We don’t just have an education crisis; we have a meaning crisis

Photo: Children in a Classroom

When I was young and my friends and I had just discovered the joys of prank calling, I remember dialing 0 and asking the operator if she liked her job. I did this more than once, actually. Kids have probably called operators to ask silly questions since telephones were first invented, but this time I didn’t mean it as a prank, I was just curious.

Once or twice I got an indulgent, “sure, sweetie” but usually I got a surprised or angry, “no.” This was incomprehensible to me. Why would you do something you didn’t like? Sometimes I asked them that directly, but they never stayed on the line long enough to tell me their life story.

I remember shortly afterwards when a pair of shoes came for me in the mail. I stared at the invoice and realized how much work went into those pair of shoes. Someone had to make them. Someone had to make the catalogue they were printed in. Someone had to man the phones to sell them. Someone had to write the invoice for them. Was there really a person whose whole job was just sitting there writing invoices for shoes? I felt bad for them, and I wondered – what would happen if everyone who hated their job suddenly quit?

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should only do things we feel like doing. Certain sacrifices are necessary from all of us in order for society to function harmoniously. But these days, we seem to be making more sacrifices for less harmony. So why do we keep doing it?

Throughout history there have always been people who worked hard, and did the jobs that no one else wanted to do. The problem isn’t that we sometimes have to suck it up and do unpleasant or difficult work. The problem is that our occupations have become divorced from the practical realities of life on earth. Human beings have a need for meaning. We need to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. When we’re forced – by social pressure or economic necessity – to give the majority of the hours in our waking life over to a job that has little or no meaning for us, we go crazy. We need to understand our place in society and the place of our society in the wider society of earth. Then, our work becomes purposeful. When we see the positive results of our actions, work becomes a value in itself, even if it is sometimes hard or unpleasant.

In old Hawaiian society, communities were structured by the shape of the land. The divisions were called ahupua’a, and they generally ran in a wedge shape from the top of the local volcano and extended a few miles into the sea. Within that area, certain divisions of labor arose naturally. Some people grew upland crops and some grew lowland crops. Some gathered food and materials from the forest and some from the sea. Some knew canoe building and navigation. Some knew how to beat tapa cloth and weave lauhala. Some knew rituals and prayer. Within the divisions of the ahupua’a, each group of people cooperated amongst each other in order to contribute to a harmonious society. A person’s identity and place in the community was bound up with his or her work. It wasn’t just a job. It was a livelihood in the truest sense.

As I wrote previously, in praise of school gardens, children need to see how what they’re learning will help them contribute to their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family or community. Growing healthy food and learning how to interact with the earth in a mutually sustaining way is a basic foundational relationship that will help place all other learning and knowledge into it’s proper context. This is just common sense. Education is not just the process of passing on knowledge. Education is the process of making knowledge relevant.

We should remember: all children are mini-geniuses. The amount of information they are processing and retaining, and the number of connections they are making daily is astronomically higher than adults. They are constantly absorbing new facts about the world, and integrating those facts into their picture of the universe. However, instead of giving them the whole picture, we try to teach them certain skills in isolation. We divide up the world into nonsensical and arbitrary divisions called “social studies” and “science,” which hold no practical relevance for their daily life, and we’re shocked when they don’t care.

We have an education crisis in this country. It’s been building for years, and various solutions have been proposed and applied. But we won’t be able to fix the problem until we take a long, hard, honest look at how deep that problem goes. We don’t just have an education crisis. We have a meaning crisis. We’re neglecting to teach children the basic common sense concepts and skills they need to negotiate life in a sane and healthy manner not out of malice, but because we ourselves don’t know them.

When we give children an artificial education, we prepare them for an artificial job and an artificial life. Whether they get a GED that prepares them to fill invoices for shoes or a PhD that prepares them to study the reproductive life of insects, eventually they will crave to do something that has real, tangible meaning. Not every child needs or wants to be a farmer. But every child should understand and appreciate that someone has to farm in order for everyone to eat. And every child should have a basic understanding of how food is grown, and where energy comes from before they flick the light switch and where water comes from before they turn on the tap. 

Do you think these things are too mundane to teach? Or are you ashamed to admit that you don’t know the answer either?

Talk Story with the Love Life! Team

Aloha All,

Healthy Holidays Flyer

Can you believe it is officially Fall? It really is remarkable how fast this year seems to be going… we are rapidly approaching the holiday season with Thanksgiving and Christmas on the horizon!

Usually this time of year brings a little indulgence to our lives with parties and sweet treats. But it does not mean that we have to compromise or sabotage all the great efforts we have made all year towards better health.

November 14th we will be holding a workshop/lecture from 6:00pm - 7:30pm in our Honolulu Community Room. Join Carmela Wolf and myself for an informative lecture and cooking demo that will focus on staying healthy though the holidays.

You don't have wait until after the season to cleanse. Come see how you can stay feeling great throughout the holidays and still enjoy yourself. Not only will you feel better, but you will also be less likely to gain the "holiday bulge". We will show you how to support your body everyday, so if you do indulge some, you won't pay so heavily for it.

Hope to see you there!

Aloha Nui,

Mama T 

Trisha "Mama T" Gonsalves
Community Outreach Team Leader/ Event Coordinator 

Young Bamboo Bends, Old Bamboo Breaks

Photo: Bamboo Forest


My good friend loves that phrase. We run a work trade program on our farm, and every time we get a request from someone past forty, she’ll shake her head and say, “well, you know what they say, young bamboo bends, but old bamboo breaks.”

