Hypotheticals and Homeschooling (Crap Happens)

Here’s a simple truth: Worry is not the same as critical thinking.

As with many things, hypotheticals are not bad in and of themselves. It’s why and how we spend time thinking in the hypothetical.

Brad is playing chess. His opponent can do many possible things. One of those things is to come out with a surprise move and win the game. In order to win, Brad has to spend his time in the hypothetical. If he spends his time worrying that his opponent might win, and moves his pieces with that frame of mind, he won’t win, except if he’s lucky. He’ll also be a nervous wreck during the game.

However, if Brad spends his game critically thinking about the possible moves that his opponent can make, and then plans ahead to either counterattack or manage his opponent’s moves, then he has a much higher chance of winning. It’s still a whole lot of hypothetical, just a matter of how he’s going about it.

Now, I’m not saying that our kids are opponents. Far from it. They are on our team. If we are playing soccer on a team, and we have teammates who spend time worrying about how the other team might kick a ball in their face, or that they might score a goal, is that team member supporting the team? Team players thick critically, and help each other. Even team captains. Team captains who worry, and fret, and second guess their choices have a hard time leading their team. Team captains who are bullheaded also have a hard time leading an effective team.

Here’s another simple truth: We will always miss out. We will always get gipped. So will our kids.

It is practically impossible to do everything. The only thing we can do is fully and completely experience the thing we are doing now. I’m typing this email instead of cleaning the house. Later, I’ll be scampering around town fending off my mother from buying everything my children ask for, instead of sitting at the park while they play. And that’s how it is. If I spend that time wondering if it’s the right choice, or thinking how I maybe something else would be “better”, then not only have I lost the thing I didn’t do, but I lost the thing I’m DOING, as well. Either we are fully here and now, or we are doubly screwing ourselves over.

Here’s another simple truth: Playing video games to escape is different than playing video games because it’s a passion.

The kid we imagine who plays video games in his room all day and never talks to his family, he’s in trouble. He’s not in trouble because he’s playing video games. He’s in trouble because he’s disconnected from his family. Because he’s unhappy, escaping. He doesn’t run downstairs to tell his family about all his adventures. He doesn’t enjoy celebrating at holidays or sharing a family outing. He’s hurting. That’s a child who doesn’t need his video games yanked from him. That is a child who seriously needs help emotionally. The family probably also needs help, because these things don’t happen in isolation.

We can worry about this happening, and make it more likely it will happen. Or we can think critically and know that if this does happen, we are willing to stand up and say, “I’m going to do everything I possibly can to help this family heal, including healing myself.” Even in this very difficult situation, all is not hopeless. Except, when we worry, it does seem hopeless. When we think critically, we realize that every situation is manageable.

On the other hand, a kid who plays a lot of video games, but then comes back to his family and friends on a regular basis, and is happy at family gatherings, and likes to have conversations about his adventures. He reads books, and plans, and all the other things kids do when they are enthusiastic about life, then that’s GOOD. This child is healthy and strong. He is loving life, happy, and enthusiastic. Why mess that up with our own worry and neurosis?

Even if this does become a problem because his obsession is so strong, it takes away from his other life pursuits (say, showering, eating, going outside…), there ARE ways to deal with these things. But not if we worry and stress about them. We HAVE to believe that no matter what happens, we are capable and able parents, and we can deal with it. We are also capable and able enough to recognize when things start getting to be truly unhealthy. Because we are critically thinking, not worrying.

I am a hypothetical preparer. I think ahead, plan, prepare for what-ifs. I’m typically good at strategy games and leading and managing personalities. I don’t worry about what’s going to happen. I expect crap to happen, and I’m ready.

Final simple truth: Crap will happen. It will happen a lot. Get used to it. Then, deal with it.


