Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Choosing Joy

Today I was feeling irritable and frustrated, and I snapped at my daughter, who was already not pleased. She looked at me, upset, with tears in her eyes, and said, "Mama, you choosed angry, and now I'm choosing sad!" Wow. Once again, this small child pulls everything into perspective - cuts to the heart of the matter with an insight, clarity, and honesty that astounds me. Yes: I was choosing to feel anger. And in response, she was choosing to feel sad. I had a choice in how I responded to the circumstances. I had a choice in what I thought, and in what thoughts I accepted as valid and which I rejected. I had a choice in what I did with what I decided to feel.

If I can't find my children's shoes, can I still choose to feel joy? If I am tired, does that mean that my only option is to feel miserable? If I am nursing the baby, and my toddler is on the counter putting rice in the sugar, and sugar in the rice AGAIN - is my only recourse to feel awful, and to blame him for it? If I my preschooler tells me, "No!" do I have to feel anger?

While mainstream parenting says that children are responsible for their parents emotions ("If you didn't jump on the couch, I wouldn't be angry at you! You made me mad! Why do you do that? Stop making me get angry with you!") This idea - that other people cause our emotions, and have a responsibility for how we feel - is pervasive in our society. He made me cry. She makes him happy. You made me sad. He made his boss angry.

The truth of the matter is that no one can MAKE you feel anything. They do not possess a magical control over your emotions. Their behavior can influence us, often it triggers pre-set responses (either from habit, or from deep beliefs that a certain situation calls for a certain reaction.) But no one controls our emotions. My children do not force me to be angry. They do not force me to feel irritable or overwhelmed. These are things that I CHOOSE to do.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

-- Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
One of the greatest, most fully empowering realizations that a person can have is that we alone decide how we feel, and that joy is a choice that is available to each of us no matter what the circumstances. We can choose compassion. We can choose peace. We can choose connection.

I choosed angry. And now I'm choosing grateful.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Radical Unschooling

To begin at the beginning, a very good place to start...

Unschooling means many things to many people. If you take a hundred unschooling families, and asked them to define "unschooling" you would find yourself with 100 answers. This is mostly due to the very nature of unschooling, which is that it is a highly individual, life-based approach to learning.

On it's most basic level, unschooling is a form of homeschooling that is based on the belief that children learn naturally: they are able to learn what they need to know without interference, and, in fact, that they learn best when they are not hindered. It is a trust in a child's ability to learn. Unschoolers do not rely on scope-and-sequence, curriculums, lectures, worksheets, schedules, timetables, and tests.

Some "relaxed homeschoolers" unschool certain subjects. For instance, they use a curriculum to actively teach reading and math, but allow the children to freely explore all other subjects according to their interest. Many unschooling purists don't consider this to be true unschooling, but I put it out there since some families choose the unschooling label for this type of approach.

Others are full academic unschoolers, who do not actively instruct the child in any "subject." The role of the parent is seen as vastly different from that of a schoolteacher, whose primary goal is to get 20+ restless students to focus and to show a modicum of understanding of something that perhaps only a few are interested in learning in the first place. The unschooling family has a tremendous luxury in being able to allow each member to seek their own passions. The parent acts as facilitator, providing the child with opportunity, resources, encouragement, freedom, and security. The parent deeply trusts that the child can and will learn, and that the goal is to nourish a love of learning that will last a lifetime, rather than a child who can perform well on tests, but is disenchanted with learning.

Radical Unschooling is much the same, except that the trust is taken past academics/education, and is extended to all of life. RU families do not enforce routines such as bedtimes, and trust that their child can and will learn the social and moral facets of the larger society. Connection is held to be more valuable in these families than compliance, communication more than coercion.

In our family, we trust that children learn. It is what they were born to do. Children have an innate desire to be a functioning part of society and to experience meaning in their lives. Just as they learned to walk, not because of any teaching but because they were driven to do so, children learn all that they need, as they need it, in the way that they need. As a Radical Unschooling family, we find that children will learn all sorts of things without coloring workbook sheets, without coercion, without lecture. Manners. Sharing. Compassion. Cooking. Math. Spanish. Learning is something that happens every moment of every day, and we don't just encourage it, we celebrate it. We rejoice in it. We positively revel in it.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A World Without Rules...

We were watching Gullah Gullah Island last night and the theme was No Rules - the kids complained about having so many rules, and said they didn't want any anymore. The adults agreed to get rid of all the rules - no longer would the kids have to follow any rules at all. So the kids are quite predictably excited, saying, "This is gonna be GREAT!" and the parents look at each other knowingly, since the kids are obviously going to learn a lesson about "why we have rules."

The kids are now allowed to run in the house, stay up late, sleep downstairs,
wear makeup, have brownies for dinner, eat as much candy as they want, have their pet in the house (Binyah Binyah, a giant polliwog.) And naturally... the kids eat too much candy and get sick to their stomachs, the girl wants to watch TV while the boys are trying to sleep, the kids won't share. They are sick, getting hurt, and fighting. Chaos. Mayhem. The very picture of ANARCHY!

The whole idea they were promoting was that without rules,
being enforced by adults - authority figures who "know better" - no one would have any sense of when to stop eating, how to get along with others, or how to be safe. At the end of the show, the visiting boy says, "I'm calling my mother, I want to go home! I don't care how many chores I have to do, I want the rules back!" And then the parents swoop in with their gentle, "Now do you see why we have rules?" And they sing a song about how great rules are because they make sure we are healthy and safe and considerate of others.

These kids had always had these rules, and were suddenly released of them in one
day. So they went overboard, and pushed their own boundaries... part of the process of finding out what their own personal limits ARE. And they got sick. And they got hurt. And they got into arguments. The obvious conclusion to me is that boy who ate too many jelly beans learned a valuable lesson about how many jelly beans he can handle in one sitting. The kids learned that if they are inconsiderate, their brother/friends will be angry or hurt. Eventually these children would find balance. I mean, if these kids are feeling this way they probably are trying to sneak cookies before dinner. And if rules are the only thing keeping the kids from fighting all the time, then they really aren't learning anything about getting along and loving one another and true consideration or compassion. It might "keep the peace" but it doesn't TEACH anything. The people writing the show obviously are totally blind to this, and felt really pleased about helping children to "understand why there are rules" - a concept that children don't have the experience to appreciate. When in fact its the adults' perspective that is narrow.

The lesson I learned from this Gullah Gullah episode? Children who are expected to follow "rules" and adult-imposed limitations do not develop any sense of judgment or internal control. They learn only to be considerate of one another because there will be some consequence. They do not learn to gauge safety effectively. They do not learn to set their own boundaries, to negotiate, to take others into consideration. They do not learn to be functioning adults in an autonomous, peaceful society.

And what does it say about society that we don't want them to?

Say it ain't so, Binyah Binyah. Say it ain't so
. binyah binyah