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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #114     A Publication of The Nature Institute     November 30, 2000
              Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    NetFuture is a reader-supported publication.
    Quotes and Provocations
       The Nasdaq as Santa Claus?
       Technology, Animals, and People
    The Pigs of Iowa (Lowell Monke)
       Industrialization of the hog
       I Don't Ask `Why?' Often Enough (Anna Gabutero)
       Rapid Advance in School Isn't the Key to Success (Mary VanBuskirk)
       An Experiment in Delayed Math Teaching (Sanjoy Mahajan)
       When It Was Time to Read, I Just Read (Robert Solomon)
       When a Child's Precociousness Blinds Teachers (Paul Munday)
       Can Children Be Spared Automation? (Frank Thomas Smith)
    About this newsletter
                             QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS
    The Nasdaq as Santa Claus?
    Where have all the daytraders gone?
    And what has become of the mantra that was so relentlessly drilled into
    our consciousness as recently as a year ago:  "The wise investor buys on
    the dips and stays the course"?
    That's reasonable advice in a bull market, but insanity in a bear market.
    Did those investment counselors really believe we had moved beyond bear
    markets into an endless succession of guaranteed, double-digit-earning
    years?  And, if so, did they not realize that this belief, once
    transferred to a large enough populace, guarantees an investment bubble?
    They were, in fact, running a kind of Ponzi scheme, and instead of owning
    up to it now, they intone with unctuous paternalism:  "The market
    correction is a good thing, since it is teaching the naive American
    investor that markets can go down as well as up".
    Clearly a lot of people did believe that today's high-tech-driven economy
    had transcended all sorts of out-dated and stodgy behavior.  For example,
    it was (and still is, of course) widely believed that the new economy is
    all about creating new needs rather than meeting real and current ones.
    There's a faint whiff of the old socialist planner in this notion:  the
    attempt at arbitrary creation of needs has a rather flippant arrogance to
    it -- as if real needs could be dreamed up by a committee in a product
    planning meeting.
    Of course, the market will winnow the nonsense over time -- and may do so
    in an orderly manner when only a few enterprises are following the new
    logic.  But when entrepreneurs begin to believe en masse that artificial
    need-creation is what the whole game is about, then we should hardly be
    surprised to find weird, large-scale, and highly disturbing tangents
    pursued in the market place.  The best guarantee of economic stability is
    the earnest effort to meet real needs.  It is true that our needs evolve
    -- must evolve -- and also that they can be educated; but this is a
    far cry from the greedy arbitrariness that has come to dominate the
    Finally, one can see in the current fate of technology stocks yet another
    reflection of our penchant to attach grand and inappropriate significance
    to whatever the technological tea leaves happen to whisper to us.
    Technology just seems to have that effect on us; we can't separate it from
    notions of a New Era, despite the fact that a one-sidedly technological
    mindset is exactly what forecloses on the very possibility of thinking
    creatively about the new.
    I believe that technology is the bearer of profound significances,
    and that we should attend to them.  It's just that, so far, we seem to be
    getting them all wrong.  This fact itself is probably our most important
    clue.  As I have often urged:  there is something in technology that
    reinforces our own errant tendencies, requiring us to take up a certain
    resistant stance toward it in order to wrest from it the real (and
    considerable) benefits it holds out for us.
    We can hope most of those daytraders have gone off to school themselves in
    this healthy resistance.  Their gain from doing so will be vastly greater
    than what they would have received if the Dow had run straight up to the
    predicted 30,000.  Who says technology doesn't bring us gifts?
    Technology, Animals, and People
    If you want to see the prevailing tendencies of technology in human
    society today writ large and clear, then look at our application of
    technology to animals.  In factory farms around the country you will find
    millions of cows, chickens, and hogs engulfed in a kind of holocaust
    pushed a few rungs down the evolutionary ladder.  Portentously, this
    occurs at a time when we are increasingly disinclined to distinguish those
    other rungs from our own.
    The basic facts are hardly in dispute, and the literature documenting
    them is both vast and readily available to the public.  Summarizing the
    situation a year and a half ago, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., wrote in an op-ed
    piece, "I've reconciled myself to the idea that an animal's life has been
    sacrificed to bring me a meal of pork or chicken.  However, industrial
    meat production -- which subjects animals to a life of torture -- has
    escalated the karmic cost beyond reconciliation" (Newsweek, April 26,
    And Michael W. Fox, author of Eating with Conscience, provides more
    of the details than you will probably want to know, including these:
       The cruelest fallout from the industrialization of agriculture is the
       treatment of farm animals, now coldly referred to as "production
       units."  One particularly gruesome example of inhumane farming is that
       most gourmet, milk-fed veal comes from calves raised in almost complete
       isolation for sixteen weeks.  They live in narrow crates where they can
       neither walk, turn around, nor comfortably lie down.  They are fed a
       liquid diet laced with antibiotics and low in iron to keep their flesh
       pale.  In a further effort to keep their flesh pale, the calves are
       kept in a state of borderline anemia by depriving them of hay and
       roughage, which they crave.
