Sunday, September 6, 2009

Just how welcoming, or not, is the unschooling community?

So, I said (or at least on Twitter I did... I'm not sure if I did anywhere else) that I was going to write a post on the unschooling community, and how welcoming, or not, it is. It's a big, as well as touchy, subject, but I'm going to take a stab at it, and hopefully I won't insult anyone, because that's really not my intention! Instead, I'd simply like to bring attention to something that is very important (at least to me) yet is rarely talked about, or at least rarely talked about openly.

Long before I became involved in the unschooling community in real life, when all of my interaction with fellow unschoolers was through the internet, pretty much everyone online wrote about how very welcoming and accepting the unschooling community was. That everyone was welcomed with open arms, despite their differences or personal oddities. Because of that, I think that both I and many other people who had yet to be a part of a large group of unschoolers had rather unrealistic expectations. I can't know if this is the case for a lot of people, I can only accurately speak for myself, but I have also encountered a couple of people online who felt the same. Because the truth is, unschoolers are still, when it comes down to it, a fairly normal (feel free to interpret the word "normal" however you like) group of people. There are most definitely cliques, and there are often people who get left out or feel ignored. That's not to say that there are not tons of awesome unschoolers, because there most certainly are! My problem is that the unschooling community as a whole portrays itself as something it is not. The unschooling community is by no means perfect.

At the Northeast Unschooling conference, which I attended recently, this was actually a fairly common topic, as I had discussions about cliquey-ness and acceptance with multiple people. Many of the conference goers, both young and old, had known each other for years, so it was especially hard for newcomers, who, it seemed, had a tendency to feel rather left out, since everyone was happily socializing with old friends and often forgetting to make an effort to include the newer folk. Those who are new to the community do most definitely need to make an active effort to get to know people, but I think the important thing is that they feel welcomed. This wasn't really an issue for me personally, as I made friends and quite enjoyed my conference experience. I know that is was an issue for one or two people though, and even a couple of people feeling unwelcome is a big deal to me, especially since this is a place that's supposed to be a haven, somewhere where people actually understand the life path that they're on! Just something to think about.

Another common discussion topic was welcoming "the minorities withing the minority", as one person put it. Welcoming those from different ethnic backgrounds, those with different sexual orientations, different economic backgrounds... Another thing that the part of the unschooling community that goes to conferences (and this is a big point. I think there is far more diversity in the greater unschooling community, just not so much in the group that shows up to conferences) really needs to do is recognize that it is really not a very diverse group. The great majority of conference attendees are white and middle class, and I'm rather embarrassed that this fact didn't make more of an impression on me when I first started attending unschooling gatherings (though admittedly I haven't attended very many!). I have Erika Davis-Pitre to thank for that. She has so many important things to say on a variety of topics, and such wonderful insights. I enjoyed every talk of hers I attended and every conversation with her I had!

My point in all of this is not to be judgmental. I do, however, get exasperated whenever I see someone raving about the absolute perfectness of unschoolers, because that simply isn't the reality. I believe one-hundred-percent that unschooling is the best option out there. That doesn't mean that just because you unschool, you, or your life, will be perfect, and it certainly doesn't mean that if you take a whole bunch of unschoolers and dump them in one place that you're going to get a perfect community. There's always room for improvement, and there will always be important issues to address. I think what we need to do is recognize that, admit it, and then see what we can do about it!

I want to thank all of the people whom I talked to at the Northeast conference. I had many wonderful conversations, important conversations, and conversations that really got me thinking... There are quite possibly some more posts coming thanks to all those fascinating people...

Peace,
Idzie

25 comments:

  1. I think you make a good point. Unschooling may be perfect ;) but that doesn't mean the people practicing it are.

    I do think some people will feel unwelcome, no matter what you do. Especially if they have preconceived notions. I know my 1st conference (L&L last year) I felt very welcomed but of course, that's only one experience.

    Touchy subject but I enjoyed your thoughts.

    ~Tara

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  2. Okay, I first need to say that this comment isn't directed at you, Tara! agree with what you have to say. You just made me think of this bit I wanted to add. :-)

    Some people most definitely make themselves feel unwelcome. I've done that on occasion myself, though I've gotten much better at not doing that! However, I really do think people could be made to feel more welcome. When I see someone tagging along with a group, being largely ignored when they attempt to join a discussion or more actively participate, it's not them doing something wrong, it's the larger group being unwelcoming! I just felt it necessary to say that, since I've already had a couple of people say to me that people make themselves feel unwelcome... To me that is often a very dismissive thing to say, and by putting all the blame on the person who already feels out of place, it makes things worse, as well as giving the larger group an excuse to not change anything. "It's their fault for not feeling welcomed, not our fault for not being welcoming!"

