not school

What today has looked like so far at our house:

Things we've talked about:
anarchism
the concept of "laziness"
what it means to be "free" in our society
social engineering
planned helplessness
the class system
Greek mythology
the diet of ancient humans
the difference between "diet" and "dieting"
types and causes of eating disorders 

Activities:
sleeping until awake
talking to and holding chickens
making an alphabet book with faces and names
asking and answering spelling questions
making up imaginary scenarios with dolls
making cookies
playing outside
singing
playing piano
having a friend over to play
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Mine Craft

This is the process of learning and growth that makes sense to us. To layer "class time", lectures, assignments, reports, tests and grades etc. over it is worse than unnecessary, it would be a distraction, an obscuration, and ultimately a barrier. I don't think school is inherently bad or wrong, but its function in its present form in our society is not, after all, to foster a love of learning, exploration, and invention.

instructions for my husband during birth

Accept and appreciate that in this process there are shifts in consciousness and body chemistry that manifest in many ways. Be understanding when my priorities change to reflect this, and stand by my side while I am in it -- slow down, quiet yourself, listen.

Take over more than your usual share of the care and maintenance of our lives, because I will be in recovery from a major change and exertion in emotional and physical energy.

Be affectionate, loving, and passionate. Remember that I am still in need of these things, even if I do not have the energy to reciprocate, and that the oxytocin that results is good for both of us and our relationship.

During labor, do not encourage, cajol, guide, or ask questions unless absolutely necessary. Simply be there to affirm and support. Look to see that conditions are clean and warm and comfortable, and set food and water within my reach. Lovingly tend to the children if they are present; take care of their needs first. Rest when you are tired, but be ready to wake and come to my side if I need you. Stay close so that I can choose to go to you or not, and if I do, wrap your arms around me and murmur lovingly to me. Be calm, and above all be loving. If you feel stress or fear, leave and return only when you feel strong and positive again. When the baby is born be still and quiet. Be watchful for my cues. When I am ready help me move to a comfortable place and clean up.

Postpartum, let me sleep. Bring me food and drink. Do the laundry. Take care of our children; engage them and attend to them. Check in with me often (I will not want to yell for you.) Protect our space; do not let anyone in that I have not previously approved. Let me know, often, how much you love me and what a wonderful baby it is that we have made together. ♥
"We have to create culture, don't watch TV, don't read magazines, don't even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you're worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you're giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told 'no', we're unimportant, we're peripheral. 'Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.' And then you're a player, you don't want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that's being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world." 
--Terence McKenna
So, I was going to have a baby, and I'm not going to have a baby anymore. This was an interesting and good thing to happen to me and I'm going to try to explain why.

I'm old. At this age, just about nobody here has babies unless they are Quiverfull or are desperately trying for their first or second (never found a mate, met their mate in middle age, focused on career for most of their adult life, fertility issues.) In my community the exceptions don't even apply; women are educated and married and have their babies in the "proper" stage of life, in the decade between 25 and 35 or so.

Also, I already have four children. People have different reasons for why they disapprove of large families, but almost universally they do indeed disapprove.

Also, I'm aware that statistically genetic anomalies are more likely at my age (and the age of the baby's father.)

I felt anxiety about all these things. But, my partner was not only supportive but happy, and that was very romantic and lovely. And, I am naturally an Eeyore and seriously identify with the writer of Ecclesiastes, but not particularly happily or willingly, which means that to have a natural mission and purpose is greatly appealing to me. So I had mostly decided to go forward with it, but to keep quiet about it as long as possible.

I began to feel better and better. In fact, I felt great. My hip and pelvic pain disappeared, and I was energized both mentally and physically. I felt like I was on a happy drug, and the happier I got the happier I got. It built on itself. Biology is such a powerful thing. And of course that good feeling rippled out into my family. I was more loving, kinder, more considerate. I was so happy to be with them, so grateful. I hadn't ever really let myself enjoy pregnancy before, I was realizing. I always felt a little ashamed, like I shouldn't be doing this. I was thinking: I should be contributing to society, I should be doing impressive things, breeders are ruining the environment, I am so tired and grumpy from running around after little kids, and we can hardly afford basic necessities as it is. But now I am old and much more haughty and selfish, I guess. It is easier to not let it get to me when people judge me. I have a sense of there being things that are much more important; that there will always be pain and suffering and the world will continue to be misused and population will grow exponentially, but I can love and feel love and have experiences that humans are supposed to have and report back on them; with the hopelessness of everything, that is the one true power I have. It is the point of it all. Come with me and love, and we will die, and we may get sick, and we may be hungry, but at least we will have loved. If it is between a long, comfortable life and ecstasy, I will take the ecstasy. They're not inherently mutually exclusive, of course, but so often the things we do to try to guarantee the former eat away at the latter until it has disappeared except for fleeting moments here and there. That is a tragedy, it seems to me, more than any death or suffering.

So, here I was, getting to embark on this unusual and disapproved-of course, and really being happy about it. And feeling sad that for various cultural and practical reasons throughout history, women haven't felt it. I guess that it hasn't been the norm for a long time. Even for those in the approved status group it isn't, still. How different would the world be if women's conditions were such that they didn't feel conflicted about pregnancy and children, always to some degree a burden or a guilty luxury? How different would individual lives be? I am talking about Eden, I realize, but I was inside of it. It exists still; it is possible. I want to yell out to women everywhere, "Take it back! Don't let them steal it from you!" No matter what else is going on, how dire our circumstances, this is something that we are supposed to have. It's written into our very cells. I wish we could have it always, all of us.

***


Wednesday, on my 45th birthday, I started bleeding. Through my mind ran all the possible causes and I paid close attention to where the pain was coming from and the degree. I did not take pain medication because I wanted to know exactly what was going on. I decided finally that most likely I was experiencing a normal miscarriage. I remained watchful. Flow became heavy with small shiny dark red clots or pieces of tissue. I was tired, oh so tired. I wanted to sleep a deep sleep all the time, like the kind of sleep you fall into when you've been doing hard physical work all day and come home to a soft bed. It was nice. My sleep was filled with watercolor dreams, where there is no plot or dialogue, just flowing images. I was dreamy while awake too, in an altered state of consciousness, in a liminal space. Everything around me took on an Edenic cast, especially outside, whether sunlight on greenery or grey mist. I did not particularly want to see people but when I did I loved them. I told a few women and they were caring and I just loved them. I didn't care for the moment about noise and pollution and greed, I saw shapes and color and movement and coruscation and I loved it. I was serene and at peace. I continued to bleed, more than I can remember ever having done.

Today I am feeling back to normal. The bleeding has mostly subsided. I feel the lack of all there was. I feel emptied.

I was only six weeks (and I realize that this is only my experience, and others experience it differently) so there was nothing in the way of the loss of a known person to mourn. I did not feel a soul come and go. But I am different, I am changed. I am not sad, exactly, but I feel tender, raw, and there is a lump in my throat. Tears come to my eyes easily.

A friend of mine said that she was sorry that she could not be more of a support, but she was actually the very support that I needed, in simply acknowledging that this was not nothing. For such a private person as I am, and someone who normally finds people annoying and tiresome and who is not particularly socially adept, it was interesting how much I did not want to keep this to myself. I had a desire to whisper to people (certain people) that it is here, here it is, do you see it, to pull them into it a bit, and to open my heart. It was an odd and lovely place to be.

I am not going to have a baby, but I'm glad that I was for a little while.
Anna’s paper is on top, illegible as always. Jason’s and Zoe’s are as good as expected, but then there’s Ryan’s. At first glance it appears “the” and “a” are the only two words spelled right in the entire paragraph. Jee got off the subject in his second sentence and never returned. And Erik’s. Poor, sweet Erik could churn out a complete story each hour, but his hands just can’t keep up with his vivid imagination.

“Just like last year’s horrifying statistics, that’s four out of six in this classroom unlikely to pass the writing portion of the test,” Mary says out loud while placing Erik’s paper on the bottom of the pile.

[...]

In June, 2003, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Nation’s Report Card), reported that 36 percent of 4th graders cannot read at what the test defined as a “basic” level. Not only are scores equally dismal in other basic subjects, the evidence strongly suggests the situation gets worse, not better, as these children reach high school.

One of the reasons may be the potpourri of negative learning labels slapped on children today. (from Parent at the Helm)
Here is a story about my son. He was 10 years old before I could honestly say that he was a reader. If I'd sat down at any point and tried to make him a reader, it would have failed because he was so resistant and frustrated by the process. In fact, I did just that, and it was a disaster. He needed to do it in his own time, in his own way, with me acting only as a resource.

He's fluent now. He reads me passages (on his own initiative, yes, because he wants to) from books containing "college-level" words (a term too often used to segregate words for the purpose of so-called intellectual status.) To him it is just part of the landscape of his 13-year-old life.

He uses pencil and paper for various things, by choice, all in block letters. He may some day learn how to write quickly with a smart-looking stroke, just as he set himself the task of learning how to type when he understood how it would benefit him. Or he may never have a reason to do so and decide that the block letters suit him just fine. I had a friend in college who always wrote in block letters, insisting it was fastest and most comfortable for him; it hasn't hindered him one bit in doing what he wants to do with his life. I know other people with chicken-scratch or childish-looking handwriting, who went through the full barrage of mandatory school and beyond, and yet still don't write particularly legibly but somehow managed to create lives that are successful by our society's standards. I have to wonder how they would have fared under our government's current standards programs.

I don't understand. It seems so crystal clear to me, how is it that the rest of the world just doesn't get it? Intelligence and ability to contribute and have a rich, full life isn't going to look the same for everyone. Anna and Erik may not (yet or ever) have the skills to do well on a particular standardized test. The enormous mistake our society is making is to assume that this really means something and that the action that should be taken is to label them, ostensibly so that they can get help, but the reality is that what they are really learning is this: You are not as good. This is your place, and it is at the bottom.

This is why my children are not in school. My children are brilliant, all in their own ways. They know it because they were born knowing it, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some ignorant "authority" try to convince them otherwise. And that is exactly what would happen if they were in school. My son -- the one who is now reading like it's second nature and who is also a story-teller, inwardly compelled to put his stories onto paper -- would have been "behind". He would have been "learning disabled". And that would have followed him throughout his life. He might have been part of the small percentage to "overcome his disability", or he might have been one of the many who are taught that there is inherently something wrong with them and who end up becoming a self-fulfilled prophecy. If he'd been in school, told that there was something wrong with him because he still wasn't a reader at age 7, 8, and 9, put in "special" classes or just ignored and given bad grades, labeled "a poor achiever", diagnosed and put on dangerous stimulant drugs... would he be confident is his ability to become an author? Would he feel pretty darn good about himself, right here, right now? How many people of "low IQ" are we creating?

The standards are wrong. I can tell you that without even knowing what they are, because I know the simple and obvious truth that everyone is different and learns in different ways, at different paces, with different interests. There can be no objectively correct standard for all people. I remember these idiot standards even from when I was in grade school, way before No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top (bah, everything in our culture has to be a competition, doesn't it.) I could see even then that my peers were falling between the cracks, not because they were stupid, but because they couldn't fit into this tiny little box that the school was trying to force them into. And I could see the people who fit well, who weren't necessarily more intelligent or more creative, yet who were already being primed for success. I could see even then that it was unfair and ugly. A child can see this, yet the people in power, getting paid lots of money to be in power, can't?

We need to stop. Stop playing along as if it's all fine. I have two children now who could conform to the system well enough, but they deserve better than to simply do well in an environment in which that which is normal isn't (think about that for a minute,) and that penalizes people for not being willing or able to conform to an absurdly limited conception of "normal". I would consider that a false, meaningless achievement; what would it cost them to be trained to assume that it's important in any sense?
Our boys weren't yet reading when they were 8 and 9 years old respectively, and we didn't decide how and when to teach them, or to teach them at all. Educational theory of the past several decades says that children must be taught to read, at a specific time and in a specific way, and that when they don't learn according to these dictates, it is evidence of a disorder, and that when they aren't taught according to those dictates, it is neglect. It is taken for granted that this is just the way it is. Considering our situation through that lens, what we allowed to happen looks like pretty severe neglect. But to the contrary, it was a carefully considered decision based on reason and a desire to protect their sense of competency and love of reading. Here are some of the facts that went into our decision:

- People learn most powerfully and most efficiently when they're developmentally ready, and people aren't all ready at the same time.
- Expecting and pressuring them to learn before they're developmentally ready is stressful and creates a feeling in the learner that something is wrong with them.
- The written word is a major form of communication in our culture, and inherent to humanity is the desire to communicate, resulting in a natural drive to master the culture's dominant forms of communication; therefore we trusted that the interest and desire would manifest when able.
- There is no evidence that the "window of opportunity" of optimal learning, if not driven by external means to meet it, could be out of sync with the person's actual needs and desires in a free, rich, supportive environment.
- John Holt wrote that in his experience (as a teacher involved for many years in educational reform) that when children learn without pressure and at their own instigation, the average age of learning to read is nine years old, and that under these conditions it happens relatively quickly and easily. Anecdotes I've found about "late" readers have been in line with this.
- Trying to teach our firstborn phonics at age six was frustrating and made him angry and distrustful of us, and questioning of his own intelligence.
- Unschoolers somehow all manage to escape the "dyslexia" label, though it is common in schools where the root assumption is that if you don't meet or exceed arbitrary expectations for age-based production, that there is something wrong with you.

Put all this together, and clearly the smartest thing for us to do was to be patient and aware of our kids' needs and at the ready to help when needed. Through that lens, what we were doing was the opposite of neglect, it was conscientious and responsible.
My friend had called to tell me that another friend was in the hospital. She had wanted a homebirth, but her blood pressure had risen high enough that she felt it warranted extra medical monitoring. I was busy at the time and gave the situation a perfunctory "oh, that's too bad," before moving on to the more pressing concerns of my day.

What I remember next is that I was in the car with all the kids, driving down our long country road. I tend to zone out in the car if I don't have traffic that I have to be aware of. It's one of those repetitive muscle-memory tasks, like washing dishes or taking a shower, where I disengage from the practical material world a bit, and often have insights or interesting thoughts come to me. As usual I had tuned out all the loud sounds and activity around me and was humming along in an empty brain, just being, on auto-pilot.

And then abruptly I was literally somewhere else. My body was still in the car with its hands on the wheel staying between the lines and going the speed limit. I was visually and tactilely aware of all that. But I was also in a space and surrounded by people that were unfamiliar, clinical, stressed. I felt deeply emotionally violated. I was aware, sickeningly, that it was real and that I was inside of my friend's birth. Not as if I was her; I was me, experiencing it myself. As if we had traded places. Then I was just as suddenly fully back in my body, back in my car, safe, fine, hearing my kids squabbling and laughing, but still with the sick feeling pervasive. I was grief-stricken.

It is the weirdest, least explainable thing that has ever happened to me.

Afterwards, I thought, this is what they want us to believe is normal. And what we convince ourselves is normal, "just the way it is." It was one of those defining moments where you think to yourself, I am never going to forget this, this is why I will continue to fight.