Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Post: Eat & Be Free

I'm thrilled to feature a guest post from ps pirro, one of my favorite bloggers, a longtime online friend, and author of one of my favorite unschooling books, 101 Reasons Why I'm An Unschooler.  I hope you enjoy this article on food and freedom as much as I do!

“If people lose their ability to feed themselves, how can they be said to be free?”
 ~Kentucky farmer & writer Wendell Berry

I’m not the first writer to point out that, prior to the last century, most of what we ate came directly to our tables from the ground, from the trees, and from the animals with whom we shared the planet.  Nor is it a revelation to note that this is no longer the case, that most of our food now comes from a factory, from a chemist’s lab, from vertically integrated corporate interests.  

You and I didn’t choose this arrangement, of course.  It preceded us.  But, oddly enough, the generations before us didn‘t exactly chose it, either.  What they chose -- and what many people today keep on choosing -- was something this arrangement seemed to offer: Freedom.

As Ben Hewitt, author of The Town that Food Saved, wrote, over the course of the last century, our culture made a bargain with the food industry.  We turned over the growing, raising, processing and delivery of our food to business interests, and in return we were liberated (most of us, anyway) from the dirt, manure, fickle weather, hot sun, long hours and manual labor of farming.  

We gained lives of clean fingernails and shoes that never touched mud.  We gained a professional class, a middle class, leisure time, and abundance.  We gained well-stocked supermarkets and full refrigerators, and the cost of food as a percentage of the household budget went down every year.  

What we gained looked a lot like freedom.  Fifty years ago, it seemed like a pretty good bargain.  

Today it looks like a Faustian pact.

It’s not just that the average morsel of food on our plates now travels 1200 miles to get to us, or that it takes eleven calories of fossil fuel energy to give us one calorie of food energy.  It’s not just the travesty of factory-farmed beef and chickens and hogs, or the loss of topsoil from over-plowing or the salinization and desertification from over-irrigating.  All those things matter, but there is more.  

The bargain we struck in the name of freedom has returned to haunt us on a fundamental level: it has undermined our sense of  what it means to be us.

The food we eat is our most intimate connection to the world.  It’s what becomes us.  It is us.   It’s us as individuals, and it’s us as a culture.  

When industrial food producers say, “We’ll make dinner,” they are asking us to relinquish that intimate connection.  To sever our taproot.  To become commodities eating commodities.  They’re also asking us to trust that their priorities as producers are aligned with our own as eaters.  That’s where the Faustian part of the bargain comes in.  Because the priorities of the industrial food producers have never been aligned with our own.  Industrial food producers have always been less concerned with our health and vitality -- and the health and vitality of the world in which we live -- than they are with our appetites.  It’s our appetites they aim to feed, not our deeply rooted need to be nourished.

Undoing the Faustian bargain doesn’t mean we all have to become farmers, but it does mean drawing the food loop a little -- or a lot -- closer to home.  It means educating ourselves about where the stuff we put on our plates comes from, how it’s grown, who grows it and how it reaches us -- and then acting on that awareness.  It means entering into relationship with our food and with those who grow it, something best done locally, right where we are.  

When we break away from industrial food -- even one small step at a time, at the weekly farmers market or in a backyard garden -- we regain some of what was lost in that Faustian bargain: a sense of where we come from, and what we’re made of, and made from, and how we’re a part of the soil and the air and the water, as it is a part of us.  We regain not just our sense of connection, but the actual connection itself,  becoming that which we partake of, drawing into ourselves the stuff of our particular place on Earth.

And that connection, created and sustained in the face of all that divides us, might prove to be the most freeing thing of all.

You did not come into this world, you came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.  
You are not a stranger here.
~Alan Watts

Monday, July 19, 2010

Guest Post: Unschooling Everything

Welcome to the first ever Guest Post Monday!  It won't be a super regular thing, but you will be seeing a couple more guest posts in the coming weeks...  For this first edition, I'm very happy to give you a short piece about unschooling from Sara McGrath, unschooling examiner and author of Unschooling: A Lifestyle of Learning

To me, this concept of unschooling, which I have chosen as a project focus, really refers to everything in life. I may check the "education" box or the "homeschooling" box when pressed to classify an article or interest area, but really I choose to focus on "unschooling" because it integrates all aspects of my life (learning inseparable from living and parenting inseparable from living, etc.)

I chose prior focuses, such as "the continuum concept" and "attachment parenting," for similar reasons. Where Western culture expects parents to use day care and school to exclude children from adult activities, CC and AP show a way of life that includes children as integral. I have children. Whether or not they're present with me, they're an inseparable part of my life.

Whole life or "radical unschooling" further dissolves the boundaries that define conventional lifestyles with lots of rules and regulations. I don't set and enforce bedtimes or mealtimes for myself or my kids, for example, because I'm going to help us all get what we need regardless. I've felt drawn to radical unschooling for its simplicity.

I don't do unschooling. It's not an action plan. I just live with my kids. We communicate freely. I help them figure things out. They help me do routine tasks such as housework, cooking, gardening, shopping, etc. We don't have to think about schooling or parenting. We just live a simple, whole life together.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Unschooling and Anarchy

I don't really separate the different aspects of my life: every belief, opinion, and interaction is intertwined with all other parts of who I am and how I live.  So although I might not talk about it specifically all that often on this blog, my anarchist views--my belief that humans have the innate ability to control their own lives and as such do not need to be, and are happier without being, ruled--infuse everything that I write and think, including what I write and think about unschooling.