       Another example of cruel factory farming is the extremely abusive
       practices used in commercial egg houses.  More than 90 percent of the
       eggs we consume come from laying hens that live in a cage with a floor
       space only about twice the dimensions of a regular phone book.  Four or
       five hens share this space.  There is not enough room for the hens to
       lie down, fluff their feathers, or even stretch their wings.  Because
       of the cramped cages, chickens become crazed, pecking one another
       severely, sometimes to death.  Poultry producers solve this problem by
       "de-beaking" the chicks with hot knife machines....
       In many commercial sheds, seventy thousand to one hundred thousand or
       more laying hens or broilers (raised for meat) crowd together under one
       roof.  Diseases and infestations often sweep through the flocks at an
       alarming speed and require extraordinary applications of various drugs
       and toxic chemicals.  A Maryland farmer, who now farms organically,
       told me that commercial egg factories hyperstimulate young hens with
       artificial light to get them to start laying eggs before they are fully
       grown.  The industry uses the term "blowout" to describe what happens
       to some of these hens when they are forced to lay too early -- the
       hens' vents (posteriors) burst, and they die.
       Broiler flocks have sometimes gone crazy, and in wave upon wave, bash
       themselves to death in mass hysteria inside the poultry shed.  A
       Virginia farmer first told me of these things in 1976.  He said that
       hearing seventy thousand birds become one mad wave of feathers,
       excrement, and death almost drove him crazy, too.  Furthermore, hens
       are starved for up to thirty hours before they are slaughtered.
       Poultry producers reason that any food given during this time would not
       be converted to flesh, and [is] therefore a waste.
    You can be sure there are technical fixes for all the more disruptive
    symptoms of abuse; after all, the operations would hardly remain
    economical if chicken flocks regularly went into a self-destructive
    frenzy.  You can also be sure that, more often than not, the fixes are
    further instances of abuse, and that the technical mindset behind the
    fixes is the necessary foundation for the entire process of abuse.
    Despite the conditions that Kennedy, Fox, and so many others have
    described, there has been no great outcry, and the buying public has not
    risen up in rebellion.  Part of it may have to do with the extreme
    insularity of a technologizing and globalizing society.  Just as the urban
    ghetto and disintegrating rural town are rendered invisible by
    superhighways, so, too (as Lowell Monke points out in this issue's feature
    article), our efficient, technologically sophisticated systems of animal
    "husbandry" have put the sources of our dinner out of sight.
    Even so, I still can't imagine that our society would tolerate what goes
    on in food production if it weren't for our increasing habituation to
    mechanically conceived processes governed by the sterile terms of "input",
    "output", and "efficiency".  The reduction to numbers and mechanical
    abstractions is another way of concealing the world from view.  These
    scarcely conscious habits of mind, incidentally, reveal a level of
    technological consequence that is rarely considered when we talk about the
    pluses and minuses associated with machines in the classroom or on the
    You may think that the implications of technology for animals have little
    to do with the implications for human society.  Tell me, then: where is
    there any clear articulation of distinct principles for the two cases?
    The language of efficiency and technical capability is the same
    everywhere, and by its very nature makes no such distinctions.  Moreover,
    as Lowell's narrative makes clear, the technological manipulation of
    animals for human uses is already a technological manipulation of humans.
    Just ask those people in Iowa who have been forced, against their wills,
    to live with the daily stink and pollution of the hog factories.
    By the way, I am a meat-eater, even if I sometimes go lengthy periods
    between indulgences.  But there is no way I could bring myself to eat meat
    if doing so required me to patronize the flesh factories.  Fortunately,
    there are alternatives, such as organically certified meat (which is
    typically more expensive).  We face a clear choice here, and one of the
    choices is as sick as can be.  The other one will doubtless affect your
    pocket book -- but in the healthiest possible way for all concerned.
    Goto table of contents
                                 THE PIGS OF IOWA
                                   Lowell Monke
    At any one time there are between 14 and 15 million hogs in Iowa.  That's
    about seven times as many pigs as people living in the state.  For those
    who haven't visited Iowa recently, this statistic may conjure up images of
    Babe in the City and hog-crossing signs on the highways.  Fifty years ago,
    when the number of hogs wasn't much lower, that might almost have been
    true.  But during the past two years, while I've been thinking about this
    article, I've driven thousands of miles along Iowa highways and gravel
    roads and have not seen a single pig out the window of my car.
