Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fear: How to Let Go!

As it happens, just shortly after I posted that post about fear, a friend brought this beautiful Alan Watts video to my attention. Exactly what I needed! Somebody far more wise and eloquent than myself to show the pathway towards a courageous and rewarding life! Thank you for the thousandth time, Alan Watts!


I cannot count the number of times people have expressed their fears to me about why they'd love to unschool their kids but can't, or why they fear for my children's happiness or future, because we are unschooling. There are so many reasons to be terrified.

This is going to be controversial, but I think everyone should let go of our enslavement to the goal of financial gain (because growth economy is not sustainable), and take on a goal of emotional gain. And by that I mean happiness! I'm not even there myself, but I'd sure like to be!

And I think the only reason we still live the way we do is fear.

I do realize that there are a number of people who truly believe in mass education; in conformity. But I think most of those beliefs also stem from a fear of non-conformity, or of somehow not succeeding in the current social/economical landscape. Because you know what? It was bloody scary when I was 7 and I dropped my wieners on the floor and a boy in my class made me crouch on my hands and knees and eat them off the floor while everybody watched and laughed. And he kicked me. I never want that to happen to my kids.

Honestly -- this has been a learning journey for me too (because we don't stop learning when we get out of school). That incident in elementary school is part of the reason I didn't send my kids to school! I was afraid for them! But that is not why I unschool. I unschool because once I made the decision to keep my kids out of school, I had to face the litany of new fears that provoked - and I overcame them. I don't want to live in fear, anymore. That incident did not make me stronger; it made me scared, and I'm still overcoming the many many fear-inducing incidents of my 37 years. Overcoming these things gives me strength to create a better world for my children.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
                   ~Nelson Mandela

I like to think of any difficult situation in terms of "Why is this happening?" What fear is fueling this person's anger towards me? Or what cultural fear is propelling the people's support of this law I don't agree with, or this social system that frustrates me? Or what personal fear is keeping me from telling this person my feelings; starting this project; etc.? The answer is often more interesting than the question! And this helps me to overcome a large number of my fears. 

I am afraid of plenty of things; here's a sampling, if I sit and consider this moment:
  • That my mother will read this blog post and discover some terrible problem with it and I'll delete it.
  • That there really is some gross flaw in my judgement and this post just makes that obvious.
  • That I'm deluded about my kids' happiness, and really they're just deprived of a happy childhood.
  • That my kids really are happy now, but will grow up deluded and incapable of functioning in "the real world".
  • That I'm condemning them to lives as social outcasts by giving them the life I have.
  • That I'm wrong.
  • That I'm harming my children.
  • That people will hate me for what I do and say.
  • That my children will hate me for what I do and say.
  • Inadequacy!!!
  • Unhappiness!!!
Notice how easy it is for this line of thought to inflate way out of control? How harmful it can be? So I think of these things, and I carry on. I'm here anyway. Why? Because I don't want to live in fear.

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.
                    ~Jim Morrison

What are you afraid of? And how is it impeding your happiness?

Of course this isn't just about unschooling, it's about our community as a whole, and our country, continent, culture, and world. We make the changes that we can see ourselves making, and we have to let go of the fears to envision those changes happening.

When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.
                    ~Thomas Jefferson 

The solution is very simple, but also very difficult and complex in its realization:
Acknowledge the fear, and let it go.

Back to unschooling, somebody came to this blog this morning by Googling "Does homeschooling make kids weird?" Some of us might laugh, but this and similar searches are actually very common on my tracker. My answer to that question? "YES!" In the sense that weird means other than the norm, yes homeschooling makes my kids weird! It makes them have absolutely no reason to fear their uniqueness and be the people they dream of being! It enables them to feel belonging because of the acceptance of their own and others' uniqueness instead of because they have conformed! In the sense that they do not have to conform to the government's plan for their futures, nor the school district's rules and constraints about the way they should dress, eat, speak, learn, and direct their interests - they are WEIRD. And in the sense that they are happy just to be themselves, happy with their ever-changing desires and life-plans, happy with their bodies and spirits and selves? YES!! I embrace the word weird.

...and hopefully they are learning to live without being shackled by fear.

Question for my child:

What are you going to be when you grow up?

What are you going to do when you grow up?

What are you going to do right now?

Because your childhood; your smiling face now is what matters to me - and the choices you make in this moment have already defined your future. But I don't need to know, because you will define it again in another moment.

Bullying: Calling It What It Is

Local homelearners from toddlers to teens (and parents too!) on a farm tour.
Bullying is coming up a lot on our island, recently. Well it's been coming up a lot in general these past few years, as people try to name, recognize and slay the thing that is plaguing them. But I don't believe in "bullies". That's just a way to force an 'us-and-them' situation where there isn't one. I think we have to let go of the need to distance ourselves from this unfortunate reality of social interaction, and accept that we are all capable and culpable of behaviours that are anti-social.