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  3. I agree w/ this. When we first started unschooling I was excited to go to parkdays, etc. I found myself lost and felt unwelcome. I really needed support and instead I felt like a freak. I went to HENA last year and there was an unschooling panel and room with several "famous" unschoolers there. They were not interested in me at all and this made me feel sad after learning so much from them on line.Next week we are going to good vibrations...my first of this kind. should be interesting...hoping it will be fun! I now know NOT to be excited to meet *certain* people.

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  4. Great post! We haven't had the chance to attend a conference yet. Hoping to next Spring though.
    I love the groups I belong to online, I mostly read. We are still new to unschooling, so I like to soak everything up that I can.

    I'm not white or middle class. Everyone I've come in contact with has been very direct. I love it though and can't wait to connect with other unschoolers in real life soon, I hope!

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  5. I thought you raised some great points. I have been on both sides of the issue, and admit that I am no perfect model of the welcoming spirit. As much as I loved this post it does raise one question for me, who the heck is saying the unschooling community is perfect?
    It seems a big theme throughout this post is the disappointment that we unschooling teens are less than superhumanly welcoming, but who would be mislead enough to claim we were?
    I completely believe you when you say people are making these outrageous claims, but I fear that those people are living in a dream world.
    In the end of the day we are just a bunch of young people thrown together, nothing more, nothing less.

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  6. Thanks, Idzie, for pointing this out.
    I will redouble my efforts to be welcoming whenever I can. I hate the feeling of not quite fitting in, and would never want to make someone feel that way.

    Thanks also for tackling a subject that some may be a bit uncomfortable with. I would have to agree that there is not always a sense of belonging. Almost like there are the *elite* and then the rest of us! (That may be some leftover stuff I am still holding onto from my school years, though.)

    Its funny... someone approached me at NEUC and said something about how we must have been part of the community for quite a while because we seemed to know everybody. In fact, this was only our second conference. Most of the people I knew there are people I have become friends with online. I also started organizing small informal gatherings throughout the year to keep connections strong.
    I noticed a big difference in my comfort level this year... Just from seeing faces that were familiar from last year. I think that was a big help.

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  7. @Idzie I appreciate this post like no other. I'm still processing my feelings from the con (some of them not so peachy, but overall it was positive). I did not walk away all warm & fuzzy like William or like most people claim to have done. Some of my personal experience is colored by the fact I'm NOT a huge group person, this was my 1st major big unschooling gathering & I find it difficult to just walk up & start talking to 'strangers' (whereas William can & will talk to anyone) -- I was even intimidated talking to you & your family!

    I understand & agree w/ you about diversity issues...in large, it is the same story (as I'm sure you know) within the Anarchist community. But, as William pointed out, he felt great being in a group where you can be a mixed-race couple, have adopted children of another race or be a family w/ multiple mums & no one really bats an eye. You don't find that anywhere else.

    @Anon I can understand where you are coming from. I felt a warmer welcome from *famous* unschoolers, because I've been so vocal for so long online. However, there were a few times when I felt left out when joining or *trying* to join a conversation.

    As usual, I felt more welcomed by the teenagers, younger children & many of the dads.

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  8. Interesting. I think my husband felt more welcomed because of the SSUD meeting. I sort of wanted a special "Newbie" meeting to help me meet people, too. I am still trying to figure out how I feel about the whole conference thing. I guess the fact that I still can't say I enjoyed it or not says something.

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  9. It sounds like the same situation many find themselves in when reading from afar and having Big Expectations. The idea that any community is perfect is problematic. So as someone already asked, who said it was perfect? Kind of sounds like a straw man argument.

    In any case, I think most groups could use more help in being more welcoming and unschoolers are no different. Over the years, I've been a part of different kinds of groups and I've seen the same play out over and over. At L and L I remember they put a dot or something on your name tag letting people know that this was your first conference. I thought people were incredibly welcoming and friendly.

    I think everyone, new and old to conferences, can do a lot. When we went to L and L we knew no one and when we left I felt as though I could show up on quite a number of doorsteps (OK, maybe with a phone call ahead of time). I think the feeling could be attributed to a combination of the people involved and Kelly doing her southern hospitality thing and people coming w/ an open attitude about meeting new people and doing new things.

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  10. I've been unschooling our kids since day one. The oldest is 17. I am NOT a group person AT ALL, hence why I'll prolly never attend an unschooling conference, besides not having the money to do. If it was local, maybe, but I doubt anything like would happen in very rural MO. Although I've been friends with an unschooler 2 hours away, I only know one other family and we're not in the same circles anyway. Great post though, thanks for writing it.

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  11. @Michele James-Parham Love, the only reason I have the ability to walk up and start talking to "strangers" is because I am almost always feeling terribly uncomfortable and 'outside' of any group. My only course of action over the years has been to talk to as many people as possible in hopes of finding one or two that I felt weren't particularly antagonistic towards me. I am constantly feeling that I am alone in a crowded room, even though I am amiably chatting with nearly everyone. What worked for me at NEUC was the fact that everyone there was there for one specific reason. We were all one people with one purpose (roughly speaking).

    As far a unschoolers being welcoming or not... Most unschooled children are, by nature of the way they were raised, independent. The parents are engaged in defense of their lifestyles on a more or less daily basis. That causes a bit of confrontational attitude at worst or a stand-offish at best. Again, these are rough generalizations. I have felt the same sort of welcoming unwelcomness at National Black Caucus meetings. It is endemic to minority group functions. And (at least for the time being) unschoolers are a minority group...

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  12. Okay, have to comment. I have a very shy daughter and whenever we go to group events she feels left out. When one time I had the guts to mention this to a parent of one of the girls ignoring my girl I was told "she doesn't make herself very friendly, she needs to participate more" or something like that. In other words, putting the blame back on my DD! How frustrating. My goal in any group meeting is to look for the new people and go out of my way to make them welcome. That should be what we teach our children too. Thanks for the post! Someone had to say it.

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  13. @Anonymous #1: I'm sad to hear that your experience with unschoolers was less than great... I hope you have a good time at Good Vibrations! Even if the community as a whole doesn't always feel welcoming, there are definitely a lot of really cool unschoolers out there. :-)

    @Darcel: Thanks! Glad you liked the post. :-) Yeah, there are some really great online groups... And it's also really nice meeting bunches of unschoolers in real life!

    @Quinn: Thanks! Well, you've always been friendly whenever I've seen you. :-) I hate to say this, because I love the NBTSC wiki, but that is one of the worst places in terms of the unschoolers-are-the-most-amazing-people-in-the-world thing. I've also just encountered that sentiment quite frequently on blogs, message boards, and similar places online. I was never really expecting superhuman teens (even at my most detached from reality times I'm not THAT bad! :-P), but I was sightly surprised by just how cliquey unschoolers can sometimes be, since I suppose I was expecting to see something difference from other large groups of teens I'd been in, and I didn't really! As you said, "In the end of the day we are just a bunch of young people thrown together, nothing more, nothing less."

    By the way, it was great getting to know you a bit better at the NEUC! I'll see you at camp. :-)

    @Jean: You seemed very welcoming to me, and it was great meeting you, if briefly!

    I've heard other people express the same sentiment, that sometimes it feels like there's a class difference of sorts, with the "elite" unschoolers and then everyone else!

    Yeah, it was the same for me. Lots of people at the conference knew me from online, as well as a few who knew me from the UWWG and NBTSC, so that really made a big difference for me! At my first conference (actually it was a non-con), the UWWG, it was hard for me because I didn't know anyone, but I know that this conference was much better for both my mom and I!

    @Michele: I did actually walk away all warm and fuzzy, I just also walked away very thoughtful, and with lots of observations and conversations floating around in my head!

    I know that feeling, because I'll almost NEVER initiate conversation with new people. I knew enough people, both online and in real life, that I was included in conversation nearly from the start, and if I felt out of place at all, I'd just stick like glue to my mom or sis! :-P

    I'm sad that I didn't get to talk to you more. :-( I feel bad now that I didn't make more of an effort! I suppose I just got caught up in all the rushing around... Sorry about that, and I really hope we get more of a chance to talk at future gatherings!

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  14. @Andrea: Yes, having a specific "newbie" type meeting would be a great idea! I think a lot of the people who've been involved in the community for a while forget how hard it can be to be one of the "newbies"...

    @Anonymous #2: No, I did not pull that out of the air. I really have encountered that sentiment quite often! Perhaps I was simply in the *wrong* places, but believe me, it certainly exists (see my response to Quinn).

    Unschooling conferences can certainly be wonderful! It's simply as you point out: most groups could use help in being more welcoming, and unschoolers are no different.

    @Todd: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. :-)

    @William: In so very many instances I've felt like that: alone in a crowded room. I've actually gotten quite used to that feeling, which is why I was so surprised when I didn't feel like that at the NEUC! For once, I was writing about exclusion more for the other people I saw and talked to who didn't feel included, and less because of how I felt. I certainly didn't feel universally included, but I was included enough that I was happy.

    Huh, I really like that point, that unschoolers, as a minority, are used to being either confrontational or stand-offish... That really makes a lot of sense, and I can totally see that!

    By the way, it was great talking to you! :-) I enjoyed all of our (admittedly too few) conversations (except for the one where I was literally falling asleep where I stood, so felt bad for being such a horrible conversationalist... :-P).

    @Colleen: YES, I totally get what you're saying. I was talking about this with a couple of people actually, about how much it bothered us that so many people choose to "blame the victim" instead of admitting that maybe they could be doing more to make others feel welcome.

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  15. At the UWWG, there was a "mom's gathering" in the restaurant on the last night. It was small but fun, and I kept wondering why we didn't do that on the *first* night so we'd have known more people throughout the week. I definitely think some sort of initial ice breaker get-together or activity is a great idea right up front. That way, if nothing else, all the newbies can connect! I connected with some newbies at L&L and we've all kept in touch. One of my stock introductions became "Have you come to a L&L before? This is my first." The relief on new people's faces was evident and it was good for shy folks. I'm what you'd call *not shy.*
    :-) My husband laughed that I was a newbie myself but already an ambassador for new folks. I don't like seeing folks wandering alone.

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  16. This was an interesting post for me, as I am an parent who feels that, while many individuals are welcoming, sometimes when the group dynamic kicks in that changes. If everyone seems to know each other and you can't get a word into the conversation (or you do and no one responds), it certainly is a lonely place to be. I move to another group if I can't seem to click with the one I am feeling left out of.

    I've been to three confernces in various parts of the US, but all with the same RU crowd. The first was amazingly welcoming. At the second things went fine until the last day, and at the picnic, one of those "elite" unschoolers chose to say some things to me that made me wish I had never come. Taking me to task on my parenting in a very public way embarrassed and shamed me (in the same way that person had been treated in the past, while growing up, something that was shared in a presentation). While I am sure the ultimate motive was to protect my child/help me, I am not sure why it was ok to do it in that manner. I left there in a very bad place emotionally, and we skipped the next conference.

    However, with reflection, I came to a better place and we again attended a conference, and I have tried to just remember that it's better to let it go. I remind myself I am a work in progress, and that the 'elite' are not perfect, even if they are further down the path than I am. We will be attending other conferences in the future, and I feel I have made some friends in this community, and that you can't like everybody all the time, nor should you expect the same yourself.

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  17. I just wanted to say that I think that this is a fantastic post. I do think it can be tough for a newbie (especially a not so outgoing newbie) at a conference when they are faced with people who are understandably rejoicing and connecting with friends from past years. Kind of tough to break in, ya know? We attended Lig this past May and even with some lost moments, it was overall the most welcoming group of people I had encountered in a homeschool type setting. Your point about unrealistic expectations and idealized visions of unschoolers is a good one. Thanks for writing!

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  18. The issues you raise do happen in any group of people, not just unschoolers, as others have already commented. Perhaps using terms other than "welcoming" and "unwelcoming" would be helpful. Those words connote judgment. Generally, no one in these situations is a rude, bad, or otherwise terrible person. Friends who've known each other are understandably drawn to spending time together. Newbies, especially shy ones, do have some responsibility to find their way and understand that getting to know people takes time. No matter how welcoming people try to be, new folks aren't going to have the same bond as folks who've known each other for a long time. And even nice people can make mistakes and be inadvertently thoughtless. In social situations, emotional buttons are pushed. That doesn't mean anyone is trying to harm anyone else. I have been in homeschooling groups where accusations of others being "unwelcoming" have caused serious upheaval. Giving folks the benefit of the doubt even when one feels "left out," and taking responsibility for dealing with and handling our own feelings rather than taking things personally, are helpful, in my opinion. I also believe that the best way to integrate into any group or situation is to participate.

    Since you've already tackled one touchy subject so well, how about looking at another that's possibly related? Unschooling and dogma. I've always found it ironic that some unschoolers feel free to tell others that what they're doing doesn't count as unschooling. That kind of thing can also make people feel "unwelcome."

