Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Play Hookey, Please

Psychologist and baby mind expert Alison Gopnik is an anthropologist, even though she might not know it.
Ok, so this is Margaret Mead not Alison Gopnik, but you get the point.
While reading Gopnik's recent article on how kids learn I found myself nodding my head over and over because she totally "gets" that kids don't learn like adults in Western culture think they learn, or think they should learn.

Image result for kid in preschool

Sure, we can make them go to school at three years of age, we can make them sit at desks and quietly listen, but really they would learn better, faster, and more intelligently if we simply left them alone.

Gopnik cites several studies of how even babies  have a sense of complex physics, and cause and effect. Their innate creativity and puzzle solving skills are simply deadened by all that school.

Babies and little kids are, in fact, always watching, listening, hearing and usually imitating, navigating what its means to be a little human on the way to being a big human.

And we in Western culture are so stuck on children growing up to be "successful" in our information age that we push them into a formal school settings that they really don't need.

How boring. How dull. And just the thing to turn off a young mind to really learning. Kids have to fight to learn in spite of the adults.

 I say give any kid a giant cardboard box and then leave the room and come back an hour or two later and see what happens. And that kid might just end up going to Columbia University, and changing the world.
Image result for kid in cardboard box

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Babies In Contrasting Western Cultures

We tend to think of Western culture as one big group that stretches from North America across the Atlantic to Europe (and I must include Great Britain separately since they are no longer part of Europe). But in truth, this is not one big culture. In fact, there are a zillions of sub-cultures within Western culture.

The multiculturalism of Western culture came into sharp focus the past few weeks with two news article about babies. It's amazing how often babies highlight cultural differences in parenting philosophy, belief systems, and societal goals.

I found the article on Finnish babies going home in boxes quite charming. Even more charming is the fact that Finns get 10 months of paid leave to be parents and guess what, Finland has the lowest infant mortality in the world (let's contrast that with the US with a rate of 26th of industrialized nations)

One hospital in the US is also providing baby boxes but in this case, the boxes have been politicized and aimed at low income women suggesting that they don't know how to be good mothers. In general, the baby boxes also beg the question of safe co-sleeping which is, of course, too bad but that's another example of US fear mongering.

And so to the the other bit of Western subculture, the parenting advice machine. This month it comes in the form of an advice book that suggests we use game theory to parent our kids (read manipulate). Thats right, prisoners dilemma and such to get the kids to go to bed.

 I don't know about you, but I really don't have the time or  the math skills of game theory and will just continue with the tried and true, hardly ever successful, strategy of explaining, discussing, begging and threatening to manipulate my child.

Perhaps if she had come home in a free box and I had been given 10 months of paid leave, I wouldn't even have to do that.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Internal Brexit

The U.K leaving the E.U. is a moment in history, and another moment on the passport queue for those leaving the E.U. and going, say, to Scotland.
Hardwood Hospital, foto by Abandoned Scotland

But abandonments are nothing to to the U.K.  and that brings me to my absolutely favorite website, Abandoned Scotland.

I'd been watching their videos for a few years, marveling at the abandoned hospitals, schools, castles and such, as well being stunned by the fabulous production of their visuals accompanied by eerie music. Clicking the full screen mode always bought such peace and beauty for a few minutes. And of course these shots also made me miss Scotland and wish I could go on adventures with these guys.

Then for a few years, nothing, and I felt abandoned. But I'm glad to say Abandoned Scotland is back with this incredible video of Hartwood Hospital. Now they have drones and it is glorious to rise over empty spaces surrounded by formidable building walls, to go deep into buildings where there is nothing but what's left over, to wonder who lived here, who died here, and ask where are they now. 

Abandoned Scotland photographs and videos are the story of history and loss, building and then leaving only the stamp of human suffering or happiness or past glory and riches behind. And all in Scotland which is one gorgeous country.

I wrote to AS to say I liked their new website and loved their work, I no longer felt abandoned, and sent them some abandoned Philadelphia, a defunct steam plant by the folks at Hidden City Philadelphia
Image result for the stacks bethlehem
They wrote back to say they liked my work (which it was not) and they encouraged me to keep it up. They pointed out that Scotland's abandoned places are out the way, set in woods and such and they have no huge abandoned mills such in the the U.S. which are sometimes still set in cities (such as Bethlehem PA)

That comment brought me to idea of Abandoned Venice, the plague hospital islands left to rot, the enclosed forbidden palazzi gardens, the medieval buildings boarded up, the monasteries still in use but not open to the public. 
A small city, not in a woods, and yet much of it abandoned for centuries and still standing.

Now all I need is a drone and permission to use it over Venice. 
And then we can be reminded again of how amazing the human footprint has been and how in a nanosecond nature its ready to take it all back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Humans on the Move

I just moved to Philadelphia after 29 years in Ithaca, NY.

I left this:

For this:

In Ithaca before I left, and in Philadelphia after I arrived, any number of people asked me why I was doing this. I had my reasons—boredom of the same scenery and walks, not such a great place for a single woman, tired of the weather and shoveling snow, the ability to give up my car, living in a factory loft apartment on a cobblestone street, and that 12 minute $7 train to the Philadelphia International airport. Not to mention the access to all sorts of culture and great food in a cool city like Philly.

More often than not, people in Ithaca and sometimes in Philadelphia, were completely confused that I would move at all. And yet people move all the time, all over the place. And it seems like being on the move is part of human nature.

I was reminded of this last week when reading the news of a new cache of the undersized human species named Homo florisensis, or the Hobbits.  Although the earlier spectacular and curious finds of these small sized members of our genus where dated between 60,000 to 100,000 years old, the new group appears even older—about 700,000 years old.

In other words, by 700,000 years ago humans had moved out of Africa and across the globe and landed in Indonesia. That's quite a walk.

Animals migrate, and often move quickly, when they're following food, food that is often on the hoofand moving too. Humans migrated out of Africa in waves, again and again over the centuries beginning about a 1000,000 years ago, eventually becoming the most geographically spread mammal.

In recent times people also migrate for jobs, which is sort of like looking for food, and they migrate for social and political reasons, but that's flight under pressure and fear, not looking for a sandwich.

But when one moves voluntarily, we are following a human urge to find something better, more meaty, and a change of view.

The Anthropology of Alzheimers

Anthropologists are not often in the news, and they are even more rarely in the spotlight for discovering what might be a connection between...