Why I chose to delay vaccines with my first, and why I won’t do that again

When I was expecting my first child, I was introduced to the anti-vaccine movement. I was intrigued by the information I was reading, especially the speculations that there wasn’t sufficient science on disease ecology and the assertion that we were somehow cheating nature in a way that would come back to bite us. I was an undergraduate student in biology, and I had plenty of curiosity, but very little knowledge to evaluate these claims.

Yet, I knew that there were benefits to vaccination. I wanted my kids to have these benefits. After all, everyone I knew had been vaccinated as children and as a result we were not getting the illnesses that vaccines were designed to prevent. I found a book at my library by Dr. Robert F. Sears, “Dr.Bob,” called The Vaccine Book. This book offered a compromise between what seemed to be two conflicting positions. Since I read it in 2008, it has been criticized and many of the points he made have been refuted. Dr. Bob has agreed with most of the criticism, but he still stands by his alternative schedule.

I wasn’t aware of the criticism, so the book influenced my thinking about vaccines for the first 5 years of my son’s life. The thing that most appealed to me in Dr. Bob’s alternative schedule was the reassurance that I could vaccinate my child on a slow schedule and it would maximize safety with no significant, added risks. I thought Dr. Bob was using good evidence to support his schedule. His discussion about diseases and the statistical likelihood of a child suffering a complication from a disease vs. suffering an adverse reaction to a vaccine supported my ultimate decision to delay my first child’s vaccines. After all, Dr. Bob insisted that as long as a child stays home (out of daycare) for the first two years and breastfeeds during that time, the child will probably not need to be vaccinated. Not only did I take this into account in choosing whether to vaccinate, and when, but I also altered my lifestyle to meet this important 2-year mark, making sure my child would never have to go to daycare or even to a babysitter.

On paper, the alternative or delayed schedule looks very neat and practical. It appears as carefully designed as the normal schedule. And it’s customizable! You can pick and choose, and spread out the vaccines as you’d like. This is very appealing and it is compatible with this insistence among the anti-vaccine movement that “not one size fits all” and you, the parent, can maximize benefits and minimize risk by looking at the data for yourself.

In practice, I’ve found the alternative, customizable schedule to be needlessly frustrating. It’s difficult to follow if you aren’t one of Dr. Bob’s own patients. Delaying some vaccines has actually been shown to increase risks without increasing benefits. Vaccines are meant to be given as early as possible to protect children at ages when they’re most vulnerable to certain germs. His schedule does not maximize safety, and it’s not supported by evidence. Instead it is an emotional compromise that he claims is meant to encourage distrusting, or in his own words “non-compliant parents,” to vaccinate their children in a way that suits them, as opposed to leaving their children unvaccinated. His presentation of the risks of disease vs. adverse effects of vaccines is flawed. He has since admitted that he shouldn’t have used VAERS data to point out the risks of vaccines, because that data is voluntarily reported and not always reliable. Safety studies are required to assess the frequency of side effects, and the latest comprehensive safety study found “few health problems are caused or clearly associated with vaccines.”

Even though the most recent version of his alternative schedule looks much like the recommended schedule, except with twice as many visits to the pediatrician’s office, many people I know still adhere to a pick-and-choose method. These parents, like myself, study available information about the vaccines and diseases, individually, to make their choices. I don’t know anyone who actually follows Dr. Bob’s alternative schedule. The important point to make is that delaying vaccines for any reason that’s not medically indicated simply isn’t supported by any evidence. This article sums up 5 reasons to avoid “spreading out” vaccines, which include lack of evidence, increased risk of errors, additional trauma, more exposure to germs in the doctor’s office, and prolonged vulnerability.
The Vaccine Book has misled many parents. It misled me. Continue reading Why I chose to delay vaccines with my first, and why I won’t do that again

A Moral Duty to Vaccinate?

communityImmunityGeneric

Not long after I wrote my last post, I read the blog of another Voices for Vaccines parent advocate who is also a Christian. She laid out her thoughts and offered a rather forceful conclusion– Christians have a moral duty to vaccinate themselves and their children. I was glad to find her post Worship of the “Natural” & Why I’m Pro-Vaccine, because she touched on some points that speak to me personally, having been antivaccine and still preferring most things wholesome and unadulterated.

The people who are anti-vaccine are generally in love with all things “natural” and organic. They worship nature. I’ve listened as Christians make the argument that God made our bodies a certain way, totally skipping over the parts of the Bible where we’re cursed. In fact, the Bible does not speak highly of “natural” anything. At best, it’s neutral and at worst, it’s damned to hell.

I can identify with this. I came from this place, and I am now very prickly about the subject. Of course, I still love cooking with fresh, whole ingredients but more for the creative process and simple nutritional benefits than for any other reason. Healthy food is good, but it’s not magic.

So while I readily identified with that statement, I kind of glossed over the issue of moral duty when I posted this to my personal Facebook page. To me, yes, it is a moral duty to vaccinate your children both for their own protection and for others. But I didn’t come to that conclusion just by reading another blogger’s words and nodding along. My husband and I have been considering this issue for the past year. I am often the one reading the science, and together we work through the Scripture.

