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Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Hundred Thousand Others and a Hundred Thousand More


Homelessness is the worse stigma in America, worse than being fat, than being unemployed, than being a person of color, than being mentally ill or being a criminal. Homelessness is the equivalent of being all those things at one time.

Becky Blanton
My friend Becky Blanton, someone I've written about before, has produced terrific a free e-book called Homeless for the Holidays that offers practical advice about giving to the homeless this holiday season (and year-round) in ways that truly make a difference.

The e-book lists all kinds of things that homeless people actually need (good socks, 12-volt appliances, pre-paid cell phones, a backpack or carryall), 101 ideas for ways you can help that really help.

It's well-designed and includes lots of information about homelessness in America, including Becky's own story of the year she found herself without work, living in her van with her dog. (Three years later she was giving a talk about it at TEDGlobal in Oxford, England.)

You can download the e-book pdf here.

And while I have you, and on a related subject, the ever-acerbic Joe Bagaent has much to say about the American way of work in this post from Ajijo, Mexico.

Finally, because it seems appropriate, and because it's probably first among many of my favorite Woody Guthrie songs, I'll leave you with the lyrics to "I Ain't Got No Home," a song he wrote in 1938 to the tune of a popular Baptist hymn of the time, "This World is Not My Home." Where the hymn counseled the poor and displaced to accept their fate and seek their home in the next life, Woody's lyrics turned that sanguine notion on its head.


I ain't got no home, I'm just a ramblin' around
Work when I can get it, I roam from town to town
The police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I was farmin' shares and always I was done
My debts they was so many they wouldn't go around
Drought got my crops and Mr. Banker's at my door
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Six children I have raised, they're scattered and they're gone
And my darling wife to heaven she has flown
She died of the fever upon the cabin floor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been workin' mister since the day that I was born
I worry all the time like I never did before
Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Now I just ramble around to see what I can see
This wide wicked world is a funny place to be
The gamblin' man is rich and the workin' man is poor
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore

I'm stranded on this road that goes from sea to sea
A hundred thousand others are stranded here with me
A hundred thousand others and a hundred thousand more
I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Strong at the Broken Parts? Not So Much.

My friend Anne had a moment at a coffee shop this morning. She wrote*:
"(I'm) finding it very difficult to be here at the coffee-shop surrounded by LOUD, disrespectful parenting. Time to take my pumpkin spice macchiato and LEAVE, to create my own Shining Bubble of Bliss, where children's Voices (AND the adults' Voices) are Heard, Honored and Respected and Celebrated."
My friend Ren posted this quote from James Bach of Buccaneer Scholar last night*:
"When you speak to your children today, you are also speaking to every day of their future selves. Parenting is outside of time. Take care and take heart in that."

* * *

Separated by the better part of a day, the two posts spoke to me in a single voice. That voice said,

This culture is hell on kids.

And, It doesn't have to be that way.

* * *

The most difficult part for me in Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story was the section about kids being sent to a juvenile jail for offenses such as throwing food. They were jailed in order to fatten the bank accounts of a corrupt judge with a financial interest in the jail.

To the judge, to the entire system, these kids weren't people. They were profit centers.

This culture is hell on kids.

(and it doesn't have to be that way.)

* * *

There was a viral video that made the rounds a week or two ago, a public service announcement reminding us -- for about the ten-gazillionth time -- that kids learn by modeling adult behavior.

Well, no shit.

* * *

I don't go out among the milling crowds anymore. I don't go to places where there is likely to be a lot of conventional parent-child interaction, because so much of it is just too painful to see. I wonder sometimes if I'm becoming a recluse.

I wonder if this is such a bad thing.

* * *

The other day I read a headline that stated that kids who are spanked have lower IQs. Whatever you might think of the whole IQ thing (not much, I say) it doesn't take a genius to realize that kids who wrap themselves in protective armor to shield against the blows of a hostile world aren't likely to come to new situations with the open hearts and minds that serve as markers of intelligence.