    With rare exceptions, Iowa's 15 million hogs spend their lives in long
    rows of narrow, low-roofed, windowless buildings called "confinement
    units."  Hog production in Iowa, and every other state, has gone the way
    of chicken production -- to enclosed, highly concentrated, totally managed
    environments.  Confinement operations are so isolated from anything like a
    natural habitat that the pigs wouldn't know the difference if they were
    raised in Times Square.  This contextless living is made possible, of
    course, by a massive application of technology.
    Fear of Open Spaces
    I worked for a time in the 70's on a farm that used some of the new
    confinement methods.  Earlier, as a youngster, I helped my dad raise what
    are now called "free-ranging" hogs, who had considerable area to roam.  It
    was a lot of work.  Hogs are foragers, and therefore natural-born
    explorers.  They pig-headedly believe that the grass really is always
    greener on the other side of the fence.  It seemed we were always chasing
    loose pigs back into the hog lot and mending fences.
    Confinement hogs, on the other hand, not only don't search for ways to get
    out of their pens; they won't even go through the gate when you open it.
    Raised all their lives in steel and concrete pens with just enough room
    for them to trade off at the feeding trough, the pigs are scared to death
    of open spaces and refuse to walk through an opening without being pushed.
    Though this struck me as neurotic when I first witnessed it (along with an
    aversion to open spaces, confined pigs develop a strange appetite for
    their penmates' tails, leading to the industry-wide practice of amputating
    pigs' tails shortly after birth), there may be some intuitive wisdom at
    work here.  Because the hogs get almost no exercise in these pens, they
    are easily overstressed.  The first time I helped move sows on a
    confinement farm about 500 yards to a farrowing house (where they give
    birth) I was told to be very careful not to spook or hurry them.  Just
    about the time my coworker got done explaining why, one of the sows
    dropped over dead, presumably of a heart attack.
    Sows are the most susceptible to these sudden deaths, since they are the
    most immobile of the hogs.  Throughout the farrowing period they are held
    in long, individual slots too narrow to turn around in, with just enough
    room to lie down and enough space at the bottom of one side to let the
    sucklings, who mill around in a slightly larger adjoining pen, get to
    their milk.
    The farm I worked on was primitive compared to most of today's operations,
    in which the hogs usually never see the outdoors.  This is because, with
    several thousand hogs being held in tight quarters, the greatest enemy is
    the microscopic germ.  Disease can sweep through a confinement unit in a
    matter of hours, so the "filthy" conditions of the mud wallow must give
    way to operating-room sterility -- air filtered, workers scrubbed, as few
    external objects entering the building as possible.  (My nephew works at a
    large facility where he is required to shower and change clothes before
    entering any of the buildings.)  Still, the danger of catastrophic illness
    is so great that antibiotics are generally blended into pig feed in much
    the same way we add vitamins to our processed food.
    The Virtues of a Factory Operation
    All of this is done, of course, in the name of efficiency.  Hogs that have
    no room to move, nowhere to go, nothing else to do, tend to belly up to
    the food trough more often, and because they don't burn off many of the
    calories they take in, they put on weight considerably faster than free-
    ranging hogs.  Climate-controlled buildings prevent the hogs from using
    calories to keep warm or from going off feed when it gets too hot outside.
    And the constant flow of antibiotics insures that they will never lose
    their appetite or waste calories fighting off illness.
    The results of these new methods are impressive.  Hogs get to market
    nearly a month earlier than when my dad was in the business.  There is
    less "attrition," and more hogs can be raised per worker on far less land.
    The result is that more pigs get to market in a year, meaning more income
    for the producer.
    There is also an efficiency of scale.  By offering a steady and plentiful
    supply of large numbers of hogs to processors, growers command a higher
    price than the small producer who sends animals to market only a couple of
    times a year.  This has proven so advantageous economically that vertical
    integration -- the total control of hog production by corporations who own
    not only the hogs but the feed, transportation, and medicine -- has all
    but pushed the small farmer out of production.
    To date, Iowa has prohibited the last step in vertical integration, the
    ownership of the hogs by the processors themselves.  However, other states
    lack this restriction and there is growing pressure in Iowa to allow
    further vertical integration.  (There is also considerable bending of the
    rules.)  Presumably, it will only be a matter of time before all hog
    facilities are owned by the corporations who sell the pork to consumers,
    with the actual raising of hogs contracted out to "hog factory" workers.
    Even today, most hog farmers using confinement methods do not own the hogs
    they raise.  They merely grow them for large agricultural corporations.
    The farmer still incurs the cost of raising the hogs, but because the
    producer corporations can make favorable deals with the processors, the
    farmer is guaranteed a "reasonable" price.
    Saving the Hog from a Hog's Life
    As anyone living in Iowa (or who has been reading NetFuture) will tell
    you, this is not the end of the story.  Technological progress always has
    side effects, and certainly this has been the case with hog production.
    In "The Web and the Plow" (NF #19) I observed that as the machinery got
    bigger and the size of farms larger, the relationship between the farmer
    and the soil grew more distant.  This seems to have happened with a
    vengeance in hog production.
    Everything that is done with and to the pigs is determined by narrowly
    conceived, quantitative measures of efficiency.  Transformed into
    biological machines in the eyes of the farmer, hogs are abstracted onto
    the ledger sheet as numbers pertaining to inputs and outputs, rates of
    attrition, pounds gained per pound of feed, cost per head versus price per
    pound, and so on.  The sterility of the hog's living environment is merely
    a reflection of the sterility of agribusiness:  a manufacturing process
    guided by the need to reduce the growth of living creatures to as little
    uncertainty, as much human control, as possible.
    Nothing escapes this abstract, quantitative orientation.  Several years
    ago, Dennis Avery, former senior agricultural analyst for the U.S.
    Department of State, wrote an opinion column for the Des Moines Register /1/
    defending hog factories.  Among his claims were the following:  "[W]e're
    producing 50 percent more meat per hog, partly because the hogs are
    becoming healthier and happier as more of them move indoors."  Considering
    my own experience watching the sow die of heart failure and the neuroses
    of the feeder pigs, I wondered as I read this how he was going to support
    these two claims.  His only other allusion to hog health and happiness
    came midway through the article:
       Confinement hogs suffer lower death losses.  Apart from the obvious
       question of the needless suffering of the hogs, 10 percent of the crop
       is lost when 10 percent more of the outdoor pigs die than confinement
    Leaving Avery's erroneous and misleading math aside, it is evident that he
    is assessing the health of the hogs, not by any observation of robustness,
    but solely by a statistical measure of their ability to survive until
    slaughter (an odd measuring tool, considering that death comes several
    weeks earlier for confined pigs).  As for happiness, Avery seems to imply
    that all a hog needs in order to be happy is freedom from the stress of
    dealing with the vicissitudes of outdoor living.  Thus, the overcrowded
    pigs milling around on concrete floors, doing little more than eating and
    sleeping, are happier than the pigs I used to see squeal with delight as
    they romped around in our fields, burning off precious, expensive calories
    while exposing themselves to all the wind, rain, mud, heat, and cold that
    lead to their "needless suffering" (and slower growth).  That the confined
    pigs would almost certainly die in their cages within a few weeks if their
    high-tech life-support system were removed seems not to enter into Avery's
    definition of health and happiness.
    Then, too, there's the question of human health and happiness.
    Raising a Stink
    About as many hogs reside in Iowa today as in the 1950s.  Back then the
    stink of hog manure was something that constituted a minor annoyance in
    the countryside, depending on the direction of the wind.  Most farms were
    set up so that the livestock were situated to the northeast of the farm
    house, so the prevailing southwestern breeze of summer would send the
    smell out into the fields.  With only a couple hundred head of hogs per
    farm, the smell rarely became oppressive, even for someone standing in the
    hog lot.  Not so when that same space is occupied by 10,000 head of hogs
    producing about as much waste as a city of 25,000 people.
    The waste is generally caught in large lagoons and eventually spread on
    fields.  The smell is intense and constant, and those who live close by
    (within about a two-mile radius) find it not just annoying but
    debilitating.  At first the complaints of neighbors were pooh-poohed by
    the mostly absentee owners of the hog operations.  ("Hey, that's just the
    smell of money.")  Because there is as yet no accepted way to measure
    toxic levels of odor, there was no "scientific" way to establish levels of
    smell pollution.  The headaches, nausea and other ailments that neighbors
    of the hog factories complained about were passed off as psychosomatic.