It would be wrong to say that God does or does not directly demand a certain behavior from us regarding vaccination. However, this doesn’t mean we can be flippant about the subject. It’s not merely a preference like choosing homebaked bread vs. store-bought. Vaccination is not a lifestyle choice. It’s a healthcare decision, but it’s also a public health issue. By nature, the government’s recommendation for people to vaccinate compels us to consider this as a social duty. Only a concern more urgent than that social duty, such as the risk of imminent harm from the vaccine, can justify relief from that duty. A social duty is not necessarily a moral one, but as the author of the blog post I mention above pointed out, vaccines are an issue of life or death. If we consider ourselves pro-life Christians because of a moral duty to protect life, then we must examine our attitudes about vaccination with that level of seriousness and not with a less rigorous “Christian liberty” defense. On the subject of Christian liberty, Sinclair Ferguson points out:

We are given liberty in Christ in order to be the servants of others, not in order to indulge our own preferences… “We … ought … not to please ourselves… . For even Christ did not please himself ” (Rom. 15:1–3). There is something devastatingly simple about this. It reduces the issue to the basic questions of love for the Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to imitate Him since His Spirit indwells us to make us more like Him. True Christian liberty, unlike the various “freedom” or “liberation” movements of the secular world, is not a matter of demanding the “rights” we have.

Christ died for us. He suffered miserably for our sakes. He lived again that we might follow him in faithfulness. Aren’t we compelled to go so far for each other, and for Him, if we must? Well, vaccines aren’t anything like that in terms of the commitment, and with them we can only help protect our brothers and sisters physically, not spiritually. Yet we cannot shrink away from these very basic responsibilities too easily.  I think it is fair to say with what I have laid out, then the only remaining issue in my mind is whether a person who refuses vaccines is doing so because the risk of harm to themselves is truly greater than the duty to act in accordance with efforts of public health. Far be it from me to make that judgment on someone else’s behalf.

I do have one last point to make and it is this: there aren’t really two sides on this issue. There are the facts, and there are the fears. The provaccine side is where the scientific consensus exists. Potential reactions are carefully scrutinized to ensure that, while some people still do have reactions, very very few serious reactions occur. When the risks are too high, the vaccine is pulled off the market. The antivaccine side exists primarily as a place where the gaps of science are filled in with speculation. Yes, there are heart-wrenching stories of purported vaccine injury, and only those families and their doctors can truly know the accuracy of those. These families are suffering. Yet, there are some extraordinary cases where such stories have been woven with apparent intent to deceive.

When it comes to the facts, there are many decades of evidence of effective vaccines thwarting millions of deaths and serious illnesses worldwide– suffering we never had to hear about because it didn’t take place. Science demonstrates the clear causal link between pathogen and disease, and the clear association between public vaccination efforts and drastically reduced incidence of disease. What science has also shown is that the vast majority of illnesses attributed to vaccines, in internet forums and elsewhere, aren’t even associated with vaccines, much less caused by them. Vaccines cannot and should not be the scapegoat for every illness for which a cause has not been found. They have done too much good to have people scared away because of misunderstood tragedy, fear and speculation.

Updating my ebook

There’s all kinds of drama going on in the ebook publishing world, so I feel like it’s a good day to think about writing projects.

I am going to be working on an update of my One Acre Homestead ebook soon. By December, it will be 2 years since I published it, so perhaps a 2-year anniversary book release would be appropriate. My gardening style has changed and I’ve incorporated a few new tricks into my practice to make the work easier for myself, since I’m working alone with not one but two kids now. I have a little bit of insight and a few more stories to tell that I think would be worth including.

Admittedly, I stopped reading reviews on Amazon a long time ago. I find it really distracting to read what people have to say, and really confusing in some ways. I have seen a few reviews that were stellar, but made me wonder did this person actually read my book? And then there are the really bad reviews that make me think this person definitely didn’t read my book. Then there are those that are honest, thoughtful, fairly critical and very helpful. At one point I wanted to be on Amazon commenting on all the reviews and revising my book in response to the critical comments. I realized there was no way I could be that kind of author, so I left it altogether.

I’m not a proliferative author. I simply can’t compete with some of my homesteading-author mentors in terms of how much finished product I can produce from year-to-year. There are people who do this job far better than I do, and I only hope that my occasional blog updates and my ebooks have served to inspire enough folks for it to matter.

So for the updated edition, here are a few considerations:

-I am thinking about leaving the current version available as-is and creating a 2-year progress report that will be published as an entirely new book, rather than updating the current book. I’m in favor of this option, actually, because in the world of self-published ebooks it just makes sense to have more content available. The drawback to this is that a lot of what I wrote in the original book, especially my personal philosophies about things, has evolved tremendously in the 2 years since I wrote it (although the most recent revision on the published version was around March 2013).

-I want to include a testimony about my family’s faith journey and our time with my brother here at the homestead and the tremendous loss that we’ve felt since his death.

-I want to make a general update on the growth of the gardens, the expansion of the self-sufficiency plan, and an honest review of what has and has not worked for us.

-Finally, I need to talk about homeschooling! I tipped my hat to this subject in the last book, but since we’re really launching in that direction this year and have already begun some instruction at home, I have a lot more to say on this subject.

So if you’re interested in the update, stay tuned.

