Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is This the Future?

I was driving past a local high school yesterday at around 11 am. It was cloudy but not too cool and not raining. There were about 30 students outside and the majority where looking down at their hands, thumbs flying as they sent text messages.

First cell phones became ubiquitous and you would nearly run people over down town because they were too busy to pay attention to where they were stepping. Now we are becoming people who only know they exist because they bounce a few letters and words off another person who responds in kind. One teenager told me the other day that he hates talking on the phone and prefers texting. That way he can control the flow of information in a very one sided fashion. No social skills needed and no time to waste on real interactions.

I really fear that we will become walking automatons living inside our own heads. We are partially there when you think about the prevalence of IPods and MP3 players out in public and in the workplace. There is nothing more annoying than trying to get someones attention and then having to repeat yourself once the headphones come off or the device turned off. Yes, I know that they are great when you are working out in a gym. However, I tried walking with one on outside and despite a low volume you could not hear cars approaching or, for that matter, birds chirping.

Meanwhile, at the high school, the clouds were fluffy and gorgeous, the grass was green but no one seemed to notice.

Monday, April 21, 2008


One day I shall brave a winter storm
While lingering on the embattled Oregon coast,
Soaking in the raw unbridled power of the
Massive waves rending the fragile coastline,
While the tumult of stubby clouds
Surges inland driven by the relentless wind.

Awesome power bespeaks of forces
Much greater than this puny self:
Easing humility as a state of grace.

Will lesser tempests be unremembered?
Or is the pursuit of the perfect storm
Merely an affirmation of love, striving, life itself?

Blood quickens in the veins amongst the ruinous effect,
As a fire burns in my hearth of hearths
To Sea, to feel, to be.

----------------------------------------J. Ross Wilde
April 21, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What is Wrong With the Weather?

It snowed yesterday. Just a few flakes while the sun was shining. It was a bit cold out but the clouds were big, puffy and unpredictable. They made the sky stunning to look at and made it appear like a constantly shifting miasma of form. Not something to be missed.

All this week the weather prognosticators were predicting varying amounts of the white stuff for this weekend. I enjoyed telling people that I was rooting for at least 4.2 inches of snow so we could break the record for the snowiest season in Spokane history. When I said this, listeners (or more properly, toleraters) eyes would glaze over and I got varying outcries of woe. This is the end of April, for crying out loud!

Last weekend we had a brief spat of warm, mild weather. When I went to softball practice last Saturday there were people everywhere practicing sports, biking and doing yard work. Yesterday I went to the same location with about 42 degree temperature and no one was out and about! Bravo! to the two couples that I saw out hiking today while I was doing the same thing.

I guess I just don't understand why people get so worked up over something they have no control over. I would rather enjoy the moment and revel in the churning nature of spring weather. 'If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute' is never truer than this time of year . That being said, I hope my wife doesn't read this because I have been known to grumble when 3 months of hot, dry weather descend and ubiquitous dust blots out the horizon.

Call me crazy but I enjoyed applying a fresh pungent coat of linseed oil to my new raised beds while the snow flakes were occasionally swirling about my head or sticking to my nose! The clouds were awesome yesterday and provided constant entertainment.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


The rounded world is fair to see,
Nine times folded in mystery:
Though baffled seers cannot impart
The secret of its laboring heart,
Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast,
And all is clear from east to west.
Spirit that lurks each form within
Beckons to spirit of its kin;
Self-kindled every atom glows
And hints the future which it owes.

-----------------Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, February 28, 2008

At Play in the Fields... of the Following Article

The post below illustrates a belief I have always held since having children of my own and remembering my own childhood. The most fun play that kids can have is when they are being really creative and inventive such as when they play house or store, play with a large box or a series of large boxes taped together, make a fort with a blanket over the coffee table and couch or just plain make believe (Hey girls; remember "Dead-Man Dingo Pass"?). I also remember in 'To Kill a Mockingbird" when Scout and Jem re-create famous literary scenes from memory and act them out with great enthusiasm.

The opposite example, which we have all seen at one time or another, is of a child opening a gift of a uni-dimensional toy, playing with it for a few minutes and then losing interest in it. The article below is very instructive for all of us that interact with children. We should strive to encourage imaginative play as much as possible which is made all the more difficult by the saturation of one-way, passive entertainment in our culture.

