Can They Hear Themselves?

I recently finished a week of directing our church’s Vacation Bible School. Last year was the first time I actually took a few minutes to listen to the parents as they dropped off and picked up their kids and some of the conversations I overheard prompted me to start blogging last Summer. Now that I have met more Attachment Parenting families and unschoolers who respect their children, the conversations I overhear as I sit amongst the mainstream families are even more striking.

The way many parents talk about their children makes me sad. I was talking with one mom about our idea to change things up a bit next year and do a night time VBS. This idea is very appealing to my family because my husband would be able to attend and we could share in the fun together. There are other reasons our church is considering this, but the parent I was talking to was not happy. She looked at me, as if I had 12 heads, and said –“most parents just bring their children to Vacation Bible School to get a break from them. You won’t get a good turnout.” I was stunned. Removing myself momentarily from the “crazy AP mama” that I am who genuinely enjoys time spent with my kids, shouldn’t the reason people go to Vacation BIBLE school be to learn about the BIBLE? Or to have fun? Learn songs? Make crafts? It shouldn’t be to get your kids out of your way.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand needing a break. Date night and girls’ night out are nights I love and thoroughly enjoy. But those fun and enjoyable nights are times I connect with my husband, spend alone time with my husband or have some fun with my girlfriends. It is not a time to “get away” from my kids. Those may seem the same to some people, but not to the children they are “getting away from”.

The power of words is something I wonder if some parents really think about. The way I hear people talk about and complain about their children boggles my mind. It is not a wonder kids tune out most adults. I would tune people out too if most of what I heard about me was negative.

As I sat with my family anxiously awaiting the 4th of July fireworks this negativity towards children could be observed all around me. We spread our blankets out and began to chat with the people next to us about the huge thunder boomers that looked like they were going to interfere with the fireworks display. Within a few minutes the kids had fled my blanket to go and play on Daddy’s iphone while waiting. The woman next to me got all excited for me. “Now you can enjoy the fireworks” she said. “The kids are gone, YEA!!”. I looked at her as if she had 12 heads, seeing that look often directed at me I know what it looks like. I told her I missed them. I didn’t actually miss them, they were 2 feet away from me but what I wanted to say was not so concise, or so polite. Shortly after that the fireworks began the 5 of us cuddled up to enjoy the display together. But I thought of her kids, sitting there at her feet, did they hear her words? To them, did it mean that their own mother was not enjoying the display because they were with her?

Lucky for me, I was distracted quickly by the exchange in front of me. There was a mother who was being fondled by her very drunk boyfriend (a man who put new shingles on my roof once, also drunk, and tiled my dining room under the influence of the tequila he found in my liquor cabinet, but that is another story). Apparently her son thought they were just friends. She proceeded to ask him repeatedly, getting angrier each time, what business of his was it whether it was her friend or her boyfriend. I was confused. How could she be asking her SON whether or not it was his business if a particular person was her boyfriend? Won’t her boyfriend share in family events, times together, outings? Doesn’t she want to foster a relationship between the people she cares about?

If people are going to wonder why their children grow distant, maybe they should look at whether they are actually pushing them away? If they don’t like how they are being talked to by their children, maybe they should listen to how they are talking to them. Or try echoing the words they are using to talk about their children back at themselves and see how powerful words can be.

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Pillow Chatting

As a family who has a family bed we are often met with the question of “when will you send them to their own rooms?” Usually the answer involves making some joke about them not coming home from a date and hopping into bed next to mom. The same type of joke given when someone would ask when I was going to wean my child and I would say “well, I am quite sure they won’t come ask me for a sip before walking down the aisle.” These sorts of jokes usually end the conversation with a laugh and help me to politely say “leave me alone, they will do what you are asking when they are ready and not a moment before”.

Our oldest is now 9.5 and I think he actually needs the family bed much more than the other 2, yet he is the one people would question the most. It seems so silly to me still that children are forced to sleep alone and be scared at the time of day that should be the most peaceful and cozy for them. While he still needs the comfort and coziness, the security of sleeping in the family bed, I recently learned another reason he needs it, and the benefit to us.

He had had a rough afternoon, and I had not really been aware of it. He had had a fight with a friend and was trying to work through it. He got in bed and we watched TV for a few minutes. His little brother was already asleep and his dad and sister had not yet come to bed. Instead of withdrawing and being sullen as he tried to work though this, he opened up in the cozy darkness. He talked to me all about the situation, what had happened, what he was feeling and what he was thinking. He listened to me as I shared my thoughts on the subject. We talked for what seemed like a long and heartfelt time. Then he happily snuggled in and fell asleep and has never mentioned the situation again.

I thought about how at his age, many children are starting to pull away from deep conversations with Mom. I thought about how as I try to fall asleep at night there are many times that I replay the day in my head; the good and the bad. Clearly my son does this too. If he had been alone in a room who would have helped him work through this? Who would have let him unburden himself so that he could put the situation to rest, and rest easy in peaceful sleep?

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No thank you, I don’t want a stroller

Mom and Son sharing Disney magic :)Yesterday as I was heading to a friend’s house to pick her up for a breakfast out, I saw a mom walking her toddler through their neighborhood. The toddler was in a jogging stroller with a plastic cover over it and looked bored and lonely. Mom was trucking along quickly pushing the stroller with no real regard to what was in it or all the things that they were walking past, which could have been shared experiences.

