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/