Sunday, July 29, 2007

Woody's Birthday, a Little Belated

Woody Guthrie's birthday came and went, and I meant to make something of it, but one thing and then another came up, and now here it is almost August. Well, better late...

As kids in our neck of the woods scour the shelves at Target and WalMart for their back-to-school backpacks and all the stuff to stuff therein -- they return to the grind August 8th -- my thoughts turn to all the things that don't fit into backpacks or curricula or accepted canon. For example, every school kid in this country can probably sing the first verse of Woody Guthrie's best known song, "This Land is Your Land." But how many can sing the two least-known verses to that best-known song?

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple
by the relief office I'd seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on that sign there it said "no trespassing"
But on the other side it didn't say nothing
That side was made for you and me.

Unschoolers are sometimes subject to the criticism that there will be great gaps in our kids' education as a result of our unconventional approach to learning. But there are gaps in all our educations, in all our knowledge. I was nearly thirty years old before I heard these two verses of Guthrie's most famous song. Why have they been left out of the canon, and what else is left out along with them?

Woody Guthrie was born July 14, 1912 and died in 1967. He lived through two world wars and two undeclared wars, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. He mingled with communists and tagged his guitars with the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists."

The Official Woody Guthrie Website can tell you more about him than I ever could. I just wanted to raise a toast in honor of his birthday, even if I'm a little bit late.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Hens & Chickens

My dad used to grow these by the hundreds in the rock garden along our driveway and up the path that led to the back door. I don't recall ever seeing them flower, though they must have at some point or other. These are Dragonstar's. She's had them for two years, and they seem to be doing well. They'd gone brown earlier this year, and I'd given them up for lost at the beginning of the summer, but they look happy now with their little clusters of blossoms.

We stood in line at the bookstore until 12:45 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning, Dragonstar in her purple Tonks hair, me in the long black cape she'd cast off midway through the evening, awaiting our copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We spent most of yesterday swapping the book back and forth. Dragonstar finished it last night, but she's keeping her lip zipped. I'm about halfway through. We'll be going back to the bookstore to participate in the post-mortem discussion on August 4. Yeah, I know, we're HP geeks.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Deprofessionalized Intellectual

Gustavo Esteva is an activist in Oaxaca, Mexico. He calls himself a "deprofessionalized intellectual." In a recent article he writes of his long-time acquaintence with Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) and of his experience creating Uniterra, a "university" of apprenticeship in which there are no teachers, no classes, no curriculum, just people coming together to learn what they need to know in order to maintain, or create and sustain, livable, functional communities.

Esteva writes:

"When we all request education and institutions where our children and young people can stay and learn, we close our eyes to the tragic social desert in which we live. They have no access to real opportunities to learn in freedom. There are no conditions for apprenticeships. In many cases, they can no longer learn with parents, uncles, grandparents – just talking to them, listening to their stories or observing them in their daily trade… Everybody is busy, going from one place to the other. No one seems to have the patience any more to share with the new generation the wisdom accumulated in a culture… Instead of education, what we really need is conditions for decent living, a community…"

Read the entire article here. It's long, and worth it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Unfettered, Unscheduled, Unschooled

I have a special notebook I keep with my other journals, a big unlined book about 10"x10" with hard covers (all the better for scribbling in), spiral bound (of course) with sheets of thick brown paper that remind me of postal-wrap. I began working in it about 16 months ago. It is my Big Book of Grand Ideas.

In my Big Book I have developed a Center for Creative Living, a small press, an intentional community, a cob house, an art and craft fair, a funky retail shop, a documentary film and a poetry chapbook. Of these Grand Ideas, three actually converged to form my erstwhile art gallery/creative center, and a fourth -- the small press -- is sprouting wings and getting ready to fly.

I am an ink-on-paper person. Dreaming on the page is how I operate. But I'm convinced that without the unfettered, unscheduled hours provided by our unschooling life, few if any of those dreams would ever be realized.

Developing a creative "what if" and moving it off the page often means clearing the decks, clearing the calendar, leaving a broad swathe of time in which to doodle and ponder, withdraw and connect, walk about and be still. Dreaming big takes time!

So we give ourselves time. Our days are spent wandering about, noodling on the computer, making art, poking around in the yard and down by the river, going to the library and the grocery store and the bookstore. We have a few scheduled activities, but only a few. Dragonstar is taking a weekly drama class that anchors her in a community of creative friends. I have tickets to a musical this weekend. We plan on seeing Harry Potter on opening day. But that's about as scheduled as we get.

We don't have scads of money. By contemporary standards we don't have much money at all. What we do have is a sense of authority over our lives. And guess what? You, me, that teenager down the street, we're all authors. How sad that so many of us feel we must give ourselves over to ghostwriters, to family and friends whose "good advice" can cripple our fledgling creative souls, as well as to "experts" and "authorities" who don't know us at all, don't understand our dreams, our vision, our passion, our gifts, but still feel compelled to instruct us in how best to live.

In truth, there are a multitude of ways to live. This thing we call unschooling is itself a big broad path. Walking it allows us to swing our arms, to reach for the sky. A mind not cramped by other people's notions of how things need to be is a mind that can give birth to Grand Ideas, those "what ifs" that could change your life, or change the world.

Everybody has dreams. I suggest you write yours down. Start a Big Book of your own. You never know what might come of it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Dragonstar's Bouquet

Shasta daisies and red yarrow from the back yard and a sprig of mint from her mint bed on the south side of the house, tucked into an empty bottle of Spanish olive oil brought back from a BBPiT European tour in 2001.

The shastas have grown very tall this year, and are producing scads of blossoms, and until the blast of heat in June we had lots of spiderwort and Asian day flowers. But the lack of rain and temperatures in the 90s have taken a toll. The only other plant that's really flourishing is the bamboo that came up alongside the compost bin last year, and is now thick and green and forms a nice barrier between the bin and the neighbor's line of sight.

We're trying to have a lazy week, after our busy-ness of last week at Patchwork Central's summer art program, and the anticipation of more busy-ness next week when I'm scheduled to lead a session there on creative journaling. In the interim Dragonstar has been working on timed writing exercises with an Instant Messenger buddy and I'm noodling at my art table wondering what to tackle next.