Saturday, September 23, 2000

Good Vibrations Speech

Radical Thoughts for Radical Unschoolers

When Flo asked me to speak, I asked her what she would want me to talk about. She does not remember it this way, but I am pretty sure she said that getting me to do a talk was her way of “getting inside that big brain of yours”. Compliments aside, I took that to mean that she wanted to know what I was thinking about. Because she knew that I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about many important subjects. And she wanted me to share them with you! I am not sure some of what I have to say fits in with what you would expect to hear at an unschooling conference, although considering how everything tends to be connected, it does end up fitting in somehow. So, think of this as one unschoolers view of the universe. I thank Flo for the soapbox! May she not regret giving it to me!

I ran across this great quote. A Chinese proverb: Add humility to intelligence, it becomes wisdom. Add passion or fire to wisdom, it becomes enlightenment.I love it! The way I see it, all us unschoolers are on our way to enlightenment.

Seriously, I’d like to think that what I have to share today has some wisdom to it, because there is a lot of humility in my sense that the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing! I see myself as a truth seeker. You know, the truth with a capital T.

The fact that I am willing to be here today, talking to you, shows the passion I have for sharing what I have learned. You are my tribe. Some of what I have to say is very important and I would not feel right if I kept it to myself and did not share it with my tribe.

Now, I am going to caveat my talk with this: what I tell you today is MY truth. I know that some of what I will say is controversial, unproven, and idealistic. I’m not here to convert anyone, and I am sure not intending to offend. Feel free to disagree, think I am crazy, and/or tell me your take on it during the chat that follows this talk. I want to refine my thinking and discussing it with people who see it differently is a great way to do that. So, please stick around for the chat.

In the description of this talk, I said we were going to talk about the taboo topics of religion, sex and politics. And we will. We are also going to cover what I call “the big picture” or the “state of the world” and our prospects for the future. In some ways, this is the biggest taboo topic of them all. So we will save the best for last.

You might ask why I want to stick my neck out here and declare my thinking on all these taboo topics in this public forum. I say, why do we not talk about the important stuff? Why don’t we share our deepest beliefs except with those we know who share them? Preaching to the choir. I say, why don’t we help each other grow? Couldn’t we use conversation and debate about this important stuff to further our understanding of each other? Maybe I am speaking for myself, but isn’t being known one of our deepest desires? I know I have a deep desire to be known and to know I am loved for who I really am. I mean if your family and friends love you, but don’t really know you, do they really love you? The real you?Are our egos so delicate that we must always be so careful not to offend? Maybe. But we are not our egos. There is nothing to offend, when you no longer identify with ego. We are stronger than that. And we are all connected, I believe. So why not act like it? Let’s toss aside our fears of being truly known, tell our egos to simmer down, and explore some important ideas together.

What I am going to do is get to the root of things. The word radical means that which is proceeding from a root or relating to the origin. So my radical ideas are my attempt to get to the root of the matter. The root of something is basically the foundation upon which it stands.

When we think about unschooling, we see that living by principles is the foundation of an unschooling life. The principles may vary from family to family, but we all define what is important to us and then try to live true to that. What I am trying to do in my life, with my kids, my husband, and the greater world is approach life from my chosen principles. Seeing life through unschooling eyes, so to speak. This is the filter by which I see life now. When exploring the topics of religion, sex and politics, I asked myself, What would an unschooler do or think about this? In other words, what are my principles and how can I apply them to this topic?Before we get into the taboo topics, I guess I should define my principles, so you can see where I am coming from.
1. Love
2. Freedom/Liberty
3. Trust/Faith


Let’s start with religion. Again, remember my caveat - this is my world and nothing I say should be taken as criticism of yours, ok? My spiritual background consists being raised by two ex-Catholic parents who taught me religious literacy and to think for myself, but nothing that you would consider spiritual, except perhaps a reverence for Nature. I remember being eight years old and coming to my parents for an answer to the big question: Why are we here? They had no answer for me and I was devastated. I remember feeling so lost and let down. I had to know the answer. I needed to understand the Truth. This was the moment I became a seeker. I don’t blame my parents for not being able to help me. They had spent years being told answers, but after a realization of the hypocrisy blatant in the church, neither could accept the answers they were indoctrinated into. They did not want to burden me with answers they did not believe in, even to ease my pain of not knowing. That little girl wanted the pain of feeling lost to go away, but I am glad I was not handed a dogma. I was left to figure it out on my own. I developed a strong moral compass that has served me well. I remain open to new ideas and I’d like to think I am not blinded by any one way of thinking. I have explored much of the spiritual traditions of the world and used my very skeptical nature to filter out what seems Truth and what is surely not.

So, what is my Truth, you ask? I think God is an unschooler. And the inverse of that is that my foundation for unschooling is based on my spiritual beliefs.

I wrote something a few years ago that really sums up how I think the Universe works and how it relates to unschooling. I was trying to help a mom trust that her son would learn what he needed. I wrote:

… unschooling does not look like school and you are NOT in control of what your child is learning, so it can be hard to trust that his present passions will be enough to prepare him for his future. But, honestly, how else can it work? We have nothing but the Now. Your passions are what your heart is telling you to do. Your heart is how the Divine speaks to you, guides you. If there is a Plan for your life, THIS is where it is being laid out. In the Now. In your heart.If your child does not seem to have passions, the answer is not to push lots of different stuff on him to see if anything "sparks", but to help him be still and listen to his heart. And to learn to relax and know that there is all the time in the world to hear what your heart is saying.

So, God is like the unschooling parent, facilitating the passions of her children. Not judging or controlling our choices. I believe in free will. As unschoolers we give our kids free will, or more like we try to allow them the free will they already possess. Where we don’t or can’t we help them understand or meet their needs in other ways. We are not authoritarian. Call it projection, but I believe that God is not an authority, either. The Universe is the “Great Facilitator”. Ask and you shall receive. That is my motto and, also, how my life tends to work.

I am also open to mystery and not knowing. As an unschooler I am learning all the time that I don’t know everything. I am open to being wrong about God. I think that you should choose the story that you like best and as long as facts, and life as you live it, don’t contradict your story, who is going to prove you wrong? And why should anyone try to prove someone else’s beliefs wrong? As long as they are not hurting others, believing in Jesus, Buddha, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster is just fine. Maybe we ALL get to be right. Maybe we do create our own realities.

So, my reality has the principles of unschooling as the highest moral and ethical code you can live by. When you get to the root of it, it is about Love. Love is unconditional. There is no judgment, no punishment, and mistakes are for learning. Unschooling asks you to be love, to live love. I think the great spiritual teachers got this. They all preached love. But religions forget this, or purposely suppress these teachings as a means of control.

I believe that religions are about power. The kind of power over others that is the antithesis of love. Your life and how you live it is between you and God, up to you and the Universe. Religions put an intermediary between you and your source, sometimes convincing you that you do not have a direct connection to God. If your beliefs tell you that your religion is good for you, that you gain from it, that is like the way kids learn things in school. They learn in spite of the methods and structure of school. I think you can have a relationship with the Universe in spite of a church. Children learn in school because they are learning machines. People who go to church have a relationship with God because we are inseparable from our source. Unschoolers prove that school is unnecessary for learning, and actually hinders it. I believe that church is unnecessary in order to know God and that it actually hinders that relationship at times.


I’d like to begin this section on Politics with another quote, this one by Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”I think this ability is very important when discussing politics. We need to be able to get inside other people’s shoes for a moment to be able to see their side and then we can work more effectively on solutions. Too much of politics is one side set against the other, with very little partnership when working on resolving problems. So, let’s take off our Party hats and labels and look at our government with a broader perspective.

Our founding fathers were very unschoolish, I think. They saw the role of government as protector of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and not as a source of handouts or control over our lives, “for the good of all“. They understood the importance of individual rights and the freedom to make our own life. We unschoolers strive to provide for our children the space and freedom for them to grow and learn and become fully themselves. We are not constantly putting roadblocks in their path in order to level the playing field, like they do in school to keep every student on the same page, or to help special interests, like laws that favor one group over another. Too much nowadays, this is what our government does. We have gone from a perfect unschooling life, to the worst nightmare of military boarding school.

There are two ways to look at how governments should be run. They are based on the concepts of individualism and collectivism. It is very clear our country was founded on the protection of the individual. Some people mistake individualism for selfishness. It is not. Do you think it selfish for a mother to put the oxygen mask on first before helping her children to put their masks on? No. We all would agree that you need to be free to take care of yourself, so that you can help others.

If you think about it, individualism is not based on ego, it is based on principle. Namely Freedom. People are afraid of freedom, at least those who take it for granted, and think that allowing everyone to do as they please will lead to chaos. This is not the case in our unschooling lives, now is it? The chaos some experience when letting go of control is mainly due to a lack of boundaries. “You can stay up, if you don’t disturb your sleeping father” vs. “I don’t care when you sleep”.

Where do boundaries come from? They come from individuals and their preferences. My freedom ends where yours begins. Your freedom to make noise ends when it infringes on your father’s freedom to sleep. I think this is the missing key to understanding individualism. We are only free so long as we don’t infringe on others freedoms. Most laws on the books are an attempt to protect one groups freedoms at the expense of another’s. Like “Daddy has to sleep, so you have to go to bed” The child’s freedom is taken away to protect the father’s. No effort is expended to find a solution that allows all the same level of freedom. The role of government is to protect liberty, first and foremost.

So long as individuals feel free to solve their own problems, they will. But as soon as government oversteps its bounds and offers group solutions, people shift into victim mode, happy if they get what they need, but powerless to change things if they don’t. Some worry that if you take away social programs that “help” people, nothing will take the place of the group solution. This is not true. Before there was government social security, families provided security in old age, before government got involved with insurance, there were fraternal organizations that served as safety nets. And before welfare, there was a greater rate of charitable contributions. Think about this: Charity is giving to those in need, done by one heart reaching out to another, right? If your freedom to choose how to help is co-opted by the group solution, like taxes for welfare, your freedom is stolen. Not only that but your money is being stolen, too. If you don’t like the sound of that because you have no problem giving some of the fruits of your labor to those in need, just try not to pay your taxes should you ever really need the money. What happens? You go to jail. This is not freedom. And welfare is not charity. To give is the highest spiritual practice, to steal, the lowest. The government has to steal our money to give it to those in need. They take away our freedom to be generous. When governments don’t provide social services, communities do. When governments don’t provide handouts, people see the needs of another and give when they can. People now say, “I pay my taxes, why should I give more?” I will concede that that would be fine if 100% of the money taken went to actually help the needy. As it stands now, around 50% is eaten up by bureaucracy. In the name of efficiency, the power to give should be put back in the hands of the individual.

On a similar note, government should get out of the education business. Whenever a large institution tries to take care of a family responsibility, trouble ensues. We all know this! That is why our kids are school free. I would argue that whatever the government does that can be done at the family or community level, should be given back to that level. Some things are best handled by higher levels of government, like national defense, but most of what government does should be done more locally. Federal taxes should go for what serves us all, not spent on special interests, or wasted in bureaucracy. Consider this: we had no income tax before the Federal Reserve was created in 1913 and the government paid it’s bills just fine. The totality of our income tax revenue goes to pay the interest on the Treasury bills we sell the Fed in exchange for Federal Reserve Notes (those green things in your wallets). Why do we pay interest on money the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to create? That is the million dollar question.

How much control over the citizens should the government have? If you take the common spectrum of government, with anarchy on one side and totalitarianism on the other, it misses the fact that anarchy is one step away from totalitarianism. Because those with the biggest guns rule absolutely in a lawless society. So, it is really a circle, a clock face, with anarchy and totalitarianism on either side of 12 o’clock. The best government is one down at 6 o’clock where there is a balance, between no rule and total rule, that protects life, liberty and property. And that leads to the freedom to pursue happiness!


Ok, on to the fun topic, sex! Now, I want a show of hands. Over 18 only, please. Who likes sex?Keep your hand up if you think sex is one of the best perks in life? Hands down. Now put your hand up if you get weirded out by the thought of your kids having sex.

Isn’t it weird that we get turned off, pun intended, by the thought of our kids doing something we really enjoy? Why is that? One reason is shame. We are taught that sex is dirty and taboo by our culture. Sometimes it is just an indirect lesson, no one is talking about it, so it must be bad. Sometimes it is an overt lesson, masturbation will make you go blind. We feel shame that we like something so dirty, right? Definitely can’t tell the kids you like it!

Another reason is fear. We are afraid our children will get hurt. Let’s see, there is disease, pregnancy and heartbreak. So what? When I was a teen, I remember my mother telling me all the things to be careful about when it came to sex, but she did not rank pregnancy and disease as anything to worry about. She warned me most of all to guard against heartbreak. And the way to do that would be to love what I choose to do, and who I did it with, while I could and not attach any deeper meaning to anything prematurely. This advice served me very well. As for the other problems, there are ways to mitigate them. Educate your children about the ways. Talk to them openly and honestly.

Those two reasons are really the one at root : fear. Think about it, we love to have sex and think it is great. But we are afraid to let our kids do it. Does that make any sense to you?

I think people should help their kids to be good lovers. No, not directly! We should be talking to them, sharing our experiences, mistakes, and successes. I don’t know about you, but as a mother of two girls, I want to help them to know all that sex can be. I want them to have high expectations for the experience and high standards for their partners. I consider this an important life skill, right up there with cooking, cleaning and balancing your check book!

You parents of boys, don’t you want your young men to be worthy of my daughters high standards? The ability to please each other in a relationship can be the glue that bonds two people together, smoothes over rough spots, and creates deep connection. This is the stuff of lasting marriages!As unschoolers, we should not be afraid of fun and pleasure. We should be there to help our children learn about sex, and help them navigate pitfalls along the way. We are a family focused group, we unschoolers. What better way to foster deep loving marriages, and hence families, than to raise good lovers?

Since modeling is such a great way to guide our children, you all have my permission, and urging, to make your sex lives as good as they can be! Your relationship will benefit, the added love and connection will flow outward to your children and they will see that their parents are happy. This will help them envision happy relationships in their future. You don’t even have to tell them it is because of great sex. Well, until they get old enough, then you better tell them!

Let’s work to live by the principle of trust when it comes to sex and our kids. Trust is the opposite of fear. Do not be afraid of your children having a sex life. We all figured it out, didn’t we? Even if it involved some heartbreak, uncomfortable itching, or unexpected blessings, right? Trust your children to figure it out, and be there to help them do it.

The Big Picture

Now that we have the fun parts done, we can move on to what I think is the most important. Over the last few years I have been learning, many hours daily and in great detail, about several topics that alone and in combination present serious risk to our way of life on this planet. Some of you are on the up and up on this and are making changes and plans for the future. I am not worried about you. I am worried about members of my tribe who do not fully see what is in front of us. I may not even know you, but as a fellow unschooler, I feel connected and that makes you family. Again, I thank Flo for the soapbox and the chance to offer you all a glimpse of the big picture we face.

I have given you all a cheat sheet that contains many of my sources. My hope today is to offer you just enough information to intrigue you. Then you can go off and learn more on your own. I am running the risk of sounding like Cassandra- who by the way was right in her predictions, just cursed to not be believed- but I feel very strongly that you unschoolers can take what I offer and educate yourselves more fully. I don’t need to lead you by the hand, just point the way.

The big picture is based on three areas: the economy, the environment, and energy. I highly recommend the video series, “The Crash Course”, put together by Chris Martenson. It will give you an excellent education on these topics and it is free to watch online. I actually first learned of this presentation on a fellow unschoolers blog.

The videos would give you the full picture but the gist of the matter is that the systems we depend on are unsustainable. Meaning they cannot be sustained much longer, period. Things are moving rapidly towards the point where we cannot effectively solve, or even mitigate, the potential problems. Solving one issue by itself is a daunting exercise, let alone tackling all three. My goal is not to depress you. I want to empower you. I want to see you all, my family, succeed in facing the future, whatever comes our way. I see that to do that you have to know what is coming.

So, let’s look at each area, starting with the economy. You will find that I cannot talk about one without bringing in another and that is because they are interconnected, so bear with me if I seem to go off on a tangent. As for the economy, we all know how well that is going right now, don’t we? I am here to tell you that it is not going to get better anytime soon, despite what the mainstream media is telling you or even how the market is behaving. Our present monetary system is a fiat currency based on fractional reserve banking. What this means, basically, is that our money is based on confidence alone and that in order for the system to function there must always be growth. There is no gold in Fort Knox anymore. You’ll know I am right about the growth because that is all they talk about in the media, growth, how to get back to growth, not enough growth.

Infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. This leads right into energy, because our present economic growth is fueled by oil. There is only so much petroleum on this planet. Demand is increasing and supply is decreasing. We are not running out by far! But that does not matter if you need more than you can get, which is where we are fast approaching. The place where supply and demand cross is the nail in the coffin for the oil based world we live in.

And the really bad news is that this ever expanding economy, fueled by oil, is destroying our environment. The more we work to get at the oil to keep the wheels turning, the more destructive and polluting the methods to get that oil become. More oil means more stuff can be made to throw away, more food can be grown to make more people, who can demand more stuff, need more food, and make more garbage. This cannot go on forever. Finite planet, remember?

Back to the economy. As we all saw last fall, our system is based on this infinite growth, and when economic entities get too big, as they will tend to do when growth is imperative, the system becomes very fragile and vulnerable to collapse. Our government choose to add fuel to the fire and give these entities more money to keep the plates spinning a while longer. What happens when this can no longer be done? The government is not a source of infinite money, even though it acts that way. All the money it has it gets from us, from our productive lives. Even though the money given to the banks this past year was not taken from us directly- it was printed up on the spot “out of thin air“- the total has been added to the liability column of the government books. Our children and grandchildren will owe this money. When you add up all the debt and unfunded liabilities - social security and Medicaid- of the US government, you find that we are insolvent. And yet, we continue to act as if we have the strongest economy in the world and the greatest country ever created. We add more and more to the governments’ to do list, with nothing to pay for it.

We need to get back to a truly free market, on a very small and local scale. A free market is kind of like that clock face I talked about back in the politics section. The place to be is balanced between total control and regulation and no control or Lassiez Faire. There need to be controls that protect the interests of the buyers, not only the interests of the corporations. Only then do you preserve free access to the market, which leads to the highest quality at the best price for goods and services. Keeping the scale very small also helps to police the businesses, for if you know all of your customers, you are much less likely to swindle them. And in a small scale economy, any businesses who do act immorally, don’t survive the naturally forming boycott of the informed people.

My point about the economy is that we cannot expect it to continue to function as it has for very much longer. I cannot say how or when it will change, whether by collapse or decline or something else, but I just want to emphasize the idea that we can no longer rely on what has come before. We have to be flexible, more self sufficient, and less dependent on this fragile economic system, if we wish to survive the inevitable. The way to do this is to take as much of your life into your own hands as you can. Money is a claim on labor, at root. The more you can do for yourself with your own labor, or barter with others, the less dependent you are on those federal reserve notes. The more local and smaller scale your dealings in the economy are, the better. And, most important of all, the tighter a community you can find or create around yourself and family, the better. There will not be as many large scale government solutions to our small scale local problems. We simply cannot afford them anymore. We are going to have to relearn how to rely on each other. And we are going to have to see economies function for our subsistence, not for growth.


Getting back to energy, the situation of increasing demand with decreasing supply is commonly called Peak Oil. Analysts conflict on the timing of this event but all agree that it will come. Some, more and more, say it has already arrived. Bottom line is that the world we know is soon to change for good. Our world is so completely dependent on oil, it boggles the mind. Besides the obvious areas of transportation and electricity generation, we rely on oil to supply us with food, medicine, building materials, plastics, electronics, communications, clothing, machinery, the production of all our consumer goods, and even so-called sustainable energy options like solar and wind. You need oil to build a windmill, or to mine the rare metals contained in a solar panel. There is not one single facet of our lives that has not been touched by oil. Which is precisely why a declining supply of the stuff is such bad news. Like I said before, we are not running out of petroleum yet. Even at the moment of the peak of oil there is still half of all the oil the world has ever seen still buried in the earth. But that won’t matter when we can’t meet the demand for more. Prices will fluctuate wildly, setting at higher and higher points each time it settles. Relatively small reductions in supply will lead to shortages that seem much bigger and have much greater impact. Did you know that the oil crisis of the 1970’s was caused by a measly 5% drop in oil supply? We face small drops in supply year over year over year. This is an unprecedented event in the history of the world. Whether we like it our not, we are going to have to learn to live without oil.


Remember that finite planet I mentioned? The one we are destroying in our mad dash to supply the needs of billions of people? This is bad, right? Well, the really bad news is not even that. Whether we are changing the climate in the process is not an issue, despite the debate surrounding the concept. It is that we are simply using up the natural resources we depend on. Resource after resource, from mineral ores, to soil, to water, to fish, to coal are charting their own peaks and declines. And the fact of the matter is that our actions are affecting the other life forms here on Earth. We are losing, biologists estimate, 300 species of life per DAY. And we are affecting bioregions more and more, like the dead spot in the Gulf of Mexico due to fertilizer runoff in the Mississippi River, or the bleaching of the coral reefs.

As Chris Martenson sums it up in his Crash Course: Taken together, it becomes quite clear that our challenge is to adapt to a world of less, not more. A world where we have to put more energy into carefully managing what we have than seeking out new sources to exploit. We have an economic system that must grow, coupled to an energy system that can’t grow, both of which are linked to a world of rapidly depleting resources.

Our kids will grow up to live in a very different world than we thought we would get to live in. How do we help them adjust? How do we adjust ourselves, us old dogs who need to learn new tricks? We face falling down the hierarchy of needs. Unschooling was spawned during the era of cheap energy which allowed for all of our needs to be met relatively easily. One barrel of oil gives us the equivalent of one year of hard labor and each barrel provides 20 gallons of gasoline. For the price of a tank of gas for my minivan, I have a personal slave for a year. Our lives are filled with a lot of leisure because of the army of slaves in the form of oil that we have at our disposal. Without those slaves our lives will be lived at drastically reduced standards of living. How can we unschool if most of our energy is going towards survival? That is our challenge in the future. How do we stay true to the principles of freedom, respect, love, etc, when we have to focus on where our next meal is coming from? It is one thing to have a hobby farm and not expect our kids to work it because it was our idea, not theirs, to get goats and chickens and to try to grow our own food, and another that if we don’t do the work, we go hungry. Well, I would hope that when you know better, you do better. We do not have to devolve back to the era of child labor and beating your children to get them to work the land. I’m not saying I have the answers to this challenge. I’m just hear to make you think about it.

At this point the discussion should not be about how to save the world, if by saving the world people mean maintaining the status quo. This is patently impossible. No, we need to focus on how to make life better by finding a way to get more of what we really need, which is not more stuff. We need to remove the drive to consume the world, by getting in touch with the idea of ‘enough’. True happiness comes from connection. From being rooted in a place, a community, a culture. Good news is us unschoolers already understand this. We already place connection high on our priority list.

I was watching a video from the TED conference and this guy Dan Gilbert was talking about happiness, both authentic and synthetic. He had done research on how we can make ourselves happy even if we don’t have the freedom to choose anything we want. He had actually found that having wide open choice does not lead to synthetic happiness, being stuck with something does. We can be authentically happy when we get what we want, but we can also experience a happiness, that is for all intents and purposes, Happiness, even if we did not have pie in the sky choice. This is the good news. I do not get to live in the world I thought I would growing up. There is not going to be more, bigger, better for ever and ever. But that does not mean I cannot be happy. We can be happy if we know how to “make the best” of things.

How much of unschooling is based on the idea that there is always “more“ ? We teach our kids that they have all the time in the world to learn something, that they can be whatever they want to be, that they can have whatever they set their minds to. In some ways this is still true. But the fact that our world is shrinking, in essence, will make this pursuit of authentic happiness harder to achieve. Maybe we should focus on forging that synthetic happiness. We may be facing a depleted world, but we do not have to accept a depletion of happiness.


heymom said...

I didn't get a chance to read it all tonight. I just "skimmed". But, it looks very good, and I am looking forward to reading it in it's entirety.

Hillary said...

I'm so glad you posted the speech. I had the background of it but I loved hearing your thought processes. I had to skim a few sections b/c of wild children asking for my attention, but I especially love your thoughts on sex. So glad you brought it up and how important it is we have the dialogue from an empowering mindset.

I look forward to rereading and discussing it with you.

Dragonfly said...

I loved your speech--loved it. One thing I would add to it is Health. Our health depends on what we eat and how we live our lives. Why are we asking the government to take responsibility for our health? It's much like education. The government brand of health care is at least as toxic as the educational system and at least as disempowering. I guess I just had to get on my soapbox, too. Thanks for posting your speech.