When my partner and I set off to pick a name for the baby we had on the way, we did as most couples do, and started gathering a list of potential names. I knew that I wanted a name that was strong and grounded and not too cute or girly as I find some names can be where they are well suited for a small baby but perhaps not for an adult. I also wanted an international name that people could pronounce and understand in many different languages, as our family is multi-lingual (I speak and write three languages on a daily basis; Danish, Swedish and English). When we started going through potential names, it was obvious that someone always had some association with virtually every name we came up with. I really liked the name Vivian for example, but many of the people I talked to about it immediately associated it with Julia Robberts´ character as a prostitute in the movie Pretty Woman, and so therefore experienced an aversion towards it. Others reacted to personal associations with names, like how a certain name could be perceived as a ‘bitch name’ because someone knew a person with that name in their childhood who was a bitch.
In fact, there wasn’t a single name that everybody liked (Obviously. Why would there be?). There were barely any names that my partner and I both liked. When we finally came up with a couple of names that we both really liked, someone in our close environment didn’t like it, and I realized that because they didn’t like it, I immediately didn’t like it as much. This experience (which happened a couple of times) caused an entire avalanche of reactions within me, and opened the point of how I’ve been extremely dependent on other people’s opinions and approval of me.
Rather than blaming them for it and saying that they ruined my baby name, I realized that I wanted their approval, I wanted them to like my baby name and I placed (my own) value in them liking the name. Had they liked the name, I would’ve most likely liked the name even more and I would’ve been really satisfied with it.
Thus, if I stood clear and stable within myself in trusting and standing by the name I had picked, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be influenced by someone not liking it, because it doesn’t really have anything to do with me or with my child whether they like her name or nor. In fact, I realized that I only told them about the name to see how they would react, to get their approval. On a deeper level I could see that when I allow myself to be influenced by something someone says, then I am not actually being influenced BY THEM or their words, but by my own interpretation thereof. What I am in fact being influenced by, is my own mind. It is my mind that places value on others opinions of me, who believe that it does truly affect me what they think.
The real issue is not about my relationship with others, but about my relationship with myself, my body, my being and my mind, that I allow myself to be inferior to, through accepting certain limitations, beliefs and ideas about myself and about my relationships with others.
So I’ve been working with stopping these reactions, with detaching myself from this dependency and fear in relation to others and to bring focus and attention back to myself. I then decided that I wouldn’t share any more name suggestions with anyone until my partner and I had decided for ourselves, because really, it isn’t a democracy where everyone gets to cast a vote on what we should name our baby. It is in fact something that my partner and I decide on our own.
Ideally I would have preferred for my child to pick her own name, because she is after all the one who has to live with it, but since she can’t do that, I started playing around with talking to my baby inside the belly and try to get a ‘feel’ for what her name was or could be or what she’d prefer to be called.
As my partner and I kept discussing names, I kept having the same letters come up that I seemed to prefer over others, especially the letter L. As I played with asking the baby in my belly what it wanted to be called, I got a very strong ‘sense’ that it was a name that ended with the letter A. I can’t say for a fact that I did indeed communicate with my daughter in the womb, but it was the closest I got to actually be able to ask her, and not simply pick a name that I liked but that may not suit her, or to pick a name that everyone else could agree on, just to not risk displeasing anyone.
Slowly but surely the letters started gathering into a name. Initially I thought it was Lola. I also though of Loa. Other names that started with L and ended in A was Livia, and Liva. But what kept coming up within me – very clearly – was the name Lora.
It wasn’t a name I particularly liked. In fact, I had absolutely no reference or association to it whatsoever. It was ‘blank’ in a way. I kept pushing it aside because it wasn’t something I could relate to at all.
One day I talked to a friend on the phone and she asked me if I had asked the baby what it wanted to be named. Hesitatingly I replied that I wasn’t sure. My friend said: “Of course you know what the name is, just trust yourself!” After the conversation I had a look within me and admitted to myself that I had indeed ‘seen’ or ‘felt’ the name Lora, but I had rejected it because I didn’t trust myself and because I didn’t have any associations to the name that I could attach myself to. I also didn’t know whether it was something I came up with inside my brain somehow or it was her signaling to me telepathically.
I actually thought it was something I came up with (or rather, that she came up with) until I Googled it and found out that it isn’t that uncommon at all. I shared the name with my partner and he also didn’t have any associations to it. What I really like about this name is exactly the fact that I don’t have associations, let alone any preferences for or against it. So it isn’t a name I have picked (unless it comes from some deep subconscious point in my mind) because of my likes and dislikes and my ideas about how I want my child to be. Because it is blank, it is pure, it is clean and therefore it can be her 100 %.
Now, sharing the name we had decided on after she was born, opened up a whole new can of worms as people reacted much like we did initially; with a blank stare. When we told them that her name was Lora, they’d go “huh, uhm, Lora, with an O?” “Oh you mean Laura” – “No, its Lora.” “Oh ok, that’s unusual”. People get this dead/confused look in their eyes like they can’t compute and they don’t know what to say. So it is clearly a name that most people don’t have any associations to, at least not in our part of the world where it is not at all common. In all of Sweden there are only 65 people called Lora.
The same person that initially reacted negatively to some of our name choices that I spoke of earlier also very blatantly blurted out that we had made a terrible mistake and that this was a bad name and we should think about what we were doing to our child. (Lora happens to rhyme with the word for ‘whore’ in Swedish.)
Every time we were to share with a new person our choice of name, I was confronted with my fear of not pleasing others, of them not finding me worthy or liking me, and because I had already made a decision to stand by myself and the name I had decided on, it has been quite a cool experience for me – to make a decision based on self-trust without any external influence, that others may even react strongly to – and to keep standing, and stand by myself. It has in fact supported me greatly to start expanding in other areas, where I see that my effectiveness is contingent upon me trusting myself and building confidence in myself and to not worry about what others might think. It has even made me realize that there are areas where I trust myself very much because I know who I am and I have done my research and cross-referenced the points I see.
Now, I love the name Lora. It is growing on me. Because it is the name of my daughter. As she grows up and develops she made decide to change her name or take on a different name, and that too is perfectly ok with me – because she is who she is, and it is not something I or anyone else can decide for her. Who she will become, will be her own creation, and I will do everything in my power to support her on her journey, as I am sure, she will support me – as she already is.
Why do adults often find it boring to play with children, sometimes to the point of feeling physically uncomfortable? Is there a way for us as adults to enjoy playing with children when we feel like it is the last thing we’d want to do?
This is something that I’ve been exploring over many years as I was working as a teacher, and couldn’t understand why it crippled me in my ability to enjoy my day and stifled my relationship with the children I worked with, because I became irritated and annoyed with them, completely without reason. What I found is that we as adults find it boring to play with children because:
A) We’re completely immersed in our ‘adult mind’ which prompts us to focus on being efficient and getting things done, and most of us have long since left behind our ‘child presence’ of being able to truly BE HERE and enjoy the moment and be immersed in what we’re doing. So we simply don’t see the value of play. We’re disconnected from our own bodies, which is one of the reasons why we may feel physically uncomfortable when sitting down to play with a child. Because we are confronted with ourselves on a level we’re not used to. So we see it as a waste of time for us to engage in, even if we see the benefit of spending ‘quality time’ with our child.
B) When adults play with children, we tend to let them decide everything while we passively tag along – exactly because we can’t or won’t fully engage and participate on equal terms. So we ‘halfass’ it to put in as little effort as possible, while our minds are often preoccupied elsewhere with ‘more important things’.
(Children pick up on this by the way, which is what often make them go all up in our face, asking the same questions over and over. They’re trying to get us to engage and be present.)
When we play only on the child’s terms and let the child make all the decisions, it is really boring to play. A child would never let another child make all the decisions in play. It simply wouldn’t be fun.
So – the way to engage with a child in play that can be mutually enjoying for the adult may include:
A) Play something that YOU TOO ENJOY. If you don’t like role play then don’t do it (or maybe challenge yourself first and see what it’s like). If you enjoy building and construction, why not pull out the legos? If you like creating homemade birthday cards, then make that into a mutual moment of play if you find that your child too enjoys playing with paper. If you can’t come up with anything, then that’s fine too. You can cook or bake together or clean out the garage in a fun and engaging way. You can even have a play date every week where you try out different things to find something that you both enjoy. What matters is that you participate on equal terms with your child so that the activity is fun for the both of you. And don’t halfass it.
B) Ground yourself in the present moment, in the sandbox or on the floor with the train set or with the dollhouse – and physically focus on becoming present here and letting go of the constant undercurrent of stress and pressure and time. Know that it takes practice to come back (and for some of us, for the first time) to a state of playfulness. As adults, we’ve spend 20 + years in a state of stress and hurry and getting things done, so don’t worry if you don’t immediately enjoy sitting down and hanging out with your kid. Can set a timer to 20 or 30 minutes to begin with if that helps.
This is actually a really cool ‘zen exercise’ that may be as valuable as meditation is to many people, as it brings you back HERE – to reality, to your body, to your child. And so, as you accept and embrace the current moment, you may start reconnecting with yourself on a whole other level and start seeing the value of the simplicity of play – and of spending time with your child in this way. Who knows what doors it may open up?
You very often hear adults speaking about how important it is to teach children values like ‘kindness’, ‘respect’, ‘empathy’ or ‘honesty’. In schools all over the world you will see endless rows of colorful posters instructing children: “In our school everyone is equal!” “treat each other with kindness!” Teachers will give entire lessons to prevent bullying by teaching ‘inclusion’ and ‘empathy’ towards others. Parents will perpetuate the same phrases over and over to teach their child manors and values: “be nice to your sister!” “Play gently with the dog.” “In this house we share!” It is clear that parents and teachers alike pay a great deal of attention to teaching these kinds of values.
We think we say these things to teach children the ways and values of the world. But we really say these things because we assume that children are not born with a moral compass. We believe that it is something WE have to teach them. This gets validated when we see them yank the dog’s tail so hard that it yelps in pain, or when they exclude another child from a game for no apparent reason.
Although most of us would not admit it, on a subconscious level, we see children as ‘savages’ who must be civilized and trained to become decent human beings who can function in society.
Now, considering the current state of the world and the general demeanor of adult human beings, and how we treat the world, I would say that our parents mission to raise us ‘right’ has failed and failed hard. The same can be said for their parents and their parents’ parents, and so the list goes on. It is equally true for our children, but how can that be so? I mean, we’re busy teaching them all these values, yet the odds are that they will grow up to become cheats and megalomaniacs and liars and narcissistic assholes like the rest of us. Why is that?
The truth is that we cannot teach children values like ‘equality’, ‘playing fair with others’ or ’empathy’ because most of us do not even know what it means to live these values ourselves. Sure, we know what it means on a superficial level, but if we were honest with ourselves, can we say that we truly live equality? Do we play fair with others? And what does it even mean?
In traditional Freudian psychology the human mind consists of three levels, the “Id”, the “ego” and the “superego”. The Id is the instinctual, impulsive and childish part of us, the part of us that throws tantrums and screams when we don’t get what we want. It is the voice of pleasure and selfish desire. It is what our children represent. The superego is the parent, the voice of reason, the one who is able to suppress impulses and do what is right. It is the values and morals taught by society. The “ego”, the middle aspect, is the balanced part of us where we are at an even key balancing our impulses and our common sense, or if you will: where we are in a state of constant conflict and battle between the two more extreme sides of us.
As teachers, and as parents in particular, we access a role of representing the superego to our children. We see ourselves as representatives and gatekeepers of a moral compass that we believe we must to pass onto our children, and we completely disregard the fact that we haven’t developed this moral compass in ourselves. We completely deny the fact that what we are doing is not only deceiving ourselves, but also our children. We do so by pretending that we’ve got it all figured out, that we are examples that they can lean on and model themselves according to. We deny and suppress the parts of us that aren’t socially acceptable, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, it doesn’t mean that we don’t act them out and it doesn’t mean that our children do not see and pick up on the conflicted behavior that we portray. We say one thing and then do the complete opposite. And then we wonder why our children do as we do, and not as we say.
Let’s look at an example: many parents struggle with, and worry over their children spending too much time on tablets, smartphones or computers playing games or wasting time on social media. We give them ‘screen time’ as rewards for good behavior or doing chores. We control them, limit them, moralize their behavior on these devices. And yet, where do most of us prefer spending our time? Often on the exact same devices we so demonize when in the hands of our young ones.
We constantly tell our children to play nice with their siblings or friends, but how do we not treat our spouses, the people who are supposed to be our best friends and allies in the world? Do we not belittle, exclude, ignore, fight, demean and spite them? Maybe most don’t even do it out loud, but there isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t, at the very least judge and condemn others in the secrecy in our own minds, and do so with pleasure.
The actual REAL values we are teaching our children (values being that which we prioritize and give importance to), are values such as suppressing the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, parts that we are a shamed of, instead of facing them and dealing with them in a responsible way. We are teaching them that what matters most is how others see us, not to have integrity within and as ourselves. We are teaching them that lying gets you out of trouble and that you can have forbidden pleasures and desires, as long as you keep them secret and suppressed.
So when we look at why our world is in the state it is in, when we look at each other in dismay at how our children treat each other, all we have to do is take a good hard look at one another and ourselves, and we’ll know why that is so. It all starts with us.
So often do we take values for granted as part of our society and of who we are, that they become nothing but empty words that we say because they make us look good (at least in the eyes of our own mind). But when have we ever actually asked ourselves whether we are in fact living the words we are trying to teach our children? When have we ever questioned how their behavior can be mirrored through us, not as the people we wish we were, but the people we are in fact?
If we truly want our children to become compassionate, giving, emphatic human beings with integrity and respect for others, we need to first develop these values in ourselves, not on a superficial level, but on a real, verifiable, practical level. To do that, we need to first understand what it means to be compassionate, to be emphatic, to be respectful; we need to examine our relationship with and understanding of these values and the words that represent them.
This is something that I would for one like to continue to work with, and together with the teachers who work with children and the parents who raise them, establish real, practical values that we can live and stand as real examples of to our children. After all, our future depends on it.
Watch this space to learn more or contact me if you are interested in getting started with this process.
Domesticating the Natural Child. 98
Who You Are is What You’ll Teach. 106
The Good News and the Bad News of Why Learning Cannot be Forced. 109.
The Miseducation of Your Humanity. 110
Stifling THAT child, Stifling the Whole World. 113
Being pregnant with your first child, you’d think that it would be a joyous time to be thinking about baby names while preparing to create the most optimal environment for the little one.
In an ideal world, new parents would be able to sit down and make the necessary changes to best provide a supportive and healthy environment for their child. They would be able to move, change their jobs or quit them, and they would be able to choose the type of education that they see is best suited for their child.
When my husband and I started preparing for the arrival of the new baby, we quickly realized that we couldn’t simply start planning for the life we see would be best to provide for our child.
In our case, we would like to live somewhere close to nature where our child is able to explore and enjoy nature and breathe in fresh and unpolluted air. We would like to spend as much time with our child as possible. We would also like to each be able to continue to have an active life, and stand as examples to our child through living in a way that is best for us as adults, pursuing a meaningful and purposeful driven life where making a difference in the world is of priority.
We would like to not be forced to place our child into childcare or a formal school. We would like to at least have a choice in the type of education our child is given. In the country we live in, we don’t.
We would like our child to have other people around them too, both children and adults of different ages. We would like our child to be exposed to all kinds of cultures, from books to people from other countries. We would like to live in a community where adults support each other in taking care of the children and the living environment. We would like to live rich and fulfilling lives with good nutritious food that isn’t laced with hidden toxins, regular exercise, travel and other life-enhancing experiences.
To me, these would be the basic standards of life that each child should at the very least be provided with from the moment of birth, to actually be able to make the most of themselves as adults.
When we look at our options, it is clear that we have to choose between the least bad options available to us, and make the best of that. We might for example not be able to be home with our child as long as possible. Instead we are forced to count every penny to see how far we can stretch the money or come up with a million dollar business idea over night.
Here I would also like to stress the fact that we live in one of the countries in the world that has the best conditions when it comes to things like childcare and maternity leave. We both have higher academic degrees and with my husband having studied law, we have the potential to make a considerable income in the future. I myself have worked in the education field for 15 years, and education and children’s rights are my life’s passion.
So ironically, you might say that we were in the perfect situation to become parents.
So why is it that, even for us who are tremendously privileged compared to most people in this world, we cannot even give our child the very essential upbringing we see would be best for our child to be prepared as best as possible to become an adult in this world? And where does that leave everyone else?
We hear all these fancy blanket statements like “The children are the future!” but it is as though we do not know what this in fact means on a practical level, or we wouldn’t be eroding their chances of the best life possible already from the moment they are conceived.
It is the same with statements like “All people have equal opportunity from birth”. How can that possibly be true, when my child is going to be born with disadvantages and poor odds from the get go, not even mentioning the people whose children are literally born without ANY opportunities to make a supportive life for themselves?
The fact that providing children with the utmost care and the best possible environment to grow up in, isn’t the highest priority in our society, is an unfortunate tell tale sign of where we are at in our evolution as humanity. The fact is that we are devolving rather than evolving at this point.
If children truly are the future, then we cannot care very much about our future since we are constantly making budget-cuts in virtually all areas involving children, childcare and parent support. We don’t even care enough to make the effort to protect the planet from further harm by human hands.
Another thing is that parents are expected to, without any training in how to actually be a parent, raise sensible, caring and productive members of society. Most parents try their best to give their children the best possible upbringing they can, in the best possible environment, with the best possible education, but society is indirectly – and sometimes even directly – disrupting these efforts through its commitment to short sighted wins and profit optimization for the few. It is for all intents and purposes not created to support its members to live and thrive and contribute in the best ways possible, but to erode and consume life resources, including those of human beings, at such a rapid pace that we cannot possibly keep up AND keep a decent living standard.
It would seem as though there are always more important things for us to do, than actually living, that actually caring for life. As the saying goes: as you give so shall you receive, and unfortunately we have created a world where we take a lot and expect everything in return, while we give very little. The same is true for how we raise our children.
