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Month: December, 2011

A Little Plastic: What’s the Harm?

In Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax takes up a discussion of what are termed endocrine disruptors–materials (such as phthalates–you recall the BPA scare) which mimic hormones and feared to have adverse effects on developing children (yes, particularly boys). Largely the concern is that plastics such as BPA (or any plastic for that matter) have estrogenic properties which bring on early puberty in girls and arrest boys’ sexual maturation (including reduced sperm counts while a pregnant mother’s consumption of such chemicals resulted in incomplete masculinization of the child and genital deformities).

Below is a recent post from MedPage Today that reports on this.

It’s in the Can

By: Emily P. Walker  |  December 01, 2011

Like any reader of the news, I take an especially keen interest in a story when a headline seems personally relevant to me. For instance, a story my colleague John Gever wrote the other day, “Canned Soup Delivers High Levels of BPA,” especially piqued my interest for a few reasons.

One: I eat a lot of stuff from cans. Just this week, I’ve already eaten a can of white beans, a can of chickpeas, and a can of pears, and I’ve used canned coconut milk in a recipe. As a vegetarian, beans are part of my diet on a near-daily basis. And I don’t care what cookbooks and online recipes say — dried beans are not an “easy” alternative to canned. Any recipe that involves 24 hours of inactive prep time is not “easy.” It takes planning, and often, I’m throwing recipes together on a whim and didn’t have the foresight to soak a pot of beans overnight. So I reach for the can. I like to think I’m a healthy eater, but I wonder what effect the chemicals in a can of food will have on my body (especially because the canned soup study showed that people who ate a can of soup a day had levels of bisphenol A [BPA] in their urine that were 20 times higher than those who didn’t eat canned soup).

The second reason John’s story was particularly interesting to me is because it’s been fascinating seeing how the science on BPA has accumulated and how government officials’ views on BPA are changing. When I first started at MedPage Today in 2008, the prevailing view of the FDA was that BPA is safe. But then a panel of independent science advisers determined the FDA erred when it made that call. In 2010, the FDA announced it would devote $30 million to research the health effects of BPA exposure.

During the past few years, the research on BPA has shown that the chemical can mimic the action of female reproductive hormones and may be linked to cardiovascular disease, and just a couple of months ago, researchers found that children whose mothers had high urine levels of BPA during pregnancy were more prone to behavioral problems.

The chemical industry maintains that there isn’t sound evidence that small levels of BPA (like those found in food containers, and even paper cash register receipts) have a harmful effect on humans.

Still, limiting my canned food consumption might not be a bad idea. Better start soakin’ some beans.

Globe Article Fails to Answer the Question

The Wednesday, November 30, 2011 Globe published an article by Kate Hammer titled Reading between the Lines on Boys’ Results. Another half-hearted effort to raise concerns regarding the rapidly declining academic performance of our boys. While the article’s title holds out an implicit promise to finally post a decisive critique of our failing education system it again tempers any such expectation by eliding much of the recent literature. Rather than call for explicit reforms and ask the really tough questions about how schools are failing our children (boys particularly)  the article defaults (for the sake of optics and politics of gender I assume) to a discussion of the extent to which girls have made gains in such faculties as science. The fact however (as it is with reading/comprehension) that girls aren’t statistically doing better but rather that boys are doing worse–they are in effect disengaging. WHY?

The exigency of the current state of boys’ academic performance is seen by Wayne Martino, Professor of Education at the University of Western Ontario, as a “misplaced fuss over gender.” He has obviously failed to do his research (this shouldn’t be surprising  given the current state of “scholarship”) making the fatuous claim that “academic achievement is closely linked to socioeconomic status.” Acclaimed psychologist Leonard Sax in Boys Adrift shows that the underachievement of boys and a concomitant over-prescription of ADHD drugs cuts across socioeconomic lines. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist at Temple University, is quite unequivocal regarding the bias against boys, “The stakes are too high to worry about political correctness.”

Martino concludes (as does the article almost) with what amounts to a discreditable and provocative claim that “the boys issue is distracting education form bigger problems.” What then are education’s “bigger problems” if not the very failure of pedagogy to engage all children.

In a comprehensive analyses by one time feminist Peg Tyre, The Trouble With Boys, most educators she says, “don’t consider that they need to fix the environment that these boys are learning in….They’d rather fix [sic] the boy.”

Rather than attend in a meaningful and policy-oriented manner to the alarming change in boys’ achievements we have to custom-fit (with designer drugs if necessary) our children to the classroom–a proscriptive place of sanguine deference to the lotus flower.