    But as significant numbers of hog workers began suffering "real" physical
    illnesses (and even a few deaths) from over-exposure to hydrogen sulfide
    gas, an effort has begun to address the problem.  And it is the nature of
    this effort that I find illuminating.  Rather than reconsider the high-
    tech, concentrated method of raising the hogs, researchers within the
    industry and at universities like Iowa State have focused on developing
    new technologies that will somehow remove or suppress the smell from the
    manure.  The National Pork Producers Council alone has allocated $3.5
    million dollars to help find technical solutions to the odor problem.  One
    innovation, the Houle spreader, injects the effluent into the soil,
    effectively suppressing the stench.
    But there is just too much of the stuff for the soil to hold, and it often
    leaches through to water tables.  There it joins with other fertilizer
    runoff to pose a growing health hazard throughout Iowa:  nitrate-laced
    drinking water.  Many of the holding lagoons themselves, which took years
    of research to design so as to seal off the waste from the soil, have
    leaked badly.  Several have recently broken down, spilling into streams
    and killing hundreds of thousands of fish.  Now, huge, glass-lined tubs
    are being developed as an alternative.
    Getting Used to It
    In his last book, The Technological Bluff, Jacques Ellul /2/ contended
    that every new technical solution creates other problems more difficult to
    solve than the original one.  And, of course, Langdon Winner /3/ has
    elaborated on the way large technical systems eventually begin making
    their own demands on us.  The hog industry in Iowa testifies to the
    accuracy of these claims.  Every new problem caused by technical solutions
    has resulted in expensive efforts to find technical solutions to that
    problem, and with each new problem-and-fix cycle, high-tech agriculture
    becomes more heavily anchored, more problematic, and more expensive.  As
    the challenges become more complex, the ability of farmers, especially
    small farmers, to deal with them erodes.  As Avery notes with apparent
    satisfaction, "The Houle spreader costs $25,000, and small farmers can't
    afford them."
    More and more, the people raising hogs are, like my nephew, not farmers at
    all, but simply employees.  They know hogs, but did not plant or harvest
    the corn that the hogs eat.  Indeed, they may never have planted a crop at
    all.  Like the hogs they raise, they have very little connection to
    nature, and little sense of agriculture's deep dependence on nature's
    gifts.  Like good technicians in other fields, they encounter the problems
    in their units and seek technical solutions within the narrow parameters
    of that environment.  To a great extent, any problems extending out beyond
    their buildings are someone else's problems.
    This technological orientation has pervaded agriculture for a long time.
    But only in the last several decades has agriculture detached itself so
    thoroughly from the natural environment and become so technologically
    complex that its demands on the human population have become widely
    perceived as problematic.
    Some of the problems have evaded technical solution altogether and people
    have been required to adapt to them.  Odor remains, for now, one of those
    problems.  In response, the Iowa legislature has passed two extraordinary
    bills protecting hog factories from the very communities they once were
    touted as serving.  One bill excludes the factories from nuisance laws;
    they cannot be sued by neighbors for the pollution and misery they cause
    (not to mention lowered property values).  The other denies the right of
    counties to ban new hog factories through zoning laws.  Having invested so
    heavily in the development and establishment of this form of hog
    production, and having been assured by researchers that all the current
    problems will be solved in time, the state has simply told its
    disempowered citizens, "Get used to it."
    Dilapidated Towns
    The consequences of technologized agriculture are not confined to the
    physical environment and the immediately surrounding communities.  The
    entire fabric of rural life has been thrown into decline.  In 1900 there
    were 229,000 farms in Iowa, nearly all operated by resident families.
    During the 1980's, when massive machinery and computerized management
    enabled massive operations, Iowa lost nearly a third of its farms.  By
    1998 there were only 97,000 farms left, many of them owned by individuals
    or corporations with no direct involvement in the farm work at all.
    This consolidation of farms has had a devastating effect on rural
    economies.  A Houle spreader may cause $25,000 to change hands, but most
    of the money for such equipment drains quickly from the community into
    distant corporate coffers.  Much of the profit from the largest hog
    factories benefits absentee owners and never reenters the local economy at
    all.  A study conducted by the University of Missouri found that
       Independent producers create three times as many jobs as corporate
       contract production.  For each 12,000 slaughter hogs produced under
       corporate contract, the study estimated that 9.44 jobs would be created
       (4.25 on the farm and 5.19 in the community) but that 27.97 would be
       displaced (12.6 on the farm and 15.37 off the farm) /4/.
    Another study, this one in Virginia, found that adding 5,000 hogs to a
    local area across a number of small farms produced 10% more permanent
    jobs, a 20% larger increase in local retail sales, and a 37% larger
    increase in local per capita income, compared to the same number of hogs
    added through corporate farming /5/.
    Rural Iowa has lost nearly a third of its population in the last 50 years.
    What were once thriving small towns populated by multigenerational
    families, are now either bedroom communities for nearby cities or near-
    ghost towns, home primarily to aging retirees.
