Friday, February 17, 2012

The Real (Man's) World

It seems like the main accusation lobbed against unschooling have to do with the idea that unschoolers somehow exist outside reality:

"Without rules and punishment, how will they ever learn to function in the real world?"

"Sure, I can see how you could unschool your way into being an artist or a writer, but how could an unschooler get a real job like being a doctor or lawyer?"

To which most unschooling parents respond by blinking and looking around, wondering if their homes and children are actually holograms and they've somehow failed to notice until it was pointed out to them. "Isn't this real?" is the usual - and logically sound - protest.

However, I think the naysayers are onto something. Unschooling does allow kids to exist outside of reality - at least, one particular type of reality. Let's reframe the arguments above from a feminist perspective:

"Without being forced to comply with people bigger and more powerful than they are, how will they ever learn to give in to the kyriarchy in the future? How will they learn that their lives and bodies belong not to them, but to whoever happens to be older, whiter, richer, or more male than they are?"

"Sure, I can see how unschoolers could get artsy frou-frou jobs that don't really matter, but how will they compete in a male-dominated profession - the only ones that really count?"

I'd like to suggest that these are the arguments that are really being made - whether the people making them realize it or not. In a patriarchal society, we are conditioned from birth to believe we must give respect to things typically associated with maleness: dominance, competition, cold rationality, discipline, left-brain thinking. Meanwhile, we're taught that we must not give respect to things traditionally associated with femaleness: cooperation, compassion, sympathy, free expression of emotion, creativity, nurturance, right-brain thinking. School, being part of the kyriarchy (the societal system of oppression designed to uphold the dominance of white, middle-aged, wealthy, heterosexual, able-bodied men), is designed to uphold the former, "masculine" set of traits and values. The second, "feminine" set is strongly discouraged by schooling, but is encouraged by unschooling.

School used to be more overtly patriarchal, allowing only boys a pass to higher education and higher pay while ensuring women remained uneducated and housebound. Today girls and women are allowed to attend school, but in a system that shames them (not to mention boys and men!) for exhibiting any sort of feminine tendencies. It sets up a catch-22 where in order to be a success as a woman, one must mimic and compete with men. For feminine, right-brained, sensitive, or introverted people of any gender (because remember it is the association with femaleness that is considered undesirable by patriarchy, not just femaleness itself), the idea of simply finding success with their own natural skills is never brought to the table in school. They must change who they are or risk failure and humiliation. That's how the system keeps people from flourishing in a way that threatens patriarchal dominance.

So when people who, consciously or unconsciously, uphold the kyriarchy first hear of unschooling, it is simultaneously devalued and seen as a threat to their own system of values. Simply put, what they mean by "the real world" is the man's world. What you are doing, when you unschool, is removing your children from a system that says the man's way is the only way. Of course, unschooling certainly can and does produce doctors, businesspeople and other traditional professionals, if that's what those unschoolers genuinely want to be. What unschooling doesn't do is tell kids those are the only things to be. The reason unschooling is so good at producing writers, artists, doulas, homemakers, alternative-school teachers, caregivers, and other "feminine" professionals is because unschooling gives these people more than a snowball's chance in hell at success. It does not stomp on their spirits from toddlerhood on until they finally give up and conform.

So the next time someone asks how your kid is going to get a "real" job in the "real" world, know that this person is, intentionally or not, upholding systems of oppression that are designed to set up most of the population (women, people of color, people with disabilities, the working class, people who don't conform to gender norms) for failure. And know that by choosing unschooling, you're supporting a system that is designed to work with who people are, to allow them a way to succeed without impersonating someone else.

Which one sounds more real to you?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When a Celebrity Dies

Celebrities, being people, have a tendency to die. And when they die, two things usually happen:

1) There is an outpouring of grief, both from fans of the celebrity and from people who are just sad to hear of any death;

2) There is a backlash, wherein people - some well-meaning, but many just bullies - start ranting about how people shouldn't mourn celebrities because [pick one: people die all the time, you should be worried about x other societal problem, that celebrity wouldn't mourn if you died, etc.]. Often this is accompanied by some broad statement about how sad it is that celebrities are so valuable in our society.

I wasn't a huge fan of Whitney Houston, but I remember looking up to her as a kid because she was one of the few people on the radio who could really sing. I remember her as one of the few black role models I had as a white kid in a mostly-white community, in a town where black kids and white kids didn't play together. (Black kids need black role models so they know they can succeed; white kids need black role models so that respecting a black person does not seem foreign to them.)

When a celebrity dies, and people mourn, we're not just mourning someone who sang pretty songs or made entertaining movies. We're mourning a human being whose life affected ours in some way. We're paying respect to the fact that those pretty songs, those entertaining movies, or that inspiration to be more than we previously thought we could be - those came from a person. We're acknowledging that this person lived to provide us with entertainment, and in many cases died because of it. Most of all, we're recognizing that a human being has died, and not just any random human, but one we knew things about. One we watched for years, often seeing a struggle against drug addiction, or domestic violence, or mental illness played out on international television. If we have any conscience, we watched with sadness and with some hope that they'd pull through and have a happy ending. And if we have any conscience, when we learn that such a happy ending is never to be, we mourn.

And if there is any broad statement about society to be made here, I would say that it is this: It's sad that we live in a world in which some people are deemed to have deserved to die simply because they were human and made weak, vulnerable, human choices sometimes, just like we all do.