Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Ideal Unschool Community Here and Now

I don't consider any form of schooling currently offered to be viable options for my family. There are many alternative options to traditional school but, as Bret says on his SchoolSucksProject podcast--they are just hacking away at the branches of a Tree of Evil. The only real solution will require starting from scratch.

And it all starts with philosophy. Here are is what I would like to see in an Unschool created Here and Now:

Revolutionary Idea #1: INCLUDE children in life rather than exclude them from it. 

In most of human history, there was no separation between the world of children and the world of adults. There was one world. In the middle ages Big Religion came on the scene and denounced society as evil, immoral, sinful, gross, wrong, etc. Many people who despised society left to live in monasteries. They got up before dawn, prayed all day and lived the life they were told was "good" by their "god." They were such obedient, peaceful little servants that their leaders looked down on them and thought--if only all people were like this! (I am skipping a great deal of messy history here, if you want to read the longer version, I highly recommend A Social History of Family Life.)

Big Religion's big idea was similar to the idea of all conquerers throughout history: if you want to control the culture, change the culture, turn free people into slaves, whatever it is you want to do, do it to the children. They won't know any better. They will grow up thinking that however it is that they are living is normal. Big Religion wanted children to be kept away from the adult world of alcohol, sex and gambling (these were the specific vices they complained about). They thought if only children were sheltered from these things, sheltered from real life, then it wouldn't be real life! Children would never grow up to gamble or drink or have sex if they didn't know those things existed.

And so children began to be removed from the adult world. Over the centuries (there was a lot of resistance, this change took hundreds of years to make happen) Big Religion took many routes to see this accomplished. Sometimes it was because children were pure and fragile and needed to be protected from the big, bad adult world, sometimes it was because children were sinful and bad and needed to be controlled, and then finally it was because children were empty slates and needed to be trained and prepared for life (and not living life, not working alongside their parents, despite the fact that all children in the history of the world had worked along side their parents--a hundred years ago some zealots managed to convince an entire country of people that children should never be allowed to "work". Keep in mind that "work" is defined as paid work since what children are required to do at school is still work.)

In order for children to be removed from the adult world, guess who else had to be removed? Women! Someone had to stay home and police all these children into turning into The Right People. And so two separate worlds started to exist--home and the workplace. Pretty soon there were "family" activities and "adult" activities. Children, deprived of learning about real life, were told instead to learn about Fake Shit. Children moved out of the real world and into a fantasy world filled with fairies, princesses, and magic spells. 

I'd like to reiterate how new this all is. The puritans (the religious zealots who founded this country) spoke frankly with even their youngest children about sex and death. Children's books from this time period made it very clear what sex was and what would happen to children who partook in it. Standard American Parents didn't start hiding sex from children in the 1800's. Death wasn't hidden until the 1900's.

My point being: these ideas we have about who children are, about what they can and cannot "handle" are new and FALSE. Modern hunter-gatherer children live happy lives surrounded by sex and death. I'm not idealizing the lives of hunter-gatherer children, but I am saying kids can handle real life. And in fact, there is a lot less of a power-struggle dynamic between parents and children when parents welcome children into their lives rather than try to keep them out or try to get them to do "children" things rather than "adult" things, when parents model a life-well-lived instead of going to great lengths to invent a world for children that doesn't actually exist.

What children actually can't handle (without a loss of self-esteem and personal development) is being lied to or being encouraged to live somewhere other than reality.

Revolutionary Idea 2: Don't lie to children. Ever.

Magda Gerber, Maria Montessori, Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden (among others) all say the same thing in different ways: from the minute they are born, children work their butts off to understand reality. Their self-esteem depends on their ability to feel competent at understanding reality. Infants talk to everything they see in an attempt to find out what talks back and what doesn't, to understand what is alive and what isn't, what communicates with them, etc. They do these science experiments a thousand times before they make conclusions about life. When well-meaning parents give them talking stuffed animals... the confusion starts, the feeling of incompetence, the loss of self-esteem. "This talks? Hmmm, I had concluded that dogs don't talk back, but this one does! I guess some do…." Then there are the other stuffed animals, the ones that have never talked back to the baby, but then one day the parents make them talk; they put them to bed and invite them to tea; they show their kids movies and books of animals doing all kinds of things that humans do and then think it's so cute when kids start believing totally nutty things. Kids don't want to be nutty! They don't want to be cute! They want to know about reality, and they have no idea that their parents are misleading them.

Here is a rant of ideas: instead of dressing babies in clothes that look oh-so-cute, how about dressing babies in whatever would best enable them to move in the only ways they can so that they can learn about the world? Instead of giving children toys that light up and spin and dazzle them as if by magic, give them household objects, things they have seen you use. You will be shocked at how much they have been paying attention--before he was one-year-old, without me ever having me directly shown him what to do with these things, my son knew that spoons were for putting in bowls, that toothbrushes go in mouths, that hairbrushes go on your head, that when we spill water on the floor we get a towel, etc. These are useful things to know! When Standard American Parents come over, they try to get my son to brush his hair with a toothbrush, to wear a towel like a scarf and things like that, but he looks at them like they're nuts. And they are. They don't brush their hair with tooth brushes, why would he want to? Instead of drilling children with the names of a bunch of animals that don't matter to them and have nothing to do with their lives, take them into the backyard. I promise ants, rollie-pollies and all the other bugs and plants I wish I could name are far more interesting to toddlers than giraffes and lions they will never encounter in their lives except behind bars at the zoo.

At my ideal Community Unschool Center, there would be a local naturalist who could teach all of us, including the kids, about where we actually live, what we can actually do with the plants and animals that grow in our backyards and on our hillsides. Can one eat rollie-pollies? Or moths? Instead of indoctrinating children into this idea of girls wearing gowns and boys slaying dragons, read books about REAL LIFE. Wait... there aren't any. It has been impossible for me to find books for my son that aren't instructing him to move into his imagination and stay there. And yes, older children, specifically older than seven, can understand and enjoy the idea of animals talking and acting like humans--though I am unconvinced they would if given the option to live in reality instead. I bet seven year olds who never moved into a make believe world would prefer to socialize and do various work activities than read books about animals that talk.

Hunter-gatherer children are never asked to help out or contribute to their villages food supply, yet they do. In those tribes where food can be gathered nearby, all children will spend part of their day "playing" gathering and hunting. Most four-year-olds can catch small prey (like lizards) and roast them for a snack. Hunter-gatherer children also spend time running around and playing various games that have something to do with life as they have seen it. Without adults cramming a make-blieve world down their throats... hunter-gatherer children don't move into one. They remain fully in the real world and are considered competent (though weaker) members of the tribe by the time they are eight-years-old. (This is obviously a generalization. For exact numbers read Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods.)

Some Unschool Visions or Life Being Well-Lived:

THE UNSCHOOL ON THE FARM: find a local farmer who likes the idea of children being a part of life and likes the idea of his farm being a community "center" i.e. the heart-beat of a community. Then find the community. How many people work on the farm? Let's say 25 doing various things: some man the small vegetable garden, some move the animals from pen to pen, some milk, some gather eggs, some prepare these things for market, some go to market and sell them, etc. The farm is a business. Children of all ages can learn the entire business by spending time on this farm. A RIE daycare is run out of one of the rooms in the house that has 6 infants. (RIE is a great non-cercive, highly respectful day-care model.) There are 6 toddlers running around in the vegetable garden and helping prepare lunch and do other things with food. The older kids are free to do as they like. There would be about a dozen kids ranging in age from 3 all the way to 12. They could help with whatever they want on the farm, learn whatever they want, bond with whatever adult they happen to connect with, or run around together playing hide-and-seek or start their own farm-related-businesses. This is just life, these people make a community together. By the time any given child is 12 (or even 8) there is no reason why he could not do any job on the farm he was strong enough to do. By the time he is 12 to 16, there is no reason he could not start and run his own farm or be a valuable employee on someone else's.

THE RESTAURANT UNSCHOOL: Perhaps the restaurant is in a city. It has a vegetable garden on the roof or in window-boxes. It has a large play area / RIE daycare on the top floor of the building. The food preparation area is designed for both children and adults to work. This is not a high-stress, high-pressure restaurant we are used to. This a family restaurant, a place where ten-year-olds can wait tables if they want to and thirteen-year-olds man the cash register. It's the same basic idea as the farm--it's a family business, a place where kids are welcome, a place where teenagers can start their own thing (selling a special tomato sauce perhaps). It's a place where 30 adults come to work every day and 30 kids come to work and learn. There is a room for reading and with good internet for when a kid or an adult wants to study something. There are adults present who are dedicated to child-care and making sure the kids' needs are getting met. And then there are all the other adults, just going about doing their jobs--that the kids can help with or not. Children passionate about food can be competent cooks long before they are 12. They can have their 10,000 hours of cooking and restaurant experience before they are 16. Instead of being 22-year-olds just starting out in the world with no real-life skills and massive debt, they can be 18-year-olds opening their own restaurant with a lifetime of experience behind them. And if you think that children are "not safe" around stoves… please watch my YouTube video of my 2 year old making his own eggs.

THE ENTRPRENEURS UNSCHOOL: This also takes place in a city, but it doesn't have to. It's an office building, let's day two stories with 30 offices. It has a courtyard and many different professionals doing many different things. Let's say this is a health-centered office center. The businesses include: a birthing center, a naturopath's office, a physical therapist's office, a massage parlor and day spa, a krav maga center, an NVC therapists's office, a small coffee shop, etc. Same idea! Turn one of the offices into a RIE daycare center and turn another into a Kumon learning center. Now you have your client base for the Unschool. Get everyone in the office building on board with inviting children to join them in their lives. Now the 30 kids that spend all day at this office center can learn about many different things, bond with whatever adult they happen to connect with and end up helping and learning about different careers! Maybe Ana has been obsessed with the midwives and babies since she was seven and by the time she is sixteen is a highly qualified midwife's assistant seriously considering medical school. Brian started bouncing around doing photo copies and answering phones for pretty much everyone in the building since he was five. Now he is ten and he spends all his time in the cafe, he can practically run the place. Catherine is two and spends her day at the RIE daycare. She has already bonded with the older, childless NVC psychologist who stops by to hang out with the babies on her lunch break. Danny is a newborn. His parents have no intention of unschooling him, but they like this daycare center. Ester is fifteen. She has helped at many of the different establishments, but now she mostly likes helping out with the babies! Frank works in one of the offices. He lets the kids come in to see what he is doing three days a week and the other two days a week, he takes meetings. He is a single man in his forties and really enjoys having this opportunity to bond with some children since he doesn't think he will ever have his own. Ginger is a young woman fresh out of college who runs the vegetable garden. She is constantly swarmed with toddlers... and loves it that way. Harry, one of the caregivers at the daycare, is always there to make sure the toddlers don't cause too much trouble. 

ANARCHIST STUDIOS: It's like the old studio system--a community of people who work together on many film projects instead of just one. The studio is in Nicargua (to avoid all the laws and unions here). This is a larger community, maybe 1000 people, 200 of which are children, all living and working on making entertainment products for anarchists in this small village in Nicaragua. Of course, there are many other jobs--there is a farm and people who cook, there are set builders, electricians, writers, camera men, actors... Everyone hangs out together all day working. Children included. That is a life well-lived.

Everyone Benefits

It doesn't matter what business this "unschool model" is designed around--it can work with pretty much anything. Children could easily run an inn or a hotel, they could run a root-beer making business or a magazine publication. It would be an incredible opportunity for everyone involved, not just the children.

The parents of these children: when faced with knowledge of what most daycares and school situations are, most unschooling parents are forced to have one person stay home with the child. This is a lonely often miserable way to raise a child. Instead, the mom brings her baby to a daycare in the office building and she either works at the daycare herself until the baby is older or maybe she works in the cafe and visits her baby all day long or maybe she is a masseuse and works at the spa--she doesn't have to chose between being at home with her baby and going to work--she can do both.

Productivity is a definite factor that all involved would have to learn about over time. It is hard to get things done with young children around, but, the very young children are in the daycare center and the older ones are very competent and have many different people with whom they can spend time. Perhaps their parents pay a monthly fee to the office building (after all, everyone in the office building is technically providing day care for the child). Perhaps by the time the child is eleven he is so competent that the person he usually spends his days helping out feels he should be earning a wage... they discuss it and now a parent that would normally be a) not working to stay home with her kid or b) paying for childcare... now she has a kid making money! Most children should be money-earners by the time they are 8-16. Most children will finish up at this Unschool Academy with money in their bank account and business experience to boot.

To Rewrite Your Brainwashing, Study History

Most people to whom I propose the above are shocked. They learned in school that children working is the evilest thing in the world, a form of child abuse. But they are seriously confused. The problem was never children learning productive work, the problem was not about upper or middle class children i.e. the problem was never the child of the carpenter working with his dad. The problem was the children of the poor, the children of factory workers working alongside their parents in factories. The problem was not the wanted and beloved children of the upper and middle classes, the problem was the exploited children of the poor. In order to deal with the exploited small percentage of children, laws were made for all children.

And even then, the problem may not actually be children working in factories, but philosophy. The child working in the factory did not own his body or his earnings. His parents did. Desperate parents basically treated their children as slaves. But with philosophy this is impossible. If the child knows he is not a slave. If the child owns his body and his wages, there may not have been any problems in the first place. Doubters of this ought to read Escape from Childhood, Harmful to Minors, and The Case Against Adolescence.

*I have not explain this that well I think. 

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