One thing is certain: my husband and I are not going to let the lack of odds prevent us from giving our child the best possible start. We are committed to make it work, to find every gap and solution available and to learn and grow together with other parents doing the same. We do this so that our child will at least have a foundation from which they can go into life as whole human beings, human beings who have the potential to change the world, because someone was willing to change themselves and the world for them. So many parents do not have the opportunity to do that, so we do it for them too. All it takes is one family at a time, changing the world one child at a time.
For the past couple of months I have taken a rather long hiatus from blogging. The reason is that I have been suffering from severe morning sickness, leaving me virtually immobile, stranded watching YouTube videos and reading Norwegian fantasy novels as well as The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff on my couch, barely being able to eat, let alone write.
Having worked in education for so many years and spending the past 5 years loudly voicing my perspectives on the radical changes that I see needs to happen in how we see and conduct education, I find myself in the humbling position of becoming a parent for the first time.
I’ve always felt/experienced that I was ‘born to be a mother’ and have always felt very comfortable towards the idea of having children, along with enjoying spending time with children. When I am at dinner parties I always tend to levitate towards hanging out with the children or the animals rather than the adults, because children and animals are more genuine and therefore more interesting to be around. And then of course I decided to become a professional child-caretaker within which I also created an idea of being an ‘expert’ or ‘child whisperer’ of sorts. It is definitely an occupational hazard I have seen in parents that come before me. I remember in teacher conferences we had with parents, the most dreaded parents were always the ones who were teachers themselves, because they thought they knew everything.
Now when I am pregnant, I have been shocked at my own experiences, because they have indeed mostly been negative, filled with fear and doubts and anxiety towards being good enough. On the contrary, I’ve always ‘known’ that being pregnant and having the child would be natural for me, like I would be ‘the best’ at it, and reality is showing me something very different, which is actually cool because it is humbling, and I am much more grounded towards it than I think I would have been, if I had had an harmonious and angelic pregnancy, and I am probably also better equipped for when the child comes, because I’ve had to let go of my idealized ideas of myself and stop being delusional about it.
Considering the change in my circumstances, it is obvious my blog will take on a slightly different direction, given the fact that I will now include a personal perspective on parenting. I am however still as committed as ever to the process of deconstructing the education system from within (also from within the family system) and contributing to creating radical changes in how we see and approach both education, as well as how we see and approach children in general.
Living in a country where unschooling is illegal, I will continue to share my perspectives on the failure of the Swedish school system (which is no different than any other school system in the world. The only difference is that in Sweden, you have no choice to opt out). I will also be sharing the concrete and specific considerations my husband and I have towards how we will approach education on a practical level for our child.
I will share perspectives regarding general childcare and upbringing, probably more so than I have in the past, as this has been and continues to be an area that I am passionate about, and that I am obviously more directly involved with now.
Living in a country that has made modern western science into an orthodox religion, I have found myself feeling very alone when it comes to the principles that I consider to be both natural and commonsensical to raise my child according to, because they are considered to be not only ‘alternative’, but in fact even ‘weird’, ‘strange’ or ‘dangerous’. I am here speaking about something as natural to me as co-sleeping with one’s child, wearing one’s child in a sling and breastfeeding for a longer period of time than what is normally prescribed in this society. I will be sharing my experiences and insights as I start exploring these areas of parenting and child-relating on a more direct and intimate level, and I will share the processes I walk through to deschool myself from fears and beliefs and judgments that prevent me from doing what is best for myself and my child. I will continue to focus on sharing honest – and more importantly: self-honest perspectives on parenting, education and children.
I hope you will join me on this journey to life, not only as teachers, but as parents and adults in general, who wish to give our children a different world to grow up in than then one we were brought into – and who understands the imperative of changing ourselves to make this happen.
The other day while driving, I was listening to a radio program discussing young people taking a ‘gap year’ off between high school and college. In the program they interviewed both politicians as well as young people who had taken one or several gap years. The general perspective of the adults in the program, was that while one gap year can be acceptable, taking two or even three years off between high school and college is unacceptable and ill adviced. Their argument was that young people on gap years are a high cost to society, despite the fact that most of the young people interviewed in program were working while on their gap year. They argued that it costs society billions when young people wait with attending college because they after college become more attractive to the labor market and therefore earn a much higher salary than they do if they start working straight out of high school.
The young people who were interviewed, had gone to school for at least 12 years without pause and felt like they needed a break from school, to get into the world and try their hands at different things, also to find out and discover what they wanted to do with their lives on a long term basis.
They wanted experiences from real life, wanted to work and travel and for once in their lives, be able to decide for themselves. Several of them mentioned how they had made the decision to take several gap years very deliberately, because they knew that if they had started at college straight out of high school, they would have been so demotivated that the chances of them dropping out was very high. Some of them had no idea what they wanted to do in life and so felt like they needed the time to try different things and get to know themselves better because they saw that if they simply picked some random direction, there would be a great chance of them dropping out, which would in turn be a disempowering experience. So they had taken their lives into their own hands and had given themselves these gap years to figure things out, so that when they eventually decided to continue studying, they would have had matured and be more clear about what they wanted to do in life. They also accurately mentioned that even when one finishes college, there is no job guarantee and many graduates end up on unemployment benefits.
One of the things that were very interesting about the program was how the adults spoke about the young people relative to ‘society’s demands’. They spoke about the young people as spoiled freeloaders who were causing harm to society as a whole by being egocentric and only thinking about themselves. The fact that the young people felt like they needed to take a couple of years off to find out what they wanted to do in life, was seen as entirely unnecessary and self-placating.
The adults spoke about society in a context of being nothing but a zero-sum game, through which it is a burden on all of our shoulders to keep the wheels of the economy going.
Is that what society is? Something that we grow up in, and cost a lot of money to while growing up and not earning an income, and that we must spend the rest of our lives paying back, as were we nothing but debtors coming into this world?
The solution, from the perspective of the adults in the program was that young people should go straight from high school to university (or another higher education program resulting in increased earning capacity) and as quickly as possible get into the labor force to contribute to society.
The question is whether we truly contribute more to society by rushing through the education system and rushing into the labor force.
