly following orders from above, then that is what children will learn. They may want to reject that social order, to rebel against it, but the will not be learning how to do so effectively. Or they may reject it by just wanting to be the one’s who are on top, but again not seeing an alternative to the top down model of governance.

In sum, if we want to have healthy well educated students who know what it means to be a citizen of a democratic society, then the schools they grow up in need to reflect such a world, and they need the ability to build meaningful relationships with the adults and each other in those schools. Those adults need to be able to act that students would want to be adults like them.

Lakoff’s 10 point list

George Lakoff, UC Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, is a renowned expert in neural theory of language and thought.  His perspective on how to frame issues and respond to our current crisis is helpful. You may have seen his 10 point list going around Facebook:

1. If you repeat Trump, it helps to spread his message. Never use his language – use your own words and values to reframe the conversation.
2. This is a regime, and he’s not acting alone.
3. Do not argue with those who support him; it doesn’t work.
4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state.
5. Keep your message positive; the administration wants the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.
6. Minimize helpless-hopeless-apocalyptic talk.
7. Support artists and the arts.
8. Be careful not to spread fake news; check it.
9. Take care of yourselves.
10. And #Resist!

Lakoff’s most recent blog – I would underline his point that “The best resistance is positive persistence.”  can read be read online at https://georgelakoff.com/blog/

Our Peculiar System

Our peculiar election system made from compromises over time and a distrust of direct democracy has led us to where our President-elect was elected despite losing the popular vote.

And the compromises that led us to the Representative and Senatorial bodies have given us a Senate led by Republicans despite the fact that they represent about 44% of the population versus the Democrats representing 55%. (This is assuming Republicans take the Louisiana seat that will be decided in December).

So any talk of a mandate by the Republicans is pure hypocrisy.

Mourn for the dead, fight like hell for the living

This is from Monty Neill, Executive Director of FairTest:

Mourn for the dead, fight like hell for the living (Mother Jones). Or is it, those whom tee gods would destroy, they first make mad. The latter might be true, but the first is all we can do.

On education in MA, our strategic path forward may not be so complex (not easy, just not so complex).

Nationally on the much wider range of ‘issues’ there are deep complexities that have I think led to the Democrat’s loss – specifically, the neoliberalism that grabbed the party perhaps as far back as Carter and certainly under Bill Clinton, then continued under Obama (who also aimed to promote more social democratic approaches such as on health care, but the two cannot really be reconciled).

Hillary was, I think, trying to get out from under it, at least partially (as with Obama), but could not (thus, as pundit land put it, was not seen as a change person). Compound that anger against neoliberalism with white racism and plus misogyny, it is a potent brew. Neoliberalism has in many ways has most hurt people of color, but they face R’s open racism; related was media’s apparent unwillingness to talk about racism – only ‘southern strategy; and media kept failing to qualify its term ‘working class’ with the modifier ‘white’ since by any meaningful definition of working class, it is composed disproportionately of blacks and Latinos.) It mixes also potently with cultural conservatism that for example led white evangelicals to massively support Trump.
Sanders offered something of a route forward for the Dems, but it is far from clear the Dems will break with neoliberalism – now a huge part of their base are folks who have relatively benefited from neoliberalism (those with college degrees, as media discussed incessantly last night, tho they used terms like ‘technology’ so they could avoid ‘neoliberalism’). That sector and it would seem large sectors of the ruling class/elite that brought us neoliberalism backed Hillary if only out of fear of the unknown that is Trump (see stock market sharp declines last night, internationally). Again, the Republicans were able to mix their strange alliances better than were the Dems.

Very weird political knots to even untangle clearly, never mind figure out how to address strategically.

BTW, I don’t mean to suggest our strategic thinking should be limited to terrain of major political parties.

Back to education:
Ed week just had a piece wondering what Trump will do – a useful reminder of the little he has said. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2016/11/donald_trump_wins_presidency_uncertainty_education_issues.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=campaignk-12

Monty Neill, Ed.D.; Executive Director, FairTest; P.O. Box 300204, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-477-9792; http://www.fairtest.org; Donate to FairTest: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/fairtest

California Proposition Recommendations

Below are my recommendations on the 17 California Propositions

(links to other explanations and recommendations)

(summary of recommendations)

There is a part of me that wants to just vote no on every proposition as the initiative process is in my opinion a severely flawed process for making law. The reason we elect representatives is to make and pass laws—it is their full time job. To expect every citizen to become an expert on 17 issues this year, many of which have complex provisions in them, is ludicrous and ends up meaning people often vote based on knee jerk reactions to the initiative’s title. Legislative bills go through the give and take of compromise and debate to amend them, which I think is a good process. Propositions are voted up and down as is, with no opportunity to fine tune them. And the outcome is actually more, not less, influenced by big money as people tend to get their info from TV ads or just going by who supports or opposes it, if not simply the title. Not a good way to makes laws and amend our State Constitution.