She means that life on the farm is a lot different from what most people are used to, and it’s often hard for older people to adapt to a new diet, a new schedule, and a new environment. Never mind that she’s past sixty herself, and one of the most adaptable people I know. She’s a young-at-heart bamboo stalk, but those are few and far between.

Everyone can see we get stuck in our ways. There are so many other sayings in our language that reflect this. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “Old habits die hard.” I always imagine my mind like a dirt road. All of my habits are like carts that run over the same path, day after day, until gradually the ruts in the road are so deep that it would take a great effort to change paths. Nancy Redfeather, who runs the Hawaii Island School Garden Network, reported that employers who implemented wellness programs in the workplace have trouble getting more than 20% of their employees to change their dietary and exercise habits.

That’s why it’s so important to educate children about healthy living from the beginning of their lives, and not wait until they grow up to try to undo the bad habits they learned when they were younger. So often I see parents giving their kids sugary cereals or fast food because “that’s what they like” or “that’s all they’ll eat.” They never consider that they like those things because that’s what they’re used to!

So that’s why I’m so encouraged by the Hawaii Island School Garden Network. Nancy Redfeather has spearheaded a campaign to get local schools to start gardens on campus and incorporate gardening into the curriculum. There are now 56 schools around Big Island that have school gardens or are working on starting a school garden. These programs help children appreciate where their food comes from, how much work it takes to produce, and how much better it tastes fresh from the earth.

I’ve talked to teachers in and around Hilo who are incorporating gardening into their daily lesson plans for children as young as five. One woman said that a farmer brought a beehive into the school to teach the children about pollination. That’s when she found out that many of her pupils had no idea where honey comes from!

If you have gardening or farming skills, I encourage you to get in touch with a local school and see if they have a garden where you can volunteer, or if they would be interested in starting one. We need to help our keiki form healthy habits, like the habit of working the earth, planting seeds, caring for plants and heading to the garden instead of the candy aisle when they want a snack.

October is Vegetarian Awareness Month

Did you know that every October is Vegetarian Awareness Month? And every October 1st is World Vegetarian Day? Founded by the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) [1] in 1977, World Vegetarian Day was endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) [2] in 1978. The IVU has been in existence since 1908! I've been a vegetarian for 26 years and I'd never heard of them before doing a little research for this blog. Perhaps you haven't either?

Try going to either the International or North American websites for free downloadable posters, pamphlets and other good information. It's always great to have more information and support while trying to maintain a lifestyle that goes against the dominant paradigm here in the United States, home of the Big Mac. Ugh.

The IVU website tells you where you can find vegetarian eateries and accommodations worldwide, while the NAVS has a newsletter you can subscribe to, outreach materials and lots of informative articles.

Celebrate the last few days of World Vegetarian Month by adding to your knowledge base. Check out these websites and you may be able to further spread the positive message of vegetarianism.

Living Lightly

July 26th's Star-Advertiser ran a great little article on one of Hawaii's own who teaches via the example of her life. Michael Tsai's Incidental Lives column explains how Eva Uran, 61, of Waiohinu, lives as simply, responsibly and lightly as she can on the Earth.

What I loved about this piece is the simplicity of its message and its immediate applicability to our own lives.

When Uran's truck broke down ten years ago, she decided she could live on pedal power and public transport. Rather than thinking about her legacy or what she might leave to grandchildren, Uran instead aims to leave as small a trace of her existence on the planet as she can.

What a refreshing attitude!

Vegetarian since birth, Uran describes a turning point in her life that led to a deeper commitment to responsible living. She saw a black and white film on the inner workings of a slaughterhouse. Along with reading John Robbins' Diet for a New America, she said she couldn't look at a cow thereafter without feeling sick. This prompted an examination of our modern lifestyle of consumption and exploitation and led to some personal decisions.

Now she sleeps peacefully each night, with her line drying laundry blowing in the soft Hawaiian breeze. She eats a vegan diet, grown locally, is off the grid, getting power from photovoltaics, and brings her own plate and utensils when she dines out to avoid the plastic throw away.

The joy she feels in living a life of minimal consumption she hopes will inspire others to follow suit. After all, how difficult really is it to adopt a few of Uran's lifestyle habits? Living in Hawaii makes it so much easier to tread softly with our favorable climate and year-round growing season.

See what you can do today and the rest of your days to align yourself more with the beauty of simplicity and inner integrity.

Mimi Kirk Named Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50

A friend of mine just sent me a link to an incredible example of the power of a vegetarian diet. Watch it and then come back and tell me what you think - I don't want to spoil the surprise!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jcvq63B2bOY

…Isn’t that crazy? She said she’s been following a plant-based diet off and on “for over forty years,” which means since she was around thirty years old. So for all of those who think it’s too late to turn their health around, think again! She’s only been following a raw foods diet for a year and a half, and she said she’s seen a big difference since then.

My ears pricked up when the reporter asked her if an organic, plant-based diet was more expensive and she said, “I don’t think so, I think doctor’s bills are more expensive.” I’ve made that point to a few people throughout the years who said they couldn’t afford to buy organic. I grew up in a working class family, and we never had money to spend on extras, but my parents always made wholesome, organic food a priority in our budget because they knew it was an investment in our health, and it’s paid off. However, when you’re young and in good health anyway, it can be hard to fully appreciate. When she said it, it really hit home because I know at her age most people are paying enormous sums for complicated surgeries, nursing home care, prescription medications, etc.

While the reporter was so focused on how young she looks, her attitude was more grounded: “I don’t mind getting older, I just want to be healthy.”