 My history

I find it interesting that my becoming anarchist went hand-in-hand with my embracing of unschooling.  Coming out of a not-so-great time in my early to mid teenage years, a time characterized by feelings of depression, of feeling like an outcast, and of not knowing who I was as a person or what I should be doing, I started reading extensively about both unschooling and anarchism.  And, not long after I decided, with both relief and a new found conviction, that unschooling really had been the right thing for me, and really was an amazing way of looking at and living Education, I finally found a political view that truly spoke to me, that felt right in the most fundamental way.

For me, the questioning of the education system--something so close to the hearts of so many people, something almost universally heralded as an amazing achievement for a democratic country, and the best way to Get An Education--and the realization that it was not only not the best option, but something truly horrible to inflict on the vast majority of youth, really startled me, and led me to start questioning all the other rarely examined or thought about aspects of society.

That questioning, starting with unschooling, was a process that led me very organically to rethinking almost every aspect of life and how we live in this world.  It was pretty mind-blowing.  So as you can see, for me unschooling and anarchy have always been tied especially closely together!

  • Unschooling, or radical unschooling more specifically, is a philosophy that recognizes that children are people, too, and as thus have a right to control their own thoughts, activities, and by extension their own education and learning.
  • Parents thus abdicate their role of authoritarian presence, dictator and teacher, in favour of becoming their children's partner, supporter, helper, and guide.  It removes hierarchy from the family unit, and replaces it with mutual co-operation.

  • Anarchism is the belief that individuals are fully capable of being self-governing, so do not need to be ruled, controlled, or governed.
  • Taken from An Anarchist FAQ "anarchism is a political theory which aims to create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control as harmful to the individual and their individuality as well as unnecessary."

So to me, unschooling is basically putting anarchy into practice in daily life.  It's going past the philosophy and the can-it-really-work and proving that people, *even* children, are far more capable of controlling their own lives than anyone gives them (us) credit for.


Yes, I most definitely realize that unschoolers are not all anarchists.  Most aren't (though there are definitely more anarchists in your average group of unschoolers than you'd find in your average group of random people).  I just find that, from my point of view, the two philosophies are extremely complementary.  Both emphasize living in co-operation, living in freedom.  Both involve a lack of dependence on the State or other higher authorities.

At their core, what both unschooling and anarchy mean to me is living in (when possible), and striving for (when necessary), true freedom.  If anarchy is getting rid of all forms of domination and oppression, hierarchy and authority, then unschooling, the freeing of children from school and the empowering of children and teens by giving them back their own lives, is an important part in moving toward an anarchist, co-operative society.

As usual, I'm not trying to start any debates or upset anyone: I'm just sharing my views on things, and if they strike a chord with you, or make you think of things in a new way, or even if you just like hearing my perspective, then I'll be happy!


Monday, July 5, 2010

The Summer Montreal Unschoolers Gathering 2010

Firstly, I have to say that if this post is mildly incoherent, I'm sorry.  That pesky cold seems to be intent on hanging around for at least a little while longer, and I still haven't fully caught up on sleep.  But I want to get a post written about the gathering, so that's what I'm doing!

I feel like starting with the negatives first, because the positives outweighed them and I don't want to end this post on a sour note.  I have to say that I found it far more stressful than I'd expected.  I expected the stress beforehand, in the planning stages, but what I didn't expect was the stress while there!  There were problems with the building/facilities (it was not nearly as clean as it should have been for the price we were paying for rooms; the electrical circuits were easily overloaded, meaning we regularly had to take a drive out to the main building to get them to fix it; the basement ceiling leaked; park workers were working on the building while we were there, including using power drills in the morning one day, and turning the water and power off while they fixed something...), issues with around 70 people living in close proximity for nearly a week (trying to make sure both late night and early morning people were happy, and that everyone had the opportunity to sleep without being woken up by noise too early or late; issues with respecting others property; the bit of tension and disagreement that's virtually impossible to avoid after a group gets over a certain size...), and I felt like I had some sort of responsibility, as one of the two organizers, to make sure everyone had a good time.  Which is silly, because, as I often need to remind myself, I am not responsible for other peoples happiness!

HOWEVER, lest it seem like things didn't go well, it was truly amazing having so many awesome people in the same place.  I loved, so much, getting to spend time with friends I see far too infrequently.  I loved the music that was played and the songs that were sung.

I loved all the art that was created and shared.


I loved all the laughter, chatter, and sleepy silences.  I loved the bustle of mealtimes, the camaraderie of eating together, and the late night hanging out. 

I loved all the wandering around the campsite in bare feet, and the exploring of the city.  


I loved all the interesting discussion and sharing of stories.  I even loved the ridiculously crazy moments (can anyone say insane car ride?).  It was good.  I'm so glad we held this gathering!  And it seems other people really enjoyed it too.  All the feedback I've gotten so far has been positive, and multiple people at the gathering asked if we were going to do it again next year!  At the time, I said that I still had a lot of processing to do, and really wasn't sure.  But at this point, both my mother (who is also the co-organizer) and I have decided that we will do it again next year.  I don't think I could bear to pass up on a chance to bring so many wonderful people together here again next year!!

This may not be a terribly in-depth look at SMUG, but it's what I can do right now. 

And I miss all my friends from far away already... *Sighs*