Children's Changed Play Habits Stifle Cognitive and Emotional Development

Morning Edition, February 21, 2008 · On October 3, 1955, the Mickey Mouse Club debuted on television. As we all now know, the show quickly became a cultural icon, one of those phenomena that helped define an era.
What is less remembered but equally, if not more, important, is that another transformative cultural event happened that day: The Mattel toy company began advertising a gun called the "Thunder Burp."
I know — who's ever heard of the Thunder Burp?
Well, no one.
The reason the advertisement is significant is because it marked the first time that any toy company had attempted to peddle merchandise on television outside of the Christmas season. Until 1955, ad budgets at toy companies were minuscule, so the only time they could afford to hawk their wares on TV was during Christmas. But then came Mattel and the Thunder Burp, which, according to Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, was a kind of historical watershed. Almost overnight, children's play became focused, as never before, on things — the toys themselves.
"It's interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys," says Chudacoff. "Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object."
Chudacoff's recently published history of child's play argues that for most of human history what children did when they played was roam in packs large or small, more or less unsupervised, and engage in freewheeling imaginative play. They were pirates and princesses, aristocrats and action heroes. Basically, says Chudacoff, they spent most of their time doing what looked like nothing much at all.
"They improvised play, whether it was in the outdoors… or whether it was on a street corner or somebody's back yard," Chudacoff says. "They improvised their own play; they regulated their play; they made up their own rules."
But during the second half of the 20th century, Chudacoff argues, play changed radically. Instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts. Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch they played Star Wars with a toy light saber. Chudacoff calls this the commercialization and co-optation of child's play — a trend which begins to shrink the size of children's imaginative space.
But commercialization isn't the only reason imagination comes under siege. In the second half of the 20th century, Chudacoff says, parents became increasingly concerned about safety, and were driven to create play environments that were secure and could not be penetrated by threats of the outside world. Karate classes, gymnastics, summer camps — these create safe environments for children, Chudacoff says. And they also do something more: for middle-class parents increasingly worried about achievement, they offer to enrich a child's mind.
Change in Play, Change in Kids
Clearly the way that children spend their time has changed. Here's the issue: A growing number of psychologists believe that these changes in what children do has also changed kids' cognitive and emotional development.
It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.
We know that children's capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.
"Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."
Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."
The Importance of Self-Regulation
According to Berk, one reason make-believe is such a powerful tool for building self-discipline is because during make-believe, children engage in what's called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.
"In fact, if we compare preschoolers' activities and the amount of private speech that occurs across them, we find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play," Berk says. "And this type of self-regulating language… has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions."
And it's not just children who use private speech to control themselves. If we look at adult use of private speech, Berk says, "we're often using it to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions."
Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children's private speech declines. Essentially, because children's play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids' toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren't getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity, says Berk, the results are clear: Self-regulation improves.
"One index that researchers, including myself, have used… is the extent to which a child, for example, cleans up independently after a free-choice period in preschool," Berk says. "We find that children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that responsibility with… greater willingness, and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting."
Despite the evidence of the benefits of imaginative play, however, even in the context of preschool young children's play is in decline. According to Yale psychological researcher Dorothy Singer, teachers and school administrators just don't see the value.
"Because of the testing, and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals. Play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time," Singer says. "I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills."
It seems that in the rush to give children every advantage — to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them — our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most. All that wasted time was not such a waste after all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


A rich and varied exposure to many different stimuli leads to a curious mind that consistently seeks to know, to understand and to grow. A mind numbed by constant fear and brutality, indoctrination or video bombardment can be or become stifled or stale, unable to appreciate beauty, wonder or pleasure. The soft touch of a warm summer breeze, the feel and look of rich soil, the smell of a cedar forest are all anchors to the full experience of the real world. These types of experiences cannot be replaced or duplicated but they can be remembered. Touch and smell can trigger memories that can stir our inner being with astonishing emotional responses. I doubt the memory of a virtual event during a video game could elicit anything close to this kind of response.


This blog is my crude attempt to put into words my philosophy of life and living. I have often been told that I live with the enthusiasm of youth and vigor. I may shirk some of my responsibilities and chores at times but all work and no play... would bore me to tears.

The contents of this blog are simply my opinions and references to literature or research that fit my belief system. It is my hope that some of these words may inspire you or cause you to look at the world in a new way.