Nothing is impossible to a willing heart. – John Heywood

Today in my social media stream, a trending story described a young boy who asked his mother to buy a fast food dinner for a man who appeared wanting for food. I thought, especially given our experience the other day, this was a very poignant re-reminder of the nature of children.

On one hand stories like these should be shared; on the other, anyone who has had the privilege of caring for young kids will not be surprised. Children everywhere, of every race and creed and socioeconomic stripe, possess a wonderful, humane sense of justice. They advocate for fairness, generosity, and measured empathy at a startlingly young age – and keep these qualities far longer that you’d think they could. We’d do well to learn from children, rather than school them in the ways of isolation, fear, deprivation, martyrdom, apathy – well, you know the rest.

I do not find it accurate, nor find much use for, the concept that children are inferior beings, or in some way untenably naive, or “half-formed”.  Adults’ play at sophistication and adult “freedom” is nothing more than a charade, where we wave our arms about and holler in an attempt to pretend, to other adults, that we aren’t afraid of anything. It’s a heartbreaking game, really, but it’s silly too. We only keep up the pretense around other grownups. The story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” takes on quite a bit of meaning when it comes to our inner lives, don’t you think?

Most children are demonstrably in touch with qualities we come to wish we had, the older we get. If one lives long enough, sooner or later we come to a place where we remember something from our childhood, some quality we had – or perhaps a habit we lacked – and we will wonder how we changed, and feel some regret, some sadness. Remember how fearless I was in this regard? Remember how kind I was, without prejudice? Remember how easily I could feel happiness – and how openly I expressed sadness? Remember how quick I was to forgive? Remember how deeply I loved?

The really wonderful thing is, we can return to our childhood. There is no going back, and often there is no forgetting the past. But all the same, we can “become like little children”, as Jesus said, and inherit our spiritual kingdom. We can learn to be fair, to be kind, and to consider the feelings and experiences of other sentient beings.

Ah yes… empathy. Spiritual exercises can restore us empathy – and the restoration of empathy can be quite a wild ride! Fortunately, our adult mind – and the adult virtue of patience – can help us navigate our responsibilities when this new awareness threatens to overcome us. In fact, years ago one of my mentors told me this: that as I progressed spiritually, there would come a time I would behold so much suffering, waves and waves of suffering, and my heart would swell and break. Neither she nor I knew it at the time, but she’d just described the experience of Compassion – which means, “to suffer with or alongside”.

Re-learning empathy has not struck me dead. It has not made me suddenly unable to work, or pay bills, or speak in a social setting – although all of my life has been profoundly affected. Empathy has caused me to look deeper, and deeper still. Can I experience empathy for other peoples, even ones who seem like villains? Can I experience empathy for the animals in my life, and the animals exploited on our earth? What will happen if I open myself to these experiences? How will I clothe myself? How will I protect myself? How will I eat? How will I pay rent? How will I survive?

Remember… none of us survive.

It seems obvious now why so many people actively resist empathy. It can be a very scary path to consider. A “slippery slope”, as they say.

Tonight I ask you: who do you struggle with, when it comes to empathy? Who – an individual, or a class or category of person, or a class or category of animal, do you feel fear, and anger, when you think on them? Write these entities down. Just one or two, to start with.

I’ll do the same – and we’ll talk about it tomorrow.

In lovingkindness,

“letting our children say ‘No'”

At my brother’s wedding reception the table is full of glasses, candles, and stacks of plates piled with delicious food. In this venue, then, one of the other guests brightly asks me, “So how long have you been homeschooling?” I point my fork at my son, sitting at the end of the table snuggling his father – “That one,” I say, “has never been to school. And he’s nine years old. My daughter,” (leaning against me, listening like a pert little wildlife creature), “she went to one year of public kindergarten. What I saw there while I volunteered twice weekly inspired me to think about something different for our family.”

This answer seems to satisfy my new acquaintance. But then my mother pipes up, leaning forward to gush, “And it’s not homeschooling, it’s unschooling!” A pause, as those listening react in confusion at the term. My mom leans over to me. “Tell her, tell them,” she says with the kind of peevish enthusiasm she gets when ordering me around (Yes. I know. I’m 36.) She presses me further: “They want to hear about unschooling!” I roll my eyes. “No, you want me to tell them about unschooling,” I retort. I’m cranky, and I just want to eat my vegetarian spring rolls in peace. It’s been a long day!

On Forcing Myself On Strangers

These days I don’t get too fired up about “the unschooling conversation“, or at least not near as much as I used to. To use a phrase whose time has probably passed, I am much more chillax about the whole business. Why? Many reasons. Because ignorance is rampant, harmful systems are both prevalent and entrenched, and child-as-second-class is the norm. It’s simply the norm. Most people think children should be ordered about for most their waking hours (even though most people don’t want to own up to this), and if there was any way my educational theories or my passionate communication skills or my words-upon-words written could force people to try things differently, I probably would still be forcing people today.

And this brings me to another reason I am (usually) less ardent in these conversations, probably my most grounded reason. Because frankly, I’ve the same impulses as everyone else, attempting to impose my sense of justice, order, or intelligence on other human beings. Shocker: I am not always right, I am not always making intelligent decisions, and I myself am plenty-ignorant. While today I am willing to share our experiences and especially to help those who seek help, I am no longer willing to argue. Why set myself on one side of a table lecturing or complaining or feeling persecuted or expressing despair at the state of child-raising in our country? Instead, I can practice gratitude for having the family I do, and I can try to be helpful to other families who ask for my help.

Today I don’t have to live by force – although I should call it the attempt to force, and the illusion of control by “winning” an argument (I include those arguments in the mind that we continue, when we’ve long left the conversation with another human being!). At the wedding party dinner I was more than happy to talk a bit about unschooling and, specifically, to answer the questions that ended up being put to me (“How will your kids get into college?” and some other typical fare). See today I don’t have to “prove” unschooling and today – blessed miracle! – I don’t even have to get upset and frustrated by other people’s ignorances. I don’t mean anything or anyone in particular, I just mean that maybe my entire life I will have that little blip of annoyance when I see how people Other and belittle children and talk about them like they’re property or chattel. Perhaps I will never move past feeling irritated and angry. But today I don’t have to rise to a state of panic and anger. I don’t have to rehearse negative thoughts and negative emotions, and I don’t have to let these emotions dictate my reality. I can take up the line of conversation, in this case, pick it up, participate, then put it down.

Then, enjoy my spring rolls.

Who gets to say “No”?

A little while back my partner and I got into a lively conversation with a parent who was also an educator. This parent became increasingly interested in dissecting our philosophies of non-coercive parenting, anti-authoritarianism, and life learning as opposed to compulsory schooling. The conversation became quite lively (I was not especially chillax) but it remained respectful. I remember very little about the content of our discussion except the tail end of the conversation. The parent kind of pushed back from the table, shook their head, and said, very slowly: “I think you and I have the same ideas… except… I don’t let my kids say ‘No’.”

At the time, I was aghast. “Not letting your kid say ‘No'” is firstly the very definition of typical American parenting – and there is no “sameness” to this parent, and Ralph and I, at all! In fact, this parent was articulating the exact root disagreement that fostered our lengthy and lively argument in the first place!

Still, I was impressed this parent was honest. Many parents, carers, and teachers I know act as if they are letting their kids exercise their agency (i.e. say “No”) when really they are only providing them the slimmest margins of freedom. These adults often align themselves with or seek out methodologies of parenting or child stewardship (some of which employ special words and more humane – to outward appearances – behaviors) to, in part, obfuscate what this particular parent stated so eloquently – “I don’t let my kids say ‘No'”. Many parents can’t admit, “I don’t let my kids say ‘No'”, because they don’t want to believe this about their parent-child relationship. This is very sad, because among other things this means they cannot get to the bottom of the parent-child relationship, and they thus block their own path to healing and deep peace.

And this can be expanded further, because it isn’t a parent thing. It is an adult thing. Somewhere along the way we all internalized the concept, so deeply ingrained that even years of active processes of unlearning by a committed individual do not remove it quickly or entirely, that one day it would be “our turn” and we would no longer be the second-class citizens of the world (at least in the sense of child/adult), but could then demand obedience and obeisance (“respect”) from the children who were to come after us. We became deeply invested in this fantasy, in part because it contains an illusion of safety, of Self-as-demonstrated, that ego-soothing “I’ve earned my place!” experience we often grasp at.

So I understand why many adults don’t want to own up to what this parent, albeit begrudgingly, spoke aloud. But looking deeper still, I see that this parent has even another lesson for me.