    My wife's home town of Luverne is situated in the midst of some of the
    lushest top soil on Earth.  Like many other small towns in Iowa today, it
    resembles much more an inner city ghetto than a Norman Rockwell painting.
    Most of the town is boarded up, and many of the old homes are badly in
    need of repair, occupied mostly by transients and the elderly.  There is
    little work and there are no services that would make the town an
    attractive place to live.  Most of the farm houses and magnificent barns
    that once bracketed every section of land nearby have been torn down, and
    the islands of trees that inevitably surrounded the farmsteads have given
    way to the ocean of corn needed to feed the constantly hungry hogs.
    Unbounded Faith in the System
    As for the small farmers that remain, the irony is that, despite all the
    economic benefits they bring to the community, this doesn't necessarily
    translate into a profitable business for the farmer.  Although price
    discrimination favoring the huge producers is prohibited by law, the U.S.
    Department of Agriculture refuses to enforce the law.  In a telling
    justification for allowing "volume premiums" (and a good illustration of
    the ideological reductionism in agricultural policymaking that ignores all
    but the narrowest of economic factors) one official stated bluntly,
    "Volume premiums are the American way" /6/.
    Caught up in an almost religious faith in technology, many of those most
    likely to be hurt in the future seem unable to understand just what it is
    they are struggling against.  Last summer the Cedar Rapids Gazette /7/
    interviewed Kevin Lauver, who at forty years old has finally fulfilled his
    dream of becoming a farmer.  He managed this only because his father
    retired and Kevin didn't have to mortgage his entire future earnings to
    buy the high-tech equipment he needed to farm five hundred acres.
    "Lauver, who now farms seven hundred acres," says the article, "knows that
    efficiency-driven consolidation could eventually force small-to medium-
    sized farms like his out of business."  And, yet, "he believes the markets
    will rebound and technology that will make it easier for farmers to do
    their jobs will mean a strong future for agriculture."  At the end of the
    article, ignoring his own personal history, Lauver reportedly again
    expresses his faith that technology will somehow be the salvation of his
    family farm:  "Lauver is determined to take advantage of each new advance
    in technology, allowing his two young sons to grow up on the same farm he
    I think this Gazette article captures well the irony of agriculture's
    relationship with technology, one that hog factories epitomize. While I
    wish Mr. Lauver well, I wonder how many other children will have to be
    deprived of growing up on a farm as he gobbles up the land and applies the
    new advances in technology needed to make his personal dream come true.
    A final caveat or two.  First, I am not suggesting that rural America
    should be frozen in a time capsule, exempt from all forces of change.
    And, second, I'm not a card-carrying member of PETA (People for the
    Ethical Treatment of Animals).  I remember the high-pitched squeals of
    pain from the male pigs we castrated soon after birth (so they wouldn't
    fight when they got older) and the exhausting days I spent holding older
    pigs still so my dad could "ring" them (clamp a metal ring through their
    noses to keep them from rooting up our pasture grass).
    Raising pigs commercially has long entailed a certain degree of cruelty.
    Perhaps this helps explain why hardly anyone in Iowa today objects loudly
    to the pigs' treatment.  And yet, there is no absolute necessity for
    cruelty.  We could have applied our technological prowess to
    traditional hog-farming so as to reduce the need for mistreatment rather
    than to increase it radically -- and, likewise, we could have used
    appropriate technologies to increase the vitality of rural communities
    rather than to destroy them.
    It's a question of choice (by consumers as well as farmers), and that's
    the element that seems to have fallen out of the technological worldview.
    When, aiming for total control and mechanical efficiency, we reduce the
    concrete contexts of life to the abstractions of an algorithmic production
    process, it's no accident that we lose sight of the larger moral and
    social implications of our choices.  And this means that we lose choice
    itself.  Thus, a century after Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced "The
    One Best Way" to factory production, its application to farming, an
    activity in which working and living are totally intermeshed, has taken
    place with a fatalistic disregard for its impact on the quality of rural
    life -- both human and animal.
    This transformation has been painful for me to watch.  Yet pain is often
    what awakens us to choices previously ignored.  One might hope that due
    reflection upon the suffering of millions of hogs -- creatures who feed us
    and even provide the tissues that patch up our own ailing hearts -- will
    lead to such an awakening on this issue.
    Lowell Monke, PhD
    Assistant Professor of Education
    Wittenberg University
    Springfield, OH 45503
    1. Avery, Dennis, "Big Hog Farms Help the
    Environment", Des Moines Register (December 7, 1997).
