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The Lost Art of Family Traditions

Ralph Nader, Common Dreams
They are free, valuable, personal and too often not mentioned or used. I speak of the insights, wisdom and experiences of families over several generations.

Now that Thanksgiving weekend is over, how many families recounted some of their traditions for their children and grandchildren to absorb and enjoy? It is highly probable that electronic toys, music and videos received more than a little attention over those four days.

That is a problem. Many youngsters are spending about 50 hours a week watching screens-television, video and computer-for the most part as spectators or engaged in trivial pursuits such as endless text messaging or fiddling with their Facebook profile.

Yet in the overall picture of family upbringing, it is what families do together, participate with one another and their friends or relatives in their neighborhood that significantly shape character and personality.

Earlier this year, I wrote a book called THE SEVENTEEN TRADITIONS about how my mother and father raised their four children in a small factory town in Connecticut during the Thirties, Forties and Fifties.

The seventeen traditions marked the ways we were raised-learning to listen, how to think independently, how to learn from history and from our siblings, how to work, care for our community, respect our parents and relish simple enjoyments needing our engagement, for example.

The reaction to this book from around the country was uniformly positive, making this the only book I have written that everyone loves.

Why? Besides the helpful sayings and problem-solving ways of my parents (such as getting us to eat right) the book was well received because these pages often resonated with their own family memories and made people more aware of their great-grandparents, grandparents and parents at their best.
(27 November 2007)
It’s nice to see another, more human side of Ralph Nader.

As he notes, family values are something that have wide appeal across the political spectrum. -BA

Removing Our Kids from the Front Lines of Climate Change

Elin Kelsey, WorldChanging
…It’s not that I think the ocean isn’t in trouble or that environmental issues aren’t urgent. I feel those things so deeply that I’ve spent the past twenty years designing conservation exhibits and education programs for aquariums, writing books about nature and sustainability, and helping my graduate students earn master’s degrees in environmental education. It’s just that I think it is wrong to lay the worries of the world on the very young.

This isn’t a new argument, but it’s one that bears repeating in the current and, to my mind, welcome frenzy over climate change. “Children will be put on the front line of the battle to save the planet under radical proposals to shake up the way that geography is taught in schools,” begins a recent article in the British newspaper The Independent. We have a war on drugs. A war on terror. And now, we’re asking kids to lead the charge in the war on global warming.

For most of human history, people have lived lives that were not appreciably different from their parents. But over the past few centuries, and increasingly over the past generation, that pattern has changed: we are constantly dealing with change. Species extinction, logging of old-growth forests, elimination of wetlands and wild places, growth of the ozone hole: one essential response to these changes is a sense of loss. And we experience a sense of loss through, in part, the emotion of grief.

Yet, environmental education research is strangely silent about dealing with the emotional implications of the environmental crisis on kids. There is virtually nothing in the literature addressing appropriate ways to deal with the emotions associated with environmental degradation. words like grief, despair, or anger rarely appear in our writings. Do we have any ideas as to whether children grieve and mourn for the lost species, despair for us and the rest of the living world, and then take a stance of detachment or denial in response to the overwhelming-ness of the issue before them?
(28 November 2007)

Young people reading a lot less

David Mehegan, Boston Globe
We know what young people are doing more of: watching television, surfing the Web, listening to their iPods, talking on cellphones, and instant-messaging their friends. But a new report released today by the National Endowment for the Arts makes clear what they’re doing a lot less of: reading.

The report – a 99-page compendium of more than 40 studies by universities, foundations, business groups, and government agencies since 2004 – paints a dire picture of plummeting levels of reading among young people over the past two decades. Among the findings:

Only 30 percent of 13-year-olds read almost every day.

The number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.

Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure.

The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day watching TV and 7 minutes reading.

“This is a massive social problem,” NEA chairman Dana Gioia, said by phone from Washington. “We are losing the majority of the new generation. They will not achieve anything close to their potential because of poor reading.”

It is not just the amount of reading. According to the report, reading ability has fallen as well.
(19 November 2007)
New York Times