The Next Generation

“Generation Z” that’s what they are calling kids that are under 18 right now. My kids. Hmm…at first I was a bit taken aback by the idea of a “Generation Z”. What does that mean? It sounds so final. What could possibly come after Z? But then I had a spark of hope. Is this the last generation to live separately from the other generations? Will we begin to go back to a time when children were raised by their parents along with Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles in the home instead of an institution? Could this be the generation that changes how we live in the United States? It’s not the end of the world when things change, you know. We didn’t use to have this huge wall between generations of people. We didn’t use to live in a world where children lived separately from adults most of their lives and the elderly lived separately from the working adults. We used to all be interdependent with each other, helping and supporting each other as cohesive families. I think life has gotten much darker and scarier since we started this separation. Maybe this “Generation Z” will be the one the ends that. I think they may be the generation that brings us back together and forward into a much brighter and loving world.

Book Use

I’ve a lot to write about but I got a bit behind this past week and haven’t been putting aside time to write each day. I get sidetracked by life and then give up on everything for a bit. I’m back and I’m not going to beat myself up about taking a break from my routines. I’m just going to go back to it, like the breath during meditation.

I started reading “The Anatomy of Peace” yesterday. I read it four years ago and was pulled to the title on my shelf again, so here I am. I’m so glad I am. The book was an assignment when I was taking a “Classic Mom’s” online class and I really liked it. When I pulled the book off the shelf again I couldn’t have told you what it was really about. As I started to read it, it all came back to me. I’ve loved reading the notes I made in the book last time I read it. In all my books I mark them where I find something interesting and write about it on a folded piece of copy paper I keep in the book as a marker. That paper goes into a file when I’m done reading the book and I write the date I read the book on the inside cover. If I want to see my notes, I just need to go to the file and find it. I’m glad I did this time! Much of what I’m reading now I wouldn’t have been able to tell you was in the book but I have incorporated many of the ideas into my life the past several years and now the ideas are fairly obvious to me. When I read it the first time, I tended to scoff at it when I started the book but could see where the ideas would be helpful by the time I finished it and the discussion afterward.

The basic premise is looking at people as if they are people, not objects to be manipulated. When someone drives up behind you and then passes you, do you wonder where that person is off to in such a hurry and hope they get there safely? Or do you shake your head and be angry that they made you slow down before the turn? Are the humans that live in your house with you people with their own needs, wants, and desires, separate from yours? Or are they tools to get the housework done and boost your ego? The best part of the book is that it isn’t written like a typical help book, with diagrams and inspiring quotes. It’s written as a story about a group of people helping their children through some tough times and getting through some of their own. I love reading it not only because of the useful message but because it has reminded me that the books I read every day aren’t lost just because I can’t remember the details, or even that I’ve read them sometimes. Their message has changed my heart and mind, and I use those ideas even though I can’t point out where I got them. It makes me think of what my children learn and use every day without anyone teaching them and making them take tests to prove what they have learned.

Moving Towards Joy

I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” again. I love that book! The point I’m at is one of my favorites and I thought I’d share it with you. The angels are trying to talk to the ghosts of man and convince them to enter Heaven. They offer joy but each person rejects it for what he already has. He refuses to let go of what he has, even though it not really bringing him joy, and accept the bliss he sees in front of him. He does not recognize it as bliss, only sacrifice. “There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy – that is, to reality.”

It brought to mind how many times I’ve heard friends and acquaintances comment about our homeschooling choice. Most people I’ve met have, outwardly anyway, admired our lifestyle and the results of our education choice but when I tell them they too could have what we have, they generally remark that “It’s not for them.” or “It works for your family but it’d never work for ours.” They tell me that they don’t enjoy rushing to and from school, homework, and after-school activities. They are not satisfied with the outcome of the schooling their children have had. They dislike the bullying and confinement of the school system. Yet, when I say “Choose differently.” or “There are other options.” they give excuses about why they must remain where they are, unhappy and unsatisfied. Why?

I really don’t understand our resistance to change. Even when what we have is clearly not making us happy we stand there hoping that someday we will learn to be happy with it instead of trying something new or changing something about our surroundings.

Choosing to homeschool has not been a sacrifice for our family. It is the running toward joy and peace. Yes. I have “sacrificed” being busy, handing over control of my life, bullying, and a myriad of other things for the joy and peace of a lifestyle that brings our family closer and provides a better education for our children with less stress and negative effects. I can’t think of a single thing I’d rather have than that.

My Sons Race Motocross

My sons race motocross. Those words seem to strike terror in the heart of other mothers almost as much as if I said “My son is a drug dealer.” It’s so strange to me and it’s not because it doesn’t scare me when they are out there on the track, as if I’m oblivious of the risks involved. If I said, my teenage son plays football or drives to work every day, no one would ask my why I let them do that. And those activities are just as risky, if not more so because people don’t see them as a risk. People take risks. They just do. Hopefully they are calculated risks that have the potential to bring them happiness but that isn’t always the case. Teenagers are more inclined to take risks, not because they enjoy being difficult but because it is part of the growing up process. If they didn’t take risks, they’d never fully mature into adults. As people mature (not always as they get older) they stop taking as many risks. It’s just life. Everyone has the thing that makes them happy. Finding it is the key. For my sons, it’s motocross and not just riding but racing. Lucky for us, both the boys love the same sport and there is no conflict of time, energy, and funds. I think I’ll describe a bit of what they do so that you may get the feeling of why they love it and why we support their efforts.

A few years ago, my Dad and Step-Mom got the boys a small mini-bike. It wasn’t a dirt bike. It was more like a bike built around a lawnmower engine. It had a pull start and wide tires. The boys rode it to death and within a few months were eager to get a “real” dirt bike. Living in the desert on five acres, there was no reason not to comply with that request. They began to scour the internet for a small bike they could ride around the neighborhood or out camping. And they found one right away. The man that sold it to us is still a friend today and hired the boys to do some work around his house so that they could afford to fix up another bike they bought.

So now we were the proud owners of two dirt bikes, then three, and then five. The boys were growing, in size and riding skill, so they were fixing up and outgrowing bikes pretty quickly. They learned a lot fixing up those bikes. Some of them were pretty big projects. One bike needed a “top-end rebuild” and a “resurfaced piston”. And one bike we bought wouldn’t start at all and the guy said he was riding it and it just stopped running. That engine needed to be completely rebuilt. The boys did all this work themselves with little oversight from Dad who works from home and was able to come out and lend a hand when things got tough. My husband is not a motorcycle mechanic but he does know a thing or two about engines. The internet is an amazing thing!

When they finally settled in on a couple of bikes, they really wanted to try out riding at a motocross track. How did they come across this information, I may never know! They found tracks, read about riding there, the rules, the gear they’d need, etc. They practiced riding around the house and the same guy that sold us our first bike came over with a tractor and dug them a track on our property to practice on! They are relentless when they want to do something, so eventually they wore me down with all their information about riding and I told them I’d take them when they could load and unload the truck without help. I’m not strong enough to push bikes up ramps! Of course, they went outside and did it the minute I said it and we began planning a ride day for the next week.

I took the boys on my own to the track during the week because we figured it would be much less crowded than a weekend. I’ve never been so nervous to go somewhere. I asked the guy at the gate what to expect, explaining that we had never ridden at a track before. He was the nicest person I’ve ever met in motocross! He gave us the run down, looked at the boys bikes and gear, and talked to them a bit. He said they’d be fine and to look forward to racing because everyone that tries a track wants to race. Great.

After that first day, we went to the track many times. I found a friend that used to race a bit and he met us there on a Saturday and gave the boys some pointers. That’s when the requests to race started to come up. The idea terrified me and not because I was afraid of them getting hurt. I was afraid for other riders! Most of these guys have been racing since they were four years old. They all work very hard to get on that track and mine had just started riding dirt bikes. What if they did something that got someone else very hurt? Don’t you need training to do this? Where do you even start? The boys knew, of course! Everything they read, watch, and talk about is about racing! We decided to start with hiring a trainer for a day to see if they even had the skills to give it a try. She said they were definitely ready. Sigh.

There was a race series starting in the next couple weeks, so we decided to go as a spectator and see how the whole thing worked. We arrived just after the sun came up and found a parking space. We walked around and talked to people. We watched the races and saw fast and slow riders, big and mini-bikes. The boys talked to the race people and they told them which class they should probably start in and we watched that race. It all seemed pretty do-able, much like Little League but on dirt bikes.

We signed up for the next series and have been going ever since. The boys rarely win but they have a blast every time. We’ve been soaked to the skin in rain and mud, stood there sweating in the 110 degree heat, listened to loud generators all night, and sat in Emergency rooms for hours. But they keep wanting to go back. We spend almost all our extra money on racing and it’s accouterments. The boys train every day. They ride mountain bikes for ten miles. The run a mile a day. They have changed their diet. They joined a crossfit gym and an indoor rock climbing gym. The pay for half of all their bike stuff and gas. They do all their own repairs. We eat, breathe, and sleep motocross.

And through all of it our family is stronger. We spend our weekends together at the track or in the garage. We spend our weekdays together training. They even got me up off the couch! We play cards and guitars after practice, camped out in a parking lot for the next days race. We grocery shop and cook together, trying to eat better and get stronger. They read articles and watch videos about how to ride better and faster. And they challenge themselves at the track. It’s not about winning to them. It’s about being there, a part of something exciting, and getting better every time. We’ve made friends along the way and really enjoy being at the track with them. I can’t imagine our lives without it.

What I wonder is where they will go with all of this? Will they become the next Chad Reed? It’s not likely. But they will be a part of a pretty fun community of people. And I’m sure they will share this love with their families when they are older. I know I’ll love going to the track and watching my grandkids race!

The risk, the pain, the injury’s, the sweat, the tears, the effort; it’s all worth it. It’s worth it to see my sons put their heart and soul into something that makes them so happy and fulfilled. It’s worth it to see the pride in their eyes when they clear that jump or pass that guy. It’s worth it to see their dirty hands in my kitchen sink after a days work of fixing something few 14 year olds even know exist. It’s worth it to see their independence and confidence grow and watch them mature into young men instead of just bored teenagers. My heart hurts for them when they are in pain from an injury, but it soars with them when they get back on that bike and sit in that gate, poised and ready for it to drop.

Why do I “let” my sons race motocross? That’s like asking me why I let them live, love, and breathe.

What To Write

I’m debating whether or not to write more about our lifestyle on my blog. Our lives are very different from most other people’s. When I talk to some people I feel like they cannot grasp what it is we do. Even closer family members reveal, in some small ways, that they really don’t “get” us. But should I post to try to bring to people our peaceful and happy way of life? I guess what I really want is for someone out there to see what we really are and there probably is no way of doing that besides living here. Or should I post about our lifestyle to give people a glimpse of another way of living an “American” life? Families are so different and really don’t think any one way has a monopoly on being right, but my children seem well adjusted and happy and it’s not because they are special minds, or that we were very strict and trained them up right. I’d really love my version of a happy family life to be out there for people to see.

Final Notes on “Philosophy & The Young Child” by Gareth B. Matthews

Chapter 6 – Fantasy

Page 68-69 “I hope that it will shock my readers to learn that the five claims about the primitive are almost exactly the claims that Bettelheim makes about the child.” “I consider these generalizations both factually false and morally repugnant.” It expresses…”an attitude of superiority that is morally inappropriate to one’s dealings with other human beings.” This is the attitude that makes me crazy in how people treat children all around me. They would never treat other adults that way, anyone that does is dealt a great deal of contempt. To talk of another adult as if they are not there, to comment on their trials and errors as if the person has no feelings about the matter, and then when you try to point that out people get very defensive. How can anyone grow or improve if they are treated as though they are not quite human?

