Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ya Ya's inquiry

It's a hot day, maybe even the hottest day of the summer and I am in the kitchen opening all the windows before sitting down to lunch.

Ya Ya, a six year old girl, enters and climbs up on the big strong table next to my lunch bag. She casually takes a peak into my bag and seeing some chips:

Can I have a chippy?
Sure, here, have a few.

I set a small pile on the table and we both sit quietly for several minutes eating.
What is your best secret?
Wow, what a question, I'd have to think about that for a minute. My best secret?

Again we were silent for a bit, I was thinking about taking a stab at answering her question but she spoke first.
What is space?
What do you think space is?
I think God made space...but then, who made God?
I don't know. Is there someone or something that makes us breathe or keeps our hearts beating?
The person who made God is more important than God.
Yeah, you know maybe my biggest secret is that really I don't know what anything is...

We were quiet again, I gave her some more chips. Then she wanted to go outside so I followed her to the bench overlooking the rain garden and the stream. We sat down, she was barefoot as usual.


What is your foot saying?
My foot is saying "I want to go to sleep but no one can force me to go to sleep."

End of post.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beware: Adult Content (guest post)

The following post is reprinted with permission of the author and the host of the blog where it first appeared. Our thanks to both of them for allowing us to include this piece on Clearwater's blog. Author Shoshana London Sappir is a founder and staff member at Jerusalem Sudbury School in Israel, one of Clearwater's sister schools. Blog host Michael Sappir is a graduate of Jersalem Sudbury School and Shoshana's son. A linguistics undergrad at University of Leipzig (Germany), he has written a number of blog posts on education and his blog is highly recommended. You'll find a permanent link to his blog on this blog's "My Blog List".

Beware: Adult Content
by Shoshana London Sappir

Image via Wikipedia

A few years ago my husband and I attended a lecture by linguist Ghil’ad Zuckermann, presenting a provocative theory: the Hebrew we speak today is closer to the European languages of the early Zionists than it is to classical Hebrew, even though most of its vocabulary is Hebrew; therefore, Zuckermann proposed, it would be more accurate to call it “Israeli” than “Hebrew,” letting go of the romantic notion that Israelis today speak the language of the Bible. Our conversation about this idea went on for days after we came home, sweeping up the whole family; later, Michael even wrote a term paper about it.

So it was only natural that when I saw the translators’ association to which I belong had scheduled another lecture about the genealogy of Modern Hebrew, I asked if anybody would like to go with me. Perry said he would and we both looked forward to a pleasant evening in Tel Aviv. I dutifully registered in advance. Next to Perry’s name I added: “14 years old.”

On the hour-plus drive we discussed the upcoming lecture. The speaker was a researcher who was studying the structures of spoken Hebrew and was going to present us with her findings as to whether they had more in common with European languages or with Hebrew, and whether, indeed, this language was Hebrew. Perry was already inclined to believe it was not, because he cannot understand the Bible without an intense explanation or translation: he welcomed the new translation of the Bible into Modern Hebrew and has begun reading it.

At the registration desk a colleague of mine searched for my name on the list, crossed it out and started writing me an invoice. I noticed the total she had entered, and started to protest, “what about him?” – but thought the better of it mid-sentence and shut my mouth; if minors got free admission, who was I to argue?

During the lecture we tried not to disturb anyone with our excited whispering and exchanges of meaningful looks of agreement, surprise or exasperation over certain points in the presentation or behaviors by members of the audience: one woman stormed out not ten minutes into the lecture, shouting at the speaker: “Shame on you!” for doubting the unbroken chain between ancient and modern Hebrew. Another translator prefaced a question about the effectiveness of correcting linguistic “mistakes,” by saying: “If my 15-year-old son had his way, he would spend his whole life lazing in front of the computer and television,” which elicited a room full of nods and sighs of agreement. Perry and I rolled our eyes at each other and clenched our teeth, as if to say: “Just look how people talk about children.”

On our way out of the room for the break, one of my friends turned to Perry, and asked in a kind but patronizing tone: “So, did you fall asleep?” More awake than ever, Perry replied with a startled: "Huh?”

Conclusion after the jump...
Suddenly I started seeing a pattern: my friend was assuming Perry wasn’t there of his own will but was forced to suffer in boredom while he waited for his mother. As if a child couldn’t possibly come to a lecture out of interest, just like we did. Could that be why they hadn’t charged him admission?
Just by looking at him and noting he is of school age, did everyone take it for granted I made him come because I didn’t have a babysitter? Did the organizers let him in for free as a favor to me, allowing me to use an extra seat because they thought I had nowhere else to park him?

It reminded me of the story about the guy who comes to a movie theater box office carrying a crocodile under his arm, and says: “Two, please.” The teller says: “Sir, don’t you think you should take that crocodile to the zoo?” “Thanks,” he answers, “but we already went this morning.”

Sitting down in the lounge with our refreshments, we analyzed the evening. We agreed that people were so upset by their preconceptions’ being challenged that they hardly let the lecturer speak, interrupting her with questions and comments from the beginning.

The next day I sent an e-mail to a colleague whom I had seen at the lecture, with some information she had asked for. On a personal note, I added: “My son really enjoyed the lecture and would like to come to future events.” To which she replied: “That is SO funny! What an adorable geek!” I answered: “What is funny is that everybody thinks he came with me because I didn’t have a
babysitter. He really came because he was interested.” She replied, by way of apology: “My son’s a geek too.”

But Perry does not consider himself a “geek,” nor is he considered one by others. The idea, I gathered, is that it is unusual, and what’s more, uncool, for a teenager to pursue intellectual interests, especially at an “adult level.” The geek label implies that such a child is probably uninterested in sports, music and girls, socially awkward and unpopular, living the lonely life of the misunderstood, his best friend being his computer.

