-- by Marie Goodwin
I've been fascinated by the concept of inflammation in the body and all of its associated ills. Lately, inflammation has been the "it" reason for almost every illness, and -- truthfully -- I believe it might actually be a significant symptom of multiple ills. Inflammation happens.
What causes it? Well, there seem to be a multitude of reasons for runaway inflammation: stress, Omega 3:6:9 imbalance, processed foods, leaky gut, exposure to chemicals and heavy metals, childhood trauma, allergies of all kinds, inflammatory foods, an imbalance of gut bacteria, dehydration, poor sleep. You name it.
What does it do? Metabolic syndrome (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure), arthritis, Alzheimers, low immunities to colds and the flu, chronic pain, depression, candida overgrowth, and is a driver of all kinds of auto-immune disorders. I'm sure tomorrow a new study will show that it causes the "terrible twos" and midlife crises. I wouldn't be at all surprised.
(I would provide links for all of these symptoms and causes, but you can Google just like I can. Information about all this is easily and readily available. Here's a link to get you started.)
When, one by one, my family members were bitten by ticks and came down with Lyme (welcome to SE Pennsylvania!), managing long term the inflammation issues associated with this spirochete safely was a goal. I, of course, turned to Stephen Buhner's herbal protocol as a main guide. I spent a few years experimenting with a single tincture that would address chronic Lyme inflammation to manage my persistent joint soreness, overall fatigue, as well as my rosacea -- an auto-immune disorder that I inherited from my father (Thanks Dad!)
It worked well for me, and then when my husband had chronic back pain and then an almost fatal motorcycle accident, this tincture became a mainstay in his ability to stay off opiod-based pain-killers yet manage the pain (somewhat... there's no killing the pain of an 8" incision from your diaphragm to your groin, not even with opiods.) The proof was in the pudding when he had to quit the tincture for surgery, and in the ten days between ceasing his daily dose and the surgery for his disk rupture, his pain increased from (in his words) "manageable to unmanageable."
So, what is this stuff made of? Here is a guide to making it at home.
Powerful Anti Inflammatories:
Cat's Claw Bark
Japanese Knotweed (This is where I get mine... I know these folks and they are the real deal!)
Oregon Grape Root
Fresh Turmeric Root
Fresh Ginger Root
Healthy Bitters: Supports Liver function as well as supporting other Anti-Inflammatories
Roasted Dandelion Root
For Taste, Anti-Inflammation, and Herbs that Aid Bioavailability of Other Herbs:
Pepper Corns (Black is best) or ground pepper.
Optional: Meadowsweet: (a pain killer)
Optional: Eleuthero Root (to increase energy)
I'm not going to tell you what size container to use. I use varying size containers when I make it. Lately I've been using the jar pictured below. It holds two gallons.
5 Parts: Ginger, Turmeric
2 parts: Cat's Claw, Japanese Knotweed, Oregon Grape Root, Cinnamon, Dandelion Roots, Burdock Root, Birch Bark. Meadowsweet (if you are using it), and Eleuthero Root (if using it.)
1 part: Black Pepper, Star Anise, Saffron (or however much you have)
4 or 5 whole nutmegs if you have whole ones OR 1/2 part ground nutmeg (or less depending on taste).
I use fresh turmeric root (not powder) and ginger. Slice the turmeric and ginger into the thinnest slices you can muster. There is no need to skin the ginger and turmeric, but rather just make long, thin slices out of the fresh root and place it into the jar.
Add all the other ingredients. It will look like the photo on the right when you are done.
Your next ingredient is vodka. I use mid-range vodkas (you can really taste the difference between crap vodka and better vodka). This tincture tastes, um, like medicine anyway... why make it worse with crappy vodka?
The vodka should cover all the ingredients by about an inch.
Mix the herbs and the alcohol thoroughly and then set into a corner of your kitchen with no natural light. Do not put it in the fridge! Mix it daily or whenever you remember to do it.
Wait a week, then strain through a thin mesh strainer or coffee filter. I often use a turkey baster to "prefilter" the mixture into a wire tea strainer, eliminating big chunks and leaving them in the jar. I then strain the mixture into small bottles with droppers, but you could just as easily store it in a mason jar. Just make sure you tell the kids it isn't iced tea in there...
You can use these ingredients up to three times with new alcohol, but the tincture will get less strong each time you do this.
I am experimenting with, at the end of the process, using a masticating juicer to extract everything out of the ginger and turmeric root slices and then using that "juice" in future tinctures.
This is always tricky. People weigh different amounts, people respond differently to pain and pain-killers. This is something you have to experiment with. My husband is 6'2" and he was requiring a "shot" of this stuff 3x a day to manage acute pain. Your needs may be less. I would start with 2 tablespoons three times a day for a week and see how your particular pain/inflammation is responding, and then adjust accordingly. Always use your own responses to the herbs as a guide. Check in often with yourself.
Of course, if you are on any kind of medication at all, you should talk to your doctor about contra-indications. Also, you MUST terminate using this stuff ten days before any surgery.
I'm not a doctor and don't even play one on TV, so I'm just sharing my own experience and not telling you what to do or how to treat illness. Do your own research!
-- by Marie Goodwin
I don't remember much of my childhood. It is an odd feeling, frankly. People reach out to me on social media and say, "Hey I was your neighbor and we all played together. I'd like to reconnect," and I have no memory of them at all. I barely remember the details of my room, for instance. I do have glimpses of things, but a coherent narrative memory for me starts in high school. Much of the rest is lost in some vast, deep ocean; sometimes images come to me in a dream or in sudden bursts of insight. Snippets. Vignettes of time. Random subconscious insights bubbling up from the depths like air from the blowhole of a deeply submerged mysterious beast.
I do, however, have a consistent memory of one part of my childhood, something I've never lost. I once knew what it felt like to be "home."
There was a place in the one-hundred acres behind our small farm where the rickety old barbed-wire fence covered in honey-suckle briefly parted to make way for a small gate. This gate separated the main cow-field of thirty acres or more from a much smaller space, and every time I entered that space, I felt like I had found a magic garden, an abode of reverence and stillness and quiet, all things necessary to an introvert like me. And I felt like I had come home.
Out in "the real world" of school, and friends, and unhappy parents, I felt unmoored, adrift in loneliness and a generalized angst. So many children feel this way, but I never embraced emotionally what surrounded me, what I swam in. I knew, from a very early age, that this was not my home -- this small town in Georgia, the bitter hot summers and rainy forlorn winters: the "born again" religious fervor of my neighbors, the joyless landscape of the flat, red clay, featureless pine-covered earth. I knew, somehow, that my relationship to the land was what "home" was -- even then. And I knew that the rural south was not my home.
Except for the secret field. Except for there.
I would go most days after the school bus dropped us off to an empty house. It was the three of us -- my brother and sister and I, and I was the eldest. We had chores to do, animals to feed, homework to get done, and it was my responsibility to make sure everything was finished before my parents got home. But after accomplishing the work of the day in the mundane realm in our 1970 split-level, I would take my horse out, and we would cross through to the fields in the back, onto our neighbors farmland and I would ride. I almost always ended up in the secret field.
The place was unlike every other place I knew in our small town. It was lush and green, because an earth-bound stone breached the surface soil like some great humpbacked whale and gave up a trickling spring, that gently ran down its face, a constant rivulet that pooled here and there and muddied the earth along the stone's gentle slope. In the land of never-ending pine trees, here rare hardwood trees grew and thrived. The spring fed a great oak, without fail, that spread its branches into a shady refuge. A pecan tree grew a little further down. Even during the most serious of draughts or deep into summer's unrelenting heat, that water ran cool and strong, greening the ground below.
This was no small outcropping; it was the size of the the footprint of a modest house and was always warm, even at night after the sun set. I am told that the outcropping was part of the same granite that makes up Stone Mountain, but I'm not sure if that is true or a guess. Areas of the grey and glistening mica surface were covered in thick moss. I would always feel compelled to lie down on the warmth of the stone. Often I slept there, coiled up on the moss for comfort. In spring and summer, the honey-suckle from the fence gave off an aroma of sweetness, and from all around animals and birds moved in the shade of the great trees that fed from the spring's abundance. I ferreted a folding chair down there, something you might have at the beach, and read under the shade, book after book after book. My horse grazed quietly in the grassy lowlands just beyond the trees. Some times I swear I saw nature spirits hiding in the bushes, waiting for me to return home so they could have their secret place back. Maybe they were just rabbits. I'm still not sure. I'm still looking for the nature spirits though.
Since the cows were prevented from entering this part of the larger field by the gate, the water was sweet and pure and I often drank deeply from it. I would cup my hands in the shallow pools, looking at the glinting, mica-filled sediment that gathered there. I imagined that these were precious jewels, gifts of the earth. The moss gave the water an earthly rich taste. I've only tasted water as sweet from a remote spring in the highlands of Scotland. I wish I could drink that water every day.
I brought special people to visit this place -- friends first and then, eventually, lovers. But no one else understood. At least that is how it seemed to me. Everyone's reaction was, "Um, OK. So what's the deal here?" Couldn't they see? I thought. Eventually I gave up trying to explain it to people.
When I left to go to college, my parents sold the house during their divorce, so I lost access to the secret field. It is probably under the foundation of some McMansion by now, the water seeping into a basement, demanding to run free, a source of constant consternation to homeowners. That idea is a cool comfort.
I've been thinking these days what this place has meant to me all these years. Why is the memory of it pushing so hard at me right now. I've been writing this blog post for years in my mind, and have decided it is high time I begin some attempt to explore its meaning. What this small plot of land gave to me is the deep and unshakable knowledge that there are places where you belong, and that belonging is tied to the land in some mysterious way. You get claimed by it. It makes itself known to you, and you return again and again to its embrace. And it can happen anywhere, at any time. And it may only happen once. But it may happen over and over. It is good to be able to recognize it when it comes knocking.
What I also learned is that being claimed by this land, at this point in my life, informs my conception of what home means to me. Others see home as the place where their family lives or where they grew up; some others feel it is a community in which they feel heard and seen; still others see it in the long range -- Where are my ancestors buried? All of these concepts are people-centered. The version of "home" that feels most comfortable to me is the lush green moss, the shade of a great oak; the darting rabbit-spirits and the burbling spring, a gift from the deep source. It is cool air, and shade, moss, and stone, and water. This knowing has infused itself into my being, unbidden.
Recently, I've begun writing a book (a trilogy) of historical fiction, its story a gift from some creative well-spring that has never reached out to me in my life before now. The story was given to me, almost fully-formed, in a time of crisis in my life. I have been researching and writing it ever since, almost two years now. As a unschooling mom to two in their tween/teen years with a job(s) on top of it, I've had to carve out longer periods to write away from the incessant distractions of home life. The whole "wake up before everyone else and just write an hour or two a day before they get up" idea is not viable in my house. So, I looked for places to write, remote from my every day life, and found the description of a state park five hours away that features an old growth forest with abundant rivers and streams, paths moving through a rocky and mossy landscape up to the "cathedral area" where the trees have never been logged. I knew I could write there.
This place, a cabin in these woods, has been the second place where I feel deeply at home, and I return again and again and again to write. I find a rhythm there where the story slips from my fingers. In sleep, the story weaves itself into my dreams. I awaken and spill more of it into my computer. It is almost a mantic creative process. And deep into the experience of living among the old trees up in this remote cabin, I catch a glimpse of the idea that the story is being dreamt, through me, by the old beings surrounding me.