The Gifts of This Parent’s Honesty

What a gift this conversation was! Because the deeper truth is, we can never not let someone say “No”. They can always say No. What we can do is make consequences or environments so unpleasant – perhaps extremely so – that they choose not to say No. They are temporarily and/or outwardly cowed. We are really quite industrious and imaginative in the ways we attempt to control, to manage the outcome, to get our way. We may scream, hit, beat, remove pleasures or material goods, and employ all sorts of psychological and emotional “carrot/stick” strictures to these children’s lives. Harshada Wagner’s talk on how we create emotional pain for the world’s children will always be written on my heart, because what he says is true regardless of whether we are parent, educator, or a civilian interacting with the children of this world.

We inflict emotional pain in an attempt to control or an attempt to maintain the illusion of control. Now, why we do this is the subject of another piece. But isn’t it freeing, to finally admit we are doing this? Isn’t their some small part of you, in that space of devastation and sadness at the smallness of our attempts to control, and the uselessness of these attempts, that feels a little excited, that breathes fresh air? When we confront the truth, as it is said, it sets us free.

Our children will always be able to say No to us; if they don’t do so outwardly for fear of our reprisal, they do so inwardly. The phrase “cognitive dissonance” comes to mind, although it falls short in describing the holistic and endemic nature of the harm done when we insist we will not “let” our kids, or any kids, say No. Some children grow to hate their carers and most will continue to respond to much of life from a place of woundedness. Some grow to emulate the abuse. Many do not outgrow their fears and do not heal from their hurts. The human impulse to control, to seek security where there is none, is magnified further still and their lives become filled with suffering, with grasping and revulsion and with complexity and over-work.

When we adults present a lie in rebuttal to something the child, deep down, knows in her gut, we commit the worst kind of betrayal. Entire lives have been corrupted and wounded, and this can carry on for generations in family legacies of hurt feelings, abuse, drinking and drugging, fears, over-indulgences or pathological self-denial in otherwise-healthy activities (like eating or not-eating, or working, sleeping, and sex). I see these fallouts every day.

Therefore I submit it is the greatest responsibility of any adult to commit to honesty – not just cash-register honesty, but emotional and spiritual honesty, when we are dealing with the rest of the world, and especially with children and with the child class. If you cannot admit here, or to me, or to your counselor or spouse the ways you are not letting your child say No, it is at least a start to admit it to yourself.

The wonderful news is it is never too early nor too late. We have only to set foot on the path, today.

When I was a child the things that hurt me most are easy to identify, today. It was not the physical abuse, the scoffing at the hands of peers, illness, death of a pet or of family, or hunger or sleep deprivation. What hurt me the most was when the adults I depended on would tell me lies and insist I believe them. They told me I was Selfish (setting themselves apart as Virtuous), and they told me this often, instead of admitting the larger, breathtaking truth that selfishness is something within all of us, that all of us can make peace with and transform. They told me they were strong when really they were weak. They told me they were not dependent on anything, when really they had many dependencies (as we are all wont to have). I had the opportunity to grow and learn they did these things not out of avarice or cruelty but merely because they knew no better, and had likely been done to similarly. Today I am so grateful to see deeply into these things, and to perhaps provide a different experience for my own children, inasmuch as I can.

putting children in their place

Unschooling Beach
Unschooling Beach
Unschooling Beach

My children Phoenix & Nels – having a typical “school day”

“I have used the words “home schooling” to describe the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools, because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading. What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth in the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn’t a school at all. ” – John Holt, Teach Your Own

It’s that time of year again. At a meeting recently a few acquaintances of mine caught up and compared notes as to how much their schedule is uprooted when their children are out on summer vacation, and how the new school year restores order. I (innocently enough, I swear!) shared aloud, “Our lives don’t change that much, because our kids don’t go to school.”

Immediately: one of those awkward record-scratch-at-a-party moments. The atmosphere in the room abruptly shifted and the talk suddenly fell silent. Then one woman sternly corrected me, literally giving me side-eye as she admonished: “Your kids go to school. They just do school at home.” Everything in her demeanor and tone was one of chastisement, likely (I know today) originating from fear. Quick, immediately assure me of The Order of Things so we can go back to pleasantly talking again. Or something like that.

This would be kind of funny, except it happens to me almost without fail now that I no longer let people off the hook by offering them their own perceptions – that is, by using the word “homeschooling”. The cumulative effect of so many acquaintances and strangers repeatedly correcting me about our family life is surreal. That is, people are more or less constantly telling me we’re living our lives in a way we are decidedly not.

When we first removed our children from forced institutionalism, I was nervous – as anyone might be – about departing from the mainstream. Like most parents and guardians, I wanted to do the right thing for our family. I personally had been a “success” in public school and then at a state university – yet now in untrodden ground I allowed others to put me in the extraordinary position of homeschool apologetics (a position I am underqualified for). And for a number of years when casual conversation brought up home education, or unschooling, or life learning, I thought the adults we were talking to had honest and founded doubts about how children learn. That is, I thought these adults’ objections, questions, assumptions, biases, and cynical commentary stemmed from their honest desire that children be given the best educational opportunity possible (“The Conversation That Never Happens”Life Learning Magazine July/August 2010).

However as years have passed and I’ve had hundreds of these conversations, I have come to a much more unsettling conclusion. Simply put, many adults believe with every fiber of their being that children belong in school. Full stop. Whether school is that great a place or not is not really the main issue on the table. Most adults simply don’t have better ideas for kids. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that they’re overwhelmed. It is precisely because it is so daunting to face our responsibilities of caring for vulnerable citizens – draining emotionally, mentally, and physically – that many adults don’t want the job (be it children, older, frail or sick people, or anyone marginalized or oppressed). When it comes to the child class, we find comfort in our cultural arrangement that children are second-class citizens for us to herd like cattle (although few grownups will want to own up to this bleak strategy in such a direct manner). If you threaten the correctness of this arrangement – by say, merely living as a radical unschooler and not closeting – many people become quite upset. True story.

If they’re honest with themselves, many adults simply equate compulsory schooling as a type of cultural hazing, a necessary evil, and in a weird way justified simply because it exists. School isn’t too great, or sensible, or effective – and every one I’ve met can elucidate on long lists of the ways they personally found it dissatisfying – but it’s just How Things Are. They had to go through it, so today’s kids should too. As an operating strategy, many adults don’t want children to have much better than what they themselves had (but again, good luck getting a grownup to admit this!).

This makes it sound like I think these people, or even most people, are terrible. I used to think that, kinda, but I was incorrect. I now believe these people are merely frightened and overwhelmed. I used to be one of those people, so I can relate.

Most adults believe we should do the best by children that we can reasonable manage. However this desire – be it altruism, spiritual principles, or evolutionary strategy – has been consumed to skeletal remains by a lifetime of cultural indoctrination and in many cases, deep-seated shame and resentment. Rare indeed is the adult who, upon listening to our family’s experiences (or those of other life learners) and after observing our children – thriving, vibrant human beings who regularly get praised and commented upon regarding their maturity, intelligence, and inner strength – suddenly says, “Well then kids don’t need to go to school at all!” It happens now and then, and at that point our conversation immediately gets about four thousand times more interesting than, “But what about math?” – or, when speaking to my children – “How old are you?” and “What grade are you in?” (and those latter questions reflect the typical patter of grownups who actually think kids are worth talking to – many don’t!)

I wish these conversations, the ones where we imagine better opportunities for children, happened more often.

But instead, I am met with the same objections day after day, and the days pile into years, until now there is a general sameness to people’s objections and self-labeled “skepticism” (read: cynicism – also, some commentary at “Unschooling for Haters […]”). As this adult begins to tell me why we can’t let kids A, B, or C because X, Y, or Z would surely result, they are on a predictable quest within their own deep country – that of their ingrained social conditioning and heretofore unexamined biases. While they voice aloud their predictions on how unschooling won’t or can’t work, their mind simultaneously closes to what is before their very eyes: a family with many years’ experience unschooling, two children who’ve not been forced into institutionalism – and who can speak up for themselves – and our collective experience knowing many, many other unschoolers.

It’s been pointed out to me that in moving from childhood to adulthood we experience one of the only, if not the only, instances where we are nearly guaranteed to move from a position of oppression to a position of privilege. The truth of this is worth contemplating. Unless we are very careful and very wise and very dedicated, we reify what was so heavily imposed on our own little bodies and our own terrific minds. A sobering thought: I can tell you I have worked very hard over the past decade to actively strip adultist framings from my consciousness. And yet to this day if I’m feeling cranky I will command my child(ren) in a completely terse tone, expecting in some part of me their obedience, apparently believing in these moments that such demands are my right and responsibility. (Tangentially, my children know they can say, “No” without reprisal – most children cannot.)

If I have worked harder on this UNlearning, harder than anything else in my life, and yet the irresistible oppressive reflex still remains indelible within – where does that leave your average adult who has examined the implications of childhood oppression only a little – or not at all?

“We who believe that children want to learn about the world, are good at it, and can be trusted to do it with very little adult coercion or interference, are probably no more than one percent of the population, if that. And we are not likely to become the majority in my lifetime. This doesn’t trouble me much anymore, as long as this minority keeps on growing. My work is to help it grow. ” – John Holt, ibid

I have to leave behind my sorrow that so many cannot, or will not see things for how they are, built upon pessimism and fear; let alone try the work of living a different way. It’s not so much hard work as it requires, like all honest effort, a continued return to the work. Faithfully. Daily. Each day I return to my desire to do no harm. I return to my practice of allowing my fears to inform me instead of driving me recklessly. I return to knowing I have a responsibility to help my children – not an edict to [try to] control them. Days of that effort accumulate; over time I have a body of work and a new way of living. It’s not magic – but then, having a few years under my belt – it kind of feels like it is.

I see today that from the moment my children were born I was not willing to subject them to what I was subjected to. Out of that willingness grew action, and out of that action grew not only love and stewardship as I’d not experienced as a child, but another gift: forgiveness for those who raised me in the ways they did. I am truly grateful for the practice, as it keeps me from despairing when our deep commitment to humane family life is often labeled “fringe”, radical, and strange.

unschooling for Haters, especially my favorite kind of Hater, the “skeptic”

Wynoochie River With Friends

a typical day for my kids

Hi. I’m a radical unschooler named Kelly! Listen, I feel ambivalent about labels. On one hand they are helpful for the human mind to process; on the other, the human mind invariably dredges up bias and preconceptions the minute it can label a thing. That’s just how it is. As an experienced unschooler, I thought I’d flesh out many of my encounters with those who hear the term “unschooling” for the first, second, or third time, and the biases so many continue to hold on to.

If you stop reading in a few seconds there is one takeaway I’d like to leave with you: the term “unschooling” means different things to different people. If nothing else, if you go about your day remembering that whenever you hear that word, it could mean something different than what you’ve previously perceived, EXCELLENT. My job is halfway decently done.

I’m actually not going to write tons on what unschooling and autodidactic learning looks like in our family. I write a bit about how our lives play out here and on my personal blog. I’m happy to answer any specific queries you have. You can reach me best by email at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

I hope what you read here is helpful.

Unschooling For Haters, Especially My Favorite Kind of Hater, the “Skeptic”

or, how my family life is not all about YOU, but thanks for playing

I resent your choice of words. I’m not a Hater, but I am a skeptic. My cousin unschools and her kids are noisy/dirty/can’t read etc.

On balance, skepticism never helped me much. It didn’t make me smarter, kinder, nor gave me a roadmap to life. A lot of time my skepticism was actually just a barrier I put up because other people’s lives, ideas, strategies, or existence frightened me deep down in the pit of my gut (for me that wall-building action is part of… being a Hater). I understand it’s human to be frightened of the unknown but any strategy – including one of perception and thought – that I develop out of that place is usually a poor one.

Anyway I’m sorry but I think unschooling is irresponsible/neglectful/elitist/etc.

I think contempt prior to investigation is irresponsible. I think you should come to my house and hang out with my kids – or give them a call or email and talk to them directly – before you decide I’m neglecting them. As for elitist, this might make more sense if I didn’t passionately and consistently work with, and know of many other unschoolers who work with, many schooled children, and if we weren’t learning in a much deeper way how to participate in public life, rather than being daily confined to age-segregated institutional procedures. In short, any of these charges might make any kind of sense if unschooling didn’t, you know, work so well at increasing our sense of humanity and our experience of community.

(Oh, and I know you’re not really “sorry”. But, that’s cool.)

Well that’s just my opinion and it’s a free country.

I have a little experiment. Let me ask: is your opinion defensible enough you’d warrant it’s worth five dollars? I mean after all, your opinion influences the choices and realities of so many, and you’re deciding what’s best for like, tens of millions of children (in the US alone). So, are you willing to back up your opinion? Listen to Jeff Sabo’s talk addressing the hundred varieties of “it’s just my opinion and I have a right to have it” conversations he’s had. It will be money well spent. Promise.

I went to school and I turned out fine.

Really? Are you “fine”? I went to school too. I’m “fine”. I smoked for 17 years and I’m “fine”. Is “fine” what you want for your children? And mine? Do you begrudge the parents and carers who might want to explore beyond “fine”?

I went to school and I turned out fine. Kids need discipline.

If you can look deep, deep, deep inside your guts, inside your Knowing Place, and tell me you have absolutely no bitterness at the thought of today’s children having a better life and more freedom, autonomy, and opportunity than you had as a child, I mean if you can really dig in there and tell me that’s not even a tiny part of why you want to force kids into school, then I am willing to entertain that line of thought.

If you know that’s not a part of how you feel, please do read some of Idzie’s blog. She has a great resource, interviews with many grown unschoolers.

On the subject of compulsory schooling being requisite for character development; my unschooled children age eight and ten demonstrate more discipline, sense of self-worth, self-control, kindness, openness, interest, critical thinking skills, and social abilities than most grownups I meet. Full stop.

And briefly: discipline is an inside job. You cannot inoculate a child with discipline no matter how much you coerce, praise, blame, hit, scream at. You do, however, run the risk of creating a praise-dependent, risk-averse, and fearful person.

I’m glad I went to school. I learned blah blah blah

I’m glad I went to school too. I learned wonderful things there, including the experience of forced institutionalism for young minds and bodies. If things had gone differently, I’d probably tell you I was glad to have been unschooled; but we’ll never know, as I wasn’t given the choice to NOT attend school. I think it’s pretty cool my kids get to choose. I won’t be haunted I didn’t let them. My grandkids, should I be so fortunate to have any, will probably get more choices and more nurture still.

Addendum: I used to be someone who took a great deal of pride in my degree, my education, and my soi disant expertise. You know, having those letters before or after your name, having an office with a big important desk and stuff. When I had children I fully planned on raising them academically-achieving, clean and well-mannered, etc. Problem is, when you decide for another human being how they should spend every minute, and how they should act/look/behave (even if you don’t admit to yourself you’re doing this), there will be intensely unpleasant fallout. For everyone. I’m grateful I started to perceive this early on in parenting.

No one stripped my degree from me and no one can take away my accomplishments (real or imagined). Today I willingly relinquish the illusion my education, my position in society, and my privilege make me a better or more deserving person.

If I didn’t make my kid/forbid my kid to X, Y, or Z he would A, B, C (eg. watch TV all day, never bathe, ONLY eat cookies, et cetera).

Yeah. As an unschooler, I hear that stuff a lot. Often from people who don’t ask us if our children watch telly all day, or eat only marshmallows and white rice (they don’t, to either). Most fear-disguised-as-anger, handwringing, and pearl-clutching about unschooling or non-coercive/non-punitive parenting comes down to just a few issues. Screen time (computers and television), bedtime (on the adults’ schedule of course especially since a school schedule is required), hygiene, math worksheets, and food. I can tell you I’m grateful to have left behind mainstream schema on all of that business. My kids’ hygiene is fine, they are active, they eat all kinds of food, they get enough sleep, they have mad life SKILLZ, et cetera.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

I haven’t met a “bad parent”. I’ve met sick parents, parents who were lost and overwhelmed. I’ve met parents who’d entirely abdicated their responsibilities. I’ve met parents who chose their addiction over their children (usually not even knowing they were doing so). I’ve met parents who parented with strategies different than mine. I’ve met many, many parents. I’ve never met a “bad parent”.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

No, I’m not. Do you think you’re a bad parent? What, specifically, do you have doubts about? Are you seeking help for those or are you surrounding yourself with strategies of Ego-preservation? Why do you care what I think? Your opinion matters more than mine; if not, it should.

You’re making me feel bad.

That is not my intent. This is not all about you. If you can put aside this experience of persecution for a moment, understand this: if others hadn’t written boldly about this non-mainstream way of parenting and living family life, I would have never had a choice of my own to parent a way that has yielded tremendous dividends. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to those people, and I’d like to pay forward to other parents and children. I’m sure you can understand.

Well this is all fine for YOU but I’m not ______ enough to homeschool (rich, brave, smart, educated, patient, etc).

I’ve met parents with disabilities, mental and emotional health issues, single parents, poor parents, impatient parents, chronically-ill parents, who homeschooled and/or unschooled. I myself used to think I could never hang out with my kids all day, good Lord I needed a break! I’m so glad I faced my fears; I had everything to gain.

I don’t have to defend myself to you or anyone else. 

