Thursday, March 28, 2013

On Child-Centeredness: Ain't Nobody Got Time For That

I grow weary of the way unschooling is sold. I have grown weary of beating myself up as a parent. I have grown weary of assuming that some mystical, joyful, always-kind-and-generous-and-patient ideal exists or is possible. I live in the world. Where there is poverty, inequality, injustice, torture, abuse, and all manner of nasty things, but also where there are other people whose boundaries are breach-able.

My boundaries get all sorts of breached all the damn time. Especially thanks to having children, especially since they're at home all.   the.   time. I used to believe the hype that there was some appropriate way to deal with this - something born of Non-violent Communication where I could perfect my speech so as to make sure my children were fully unconditionally loved all the time and thus grew up knowing that they were valuable, thus could go out and conquer the world with their love or some such.

I tried. It didn't stick. I don't sound like that. I don't communicate non-violently. It's kind of what's totally awesome about me. I am fierce. I say shit that don't nobody wanna say. I am opinionated and loud and stand up for myself and those I love. So at the end of the day, it was inauthentic of me to assume that I could adopt a voice that was not my own.

I'm not trying to suggest that being abusive instead is okay. I'm not trying to suggest that that's what I do. I do yell though. I do say things messily. I make demands. I curse. My kids do too. We also talk about our feelings and cuddle and say fun, adorable and loving things to one another and ask nicely and apologize (a lot). That is because authentic feelings and behaviors exist on a spectrum. As we move through our days, we frustrate, perplex, and anger one another in addition to inspiring, surprising, and delighting.

This is probably obvious to everyone in their real lives. Everyone probably regularly experiences all of these emotions and more. Discovery largely includes failure, after all, and children are in the most constant process of discovery as they are new people, learning and experiencing life for the first time, raucously and haphazardly.

It would be lovely if I, in my older, more experienced age, could appreciate and delight in that all the time. But I can't.

Yet this is the very thing we're encouraged, as unschoolers, to do - to delight and appreciate, to hold space for the children to be precious in. Of course they're precious. They're also annoying. I also want them to hurry the eff up and figure some of this stuff out so they can stop breaching all my boundaries all the time. I also want to delight  raucously and haphazardly in exploring the world at the place in life that I am at. Honestly, that place is not all about my children.

While technically I am an unschooling mother in the home without full-time outside employment, I hesitate to declare that my primary occupation. My primary occupation is about my life, my exploration of the world, being who I am, having my experience. Sometimes that's about raising my children. Often it's about my other relationships with my family, husband, friends, and community. It's about writing and making art. It's about knitting and gardening. It's about managing groups and vegetables. It's about cooking and cleaning. My life and exploration is about my dreams, my goals, my desires, my struggle. My children's life is about theirs.

A simpler way to put this is that I get the feeling from the unschooling community that our job as parents is to be child-centered. That a child-centered approach is appropriate, righteous even. That doesn't sit well with me. I don't dig it. We are family-centered. I consider our family a collective. We work and live in collaboration, but we also promote space for autonomy. There's a lot of boundaries to hit in that. Each of us have our boundaries and each of our separate relationships with one another have boundaries. Our space has boundaries. We spend a huge portion of our lives negotiating those boundaries. It can get nasty. But so it goes.

If unschooling is about being in the world instead of having the world divided and categorized into streams of data, then a family life should reflect the goals we have for our larger world. Our family is a safe space where we support one another. Our family is also comprised of autonomous individuals whose desires and goals come into conflict. Being honest and authentic within those conflicts is paramount to helping our children navigate the larger world and the relationships they inhabit there.

Aleks, pissed at me for forcing him to pose for more photos

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Forgive Me, For I Know Not What I Do

The other day, I received a Facebook message from a friend of a friend asking about homeschooling and unschooling. She's considering changing what they're doing and wanted to know what I think about living and learning. The vibe I got was that the real question is, "What drives you to do this?" She wants underlying principles, thoughts about how children learn, and practical ideas about how to go about it.

I haven't responded.

I just don't know what to say. I don't know what I think anymore. I don't know how to do this. I don't really rightly know what I'm doing and I go back and forth all the time about what kids need in a practical sense versus what they need in a big, broad idea sense.

There's a lot of factors informing all of this. For one thing, it's winter. It's been winter for what seems like a long time. I always have a freakout at this time of year. Always. It's always about the same stuff too. This year is no different. We're stuck inside, sick off and on, grating on one another's nerves, there's low motivation, and moods drop low in the gray and the cold. That's to be expected. I can reasonably excuse most of my doubt and freakout as "just winter."

Still, winter is not the whole of it. Winter is the thing that is inspiring a lot of the feeling of doubt, but it's not the thing itself. And that there's doubt is not the precise reason I don't know what to say about living and learning, unschooling and parenting.

Another factor is that my children are getting older, and they're getting more complicated as that happens. Nowadays, what we do is also what we've done. It's in the past. I'm not getting any of it back. I can't do it over. All I can do is see it back there and wonder if it was the right thing. Honestly, I don't know if it was. I don't think any of us do. None of us can. Sometimes people speak really authoritatively though, and it sounds as though they do know what they're doing.

When I'm feeling doubt, that doubt is underscored by others speaking authoritatively about ways of being/doing that seem at odds with what I think & do. Often, what they say doesn't even have to be at odds with my own personal goals or ideas. The authority itself makes me perceive their words as gospel, that whatever it is they're stating is effective and implementable, that they have, through effort, clearly and cleanly achieved their goals. This makes my doubt blossom fully. Because I am unsure of what we do and how it happens, I become very aware of how messily we achieve anything and this is also a failing. It takes my failure and expounds upon it. If in doubt, I go straight for self-loathing. It's a skill.

Which is also why historically, it helps me to get back to philosophy, to get back to the big, broad ideas underneath my goals and reinvest in them, find why it is I do what I do and am what I am. Yet still, I am at a loss at the moment. These messy, complicated, slightly older children are still confounding to me. What is it that they need? I have no idea! When I begin to think about what they need, all I can see is what I can't do, what my limitations are, the problems I can't solve, the tools I don't have. 

Then I begin to wonder. What am I even doing? Perhaps I'm not prepared to do these things. I feel weary, incapable. I feel inadequate to the task of being here, preparing the children, engaging them, providing them with the tools and resources necessary to... And there I'm stuck again. To be happy? Productive? To reach their full potential? What would that even look like? What's possible? What's reasonable? What, precisely, is enough?

And there's the question. I cannot answer what I think about things because I don't know how to think about them. I am complicated by life, by stressors, by circumstance. My goals become cloudier than they once were. My ideals turn to muddied variations of their earlier, robust visions. It is easy, when things are new, to commit whole-heartedly and perhaps naively, to ideology. It is simple. It is stark. It is plain and easy to see and understand. Further in, getting into the ins, the outs, the messy, dark recesses of life and its limitations, ideology is beside the point. Practicality trumps all. And that is where I find myself. Bogged down by the need to feed everyone, to keep the floors clear, to attend meetings, and run errands.

I don't know what to say about unschooling anymore because we're not unschooling. We're seeking diplomatic solutions for life. We're in constant negotiations, attempting collaborative upkeep in seriously messy ways, and it all just looks like so much treading water. We're keeping plants and pets and ourselves alive. We're making dates and maintaining inventory. We're yelling and slamming doors and snuggling and discussing birthday plans. We're trying to make goals, to host conferences of dreams and wishes, to balance what we think is good for us with what we're inclined to, and to decipher what is True. So much so, that I feel disingenuous trying to offer Truth to anyone else.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Blogging, Not Blogging

Clearly, it's been a long time since I've blogged. Partly, I just haven't made an effort of it. Partially, I hardly ever get to use the computer because the children or my husband are constantly on it. It often takes me a long time to compose what I want to say and to gather the necessary photographs about it, so they usually want to be using the computer to do some dreadfully important gaming that I have no interest in fighting because most of the things I need to do on the computer are done on my tiny hand-held computer (read: smartphone) anyway. Thus, if you want to see what we're up to with more regularity, the best bet is to follow me on Instagram. I would, however, like to make more of an attempt to update here as well. I will try. I do have things to say. I just can't really seem to grab a moment of time in which to work them out.