    2. Ellul, Jacques, The Technological
    Bluff (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990).
    3. Winner, Langdon, Autonomous
    Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1977).
    4. ICRP Discussion Points: Family Farms
    vs. Hog Factories, 1997 (http://www.farmweb.org/b/icrppoints.htm).
    5. Ibid.
    6. Hassebrook, Chuck, "Say Yes to Common
    Good in Farming," Des Moines Register (December 24, 1999), pg. 7A.
    7. Associated Press, "Farming in the
    Millennium" (June 20, 1999),
    Related articles
    ** See the "Agriculture" heading in the Netfuture topical index.
    Goto table of contents
    I Don't Ask `Why?' Often Enough
    From:  Anna Gabutero (karajian@yahoo.com)
    I just received my first issue of NetFuture (#113), and it was thought-
    provoking enough to make me go through your archives.  I find your ideas
    (especially those concerning computers and education) both troubling and
    interesting -- I'm on my third year of college, majoring in computer
    science, and I never thought about it this way before.  It appears I still
    don't ask `Why?' often enough.
    I haven't found anything I can disagree with yet, but that's just probably
    due to shock.  =)  I'm sure this feeling will subside in the next few
    days, as your ideas reach a compromise with mine, but you've definitely
    given me much to think about.  Thank you.
    Rapid Advance in School Isn't the Key to Success
    Response to:  "Do We Really Want Higher Test Scores?" (NF-113)
    From:  Mary VanBuskirk (Mary.VanBuskirk@nrc.ca)
    I could not agree more.  I am continually baffled by parents who are
    obsessed by high intelligence and rapid progress through schools.  Of
    course, I am not a parent, and would perhaps see things differently if I
    were one, but it seems to me that, perhaps given a basic threshold of
    intelligence, success in life by any measure you choose (financial gain,
    prestige, happiness, whatever) is facilitated by social and communication
    skills, motivation, drive and focus, and not at all by intelligence.  I
    know more highly intelligent people who are unhappy and unfulfilled.
    Rapid progress through the school system can be calculated precisely to
    reduce (if not eliminate) the development of social skills by guaranteeing
    that the child is placed in an alien environment.  Here I do speak from
    experience -- how does a shy thirteen-year-old learn to interact with
    fifteen-year-old classmates?
    Love your newsletter -- keep up the good work!
    Mary VanBuskirk
    An Experiment in Delayed Math Teaching
    Response to:  "Do We Really Want Higher Test Scores?" (NF-113)
    From:  Sanjoy Mahajan (sanjoy@mrao.cam.ac.uk)
    Dear Stephen,
    In Issue #107 you say (about learning to read):
       The idea that earlier is better is one of the strangest notions ever to
       seize hold of parents.  Why not assume that later is better?  Certainly
       it can be easier, with much less stress and alienation on the child's
       part.  Children all have their own rates of development, and it is
       impossible to comprehend all the suffering that results from forcibly
       subjecting them to the standardized schemas of school and labeling them
    You may be interested in an experiment in mathematics teaching, carried in
    the schools of Manchester, NH -- no formal arithmetic until grade six.
    Till then arithmetic was done only as the need arose (page numbers in
    readers, using the index, estimating lengths, etc.), and students spent
    the time instead in reading and telling stories and enjoying learning.
    The author of the experiment, Supt. Louis Benezet, describes it in his
    classic papers, which are at the Benezet Centre:
    Sanjoy --
    Some fascinating material on that web site.  Many NetFuture readers will
    be interested in it.  As for Benezet, here's one snippet I extracted from
    the introduction to his papers:
       I feel that it is all nonsense to take eight years to get children thru
       the ordinary arithmetic assignment of the elementary schools.  What
       possible needs has a ten-year-old child for a knowledge of long
       division?  The whole subject of arithmetic could be postponed until the
       seventh year of school, and it could be mastered in two years' study by
       any normal child.
    (A similar point applies to today's "computer literacy" education.)  It
    remains, of course, to get a handle on what "pre-math" education could
    look like.  You may remember a piece back in NF #80 called "The Toddler as
    Geometrician".  There I quoted John Alexandra on teaching children that
    the shortest distance between two points is a straight line:  "But even
    one-year-old children already know this:  when frightened, they will run
    to their parents in the straightest of straight lines."  Alexandra went
       At that age, however, they know it only in their legs, where this
       knowledge is unconscious, asleep.  The mathematics teacher's task is to
       draw out and make conscious what children already know unconsciously,
       rather than to push concepts into their memories.  Teaching through
       movement and art does not reduce the accuracy of the resulting intel-
       lectual concept.  It enhances the concept so it can be experienced
       through the whole human being.  Art thus becomes a fundamental medium
       of education, even for academic subjects.