Should I vaccinate my baby?

Should I vaccinate my baby?

Many parents have been asking this question lately, and the simple answer I have for you is YES! (Unless, of course, your child has a medical contraindication.)

Go ahead and watch the video, or jump below to see why I think vaccines are so important.

Here is an example of the typical childhood vaccine schedule according to CDC recommendations:

Birth – Hep B

2 mos- Rotavirus (oral), IPV (Polio ), DTaP (Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis), Hep B, Hib & PCV

4 mos- Rota, IPV DTaP, Hib, PCV

6 mos- Rota*, IPV, DTaP, PCV, Hep B

12 mos- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) , Varicella (Chickenpox), Hep A

15 mos- DTaP, Hib*, PCV

18 mos- Hep A

4-6 years- DTaP, MMR, Varicella, IPV

*There are two Rotavirus vaccines, only one requires a 3rd dose at 6 mos. There are also two Hib vaccines, administered on slightly different schedules.

The schedule may vary depending on your pediatrician.

Here is the typical vaccine reaction: nothing happens.

Some children have a mild fever for a day or two. Some other reactions are mild and fairly common. The CDC provides information sheets for the common and uncommon side effects associated with all vaccines. You do not need to read the package insert to find the scary hidden risks of vaccines, because there are no hidden risks. The package insert is primarily a legal document consisting of mandatory language required by the FDA. The adverse reactions listed on the insert include all reported events that occurred during the trial period, gathered from the the tens of thousands of children who were in the trial. These may include things like car crashes, drownings and other events, including illnesses, with no relationship to the vaccine. These were things that simply coincided with the trial period.

Many of these vaccines are meant to protect infants specifically, and that is why they are recommended so early. All of these vaccines combined introduce much, much less antigen (the part that stimulates the immune system) than what newborns are exposed to on a daily basis. This is enough to prevent life-threatening illnesses. For those wary of conventional medicine, preventive vaccination is less invasive and carries fewer risks than treatments for even the mild complications of the diseases that vaccines prevent. These diseases may cause complications that require a long course of antibiotic treatments (either for the disease itself, or secondary infection) or hospitalization. Then, of course, there is the risk of the disease getting even worse.

Perhaps you have considered delaying vaccines, getting only some shots, or skipping them altogether. Did you know that delaying vaccines may slightly increase the risk of moderate side effects and doesn’t offer any benefits to the child? That’s what I did with my first child, because I didn’t have access to good information and there were people eager to take advantage of my initial hesitation about vaccines. I’ve since caught him up on his recommended vaccinations, and you know what? He’s fine. Now his newborn sister has a little more protection from these diseases until she can get her own shots.

A lot of parents have been led astray by people like Joe Mercola (Mercola.com), Sherri Tenpenny, Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com, Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccination Information Center (NVIC) (an anti-vaccination advocacy group funded by Mercola and formerly known as Dissatisfied Parents Together), and the many autism groups that have invested their efforts in finding a link between vaccines and autism. They raise funds in order to promote this deception. Most of these people and organizations generate substantial incomes from perpetuating the myths of vaccine harm.

Many independent bloggers have also jumped in to speak on the issue, including a particularly vocal stay-at-home-mom called “Megan” at LivingWhole.com. Megan has argued that God opposes vaccines (with very bad exegesis), but advises you to disregard your pastor if he disagrees with her ill-informed opinion– because, she says, he’s been paid off. There are also parents who have banded together to form blogging communities, like the Thinking Mom’s Revolution, who are willing to consider information from sources with no credibility in order to try to promote and normalize their personal decisions not to vaccinate.

Is it really profitable to promote an anti-vaccine agenda? Absolutely! Millions of dollars have been made selling alternative treatments for autism based on myths that vaccines were the cause. Alternative practitioners and businessmen like Mike Adams make money selling herbal and vitamin concoctions to treat illnesses supposedly caused by vaccines. Sherri Tenpenny refers to a lab company, for which she is “Medical Director,” that sells titer tests that costs hundreds of dollars, are not reimbursable by insurance, and  parents typically have to interpret the results on their own. Dr. Bob Sears has sold millions of copies of his book featuring an alternative vaccine schedule that has never been studied, and answers questions (presumably for a fee) as an expert in several web forums, but he does not check the validity of his statements and recommendations. None of these doctors or practitioners will take personal responsibility for the decisions you make based on their disinformation.

So yes, websites that promote “news” and “science” stories that buck the system are often selling something. Unfortunately, these claims aren’t based on real science but creative, nonscientific reasoning that may be convincing but lacks a true understanding of human immunology. Often there is a spiritual component to these therapies and explanations of disease. Most are based on new-age philosophy or even on the hallucinations of a single man, like Rudolf Steiner, who views illness as an essential part of childhood. From these philosophies emerges the idea that vaccination interferes with nature, and that disease strengthens the immune system. A study in the Phillipines, where these diseases are endemic has suggested that vaccinated children have better test scores. Avoiding disease, not catching it, appears to have a protective effect on children’s development.