Consider how many of us as adults work in jobs we either hate or couldn’t care less about or that we know deep inside is not where our skills and abilities best comes to use. Consider the lack of work ethic that exists in so many industries due to the fact that the only reason we work is to make enough money to survive. Spending our lives slaving away at meaningless jobs is certainly not something we do ‘for society’, at least not in any benevolent or altruistic way. Society has, in this obscure optics, become an absurd ‘overlord’ to whom we owe our lives.
Society is not a fixed and determined external structure. The earth and the ecosystems in which it is maintain its equilibrium is, to some extent. There are certain physical laws that cannot be messed with, because the consequential outflows of doing so could be potentially life threatening.
Society however, is something that we have co-created and are continuously co-creating as a social construct, a social construct with physical infrastructures like medical systems and tax systems and welfare systems, but not as something fixed or unchangeable. We decide, every day, what society is and what society isn’t. At a fundamental level, society is the way we as human beings agree to organize ourselves in our collective and individual lives. The origin of the word comes from the French ’societe’ which means ‘companionship’ or ’friendly association with others’ and originates from the Latin words ’societatem’ which means ’fellowship, association, alliance, union and community’ and ’socius’ which means ‘companion’.
Society is thus a mutually supportive and equally agreed upon union between companions, agreeing to share their lives for mutual benefit, and not a before mentioned external authority to which we owe our lives.
There are so much more important issues in this world than maintaining the economic status quo of societies on a structural level. It is important to maintain a high standard of living yes, but so is actually ensuring that we have a world to live in; in fact it is the most important issue, especially in this day and age.
Kids are our most important assets yes, but not just to keep the wheels of the economy going, but to in fact ensure that we have a future as a species on this planet. By treating them, and each other like numbers in a zero sum game, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
If we cared for and nurtured the potential existing in the future generations, if we valued each individual’s unique skills and abilities, I have no doubt that we would see an entirely different world in less than 20 years.
Imagine if young people were given the space, time and resources to try different things out. And here I do not mean on a purely theoretical level, which is what we are offered at school, but on a real, practical hands on level. Imagine if kids, already as they enter into their teenage years got to get out into the world and try their hands at all kinds of different jobs, working side by side with adults as mentors, to really find out where their skills and abilities best comes to use.
Imagine if we stopped seeing society as something that we owe our lives to, and instead started seeing it as a social network of mutual support and co-creation, as a place where we are supported to discover and develop our potential, to contribute to creating the best world possible.
We would see the most amazing inventions being created, inventions that could clean our oceans, restore our rain forests and cure diseases. We would see kids growing up taking active and voluntary responsibility for their own lives, and for the world. There is no one who does not want to contribute, who does not want to be of value and purpose to the world. But what we are doing at the moment through our school systems is not harnessing or nurturing anything of real and substantial value.
If taking one or two or three gap years is what is needed for young people to find their way in life, then let us give them that opportunity. But even more than that, let’s stop seeing society as a burden on our shoulders; let’s stop seeing society as a bank we owe our lives to. Let’s stop seeing children as a form of debt and currency, with which we keep the wheels of the economy going. Let’s see children for what they truly are: pure, unleashed life potential, and let’s remember that we too as adults, despite having been subjugated into passivity and apathy for all these years, have this life potential within us. There is nothing stopping us – except us.
You are a unique being. There is no one in the world that is exactly like you, who has the exact skill-set or way of going about things as you do. You have a certain unique pace at which you learn the best, and you have specific ways that you learn the best, as Howard Gardner described in his book about the multiple intelligences, through which we learned that not all children learn best through books, that some actually need to put their hands on things to best learn or to move to be able to absorb information in the most optimal way.
As a unique being, you also have a unique potential, through which you can contribute something original to the world. These potentials can manifest in as many ways as there are human beings, from people inventing useful gadgets to those whose passion it is to work with and care for the elderly.
If this seems too far fetched for you or a little too esoteric, simply have a look at how each, seemingly generic grain of sand on a beach filled with billions of sand grains, is entirely unique when you see it up close in a microscope (it is actually very beautiful), or how each part of the human body has its own specialized function that it contributes to the whole organism with. Being unique is nothing special; it is in fact very natural.
When we live our unique potential, we give the best of ourselves to the world, because what we do becomes an expression of the best version of ourselves. The doctor who is truly passionate about being a doctor, does not compromise his position by taking shortcuts that compromises the patient, because he honors his work and himself as a doctor. The baker who is passionate about baking, will keep learning and perfecting how to make the best bread possible, and does it without effort, because it comes natural to him or her.
Despite knowing that no two people learn in the same way, we have created a school system where we expect all children to learn the exact same material in the exact same way, at the exact same time, in the exact same pace. In fact, all across the world, lesson plans are being standardized to an extreme degree, where school developers for example come to the conclusion that all second graders must learn the exact same mathematical material (like multiplication) or be taught about the exact same cultural or historical references (like the stone age) during the course of a term.
As most parents, teachers and students are aware, the amount of material you have to go through on your journey from kindergarten through high school is massive, and most of it is rushed through in the span of weeks or months, with little to no time to familiarize oneself with the subjects, to dive deeper into something that interests you, or to slow the process down if you struggle to keep up with the pace that is predetermined by standardized lesson plans.
Working as a teacher, I have spoken to many students who experience not only frustration over the pace set in school, but who also experience so much anxiety and stress, that panic attacks have become a normal part of school life. The students internalize their struggles when they can’t keep up, believing that there is something wrong with them, that they aren’t smart enough or disciplined enough to do what is expected of them.
I remember when a seventh grade student, a girl with aspirations towards becoming a movie director, who was busy writing a novel in the evenings after school, looked at me with panic in her eyes when she once again had to take another test, and to her, this was all school had become: taking tests and proving yourself to the teachers.
I remember asking her what they were learning about in the history lessons (the subject in which they were being tested that day), and she said something like “The Mesopotamian kingdom”, and I said “wow, that sounds interesting!” to which she replied: “no, not really.” And when I asked her why that was, she said: “I don’t really have time to learn anything about it, because the teacher is rushing us through everything, so it is difficult to keep up.”
This example perfectly illustrates how absurd our school systems have become, that proving that you have learned something is more important than actually learning. This girl was not stupid or lazy. She was ambitious and disciplined with her school work, self-driven even, but she had completely lost all confidence towards learning inside the school system, she didn’t even see it as a place of learning, but as a place of stress and panic and achievement. To her, real learning was something that happened at night when she was alone in front of her computer, learning how to use editing software, how to use camera angles, how to write storyboards and compelling characters, an education that she had created and was mastering completely on her own. Luckily for her, she had parents that supported her in her endeavors, but for many of us, our potential gets squashed and neglected under the burden that is our schooling.
Now – let’s imagine for a moment that education in this world, was set up in a completely different way:
Let’s imagine that education was organized and conducted in such a way where the focus of the educators (or let’s rather call them educational facilitators) was on each individual child’s unique potential. Let’s imagine that there were resources and structures in place that allowed for the adults in a child’s life to walk with the child, in the natural pace of that individual child, to learn and grow and develop and discover their potential.
In a world where education is centered around each individual’s unique potential, the girl I mentioned in the example before, could be supported to go to film school already at the age of thirteen, or she could at least be given a mentor or trainee ship with a film director or screen writer, to try her hand at it and see if it indeed is something she wants to dedicate herself to, not as a permanent life decision, but as that which is her passion at this moment in time, and that may turn out to be where her potential is best expressed.
It is not so that we have to be adults before we can discover or start developing our potential in life. This is yet another misconception about human nature that is fostered through the very school system that systematically squashes, not only our potential, but also our passion for learning in general.
There are plenty of children who, already when they are young, know exactly what they are passionate about and of course there are also plenty who have no idea what they are or could be passionate about, but that is no different for adults. Some of us knows exactly what we want and others have no clue whatsoever. And one of the reasons why we don’t know what we are passionate about, or what to make our purpose in life, is that we haven’t been allowed to try a lot of things in life. Mostly, we have spent the first twenty years of our lives learning how to sit still on a chair while we passively ingest knowledge that we have no idea what to do with outside the gates of school.
In a world where education is based on each individual discovering their own pace of learning, and learning how to initiate self-directed learning in the best way possible, each person is able to focus on developing their unique passion and purpose in life. Someone may have no use for math until they decide to become an architect because they realize how passionate they are about buildings and to them, math becomes a valuable tool that can support them in developing their passion, it has a practical and real value and perhaps for them, learning math at the age of sixteen or twenty is perfect timing because their brain simply wasn’t mature until that point.
There is a wonderful story about this in one of Sudbury Valley’s videos about life at their school, where a teacher explained (and I am paraphrasing here because I do not remember the exact details of the story) about a group of students who had decided to learn advanced math and who, because they were motivated from a point of self-directed will to learn, learned an entire lesson plan that would have otherwise taken students a year to learn, in three months.
If we could learn at our own pace, in the ways that work best for us on an individual level, I am sure that many people would have completely entire education and training programs by the age of eighteen and we would see potential unfold like never before, because we, already from the get-go support each child to explore the fullness of their capabilities.
Imagine for instance, who you would have been, if the adults around you had supported you to discover your potential, from an early age. Would you still be doing what you are doing now? Most likely not, because most of us end up either in totally random positions or in some predetermined life path of doing what was expected of us, without ever questioning whether this is actually where our skills and efforts comes best to use. Because of this, I have no doubt that our emergency rooms are filled with doctors who would have rather been bakers or guitarists, or that our taxicabs are filled with drivers who could have cured cancer or who would have contributed so much more to the world as lawmakers than they do as cabdrivers, had they only been given the opportunity to explore their full potential from childhood.
The bad news is that we are doing the exact same to our kids that has been done to us, and it is therefore imperative that we, as adults, reconnect with our own passion, purpose and potential so that we may stand as examples for the generations to come, and that we find ways to hack, transform and change our education systems, both in the classrooms and in the very political structures, to become systems of support and facilitation of our children’s unique potential.
The good news is that it is not to late for us as adults. We never lose that ‘fire’ inside our natural learning ability, our unique potential and ourselves. It may be but a whisper by the time we turn twenty-five and we may have forgotten that it ever existed once we hit forty, but it is there, waiting for us to embrace it, to stir the embers of the fire that once was, so that our hearts may once again (or perhaps for the first time) burn with a passion for life, for contributing with creating something meaningful and worthwhile to this planet, and to our own lives.
Joao Jesus from Life Educators and Anna Brix Thomsen from A Teacher’s Journey to Life are the hosts of a new series of live conversations on YouTube and Google + on Saturdays at 7 pm GMT. The series will feature interviews with experts and trailblazers in the education field as well as live discussions on cutting edge educational methods and philosophies – all with the purpose of redefining education to create a world that is best for all. Please join us with your questions and comments!
“I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions – a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom.”
– bell hooks
Children are not allowed to partake in the democratic processes of this world, generally because they are considered incapable of addressing complex questions. When we imagine a world ruled by children, it is a world not unlike the one in The lord of the flies, a chaotic world without logical rules, regulations or boundaries, a world where the most demonic aspects of humanity are at the forefront of decision-making.
This view tells us a lot about how we see children, and why children are often discriminated and controlled in ways that only prisoners and mental patients are otherwise subjected to.
Whether we do it implicitly through institutionalized structures or with deliberate intent, we tend to believe that children must be broken down, not unlike feral horses or circus animals, to become civilized members of society.
We cannot blame ourselves; we were brought up the same way; taught that our mistakes and wrongdoings meant that there was something wrong with us, that we were ‘bad’ and ‘malignant’, when all we did was emulating what we saw adults doing.
The thing is: there is nothing that exists within children that didn’t first come from adults – and this is the very fact that we are so much in denial about that we make children scapegoats for our own demonic nature; the spite, the jealousy, the nastiness that we somehow delude ourselves into believing comes directly from them, and not possibly something that they could be learning and picking up from us.
We believe them to be incapable of making common sense decisions, we say that they lack of experience, but we fail to ask ourselves whether the decisions we make, that make up the world, are at all supportive for the purpose of sustaining this planet.
When we take the premise of our prejudice towards children out of the equation, it is becomes redundant to argue that children should not be allowed to partake in the democratic process. To put it bluntly: As adults, we are the ones making a mess of this planet and we have no idea what children could contribute with if they were allowed to – because they have never been allowed an equal voice.
