Sunday, January 21, 2007

How my childhood environments shaped me

The above is a googlemap picture of the neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up. I was a couple of blocks north of the Museum of Science and Industry, where the World's Fair in the late 1800s took place. I called it "the Museum of Science and Interesting". A beautiful place to grow up!

Howdy y'all! To get things started and get to know each of us better, I suggest we start our discussion thread by telling each other how we came to inhabit the environment we now reside in! When you finish assignment one we will hopefully get to see views of the environments you inhabit that affect your behavior and which your behavior affects. When you finish assignment two we will hopefully get to see the kind of virtual environments you are exploring. But it would be nice to get some background, and that is what this thread is for. Let me start it off:

My phenotype-forming environments were, ancestrally, the Middle East and Northern Europe. My mother comes from Assyrian Iraqi and Phoenician Lebanese (Greek Orthodox) roots in arid montane and coastal environments. The thousands and thousands of years our people spent there contributed to genetic characteristics that now give me my larger nose, bushy eyebrows, dark hair and olive skin that make me racially identifiable as a "Middle Easterner". My father, however, comes from Irish and Alsatian (French/German) roots, with a predominance of Irish island environment effects shaping the genes that got passed on. Consequently I have green eyes and ruddy cheeks and the possibility of having fair skinned red-headed children if the recessive genes I've inherited from those ancestors of northern climates combine with similar genes from my wife.

I was born in a cold northern temperate zone environment in what is now the United States of America, in the city of Chicago, Illinois. I was born in a noisy part of the city, not far from lake Michigan, at a time when racial tensions and idealism were both high in America. My mother worked in the inner city at Headstart and my father was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News.

As a consequence of these physical and social environments I became very interested in finding ways to improve both the built environment and the social environment, deciding at a very young age to devote my life to "making the world a better place". Growing up by Lake Michigan, which is large enough to have waves and appear as an ocean to a child, made me fond of seashores, while the nearbye Museum of Science and Industry and Shedd Aquarium gave me a fascination with technology and biology.

At the age of 8 we moved to Dobbs Ferry, New York, into apartments next to the Mercy College Woods, a riparian forest valley that led to the Hudson river. This environment made me fall in love with wildlife and tree filled wilderness, and led me years later to do field research in the rainforests of Borneo and Guatemala.

My middle and high school environments were, for the most part, dismal collections of sterile classrooms and meaningless exams, and taught me that the worst environment for a human mind to grow in is a traditional classroom. This is why I enjoy on-line education!

My undergraduate experiences at Harvard University's "elite ivory tower environment" taught me that there are no people smarter or better than anybody else, just people with more money or privilege who like to act superior. This led to me to be a crusader for educational reform who believed that if we change the environment in which learning occurs (or is constrained) and change the behavior of teachers, we can make the world a much much better place. Yes... I blame the school environment for many of our social ills and world problems!

My years of experience in the "gang" environments of impoverished inner city South Central Los Angeles, and in poor villages and slums of Central America and the Middle East, taught me that there is great dignity and skill and ambition in the world of the less fortunate and that we must improve the physical and economic environments of the poor if we want a world in which everybody can reach their highest potential.

Briefly then, those are the environments that shaped me.

How about you?

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