0_arn_ballot-box-cartoon-crying-kid

Proposition 51, School Facility Bonds: No

While more money for schools is always good, there are a couple of hidden poison pills here. One is that it exempts developers from paying fees to go to schools when they create new developments until all the bond money is used up (such developments often creates the need for new schools, and so traditionally developers pay fees to offset such costs). It therefore transfers the burden from developers to increased general state debt.

Also it gives a disproportionate share of the money to charter schools, which actually undermines traditional public neighborhood schools.

Proposition 52, Medical for Private Hospital fees: Abstaining

While the proposition makes sense, this was originally done by the legislature and no reason they cannot extend it as a bill. We should not be voting as propositions what our legislatures can easily do themselves. We elect and pay them to be the experts and understand the details and repercussions of such bills. Additionally this is a Constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments are extremely difficult to change or amend if need be, like if there is a need to change these fees in one direction or the other. I am not voting no as I do not want to send the message that I am against these fees.

Proposition 53: Public vote of Revenue Bonds: No

Revenue bonds are paid off by users of the service the bond pays for (e.g. tolls if used to a bridge). This bill was put up by one individual who does not like one particular project. We elect our representatives to make these decisions. And no reason everyone in the state should be voting on every project—and need to be an expert on all the pros, cons and details of them that is needed to make an informed decision — especially projects that do not affect those voters in terms of paying for them or serving them.

Proposition 54: Changes in Legislation Process: No

This bill would require 72-hour notice before any bill could be voted on, among other things. On its face, this proposition does seem to offer more transparency in government, but in reality would make passing any bill extremely difficult. As bills are normally passed, they go through a process of adjustments and amendments to both make compromises and fix problems with them. If every amendment or minor change meant a 72-hour wait, it would take forever to get anything done. This is why Republicans, who are in the minority in California want it, as they want to be able to obstruct bills.

Proposition 55: Tax on High Incomes: Yes

This extends the 1%-3% additional tax on individuals making over $250K and couples over $500K per year. The money mostly goes to schools. Since our infrastructure is falling apart and the rich have been getting richer at the expense of the rest of us over the last decade or so, it only makes sense to get the additional money our society needs from those who both most can afford it and have benefited the most from our economy.

Proposition 56: Tobacco Tax: Undecided

I am mixed on this. Cigarette and “sin” taxes tend to hit the poor much more than the well to do. But it is in society’s interest to discourage smoking as higher prices do, and smoking has societal costs that these taxes help offset.

Proposition 57: Parole, and Sentencing: Yes

We have several times the percentage of our population in jail as any other civilized country, and when you look at the percentage of our oppressed minority groups, the numbers are staggering. The evidence is that the longer people spend in jail the less fit they are to reintegrate themselves back into society. Reducing sentences for those that are not a clear and present danger only makes humane sense (and economic sense, as keeping people in prison is extremely expensive).

Proposition 58: English Language Education: English Language Education: Yes

This overturns the anti-bilingual proposition passed 17 years ago. It does not require bilingual education, but allows schools to once again use it if they wish. All research has shown bilingual education to be at least, if not more, effective than the English Only instruction required under the previous Unz initiative. Arguments that it has raised test scores are wholly false. For one thing, state testing only became high stakes after Unz, as well as the fact that all sorts of other instructional changes have taken place, so the number of factors that might affect test scores are too numerous to count. Furthermore, the tests have changed more than once, so any comparison is meaningless.

Proposition 59: Citizens United Advisory: Yes

While in some ways meaningless, any message that we object to the Supreme Court ruling that Corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts influencing political elections since they are “people” is worth it.

Proposition 60, Condoms: No

While wearing condoms is a good idea this bill is horrible. There actually are laws already on the books requiring the use of condoms. This would allow individuals to sue anyone involved in the porn film as individuals and the person filing the suit would personally get some of the proceeds from the fines involved as well as court fees, giving enormous incentive for any anti-porn people to file frivolous law suits in the hope of financial gain. It also requires the actors to divulge their home address. It also has the potential of making the writer of the bill the Porn Czar if any one challenges the amendment. It also likely applies to individuals who shoot their own private porn movies, not just commercial movies.