Some honest parents have attributed vaccines to their children’s illnesses, or have had these suspicions confirmed by practitioners and doctors who have devoted themselves to the anti-vaccine cause. Such stories of “vaccine injury” can be disturbing, heartbreaking, and can definitely lead parents to questions their choices. However, these stories should always be considered with skepticism because many illnesses that occur during childhood coincide with the vaccine schedule by chance, and sometimes parents fears lead them to suspect vaccines simply because of the timing.

What is known for certain is that the diseases these vaccines are made to prevent do cause serious harm and even death, especially in vulnerable groups. For example, half of babies under 1 year old who catch whooping cough are hospitalized, and of those babies 1-2 in 100 dies, and up to 1 in 4 will have pneumonia requiring intensive care. Measles infection causes pneumonia (the most common cause of measles death), encephalitis and a fatal, late-onset condition called Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE). SSPE kills children who have gotten measles up to 10 or more years after the infection. These illnesses are deadly. That’s why we have a vaccine.

What’s worse, these illnesses are resurging after a period of time in which they were nearly eradicated in the US.  In 2014 California declared a whooping cough (pertussis) epidemic with 3 infant deaths so far, and there are outbreaks all over the US. Measles has reached a 20-year record level this year, with nearly 600 people infected and outbreaks in 20 states– all associated with unvaccinated individuals bringing measles into the US from overseas. Those are two diseases that have been controlled by vaccines and are still fairly uncommon compared to the time period before the vaccines. Some vaccines are fairly new, and the diseases have not yet been well-controlled. For example, skipping PCV (the vaccine for a bacteria that causes sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia in infants and young children) will most certainly leave your child exposed to disease.

Vaccines work

The pertussis vaccine works well, protecting about 80-90 children for every 100 children vaccinated for at least 5 years, although it is one of the least effective vaccines we have. If you catch whooping cough, immunity from the infection will not be lifelong, and that is true for the vaccine also. This is called waning immunity. Concerns have been raised that vaccinated people may be able to carry the bacteria without showing symptoms and spread it to others. This has not been shown in human studies. However, for this to happen in theory, they must be exposed to the bacteria. They cannot get it from the vaccine. The vaccine still protects most vaccinated individuals from the illness. So the best way to protect infants is to vaccinate them! Mothers can safely get this vaccine in the third trimester of pregnancy to help protect newborns too young to be vaccinated.

You may be worried that vaccines have been linked to autism. They haven’t. An incredible amount of research has been done on this issue, and there is one consistent answer that the evidence points to: vaccines do not cause autism.

Vaccines also do not cause SIDS. In fact, the incidence of SIDs is reduced among vaccinated babies, but possibly for reasons other than the vaccines.

Vaccines are safe medicine. Because of the level of regulatory oversight and ongoing use by nearly every pediatrician in the USA, vaccines could very well be our safest medicine. A comprehensive review of adverse events caused by vaccines shows that vaccines are linked to a few common reactions, like fever and temporary pain, and uncommonly to more serious reactions like a high fever or fever-induced seizure (which is also fairly common with any illness causing a fever in children under 5, and does not increase the lifelong risk of seizure disorders).

You may have heard about all of the nasty ingredients in vaccines. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a page addressing the reason for each of the ingredients in your vaccines: Vaccine Ingredients. (They have lots of other good resources about vaccines, too, if you care to look around.) You may be worried about the mercury-based preservative thimerosal specifically because you have read that it is associated with autism. It isn’t. The rise in autism had nothing to do with the introduction of thimerosal. Mercury had been used in medicine long before the 1930’s and its excessive use caused mercury poisoning, not the developmental differences observed in people with autism. The removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines has done nothing to reduce the rate of autism, which continues to rise. It was removed as a precaution because of the controversy, but it has never been shown to cause harm to children.

The important issue is that these chemicals are either present in trace (almost nondetectable) quantities, or quantities so low that they pose no risk of harm. Somewhat related to vaccines, science writer Tara Haelle has gone into detail about chemophobia– or the fear of mostly harmless chemicals in everything from cosmetics, to vaccines, to food products.

Perhaps you have heard that vaccine injuries are under reported. That is based on a misunderstanding of the VAERS passive surveillance system. The vaccine side effects that are listed on vaccine information statements are gathered from carefully designed research, not from the VAERS system. VAERS is designed only to recommend investigation of new, unforeseen side effects of vaccines. So the “1 in 10 will experience fever” and the very low risk of more severe side effects are accurately based on studies, not on self-reported VAERS reports.

VAERS is not intended for research, although unscrupulous organizations/people have tried to use VAERS to show things like increased risk of miscarriage from the flu vaccine. The flu shot does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Catching the flu during pregnancy is linked to an increased rate of miscarriage and stillbirth.

If you are worried, consider the sources of information that have helped inform your fears in vaccines. Are these sources reliable? Where do they get their information from? Many anti-vaccine advocates rely on data from legitimate sources like the CDC, but then they present the data in a way that serves their own causes, usually by cherry picking things that show vaccines to be harmful, and obscuring the real harms of diseases or information that shows vaccines to be safe. The CDC and nearly every respected researcher in the fields of immunology, pediatrics and epidemiology agree that vaccines are safe and effective. Information from these sources that seems to show otherwise should be thoroughly checked, because often it is just being misused to promote an anti-vaccine agenda.

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month, so check back for more!