So I conducted a survey among my friends where I asked them to ask their children (or any child) what they would vote for if they could vote. They could vote for anything they wanted to; causes, people you name it.
This is what they said:
8 year old: “Peace and a world without any gangsters.”
11 year old: “Equal money and that everyone has as much as Adele. Not harming any animals and no more weapons!”
5 year old: “Free money so I could buy all the toys I wish for.”
10 years old: “Freedom as a right for everybody to be who they are and do all they want, – without hurting anyone.”
13 year old: “No testing in animals.”
16 year old: “For all parents who don’t educate their children to be forced to.”
8 year old: “To stop bullying. To have cool technology like hover cars and teleportation devices and time machines. That everyone have equal access to these things, the more the merrier. Another thing is better jobs and careers – and that everyone needs to have a fascinating and exciting work life.”
15 year old: “One vote for equality.”
8 year old: “1. I would like everyone to have equal amount of money. 2. That everyone have a home. 3. That everyone would get enough to eat. 4. That all children go to school. 5. And everyone feel well/good.”
10 year old: “To live in a mansion.”
16 year old: “Freedom, no wars, that everyone would be equal no matter what race you come from, what color you have you would be equal to the rest. That we take care of those in need for example refugees.”
11 year old: “Chocolate and world peace!”
7 year old: “Would like to vote for Hillary because I want a girl to be president.”
9-year-old girl: “For women’s rights, for women to not be teased or abused by men”
8 years old: “No more Wars, that everyone has enough money, more much more space for animals to live. Not harming any animals and no more weapons!”
If these kids were allowed to vote, we would have a world with world peace, a world where everyone is supported equally, where men and women are equal, a world without bullying or abuse towards animals, a world where everyone is taken care of – and yes: plenty of chocolate and hover cars and toys and mansions for everyone.
Would it truly be so bad if children could vote? And aren’t we overestimating our own capabilities for making smart political decisions considering the current state of the world?
According to the Gapminder foundation that work to provide a fact-based world view in a world with much ignorance, children currently make up a whopping 27 % of the world’s population, almost a third of the total population of humanity. The world could therefore potentially look very different if children were allowed to vote, and according to an article on the Children’s Rights International’s website, there are plenty of arguments that speak towards that being a smart choice:
1. Children have rational thoughts and make informed choices. They often display very sophisticated decision-making abilities, for example when dealing with a bully at school or an abusive parent. Some claim young people are ignorant of political affairs, but if this is true, it is a truth that extends to many adults. Democracy requires that everyone should have a voice in making the decisions that govern their lives.
2. Children should not be prevented from making decisions simply because they might make the wrong ones. It is important not to confuse the right to do something with doing the right thing. Some argue children would cast their vote frivolously, but many adults do the same or choose not to vote at all.
3. Mistakes are learning experiences and should not be viewed as wholly negative. Children, like adults, grow through a process of trial and error. Decisions made by adults are far from infallible as evidenced by wars, nuclear weapons, global warming and many more bad judgments that have led to pain and suffering. To deny children the right to make mistakes is hypocritical. If the argument is really about competence and not age, then it is not children who should be excluded but the incompetent.
4. Setting age limits on the right to vote is relativistic and arbitrary. Limits vary from country-to-country when it comes to criminal responsibility, sexual maturity and political rights. The negative definition of children as “non-adults” is simplistic. The ages from to 18 encompass an enormous range of skills, competencies, needs and rights. A 16-year-old is likely to have more in common with a 19-year-old than a three-year-old but, according to conventional accounts, the 16 and three-year-old are equally “children”. There is no better example than that of a 17-year-old who dies in a war before even having the right to vote.
5. The exclusion of children from decision-making is unfair because they can do nothing to change the conditions that exclude them. If incompetence was the issue, the stupid could grow wise, but children can not prematurely grow old. This argument confuses particular children with children as a group.
6. The argument for the exclusion of children from decision-making is little more than ill thought through prejudice dressed up as “common sense’”.
Schools such as Sudbury Valley, the Freinet schools and other democratic schools have already with success implemented voting as an integral part of their educational environment where children are equipped with voting rights equal to adults and get to vote on things like what the school budget gets spend on and whether to hire a new teacher. From an early age children who attend these schools, not only learn that their voice and perspectives matter, but they also become familiar with democratic processes involving policy development and they are more likely to grow up being interested in, and caring about being active participants in the general democratic processes within society.
As adults we tend to overestimate our own capabilities of effectively directing the world, but at the same time we also underestimate children’s abilities to contribute and it can even be argued that their perspectives are in fact greatly missed in the political debates and debacles.
Allowing children to partake in the democratic processes of the world could be a progressive step towards world change – and it is not like the world can get much worse than what it already is. As a smart child said once: “If you can’t fix it, then at least stop breaking it.”
I for one, would like to see a world where children had an equal vote to decide what to do with the world and its resources, how to care for animals and poor people and refugees, because I am sure that they would contribute with valuable and common sense perspectives, not to mention creative and compassionate solutions to solve the problems of the world.
We could certainly benefit from seeing the world more like children sees it and I am sure that if we let them, they would gladly help us change the world – and the world would be better off for it.
A really interesting question that I will bring up in my next post is the question of why children so often bring these common sense perspectives to the table and why we as adults do not. What is it that happens in the process of growing up that causes us to loose that ability to look at the world with common sense and actually see the big picture in simplicity?
“Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. “ – Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
We are all, I am sure, painfully aware that the world as we know it, is in dire need of change. What most of us concerned with this issue, ask ourselves on a daily basis is: how do we reverse the damage we have done to the planet and to ourselves as humanity? Can it even be done?
Yes it can.
Consider this: Everything that exists now, from the way we build our societies to how we treat other species is the result of a process of education. Every single person that is currently alive, has in some way or another been educated or schooled by the generations that have gone before them, to carry on the traditions and habits that make the world go round.
Every dysfunctional family pattern has been passed down generations, just as all ethnocentric history lessons, are passed down year after year in classrooms all over the world. It is a generational cycle of dysfunction that keeps recycling every time a child is born.