Nope. You don’t. And you also have the option not to take the piss re: other people’s lives. If you were really relatively serene about your own parenting style, why would you need to pick on others’?

Listen. I’m not the unschool police. I don’t have the right nor responsibility to come to your house and see what you’re doing and hit you with a cat-o-nine tails. No one does. You might be beating yourself up a little but I can assure you I’m not beating you up. There’s nothing I can do about your skepticism and/or rudeness and/or ignorance and/or self-doubt, although sometimes I wish I could. Your judgment and your fears are affecting others’ realities.

Good luck!

 

the personal: how the fuck did i ever survive being a new mama?

This post is dedicated to my friend Kiara, a kick-ass mother.

Please No Thank You

A few years ago my mother announced she had a complaint. When she came over to pick my two kids up for the odd playdate (a less-than-once-weekly occurrence), they weren’t always fully dressed. “Can you make sure to have them in coats and boots in case I want to take them somewhere? It was terrible today as I wanted to take them on a walk and we couldn’t.” She was actually mildly pissed.

The blood rose in my cheeks as I experienced, lightning-fast, a series of emotions. Shame, because I failed as a mother, of course, by not having My Shit Together 100% Of The Time (and also, my small children’s Shit Together, that too is requisite), then a mixed-up flaring of resentment, impotent rage, and despair. The same old despair I’ve felt in every restaurant when my two year old’s happy laughter received glares, in every mom’s playdate group when women would talk about their duty to do all the nighttime parenting because, of course, their husbands did “real work” during the day and shouldn’t have to care for their own children at night, the same despair I’d hear when people sneeringly spoke of “soccer moms” and “housewives” and their opting-out and how it destroyed Feminism plus America, et cetera. I could go on.

The despair was so familiar it just made me tired. Here I was, 24/7 with two small children, working my ass off around the clock, around the clock, to feed and clothe them, often without being able to eat or take a crap by myself – let alone have quality private time to reflect and pursue my art and craft, or to read, or to watch some trashy television uninterrupted – and yet someone who comes over every two weeks to take my kids for an hour or two can’t be bothered to spend five minutes finding jackets and boots? What the fuck, mom? Don’t you remember having kids and having to do everything, all the time?

It gets better, because before I could say anything at all my husband assily weighed in. “Yeah, I notice sometimes when I get home from work the kids aren’t fully dressed.”

FUUUUCKK YOOOOUUU. Just: Fuck You.

That’s what I thought, anyway. What I said, I can’t remember. I think it was something like: if you want to go on walks with your grandkids, keep spare coats at your place. Husband, do you not remember your one year at home and how much work it was to care for small children, P.S. you only had ONE to care for at the time and you only did it for ONE year. I don’t remember what I said; I only knew I had the presence of mind to stick up for myself relatively politely. Because: yeah, it would be nice if the kids were fully dressed whenever was convenient for, you know, other adults, and if I was on that 100%. But it would be even better if other grownups understood that caring for babies and small children is demanding on every plane – spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical – and the primary carer needs as much help as he or she can get. Have a little grace, people.

You know, 99% of the help I received as a new mother- and I am not exaggerating here – was from other new mothers (and occasionally, some veteran moms). Full stop. Looking back on this I feel despair for how undersupported we were – and many of these women were middle-class and college-educated, with a variety of privileges, et cetera – and how this culture of “moms can do everything [& therefore they better damn will]!” stunts the humanity of so many who haven’t had the opportunity nor responsibility of 24/7 care of a dependent. Shit, during infancy and toddlerhood I can count on one hand the times a friend without children watched my kids for more than five minutes. And a father, without his wife or female partner helping – including my OWN father? ZERO. Motherfucking zero! My own brother and sister have never watched my kids nor hosted them for a playdate or sleepover, with one exception a few years ago when my daughter hung at my brother’s house for a couple hours while I caught up at a bar with a friend about to get married.

I know what you’re thinking. Well, those of you readers who are jerks, anyway. The world doesn’t owe me anything because I hatched a few kids. You’re right. The world owes me and my children nothing, I suppose. But then, the world didn’t owe you anything, either, when you were a baby and infant. Right? Good thing someone gave and gave and gave and gave, no matter how half-assed or whatever! Looking ahead, presumably the world won’t owe you anything should you live a long life and see your body fail with age, or should you become disabled or dependent in any way. Yup. Nobody owes anyone nothing, right?  What a lovely little world that is you’ve dreamed up.

What some of you other readers are thinking, is: new moms are goddamned heroes. And  they are! The women who helped me when I needed help, are the absolute keystones in my faith in humanity. The only regret I have – the only one! – is I didn’t ask for more help when I needed it. See, I was operating on that whole Self-Sufficient, Perfect Mom thing. It is an absolutely debilitating meme to live by, and the children involved suffer more than anyone else.

Now, I’m aware my experience isn’t universal (it is, however, visceral, as you can probably tell by my writing style here). I’ve had things easier, & harder, than others.

In some ways I’ve been rather privileged. I’ve always had enough to eat and always had a home. I was raised by a family that, while definitely idiosyncratic, demonstrated a lot of love for one another (and yeah, just so you know… I’m a lot easier on my mom and my husband, today, now that I respect my own needs more). I’m a white working class woman, married to a white man, the father of my children. I’m cis-gender and occasionally have passing privilege as middle class. I’m not physically disabled and I’ve had an actively invested partner, however brilliant or poor his strategies as a father have been.

But on the flip side, I know there are many new mothers out there who receive or received support from not only their partner but many people in the community – not just other new moms. I think this is far more rare than it should be, but I know that this is some women’s experience. And for several of the years I was parenting I also was battling the disease of active alcoholism – a subject for another writing some day – and the resultant and root mental and emotional health issues, which I will briefly say kept me in the veil of Self-Sufficent, suffering mama. In other words, I didn’t ask for nor accept help as much as would have benefitted me. I would have told you I was supported just fine. I would have told you I had it covered. I was determined to be a Good Parent and raise Good Kids.

My kids are ten and eight today and not a day goes by people don’t try to place their every behavior – and their education, and their clothing, and their social niceties or lack thereof – as an issue that should be addressed directly to me, their mother, because you know it’s All My Business to control, basically. And I say, No. I can’t live that way any more.

It is an act of radical feminism that I no longer allow people to push me around on this noise; that if someone has a complaint regarding my child’s behavior (which is rare), whenever possible, I arrange for them to discuss it with the child. It is an act of radical feminism that I “let” my kids go begging at my mother’s for food – which they do on occasion – because, if she doesn’t want to feed them, she has the right and responsibility to say “No” just as I have and exercise a similar right and responsibility regarding the other children in my neighborhood, when I don’t have the groceries or time to spare. It is an act of radical feminism I “let” my kids dress as they see fit, I “let” them cuss, and I “let” my kids have their own life, so I can watch it unfold and, when it seems needed or warranted, I step in to help them.

Because as their mother I am their nurturer, advocate, and Helper. I am not their Warden nor their Jiminy Cricket; they need their own conscience, their own spirituality. It is an act of radical feminism I no longer apologize for my children or for bringing them on this planet; it is a sheer act of Will that I don’t operate from this place. You think mothers aren’t indoctrinated with this? You’d be wrong.

I still don’t have the ovaries to send my kids on the Amtrak down to their uncle’s place in Portland and say, “Hang out with them for a few days, your future family life could benefit.” I still feel that sting of Obligation when I see the kids’ socks are worn-through because their father doesn’t track that stuff (because he knows I will). I’m not perfect as a mother, nor as a feminist.

I don’t resent the help I didn’t get – anymore. Honestly, I don’t. I just feel sad about it. Sad my family and friends – and larger culture! – couldn’t do better, because they were scared and self-protective and selfish. Sad about my inability to ask for help, because I was full of pride and fear. I’m sad about my history, but no longer ashamed or angry. Today one thing I can do about my past – hustling my ass to be the Perfect Mother and never letting my kids make mistakes, nor allowing myself this courtesy – is help other children and carers, especially mothers. I can open doors and smile at them and show compassion when their child is melting down in the grocery store. I can tell them, You Aren’t Imagining It when they tell me they feel unsettled, overworked, and under-appreciated. I can tell them, obliquely or directly – you don’t have to apologize for being a child, or a mother who cares for a child.

Not on my account, anyway.

Creepitude!

My mom “nurses” a creepy alien baby at the Art Festival.