Celebrating June with flowers and blueberries

The Vitex is in full bloom. Yesterday I spotted a Swallowtail visiting the flowers. Usually the tree is buzzing with bumblebees, but hummingbirds and other pollinators stop by every once in awhile.

We had a full week of rain through Wednesday, so we didn’t mow anything at all and the grass grew thick. The wheelbarrow in the picture below was full after the first day of rain, and it just kept coming and coming after that. Even though I’m now close to 9 months pregnant (I can’t believe it!) I still occasionally indulge in lawn mowing since that’s one of my favorite activities. Plus, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and my husband just doesn’t give the lawn the same attention I do. That’s what I’ve been catching up on the past couple of days. Since the rain, the mosquitos are outrageous (yes, I did empty the wheelbarrow and every other pot and pan that I found collecting water). The heat is unrelenting during the day already and I have to be really careful to stay hydrated and not be out in the sun too much.

IMG_0412The blueberries have been ripening over the past week, so we filled a huge bowl, froze some of them, and the rest went into pancakes.

IMG_0415IMG_0417Because of the heat, we spend the hottest part of the day inside doing my son’s first grade lessons during the week. We decided to jump into the 2014 school year early, since I’m probably not going to be able to stay consistent for the first few months after the baby arrives. On Saturdays and during free time I’ve been reading a lot and trying to keep myself busy.

I’ve been thinking about my brother a lot lately, too. I have a couple of chapters of a book he started writing several years ago. I was trying to encourage him to self-publish. Re-reading it, I realized how much of it focused on the theme of depression and suicide plaguing his brothers in the Marines. He died from suicide 7 months ago (actually 7 months to the date on Memorial Day).

I’m hoping to add to his story a bit, and write more of the things he didn’t get to. We made so many videos with him while he was here, so he left a pretty good record of his thoughts. But, I know, there was so much he never got to say.

Take care, friends, and blessings to you all.

Polyculture greens

Greens are easy to mix in the garden. Mesclun is an obvious example, as you can buy these in packets pre-mixed. Some types can also be excellent for a naturalized bed, one that reseeds itself every year and doesn’t require much work on the part of the gardener. I gave a preview of my partially self-seeding polyculture bed, but now that it’s a little more mature, and in my opinion quite beautiful, here it is again:

polyculture garden greensThis bed has parsely (3rd generation), Red Russian Kale, Red Rib and Catalogna Chicory, Mayo Indian Amaranth, garlic chives (perennial), a few types of lettuce and green onions, Egyptian Walking Onions, and cilantro. I also have tomatoes in there that I didn’t have room for anywhere else. I just figured some of the other things would go to seed and die back about the time the tomatoes got big enough to start interfering. Not sure how that will turn out, but we will see.

We’ve been harvesting lots of wild blackberries this week, and a few Pineapple Guava flowers.

wild blackberries

Garden resident

IMG_0055A few days ago, I was digging in the garden and removed a piece of dirt that popped out in a big chunk. Underneath I saw the skin of a Speckled King Snake sliding through an underground tunnel. It looks like this creature is a new resident in the garden bed. Yesterday it emerged from the dirt to sunbathe beneath the kale and let me snap this nice photo. I suppose the snake is living in an old mole tunnel.

Lazy Spring 2014 – Modified gardening technique

Here’s a quick photo update of the happenings here at our homestead. I love Permaculture because it tends to be forgiving. Unlike traditional annual gardening, there’s always a little bit of work surplus from last year (and the years before) to give leverage to the new season. This year I’m slowing down. No more all-day-gardening binges in the heat, but instead I have to practice a little more patience and consistency. But I am optimistic.

Gifts from the seasons before:

Parsley and Amaranth that re-seeded themselves in the bed after last season. With a no-till method, it’s easy to let these little seedlings come to life on their own, then thin them out or transplant them to wherever you want them in the garden bed. Instant spring garden. Parsley_and_Amaranth.JPGFor comparison, here are the “mother” plants from last year.

Mayo Indian Amaranth

 

Lovely Red Russian Kale persisting from the fall planting. I scattered these seeds everywhere (including beds and aisles) just to see what would happen. When they got sizable enough (and after I crept out of my winter hibernation) I transplanted the strays back into the garden bed and they are doing well. Yesterday I littered some Comfrey leaves over them for compost and mulch.Red_Russian_Kale.JPGThe blueberries are bursting with flowers this year. It will be my biggest crop yet! They also have plenty of runners that I plan to divide and transplant elsewhere to continue expanding the blueberry orchard. Perennials, especially trees and shrubs, are well worth the early effort. I love that permaculture encourages perennials planted amongst the annual garden, though some of us might need to practice a little better separation of the two (vs. layering or forest gardening) for weed management.

Blueberry flowers
Blueberry flowers

Blueberries.JPGThe Goumi Berry is flowering, too. This is the first year. These flowers are all over the Goumi that was out in the sun, and they have a faint but very pleasant sweet smell. I also planted one in the shade for comparison, and its flowers are not nearly as abundant. I’ve transplanted that one it out to the sunny side, too, and it seems to be taking well to the transplant.