That sort of communion with the land, the easy comfort of deeply belonging to a place, has been a search I've been on my entire life, a desire to recreate that easy comfort with place. I know people who live in a place that feels like this to them. They are rich beyond all measure in my opinion. Right now, I have to get by on my occasional visits to the cabin in the park and my memories of belonging to a remote stone outcropping in rural Georgia, that claimed me and held me as I slept and nourished me with its crisp water.
I have also begun researching ancestry, to see where the bones of my people lie. My visit to Scotland a few years ago showed me that there are whole countries, not just small fields, where I can belong. The forests and bogs, streams and mountain springs, the endless hilly vistas of that land awakens something deeply resonant in me. It is not a coincidence that some of my ancestors come from that place. And it has made me curious about other ancestral places: northern Ireland, Cornwall, Devon, and Wales. These too hold my ancestors bones.
But I keep returning to the idea that it is the land that claims us, not the other way around. So I am waiting to be claimed. I'm working at being claimed too, by traveling and exploring my deep roots and places that feel likely to offer themselves up. But I often wonder if it will happen again, and remind myself that I should consider myself lucky to have had this experience at all. I just wish that I had understood that I was being gifted something precious and pure as I slept on that rock, the moss cushioning me, the water trickling in my ear. I wish I had known that I had been claimed, that the experience was ephemeral yet eternal. I wish I had known that it would re-make me on the inside and make me a seeker for the rest of my life.
Image credit: Creative Commons: Flickr: Elfleda.
-- by Marie Goodwin
When I talk to anyone contemplating homeschooling, the conversation always takes a turn into the realm of fear. Other topics, like laws or whether to use a curriculum or even thorny issues like finances and priorities, seem to be relatively easy to overcome -- or at least assuage for the moment. But there is always a part of the conversation, arriving after a thoughtful pause, that opens up to the dark forest of one's fears. Parents fear they will not do enough, not be enough, not know enough. Fear that the child will be doomed to a life of isolation, illiteracy, or incompetence. They fear being different or setting themselves apart. They fear that college will not be possible. They fear being judged by their friends and, most especially, their families. They fear being lonely on the path. Sometimes all of this is rolled up into a big anxious ball of "Oh, it's nice that you can do this and I agree it is important, but I can't do it. I just can't."
I know how it feels because I've been there. I've walked it too. I continue to walk it. I do not know anyone who has removed their children from school (or never sent them in the first place) that hasn't felt this fear at different times, in different ways, as they made their path in this world along the edges of our culture. These questions and concerns were stronger for me when my children were very little, before I knew teen and grown unschoolers, all of them successful and thriving. These fears still surface every now and again. They've been surfacing a lot over the last two years. Here's why.
Right after my daughter's tenth birthday, she came home sullen from a playdate with some friends. She has many friends. These friends happen to go to school. It didn't take very long to get to the bottom of why she was so unhappy. "I'm stupid." she said, the tears popping up into her eyes. "I can't read, and all my friends can. They are making fun of me, and they don't even like to play with stuffed animals and do imaginary play anymore. They make fun of me!"
My heart broke in about a million pieces right there in the kitchen. It was true that she was a late bloomer in reading. We tried over and over again to introduce it to her: the alphabet, easy-reader books with great pictures, fairy-tales. We read to her all the time. But she always flat-out refused to even try when we asked her to work on reading or writing. I consulted a couple of specialists I knew at around age eight, when she still didn't even know her alphabet, and they told me just to back off. She would read in time. The unschooler in me agreed. She would read when reading was important to her, and not before. And man, was she determined not to read...stating that, "Reading is the colonization of childhood!" (I mean, really, what eight year old says that?) So I had her vision checked at a doctor's appointment (it was fine) and then I backed off.
But two years later here she was, crying to me, asking me for help. That day she agreed to begin making an effort to read. Her self-esteem was in the dumpster at this point, and I realized we had some repairing to do. She is a super-intelligent, artistic, creative, out-of-the-box thinker with a memory like an elephant. Surely she could read if she put her mind to it.
But she couldn't. She couldn't remember sight words. She couldn't track the lines. She tired after one or two pages, saying her brain hurt.
We had her eyes checked again, this time by a pediatric specialist. She needed bi-focals. (The earlier doctor's visit had only included a checkup on her distance vision, not mid- and short- range vision.) That helped the situation a little, but still did not solve the major problems. She made up words that didn't exist in the reading; she read things backwards -- from right to left -- and wrote them that way too. She could not figure out lower case "b" and "d" and "g" and "j" and so many other combinations. I felt like we were in deep water and not swimming very well. She was starting to give up hope, and I was extremely frustrated. I often felt that she was just being stubborn or refusing to do the work she needed to do to read, even though she wanted very badly to read. How could a kid who could remember a park we went to when she was 18 months old not remember how to spell the word "horse" or her best friend's name? How could a kid who lectured me at age eight about "the colonization of childhood" not be interested in books?
So I started to research. A lot. And the more I read and talked to specialists, the more I realized... she has dyslexia. And not just a little. She is very dyslexic.
I also found out that I had been doing pretty much everything wrong to help her. In fact, I was probably making it worse. Cue: all my fears of failing. Pretty much every one of them. I could hear the wolves howling in the darkness of the Forest of Uncertainty and I was really afraid.
What you have to understand about dyslexia is that it isn't simply a learning difference that makes learning to read and write harder for some kids and that's the end of it. It does make reading and writing harder -- that's for sure -- but it impacts virtually every aspect of a child's development: social, emotional, intellectual, physical. These impacts are rooted in brain connectivity between the right and left hemispheres and are often hereditary. And this isn't bad! It is just different from the norm-as-dictated-by-industrialized-schooling, and it is estimated that one-fifth of the population may have this difference. There are significant upsides to being dyslexic and there are significant challenges.
