On Turning 37

I was born roughly 1,924 weeks ago. That number is only slightly more arbitrary than the corresponding number of years: thirty seven.

Age is strange. On the inside, I feel about twenty one. From the outside, it might seem like I am eightysomething, based on my much-cherished, early-to-bed, early-to-rise lifestyle. Nonetheless, I am barreling towards forty. How can this be possible? Am I middle aged?

I clearly remember my dad’s 39th birthday, September 30, 1991. Our family gathered in the kitchen to sing to him and eat the German chocolate cake my mom had made. I was eleven years old and suddenly overcome with nostalgia and concern for my dad’s advancing age. I was jolted by the revelation that my dad would one day die, and so would I, and so would we all. According to my childish logic, age 39 sounded alarmingly close to “old.”

On Tuesday, I turn 37. My parents are 64. Dude, it’s 2017. In the future, it will be the year 2049. What do any of these digits mean? What’s in a year? Isn’t time ultimately this moment, whatever is happening in the stream of consciousness of the present moment? Time marches on, yet life feels timeless, at times.

My husband teases that I’m a child of the eighties, while he belongs to the far-superior decade of the seventies. (Mind you, he was born in the summer of ’79.) I appreciate that the eighties were low-tech. I am grateful that social media did not exist until I was in college. I reminisce about the time before selfie sticks, smartphones and multitasking reigned all over the land. I am appalled to think about how much TV I watched as a kid and teen. I haven’t had a television since circa 2006.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past few years about learning and unlearning. The lesson I am currently unlearning, which I thought I had already but am realizing through my own experience as a mother to my daughter, is that “You have to be nice.” Be a good girl, try a little harder, and all that. Study hard. Work hard. Play hard.
Nowadays, I am more into softness.

I catch myself telling my girl, “Be nice.” Or urging her to hug someone or give a high-five or say something for goodness sakes’. She is currently speaking nonstop, all day every day at home, and when we go out of the house, she’s virtually silent around anyone she doesn’t know well. And that’s okay. I am practicing letting her be. Letting her do as she will, as she wishes, as long as it’s with kindness, respect and lovingness. Being softer and gentler with her, reasoning with her in a calm way, when she is not being so kind, loving or respectful.

So I’m unlearning “be nice” as a social construct, while ever reminding myself: be nice, as in: practice kindness, to all beings without exception.

Another day older, another day of precious life, another day closer to cheerful death.

I am thirtysomething. I’ve learned a lot since I was twentysomething. Have I grown, evolved, matured, become more grounded and well balanced, in general, a little bit? Have I gained wisdom? Maybe. Experience? Definitely. Most of all: self-knowledge. Understanding of my own mind, body and heart—as well as recalling, always, the essence of being and intending to flow with the energy of life.

Viva la vida!

Integrating Learning, Living & Loving

Home is Where the School is: The Logic of Homeschooling and the Emotional Labor of Mothering got me thinking about how I might integrate learning, living and loving within my own home as a mother and educator.

Jennifer Lois, Associate Professor of Sociology, interviewed a group of homeschooling mothers from conservative Christians to new age liberals, tracking the highlights and lowlights of their experiences over a span of 10 years. As I was reading, I made note of the parents’ growth, the author’s realizations, as well as my own learnings, which are applicable to anyone who has his or her hand and heart in the education of a child:

  1. “You can have it all, but not all at once.” Your life isn’t on hold because you are a parent or have chosen – or have no other choice but – to homeschool. Develop a broader perspective; there is time for all of it to happen: the career, travel, housework, etc. but don’t miss out on what is happening. Childhood is a time sensitive matter.
  2. Be available for the “teachable moments.” The more engaged you are, the more engaged your child will be (which will save you time and energy in the long run). Besides, desirable emotions are enhanced in the present moment, so be in the here and now to increase your own level of satisfaction.
  3. The more you base your sense of self on your child’s achievements, the more likely it is you will burnout. Relax. Highly structured activities will not decrease your anxiety… but they will decrease your child’s motivation, and, therefore, performance. Your child is a unique individual. So are you.
  4. Homeschooling – or even parenting – maybe not have been a choice, yet you can make the choice at any moment. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are making a sacrifice for a child or you will overlook the amazing position you are in.
  5. Learning is a part of life, not separate from it. Make the curriculum or even extra-curricular activities work for you and your family, so learning doesn’t become a burden. Follow your instincts. Learn through play whenever possible. Even incorporate household chores and healthy habits. And unstructured family time – without stress – is essential.
  6. Your partner is not another person to meet your standards. Looking for a particular type of involvment may cause you to overlook the ways in which he is. Try to notice and be grateful for the ways he is already influencing your child’s development and invite him to come up with his own ideas for meaningful interactions.
  7. See what happens without the “teacher” and “parent” labels. You are a learner, learning alongside another learner. Explore your personal passions along the way; you may even discover overlap with your child’s interests.
  8. Give yourself a break. Just because you aren’t instructing all the time, doesn’t mean your child isn’t learning. Learning is like breathing and space is essential for growth.
  9. Socialization is more than identifying with a group of children who are the same age and like the same things. Look for opportunities for you and your child to engage with several, multi-aged networks. And you don’t have to do it all alone: find online resources, take part in community projects, hire a mentor or tutor for particular subjects.
  10. Know your child’s biorhythms and work with them, rather than forcing him or her into a desk or schedule. Your child will be the first to let you know what works and doesn’t work. Observe. Listen. Forcing your child to conform will only cause him or her to fight back, or worse, you will succeed in crushing your child’s curious and creative spirit.

Essentially, integrating learning, living and loving can be efficient, effective and enjoyable for all those involved. Challenging, yes, I’m sure, but it is a challenge I welcome.

Bowing Out of the Learning Circle.

The individual is of first importance, not the system. ~J. Krishnamurti

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My experiences in my first six years as a school teacher showed me unequivocally that the system is of first importance in a traditional school setting—not the individual.

Testing took precedence over learning. Administrators admonished teachers with frequent reminders of the rules and references to the employee handbook. Students’ needs—even basic, primary needs like hunger—were ignored until they could no longer be ignored.

To students of political science: forget completely about any textbooks ever written, any systems ever devised, any ideologies ever constructed, for none of their authors knew the entirely new, planetary, global and scientific conditions of today. You will have to write the new textbooks, devise the new systems and construct the new ideology needed for our time. Old ideas will only confuse and blind you. ~ Robert Muller

My final school as a teacher has former UN undersecretary Robert Muller as its namesake. He developed the “World Core Curriculum,” which is used by a handful of schools across the globe.

Midway through my third year at this school, the veil was lifted. I saw, painfully clearly, just how hypocritical this wannabe peacemaking school actually is.

Moreover, my paradigm had shifted. What has been seen cannot be unseen, and all that jazz. I had realized several truths:

  • School is oppressive.
  • School is not the answer.
  • School is a bully.
  • School is not the way to a good quality education.

So I got out. But in a messy, dramatic way that made me the talk of the town for a while. I literally heard strangers gossiping about me as I strolled down the street.

I missed my bright, innocent, bubbly students but felt free from an unhealthy, borderline unsafe work environment.

My liberation from the school was a catalyst in our search for and purchase of a tiny cabin across the lake. I was approached by a small group of mothers in my new neighborhood to “homeschool” their three fifth graders… two of whom had been in my class at the school the year prior. I gladly agreed, and we embarked on the new project in September.

For the first month, it was like a honeymoon. The site of the new “school” was my neighbor’s lakefront house, a mere 10-minute walk from my front door. The kids would jump into the lake at recess for a quick swim. I took the plunge along with them a couple times, too. We did a lot of bonding, team building, mindfulness, free writing, and poetry. I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to them.

But by late October, it was becoming clear that the project and I were moving in opposite directions. I was wanting to get more into project-based, student-led learning while the parents were wanting more structure, formal assessment and disciplined studies of spelling, grammar and reading for their kids.

We mutually decided it would be best for another English teacher to take over. Since no one was readily available, so I agreed to continue until we found a replacement. Last week, circumstances arose which propelled me to say, finally, “No more.” I collected my belongings and hugged the children goodbye. They understand. For now, the other teacher, Ed, has taken over my classes.

I am no longer a school teacher.

I am and always will be a teacher and a learner.

Here’s to the journey.

May you live with light, love, goodness and beauty every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year of your life.

I wish happiness to all those I love
I wish happiness to all humans
I wish happiness to this divine planet
I wish happiness to God and to the universe

What an extraordinary universe we live in!

~Robert Muller

Just Say No to School

{Read the original on elephant journal}

“To understand life is to understand ourselves, and that is both the beginning and the end of education.” ~ J. Krishnamurti

Although I am grateful for my conventional education and experiences in traditional schools, here’s why I don’t want my child to ever be subjected to the tyranny of the classroom.

In 2006, I earned my alternative teaching certificate and brushed up on my Spanish. School worked for me, so much so, that I decided to work for it. I was overjoyed. Going back into the classroom was like a sweet homecoming, bringing back cheerful memories of my early school days.

So why wouldn’t I want that same experience for my daughter?

As a teacher, I gradually became more disillusioned with each passing year. At the end of the day, between mandatory tests, curriculum, and policies and procedures, I had little left to give, regardless of how creatively I approached the content.

I am still a teacher and a mentor. I am also now a mother, which has clearly shifted my perspective on education as my partner and I continue to contemplate what we want for our girl. (She’s currently two.)

I am thrilled to never again have to coerce kids to sit still, nor make them line up, nor force them ask my permission to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. I am blessed to have this opportunity, yet I have also made it happen through my choices which have led me to drop out of the system and to embark upon a new learning experiment here in our neighborhood.

Follow the project, The Pasajcap Learning Circle, via EnlightenEd. I’ll be blogging there at least twice a month about this new way of learning we are putting into practice.

J. Krishnamurti quotes on education from his brilliant essay, Education and the Significance of Life:

Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult.

Reaction only breeds opposition, and reform needs further reform.

It is only when we face experience as it comes and do not avoid disturbance that we keep intelligence highly awakened; and intelligence highly awakened is intuition, which is the only true guide in life.

As long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance.