Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weighty Issues

I read this article lately and my immediate reaction was to call bullshit. I do not believe for one second that the rising rates of obesity can be blamed on genetics, and furthermore I am getting frustrated with the slow but steady normalization of fat that is happening in North America. I don't mean to be disrespectful to those who are overweight and feel sympathy for them - it is not easy to lose weight. I recognize that there are many emotional, psychological and yes, even genetic, reasons for obesity but at the end of the day, you get fat from taking in more calories than you burn.

Different people burn calories at different rates and with different levels of efficiency. People have different metabolic rates and a wide variety of intestinal flora and bacteria that can all affect how your body deals with additional calories. That being said, it is a basic law of physics that energy must be conserved. It can change forms, which is what happens when people store energy as fat, but it cannot be created. More energy in than out means you put on weight. In order to prevent this, you need to do the opposite, end of story.

I don't believe that people who are overweight or obese should be judged or treated poorly. They are people, just like anyone else and deserve the same respect. At the same time, being overweight or obese is unhealthy and I fear that this fact is being lost in all the attempts being made by society to "accept" overweight people. I am constantly seeing young girls proudly baring their overhanging midriffs and are shocked that they would be proud (and if not proud, accepting enough to show it off) of their excess weight. When did it become cool to be fat!?

I see fat kids all the time who are facing a life of inactivity, low self esteem, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and premature death. This generation is the first generation of young people who may die at an earlier age than their parents because of the epidemic of obesity. Kids have never eaten so badly and done so little physical activity and it is making them sick. It makes me feel sick too.

We need to help young people feel good about themselves, regardless of their weight, but we must not teach them to accept being overweight. It's not okay. It is not okay for them or their lives or their own kids for them to be obese. It isn't okay for any of us to be obese.

There are many reasons why we have gotten here and there are racial issues at play and big food companies and issues of poverty and education and socioeconomic class. I understand the problems with urban design and parental fear and the trouble with an overabundance of low cost, high calorie food. I know that corn is heavily subsidized and that certain people have a propensity towards being heavier. But, at the end of the day, people need to be accountable for the choices they make (and kids need to be protected from the choices their parents make) and accept responsibility for the calories they take in and the the calories they should, but do not, expend.

The Newsweek article is concerning as it perpetuates a growing myth of fiction over fat.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another Brick in the Wall?

I'm glad Paisley is only 19 months old because at this rate it's going to take me years to figure out what we are going to do about school. We have discussed the idea of home schooling Paisley and are pretty torn about it. Home schooling is such a touchy subject and one that seems to really divide people. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people make comments like "They're weird that family. I mean, they home school even!" as though homeschooling is the ultimate evidence of weirdness. At the same time, I know where that comes from and although it is changing, there is definitely a history of weird people keeping their kids home to make sure they stay weird.

Home schooling is on the rise in North America and interestingly, the two main groups who seem to be opting out of public education are religious people and those who are highly educated. There are more and more programs and resources available for parents who choose to home school and the term itself is becoming a misnomer as education is happening less at home and more in the community, museums, parks and public facilities than ever before.

I feel torn for many reasons. When I think of kids being kept away from ideas that challenge their beliefs or values I feel angry. I feel that keeping your kids home to indoctrinate them with ideas about creationism or homophobia is not only irresponsible, it is wrong. All people should have their ideas challenged from time to time and if you are allowed to withdraw from the world, that cannot happen. At the same time, I recognize that schools do their own kind of indoctrination as far as behaviour modification and curriculum go. You become part of a system when you start school and that is what we are reluctant to accept. We want Paisley to learn things at her own pace and in a way that feeds her curiosity and love of life. I don't want her being told to sit still at a desk when she is only 6 or 7, I don't want her to have to do worksheets when she could be outside exploring and creating. I want her to sleep in if she is particularly tired and to take a break if she is frustrated. Many of those things are not available in the school system as it exists today.

Having said that, I recognize that teachers are trained and educated in their field and I am not. Teachers do more than just study their chosen subject - they learn about educational methods and approaches and often have a solid background in the psychology of learning. As kids get older they have debates in the classroom where ideas are shared and challenged and discussed. For this reason we would never keep Paisley home from school for longer than a few years. What we are considering is keeping her home until grade three. I strongly feel that 5 or 6 is far too young to be going to school and am confident that I could do a better job of establishing a love of learning here at home. I do think though that there should be some necessary training for parents who want to teach at home. Even if it only a 6 month course - something to ensure that people are qualified and prepared for the challenge. Having said that, I am grateful that the option of home schooling even exists for us.

There is a fine line however between educational flexibility and chaos. While I am not a believer in standardized testing I also recognize that some measurement is necessary. If you want to go to University you need to show that you have mastered certain skills. In my opinion, you should not be allowed to claim that you have passed Bio 30 if you don't believe in evolution. In the same way that you should not be able to pass physics and deny the existence of gravity.

Living in Alberta means we also have the option of charter schools. These publicly funded schools offer a variety of different approaches like Montessori and Waldorf schools. I have no doubt that as Paisley gets older and we prepare to transition her into the system that we will find a school (either private or public) that meets her needs. In the meantime I listen and research and follow the issues facing education in the province and struggle with what is best for Paisley and how I feel about the subject more generally.

I'm sure this won't be my last post on the subject so stay tuned! :)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Girls of Summer

To Paisley: 19 Months

Rather than write another post this month I decided to let you speak for yourself, in your own words: