Yes We Did– Now What?

January 28, 2009

Anarchy for the USA

Stay with me, now.  I’m a parent and a public employee who works to better the lives of children and families — and all who pass through the doors of my workplace– on a daily basis. The meaning of my life hangs on my hope that each individual will do what he or she can to make a better, safer, happier world for ourselves, each other, and generations to come starting right now, with children, whether our own or children in general. So no machine guns or molotov cocktails needed.

Things have changed a lot for me since I was a college kid.

But Jello Biafra and others who shine light on the hurts and injustices of our society are still heroes.

Why am I experiencing this weird flashback?

Soup is still good food. We’re sorry, you’re no longer wanted or needed or even cared about here. Sacrifices must be made. To save the working man you gotta put ‘im out to pasture.

The tired buzzword and spray painted A with a circle, most often seen on college campuses in the 80’s,  denoted a somewhat immature and ill-considered (or not considered at all, just ‘cool’) rejection of or  revolution against an oppressive civilization.

Just digging through our own thoughts and impressions, no digging through college textbooks we should have burnt long ago or lengthy reading on how do we define civilization and anarchy?

Civilization: orderly, comfortable, safe, lawful, just.

Anarchy: every man for himself, loot and pillage, ruthless profit for the strong and misery for the weak or simply disenfranchised–

Wait a second. That sounds an awful lot like how we are currently experiencing so-called civilization!

This gentleman goes into it at greater length than I shall at this time. It’s worth looking at and worth looking for more dialog in this same vein. I won’t offer that, for your sake, gentle reader who doesn’t have time to read one of my endless tangential Attention Deficit Rants (oh, Lord, too late, sorry!) and for mine because I have things I need to do on my sick day (Yes, even more driven at home, if that is even possible, than at work).

My women’s book group (well about three of us) recently read Tom Hodgkinson’s The Freedom Manifesto: How to Free Yourself from Anxiety, Fear, Mortgages, Money, Guilt, Debt, Government, Boredom, Supermarkets, Bills, Melancholy, Pain, Depression, Work, and Waste.

I loved some things he said and others were just not for me. If you’d like to read a couple of each,  to keep these short I’ll post those seprarately.

But at the heart of what I believe in and am willing to fight for is the wellbeing of children, families, the individual and community– sometimes we’re sadly forced to prioritize these, or we act as if they are opposed, but they really should not be.

So when he quotes someone– I wish I could remember who, and I have to paraphrase cause I got it from the library and then brought it back– as saying that anarchy is when public interest and the interest of the family are the same–  sold. I am now an anarchist.

I have a Jeremy Bentham quote–“It is vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual.

The iGoogle Confucius quote for today:
“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”

And I am not talking about a one-man one-woman, two parent, Beaver or even Brady Bunch home. I’m talking about the changing face and growing understanding of families and home– The Village. Single parent families.  Families of choice. Communities. Rich families. Poor families. And every aspect of home– housing, nutrition, parenting and educational style, community, our bodies, our environment, our jobs, wages, vocations, quality of life.

Dearest President Obama, officials in his administration, and loyal supporters of our new Commander in Chief,

You seem like the man, and the supporters of the man, who can bring orderly, comfortable, safe, lawful, and just– for ALL people, not just Americans, not just middle class plus– together with public policy that is in the interest of the individual and strengthens our nation by strengthening the integrity of the home.

Your speeches refer my beloved Ike’s command that all shall have a place at the table — weak and strong, rich and poor.

Your presidency will teach, model, and create public policy which brings together:

*personal responsibility to make good choices that come from the moral compass within rather than fear of punishment (whether corporal in this world or eternal damnation in the next), starting with how we parent and educate children today

*public policy which brings access to the education and resources for all, not  just a privileged few, to develop that caring moral compass and make those good choices, resulting in the happiness and wellbeing of the individual, the integrity of the home, and the strength of our nation.

Back to Confucius (no idea of the validity of iGoogle’s source for these quotes, sorry, it just sounds good and that’s the internet for ya).

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”

Our present situation is absolutely designed to rip apart the integrity of the home– in its narrowest and broadest senses– in America and around the world– and is by no means in the interest of any but maybe 5% of our citizens.

I know you can bring us all to the table, Mr. President. You represent so many of the losses, differences and struggles Americans face and so many of the heights we can attain with loving family behind us and hard work.

Here are my thoughts on where we’re going wrong.

We do not adequately insure that safe and decent living conditions, education, representative government, wealth, health care, and opportunities for advancement are spread over our population in proportion to its makeup– ethnicity, GLBT, ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ areas from within our own cities to countries around our ever shrinking world. Meanwhile we consume, consume, consume, and carry gigantic national, corporate and personal debt. This is absolutely a stain on our great nation’s decency and promise, and a cause for much strife and violence at home and around the world.

I know we live in America, not Baghdad or Darfur or the  Sahara, but I believe we still have a long way to go regarding protecting and nurturing children, working conditions, living wages and quality of life. CEO’s make salaries hundreds of times the salaries of those who produce the goods and services that make those CEO’s rich.

I think someone who works hard and gets rich deserves to be rich. I have no problem at all with that. But a ‘more equal’ distribution of the gifts of the free market would make it possible for all who work to prosper AND give back to those in need, to be part of the solution here in America and around the world.

My family doesn’t make that $250K you were talking about, but I’d still be glad to pay  more taxes if it went to educating, feeding, and nurturing babies instead of to bombs and bureaucracy.

We are doing incredible damage to our physical home– our bodies and our environment.

With few exceptions, the education system most of our children experience quashes creativity and readies children for quiet conformity and to punch a timeclock and then bury themselves in television and computers, not for life– relationships, self sufficiency, mental and physical wellness, hearth and home, good choices, enjoyable and meaningful work at a living wage, joy and participation in culture and community.

We have a terrible infant mortality rate. All but the most well to do and educated parents (usually  mothers, but fathers too) must make horrible choices from dangerous medical interventions that harm more than they help, from abortion to giving up breastfeeding and leaving a six week old or younger child in dangerous childcare in order to go back to work to keep a roof over their heads to risking financial ruin in order to give their children the best possible start– whether through allowing a parent to stay home or because of medical bills for kids born with some sort of special condition or need.

Adoption is a years-long marathon with a cost far beyond most people’s reach when so many people do want children, yet children and babies are desperately in need of a permanent safe and caring home.  And God forbid a gay couple or a single parent try it.

We do not allow GLBT who love each other to enjoy the benefits (and use of the word marriage, if they so desire) of marriage.  I’m with Dolly Parton– let ’em be miserable like the rest of us! Marriage sucks for most of us poor slobs who trot down that primrose path.  But marriage, heck,  even a nonsexual, nonromantic commitment just to live together and contribute to each other’s wellbeing as between roommates or family members is, in the main, better for our society, resulting in greater financial stability, reduced drain on environmental and societal resources, reduced spread of STD’s,  generally greater mental and physical health and life expectancy.

We need to drastically reduce prison population– legalize and regulate certain things which are currently not legal yet are less damaging than legal cigarettes and alcohol. Reduce punishment to fines and community service for victimless crime (or crime unlikely to cause injury to others– reckless driving or DUI, for example, is dangerous whether the person has an accident or not, and so deserves a good hard judicial slap).

Examine the reality that our prison population is overwhelmingly black. Be sure that disproportion isn’t because of racial and class prejudice and poverty and lack of access to competent attorneys and fair trials. If it is (and it is or I will eat my hat), fix it. Let nonviolent offenders go home with the education they need to return to society, take care of their families and build their communities.

I haven’t got my manifesto written yet, but it is going to go something like this.

1. Every American must have access to free basic health care and lifesaving (not dangerous, controversial, inadequately researched) treatments. I know this won’t happen over night, so can we start with those who cannot obtain healthcare for themselves– low income (which threshold needs to be revised upward drastically), those under 18, those over 65, the indigent, mentally ill or otherwise unable to care for themselves.

The face of health care and wellness must change drastically, from treating or attempting to simply cut out symptoms, to considering the whole person– preventive care. Lifestyle choices. Community and social support. Exercise. Pollution and environmental toxins.  Safety standards. Nutrition, food additives, and current agricultural practices.  Stress. Encouraging and making it easy (not just giving lip service to the idea and then making it impossible) for parents to bond with their infants and mothers to breastfeed. Removing the stigma from mental illness and seeing it as a result of a genuine medical condition or ‘dis-ease’ not a weakness, and making holistic treatment– cognitive, medical, behavioral, nutrition– accessible for all. Death with dignity and comfort, rather than drastic and devastating treatments which destroy quality of life right up until the end.

2. Education will prepare us not just to pass tests and punch  timecards and become wealthy regardless of the cost to others or to our environment.

It will nurture creativity and unstructured play, arts and music and expression. Those things need not cost a penny other than educating teachers and mandating curriculum that allows them.

Education will acquaint us with issues that affect us and our future– science, the environment, the political process, how credit and the economy really work, useful skills from balancing a checkbook to conflict resolution and nurturing babies.

3. Every person shall have the opportunity to live in decent, sustainable, comfortable housing with reasonable utilities costs and within safe walking distance,  walking on sidewalks a safe distance from the road according to the speed limit on that road, and/or easy safe and clean public transportation to:

*Decently priced groceries, the majority of which were produced locally and humanely.

*Decent education for children preschool through university including a separate public library built to the highest standards to support recreational reading and media use, cultural enrichment, and lifelong learning.

*Jobs that pay a wage that will allow them to live decently in their community.

*Large shared green spaces– parks, community gardens, playgrounds, sports fields

*At the very least, small private green spaces– yards, etc

*Access to offices providing public needs/goods– elected officials, medical care, government agencies offering aid or information, libraries, utilities, fire and police protection.

*Recreational and arts opportunities: Affordable opportunities for children and adults to take part in athletic teams, art or dance or music lessons, indoor and outdoor recreational sports and cultural facilities and programming.

4. Alternative energy (that means NON FOSSIL FUEL) NOW.

5. Smart development/growth including re use and mixed use zoning, substantial green space; walkable communities with wide sidewalks, bike trails, all needs within a mile or an easy public transportation or bicycle ride; sustainable/green construction of new residential and business buildings; preservation of local landmarks heritage and buildings;  education for quality of life and hands-on making a difference to our future (emphasizing subjects from true scientific method to protect us from big pharma and environmental predators to financial management and economics to personal wellness and conflict resolution); making it possible for businesses to thrive in communities while ensuring that they are at least as responsible for their financial misdeeds or mismanagement as us individuals.

This is the rough draft of my manifesto, and my apologia for Anarchy for the USA.

Let’s re-understand anarchy. It is everyone’s job to protect and nurture ourselves, our fellow human beings, our families, our communities and connections, and our nation. It is government’s job not to rule, but to facilitate that protection and nurture, and then step back and let us have it.

Government may also, sadly, have to enforce and protect and so must stand ready to do so on a realistic (but not wasteful) level.

But I guarantee you, with the right combination of education, nurture of community and connection between diverse fellow human beings across the arbitrary lines that we try to allow to divide us– Kids, no kids. Black, white. Old, young. Cool, uncool. Educated, uneducated. Rich, poor.–  and decent living conditions, the need to enforce and protect will drop drastically, in our small communities and around the world.

And I know you and the team you’ve assembled– from your family to your cabinet and staff– are the ones to do it.

I am so glad you are here.


November 30, 2008

Childhood education is mankind’s most crucial problem.

Filed under: a life worth living,childhood,children,education,oppression,parenting — kimwilsonowen @ 6:11 am

“Those who oppress one part of humanity to the advantage of another succeed only in destroying social unity.”

How we treat children and those who nourish and tend to them is a clear indicator of our character as a society. So many of us, and I am guilty but working on it, are  materially fortunate but emotionally not truly present for our children.

And so many children right here in the US do without or are terribly abused physically and emotionally– it is so bad that our infant mortality (death before 1 year of age) rate is right down there with Latvia– 42nd best in the developed world. Great, right? Go, us! And let’s not even talk about children in places suffering war and famine. No, wait, let’s. This is a global issue.

I worry a lot and write some about various issues surrounding children and family. We force parents to put children in day care that is emotionally devastating at best and often dangerous so that they can go back to work. We see our dangerous medicalized birth practices as not just normal but necessary. I am so grateful to the person who gave me my first book on attachment parenting– I believe she saved my life as a parent and my baby’s life as a growing emotional and spiritual being.

I think a lot about nutrition, food allergies, lack of access to health care, outdated gender roles, the harm we do when we assign or model gender roles and consider them opposites. I know– and now the pro lifers are starting to figure out (I love it when I’m right– that is, when others finally see it) that if we treated parents and children with respect and dignity and insured that no parent or child would have to do without health care, food, shelter, education, meaningful work at a living wage just because they had a baby within or without marriage the abortion rate would drop dramatically.

And some of the most important things we can do for children– staying home to parent, teaching, working in day cares– are also terrible financial decisions– why do we pay those who care for our future so terribly or not at all!

But lately I’ve been reading up on Montessori.

The content of this post is just my notes — I’ll write on what it means to our society some other time.

This is a strange time to be doing this, when my little one just left Montessori preschool to start public kindergarten. That transition tore my heart out too! But perhaps it was best that I did not read these books while she was still in school — too many cooks and all that. Her teachers were wonderful. They didn’t need me nosing around.

I have Maria Montessori’s The Child in the Family, Avon paperback 1970. I made copious notes all over it and need to jot those down before I give the book to my brother who has an almost three year old. I so wish I’d read this sooner– before she was even born.

Oh well. As Maya Angelou says, something to the effect that you did what you knew to do and when you knew better you did better. What parent is perfect? Not I. And even with the very best, most loving parenting it’s the nature of childhood to see things as a child sees, and, depending upon the individual personality and the environment, to randomly sail happily past some junctures and be irreparably scarred at others.

My point isn’t to point out what we’re doing wrong. It’s to lay out what we CAN do, starting now, and why it’s important.

So here are my notes. I claim no part of the below as my own, except perhaps the choice of which passages to highlight. It is all straight from Montessori.

“We all know  that this period of development is the most important in one’s life, that moral starvation or spiritual disease can be as fatal for man as starvation as the body. Consequently, childhood education is mankind’s most crucial problem.”

Children are the most delicate members of the human race. We MUST act because they are weak beings who live among the strong. We do not understand their needs and we are crushing them from birth. Montessori says that such ignorance represents an abyss of unsuspected evil. I wholeheartedly concur.

“No one sees in the newborn child the human being who suffers. No one appreciates the sensitivity of a little body that has never before been handled, or of his reactions to innumerable physical impressions and to every familiar touch.”

Unlike racism or other forms of oppression, the oppression of children spans all societies and economic strata.

Material things (other than basic warmth, nourishment, security, hygiene, safety) are LEAST important at this time of life. Of all the necessities, the one most neglected is the one most needed– spiritual. And our constant demands, commands and punishments sap the child’s vital energy and suffocate his creativity until all that remains is the child’s desire to free himself from everyone and everything.

“…only the immediate observation of children whose freedom was respected revealed some of the laws of their inner being… these same children have sought the way to strength and have found it with the surest of instincts.”

If we pay attention and learn about the child’s emotional and learning styles/desire– not from adults but from children themselves– we can offer them an environment that develops moral and intellectual achievement that comes from within the child’s own desires and motivations rather than from emotional and physical punishment from adults.