Goumi_Flowers.JPG

These little chicory plants (Red Rib and Catalogna) are being smothered by the sorrell that grew up instead of my clover cover crop. They seem like good candidates for an emergency transplant before they bolt. Or maybe I’ll just let them stress and go to seed, and try again with new seed next year. They can be classified as a weed, after all, so I suspect they’ll have little trouble competing too much with low-growing sorrel.  HPIM0059.JPG

Instead of building full beds this year from the virgin space, I’m just digging little holes and making what amounts to planters for each little pepper and tomato transplant that I plan to put out in the next day or two. This is my lazy-spring gardening style. My normal bed-building style is a cheap sheet mulch where I lay down hay with composted cow manure on top. I usually make the whole bed this way for seeds that can be broadcasted. Tomatoes and peppers need a little more space than I’ve traditionally given them, so I think the planter-style should work. No reason to put a whole bed out for them. This way I spend less than an hour total on each bed, including the mulching, then I’m good to go. Normally my 4’x20′ beds take about 2-3 hours each to build.

I’ve had variable results with my sheet-mulch method, but usually it tends to work (better for brassicas, parsley and leafy greens, not so good for strawberries and squash, in my experience). The hay and cow manure needs a little more agitation (not full-tilling, but not exactly no-till) for the first year or so, since the hay can get matted and grow a lot of fungus, and the manure gets dry and crumbly when it’s not well-mixed. After a year of the sheet mulch, plus a little bit of chopping after the first season, this method can make a beautiful garden soil as  foundation for your beds. I use it because both the hay and the manure come to me absolutely free. There are definitely other options for sheet mulching, depending on what you have available.

The planters below are made with this quick technique:

1) Dig a hole

2)Fresh manure goes into the hole 3

) Hay on top of the fresh manure, enough to kill the weeds and help quick-compost the manure

4) Aged manure mixed with dirt, or compost on top. At least 8 inches so the roots aren’t exposed to the new manure as it heats up and composts below.

We’ve got heavy clay so we’ll get better root-penetration  and healthier plants by digging at some point in the building of a bed, even though later I revert to no-till beds by simply adding new layers of compost and mulch. In the photo below, the left side is a completed and top-mulched version of my planter holes. On the right is halfway through the process– holes have been dug, fresh manure dumped in. Next goes the hay, compost, and thick hay over the remaining green (sorrel, or cover crop) as a kill-layer.

Planter_Style.JPGSome extras:

Admiral Semmes Native Azalea from Margie Jenkin's Nursery
Admiral Semmes Native Azalea from Margie Jenkin’s Nursery
Red Knockout Rose
Red Knockout Rose

Christian Homeschooling, Part 2: Greek vs. Hebrew Education

There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. – Romans 10:12

I’m coming to this topic reluctantly. I don’t like making generalizations without all of the facts, yet that’s exactly where this conversation comes from. We’re talking about the respective influences of two ancient societies on the western education model. That’s a huge topic. I realize I can spend many more hours studying Greek and Hebrew educational models on my own to try to make a fair comparison (I do want to study both in more depth, but not  to write a blog post), or I can just respond to the assumptions that initially bothered me in Robin Sampson’s book What Your Child Needs to Know When. I’ll stick to the latter.

Robin Sampson has written several homeschooling books. One is the book that I have, and another is the Heart of Wisdom, which presumably goes into more detail. The Heart of Wisdom website has the same chart (almost) that’s found in What Your Child Needs to Know… and that summarizes the author’s argument. Make sure you check out the chart if you want to follow this post.

My first objection comes from the titles of the columns. One column is “Ancient Greek Education (as taught in Public Schools today)” and the other is “Hebrew Education.” That doesn’t really sound like a fair comparison, because on one hand we’re looking at an ancient system as adapted in modern (US) schools. On the other side, we’re not really sure what time period of Hebrew education we’re looking at, but I can say with reasonable confidence that whatever time period it is, the second column probably represents the favorite concepts of that culture and leaves out the rest. I mean, it’s clear that the chart is supposed to show Hebrew education in a favorable light by comparison.

It turns out we’re probably not looking at “Ancient Greek Education (as taught in Public Schools today)” in the first column either. For one thing, Sparta and Athens were very different societies, but they are indistinguishably combined in this table. Next, this isn’t an ancient system adapted for modern schools. The row “How Accomplished” talks about things that really don’t go on in public schools, especially these:

1) Memorize the laws of Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver.

2) Memorize selections from Homer.

3) Develop physical excellence through games, exercises, and the pentathlon (running, jumping, throwing the discus, casting the javelin, and wrestling)”

Now, these might be ideals that our public school systems wish they could follow, but we haven’t gotten anywhere near reproducing these accomplishments on a large scale. Why not? Well… because our culture is not as close to Greek society as the author proposes. Most parents don’t expect their children to perform like this. Some parents do, some school administrators might want to see it happen (maybe not casting the javelin), but our society is fundamentally different from Sparta and most of the methods of accomplishing the Spartan ideal demand very strict discipline and break our society’s ethical code (taking young boys away at 12 or 13 for rigorous military training). We don’t have that discipline, and we don’t pretend to. It also stands to reason that if homeschoolers don’t want to teach this part of the Greek method but still want to teach the Trivium, then this chart doesn’t really help homeschoolers, the intended audience, make a reasoned judgment about why to avoid all Greek influence in their curriculum.