Making Summer Vacation Illegal

Summer has a great post about making summer vacation illegal so that parents won’t abuse their kids. (funny)

Spunky has a great post about making school mandatory for all kids starting at age 1, so their parents, basically, won’t abuse them. (sad)

Perfect Homeschooling, Curriculum Choice, and Regretting Decisions

A new homeschooling mom on our local list had some questions about tutors, curriculum, and generally freaking out because she can’t figure out the perfect way to get started because she’s afraid of regretting her decisions

I responded to her, and I thought I’d pass this along for those of you who are struggling with fear, regret, perfectionism, or self-doubt. Or, if you are interested in being a stronger, more resilient homeschooler, this post might interest you.

Dear “Alysa”,
I have been reading this thread with interest. After your last email, I thought of some things that might relate to your situation:

1) There is no way to make everything perfect. Letting go of that expectation now will go a long way in making life as a homeschooler, and as a parent, less stressful. Also, expecting things to be perfect is a great excuse for not taking any risks and avoiding responsibility. Own your decisions by knowing that every choice has a risk. Even choosing public school.

2) I understand about the idea about not wanting to regret your choices. The best way to not regret your choices is to understand two things: 1) That you ALWAYS have the option to change course. When you make a bad choice (and you will eventually, we all do), it’s not about the result of that choice that makes us who we are, but whether or not we have the resilience to stand up, dust off the dirt, learn from what we did, and move forward. If you know that you can recover from any choice, then making choices is easier, and more empowering. You’re also more likely to make good choices, because they will be made based on your integrity and love of life, not from fear. 2) You can’t possibly know whether a choice is going to be a good one or not until you’ve made it. Doing research is important. And listening to others’ with experience is also important. But in the end, the choice you make is yours to own. Even if other people might wag their finger at you and say “I told you so,” sometimes we have to make certain choices to really understand where to go next. Listen, absorb, then make a choice, and know that you have lots of other options available for you if that choice doesn’t pan out.

3) Tutors and curriculum: It’s obvious you are very very new to homeschooling. I say that because once you get involved in the homeschooling support groups, go to a couple conferences, subscribe to a few magazines, read a few books, and generally get some experience in the HSing world, you’re going to look around and say, “OMG, how can I possibly choose from everything there is to do???” and you’ll probably look back and laugh at yourself that you didn’t know how to get started with tutors/curriculum. Remember, there is NO rush to get started with these things except in your own mind. Wanting to have a handle on exactly who to follow, who to pay, and what path to take is like trying to hold on to the sand on the beach so as not to get swept away by the tide. It’s better to stand up and let the sand be there to make a sandcastle, not to save you. Tutors and curriculum are FINE. Use them, do them, but don’t let them be your master. Don’t rely on them to show you the way or to make you feel less panicky. They won’t. They will only be a baindaid for that fear. The fear doesn’t come from not having these things. Figure out where the fear is REALLY coming from, and the tutors/curriculum/classes and other concrete learning tools will be there for your enjoyment.

It’s totally normal to be hyper when you’re starting out something SO new, an interesting, and BIG, and fun, and scary, and all that. So, enjoy it. Sign up for everything, get really going. Then, when you feel yourself burning out, back out, do less stuff, and relax. Whether you start by relaxing or start by going into overdrive, you’re still doing a great job and learning about your role as a homeschooling parent.

In the end, there are only 3 things that matter for a child in today’s world of technology and global culture:

1) Relationships, relationships, relationships. This trumps everything. All the tutors and curriculum in the world cannot make up for relationship issues in the family. So, when making decisions, always choose to favor strengthening the relationship you have with your child.
2) Love and curiosity about the world. If a child has this, it doesn’t matter how much or what a child learns. A child who is in love with the world, and curious about it will succeed.
3) Knowing where information is. It’s not what you know, but who, where and when you know. If you know where to get info, that is a much more important skill than actually knowing things. In fact, knowing too many facts can give us the false impression that we don’t need to know any more. (This is part of why kids in school often don’t do a lot to study above and beyond what’s taught to them.) It’s important for people to know they don’t know everything, and that it’s not a life requirement to know it all. Having a strong grasp of available resources allows us to let go of feeling like we aren’t good enough because we don’t have all the president’s names and dates memorized like our cousin Sam does.

Good luck to you and enjoy your child. I hope you’ll come to the HSC conference. There you’ll find out more than you ever want or need to know about curriculum, tutors, and other things you can teach with. Until then, relax and enjoy your new life of freedom.

Making Sense of All of the California Homeschooling News

897876_reporter.jpgIn the past week, I’ve done four interviews (two for TV, one for radio, and one for the paper). These are some of the questions I was asked about the Long’s case and the appellate court’s ruling.

1. What do you think of the HSLDA petition to depublish the court’s opinion? I am of two minds about the HSLDA petition. The petition’s intention is in alignment with the efforts coordinated by all the California homescholing organizations. In that regard, it’s a positive action that people can make in response to the court’s ruling. However, the petition is not likely to have much, if any, effect on whether the opinion will be depublished. The Supreme Court will look at the legal arguments that are presented, not public opinion. My concern is that the people who sign this petition think that their work is done. It is not. We cannot consider signing an ineffective petition as enough of an effort to make a difference.

2. What do you think of Assemblyman Joel Anderson’s resolution to reverse the appellate court’s opinion (ACR 115)? It is important that as many people as possible support this resolution. Although this resolution will not sway the supreme court any more than HSLDA’s petition, its presentation for vote will give the California State Assembly, and the rest of the politicians in CA, clear message that homeschoolers are unified in CA. We also can see which Assemblymen will vote for, or against, this resolution. Again, this is not the end-all of support. This is just one small part of what we can do, and not a ticket to opt-out of the rest of the effort to keep homeschooling free from regulation in CA.

3. What do you think of the Long family’s appeal to the Supreme Court? I was asked this question, and I wasn’t sure how to answer it. It seems obvious to me that they would do this, irregardless of what’s going on in the homeschooling community. I’m assuming that all of the efforts by the CA homeschooling groups to depublish the opinion are being conducted with full knowledge of the appeal. As far as I know, depublishing is still the main goal, whether or not the Supreme court accepts the appeal case. I see it this way: the Long family is concerned about their family, and CA homeschoolers are concerned with the particular section of the opinion that pertains to the education code. If those two efforts overlap, it doesn’t change our intentions.

4. Who should we listen to? CHN? HSLDA? The news? I can’t tell you who to listen to. That’s up to you. I would encourage you, however, to listen to as many different people and organizations as you can stand. I am on way too many e-lists, and I watch the google alerts. But I feel that I’m getting a multi-dimensional view of what’s going on. The information that I pass along here on this blog, are things that either are objective truths (Joel Anderson and his resolution, for example), or are opinions that resonate throughout the entire coalition of homeschooling groups in CA. If one group says something, and nobody else does, I make sure to ask around to see if it’s a rogue opinion. I also take care to see who is making the statement, and what their goals are. So listen to who you want to listen to, but keep in mind that many people and groups are working on this, and listening to only one source might not paint an accurate picture.

5. Should we be worried? I am of the opinion that even if we were literally being thrown into concentration camps, we still shouldn’t be worried. Mad, yes. Motivated, yes. On high alert, yes. Prepared, absolutely. But worry is a waste of energy. Worry makes us impatient. Worry makes it difficult to see all the data. Worry gets in the way of good decision making. Dump the worry, and replace it with determination. Right now, the best thing we can do to “beat” this, is to keep homeschooling. Don’t let them see us sweat (even if everything is falling apart).

Any other questions?

Fearless Homeschooling in Times of Stress

929117_curious.jpg“We are disturbed not by events, but by the views which we take of them.” – Epictetus, 1st century Greek philosopher.