And guess what.

Belittling is a blow. Ridicule is a blow. Inattention, lack of respect, threats, manipulation, coercion, withdrawal of affection, these are all weapons against which kids will create their bulwark, their shielding armor that ends up deflecting not just the poisoned arrows but also the beckoning call of the world to engage and explore and interact and grow.

To what end is this violence to the bodies and souls of our kids perpetrated?

What is gained by it?

What is lost?

* * *

Some people understand unschooling to be an educational philosophy. And it is partly that. The root word educere means to draw out. Conventional parenting interprets this drawing out as a teacher-student/dominant-subordinate paradigm -- the adult extracting the correct answers and desired behavior from the child.

But among unschoolers it is more often perceived to be the world that beckons, the world that draws us out, so that we might interact, form relationships, learn, play, contemplate, become co-creators, figure out our place and our way. All of which requires us to be permeable to the world.

Not armored. Not fortressed. Not afraid. But open.

The world needs us to be open to it.

* * *

I love the world. I really do. But the people....

This is a long post. I don't know how to wrap it up, because there is no closure for an ongoing cultural dysfunction. I'll just leave you with the words of one of my favorite bumperstickers and hope that it carries you, open-hearted, into the day.

World Peace Begins At Home
Be Nicer to Your Kids

*posted on facebook

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bless This Online Community

Dreaming, dreaming.

I've been keeping up with Sharon over at Casaubon's Book, who wrote this beautiful post on dreaming a garden into being. Woebegone gardener tho I am, she almost has me convinced to start digging once more.

And I couldn't agree more with her conclusion:

... without a vision, without a dream, without asking that question “what do you see” we can’t begin to make it into something real.

I have an art studio in my garage now, remember, that came into being on the wings of a vision.

And a book.

And a life.

Which reminds me. I write so little that is specifically about unschooling in this blog and my usual explanation is that our entire lives are about unschooling. But sometimes things come up that perfectly illuminate our unschooling world. Like yesterday, when the house was filled with the lilt of Dragonstar on her tinwhistle, one of the sweetest sounds from one of the sweetest instruments ever created. Her music-making was born in solitary moments when she was left alone to figure things out, and it learned to walk among music-making friends who welcomed her and let her find her way among the notes within the safety of their group.

Not everyone needs or wants formal instruction. Not everyone needs to be told "go practice."

There you go. Unschooling.

Speaking of which, and in tandem with Sharon's poetic vision about gardens, I read some recent posts from my friend and fellow unschooler Ren Allen that gave me not just food but a feast for thought. First was "Wild and Precious." A taste:

Right here under my feet there is earth to till and above me stars to inspire awe. There are children who need parents and trees that need saving. There is more here than we can take in. And people are worried about college?

Then came an article co-written for a German magazine called Unerzogen, in which Ren writes about her son:
I knew without a shred of doubt that therapy and schooling would shatter my child's vision of himself, make him doubt where there was only confidence, create "broken" where there was "whole". I couldn't do it. So on dark days when I wasn't the best mother in that moment, or I wondered if we were indeed doing him a disservice by not seeking out more (more of what I'm not sure) I found that quiet confidence born of tapping into community. Yes, that online community of words and thoughts given by strangers oft times. Strangers who had faith that their child needed no labels, needed no "fix" but needed the same trust that all children deserve.
Do yourself a kindness and read Ren's article and post, and Sharon's vision. If they don't get you ready to embrace the day, I don't know what will.

As for me, I am forever in awe of, inspired by, and grateful to, this amazing online community.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gratitude + Stardust

So a bunch of unschooler friends are heading to a Big Unschooler Gathering this weekend on a beach in South Carolina and here we are all Envious in Indiana. Sort of like Sleepless in Seattle without the email thing.

There are so many awesome unschooler meetups these days. Sandra Dodd is having a small one in November and a larger one in January. Dayna Martin is hosting an unschooling cruise to Bermuda at the end of October. For our part, Dragonstar and I are counting the days (23!!) until we leave for ARGH, the Autodidact Radical Gathering of Homeschoolers that happens every spring and fall in eastern Tennessee.

We are so ready.

Dragonstar would like to move to eastern Tennessee. There are Good Reasons why we don't, but they will be Good Reasons only for a few more years. After that...

Meanwhile we're grateful to be here in Indiana, which is among only ten states that do not place restrictions on homeschooling. (Yes, that's one of those Good Reasons.)

In the city down the road they're midway through the celebration of one of the largest and oldest street festivals in the country, the Westside Nutclub Fall Festival. Carnival, street fair, music, and the strangest food this side of Quark's bar on Deep Space Nine. (Chocolate-dipped bacon, anyone?) It's not my thing -- I don't take to milling crowds -- but I like that it happens. It's so very local. All the food booths are run by local organizations and schools and churches and civic groups (there is a long waiting list to get a booth) and the whole thing has a distinctive nowhere-else-but-here vibe. More gratitude: I don't have to love going to it to appreciate what a rare and valuable community thing it is.

In other news...

Things seem to have calmed down somewhat with the passing of summer, though I'm not so optimistic to believe that sanity will gain a foothold in this world anytime soon. Case in point: this report about the police response to the use of Twitter by activists at the meeting of the G20 in Pittsburgh last month.

Not to go all political on you, but we took Iran to task recently for doing that very thing, did we not?

Yes, I think we did.

In light of that last item, and given likelihood of continuing insanity as the world wakes up from history, I'll leave you with this gem from Joanna Macy (from the Gratefulness.org website.)

Act Your Age

Since every particle in your body goes back to the first flaring forth of space and time, you're really as old as the universe. So when you are lobbying at your congressperson's office, or visiting your local utility, or testifying at a hearing on nuclear waste, or standing up to protect an old grove of redwoods, you are doing that not out of some personal whim, but in the full authority of your 15 billions years.

We are stardust, people. Go shine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Cleaning


It's a flannel shirt kind of morning. Dragonstar, the BBPiT and I have been watching old episodes of Northern Exposure on dvd, motivated (perhaps) by a desire to acclimate to the increasing chill.

There are bakery croissants on the counter and a mug of tea cooling on the stove, and a house to make ready for winter.

Ambitious, that last item.

When I was a kid my mom used to do "fall cleaning," a thorough, top-to-bottom effort that involved piles and piles of dust rags and a lot of moving of furniture. It took two weeks to get it all done. And ours was not a large house.

Personally, I thought it was a little much. All that taking down and hanging up. All those tools on the vacuum cleaner put to constant use. I vowed I would never be so seasonally manic about cleaning.

And I'm not.

Oh, am I not.

But the other day, in the spirit of the changing seasons, I did take a broom to my multi-purpose front room, and yesterday I dusted bookshelves.

I see you snickering. But really, I have a lot of bookshelves.

Anyway, as I swept and dusted, I realized (after a mere five years of living in this house) that energy collects in one certain corner of my front room (as evidenced by the copious dust bunnies hiding there). And where energy collects, things can stagnate. Creative efforts can stall, just like the dust bunnies, unable to circulate, clinging to the underside of daily routine.

Hmm.

The front room is where I do my "indoor art." Fabric work and journal pages and other relatively tidy stuff (as opposed to the messy stuff I do in the garage. Studio. Whatever.) And I have a pile of this indoor art to finish in time for a holiday fair next month.

And I've been procrastinating.

Hmm.

We used to snark about my mom's need to rearrange the furniture twice a year (there was spring cleaning, too), but in the days before any of us had ever heard of feng shui, she was putting it into practice.

Pretty smart, that woman.

* * *

While I have you here, and speaking of creative efforts, I finally relaunched my art blog, Out of Hand Art, on a new blogging platform and with a new emphasis on creative adventure. Come visit when you have a chance. There will be tea. And maybe even croissants.