Proposition 61: Prescription Drug Costs: No

Many good organizations and people seem to be supporting this, and the intent is good—bring down prescription drug costs. But the devil is in the details. It only applies to a small number of residents (Medical patients who are not under managed care systems). It also is impossible to really do what it says. The negotiated prices are not public, so how would we know if we are getting lower price? It mandates the government to get the lower prices but not the drug companies to agree to those prices. It could encourage the drug companies to raise prices to the Vets so that then the price the government has to match is actually higher not lower. This is the wrong solution to a real problem. Whether it will actually reduce drug prices is dubious, and even possibly could create higher prices.

Proposition 62: Abolish Death Penalty: Yes

Killing people is just wrong, even (or especially?) if done by the state. It does not bring justice, only revenge. It is not a deterrent—people committing crimes that lead to death penalty do not think—“oh, I might get the death penalty if I do this!”  It does not make up for anything the perpetrator has done. It is expensive to carry out. The death sentence is disproportionately given to minority and poor people. And sometimes innocent people are executed. We are one of the few countries with a death penalty. Those that do have it tend to be religious extremists and totalitarian (e.g. some Muslim states and Russia and China).

Proposition 63: Gun and Ammunition sales: Yes

This would make it more difficult for those who have committed violent crimes and with certain types of mental illnesses to get ammunition. If it makes it a little more inconvenient for others to also get ammunition, I do not see that as a bad thing. I do not see why we make it easier to buy guns and ammo than we do to check out a library book!

Proposition 64: Making Recreational Marijuana Legal: Yes

There are some problems with the details of this bill, and there will be problems with its implementation, as we have seen in other states. Also, I would rather see this done by the legislature than as an initiative. Waiting might have some advantages, in that we could learn more about what is working and not working in other states that have legalized marijuana.

However, I plan to vote yes anyway. The societal costs of criminalizing marijuana use are just not worth it, both in terms of costs of prosecution and jail, and ruining the lives of those who are prosecuted. Legalizing marijuana take it out of the hands of the criminal market to where it is easier to regulate the industry. If it gets voted down would send a message to the legislature that the public does not want to legalize it (an example of why I do not like the initiative process as I cannot send a nuanced message, as I might be able to do when a bill is working its way through the process).

Proposition 65: Carry out bag fees: No

Paid for by plastic bag industry to confuse the issue of Prop 67, the ban on bags, and to punish the supermarkets for their support of the ban. It claims to support the environment, giving the money for bags to a conservation organization, but the only supporters of the bill are the plastic bag industry. Environmental groups are NOT supporting this bill.

Proposition 66: Death Penalty procedures: No

Makes it easier to carry out the Death penalty, and makes appeals harder.

Proposition 67: Plastic Bag Ban: Yes

Plastic bags are extremely bad for the environment, and these bans have been very effective in getting people to use reusable bags instead of paper or plastic ones. The only real opposition is the Plastic Bag industry–who put it up in the first place hoping to override the bill the legislature already passed with a no vote on this. This is a straight forward example of big private money trying to hijack the legislative process.

Summaries and explanations:

Official voter guide http://voterguide.sos.ca.gov/en/propositions/

BallotPedia: Gives extensive information on each Initiative, with pros and cons and who is for it and against, and money contributed, and all sorts of analysis. Non-partisan
https://ballotpedia.org/California_2016_ballot_propositions

Cal Matters: Gives quick summaries of each. Non partisan
https://calmatters.org/elections/

Recommendations

Friends Committee on Legislation of California: Gives their recommendations with detailed explanations.
http://www.fclca.org/images/stories/pdfs/2016fallnewsletter.pdf

DailyKos blogger analysis and recommendations: Mostly agrees with my analysis
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/10/2/1577123/-Analyzing-California-s-17-Propositions-on-the-November-2016-Ballot

California league of Women Voters recommendations:
https://lwvc.org/vote/elections/ballot-recommendations

California Democratic Party:
http://www.cadem.org/vote/2016-ballot-initiatives

Summary Recommendations:

Proposition Me Friends Committee League of Women Voters DailyKos-Mainstreet Democratic Party
51 No Yes Yes Yes Yes
52 * No * Yes Yes
53 No No * No No
54 No Yes Yes No No
55 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
56 * * * No Yes
57 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
58 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
59 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
60 No No * No No
61 No No * No *
62 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
63 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
64 Yes Yes * Yes Yes
65 No No * No *
66 No No No No No
67 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

* No Position or Undecided