It’s sad to think that most people believe that to be “mature” is to lose your sense of creativity and wonder of this world and that this would be a good goal for any human. It closes off your mind to possibilities!

Even stories like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” are philosophical in nature and teach children in ways they can very much relate to that adults have lost the ability to use. Why do we believe “losing something” as we grow older is something that will help us in the long run? I’d rather build on things I already have than to put aside a natural aspect of myself for a learned/unnatural one. These stores we tell children are thought experiments and invite you to imagine new concepts and cement our understanding of the world around us. Reading this makes me want to re-read some of my sons’ favorite bedtime stories, like Harold and the Purple Crayon!

Chapter 7 – Anxiety

To do philosophy with a child, or with anyone else for that matter, is simply to reflect on a perplexity or a conceptual problem of a certain sort to see if one can remove the perplexity or solve the problem. Sometimes one succeeds, often one doesn’t. Sometimes, getting clearer about one thing only makes it obvious that one is dreadfully unclear about something else.” Funny to think that children take this “unclearness” as a given and it’s something that terrifies adults. And then we put down children for thinking in this fashion and being scared by it at times.

Above all, one shouldn’t let the surmise that some great mind has already thought the thought that one is about to think spoil one’s own excitement in coming up with it.” And why would we put that on a child that comes to us with the amazed and excited feeling to tell you about his discovery about a bug he saw? We live our lives as if everything has been discovered and that we aren’t allowed to be excited about something that we have found because someone else found it before us.

Some adults are not prepared to face a child stripped of the automatic presumption of adults’ superiority in knowledge and experience.” And most adults are threatened by it because we’ve been trained to it. It’s a side effect of some kinds of homeschooling, children that believe they are equals with adults and that they both have something to add to a conversation.

Chapter 8 – Naivete

Philosophers seem to ask questions that no one wants to answer and to tell us what no one wants to know.” And so do children, which is why we feel the need to suppress them and put them in their place.

Chapter 9 – Dialogues

When you spend a lot of time with a child, as homeschoolers can only do, you begin to see that a sense of trust is the basis of a growing up well. Nothing good comes of our lives without it. We can build that trust with our children so that they start their lives off on a good footing, or we can send them off to spend time with a myriad of people, none of which they have enough time to build a real solid relationship with. Then we start our adult lives lacking in that trust which we spend the rest of our lives searching for, only to send our own children off to do the same because that’s just the way things are. But they don’t need to be!

So much of this book relates to how unschoolers have changed their lives to match a more natural and philosophical idea. And even though our children grow up to be wonderfully productive and happy people, we are charged at every step with coddling and spoiling them. Your ways are creating generation after generation of unhappy, mentally unstable people, yet you continue to add more fuel to that unhealthy fire. Why? It’s as if the world cannot see the same humans that I see. I cringe at the way I hear people, homeschoolers and mainstream parents, talk about and to their children and then wonder why those children grow up to be moody, aloof, and violent teenagers. I’ve raised my sons differently and all I’ve gotten in the past was questions about why my kids are allowed to be in the same room with adults and why I allow them to ask so many questions. Now that they are teenagers I’m complemented on how mature and kind they are, only to have people insist that I must have “raised them right” by continuing the practices they themselves are using but with more control and belittling. It’s insanity! What can be done?

Notes on “Philosophy & The Young Child” by Gareth B. Matthews – Part 1

I’m not sure where I found this book and why I put it on my reading list. It was probably through an unschooling blog I read. I bought it with a gift card that my homeschool group gave me last spring.

It’s a wonderful short book! Philosophy is hard for me. I feel like I’m looking at one of those pictures that you’re supposed to see something in but you can only see it if you stop trying to look for it. The minute I start to see it, I try to focus on it and it’s gone…just like my understanding of philosophy. But that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by it! If I can’t really grasp philosophical concepts, how can I possibly talk to children about them? This book has eased my mind about that. Children are natural philosophers! I’ll follow their lead and see if they can’t lead me out of my “schooled maturity” and into some higher thinking about the world around me.

The first chapter is called “Puzzlement”. It’s what children have by nature and adults have grown to ignore. Do some children need more time to mentally explore than others? I believe all children are “naturally creative” and that a lack of free time to explore is harder on kids who are stubborn enough to want to keep that creativity.

Page 2 “Bertrand Russell tells us that philosophy, ‘if it cannot answer so many questions as we could wish, has at least the power of asking questions which increase the interest of the world, and show the strangeness and wonder lying just below the surface even in the commonest things of daily life.” This is where children are said to be natural philosophers. There is nothing that is “common” to a child. Everything is new and exciting and seen in a different light. As we grow older, we grow numb to the world and find it more difficult to see the magic.

Chapter 2 – Play

Children play with everything, including words, which builds their knowledge of the subject.

Page 21 “Much of what we adults tell children is highly questionable at best and deserves to be challenged.”

Parents and teachers who always refuse to play this game with children (logic games, explaining what you really mean, using words and phrases deliberately) impoverish their own intellectual lives, diminish their relationships with their children, and discourage in their children the spirit of independent intellectual inquiry.” There is never a “because I said so”. When children question what we mean and we ignore that with impatience and insist on blind obedience, what do we think we think we are teaching them?

Chapter 3 – Reasoning

Much of this chapter I didn’t understand, probably because I’m pretty unreasonable. Logical reasoning, like Socratic Questioning, is so lost on me. I just cannot follow it. I’ve yet to hear an explanation that makes any sense to me.

He describes a child he interviewed and came up with this gem, “his willingness to open up to an adult suggests that someone treated him, as well as what has to say, with respect.” This is something that peaceful parenting and radical unschooling promotes that people generally cannot grasp. If you respect the child’s wishes in that he has a reason to want the green cup and not the yellow one, you are building a relationship of respect that will be amazing in the long run. It’s not indulgence or spoiling a child to respect their opinions and wishes.

Chapter 4 – Piaget

Piaget’s methods of education assume that children learn in a methodical and measurable way, which unschoolers have found to be completely not true. They are not machines at all.

Some people are immune to philosophical puzzlement. For them there is, perhaps, much to learn about the world but nothing to puzzle over. To judge from ‘The Child’s Conception of the World’, Piaget is himself such a person.” And that is just sad.

Chapter 5 – Stories

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Many Moons, and Winnie-the-Pooh, are all beautiful examples of stories that inspire us to think about the philosophy of the world around us.

Page 63 “What gives the Humpty Dumpty theory its plausibility is that very natural notion that the meaning of a word has when it is used on a particular occasion is the idea or mental picture that the speaker or writer had in mind when the word was uttered or written.” Most of the time, we aren’t all using the same dictionary. When we discuss things we should agree on the meaning of words, otherwise we will never communicate. Recently, there really is no point in discussing anything with anyone because people don’t even realize that words can have different meanings to different people, in different situations. It makes a picture with a sentence on Facebook think one group of people is insane for posting it because they don’t have the same meaning for the words used but think they do.

Page 65 Here’s something that I’ve heard Sandra Dodd discuss quite a bit on radical unschooling pages, “There is something very puzzling about the idea of trying not to do what you really want to do. If you really want to do a thing, you won’t try not to. On the other hand, if you really try not to, it will be because you want not to do it. Thus, what Frog describes as a lack of willpower – indeed, what we all do – begins to look like a case of conflicting desires.” That’s the honesty we need to have with ourselves, if we want our children to do the same. It’s not about the willpower to not eat every cookie in the cupboard at once. It’s about being conscious of our desires and doing what we truly want. If you know that eating all the cookies will make you sick, you would not eat them all because your desire to not be ill trumps your desire for cookies, unless you’ve never been allowed to learn what your desires really are and only do what you are instructed to do by your authorities.