Perry knows what a geek is; he just played one in a teen musical about geeks and jocks, the American high school stereotypes. But such categories have never meant much to him. From the first grade Perry has been attending Sudbury Jerusalem, where students are not divided by age and mix freely with each other and with the staff. They are free to pursue whatever interests they have at a given time with whatever means available: play, books, the Internet, but primarily conversation with other children or adults.

Maybe it is because of this upbringing that Perry has never internalized a hierarchy of subjects of interest and activities, rating them as childish/adult, work/play, serious/frivolous, cool/geeky. He has always flowed with his interests, at times devoting intense attention to one thing and then moving on to another. In the early years of school he was very interested in climbing on door frames and walls and leaping from high perches; we nicknamed him Spiderman. He went through an Ancient Egypt period and still likes to go to the museum and decipher hieroglyphics. He spends a lot of time playing the piano. He has a rock band with some school friends. In the last couple of years he has become politically aware and sometimes comes to demonstrations with me.

Perry is still a child and we treat him like one: we support and protect him, attempt to know where he is at all times and keep him safe. But the status of child should not be a barrier that keeps him out of the adult world insofar as the environment in question poses no danger to him. He is just as mentally capable as any adult of hearing a lecture about the Hebrew language, and a lot more open-minded than some language professionals.

Sometimes we are startled to be reminded we live in a world where adults have such a skewed view of children: if they spend a lot of time on their computers, like us, they are presumably brain-dead. If they show signs of interest in their culture, they are freaks. I suppose the ideal, non-threatening child, in this view, would be penned up in his classroom with other members of his ilk, dutifully performing age-approved tasks dictated by adults – but not too enthusiastically.

End of post.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Complex Story of Salmon in North Creek

This post is a departure from news about daily life at Clearwater and thoughts on Sudbury philosophy and practice. I was inspired by our Clearwater sockeye salmon, returning in much larger numbers this year to spawn in North Creek, to find out more about their story. I turned up information that I found surprising and fascinating. If you'd like to know more, read on.

A few weeks ago, I took a video of some salmon swimming upstream in North Creek on Clearwater's campus.

The Clearwater School is working with Snohomish County Surface Water Management to extensively restore our portion of North Creek to improve salmon habitat for spawning fish, eggs and fry. Thanks to a $75,000 grant, restoration work will begin in earnest next spring.

Around the same time our salmon started returning (descendants of salmon that spawned in 2006), the Seattle Times published an intriguing article . From that article I learned that sockeye that swim from Puget Sound up the fish ladder at Hiram Chittenden locks in Ballard to spawn in the rivers and creeks flowing into Lake Washington are not native to that system. They are descended from sockeye planted from a Skagit River tributary in 1935 and from a temporary hatchery on the Cedar River. North Creek is part of that system, flowing into the Sammamish River, thence to Lake Washington and the ship canal and out to Puget Sound. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website briefly describes how sockeye came to be introduced into the Lake Washington watershed.

The salmon that are native to our rivers and creeks are chinook, coho and kokanee (a freshwater sockeye relative). However, unlike juvenile sockeye that are adapted to spend a year in deep-water lakes before heading to sea, chinook and coho need to mature in rivers and streams. Native salmon species are not doing well at all because our urban lakes and streams are befouled fish habitat. As a population we are not effectively enforcing the laws we created to preserve and restore stream habitat.

More after the jump...

Sockeye survive in larger numbers because they don't need to spend as much time in creeks before heading to sea. They also benefit from being reared in a hatchery. We are all spending $45 million to build a permanent sockeye hatchery on the Cedar River, then tag and track sockeye because of their value as a fishing resource. These non-native fish are not endangered, so there's little incentive or political will to clean up streams and rivers in which they spawn. Despite the fact that we're spending lots of money to preserve a non-native sockeye fishery, the returns have not been good enough most years to even open up fishing, beyond the treaty-guaranteed rights of local tribes.

For a short time, two dead salmon were easily visible near the foot bridge across North Creek. There's no way of knowing whether these two fish completed their mission successfully by laying and fertilizing eggs.

Washington Fish and Wildlife counts the sockeye that return through the Ballard locks each year. The counts since 2000 are available on their website. In 2006 a large number of sockeye returned through the locks--418,015, in fact. In 2007, only 60,117 came back. In 2008 there were 33,6259, and in 2009 only 21,718 returned. On Clearwater's section of North Creek, we did not see any sockeye during the past two years. Despite the fact that we saw more fish in our creek this year, the total return (156,752) was little more than a third of the parent population that spawned the current generation four years ago. Chinook and coho numbers are more dismal--10,565 and 3,608, respectively.

An animal dragged a dead or dying salmon onto the creek bank at school and left a lot of it there. This photo shows the very end of this fish's life cycle. Its flesh has become food for other creatures, including maggots. Little is left but a few thin bones.

There is one more wrinkle to this story, as I know it so far. At least one person knowledgeable about the history and practice of salmon management in the Lake Washington watershed believes that many of the fish spawning in our little local creeks are in fact native endangered kokanee, not introduced sockeye. If that were proven to be the case, it would become necessary for counties and municipalities to enforce stream habitat preservation laws. That is something various public and private interests would find at least inconvenient, and at most extremely expensive.

There is obviously more to this story and more research to be done. We know our current urban living style is not healthy for fish or the wildlife that depend on them. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the scope and complexity of the problem. To solve it requires consistent, informed action and a commitment to live sustainably by us, the inhabitants of the Puget Sound area. Our school's restoration efforts may be small in the scheme of things, but I treasure being part of a school community that is actively working to create better habitat for salmon, other creatures and humans.

End of post.