Okay, so the Ancient Greek column repeats that this method prepares children to serve the state, but in the very next row, “Result,” the Greek system is regarded as “self-centered” with the motto “my will be done.” If it’s all about the state, then I don’t see how self-centeredness is the logical conclusion of state-focused training. The last row, “Philosophy” also equates the Greek system to lawlessness. We know that’s not true in Athens, but it does have some semblance to Sparta. Yet I don’t understand the logical jump from “prepare… to serve the state” to “lawlessness: to each his own, look out for Number One, there are no absolutes.” If service to the state is the goal, then that’s a type of specific servitude. The goal of servitude to the state is not met with a philosophy of self-centered lawlessness.

(In Romans 6:18, Paul writes that all men are in servitude, either servants to sin or “servants of righteousness” – KJV. Yet this does not explain confounding servitude to the state with servitude to self, unless its simply that all things that do not serve God serve self.)

Something’s missing here. I think I know what it is. It goes back to that original problem of an “Ancient Greek Education” being merged with “(as taught in Public Schools today).” The self-centeredness of kids today is visible, and widely discussed. It’s not as much a result of Ancient Greek education or modern US education as it is a result of human nature unrestrained. A lack of moral grounding rather than a specific type of training. I think John Taylor Gatto makes a stronger case about public education being designed for the benefit of the state when he describes the much more recently developed industrialized model of education based on the Prussian system. The story behind this is fascinating. Common schools in the US began with a very strong religious motivation, but the goals were also humanistic, meaning to rid society of evil and corruption.

In addition to selfishness, Greek training is said to produce the results of “Violence, corruption, pornography, racial tension, promiscuity, abortion, infanticide, etc.”The Hebrew method is said to produce “Authority with responsibility. Literacy, strong family ties, love of learning, security, independent thinking, high morals and values.” Yet looking back at the common schools, public education in the US was designed for exactly the same reason, to rid society of the former and revive the latter. These goals are man’s– they are humanistic. Did this approach work in public schools?

The evils of society mentioned above are just as applicable to Hebrew society at various times in history as they are to today’s society, and to Ancient Greek society. From the Bible, we know that the Hebrews weren’t always in line with God’s plan. After all, the well-educated (by Hebrew standards!) Pharisees of the New Testament put the Son of God to death for blasphemy. If the Pharisees are not a perfect example of violence and corruption in Hebrew society, then I think the author has a different definition of violence and corruption than I do. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we’re Ancient Greeks, Ancient Hebrews or modern Americans. If you study the Bible it is clear that sin nature is what corrupts and leads to these vile results.

Then there’s the bizarre “curriculum subjects” section. On the Hebrew side it is asserted that Hebrew education teaches “Creation science.” Yes the Bible includes the story of Creation but that does not automatically make this story a “science.” “Creation science” never really became a subject until well after the theory of evolution appeared to threaten the story of Creation. Creation science, which, unless I’ve misunderstood it, typically seeks physical evidence to support the Creation story, isn’t exactly obedience to God’s authority. Science doesn’t demand reverence, God does.

I must briefly digress. Collecting evidence to support a claim either carries the risk of rejecting the claim (hypothesis), or it’s not science. You don’t collect evidence only to prove a hypothesis. Approaching God’s revealed creation as a scientific hypothesis is a dangerous place to go because you’re admitting a willingness to reject it. With that said, I don’t study Creation science and I would not consider approaching God’s story as a science to be the same as Creation apologetics, which might be supported by scripture (1 Peter 3:15). If you want to reject evolution, you either do it by science or by faith, or even by argument. But you can’t turn science into faith, or faith into science.

The Greeks are said to have taught humanism, evolution and social studies. Of these three, I know the theory of evolution absolutely did not exist in Ancient Greece. When it emerged at the end of the 19th century, atheism played a major role in its development. Unbelief in the one, true sovereign God predates Greek society by just about as long as humans predate Greek society, but the Greeks did give atheism the benefit of its own precise definition. Therefore, I wouldn’t consider atheism a product of Greek society as much as a beneficiary of it. Evolution is a product of atheism plus centuries of thought piled on top of ancient Greek philosophy. You simply couldn’t say the Greeks created or studied Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Finally, there’s the Trivium. The three stages of learning were enunciated in the middle ages, but grammar, logic and rhetoric were all components of Greek education. Grammar is the basics of language, logic is reasoning (like mathematics), and rhetoric is the art of argument. Robin Sampson considers these three simple stages to go hand-in-hand with the legacy of horrors that have come from the Ancient Greeks.

Although it’s not actually in the chart on the website, in What Your Child Needs to Know.., the Hebrew education system is credited with the “three learning stages” of “knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.” While you can read the Bible and see that these three things are valued at times (and at other times considered “a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17)) I don’t think that they were ever considered “three learning stages” until Robin Sampson began developing a curriculum meant to compete with the Trivium, which has dominated for centuries. My biggest complaint about this is that, unlike grammar, logic and rhetoric, “knowledge, understanding and wisdom” are not easily distinguished. Unless preserving the vague, immeasurable characteristics of knowledge, understanding and wisdom is beneficial for children, then I have to say that the Trivium still seems to be the best traditional approach.