When we think of fearlessness, we often think of daredevils like Evil Knievel or Derek Hersey; people who regularly, and intentionally, put themselves into dangerous situations either for fun or profit.

There are indeed people who like the thrill of danger, but that is not what everyday life fearlessness is about. The kind of fearlessness that we can have in homeschooling and in life, is an acceptance that life is naturally a series of events, some of them “good”, some “bad’, and that we are capable of dealing with the bad things that happen. With this kind of view of life and of homeschooling, we aren’t afraid of events because we are confident in ourselves to take effective and sensible views on these events. Fearlessness is a state of being comfortable with uncertainty, and a knowledge that nothing, no matter how horrible, can destroy us. And if it does destroy us, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it right now, except live the best we can.

It’s OK to be afraid once in a while. But what we are truly afraid of is not that bad things will happen. We KNOW bad things will happen. It’s the way the universe works. The pendulum between good and bad swings back and forth, and also changes as our views of the world changes. What we might consider “good” one day, will turn to be “bad” the next, simply because of changes in our own minds.

No, when we are afraid, we are not afraid of the events. We are afraid of our own lack of personal power to deal with those events. We are afraid of ourselves.

To be fearless, we have to be in a state where we trust ourselves, and we know that if we are presented with stressful events, we can deal with them. We don’t have to convince ourselves that everything will be OK, or that we can even fix anything. It’s a confidence of our own mind, that we have the mental capacity to let go when we need to, and act when we need to. As the saying goes, the only fear is of fear itself.

Becoming fearless is an internal process of self-understanding. It’s an internal process of self-like and self-appreciation. It’s also a process of losing our attachment to thinking that things outside ourselves define who we are.

Accept that:

– things will happen. It’s inevitable. And we won’t like some of those things. We will deal with it when it happens. We will make reasonable precautions to avoid certain kinds of things we don’t want, but sometimes, those precautions won’t work, and that’s just how it is. Having emotions and reactions to things that haven’t happened yet is detrimental to current lives.
– we are capable and smart individuals. Everything we need is inside us.
– we have friends and family who will support us. A huge step in becoming fearless is to create a strong structure of support.
– fear is a natural emotion. If we feel it, get comfortable with it. Accept it. Embrace it. Get to know it. We’re getting to know ourselves when we accept fear along with all the other emotions we have.
– we can’t handle everything. Most things aren’t our responsibility to deal with. If we feel like we are spinning our wheels, we probably are, and it’s time to get off the bike.
– if we mess up, it’s a learning experience, not the end. It’s only the end if we decide it is. It’s only “bad” if we look at failure that way.
– we have internal truths that only we have access to, and can never really be expressed. Other people’s judgments of us never change that. Other people can only distract us from those truths, and only if we let them.

Being fearless requires that we know ourselves, face ourselves, and most importantly, trust ourselves. When we are fearless, we accept fear, we accept that things fall apart, and we move ahead anyway. The more often we do this, the more often we fail and recover, fail and recover, the more we learn how to be successful. It’s when we fail, and then lose ourself in that failure that we get stuck in fear, and it becomes our master.

In Deschooling Gently: A Step by Step Guide to Fearless Homeschooling, I talk some about these concepts in relation to the ins and out of daily homeschooling life. But these precepts are also true about life in general. Once we are fearless in homeschooling, it starts to trickle out into everything else.

Pema Chodron has two books on fearlessness that changed the way I think about myself and about dealing with difficult emotions and events: When Things Fall Apart and The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. I invite you to seek these out. They might even be at your local library.

What are you afraid of? What is keeping you from being a fearless homeschooler, a fearless parent, and a fearless person? If you consider yourself fairly fearless, was it always like that?

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What Would Wayne Dyer Do? Apparently, being a jerk is something he’d do.

A couple of days ago in a post about freedom, I quoted Wayne Dyer. His words made me think about my own children’s freedom, about the freedom I ask for myself, and the freedom I allow other people and things to take away from me.

I read the rest of his book, Pull Your Own Strings, and I found myself becoming less and less enchanted with Wayne Dyer’s idea of freedom. In the name of freedom, apparently, it’s perfectly OK, and even encouraged, to be a jerk.

You see, I learned from this book that there are people everywhere who want to victimize me. And little did I know that people are sneaky about it. And although he didn’t say it outright, women are the worst about it! Because women talk about things, and want to understand each other and get to know people. That’s apparently a trick to get people to be weak. Don’t let people do that to you, Wayne Dyer warns! They’re just trying to get you to say things about you so they can manipulate you!

At the apex of his two chapter long diatribe about how people use mind games to get at us, he proves his point by describing a parent who has learned not to be victimized. This parent asked his teen to take the trash out not once, but twice. He didn’t get mad, or beg his son to comply, or, God forbid, explain himself. He simply dumped the trash on the teen’s bed. The teen got the message that his dad couldn’t be manipulated or victimized.

What the hell?

I was livid after that example, but I calmed down and went ahead and finished the book anyway. After I put it down, and breathed a little, I reminded myself that before I reached the chapter on How to Be a Jerk How to Keep People From Manipulating You, I really liked what Wayne had to say.

He talked about how we can be trapped by our past. He described different ways of handling criticism. He talked about how we have a choice whether to be happy. He also went into how our own negative judgments of others are a voluntary way to victimize ourselves. Some of the examples he gave were spot-on and gave good tools for how we can choose to live more peacefully.

And I’ve read a couple other books by him as well, that had a lot of good to say. (I haven’t yet read “Your Erroneous Zones”.) Should I reject everything he’s said, or never read a book by him again, because of these two paranoia-inducing chapters?

No. I needed be OK with cherry picking.

Yesterday at church (OMG, Tammy goes to church! Shhh… don’t tell anyone), the speaker’s topic was about cherry picking. His cherry picking had to do with the bible. See, the church I go to doesn’t use the bible. In fact, there are some people in the congregation who really abhor the bible and anything to do with Christianity or religion at all. (There are others who are very Christian. A truly mixed group.)

Anyway, the speaker, Ross Blocher, said that even though there is a lot of violence and other passages in the bible that may not resonate with our beliefs, there is also lot of good to be found in it According to Ross, we shouldn’t reject the bible if we aren’t Christian (he isn’t Christian either), but rather to cherry pick the best parts and appreciate those parts for what they have brought us (while also having a critical mind for all of it).

Now, I might have just alienated my entire Christian audience, and I hope I haven’t. I don’t want this to be a discussion about religion. My point is that even though parts of Wayne Dyer’s attitude towards people makes me glad he’s not my friend or in my family, he does offer a lot of good ideas I can cherry pick and appreciate.

I’ve struggled with this idea because I couldn’t see how it could be done without being insincere or manipulative. I’ve been struggling with being able to appreciate people and things for the good parts in them while recognizing with equanimity that bad parts exist too. I have always felt like that if I say I “like” something, it’s a tacit approval of every single part of it. It’s either I support everything, or I support nothing. I don’t feel comfortable saying I like a speaker, a teacher, a book or a method, unless I like all of it. One wrong word, and it’s tainted everything else he or she has said or done in the past (and future).

Pretty limiting way of looking at things, isn’t it? If I keep going like this, I will never have any friends (because all people have faults), I will never be able to appreciate an author (because no writer is perfect), I will eventually run out of things to like at all (because all things eventually show “their true colors”). This idea that once someone or something has shown their “bad” side, I can no longer offer my appreciation, is just plain dumb. What’s the matter with me? Part of it is that for most of my life, I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

I think this idea of all or nothing is purpetrated in our society. A perfect example is our political attitudes. But we can also see it in how reluctant people are to accept homeschooling (or even to accept each other within the homeschooling community), or in family members who turn their backs on each other, or in people’s product loyalty (Can we say Apple vs. Microsoft?) Let’s not even get into the whole monster of “patriotism”.