Bullying in schools is where the discourse generally is centred. My opinion is that, while assault, harassment, bullying, and other social problems are a part of every society, they are more common when giant groups of children are lumped into enormous facilities where there cannot possibly be a balance of adults to children, or a truly encompassing celebration and inclusion of the natural uniqueness of individuals. Balance of adults to children: Children learn by watching. If 90% of their peers are their own age, then 90% (approx) of what they learn will come from those peers, and the small amount of observed adult behaviour they experience will not balance that out. In a truly mixed-age setting, kids get to see adults and older children learn to deal with difficult situations. Questions can be answered by people with more experience, instead of by similarly-aged peers trying to climb ahead on the same social ladder. While schools try to mitigate the problems that arise from the impossible situation they are presented with, it simply can't be resolved as long as the root cause (unbalanced ages and an atmosphere of competition) exists. Celebration and inclusion of individual uniqueness: How can we possibly celebrate uniqueness in a system where many kids are required to learn the same things, and those who fail to do so are given lower grades? This is the atmosphere of competition I'm referring to. Testing, grading, and PLO's are by nature pathways to competition; children feel inadequate if they don't make the grade. And consequently, when they feel inadequate, they flip this spectrum to their advantage, socially, and make those who do make the grade feel ashamed. And this is without all the rewards and punishments that are commonly placed on those same kids by teachers and parents with limited resources to coerce the children to comply.

But it's not the people who are flawed! It's the system they've chosen to work with! And yes, I say "chosen" because it IS a choice. And some of us have opted out.

I have two children. They learn together, in that they live in the same house. Sometimes they choose to learn or even study the same things, but often they don't. And because they are teaching themselves (seeking and accessing resources with decreasing help from me, as they grow), they have the option to learn what and how they want to. They really can be unique individuals, and because nobody is requiring them to learn from a pre-set curriculum, they can learn in their own individual ways. Of course they have many friends who attend schools (both large and small schools), but they arrange their activities and time with those friends as it fits their own needs, and often this includes medium-sized groups of multiple ages. From this lifestyle, they have learned not only that people of all ages and uniquenesses have something valuable to offer them, but also that they are valuable, themselves.

I think the notion of "public system" needs to go. There's a perception that it's up to the government to provide for us and for our children. When we give up the privilege of providing for ourselves, we commit ourselves to what the government can do within the means it allots to education. And that's not much. Providing for ourselves gives us both freedom and a feeling of self-worth.

When I graduated from University, I heard my Mum say to somebody else: "When she graduated from highschool that was meaningful to me because that was my work. She did this herself." I've never forgotten the depth of meaning in those words.

Myths that it took me a long time to come to terms with: A lot of people like the idea of getting out of the system, but they're afraid that they can't replicate it at home for their children. But Thinking that replicating the system is getting out of it is a problem! That's why a radical shift is needed. We were raised in the system so it's difficult to break our system-thinking and realize that learning is possible without coercion, curriculum, and pre-determined outcomes. But my experience by now has shown me that it's not only possible - it's better. And it's necessary.

Finances: Of course, financially it's hard for people with 9-5 jobs to stay home with their kids... but maybe if more of us were doing it, then more of us would be able to swap childcare when the kids are young, work fewer days, and adjust to a lower income. My husband and I have given up a lot of income to unschool our kids, because I have chosen to stay home with them, and he has insisted with any job, that his family comes first and he ALWAYS comes home for dinner. However, we've gained much more than we've sacrificed in that we've stayed true to our goals, and our kids are happy. I may never own a home, but my kids' happiness has always been most important to me. And this lifestyle has allowed me to relax, too. That's better for my health! So why, exactly, do we need schools or a 'system'?

Bullying is not (in my opinion) solvable by just being angry about it, "calling it what it is", or making a big deal of it -- all those things just lead to punishment, and we know how far that goes. "Bullying" is what happens when people try to make the best for themselves but are not privy to the social tools and feeling of community or self-worth that begets compassion. "Bullies" don't bully; everybody bullies, and until we recognize that people making harmful social choices are equal and equally deserving of compassion, then we will be nowhere.

I tell my children (even when it applies to my own not-so-stellar behaviour) that when someone says something unkind, it is likely that they are just upset with themselves. If we can't figure out how to help them with their upset, then at least we can feel compassion instead of hurt. This isn't always easy to do, especially when the hurtful words still sting, or a threat still looms, but in my experience it is the only path to freedom.

I think the only solution to 'bullying' is to start calling it what it is: humanity. And then we can move towards an actual systemic change. I also think that change is coming whether we as a society recognize it or not. Some of us are just making the leap earlier, with joy, instead of waiting until there's no choice.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What is Advertising Doing to Our Children?

Great film to watch with kids. Mine loved it!

And this one is not so amazing, but interesting, anyway. I'm so glad my kids are not Disney fans!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Unschooling is Great for Teenagers

... and why teenagers are great for our evolution.

David Suzuki has done it again! Although this fabulous episode of the Nature of Things never mentioned unschooling, it doesn't take much of a leap to get from the concepts in this documentary to the obvious conclusion that giving teens ample room to explore their passions (with a loving family to support and rescue them!) is a very very good thing both for the teens, as well as for humanity's evolution.

Surviving :) the Teenage Brain