If a child is going to grow out of it, don’t punish it! You are only doing harm. Divert. Offer better and more interesting options. Remove gently from the situation. Maintain an environment which nurtures the child’s innate respect, dignity, and drive to learn.

Forcing a child to conform to the adult world, using punishment and based on unquestioning obedience, negates his or her strengths and harms his or her growth irreparably. We must create an environment that offers emotional, spiritual and physical shelter from the adult world.

The child innately knows his developmental work. To mold is to harm.

The child creates,  not the adult. Adults do children irreparable harm.

We see a child only as a future. Nobody pays attention to the becoming in the precious present– the child is full of beauty, dignity and creativity.  We crush it out of him.

A child cannot obey if he or she does not have spiritual balance, cannot collect his thoughts, cannot master himself from within and choose to do what is best for himself and for the group for its own sake because he wants to.

“…Children must be thoroughly strong beings and must possess spiritual equilibrium in order to be able to obey… the strong spirit [will] obey and know to adapt itself to everything. It is necessary, then, to give the child the possibility of developing according to the laws of his nature, so that he can become strong…” Allow him to exercise the essential function of his spirit (concentration; the labor that is repose) in peace and freedom.

Allow the child to be with you. Make amenities so that the environment is safe, attractive, and suits his tiny size and interests.

” When the child goes to bed he must do so in the company of someone he loves. But the person he loves thinks:’This nonsense must stop. We’ll spoil him if we stay close to him before he goes to sleep…’ Who else weeps out of the intense desire to be with us…? How sadly we will say someday, ‘Nobody cries now to have me near him while he falls asleep… Only a child remembers and says every night “Don’t leave me; stay with me!’ and the adult answers, ‘I can’t, I have so much to do’ … and think that the child must be corrected…!

“Most often [parents] say ‘Don’t wake me in the morning’… But how often does it happen in life that someone, just awakened, wants to come to us, despite every difficulty, not to wake us up but simply to see us and kiss us?”

As often as you can, before you move to punish or correct, stop yourself. Inquire. Observe. Wait with faith.

What attracts the child? Use those observations to create learning and developmental experiences that are right for your unique little individual. Create a safe learning environment, and be silent and observe. Solitude and separation are needed, and intervention destroys his or her process of exploring his rich inner world.

As far as our education system, Montessori asserts that outmoded teaching methods hurt a child physically, emotionally and morally. His screams, lying, destructiveness, shyness, disobedience– these are defenses from US!

Create an environment in which a child does not need our constant surveillance and correction– where he can be safe, creative, at liberty. The right environment transforms little nuisances into happy active children. It turns a housewrecker into a good steward, a noisy and disorganized child tranquil and orderly.

Montessori methods help a child to develop qualities they truly long to practice until achieve– safe and courteous awareness of their bodies, care with fragile items, kindness, respect, order, responsibility, understanding of the natural laws that govern our world. When confronted with furniture just his size, he is overwhelmed by the desire to create order in ‘his’ little world. Encourage independence and do not belittle his or her efforts when he does it ‘wrong’. Allow the child to  make errors– the breakage of a loved and lovely item is punishment enough.

Give the child attractive and safe cleaning supplies– pretty cloths and attractive soaps. Children love to clean. [At my house they fight over the next turn with the spray bottle full of water and the dish cloth!] Independence gives a child joy and dignity. She loves to work– she loves to work for the greater good of her family.

Montessori asserts that there is a certain kind of work which renews the spirit rather than tiring it. We find rest in intellectual labor that gives spiritual strength.

What seems to us to be ‘useless’ repetitive behavior gives the child rest, repose and renewal. Begin with objects that attract the child and appeal to his or her senses– it is these which will help begin the concentration crucial to learning. Use those objects to create learning experiences.

Create a loving, safe, attractive, child-centered and -sized environment with meaningful learning experiences– and then step back. Observe. Be a loving but absolutely silent presence, there only when the child needs you. Otherwise, let him or her work.

“To be always there– that is the point.”

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