The upsides often include:
The challenges are many, varied, and often subtle. On top of the reading and writing issues that most people know about, dyslexic kids have fairly important struggles in their social lives as well. This I didn't know before I began researching, and so much began to make sense once I understood it.
Dyslexic kids often suffer from a negative self image because they are teased by their peers about all of these issues I've just mentioned, and this cascades into other areas of their life even into adulthood. Kids who go to school suffer the most from these social issues because peers and teachers often think they are lazy or dumb, and this often causes acting out in a variety of different ways. At least my daughter was buffered from the full brunt of these difficulties because she's at home, but she got a good dose of it regardless.
Understanding these nuances of this learning difference, I began confronting the issue head on and involved Sadie in every part of the discovery. I explained how she learned differently and invited her to consider both the positives and the hardships of this kind of learning style. She and I researched people who were dyslexic in the past and what they achieved -- Leonardo da Vinci is now her hero. I read up on programs and tools to help her jump start her reading and her engagement with books. Using these tools she is now reading. It is still hard for her and it will always be, but she is able to read. It feels like we have a path now through this uncertainty. In truth, however, this is always going to be a challenge for her in some ways and a gift to her in others. We are focusing on the gifts.
I feel like one of my biggest fears about choosing this path to unschool my children hit me head on. I have a child with a learning difference (and one without) and she did what so many people fear will happen to their kid -- she struggled with reading. This is a bogey-man that is so often held up to people choosing homeschooling. "You aren't an expert! What if your child never learns to read!?" they say. But you know what? We were able to give Sadie years of stress-free learning when play was the best way to explore the world. And she loves to play, even now. We then identified the problem when it became a concern, and she is working hard to learn in her own particular way. She is a painter and is beginning to learn the violin. She designs clothes for her dolls and stuffed animals. And best of all, the hard-ship she's had to endure has given her a very strong backbone. She knows who she is and is not afraid. And even though my fear came true, we walked through the forest of that fear together as a family. And now it is something beautiful.
Nothing in life is certain. I cannot guarantee you that, if you choose unschooling, it will be a effortless path of all light and joy. You are going to have to walk the rocky, uphill path through woods of uncertainty. You are going to have to confront your own fears and help your children do the same. There are no certainties anywhere in life, and we all know this. Meeting and solving big and frustrating problems as a family is a gift that you give to each other. You are a team, and if you are lost in the woods and the wolves are howling, don't you want to have your team by your side? I know I do.
by Marie Goodwin
I find myself immersed in a reading stint focused on feminism and intersectionality lately. The last election cycle provided an across-the-board, bi-partisan gut-punch to the radical underpinnings of feminist work and everyone knows it; many are writing about it. Too many to list. As a college student in the 80's, I read many of the radical feminist thinkers and took them under advisement as I began to make my way as the world moved into the 1990's and beyond. But it hasn't been until relatively recently (say in the last ten years: "recent" for a fifty year old) that I've wedded the radical underpinnings of feminism to the critique of neo-liberal capitalism, thanks to The Ascent of Humanity. (And, really, how asleep at the switch do you have to be to study feminism in college and NOT understand that. See my earlier "DeSchooling" essays….) And only since I read Radical Homemakers, by Shannon Hayes, in 2010 did I connect it all, very deeply in fact, to the environmental movement and depth ecology.
Right now, feminism is fervently awakening to (or, to some a little older and more radical, rediscovering) these same ideas. Feminism's long-term future, I believe with all my heart, lies in radically critiquing deeply held economic systems while wedding itself creatively and inextricably to the enormity of the environmental catastrophe we find ourselves situated within. Even so, so much of the public conversation about feminism is STILL mired in semantics: about who is and who isn't included, drawing lines about who is "woke" and who still slumbers in a patriarchal soup of bullshit. This conversation, while Rome is burning, grows ever more wearisome. I have zero patience for the semantics discussions when there is so much work to do.
Yet here I am ... about to have a semantics discussion.
Ah. Semantics. What do we call the thing we are doing? There are few words more encumbered with emotional baggage, divisiveness, and posturing than the words "feminism" and "patriarchy" in our culture. Some feminists have given up entirely trying to define and use these terms and seeks to critique culture using other labels for themselves. I don't disagree with their reasoning, and it doesn't make them less "woke" or a less potent activist. At this point the term "feminism" -- with its important history and all that encompasses -- is too narrow a frame for me. And increasingly this is true of others that I speak with on this subject.
Feminism is now, as never before, entangled within the very broad ideas of changing cultural stories, specifically in radical economics, radical politics, and in environmentalism, with the clanging-bell urgency of our need to reclaim, as a species, our place as earth protectors for future generations. Perhaps it is time to think of feminism as, in the words of Thomas Berry and more recently Charles Eisenstein, one branch -- one avenue -- into our cultural exploration of the "the new story" (and "new story activism"). Perhaps "patriarchy" can be most simply described as "the old story," circumventing the male/female divide that so many hear in the word "patriarchy" (at least speakers of Indo-European languages.) New Story activism includes social justice, of course; an entire book, Blessed Unrest, attests to all the ways that this movement is growing strong world-wide and how social justice movements are, inextricably, linked to environmental movements. And most feminist activists I know would agree that they are a part of the "blessed unrest" -- perhaps one of the originators of this wide-spread global awakening.