    The time will come, of course, when the student's concepts need to be
    sophisticated, intellectual, and fully conscious.  He'll stand the best
    chance of gaining such concepts if we let them form at an appropriate age,
    having first allowed the knowledge implicit in movement and imagination to
    ripen to its fullest.  Then it's partly a matter of making explicit what
    is already implicit.
    When It Was Time to Read, I Just Read
    Response to:  "Do We Really Want Higher Test Scores?" (NF-113)
    From:  Robert Solomon (wogsol@bestweb.net)
    Dear Steve,
    I learned to read in fourth grade.  Couldn't do it before then.  I was
    interested in reading a particular book and just picked it up and read it.
    Bob Solomon
    When a Child's Precociousness Blinds Teachers
    Response to:  "Do We Really Want Higher Test Scores?" (NF-113)
    From:  Paul Munday (paul@2bet.co.uk)
    When I read your piece "Do We Really Want Higher Test Scores?" from NF
    #113, I was reminded of a conversation I had had with a  friend who, like
    myself, had had the misfortune of being labelled a "gifted" child, and I
    thought you and perhaps your readers might like to share it.
    We were talking about our common experiences, in particular a precocious
    interest and ability in maths (something which, hot-housing parents should
    note, has failed to persist into adulthood).  My friend, who has the
    enviable ability to cut straight to the heart of these matters, said of
    this:  "why did no one ask the one blindingly obvious question -- why are
    you sitting inside reading maths books instead of going outside and
    playing with all the other kids?"
    I often wonder why no one asked this simple question and why no one seemed
    to grasp the equally obvious answer -- that we found maths easy and the
    unpredictable, human business of socialization difficult.  Equally strange
    is that, seemingly blinded by our abilities, no one sought to question
    what use they were to a child.  I think I can confidently answer that they
    were of no use at all except as a means of hiding away from the world.
    As both of us agreed at the time, had someone had the insight to ask these
    simple questions, our paths in life to where we are today might have been
    considerably easier.  I can only shudder in horror on reading of some of
    the pressures placed upon children today, and think, if I might be
    permitted to draw a metaphor from elsewhere in your newsletter, that in
    human life, perhaps even more so than in plant life, the valorization of
    (a narrowly intellectual) monoculture over (social) diversity can have
    many unforeseen and potentially dangerous effects.
    Paul Munday.
    Can Children Be Spared Automation?
    Response to:  "The Trouble with Ubiquitous Technology Pushers (Part 3)" (NF-112)
    From:  Frank Thomas Smith (franksmith@traslasierra.com)
    Dear Steve,
    I would like to comment about your article "To Automate or Re-enflesh?"
    [part 3 of "The Trouble with Ubiquitous Technology Pushers"] in NF #122.
    All the readers of your article are adults and most are probably willing
    to at least take the warnings seriously.  Nevertheless, the impulse to
    automate everything automatable, under the impression that to do so is
    beneficial, is a widespread phenomenon.  We adults can say:  Wait a minute
    -- do we really want this?  But what about the children -- who have no way
    of knowing what is happening to them?
    The pervasiveness of automation is relatively new, so we grew up in a
    milieu quite different from the one our children are experiencing.  We sit
    at home working and playing with computers, and our kids, those imitators
    par excellence, naturally want to do the same.  And they do, in their own
    way -- especially with the games.  Do we forbid?  Difficult, when they are
    only copying us.  At most we can impose limits of time and content if we
    don't wish to be looked upon as scrooges.
    But what about the schools?  There is a campaign afoot to computerize
    education -- from kindergarten on up -- and this is the most dangerous.
    If the adult world is on the road to total automation, can not at least
    children be spared, can not schools wait until children reach the
    appropriate age for automation?  You mentioned the necessity for finding
    reasonable stopping places.  I suggest that the most urgent stopping place
    is in school -- at least in pre-and primary schools.  Difficult, I know,
    because this is an extremely lucrative business for soft and hardware
    companies who, together with the politicians, have convinced parents that
    their kids should be computer literate before their milk-teeth fall out.
    In Argentina, where I live, the president has promised that before his
    mandate ends there will be a computer in every classroom; this in a
    country where many children can't even afford pencils and notebooks and
    the educational system is a shambles.  Your excellent article will be
    reprinted in the next issue (November-December) of SouthernCross Review.
    Kind regards,
    Frank Thomas Smith
    Goto table of contents
                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #114 :: November 30, 2000
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