"Do Your Job"

My son & I.

quick hit: an open letter to victim-blamers

Victim Blaming

(one of many responses to today’s news of a mass killing in an Aurora, CO movie theater)

Victim blaming. Anytime anything terrible happens these kinds of attitudes emerge in social media, the mainstream media, and conversations with family and friends. Depending on our personal circumstances we experience this insensitive, ignorant, and ultimately fear-based commentary in a variety of ways. Sometimes we agree and parrot this kind of ish. Sometimes we wave off the absurdity.  Sometimes we are personally stung and feel ill-at-ease, without being able to put our finger on Why. Sometimes we are absolutely devastated, re-injured after what was already painful news (or, if it happened to us, perhaps the most terrifying or hurtful experience of our lives). We turn off our computer and our emotions overwhelm us – and for a time, we can’t cope, can’t make sense of the world.

Victim blaming. Perhaps we experience these types of statements as grandiose and absurd – for instance, when a zealot cites a frightening natural disaster as just deserts for a partial history of an entire people, or when a cultural mythos diagnoses AIDS as a “gay disease” meant to smite sodomites. Sometimes these attitudes are deeply painful and endemic, reminding us of a larger culture that oppresses and wounds in the most personal of ways. Sometimes these attitudes emerge in the most highly-charged social and political atmosphere while concerning a profoundly grieving family; we remember Geraldo Rivera’s “hoodie” comments after Trayvon Martin’s violent death. Maybe most painful, but at least a bit easier to personally respond to, for me: sometimes we see these attitudes in the actual people living in our community. Case in point – in my county three years ago a young girl was abducted, and is still missing today – and I have personally, I’m sad to say, heard people in my community placing this young woman’s mother as at-fault for such a horrible, devastating ordeal (demonstrating the same insensitivity and ignorance as the abovementioned Aurora, CO tweet and others like it).

I am not going to write an angry screed in response to victim blaming statements and ideologies, no matter how horrific they may be; all of these examples, by the way, are off the top of my head this morning, as I sip coffee and await my children’s wake-up.

I’m going to write to those who say or think these kind of things, and tell you there’s hope to rehabilitate your mind. Because I believe people victim-blame for a number of reasons, and I relate to all of them, even if I no longer condone these strategies nor perpetrate this mindset.

So here goes.

I don’t know you personally, but I have some guesses at why you say things like this, because I’ve been there. Maybe you can’t grasp the nature of horrible things that happen. Perhaps you are angry at God when terrible things happen, and so you need a story. Maybe you love God, and need a story. Perhaps you don’t believe in a God and you’ve put your security in principalities – you want to believe the world of Man can through laws, public shaming, and rage-fueled invective, somehow make people behave and put down the guns, or stop eating so much junk food, or stop using drugs and doing inhumane things while on drugs. Maybe you want to believe certain preventative measures will ensure nothing bad happens to people who are smart enough, or not overwhelmed, or not sick, or not poor, or not socially-marginalized, or whatever (and that “someone” will be – you! Lucky!). Perhaps you believe if you just don’t make certain kinds of mistakes – like say, enjoying a movie with your family – nothing horrific will happen to you.

Perhaps it is more insidious, whether you are faith-based or no. Perhaps you are simply frightened for your own skin. Not only do you not want to be raped, or shot, or terrorized, or get a disease – you actually don’t want to deal with learning how to support or even comprehend someone who’s going through something you haven’t gone through. Concomitant: perhaps you are sometimes responding to something you DID go through, or think you did, and thus believe you can diagnose other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, and responsibilities in said scenario. If so, congratulations (she said, dubiously). Your life experiences have transformed you and not in a good way, ultimately eroding the empathy naturally granted your average three year old.

Here are a few problems with victim blaming. Besides the gross insensitivity and ignorance that attitudes like these demonstrate, they also perpetrate them in the most egregious fashion, creating an atmosphere where fewer people are safe – not more – and fewer people are empowered to trust themselves. Victim-blaming does not result in an environment of perfect vigilance that somehow keeps bad things from happening to guarded people (as if!). For example, and in brief: how many young women grow up believing if they act, dress, or behave a certain way, they essentially invite and deserve sexual assault? (raises hand). With this kind of pervasive social, cultural, and often familial indoctrination, what are the chances these young women will be imbued with any sense of personal worth and personal boundaries – qualities essential to grooming the very intuition that will help them navigate a dangerous world? And with such cultural lore, what are we doing for perpetrators or potential perpetrators? Where does that leave the issue of sexual assault? Culturally-sanctioned and enforced, mythologized, and poorly socially-managed. (I know a lot of people don’t “get” this about sexual assault. Go ahead and read like, hundreds of excellent web resources and books. You’ll get there eventually.)

Here’s another problem with victim blaming; it promotes a false sense of security. Let’s take another common example. You may think if you were a parent you wouldn’t let your kid do X, Y, or Z, or participate in A, B, or C (or: exist in a movie theater). And before you actually become a parent, such a simplified and narrowminded perspective can feel very safe (superficially); I can at least tell you it is rather typical. Problem is, these untested incipient strategies deaden you to compassion and mute your intelligence, so you won’t learn much before you have kids (if you do). And when you become a parent – if you do – such judgments will terrorize you, haunt you, nip at your heels, and maybe even keep you up at night. Worse still, if you don’t grow a bit more compassion and intelligence you risk passing such attitudes on to your kids in the most entrenched and spiritually-damaging ways; you will forbid your children a thousand freedoms and teach them they cannot trust themselves, leaving them an incredibly fearful adult underqualified to manage their life’s challenges. All in the name of false security; your fragile belief you can somehow manage things so bad stuff doesn’t happen to you, or those you love.

Victim blaming automatically turns off our ears, our minds, and our hearts to those who suffer. It automatically keeps us from growing. Smugly (which is to say, fearfully) looking at the man suffering health problems at the clinic, assigning blame and making diagnoses you’re underqualified for (He smokes and he’s fat! He “deserves” his problems, of which you’ve guessed at just by looking!), is not only profoundly ignorant but represents the lowest denominator of human strategy.

Victim blaming wrongs those who’ve been hurt, or sick, or assaulted, or devastated. It is the single most insulting thing we can do, barring perpetrating the original act (which we, in effect, are ensuring for future sufferers). Victim blaming says: “Your suffering is inconvenient to me, please go away.”

Because, ultimately, victim blaming keeps us self-obsessed and self-absorbed. It feels safe, but it’s deep-down a terrifying place to be. When I victim-blame, I keep myself preoccupied by making little checklists and pretending they will protect me, or my kids, or whomever. Well I would never let myself A, B, or C – so that means I’ll never have to deal with X, Y, or Z.  I’ll eat all organic vegan food so I’ll never get cancer. People that get cancer deserve it and I don’t and I won’t. I’d never marry a man who ended up unfaithful. I’ll never struggle with mental illness nor am I required to learn more about it, because it scares me.

The list goes on and on.

I know – from experience! – that such strategies of false security do not work. In my case, they kept me less humane, less perceptive, less compassionate, and less supportive for those who suffer – including myself. They kept me petrified from speaking out with tact, directness, and intelligence when a wrong was being committed. They kept me saying horribly insensitive things, and hurting God-knows how many people. They kept me in my own head and unable to be present, unable to deeply listen to someone who suffers – I was partially occupied in being glad it wasn’t ME and having a TOTAL PLAN how it would NEVER be me.

And then when it happened to me? It hurt worse than you can imagine.

***

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

And you know what is beautiful? You can be a helper. But being a victim-blamer significantly erodes this ability. You get to choose. Good luck!

quick hit: this is why i can’t have nice noir

Drive (2011). Spoilers.

Thinking about picking up a case of Armor-All

Yeah real quick? So I just watched the 2011 action crime thriller Drive. If you have any pop culture sensibility you probably know this is a recent-to-Netflix offering about a stunt driver who falls in love with a Good Girl and, oh-so-reluctantly-yet-heroically, gets tangled up in scary criminal activity because the Good Girl is all haplessly involved with Bad People. (I was gonna image-link to the phrase “damsel in distress” but there was far too much sexually-violent content associated with that phrase. Boo.) Things abruptly go from sweet and ethereal to really grisly and revenge-y. Think Man on Wire or The Professional, except we’ve replaced a sexualized little girl with a sanctified and sweet single mom.

Here’s what I liked about Drive. A lot, really. It was stylish, artsy-fartsy in a distinctly Michael Mann way, boasting a perfect New Wave-y score and a tasteful blend of millennial and eighties production design (although the title character’s muscle car is a seventies model). It showcased sexy cars and sexy driving and sexy cinematography and a sexy locale. We had the obligatory beautiful people. Ryan Gosling wore a cute jacket and a cute little t-shirt and was pretty cute, when he wasn’t stomping someone’s head in (I’ll get to that in a minute). The film took its time to develop a real romantic flair, if the romance itself was rather regressive. And the most fun for me, many of the actors looked like they had a good time making it. Maybe I’m just thinking Gosling and Albert Brooks. They looked like they were enjoying themselves. The latter was pretty good at being a sonofabitch. Last time I watched him I think he was Nemo’s dad.

Here’s what I didn’t like about Drive. By way of illustration: a couple photos of the two ladies in the film. That’s right, there were two. Just two. Who’s surprised? Not me.

First:

Carey Mulligan in Drive

And then.

We can probably guess a lot about who was who, and what happened to whom. Femme Fatale there (as played by Christina Hendricks) is only in the film a couple minutes. But she meets her boilerplate grisly noir demise, expect this is neo-noir so it’s really graphic. However, in traditional-noir fashion, the good guy gets to slap her around first. Yay! And let’s see, before that… yeah, she struts around being very sexilicious and pouty, and then she does a bit of hysterical screaming and crying. Before getting beaten then dispatched. As per her ilk, countless Treacherous Slut tropes who preceded her.

The Angel-Single-Mom (Carey Mulligan) is also great. If by “great” you mean, EXACTLY WHAT WE’VE COME TO EXPECT in this sort of thing. She’s perfect. Virginal, beautiful, childlike. White and blonde of course. A lot of honor and all that. We see her pluckily slap someone for offending her. She’s a nice mom. I assume. We don’t really see her “momming” so much, because her kid is kind of like a cute accessory and less like a child. When the Driver first meets her she’s somehow supporting herself and her son with no muss and no fuss, Strawberry-Shortcake-adorable in a waitressing outfit which inexplicably affords her a cute, spacious, shabby-chic apartment that’s never messy. Her kid is perfectly behaved and mostly exists to be quiet or sleeping or both. You know, like kids in film. Alternatively convenient versus being pawns in peril.

Virgin Mom-Supermodel is also subtly or not-so-subtly at the root of our eponymous Driver’s problems. She’s the Eve, introducing the snake into the heretofore undisturbed Driver’s existence. Nothing new there, either.

Still, when it got down to the thuggery I was a little surprised at the gore and coldblooded killing carried out by our hero. But then, as in so many other films, this is all done in the name of the Great White Male’s Justified Reproductive Rage. How many times at the supermarket have I glanced up and seen another DVD sleeve, showcasing a hulking star in the foreground (Costner or Neeson or Gibson or some such) gripping a shotgun as he protects a blonde white woman and a couple frightened little kids huddling against the doorway. The film’s tagline demands of us, “How Far Will A Man Go To Protect The Ones He Loves?”

You know what? I already know. Pretty far. Like by the end of the film I’m going to see some people getting stabbed in the neck, heads getting twisted off and all that.

So we get an eyeful of that stuff, and you know how that all goes too.

Drive was fun, but I really like noir despite its historical trappings that exclude my ladyness from being the Action, as opposed to the Object. I wish they could change the formula a teensy bit besides just upping the exploitation from the old days, you know showing actual bare breasts and then heads juicily exploding. Heck, maybe even some noir where, in the words of Danny Trejo’s bartender in Anchorman, “Lady’s can do stuff now!”

One can always hope.

posted without comment, re: Salon. OK. Maybe a TINY bit of comment.

2 Chocolate Milks

Chocolate Milk!

I was cited in an article on Salon today discussing home education (“Home-schooled and illiterate” by Kristin Rawls, Salon.com March 15, 2012). In the interests of informing any advocates or interested parties regarding unschooling, homeschooling, alternative education, parenting, etc. – as well as friends and readers – here is the entireity of the exchange between myself and the author.
 
I received this email on March 2nd 2012, which was I believe mostly copied and pasted:
 
So, thanks for agreeing to talk to me.  I only know fundamentalists who homeschool, and I’m willing to admit that, for that reason, I’m a bit biased against it. I would do it myself in certain cases if I had children, but I’m skeptical of homeschooling or unschooling as a “movement.” I’ve only spoken with Christian fundamentalist or former fundamentalists who were homeschooled in Quiverfull families. They tell me that their parents had an extreme fear of any government oversight whatsoever, and now think their parents’ fears were overblown and gave them a warped view of the world outside their small communities. This article is about what kinds of regulation homeschoolers actually have to deal with, notwithstanding the paranoia about it on the Christian Right.
 
1. Could you tell me a bit about the type of state oversight that you have experienced as an unschooling parent? What were the requirements? Did you have to do portfolios or list a curriculum? What about standardized tests?
 
2. Do you feel that the oversight was overly intrusive in any way? If so, how? Was it merely annoying bureaucracy? Or did you experience it as more ominous than that?
 
3. In brief, why did you decide to homeschool?
 
4. In hindsight, what do you view as some of your successes and/or mistakes as a homeschooling/unschooling parent? And what kind of impact did these have on your kids’ education?
 
5. Some homeschooling parents neglect their kids’ education. I’ve heard horror stories from the Christian homeschooling movement over the past few days. One girl was functionally illiterate when she entered the public school system at 16, and there were no disabilities that made learning difficult for her. She was just fine once she got into a rigorous educational program and caught up. One woman tells me that there was very little emphasis on education at all since homemaking skills were viewed as the most important education for girls. She never got past pre-algebra, which I remember doing in the sixth grade. So I’m very curious – have you seen any of this kind of neglect happen in the secular homeschooling world? If not, do you think it could happen in the wake of new stressors (moving around, illness in the family, etc.)? How do you guard against getting overwhelmed by life and letting education go?

 
6. Given the kind of neglect that many in the Christian homeschooling world experience, what kinds of regulations do you think should to be in place? Should a home educator have a college degree? A teaching degree? What kind of education or training is needed? Should curriculum be more strictly regulated so that, for example, young earth creationism doesn’t replace science? And that Bible-reading and home economics don’t take the place of academics?
 
7. Have you ever been investigated by the legal system for truancy? I’ve heard of a few cases of this involving Christian homeschoolers, but I wonder if it happens to other homeschoolers as well? Have you ever known anyone who was arrested or jailed for neglect involving homeschooling? Christian/secular? How do you feel about the current state laws in place to investigate neglect? And do you think conservative Christians’ fears of investigation are valid or not?
 
8. Have you ever had anything to do with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association? Does this organization serve non-Christian homeschoolers in any capacity?
 
9. LOGISTICS: What state(s) have you lived in while homeschooling? How many years did you homeschool, and through what grades? I assume it’s okay to quote you by name since you write under your real name?

Here’s my response:
 
Hi Kristin,
 
Wow, what a complex and multifaceted topic! This would be best discussed in person over coffee. But, you know, you’re in NC and I’m in rainy PNw, so there’s that!
 
I’m going to decline participation in the questionnaire, but thank you for emailing me. I do have a few things to add which you may or may not find useful.
 
First, homeschooling and unschooling mean vastly different things to different families who self-identify as such. Those of us in the so-called alternative education world are used to being treated with a broad-brush, unfortunately. It’s always my hope a more nuanced piece might emerge in the MSM, but so far that’s been rare.
 
Like yourself, I too had not only anti-homeschooling bias but a deep fear of religious fundamentalism and an erroneous belief state institutions could and should stamp it out. And, ha, I also remember the revulsion I first felt when I read the term “unschooling” (as in, I remember the room I was in and everything – years and years ago!). Myself, college-educated (chemical engineering) and a straight-A student who would’ve said I enjoyed school had you asked, “unschooling” sounded like dirty hippie neglect (I’m not trying to be offensive… I had an unkind mind at the time. Also, I was raised by hippies. In a bus with planets painted on the side, and everything.). Hee. I was also under the erroneous impression that unschooling (or life learning, or autodidacticism, or whatever label is most fun to use) was a “movement” or a new trend; it’s not.
 
So I can relate to a lot of where many people come from, when they write me.
 
Secondly, the 2010 Swidler article I referenced in my article (“a blueprint for courage”, which you seem to have read at least parts of) – http://www.naturallifemagazine.com/1002/unschoolers_re-imagine_schools.htm – addresses some of the concerns you sent my way via Twitter, and also fields typical objections self-labeled progressives/liberals have to home education. Swidler’s article also cites some of the culturally-popular myths in the US – specifically that alternatives to compulsory schooling are primarily religious families (and religious home ed families are, of course, the Boogeyman), and that those who do not send their own children to institutions have therefore turned their back on schooled children and schooling families. Like I said, the topic is complex, and Swidler’s is one piece that’s kind of a go-to seminal piece for those new to secular/progressive home ed.
 
Additionally, I found a few authors tremendously helpful in overcoming my own anti-homeschooling/anti-unschooling bias. Idzie Desmarais’ blog, http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com/, and Wendy Priesnitz’ work (easily available online) are two of my favorites; today I have the privilege of working with these women. I’ve written for their publications as well as a few others, full disclosure, although I am not paid to do so.
 
