Friday, February 1, 2019

Working Class Heroes: It's Up to Us to End Capitalism

Markus aged 18
First there was the Universe. Then there was Markus. From then on this planet (Earth) was one of the most important things in life (his life). Then he went to SMU. This in and of itself was not very important - but while going there, he noticed many things about life which he did not like. These were mainly small things, such as holes in the ozone layer of the atmosphere, acid rain and projected populations for Earth. Having decided to change all this, he found that he already had the solution; the only problem was that he would have to become a V.V.I.P. (very, very important person) in the scientific field to implement it - and to know just about everything there is to know about this world. He is planning to start by learning everything about engineering or computers, and continue from there.

That's an excerpt from my partner's grad write-up in his 1988 school yearbook. He tells me he must have just finished reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and adapted his writing-style, accordingly. He also tells me it sounds pompous. My partner is anything but pompous. He's just lost all the confidence he had in highschool; he doesn't think he can save the world, anymore. 

The list of devastating global circumstances facing humanity has played out even faster than we 80's kids could have imagined, and we feel helpless. My partner did go on to study physics and engineering, eventually getting his degree in Computer Science. He now goes to work every day, finds, fixes and creates bugs in software that is used all over the world for resource management. Some of this 'resource management' is towards protecting the ecological welfare of the planet; a lot of it is simply management for destructive capitalist ventures. My partner does whatever he is told to do. Then he comes home exhausted, eats dinner, pets the dog, plays accordion, and goes to sleep, only to get up in the morning and start again. On weekends and vacations he sometimes makes adventures to soothe his tired soul; mostly he works at replacing our old house with less mouldy materials, hoping that at least his efforts will provide shelter for his family. Dreams of saving the world went away a long, long time ago. Shelter and survival in the capitalist world is his current goal.

Does it sound like drudgery? He would say no. Because he's living the dream we were all fed as children, and in fact he's doing better than that: He's raising free-thinking unschooled children in a park-like setting, hoping they'll have the guts and wherewithal to follow their own dreams in a way he never managed to do.

But wait - that's what his parents were doing too! They sent him to the best school they could find, where he learned to fly airplanes, wear a suit, and feel confident that he really could grow up to be a very, very important person in a scientific field and change the world. But he didn't. Why not? 

No Time Instead of It All (Markus aged 49)
Why do all of us hope that our children will grow up to change the world, and not change it ourselves? Somehow we seem to feel that we can trudge into the capitalist system that requires our compliance and still raise kids who will magically end up elsewhere. Why on earth would they? We ask our children to follow their hearts and at the same time we tell them to follow our culture's mandated path to adulthood. We expect them to be different and brave and to change the world and save us from the disaster that capitalism has caused (seriously - if you haven't already, go read that article and watch the video), but we're too afraid to get out of the system, ourselves. They will be, too.

John Lennon wrote in his song Working Class Hero: (full lyrics and song video here)
When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Our kids follow our lead. Unless we break this cycle, our children, like us, will reach adulthood and discover that the only feasible path is the one their parents took, and they will have children themselves, and they will hope that their children will save them. And with every generation the outlook is bleaker, and with every generation we hope the next will save us. 

Capitalism is killing us. Our school system is part of it. Our work ethic and career paths are part of it. Our diet and housing and everything that we consider to be essential is part of it. These things need to change, and we need to change them. Not our children or our children's children. There is no more time for us to live in fear. And there is no point hoping that the few brave souls who unschool their kids or drop out of the system or attend rallies will do the work for us. There will be no new reality until we all jump on board. We are killing ourselves with capitalism and we have to stop, now.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Unschooling = Respect = Adults with Integrity

It's January, people are committing to new goals, busy having adventures and navigating their lives, but you wouldn't know it if you read my blog. I don't write a whole lot about my children anymore. Mostly it's because my kids are drifting from mid-teens towards adulthood, and are a little more careful about what they want shared about them. Whether or not I post the articles I write is their choice. It has always been their choice. Because I respect them, and I am counting on that respect to bring them safely into adulthood.

It works like this: respect means listening to my kids with genuine interest; with the understanding that even though I think I know better, I might be wrong. Respect means that what they want matters as much as what I want, and in situations that effect them deeply, it matters more. Respect means to them that I trust them to make decisions, and that means that they are responsible for those decisions. 

Think of it this way: The recipe tells you to turn up the heat under your custard, and it curdles and breaks and your homemade pie filling is ruined. You probably wish you'd found a better recipe, but it's not your fault. Stupid recipe. 

Now what if the recipe said to watch and gauge the temperature carefully, making your own judgements about the speed of heating and the thickness of the custard. It tells you to watch it drip off the back of a spoon and decide for yourself when it's ready. Scary, right? How will you know when thick enough is thick enough? The recipe expects you to use your own judgement! And you might get it wrong. But you'll learn, and eventually you'll be able to make custard without a recipe. And you'll be proud and confident, because you took on the responsibility of learning to make custard and you succeeded. It's your journey, it's your responsibility, and it's your custard. 

Unschooling is the recipe that tells us to follow our instincts. Both parents and kids. We basically cut the kids free from a scripted childhood and help them navigate the scary but empowering world of self-determination. And as parents we cut ourselves free from the parenting script of our particular region and take on the entire responsibility of raising whole, empowered children. And it's terrifying.

From a parenting perspective (especially those of us who were raised in the system we've now eschewed), unschooling is a constant clambering struggle up a crumbling rocky slope. Over and over again we get scared and turn around, afraid to trust that our kids will truly lead the way. We put restrictions on them or we berate them or we tell them they'll never succeed if they don't follow some rules, and then we slip back down the slope and find ourselves groping in the dark, trying to restore the trust we just vanquished in our children.

Trust is huge. We need to trust that our children will heal and persist after the many bad choices they will inevitably make. They need to trust that we will be there with open arms and no judgment to hear their stories and mop up the tears when they fall. And as the Dutch proverb goes, trust arrives on foot and departs on horseback. There is no such thing as repairing the bridge with a swift apology when we make the mistake of disrespecting our children. We've broken their trust, and it's going to take a long long slow journey on foot - days or months or years of small, respectful footsteps - to entice the trust back into our relationships.

So how do we disrespect our kids? We do so in telling them we know better than they do. Sometimes we truly do, and sometimes it's imperative for their own safety that we step in and make decisions for them, or simply pull them off the road as a car approaches. It's our responsibility to know which situations merit that force, and which don't. It's also our responsibility to help them take time to navigate huge responsibilities well, so that they can learn to make decisions carefully.

I stalled my daughter going to school for a few months when she was four, even though all of her best friends from preschool were going. The extra time gave her an opportunity to really consider her choice and she began to see the lack of freedom her school-going friends had. In the end she chose not to go, but we made huge efforts to create opportunities for her and her closest friends to keep close. This is a child who struggles with making decisions, and would very much rather somebody else make choices for her, but as time went by, she did try out some school and other programs, and is learning to make her choices carefully, given her own needs and values. As a fourteen-year-old now, she's quite adept at not only evaluating possible outcomes of her choices, but at accepting and owning the outcomes. She doesn't always want to talk about her experiences, but I try to be an eager and compassionate ear whenever she's willing. 

Respecting kids isn't about wantonly abandoning parental guidance, it's about giving them as much guidance as possible, while ensuring that we're really listening to their needs and allowing them to make their own choices. Hopefully this enables them to gain some confidence and become adults with integrity.