This is where I get really cynical about the whole comparison. Sampson claims that the Hebrew education model has the ultimate outcome of children who “learn to learn.” This parrots the statement made by Dorothy Sayers in 1947 about the classical method and the Trivium. Dorothy Sayers is regarded as a Christian humanist, so maybe that’s what makes Sampson uncomfortable with the system that Sayers championed. I don’t know. But after reading Sampson’s method (Heart of Wisdom or HOW) closely, she does advocate “reasoning” and “higher-level thinking” despite the fact that these very things have been so aggressively attacked by her where they appear in Greek culture or public schools.

Ultimately, it feels like the “Hebrew education” or “biblical” model proposed by Robin Sampson is actually Robin Sampson’s “biblical” model and not an unadulterated model practiced by Ancient Hebrews, nor commanded by God. In fact, it is Sampson’s curriculum. It’s the HOW method, an eclectic method that borrows from all kinds of philosophies, including classical  Greek, medieval and, perhaps, Hebraic. But it is absolutely not THE Hebraic education method (study the Talmud with a Rabbi if you want that), nor is it THE biblical method that all Christian homeschoolers must follow to preserve the Christian worldview.

Yet this belief seems to be recited by plenty of homeschoolers, including Kelly Crawford at Generation Cedar (where there’s lots of *ahem* rhetoric if anyone hasn’t had enough of it.)

Most importantly, I feel I should point out again that the New Testament is written in Greek. I was reading some of the comments on the HOW page, and people are suggesting that we somehow get all of the Greek out of the Bible. If we purify the New Testament of all of the words and thoughts that came from Greek, we will end up with a handful of verses in Aramaic that are repeated from the Old Testament. The New Testament was written in Greek! If this was pleasing to God, then we must accept that. Speculating that He made an error, and that it was all meant to be in Hebrew? Yikes!

My previous posts on the subject are:

Christian Homeschooling: Greek vs. Hebraic tradition

Christian Homeschooling Part 1: Discipleship

And Understand our language, a pondering on Christian worldview and (specifically American) cultural diversity.

Understanding our language

I want to briefly digress from the homeschooling discussion, but this actually serves as an illustration of some of the points I want to make later on the Christian Homeschooling topic.

Last night we caught a documentary on Louisiana Public Broadcasting called Native Waters: A Chitimacha Recollection. This program explored the rich history of the Chitimacha people whose traditional lands are in south Louisiana, in the Atchafalaya Basin. It’s a beautiful documentary that shows how the native people of Louisiana interpreted their environment, formed a culture closely tied to the bayous where they lived, and how they’ve been affected by the progress of history: namely, the immigration of a new people and a new culture that has largely displaced their own. A particularly painful part of this story is the loss of the language and the land that held so much of their heritage.

I remember when I took my first Spanish language classes in middle school, I finally started to grasp the basic concepts of English grammar. I had been taught grammar since 2nd or 3rd grade. I knew the difference between a noun and an adjective and the basics of punctuation, but I had no idea what verb conjugation was, or subject-verb agreement, or any of these other things that I had learned without understanding the underlying technique. Learning Spanish became a way for me to understand the structure of my own language.

Language is like the thread that weaves it all together. Just as studying another language can help us understand ours, studying another culture can bring us to a deeper understanding of our own. I took a course in college that introduced me to Native American history and science. We went into topics that approach taboo in our culture, like genocide, cannibalism, witchcraft, eugenics, and disease-infested boarding schools. Gut-wrenching topics.

But first, before our instructor shared any of these things with us, she demanded that we write about our own culture’s influence on us with confidence. Who were we? Where did we come from? She wanted an honest examination. Before this exercise, I had been through so many sociology and human studies courses that bashed dominant culture without remorse. All members of the dominant group were complicit in its crimes, guilty by privilege, and the others were uniquely oppressed and above reproach. This approach seems to demand guilt while at the same time scoffing at the guilt it produces.

In those classes, we were supposed to step away from our own culture and see it as evil before we proceeded. Professor Woodside’s class was totally different. She approached very challenging topics from a position of mutual respect. It was transformative for me! I should add that this was quite awhile before I accepted Christ after straying for years, a rebirth which was much more profound.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrews faced pressure to adopt the ways of their captors in Babylon and Egypt, and their Roman oppressors in the New Testament. The influence of Greek and Eastern philosophy threatened Paul’s work to establish early Christian churches. In each of these examples, a keen awareness of the cultures around them helped God to reinforce the godly identity he sought to preserve in His people, while also drawing out precise commands that He meant for us to observe. God used cultural differentiation to reinforce His message, as well to point out the underlying similarities between peoples that make the gospel of Christ available to all. I think this is awesome.

The Creation story emphasizes that the world’s people have a common heritage. God’s promise to Abram (Abraham) “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen. 12:10- NKJV)” is fulfilled in Christ. The Bible speaks of both differentiation and unity. What a challenge for us to resolve these two, seemingly contradictory, ideas. Yet this can be done by beginning at the point of mutual respect. Love, respect and honor are Christian virtues that glorify God.

With this said, perhaps I’ll be ready to tackle Part 2 in an upcoming post.

A blog about a simple, Christian, homeschooling, homesteading family.

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