Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Here's the steaming pile of thought I left on's doorstep. Then I set fire to it, rang the doorbell, and bolted.

Thought #1: I like filling out web forms.

Thought #2: It seems like the health care discussion usually revolves around the problem of health insurance reform. I know that lack of health insurance is a huge concern. But I believe we should be broadening this into a discussion about "health reform." Such a discussion would go beyond affordable health insurance, or even driving down the costs of running our health care system,

Such a discussion would involve every aspect of society that touched on the health and happiness of the American people.

There are a few subjects that this discussion would encompass. We need to talk about the American diet, how that diet leads to skyrocketing health care needs, and how government policies like the current agricultural subsidy system have gotten us to that state.

I'm not sure how I feel about the choice of Tom Vilsack to lead the Agriculture department. He feels like a very "stay the course" nominee, which wasn't what I expected from someone who seemed to "get" Michael Pollan's article for the NYTimes.

But mainly I wanted to discuss some thoughts I had while reading a book called "Brain Rules" by John Medina. He's a molecular biologist who is fascinated by how we learn and think, and his book gives handy, everyday advice for getting the most out of our craniums (crania?).

The first thought is just for Mr. Obama and his staff: get plenty of sleep and exercise. Tired brains make bad decisions, brains with good blood flow make better decisions. We need good decisions from you folks. Moving on.

The second thought is that very little of this new research has trickled down into our everyday lives. This lack seems especially severe in our educational system. Teachers and parents need a better understanding of how learning happens, and how things like sleep, exercise, and (most important) stress can affect how children learn.

Stress is especially important, because too much stress in a child's home life can destroy his or her ability to learn in school, setting them up for a lifetime of failure.

I'm not alone in my thinking. I saw Geoffery Canada, founder of the Harlem project, on the Colbert Report a while back. One of his many inspiring missions is to get the knowledge of child development and learning into the minds of the impoverished parents whose children he serves.

I would guess that you're already familiar with the Harlem Project. Nonetheless:

Medina understands that there is a lot that we still don't know about the brain, and a lot more that we don't know about structuring our schools and workplaces to take advantage of this new understanding. But I think that research and pilot programs should begin as quickly as possible. The payoff is a smarter, healthier, better educated American citizenry.

Thought #3: This box I'm typing into is far too small. If you want to elicit big thoughts from people, you have to give them a big canvas.

I'm not sure how effective the whole site is. Right now the comment section seems to be "all Rick Warren, all the time," which is disheartening.