I ate my wafer...


Homeschooling...Homechurching...is there a home version of anything I actually like?

So, browsing the far reaches of the good old Hillsdale blogosphere, I find that there's an interesting post combining homeschooling and house churches up at "This Is Me". Rather than pointlessly hijack the comments, espicially on an old post:

House Churches:

Sure, the early Christians used the house church. They lived in a society that made it particularly practical, since they didn't have a dedicated infrastructure of churches, they were highly local community and family focused, and they, at least at times needed to keep a low profile. The big problem both for the early church, and later incarnations of house churches is that wildly stupid theology gets to spread quickly. A significant reason that western christianity moved to a more centralized model was the proliferation of heresy at the local level. Even now, this is a common complaint about current house churches. Also, everyone that likes to talk about how successful the Chinese house church movement should keep in mind that they operate with very simply theology, and under social and political pressures that make it the only viable option. I would imagine that given a shift to religious tolerance in China, many house churches would evolve rather quickly into larger, more conventional churches. Are house churches inherently bad? No, they're useful under sometimes, but outside limited circumstances there's little inherently good about them.

Homeschooling as "Tradition":

I really, really hate the argument that homeschooling has some sort of advantage based on the relatively short history of public schools relative to all of human existance. This is logically equivalent to arguing that everyone should grow their own wheat, mill it to flour with the help of their neighbors, then bake their own bread, just because its more traditional than buying a loaf from Krogers. Teaching high school phyiscs, art, english, pre-calculus, etc has been "traditionally" done in a public or private school, being that most of the above subjects have only been part of the general curriculm for the last 100 years.

Now, its not any big secret that I'm highly suspicious of homeschooling in general, mostly because it seems like an extremely large expenditure of energy to do well, and even if it is done well, it seems selfish to devote so much effort to it when simply being an highly involved parent, perhaps on the local school board would benifit ALL of the children in the community. I could elaborate ad nauseum about the benifits of a common social meme of high school, and the difficulties of teaching multiple high school subjects without resorting to merely setting kids loose with a text book, but ehh, its not necessary.

Hmm, maybe I just dislike the "home" versions of everything? Homeschooling, homebirthing, home churching? No...wait...there's homebrewing.

There's more than one chemical compound in real vanilla extract, but the major one is vanillin, and it's responsible for most of the flavor. There's a variety of ways to make synthetic vanillin, but the most efficient (and cool, in a very nerdy way) method used in the U.S. involves some wild chemistry and wood pulp waste. A less elegant approach uses coal tar as the starting chemical, but the final product vanillin is completely identical to vanillin from vanilla beans in both cases.

So, the vanillin part of synthetic vanilla is EXACTLY the same as real vanilla extract, but the more subtle other flavors have to be added to the fake vanilla. One way to do this is by making an extract from Tonka Beans which unfortunately contains coumarin, which has nasty blood thinning abilities (it’s a really close chemical cousin to both Warfarin and rat poisons). Due to both the blood thinning properties, and causing liver and kidney issues, the FDA banned coumarin as a food additive in the 1950's. Unfortunately, most of the third world doesn't have effective food additive regulation, and Tonka Beans are one of the best ways to juice up synthetic vanillin to make fake vanilla extract.

Apparently, the percentage of coumarin found in vanilla extracts imported from Mexico and the Caribbean has significantly dropped as of late, which is good. There's still plenty of other nasty things floating around in fake vanilla, like red dyes that are banned in the U.S.

Anyway, the important part is all health concerns aside, virtually all "vanilla extract" that people bring home from Mexico is fake. During my food and drug law class, we had a guest from Michigan Department of Agriculture who said that he had yet to test a single bottle of vanilla extract bought in Mexico that was real, and it was completely safe to bet that every large bottle (i.e. the 16oz or so plastic ones) for sale to tourists, in all of Latin America contained fake vanillin with random additives.

My take on the matter is if you're going to buy fake vanillin anyway, you might as well buy it in the U.S. so you don't have to sweat the coumadin/red dye/additive issues.