My intent here is to try to use these terms to frame "feminism" in its broader context and encourage my allies everywhere, men and women, to adopt words and deeds that reflect this. This "reframing the conversation" is especially important today; the word "feminism" has been co-opted with alarming and increasing regularity by women who participate fully in the corporate world-destroying machine of neoliberal capitalism. It is now considered "feminist" by large swaths of the population to kill, starve, or poison other women and their children in the name of progress if you are a powerful woman in "developed" nations and making good money at doing so. It is considered "feminist" to bully and attempt to guilt others to vote and behave politically according to your definition of feminism, because -- you know -- "There's a special place in hell…." So perhaps embracing the radical roots of feminism and aligning your inner wordsmith to a larger frame is needed right now, especially if you are uncomfortable with the Time-Magazine-version of co-opted feminism "light." And right now, the biosphere -- our beloved home -- needs all the voices, especially women's, to stand on its side and say "NO MORE!" rather than fighting incessantly about whether the social-media target-of-the-moment is actually, in fact, deserving of the title "feminist"… (take your pick: Amy Schumer; Beyonce; trans-women; stay-at-home-moms; blah blah blah).
This semantics game is wearisome, folks.
We have much bigger fish to fry. Our children's children's lives, alongside the place that we all call home, are dependent on us figuring that out.
by Marie Goodwin
I have a bone to pick with some members of the unschooling community, and this bone-picking is a long time coming, frankly.
When I first started down the unschooling route, oh so many years, I spent a long time foraging for information on on-line forums (Mothering.com, for starters), joined boards, and finally jumped into the world of Facebook mostly to join unschooling groups and see what my ex-boyfriends were up to (I jest about the last one. Kinda-sorta). I thought surely, here, I'd find my tribe: tolerant, kind people walking a barely-lit path with their children, just like me. We would be comrades. Our kids would grow old together, even if I never met my virtual friends and mentors in real life. I took it as a given that these people would be patient and kind, answer my questions with helpful grace, and give me a high five with my little successes, which is what unschooling is entirely comprised of… day-to-day little successes. For many many years.
I was, with a few wonderful exceptions, wrong.
What I encountered from the get-go was a litany of dogmatic, mean-spiritedness, snark, judgement, condescension, and rude-ness, especially to newcomers asking simple questions. I mean, this is the internet. You get that no matter where your interests land, especially on Facebook. But I did expect better from unschoolers. I don't know why, but I did.
So I stopped going to such places and asking questions. I had a few friends on-line and in-real-life with experience. In the areas where I didn't have experience, I either asked them or I figured it out on my own. I wanted on-line community because the world is a vast and interesting place, but I was … well… disappointed. Disappointed in the Kool-aid drinking about who was "in" and who was "out," disappointed in the snark and testiness at newbies, disappointed in "leaders" who seemed to encourage this type of behavior in their on-line groups and pages.
And you know what? I get it. I get sick of defending our right as a family to walk this path -- this really freaking lonely path -- to outsiders. I get sick of every damn mainstream voice in the media and in our community saying what we are doing is crazy and won't work. I get REALLY sick of all the questions, asked over and over and over again: "How will they ever get into college?" "Don't you think they'll be weird?" "What about [*#&&%, #&@*@, &&@#^&*] socialization?" I am sick of it too.
But, unschooling parents, please, for the love of everything that is good in this world…. STOP BEING RUDE TO NEW PEOPLE ON-LINE.
You are not helping. You are not being cute and awesome. You don't look cool. Most importantly you are not engaging people to think more deeply. You are chasing people away who might be curious about this lifestyle, thinking, "Well, who wants to participate in unschooling if THAT is what you get for asking a simple, damn question?"
Why am I bringing this up today?
A "famous" unschooling mom [famous = someone who has been on mainstream media and had to endure mainstream bullying by mainstream talking heads; they are not famous because they are more skillful or better unschoolers in any way] posted today that her oldest had "graduated" from high school by taking some equivalency exam from a distance learning site. He had passed with high marks. Of course. But when I posed a question to said famous unschooling mom, asking quite simply what was the program that that her family had used, two of her followers replied with some snark to me, saying [I paraphrase], "There is no program. It's called unschooling dummy. Look it up," with a couple of other commenters dog-piling on at my [gasp] stupidity at asking about the "program" she was using. Stupid me. They told me.
This type of stuff is common. I see it on unschooling Facebook groups almost daily. I see people get (and have been myself) really defensive over the tiniest question directed at this lifestyle. But I also see how such emotional discharges damage the really revolutionary work that we are doing in this world. If we are going to actually make a change in the way education is constructed and delivered in this country, we are going to have to grow this movement outward to people not yet in it.
And being nasty to newbies when they ask simple questions is not going to get us there.
by Marie Goodwin
My daughter loves animals. Her room is awash in the stuffed variety, but we haven't been able to have live pets of our own in our house because of my husband's allergies.. No dogs or cats. We do have four guinea pigs, but they can't live with us; so we house them in a friend's basement. Sadie is filled with remorse over our animal-free home, and she is on a mission to correct it.
A hamster... how allergic could daddy be to a hamster?
She has, for months, worn us down. Yesterday, Chris begrudgingly agreed provided that the hamster stay in her room and the cage is kept fastidiously clean. Today, she woke up and started the "Great Hamster Habitat Project."
She pulled boxes out of the garage and, all day long, cut and taped and glued and marked and cut some more until she had created a multi-level home of hamster complexity. Nevermind that the hamster will chew through the box in a nanno-second; she is undeterred in her imagining and creating of the home that she wants to provide for the new addition to our house when the time comes. She cares not one whit that the hamster will live in a plastic habitat like all the other hamsters of the world, because THIS house has a chair and table for her new sister, Ms. Star Hamster (formerly known as Cupcake Hamster.) This house has chutes (and ladders), hiding holes, and secret entrances. This house is fit for a hamster princess.
At one point this evening she looked up from her cutting and taping and said, "I know you love this project I'm working on, mom. You know why I know? I'm not even a LITTLE interested in screen time while I'm creating this....", thinking that is the only reason I would be happy with a day filled with cardboard creativity.
It helps, I'll admit. But it isn't the only reason. What I find important in this work is her ability to delve into something with every ounce of her being and stick with it for 12 hours. Not many kids I know can or will do that... and certainly not for the idea of a pet, the reality of which has yet to be realized.
by Marie Goodwin
My kids spent the day yesterday creating finely crafted imaginary characters from scratch. From the time they woke up until dinner, they poured over books with names like "The Monster Manual" and rolled oddly shaped die to determine the various characteristics of who they were to become. They rolled also to determine magical objects that they would carry with them on their journey. Important stuff.
And, of course, they argued. They are siblings, after all. Older brother, as a DM ("dungeon master" for those of you lacking initiation), holds wayyyyy too much power over little sister, and little sister is honor-bound to rebel. Little sister also has a control fetish that she gets from both of her parents. She wants all of her personality traits to be powerful and strong. She wants to be everything: charasmatic, magical, cunning. She want to have all the best magical spells and objects at her disposal. But it is all up the roll of the dice, and sometimes she rolls numbers that make her "less than." And her brother won't let her roll again. And he's being kindof mean about it, so eventually she storms off in frustration.
After the arguing got to this fever pitch out there in the kitchen, I asked them to bring their books and papers into the living room for a chat. We talked about inequal power, in games and life; how that feels to both parties. How problems might be solved when unequal power is at play and how language and emotion can either exacerbate this particular problem or ease tensions with others. There is a skill to avoiding conflict in these types of situations, and it is important to learn how to navigate this because sometimes you will hold the power and sometimes you will fall under someone else's power. How do you choose to walk in the world?
We talked about how no one is perfect; sometimes your charisma score just isn't that high and you have to make due with intelligence and cunning, and maybe a magical item in your bag. What you lack in yourself is usually made up by your gang of other creatures and beings that make up your tribe. Their strength covers for your weakness, and vice versa. We don't have to be strong in every facet of our lives. We just have to surround ourselves with good friends who know our weaknesses and are willing to step into the fray when we can't help ourselves. And we too must be willing to accept and hold up our friends and allies when the time comes. There is no other path to completing the journey ahead.
They went back to their imaginary world and finished the character sheets before dinner. The table is still strewn over with books, markers, and paper as well as the candles they burned for ambiance on a dreary late-November day. Now, the next morning, they are sleeping and most likely dreaming of elves, magicians, paladins, and dragon-born because this is where their creative energies sit right now, learning from games what it took many years for me to learn from life and never learned in school. If only I had taken D&D more seriously in 8th grade...
by Marie Goodwin
My attachment to books is legendary. My grandmother used to relate how I would arrive at her house with a bag full of books and curl up in a corner chair at her house for much of the duration of every visit, absorbed in words. My parents tell similar stories of my love of books, but also recall how I seemingly abandoned my love of all things literary for horses (and then eventually boys). What they did not know was that I brought books with me on my trail rides, and would always find a cool shade tree under which I would read, allowing my horse to roam and graze nearby.
This love of reading was useful in school, where I was encouraged in this pursuit above all other types of learning. It became habitual to seek the answers to all of my questions from books – the internet was not yet invented – and this too was encouraged by both my parents and teachers. It never occurred to me that doing was the best way to learn something. Reading about a problem was sufficient, and provided the two essential pillars of my young life: getting good grades and adult approval. Of course I was learning by doing all the time: how to care for my horses (and a whole host of other animals that I raised at one time or another); how to manage a garden; how to drive a car; how to care for younger siblings; how to work low-paying jobs in the adult world. I did not, however, consider this to be real learning, important learning, profound learning. Neither did the adults around me, seemingly. I was encouraged to think about college as the single most important preparation for adulthood, where more book learning would prepare me for a career, as yet unspecified.
College offered more options for Real Work, but at first I did not take advantage of them. I chose a strictly literary major, ancient Greek. Ancient Greek is a dead language. It can only be read and dissected through learning the nuance of its complicated yet beautiful grammatical structure. Some advanced students learn to write it. I spent much of my college life holed up at my kitchen table translating Plato, Euripides, Aeschylus, or Sappho. People around me went on years abroad to various European cities, held semester or summer internships, learned to play or perfect instruments, went to New York City for art exhibitions. I translated, sure that my pursuit of literature was a true path to knowledge. My friends were merely entertaining themselves with diversions.
The limits of my philological talents were readily apparent to both me and to my advisor, an archaeologist whose passion was fieldwork. He suggested that perhaps my passion for the subject might be best channeled into archaeological pursuits, not literary ones. And then he did something that changed my life, although it did not seem earth shattering at the time. He contacted a colleague of his and had me apply to a program at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, a program usually reserved for graduate students. I suspect his influence was the single factor that convinced them to accept me.
At the end of my junior year, for the first time in my life, I boarded a plane and flew to Europe to experience a place that I had read about and to work in a field that I knew only from books. That summer program at the American School revealed a world to me for which I thought I was prepared, but in actuality I had not expected or understood: the smell of Greece, the landscape; the enormity of the Parthenon coupled with the obscurity of the ruins around Sparta; the grace of ancient temples and houses alike; the sight of paint still adhering to buried tombs of Macedonian kings, their portraits as life-like as any portrait created by Renaissance masters; intricate Hellenistic and Roman mosaics, still in situ, still gracing the floors of time-obliterated houses, evidence for the grace and sophistication of a long dead culture.
We traveled the country for nine weeks, and every day was a new site, a new insight. I was overwhelmed by the experience and returned to the states exhausted. When I resumed my studies that next fall, I found the focus of my work changed. My literary pursuits were now a means to answer questions – a million questions – that I had formed in Greece. All of the reading I did now was informed by this sense of place, of having been there. For the first time in my life, at the age of 21, I realized that doing is the primary way to learn, and that only reading about a place, a thing, has substantial limits.
My senior year was rigorous, in particular because I was taking advanced Greek from a legend. He was eighty years old, walked with a cane, chain-smoked, and could free-translate the most difficult passages of Thucydides with ease. To say this terrified me is an understatement. I was his only student that year, and every week my philological weaknesses were laid bare for both of us to dissect. After a particularly hard session with him, he asked me what I thought of Greece, and when I told him of my intentions to return the next summer, he asked me why I would bother. He, in his almost 65 years of studying the subject, had never been and never wanted to go. He preferred to know Greece from the language. The modern country of Greece would inevitably disappoint him, he argued. I sat and listened to him, stunned silent.
I began studying archaeology more seriously during my senior year and prepared to return the next summer to work in Athens. When my work in Athens began, my “real work” realization the year before was underscored by the vast difference between reading about archaeological theory (imagining it as glamorous and intellectually stimulating at every turn) and the day-to-day reality of archaeological fieldwork. Archaeology is dirty, hot, hard physical labor, rarely glamorous, intellectually stimulating only in short bursts.
This lesson illustrated again how reading can and should inform our interests, but that it is only in doing that we learn a thing completely in all its nuanced complexity. It is in doing that we integrate our mind and our body and allow them to work together, the mind informing the body and the body’s experience informing the mind. The idea of learning by doing is a simple one, and yet it took me twenty-one years to fully recognize its importance in my own intellectual growth. It is, however, one of the foundations of learning that I wish my still very young children to view as vital; that doing is the best way to learn. Books can provide a foundation for learning (and surely books provide rich entertainment), but doing a thing is essential. And fun. And contributes to our communities and to our lives.
Years later, I was told that my crusty, old professor had passed away, alone, in his office – probably reading Greek. I wondered if he ever regretted his decision not to visit Greece, the history of which he had taught for the last fifty years of his life. He was a marvelous teacher, his mastery of the language complete. I had to wonder, however, how he could fully understand the place when he had never known the smell of oregano and thyme growing wild on the hills around Athens, or the sound of the cicadas in full summer, a sound that surely Plato considered a backdrop to his life. Was he able to imagine the sun setting in Athens, the rusty shadows slowly enveloping the enormity of the Parthenon? I could not imagine never knowing Greece in this way…or learning entirely from books ever again. My transformation was complete.
This essay was first published in Open Connections Magazine, April 2008.
I met my muse in a startling manner seven years ago this fall. I was taking a wheel-thrown pottery course, and (like so many do) I found that it looked easier to do than it actually was. My hands did not obey my brain’s orders when encased in slippery clay and slurry. I had a bad habit of pressing too hard with my right hand. For the life of me, I could not get the feel of the centered clay, so any pot that I pulled from my slightly-off-kilter hump would look lopsided and, well, just plain bad. I really wanted to learn this skill, however, so I took two separate “beginners” classes over a period of about six months. As the months progressed, I began to get frustrated and considered abandoning my hopes of becoming a potter.
My muse came to me in a dream, in which I saw my hands on a hump of clay that was spinning on the wheel. My clumsy attempts to center were gone. Instead I carefully and effortlessly felt the clay as it centered, and then I pulled a pot carefully but with skill. I could feel every motion – the cold clay, the smooth centered wet mound in my hands spinning, the rubbing of the wheel on the edges of my hands, how my fingers were pressing delicately to thin out the sides – everything finally made sense. I woke the next morning, eager for my class later that day, sure that I could now center my pots correctly. And I was right. I could, from that day forward, center my pots with ease, although admittedly, there have been many other potting challenges since then.
How many times have you been able to solve a problem from a vivid dream as I was, or thought of the perfect response to a question in a conversation – two days later? How many of you have had “ah-ha” moments about a home renovation dilemma while cooking dinner, or the solution to a simmering problem after not thinking about it for a week or a month?
This is your creative mind at work, but it is only one step in the entirety of the creative process. Granted, it is the step that gets the most attention in people’s imaginations or storytelling (think Newton’s apple), but it is only the last step in a three stage mental process that defines the core of what we know about creative thinking.
The Three Steps of a Creating Brain (1)
The first step is data gathering. When presented with a problem, humans tend to first search out information about the issue. We read books, magazines, journals, and Internet articles. We interview people who know something about the issue. We do a lot of talking to others and ourselves about the problem at hand. We move three dimensional objects in space, or draw out the problem in an effort to visualize its solution. This part of the creative process requires a specialized skill-set: being open to conflicting information, the ability to take in and process information from varied sources, as well as the ability to listen without judgment. Young people are naturally good at these skills and readily apply them to all problem solving experiences. Adults, however, seem to unlearn these creative skills as they mature, tending to approach varied problems from reiterative perspectives as well as self-censoring themselves based upon past experiences or the judgments of others.
An important aspect of our ability to be fully creative is whether we have enough “background information” to make sense of the task at hand. Do we understand the language well enough to know exactly what the problemto-be-solved is? Do we have skill-sets that allow us to tackle some parts of the problem? Have we had experiences in our lives that inform us about parts of the problem? If we have too little experience or understanding, our mind cannot be creative to its full potential. If we have too much information, the problem is simply solved and boring. There is a space of opportunity, where our skills match the problem at hand, and that paring of ability and challenge allows for a state of mind called “flow” by neuroscientists.(2) Flow is that time when one is completely absorbed by a problem, and time seems to stand still or move slowly.
Why is it that young people are so good at gathering information and processing it in novel ways? Why is it that they enter “flow” with such ease? Preadolescents have a different brain wave constitution than adults. Their brain activity is rich in theta waves.(3) Theta waves are rare in adults but occur frequently in that in-between state when we are just falling asleep, that jumble of images, memories, and ideas (what my son calls “the twitching time.”) Puberty changes the brain structure dramatically,(4) and the theta waves are no longer dominant. So the brains of young people are naturally filled with this creative jumble of images, ideas, and connections that are so rich during the adult theta wave pre-sleep state, allowing them to make associations that are unconventional and novel.
The second process of a creative mind at work is the digestion of the information. Only a small part of this process is done consciously. We are unconsciously working on problems most of the time, our brain searching neural pathways and networks for connections as we eat, sleep, talk, play, and generally live our day-to-day lives. Even if your conscious mind is really struggling with the issue at hand, your brain is at work on more subtle levels, looking for creative connections. Your unconscious mind uses memories as well as emotions to try and find new and unlikely associations. Quite often, if the problem is particularly vexing, unconscious mental space is needed to allow the brain to do “its job.” It is helpful to engage in unrelated activities, such as thinking of other things, or slipping away from problem solving mode by meditating, sleeping, exercising, playing with your children…doing anything that keeps your mind relaxed and at peace.
The third process is when the insight comes to you.(5) There can be big “ah-ha” moments, or slow, processinfused “ah-ha” moments (i.e. those that come to you as you work through complex problems one step at a time, so there isn’t one big solution, but several small ones that work in conjunction.) There are few feelings as good as when you have creatively solved a problem that is vexing to you or you have found your creative voice in an artistic manner. For me, it is one of life’s great joys.
When asked to define creativity, most people focus on artistic achievement. That is only one specific aspect of the overall view that neuroscientists promote as creativity. For them, true creativity is defined by using a new approach to a problem, whether that problem is novel or common. Howard Gardner, the author of the seminal book on multiple intelligences entitled Frames of Mind, (6) suggests that everyone is creative in their own way in areas of interest to them. Creativity, however, needs to be used and encouraged early in life, thus building confidence over time in one’s own creative abilities. Young people, as well as adults, need opportunities to learn to listen to their creative thoughts and instincts in order to develop flexible thinking skills – skills that are important to thriving and contributing to our world.
Creative thinkers tend to exhibit many of the following traits: they feel free to challenge all assumptions about a problem, including core beliefs (morality, “givens,” scientific or social “laws,” etc.) Most creative thinkers have a fine-tuned sense of intuition and they listen to it. Everyone makes mistakes, but creative thinkers take pleasure from their mistakes, seeing them as opportunities to learn and fine-tune their problem-solving skills. Creativity requires working within community, and creative people know how to listen to others’ ideas without dismissing any as impossible or implausible. When you find people having fun with their work, you will often find creativity at its finest. It is easier to be creative when your whole being enjoys the work at hand. And finally, creative people tend to have a supportive environment around them; positive people, whom they trust and respect, necessary supplies, and aesthetically pleasing habitats are examples of this.
So often, however, we stifle creative thinking by employing “creativity killers.” These come in many packages. It is hard to be creative when you are watched and hovered over. Another hindrance to creativity is the feeling that you are being evaluated and will ultimately fail. Similarly, feeling like you will fail, and in failing, that you will be judged (or lose face) removes all joy from an activity and focuses the participant to merely “get it over with” rather than spend time creating. Creativity is also stifled by being told how you “must” do something rather than being able to explore things on your own. Feeling a pressure to perform, whether that pressure is internal or external, also hinders creative thinking. Finally, time limits that interfere with “flow” take away our ability to work through problems thoroughly and at our own pace. Encouraging the positive traits of creative thinking while reducing the “creativity killers” in your life and in the life of your child can maximize the creative process for your family.
And now, since I do not have a grand finale to this article readily available in my mind, I will move on to another unrelated task and hope that one comes to me before I have to submit this article to editing. I have gathered all of my information and processed it over several days before writing this article. Perhaps I will be granted an “ah-ha” moment in an hour, while picking my son up at an activity, or in a day or two. Perhaps it will come the day after the deadline for this article. That’s more like my luck! I will acknowledge and banish all of the creativity killers lingering in my mind, and then sleep on it. Perhaps if I go out and play with my children and enjoy the beautiful fall day with them and meditate on their innate and quite active creative minds, maybe then I will find some inspiration. We’ll see.
1. The Creative Brain: The Science of Genius. Nancy C. Andreasen. Plume (2006.)
2. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. M. Csikszentmihalyi. Basic Books (1997.)
3. Creativity and the Brain. Kenneth Heilman. Psychology Press (2005.)
4. The best description that I’ve found of what this brain restructuring is and what it means to teens is in The Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pierce.
5. Ibid. 3.
6. Frames of Mind. Howard Gardner. Fontana Press (1993.) An updated work is Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons, by the same author (2006.)
First published in Open Connections Magazine, October 2007
Sadie has wandered late to words. She's taken the path of nature and imaginary play, and turned her nose up at the stories others might give to her in books. She's not yet interested in other people's stories. But lately, there is a tint (just a vague, almost invisible ruddiness) of interest in writing down some of her thoughts and questions.
We took a walk the other day, mostly to calm my mind about the state of our country and the world, which seems to be fraying at the seams of ignorance and anger and self-righteousness lately. I asked the kids to bring notebooks and use the world as a source for some writing and deep observing, and then sent them off on their own. Mostly so I could hear myself think and listen to the wind and the birds and the water.
Sadie, who used to sob when confronted with the written word, handed me this.
I Move with the Water
When I hear the water I feel like I am calm,
like I could live forever.
It makes me feel like I might fall into a deep trance;
and I fall deeper every time.
It is see-through.
The reflection is amazing.
The water and the music it plays heals my soul.
It is a race against time;
every drop is in the race and
I am in the race too.
I move with the water.
It's not The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, but I couldn't be more happy that she is finding her voice and letting us all know what is inside waiting to come out.
I am reminded of my unschooling mantra, which I find myself remembering daily these days: Let go of attachment to outcome and they will arrive just where they need to be.
Photo by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK (Creative Commons)