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  19. I bet a lot of new unschoolers come to a place like twitter to connect and feel support from the "real unschoolers".
    I've wondered why *some* of them refuse to follow back. why can't I join the unschool click on twitter? feels very unwelcoming. just sayin.

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  20. Personally speaking, if someone on Twitter wants to follow me they can. If they are also home educators/unschoolers I follow back.
    twitter.com/toddinmo

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  21. @picesgrll: That sounds like a great idea! Icebreakers make things so much easier. And as a shy person myself, I know it's always nice when someone more outgoing introduces themselves! :-) So much easier than having to be the brave one myself. :-P

    @Anonymous #1: Thank you very much for sharing your personal experiences! I keep trying to write something else in response, but my brain is tired and I'm not sure if I have anything else to say, except that I think hearing about multiple different experiences is a great thing, and lets people understand more where others are coming from. :-)

    @boysmomma: Thanks!! I'm very glad you enjoyed the post. :-)

    @Anonymous #2: I couldn't, and still can't, think of a word I could have used other than "welcoming" to explain what I was trying to explain! I certainly don't want it to sound judgmental, and it's not my intention to blame anyone or imply any type of judgment AT ALL! I also agree that in virtually all situations it's not a matter of any deliberate "unwelcomeness". Yes, "newbies" cannot hide in a corner and expect to meet people. However, it seems to me that many people are saying that it's ENTIRELY the new persons job to integrate themselves, and I don't think that that's quite fair. Those who are comfortable in a social situation, who have good friends and are very much a "part of the group", can greet newer people without really putting themselves out there at all, or very little. For someone new, and especially shy, however, each time they approach someone or a group of someones it's a very hard thing to do! Because of that, I think it's really important for those who are comfortable to reach out to those who are less... The shy ones have to make an effort, but it makes it a lot easier if other people are making an effort as well!

    Anyway, thanks for your comment! I don't think I'll talk about the "dogma" thing any time soon, though in the future, who knows...

    @Anonymous #3: I really, really didn't intend, and don't want, this to turn into a blame game! Pointing fingers, or having others point fingers, was and is not my intention. I'm sorry you've felt that, because I certainly know that even online feeling like part of a group can be hard. However, lots of people on Twitter have LOTS of followers! I think it's easy to sometimes overlook some, entirely unintentionally...

    @Todd: @worldschooler recently put together a list of unschooling dads on Twitter... You might want to check that out! :-)

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  22. I don't feel particularly interested in attending a conference and I keep trying to think why that is. It's not that I'm not interested, more that I am really UNinterested, if that makes sense. I know it's partly because of my own problems jumping in conversations and meeting people. Just thinking about having to do that makes me anxious.

    However, the other aspect is that there are (perhaps "elite") unschooling parents that I would NOT want to meet. I've "met" some of them online and there are a few that I am sure I would not like and who would not like me. I would be afraid of them criticizing my parenting in a public way, much as an anonymous poster mentioned above, because I've seen that happen (to me) on public forums.

    It may be that some of these parents are on the defensive as they were the forerunners of unschooling and have had to defend it from others. I can understand that and the need to say that some things are not unschooling. I just wish that those things could be said more gently, I guess.

    And perhaps that is my issue. Yet I also know that I am not alone in feeling that some unschooling parents are not tolerant/understanding/sympathetic of those who are new or stumbling along and trying very hard to find their way as an unschooler.

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  23. Anonymous #2 here. Maybe instead of "welcoming" or "unwelcoming" the conversation could be about integrating into a community -- i.e. how do core community members help new folks integrate, and what ideas do we have for newbies to make the integration process smooth and enjoyable. Just an idea off the top of my head.

    I did not feel your post was blaming anyone. I felt it was an attempt to look thoughtfully at situations that often result in some kind of blaming.

    I completely agree that established members of a community have a responsibility to help new folks. Believe me, I have spent huge amounts of time and energy doing this. Regardless of my sincere efforts, I have at times been attacked for being "unwelcoming." In most cases, I guess I fall on the side of those who think the ultimate responsibility for integrating into a group falls on the new person.

    The reason I believe that is because most unschooling and homeschooling groups do think about this issue. Most conference organizers think about it and plan for it. I can't think of a group I've been in or a conference I've been involved in planning where we didn't spend a lot of time talking about how to help new people. It's possible the way the group or conference organizers have chosen to do this doesn't work for all the new people, but it doesn't mean they haven't done their best to address the issue. If you find yourself a new person feeling on the outs, I think the best way to express that is by offering tangible examples of what might help. If it's at a conference, write down on the evaluation form what types of activities might have made the experience better for you, whether it be a certain kind of ice breaker, some kind of group discussion, whatever. Constructive, specific suggestions are most welcome to conference and group organizers. Whether you liked what they do or not, playing the victim and complaining isn't a nice thing to do to people who've worked their butts off to try and provide something quality for you.

    If it's a homeschooling or unschoolilng group you feel unwelcome in, then organize whatever you think is missing. Every single group I've been in runs on the steam of members. That means you have plenty of power to create whatever it is you feel is missing.

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  24. @hippygirl: Thank you. Every time I get a comment like yours on this post, it makes me happy that I wrote it, since it seems it's something a lot of people want to talk about and figure out! So thanks. :-)

    @Anonymous: That definitely sounds like a conversation that it would be good to have...

    I'm glad that it didn't feel like I was trying to lay blame! :-)

    Well, I do disagree here, in the sense I feel the responsibility to make sure people are "welcomed" (or whatever word/phrasing you prefer), though shared between new and old, should fall on the people already well established in the community. They're the ones in the best place to do so, who also should be least intimidated by doing so.

    I too, try really hard to, as soon as I get over the initial terror of being in a new group, approach people who seem to be new as well, and even while I'm still feeling extremely shy, I try to approach those who seem even shy-er! I've been in the place of the person sitting/standing/hiding in a corner myself all too often to not try and approach others who are hiding in corners. I think people who are not themselves extremely shy or uncomfortable in social situations sometimes have trouble understanding just how hard it is for those of us who are...

    Oh, I'm well aware they do! I, myself, have talked about this with many people. It's just not often talked about outside of small huddles and conversations with trusted friends, since many people seem to fear either insulting someone inadvertently, or being judged and/or excluded for daring to broach the subject.

    I have utmost respect for conference organizers. I know there's a ridiculous amount of work involved in organizing a conference, and the organizers always want it to turn out as well as possible. The last con I was at, the organizers were marvelous, and I was happy to participate in a couple of conversations with one of them specifically about how the conference was going! I do take slight offense to your "playing the victim" comment, however. That seems to go back to the "it's always newbies fault if they don't feel welcome" thing, which I highly disagree with. By wanting to become a part of a new group, and experiencing that group not accepting you, you're not "playing the victim", you're simply feeling sad that you're not being accepted/welcomed! I feel like you're being very defensive in this instance, and trying to lay blame on anyone who's felt/been less than welcomed at conferences, instead of thinking that maybe it really is the job of established members of the group to make sure newcomers are accepted.

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  25. Anonymous 2 again. Sorry if I came off as defensive. I think we're going in circles. I did say that I agree it is important for conference organizers and/or established members of groups to help newcomers have good experiences. I hope you heard that. I also said that I have never been in a homeschooling group or been involved in organizing a conference (and I have done both many times) where the established members have not actively thought about how to do just that. Unschooling/Homeschooling volunteers do what they do, for the most part, because they care. If they fail to make every person feel welcome, it's not because they weren't trying. When someone says "I didn't feel welcome or accepted" it's generally not helpful. At best, it's vague -- who knows what it means? At worst, it is sometimes delivered as an accusation (I have seen it happen). I was trying to suggest that constructive feedback is much more helpful, such as "At this conference, I think I would have felt more connected to people if ..." and then whatever concrete suggestions might have helped the person integrate. Conference organizers find those kinds of comments incredibly useful. As far as feelings, I certainly don't blame anyone for having them. Feeling left out is a human emotion that all of us are subject to. It feels bad. Feelings are feelings, and you can't blame anyone for having a feeling. How we handle our feelings is another matter. My reference to "playing the victim" was based on behavior I've actually seen. If I sounded defensive, it's probably a reflection of having been burned by this kind of thing, certainly not by you, and if I came off harshly I apologize. I think we're in agreement about a lot of things, but I think I do lean more toward thinking that each individual is responsible for forging a personal path in social situations than you do. This is something that I have come to after many years of involvement in groups. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a deep commitment to helping newcomers, welcoming them into my home, and helping them feel supported. I have been homeschooling for many years and new people look to me for guidance and acceptance. Yes, it's hard to feel shy and on the outside. It's also hard to go to the park or a field trip or a conference and feel responsible for the experience of every new person there. Even though that is still my inclination, understanding that it is not, in fact, my job to take care of everyone's feelings is an ongoing journey in my personal growth.

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