I struggle with cherry picking when it comes to being a homeschooler, even. Because even though I support homeschooling, there are certain aspects to it that bother me. When some ugly part of homsechooling comes out, I start to feel that knee-jerk mental withdrawal. Almost as if I had been betrayed. In fact, a few weeks ago, I read an online discussion about homeschooling, and I was appalled by some of the comments my fellow homeschoolers made. And, to be honest, some of the non-homeschoolers in this particular discussion brought up some really astute points about the problems with homeschooling. For a while after I read the discussion, I wanted to just throw in the towel, and be done with it all. Of course, I can’t do that, because I have to pick some kind of educational process, so I continued on homeschooling.

And, on the flip side, even though I don’t send my kids to school, there are many things about school that I appreciate. If something good pops up about school, I it’s natural to push that information aside, to justify my continued negative attitude I’m “supposed” to have toward school.

It’s a long, slow process to learn to simply see. There is something to appreciate in every person. I am losing out when I push away ideas and people who have a lot of good, simply because I can’t see past the negative. I have already lost out on much because of that. I’m becoming increasingly aware of that.

In the end, I can decide to appreciate a person, a book, a theory, a perspective, a method, a political group, or even myself, without having to be what gamers call “a fan-boy”. I can cherry pick. I can’t tell you how much freedom I suddenly feel I have from this one simple idea that most people probably already “get”, but it took me a long time to finally allowed myself to accept.

Wayne taught me more by example, than by his words. By being a jerk, he taught me about how to be free.

Top 10 Tips for Deschooling

Inspired by this great post at LifeLearningToday on the top 10 tips for Britney Spears and anyone feeling lost in life, I offer a parallel list.

Top 10 Tips for Deschooling

1. Slow down and let learning happen. Our culture encourages us to push our kids to learn faster, better, more. What if we said, “It may take a day, it may take a year, it may take 10, but they will eventually learn. We’re in no rush?”

2. Let go of our grip on fear. Fear is a natural emotion. It tells us things. But if we let fear control us, we don’t make wise decisions (or we don’t make any decisions at all). Feel the fear, explore why we have it, then walk right on by it and discover our own path to education.

3. Let go of the notion that making mandates on our kids’ learning means we’re good teachers. Good teachers are listeners, watchful, adaptive, curious, supportive, non-judgmental and accepting. Not controlling.

4. Create a circle of supportive people. Whenever we make a major life change, it’s important to have people around us who support our decisions and trust us. Create a group of supportive people around us by going out and supporting others and accepting them.

5. Seek out help, but don’t follow advice blindly. There is an infinite amount of literature out there about learning, homeschooling and parenting. Seek it out, learn and explore. But remember the final decision on which advice is appropriate is up to us individually.

6. Have a concrete understanding of why we want to homeschool. Create a list of positive reasons to homeschool. That list can remind us why we are putting so much effort into our new life when it seems like nothing is working. It can also help us refocus on what’s important so we don’t get lost in the details.

7. Find a mentor or someone to emulate. LifeLearning said find a life coach. I think that’s fine too, except, that there really aren’t any life coaches in the homeschooling community. (Would you use one if there was one?) Instead, we can find role models or mentors to help us on our way.

8. Take baby steps. Lasting change is easier to accomplish with small changes. Also, pick one thing at a time, instead of working on everything at once. Big changes and working on too many things is the psyche’s way of setting ourselves up for failure so that we don’t have to change, since it’s so easy to give up with such overwhelming self-imposed demands.

9. Exercise daily. Good advice for anyone.

10. Get involved with something outside of homeschooling. School is restrictive because it keeps kids insulated in the world of “education”. Get involved with things that have nothing to do with education, and teach kids what life really is about.

Got something to add? Any of these tips resonate with you?