Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fear and Balance

“Am I afraid of high notes? Of course I am afraid. What sane man is not?”—- Luciano Pavarotti

Another article from my printed-out files can be found at the North Carolina Unschoolers site. It is called Confronting Fear (pdf). I don’t remember exactly why I printed it out originally, but it was probably during the time when I was trying to unschool as much as possible, a few years back. I know I often felt fearful, and at some point I realized that as this unschooling dad points out, that this fear is a real enemy in itself. Or perhaps I should say that fear is a natural warning symptom, like pain, but that it shouldn’t rule our lives. As with pain, different people have different tolerances for fear. Fear ought to be something we listen to and decide about consciously.

Definitely, I think fear is a real factor in ALL homeschooling, not just unschooling. As the author says:

While on my computer one day I happened to look up at the headlines running across the front page of AOL. And it jumped out at me. A picture of this precious little girl with a huge smile on her face and the caption read “Old enough to know how to…and then it listed Care for a pet, Bathe solo, do chores… and when you click on the tab it takes you directly to an ad for Parenting Magazine that says “An Age By Age Guide.” There is no author given but you can again “learn more” by clicking on the banner to “buy the magazine”. Fear. They are preying on the fear that some parents will have when they read that banner. Oh my child must be behind because Johnny can’t take care of our pet. I must be a bad parent. Maybe if I buy this magazine “they” will tell me how to do it right. How to be a “good” parent. How your child can catch up.

Don’t many of us feel that fear, and get pulled into doing something we don’t REALLY think is best, just because we think we should or that our kids will be ruined if we don’t?

When I had my unschooling sabbatical, part of the process was to learn to weigh my fear in proportion to my intuition. The author of the article says:

From early on, when my son cried the first time I laid him down in the basinet I knew that our life as a family would be different. I had this tug in my heart, a tug that many mothers feel and choose to fight off, a tug that for me was life changing. I knew from that moment on that what I had learned from society and my family and friends was not going to work for us.

The same thing happened to me. It was easier when my children were infants, though. I knew almost physically that I was their mother and that I had to trust my understanding of the situation rather than listen to the other voices around me. As infants get older, they enter a bigger world than the infant/mother/family one, and it gets more difficult to know exactly when to listen to the culture and when to do things differently. After all, they will have to live in the culture.

So as I reflect on “confronting fear”, I’m not trying to make the point that I ignore fear, either. After all, fear is a sort of intuition itself, and again, it might have a valuable function. It’s just that it shouldn’t make my decisions for me; it doesn’t have to drown out the voice that tells me it’s important to “play past it” (as they say about pain, sometimes). I guess, as with pain, there is “good fear” — that’s helpful for growth and that you can ignore or play past — and “bad fear” — that’s a warning to slow down and rethink.

I don’t happen to agree with everything in the article. For example, the conventional unschooling wisdom that “children will learn what they need to know when they need to know it” is unconvincing to me. I don’t know if this is because I happen to have a blind spot for this particular truth, or that it is really not quite true, or if perhaps the people who live by this truth also have a different kind of motivational engine that helps them round out their childrens’ environment so that the children do learn what they need to know.

Rather, for me, unschooling is a follow-up of attachment parenting. It is about recognizing that the relationship is fundamental, and that humans need safety and stimulation both in order to learn and thrive. And that MY relationship with my children and learning simply WON’T look like anyone elses’.

So in that way, I’ve had to confront my fear even of not “doing unschooling right.” If I do homeschooling someone else’s way, or for that matter, if I mother someone else’s way, it won’t be REAL attachment parenting or unschooling. It will be my carbon copy of what I think it should look like, and I will be back in the old trap of doubting myself and following someone else’s lead instead of doing what I think is best, out of love and commitment to my family.

As I get older, I find I haven’t gained all that much security that I am doing things “right”. When I’m really contemplating that, I realize that I am glad I don’t have security, if it has to come with complacency and rigidity. I don’t want to be blind to what’s around me just because I’ve found things that “work” — because if you get too attached to what “works”, you get attached to something that changes. The principles don’t change, but the applications do.

So in that way, again, some “good fear” can be a healthy impulse, reminding us to double-check ourselves at intervals, and make sure that what we are doing is intentional and thought-through.

Sandra Dodd writes in Balancing in the Middle Ground:

New unschoolers can feel that they’re moving between extremes, and it can take a while to settle where the whole family is content. Sometimes it takes years, but there are ways to feel better in the meantime.

If the old rules were that school is vital and “an education” (defined as the curriculum of an ideal school) is necessary, will the new rules be that school is not important and an education is not necessary? We don’t make school disappear by turning the other way. It’s still there. Our kids might want to go to school someday, in some form. We don’t deny that knowledge is important by becoming unschoolers, but many come to prefer the idea of “learning” with its vast possibilities over the narrower “education”.

……Some parents label unschooling as “child-led learning,” and so they think they’re going from “parent led” life to “child led” life, but the balance point is that the family learns to live together harmoniously.

To me it seems that there is a process similar to this in balancing out one’s own sense of how to do things in a family and in homeschooling. You end up trying to find the differential between “too different” and “not different enough”, between “everything” and “nothing”. They say that there is a complex and multi-faceted effort of muscular and vestibular function needed to balance and stand upright. This seems to me similar to the effort ones makes in life to discern and decide what’s important and how it should look in one’s family. Some ideas from outside might help — children learn to stand partly because they see those around them standing — but the motivation and the specific skills and developmental capability come from oneself.


No comments: