Thursday, February 26, 2009

Little Mystery in Big China

I have stated on more than one occasion that education can solve any issue. Imagine my smug little self after reading about the matrilineal society of the Na.

Most people have never heard of the Na tribal people, from the Yongning hills of the Yunan province in southern China. Clifford Geertz wrote an article (“Life without Fathers or Husbands”, copyright 2001 NYREV, Inc.) reviewing the work of Chinese Anthropologist, Cia Hua, describing the society of the Na.

"[Among the Na]... there is no marriage, in fact or word. Mothers exist, as do children, but there are no dads. Sexual intercourse takes place between casual, opportunistic lovers, who develop no broader, more enduring relations to one another.... Almost everyone of either sex has multiple partners, serially or simultaneously.... There are no nuclear families, no in-laws, no stepchildren. Brothers and sisters, usually several of each, reside together, along with perhaps a half-dozen of their nearer maternal relatives, from birth to death under one roof -- making a living, keeping a household, and raising the sisters' children."

Now before you, dear reader, consider rushing off to live in the Yongning hills of China, please understand that over the span of several dynasties, China has addressed this issue in several ways, from decreeing that the Na "must marry in the standard way" to passing a regulation "designed to encourage nuclear family formation by distributing land to men who would set up and maintain such a family" to "pronouncing it shameful not to know who one's genitor is, and imposing marriage by simple decree on any villager involved in a conspicuous visit relationship" to finally passing laws stating that "1. everyone under fifty in a relationship... must officially marry...; 2. every woman who has children must publically state who their genitor is, cart him off to headquarters, and marry him; 3. those who divorce without official sanction will have their annual grain ration suspended; 4. any child born out of wedlock will also not get a ration and must be supported by his genitor until age 18; and 5. visiting, furtive or conspicuous, was forbidden".

All these efforts failed, largely. It wasn't until 1992 that any real change in the Na culture occurred. The means that succeeded? Education.

"The expansion of the state school system, where 'all the textbooks are impregnated with [more universal] ideas and values', is leading to rapid and thorough [cultural change in] the Na:
When students graduate from middle school, they must complete a form that includes a column requesting information on their civil status. Unable to fill in the blank asking for the name of their father, they suddenly become aware they do not have a father, while their classmates from other ethnic backgrounds do..... The message... is clear.... There is only one culture that is legitimate, and that [is not the Na].

"In China, as elsewhere, it is not licentiousness that powers most fear. Nor even immorality. It is difference."

Did you notice that the education that is "fixing" the Na culture, is the state school system? Now, if you're a member of the Na society, you are probably enraged at what your kids are being taught as your people are entering into a state of cultural upheaval.

Can't the same thing be said of other cultures nearer to home? What is it, exactly, that "the state" is teaching? Is it the education that we want for our kids? Are we, like the Na, being conditioned to accept a particular knowledge that is "in line" with the government? And who's government? Can it be accurately defined by party lines, socio-economic lines, cultural lines? Sure, education can solve all problems, but "education" is a bit subjective. It's a bit like history, you know; the winning side gets to write the books.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Throw me something, Mister!

I am not Catholic. In fact, my personal experiences with Catholicism can be traced to a single wedding that I attended back in 1984. I am, however, a Louisianian. So tomorrow the devout Catholics can celebrate Ash Wednesday, but today is for me and my ilk. Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

Mardi Gras is steeped in Catholic beliefs, but leave it to the city of N'Awlins (that's "New Orleans" for those needing translation) to claim the twelve days leading up to Fat Tuesday -- as well as the day itself -- and turn it into one big philanthropic party. Carnival and Mardi Gras is when the people of New Orleans and South Louisiana throw themselves a party, paid for by the people, and gifts are showered onto the crowds.

To be fair, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world, and N'Awlins isn't the only place that throws a good party. But, I'm not from the rest of the world, so you get my slant. And today, my slant is a short list of sites:

New Orleans Mardi Gras explained Go learn something, Mister!
Mardi Gras 2009 with live video Go watch a parade, Mister!
History of New Orleans Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Past and Present

Funny, how I'll rant about Christmas and vent about Valentine's Day, then laud Mardi Gras. No, I"m not nuts... although I do predict an eccentric old age. Here's the thing about this seeming hypocrisy: I was raised to understand that Mardi Gras was, yes, a time for parades and asking for trinkets ("Throw me something, Mister!"). But I understood that the money behind Mardi Gras came from people's pocket linings, not a government agency or a hand-out. This was the hard-working taxpayer taking their own money and throwing their community a party, complete with gifts to the parade attenders. If ever there was a spirit of community involvement, it was Mardi Gras. People set aside money, they built floats together, they made costumes, they threw a parade, and then they had a ball -- literally. The whole point is to enjoy life and celebrate abundance. I've always contented that point of view goes a long way to defining such intangible ideas as "abundance". If you have all you need, and are content with that, then life itself is abundant. If you have a huge case of materialism and are so deep in debt that you actually quit dreaming of your next big purchase, then you will never have enough, no matter how much you have.

For me, Thanksgiving is for being thankful and giving thanks. It's a time of intimacy, looking inward to find peace in having what you need, and appreciating what and who you have in your life. Mardi Gras, however, is about celebrating life. It's about dancing in the streets because you have your humor, your zest for life, and you want to share yourself with your community. It's about throwing everyone a party, just because you can. I love that even in financial times of hardship, the members of the New Orleans Krewes find a way to keep the parties alive, year after year. I love that the area-wide celebration lines the streets and anyone can attend, be them a local or a tourist. Sure, my reflection on Mardi Gras may be a bit utopian, but that's my point of view, and sometimes we all need a reason to celebrate life.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Educate me!!

Have you heard that there are folks out there busily rethinking our education system?

How about a return to the one room schoolhouse?

Here's a fun link I found regarding an experiment with just such a setting:

And another about project-based education in Hawaii:

Project-based education, btw, is exactly what it sounds like. Education through working on projects. Hawaii has a few charter schools that are outdoor schoolhouses. They are also bi-lingual, speaking English and Hawaiian. The idea is not only to preserve the Hawaiian culture, but also to encourage kids to embrace their heritage and understand how they can help protect their environment. That it also gives them some real-world experience is just gravy. Personally, I can get behind a system that puts kids to work on how to apply algebra to rebuild a storm-ravaged building, or uses diving to study science and biology and the reefs (I read a written article about such a school, but the link takes you to one that deals with other cool projects related to energy).

Would't it be great if learning and practical application could be used to better prepare graduates at every level for the rest of their life, or the next level of education?

I remember that my dad (a high school teacher for 27 years) was often frustrated when he was told he had to pass a student onto the next grade because they were too old to remain where they were. I remember the year he got a half-dozen new students as freshmen that had moved into high school only because they were turning 15 and could not stay in the 8th grade anymore. They did not know how to read or write, they had no incentive to learn, and when he asked them what they wanted from high school, one replied with "I want to turn 16 so I can get my own welfare check".

Yes, I realize this group of students is not the majority, however, with our current system, what grade you are in correlates with age more than it does ability, and often a child who is functioning well above their "grade" level is not encouraged to challenge themselves and jump ahead, while a child that is lagging behind can be dragged along. It isn't ideal for either situation.

I remember "back in the day" when Associates Degrees covered a more "general education" and the Bachelors was more specialized, with increasing specialization as one earned higher degrees. I feel a bit as though Bachelors degrees have lost some of their...punch... in the workplace, and an Associate's degree doesn't do much for anyone anymore. I fear that this is because there is a desire to have the titles that come with the terminal degrees more than it is a reflection of learning. In a race to stay competitive, have we really increased our learning to match our pedigrees? It is something I don't have an answer to yet.

This has been more food for thought than anything else, but I will leave my readers with some rhetorical questions to think about. Isn't our education supposed to prepare us for the workplace? Why does the workplace find our education inadequate or lacking? Shouldn't the gap between education and application be a narrow one?

Friday, February 13, 2009

my boring valentine

It's the day before Valentine's, and true to form, I'm planning on all the things I'll be doing tomorrow: housework, playing with my son, going to the park, avoiding restaurants, wearing something decidedly NOT red.

For my loyal readers, you know that I loathe this holiday.

For those who have not been previously privy to my Valentine's rants, let me sum it up like this:

There are 365 days in a year. Why is it that on this one particular day, men are socially required to go out and spend a bunch of money buying baubles and trinkets to "prove" their love, to satisfy some romantic need to feel adored? What about the other 364 days a year? Shouldn't he be showing his love every day, and not storing it up, like a tax refund check, for February 14th?

Really, I think that holidays like this one exist for government workers to have a day off and to stimulate the economy. And we can follow up this big holiday for jewelry stores with the furniture store's holiday: President's Day! (and all the related sales). Next is breweries and St. Patrick's Day, then Childrens' retailers and Easter.

Now, I say all this tongue in cheek, as I continue to learn about the human sciences, and am forming new opinions all the time. But those revelations are for later. As Jack Nicholson one yelled to Tom Cruise, "You can't handle the truth!"

Speaking of Gitmo, ponder for a moment how future generations are going to receive movies like A Few Good Men and stories from the latter half of the 20th century, when Gitmo was such a formidable presence. I suspect it's a lot like hearing about the Great Depression for our generation. We kinda get it... well, a bit... I mean, look at the current state of the economy... gas last year was $5 a gallon in some parts... that's rough!... ok, we don't get it at all.

Time keeps on tickin', tickin'...
into the future....

(and don't worry fellas, you still have a few hours to get to Jared).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My No. 1 New Pet Peeve

It takes a lot to top my list of pet peeves, especially to jump from not even on my radar all the way to #1.

Recently I met a woman. During our correspondence, I noticed that she writes in sentence fragments. She has clauses that don't identify anything. She refuses to capitalize proper names, misuses pronunciation, and is a terrible speller. She forgets identifying pronouns and leaves off modifiers. At least she doesn't use leet-speak. Now, all of these errors are forgivable -- certainly I'm guilty of every single one of them at some time or another. However, their frequency is annoying. Even this is forgivable, largely.

What is not forgivable is that this woman -- this questionably literate woman -- is an ENGLISH TEACHER!!

The next generation needs help. And how did we put someone in a position to teach them, that can't even properly use her own subject matter? HOW? Are our standards so low? Have we lowered our qualifications for our teachers? No Child Left Behind?!!!! HA! How about No Teacher Left Behind! (That might begin to take care of the children issue) I am so angry over the thought of illiterate teachers teaching English (of all things!), that I cannot continue this blog in a logical or sequential manner.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

horror and science

Science fiction is attributed to pushing science and technology into the future. Mostly because Welles or Vonnegut wrote about some completely cool gadget, and somewhere some brilliant-but-geeky mind decided to try and invent it. Star Trek is responsible for a whole slew of scientific advancements and/or experiments, like hand-held computers and such (come on, who doesn't want a tri-corder?) Star Wars can contribute a few things to science as well, even though the light saber hasn't been perfected -- not even as a child's toy.

So what about a Stephen King contribution? How about remote locks for cars! I postulate that somewhere, some guy was watching Christine and said "hey, I wish my car doors would lock themselves!" and Ding!! He had to go about making it happen. Now remote entry on autos is as common as Microsoft bundled with new computers.