If you are serious about learning more, there are so many resources on the internet. My advice is, don’t sell yourself short, and read the best of the bunch! 🙂
 
If you’re interested, I am @kellyhogaboom on Twitter, and @underbellie as well (more social wellbeing stuff than personal tweets). My kids are on Twitter as well – you can always write my daughter @phoenixhogaboom – who turns 10 today, yay! – if you have any questions as to her experiences! I get a laugh how many grownups enjoy talking amongst themselves about what’s best for children. 🙂
 
I saw your tweets on Rush [Limbaugh, re: Sandra Fluke]… and a few others alluding to his latest public comments. Do I even want to KNOW what he’s said this time? #assery *headdesk*
 
Good luck in writing your article! 🙂
 
Kelly
 
***
 
No personal communication thereafter.
 
***
 
Ms. Rawls got two things wrong about me in the Alternet/Salon piece. One, that I was “irritated” by the exchange (I wasn’t). Two, that Underbellie is a “popular home-schooling blog” (it’s neither a popular blog nor a home-schooling one!).
 
And finally, anecdotally, obviously I am not addressing the Salon article’s content here, for a variety of reasons. What’s funny is, a few minutes ago the kids and I were at Homeschooling Sports at the Y – populated almost entirely by religious home educators, and tons of kids laughing and playing – and I was really amazed at all the curriculum-talk there. Kinda funny in juxtaposition to the Salon piece.
 
Hello new readers! I actually haven’t written much here at Underbellie regarding homeschooling and/or autodidactic education and/or unschooling, but I write about our day-to-day lives quite a bit on my own blog – kelly.hogaboom.org.
 
Toodles, my lovely readers!

Film Feministe: Room With A View OF HELL!, Or How Sometimes I Just Want To Watch An Orc Split In Half, In Peace

Like all reviews in The Film Feministe, I strive to reveal a brief synopses of a film or television series as well as an analysis. Occasionally my reviews include plot spoilers.

“Game of Thrones” (HBO, 2011)

marriage

Ask Rape what it can do for your marriage!

In a rare coup where Kelly Hogaboom occasionally gets caught up with pop culture hits, I just finished the first and currently only season of HBO’s grim fantasy work, “Game of Thrones” (see: one hundred other popular shows I haven’t managed to get around to: “Sex And The City”, “Big Love”, “True Blood”, “Six Feet Under”, “The L Word”, “Mad Men”, “The Walking Dead”, “Breaking Bad”, etc.). Yeah, so. Obviously I’m no television, pop culture, or fantasy/sci-fi expert and you shouldn’t expect an in-depth analysis here; just a few impressions.

I figured I was none too smart to jump into HBO again, knowing what I do about the intense levels of violence heaped upon women and children, concomitant to insultingly minor and narratively-neglectful roles afforded them. Sure enough, as I tweet within a few minutes of starting the pilot: “we have ‘babies on spikes’ – and now tits in 3, 2, 1…”  Yes, this episode’s first dramatic image depicts a gored child and the last dramatic image is that of a ten year old thrown out a window to die. These bookend, by the way, lots of prostitutes giving blowjobs and a big ol’ rape narrative of a young lady virgin – several scenes of screen time leading up to the rapey payoff. Oh this is gonna be fun.

Robb

So another white-dude "gritty" epic then? Cool, brah.

The show is sprinkled with the usual and typical varieties of kyriarchy. Eating my lunch: race-fail (almost everyone’s white, except horse lords who are vaguely dark and “ethnic”, speak Klingon, are very animalistic, don’t understand how the ocean works, and don’t have a phrase for “Thank You”. I’m not kidding!), oppositional sexism, misogyny (more in a minute), and adultism. As for non hetero- or cis-normative character development, the offerings are grim. The show has several instances of “lady kisses” – that is, pseudo-lesbian sexual behavior showcased only as exploitative sexual fodder and primarily designed for straight males – and one gay male couple, depicted for about three minutes. The season also offers one eunuch, and they have to mention all the time he’s a eunuch, and he’s mocked for not having the beans and/or frank, because that means he’s less of a man and therefore (in the show’s construct) less of a person (he at least, unlike the ladies and kids, is written as an interesting character).

So yeah, it’s the misogyny that really gets me. Like eye-rubbing-really?-they-gonna-go-with-that? levels of lady-hate. Ah misogyny, how do I count the ways? Sure, none of the characters in “Thrones” are particularly subtly written, but the women and children are considerably less so; in the case of women, they are all varieties of girlfriend, mom, daughter, or whore (mostly whore). We have the seductress, the harpy, the mother (either naive and overly-emotional or vengeful sociopaths), and in one particularly irritating depiction of breastfeeding-as-creepy, the batshit-fanatic.

Naked women are aplenty (hey – it’s HBO, after all!), as the show depicts prostitution by the bucketful of young, (mostly) white, nubile, and giggly prostitutes. Many scenes do that particularly chafing thing where these pretty women’s bodies, sexual moans of ecstasy, and nudity are staged in the background while some dude is going on at length about his power/political strategy (see: almost every strip club scene in a gangster movie, ever). You know, to show how GRITTY stuff is. And how women are primarily commodities. And how all prostitutes are young and beautiful and having a great time. No downside, they’re like bowls of tasty Werther’s Caramels on the coffee table.

There’s more. Misogyny, I mean. In general, the few female “players” of the show have a morally developed and fairly monogamous sexual construct, prone to jealousy (natch!); while in general the men happily take advantage of aforementioned gaggle of willing prostitutes. Children are alternatively conveniently out of site, then put in peril repeatedly (hitting maternal viewers where they live). Of course, birth is really scary, sudden-onset, and makes perfectly strong women faint. Birth, unlike death, isn’t shown onscreen which is probably a mercy as usually in these sorts of things we’ve got blood squirting everywhere when it is (again, implicitly threatening women vis-a-vis their sex). Women revenge themselves only in relation to their boyfriends or children; men revenge themselves according to a number of personal agendas. Women are raped helplessly, and men are prone to rape and/or revenging themselves for the rape of the women they believe they “own”.

And the rape. Man, the show is so pro-rape I was thinking they should byline it: “Rape, There’s Literally No Downside”. When they aren’t raping away they’re making intensive rape and anti-woman analogies. You could make a pretty good drinking game.

"Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I'll impregnate the bitch."? Aw shit. Again? I'm gettin so wasted.

OK, so, those are a few impressions of the show, and parts that are tiresome, even as familiar as they are.

Now here’s the deal: I want, just like everyone else, to enjoy huge sweeping cinematography and beautifully bleak or lush locales, detailed costumes and fantastic sets, plot intrigue, zombies and supernatural shenanigans, lovable and/or sinister characters, and your occasional grisly beheading coupled with juicy foley-work. Just because I’m say, really really tired of seeing the same old crap on the screen doesn’t mean I don’t want to be entertained like everyone else.

I’m aware if you raise an objection to a portrayals of (Hollywood) Business As Usual you get labeled a killjoy. This”hands off!” admonishment is ironic, coming as often does from fans who spend hours editing the Wiki. As Pablo K points out in “Race, Gender and Nation in ‘Game Of Thrones’ (2011)”:

There are two standard responses to these kind of criticisms: that it’s only a story and that these tropes only reflect reality (either because their portrayal of difference is true or because their portrayal of attitudes to purported difference is true). […] But fiction is an important stage for ideas about war, diplomacy, sex and race, not least because we’re freed to engage in a more fulsome emotional investment precisely because it’s not real.

It’s no accident such offerings reinforce typical mainstream white supremacist and patriarchal narratives (like White People Are Who’s Important To Talk About, Kids are Boring/Subhuman, and Women Get Raped A Lot-That’s Just How It Goes) whilst simultaneously employing liberal doses of creative license, millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours spent in inventing detailed histories and entire languages, and throwing in freakin’ zombies and dragons and giant spiders. Yeah, we can spend all this time imagining a fantasy universe in all its minutia, but we’re still gonna invest in and reify the oppressive and violent strategies that re-victimize, offend, or (worse yet) socialize viewers in the same harmful ways. If we keep telling the story that way we can evo-psyche ourselves into believing misogyny, racism, disablism, etc. are universal (and alternate-universal) truths and not only shouldn’t be messed with, but shouldn’t even be rebuked, let alone examined, in a meaningful way.

After all, in drawing up a different world why imagine, let alone engage in, a truly different world? It’s just too much work.

Meanwhile let me get back to drawing away on this really really detailed map and sketching lots of different kinds of sigils for armor. Toodles!

a blueprint for courage

ed. note – I receive no compensation in any form for links provided here or at my journal, kelly.hogaboom.org.