Every single human invention that is currently raving havoc on the planet, from the military-industrial complex to war within families, is the result of faulty education; faulty because it creates detrimental consequences, and faulty because it goes against the fundamental aim of education: to teach the upcoming generations how to effectively live and stay alive in the world. That is not what we are teaching them at the moment and the current state of the world is living proof of that. Yet, we assume that the form of education that we know from schooling is the best, and the most optimal and therefore we do not question its legitimacy or monopoly when it comes to decide how our children are to be taught.
We send our kids to school assuming that this is the only option and after all, we think: “”I came out all right after my 8 or 12 or 20 years in the school system and the world is still standing”. Some even go as far as saying that we are “at the peak of human evolution”, and they celebrate the advent of formal schooling believing that its spread into mass society is a great victory for the abolition of inequality because now everyone can pursue their happiness with equal opportunity through schooling – except, they cannot. The purpose of formal public schooling is not, and has never been to give children equal opportunities, and the fact that our societies are becoming increasingly more unequal and more volatile is a stark proof of that.
Educational facilities resembling prisons, age segregated classrooms, exclusive valuation of cognitive abilities over all other human abilities, deliberate dumbing down of the masses to ensure a pliable workforce and consumer population, childism and bullying are but a few examples of how we are systematically educated to become stifled and blunted human beings. Very few of us grow up with effective adult role models who lead by example, in showing us what it means to be human in sustainable and compassionate ways.
The world wouldn’t look the way it does if our schooling had been effective, if it had taught us to care for our world and ourselves, if it had supported us to think critically and question its systems. The world looks the way it does, because bad seeds of knowledge and information for millennia of time, have been passed on as perpetual errors in the production link that increases the errors for every new edition.
To change the current course we are on, a course that, for all we know is leading us closer and closer to the brink of self-destruction, we need to re-asses what it is we are passing on through our systems of education, whether formal (like schooling) or informal (like family dynamics), that is causing us to live dysfunctionally and out of balance with the equilibrium of the earth as a whole.
We have to break the cycles of dysfunction that have been passed on for generations, and we cannot simply do that by offering our children alternative forms of education. How can we do that when our very own starting-point in life is one of dysfunction? It would only perpetuate the dysfunction in a different environment.
To save the world, we need to deschool ourselves, individually and collectively from the current schooling paradigms (that includes parenting and more informal forms of education), that we have been indoctrinated with through our own upbringing, and that we are actively passing on to new generations.
So what does it mean to deschool ourselves?
The concept of deschooling was originally coined by philosopher Ivan Illich in his book Deschooling Society, where he argued that school has an anti-educational effect on society, while we at the same time, ironically, take schooling for granted as the only correct way to educate children.
“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.” – Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
Others, especially in the alternative education communities have embraced the concept of deschooling, and for many people who practice unschooling, deschooling is an important step, because both parents and children are indoctrinated into the schooling system, to such a degree that it can be difficult to let it go and allow for a more free approach to a child’s education.
Another proponent of deschooling is Charles Eisenstein, author of the book Sacred Economics (2011) and self-proclaimed de-growth activist. In 2008 Eisenstein organized a workshop titled Deschooling ourselves which was published on YouTube, where he lead a group into an immersion process to discover all the ways that schooling had affected and ultimately stifled their lives. This video is a great example of both the detriment of schooling as well as the importance of deschooling and Eisenstein has furthermore published a deschooling handbook titled The deschooling Convivium: Leaders handbook for those who are interested in embarking on the journey of deschooling.
Besides Ivan Illich, Charles Eisenstein and the unschooling community, not many people know of – or practice – deschooling, or they may use different terms for it, like deprogramming or hacking when it comes to subverting dysfunctional societal structures. Certain forms of therapy and personal development methods have for example incorporated the concept of ‘deprogramming’ oneself from dysfunctional thought- and behavioral patterns, to ultimately free oneself from the past and becoming a supportive member of society.
Deschooling however, must not be confused with the concept of unlearning, because ultimately, we cannot unlearn something that has already been learned. Even if one is able to free oneself from a certain behavioral pattern or belief-system, there will still be a memory of how one integrated it into oneself and accepted it as part of oneself and so it should be, if we are to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes in the future. We do not forget what has already been learned, but we can decide whether that is what we will continue to live according to, and we can learn new ways of living.
Deschooling is a deliberate deconstruction of the way we have been taught to learn and of the dysfunctional ways school itself has shaped us, as well as the deconstruction of what we have been taught; the ability to critically assess information and to, as the saying goes: “Investigate everything and keep what’s good.” – Something that isn’t taught in school.
Through a process of deschooling, we can reassess everything we have learned, as well as they way we have been taught to learn, and we can empower ourselves to decide on new ways of living, thinking and behaving.
An example could be that I, being taught in a distinct Northern European school system, have learned to see the world through a Eurocentric perspective, a perspective where European thought is the center focus and origin of all other ways of thinking.
By becoming aware of that limitation within myself (through the process of deschooling), I can actively start seeing the world in more holistic ways, by for example traveling to countries outside of Europe and through getting to know other cultures, from a perspective of curiosity and openness, rather than from a perspective of the implicit imperial superiority that I have been indoctrinated with during my school years. Worldschooling is an excellent example of that.
As a sociologist, I can read Japanese social theory or immerse myself in the works of Ibn Khaldun, a renowned Arabic thinker who (outside of Europe) is known as one of the founding fathers of modern sociology, and someone I wasn’t taught about in my years at University. I expand my horizon beyond the frame I have been taught to remain within in school.
What deschooling offers us, is a process of emancipation from institutionalized learning, which in turn gives us the opportunity to take education into our own hands. Even more so, through actively deschooling ourselves, we can begin a process of directively re-learning what it means to be a human in this world.
We can therefore, through deschooling, teach ourselves a different way of living and co-existing, a way that is sustainable and supportive for the restoration of the ecosystems of the planet, something that we are inherently dependent on and yet have forgotten in our current schooling systems. This is imperative if we are going to stand as examples for our children and break the cycles of generational dysfunction, that we carry with us as a latent virus that is unleashed onto our children, whether we like it or not.
When a computer program carries virus and raves havoc on our hard drive, we deprogram it and install a new one that is clean and functional. There is no reason we cannot do that when it comes to our education systems, let alone the world system as a whole.
It is in fact, what is required if we are to save the world.