At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. -- Lao Tzu

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Living Life Simply

Not homeschooling but unschooling. That's what this is. It's about letting learning happen naturally as it did before the boys turned six. It's about turning off the pressures of our post-industrialized nation and doing what is right for our kids. I certainly didn't have kids to turn them over to the public school system so they can be miserable every day for the next seven and nine years.

My life in school was so terrible that I still carry the scars. Neither of my parents know how bad it really was for me. How close I came to a permanent and irrevocable solution to my on going problems in school. How what looked like obstinacy and laziness was actually crushing depression under the weight of a culture of brutality that never, ever let up. In the time the boys were in school I spent more of my time intervening with bullying kids and teachers than anything else. And enough is enough. The cycle of hating learning, the poor self-esteem, the threats and fighting ends here. There isn't any reason in this world that the kids should have to be forced into the mental mosh pit. It is my job as their parent to make sure this doesn't happen.

And it's more than school, it's casting off the idea that because our children are smaller physically and we control the resources, we get to force them to do what we want. Does this mean they will be out of control and wild? Could be. But there are kids that are "traditionally parented" that are out of control and wild. In general kids that are unschooled are very responsible and kind. They have been managing their lives since they became verbal and they do a very good job. They were good boys before they became school age and they are good boys now. I see no reason that won't continue. Jane Nelson has this question about traditional parenting: "Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?"

So what does this mean? What will it look like? Well, I hope we can get to a point where everyone in the house feels safe and happy. The Golden Rule being the guiding principle for our family. It's a long up hill climb. For John and I to cast off the chaos of our childhoods and learn to treat the boys the way we want to be treated and not to apply pressure to force them to change so they do what we want. Right now this is very difficult. It's one moment at a time not even one day at a time. The boys fight and yell at each other and I'm trying to figure out how to get that to stop without using punishers or yelling. I have to resist the urge to yell and say no all the time. Cookies for breakfast? Sure why not? What makes a cookie more nutritionally valid at 3 pm than it would be at 9 am anyway?

We've struggled with all the "They shoulds" you have in your head too. We still are wrestling with them. But in fact there are very few "have tos" in life for adults and mountains of them for kids. The biggest one I've run up against in defending this idea is the "Life is hard and there are lots of things adults do they don't want to do. Kids have to learn that." Really? Even if it's true, and in fact I challenge that assertion, how early should kids learn that? And how painful should it be? Take it out a step. One of the things that is hard for some adults is they are victims of sexual assault. So should we arrange for our daughters to be raped so they can be prepared for it later? Sounds ridiculous I know but that's really what we are saying here. "Bad things may happen so let's prepare them."

Being prepared for bad things, being hyper-aware of bad things makes a child grow up into an anxious and panic-stricken adult. Surely no one wants that for the kids. Kids raised with an awareness of life, through the patient and gentle guidance and help of their parents are well aware of what life can be. They also know what life *should* be. And it's that should that prompts unschooled kids to become socially responsible adults. Instead of being raised in the dog-eat-dog world of competition and comparison where every action is critiqued and measured, they just grow. It's just the way the world should be.

Gandhi said "Be the change you wish to see in the world." And that's what is happening here. The boys will be better for their experiences with life as gentle and beautiful. They will be better for not being chewed up in the "Lord of the Flies" environment of institutional schooling. Judaism teaches us not to look for Heavenly reward, but to see that this Earth is what G-d made for us, Heaven is here. Enjoy this life. Life is to be savored not endured. And our kids will enjoy their lives. They will enjoy today because no one of us has a guarantee of a tomorrow. If one of the boys got seriously ill and G-d forbid passed away, I'd want to look back on their lives and know they ate what they wanted, slept when they wanted, enjoyed their days, as limited as they were. If I looked back and saw that what *I* did caused them pain that would be a grief from which I could never recover.

So no more forcing them out the door. No more force. No more pressure. No more humiliation. No more punishments. They are human beings and they are worthy of all the respect I believe I am owed. I close with two quotes...Eda LeShan:

"Becoming responsible adults is no longer a matter of whether children hang up their pajamas or put dirty towels in the hamper, but whether they care about themselves and others -- and whether they see everyday chores as related to how we treat this planet."


"Education is in danger of becoming a religion based on fear; its doctrine is to compete. [O]ur children are being led to believe that they are doomed to failure in a world which has room only for those at the top."

Not for our children. Not anymore. It stops here.

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