Phoenix +  Harris = Lurve

We are only a few days away from moving from our two bedroom rental into a larger one. The new home features lower rent, a reduced utilities bill, and sits next door to my mother’s house. My husband, children and I are happily painting, cleaning, and preparing for our new circumstances. That said, I have a fondness for the house we are leaving. I am enjoying its relatively serene space all the more as I come home after an evening painting, scrubbing, and trying not to over-think, over-plan, or over-worry.

It was in my early days in this current home I first found the motherlode of support for raising children in the autodidactic tradition (or as I shall shorthand the practice here, “unschooling” or “life learning”). And as we pack up the place, those memories are exhilarating in the recall – but now comfort-worn by my years’ experience, and my gratitude to the many individuals who’ve helped, and continue to help, along the way.

My husband and I started our children early in the tradition of institutional education. We’d taken part in playschools since the kids were nine months and two weeks, respectively. We were one of those, “give your kids every advantage” families – like most parents or carers are, regardless of what particular strategies they employ –  so we continued in the tradition I was raised in, believing academic success and so-called “socialization” to be the two brass rings of Good Parenting. We also believed it was our civic duty to participate in public schooling. After all, I’d had a pleasant enough experience in school, and I had the straight-As and the engineering degree to support my “success” story.

Playschool was fun for most everyone in the family, but by the time I was volunteering twice-weekly in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom (as it happened, I was the only parent who did) my views on institutionalized and compulsory education were changing. I perceived many hazards and shortfalls and, increasingly, I intuited fewer advantages. As for tangible, culturally-supported motivations – such as a second income to say, pay our bills and/or have running cars, let alone provide me with Social Security – even these did not outweigh my increasing desire for a different life for our little family. It would actually be an overlong article were I to list the many things I found lacking in (first) the public school, and then, as I investigated further, any compulsory schooling model within our reach (let alone the lifestyle required, which I could write pages on). Ultimately I came to a mindset of, YOU make your case to ME as to why I should require my kids to school. So far I’ve not heard a compelling answer nor experience an unmet need, and I’ve listened intently to many arguments over the years.

So in 2008 we stepped out of the relatively comfortable, and culturally-supported, public school experience. At first it was a bit harrowing as, since I’m the Mommy, I was tasked with TEACHING MY OWN CHILDREN, horrors. I had binders full of lesson plans and a Google Calendar set up with subjects we’d cover. Most people left me alone about the venture or even praised me, figuring I was, basically, smart enough to go about it (I only footnote here my culturally-afforded privilege as a white, working-class, college-educated cisgender married woman with a university degree, a home, and no visible disability). With my husband’s enthusiastic support and participation we dove into the “brave” world of homeschooling.

At this point I’d been exposed to the concept of “unschooling”, but it still sounded like a craven mess to my ignorant yet somehow biased thought-life. However as the kids and I did our thing, I became less and less satisfied with the very school-y model I knew how to employ to instruct my children. As I see it, the model I knew is typical and two-fold. First, we tell our children what to think, believe, and parrot (within a narrow range of “acceptable” beliefs and thoughts, all the while giving lipservice to freedom and “critical thinking”). Second, we motivate them using praise and its counterpart, emotional pain – in other words, “you can’t eat your pudding if you don’t have your meat!” (it’s true, if you look deep enough into what is really happening). Initially as a homeschooler I wasn’t doing much different than the enterprise I’d removed our children from, even if the environs were a lot healthier in most ways.

It was at this time I found, somehow, Wendy Priesntiz’s publications Life Learning Magazine and Natural Life Magazine* and began reading there – as well as many authors and blogs referenced, and the books, articles and blogs tangentially-linked to those. At the time, specifically with regards to Priesnitz’s pieces, I found validation of truths I’d felt deep inside since I was a child. To wit: that “absorb, regurgitate, & be graded” methods of education were superficial and ineffective. To wit, that children shouldn’t be treated as cattle nor capitalist fodder for the United States’ edifices of consumerism and consumption (forces I like to jokingly reference as Jack Handey’s monster: “trampling and eating everything it sees”). To wit, my suspicion that what  many adults wanted a great deal from children was to be able to control their movements and especially their behaviors and especially their thoughts and beliefs. Deep-down I knew it wasn’t possible nor intelligent to demand “respectful” behavior from children while we robbed them of their agency and basic human rights (these demands for “respect” yield spoiled fruit; I’m reflecting on last year’s bullycides and the many angry and frightening responses from grownups; also the recent public cheers when a father publicly destroyed his “disrespectful” daughter’s laptop with a firearm). The fact adults scream – and hit – for “respect” from children is something I occasionally feel a sense of deep embarrassment-by-proxy about.

All of these things – things I “knew in my knowing place” – were given voice by someone thousands of miles away, with decades more experience. I can’t fully express the excitement and possibility that began to open up for me those few days. Those experiences were a cornerstone as I continued to read and relate with other authors, professionals, parents, carers, teachers, and adults with an avocation and passion for our children.

The exercised right to raise one’s children without putting them in an institution continues to draw fire, myriad subtle or blatant slings and arrows. Most of these arguments, primarily, reduce down to our culturally-indoctrinated reflexive desire to control children’s lives, emotions, thoughts and expressions, and physical movements. The latest anti-homeschooling piece referenced in my tweetstream comes from Slate (“Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids”, February 16, 2012), trotting out the “if you’re progressive you owe it to society to put your kids in the public school system” argument. And you know, this was a view I once held myself not so long ago, so I relate. In my case, Eva Swidler’s piece in 2010 was seminal in articulating the fallacies inherent in the argument that participating in the system with your child’s fulltime lived reality is the only ethical thing to do (after all, there are many ways to support schooled kids, even if you do not have children or your children do not attend school – and Swidler’s eloquence, I might add, addresses this beautifully). Other good refutions have emerged recently, specifically challenging the popular concept that compulsory state-run schooling is a major ameliorating force fighting socioeconomic disparities and systemic oppressions.

The expectation of, and massive mainstream pressure to, institutionalize children is a new experiment in terms of humanity. But from the beginning I’ll bet you’d find this argument of civic duty: “You owe it to _____ agenda to participate [in this exact way]!” Personally I think many who frame forced school attendance for children as the only way to be civic-minded and ethical are merely, if they were to examine their root feelings, scared. Arguing that home educating parents are cloistering their children and telling their children who exactly to trust is not only a logic fail in one way (as if sending them to school without right of veto isn’t telling them who to trust), but also fails on an even deeper level – because children actually decide who to trust, as much as some people don’t want to admit this (I trusted School, by the way… the problems I later had are the subject of another article). Many won’t entertain the concept children have the capacity and the right to have a regarded and significant voice in their own daily lives. And dare I say, those most fearful are likely those of us with a series of gold stars attached to our name by virtue of the educational system.

My children’s forty hours a week times thirteen+ years is pretty important to me – and to them. When I find the institutional proponent who speaks of children as anything other than chattel (or cattle), subhumans (check out popular language describing teenagers if you’ve the stomach for it), requisite products and/or extensions of our own values, or capitalist investments, I’ll listen all the more intently. Most proponents operate from the perspective children are second-class citizens, that we know what’s best for them, and they couldn’t possibly learn if we stopped relying on desks, tests, and doled-out potty-breaks.

I provide my children, and the schooled children who frequent my home, with safety, emotional and physical nourishment, and a great deal of autonomy. And the practice grows up some pretty good kids.

Look, my theories that articles such as the latest on Slate, or examples like the vitriolic and lengthy tirade “HOMESCHOOLING IS CHILD ABUSE” (actual title from a self-identified college professor), are primarily fear-based? I could be incorrect. What I can say with confidence is I was a school-achiever and school-believer – and I was fearful at first. I was scared to commit to the supposed “huge” responsibility of educating my children. Scared of relinquishing (the illusion of) control by exploring, by merely entertaining the idea of, autodidactic family life. I was scared of not playing the “more income=more happiness” game, even though my logical mind told me we had a roof over our head and enough coal to burn. I was scared of doing something different than the herd and having my family life interfered with by the State (that’s a founded fear, by the way). I was scared of being told I wasn’t doing what “everyone else” thought I should (again, a founded fear, also reinforced by school, incidentally).

Mostly I was scared of giving up (the illusion of and) the practice of Control.

I look as deeply as I can into articles regarding children’s education and parenting, and those are the fears I see.

I live in gratitude for those who went before me and mapped out a blueprint for courage. As we pack up this home to move to another, the memories are pretty sweet.

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“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde

A Free Service
Coffee Date w/Emily

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* both helmed by Wendy and Rolf Priesnitz, with over thirty years’ experience in the fields of life learning, writing, social activism, and publishing. Full disclosure; I’ve written a few pieces for these publications, including one published here – “the conversation t hat never happens”.