It reminded me of last spring when my family took our first trip to Disney World. We have since been back twice and have become those crazy Disney people we used to look at incredulously, but that is a post for another day! My then 2.5 year old son spent pretty much the entire 9 days that we were there in my amazing Ergo baby carrier. I love wearing my baby anywhere. At home, groceries and household chores are made much easier and traveling with him right on my belly was a breeze as we headed to Disney.

It was May and extremely hot. And his sweaty happy little red face is right next to mine in all the pictures. Smiling and laughing together, engaging in conversation about what and who we saw – sharing excited little talks about what Princesses were where and what magical things were around us, even snacking without having to stop or slow down! We went on rides together, soaring over the park in Dumbo! I used the pocket on the Ergo to carry my lipstick, ID, tickets, debit card and cell phone; all easily accessible.

As I easily navigated the crowds, and by-passed the stroller parking lots to get into and out of lines, people constantly stopped me reminding me that they had strollers to rent. I always said “no thank you, we are fine” and continued on our way. Then I started to watch the parents pushing the strollers. I truly believe that strollers have their place. Sometimes, they can be wonderful. But, as I watched the families pushing their children in strollers my reasons for wearing my son were reinforced. The parents were not talking to their children. They were talking to each other, laughing and sharing Disney magic, while their children were left isolated. They couldn’t hear their kids’ comments, or share with them what they were seeing. Not that the kids could see much of a view from inside the strollers equipped with umbrellas. There was no engaging going on, no sharing. Parents had one experience, children had another.

We just returned recently from another trip to Disney. This time my son, who is now almost 3 would only stay in the Ergo for a little while before asking to walk. We had had a wheelchair in the past because my mother was with us and my 5 year old had ridden on her lap for much of the time. This time she requested a stroller, so we got one, and a few days in ended up getting a double and my almost 3 year old rode in that. And I could not hear him, could not tell him things, could not see what he was seeing or easily share the magic. There was one point where he was crying hysterically over something; it was so frustrating for me to not be able to comfort him while we walked from place to place, or even know what was going on.

So, kind strangers who offered me a stroller, I know you were just thinking of me, trying to be helpful, but no thank you, I prefer to wear my baby as we share in the magic of Disney and of life.

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Happiness without Higher Ed?

For as long as our oldest son (who is nine) has been aware of college, he has proclaimed to my wife and I that he would not go. Until recently I found this a bit odd. My wife and I never spoke ill of higher ed. and although I didn’t go to college, she did. Most kids want to go to college. It’s conventional wisdom that the best path to success and happiness in adult life is to get a degree and get a good job. There is of course very heavy promotion of this path as the ONLY path to success in the school system, but even folks like ourselves who opted out of the grind of K-12 still looked at higher education without much critical thought.

I was late to realize something my son figured out very early- especially embarrassing since I myself did not attend college. What he realized is that the life we chose for ourselves does not end at twelfth grade, and that college is not the only path to success and happiness. In fact, I would go further and say its role in such aspirations is diminishing more and more thanks to technology, economic reality and changing attitudes towards institutional learning. As I said though, it took awhile for these points to drive home in my thick skull. When we decided to homeschool, making sure college was a viable option for our kids was one of my top priorities, despite our son’s protest that he would not be going when the time came.

Now before I try to convince you of what I have recently learned to be true, I would like to share a little of my own history. My path in life from struggling grade school student to father, homeschooler and IT professional has some pretty off the beaten path dimensions to it that I think illustrate how a happy life can be achieved by following a different path, and also how dense I am that I am a living example of something I didn’t even realize until the last year or so.

When I was in school, as far back as I can remember (kindergarten maybe?) I struggled mightily. I had difficulty following instructions, paying attention in class, and completing assignments and so on. I was labeled with ADD (ADHD wasn’t in the diagnostic handbook yet) and put through many novel approaches, from extra one on one teacher time, to counseling and of course Ritalin treatment. None of it was very effective and I sunk deeper and deeper until finally in my Junior (actually sophomore take 2) year, when I was old enough to drop out I did.

As I left school behind the world-wide web was just starting to take shape, and I became a voracious consumer of information delivered electronically, first via phone lines, then with cable modems and now via phones, tablets, refrigerators and who knows what else. I developed my knowledge and skills in topics that interested me, particularly technology, and eventually parlayed those interests and budding skills into an entry-level tech support job. 8 years later I have a lead technology position in the operations group of a leading growth company in the e-commerce space. Along my way I tested for my GED. I also took a couple of college classes, and found them no better than what I had quit in high school. So I quit that and instead found technical training with heavy hands-on learning and pursued that with vigor to earn industry certifications.

You would think that someone who managed to achieve a modest amount of career success without more than one or 2 college courses and not even a real high school diploma would be primed and ready to advocate “uncollege” as passionately as unschooling. However, I had been conditioned like most of us to believe in the innate and unassailable value of higher education. Luckily, my 9-year-old can teach me some things!

I’m admittedly late to the party, but there is a whole movement building in the country of questioning a college degree as the key to success in life. Many people are questioning the value of college education, and a lot of that is from a purely economic standpoint. Going to college costs too much money, and the return on investment is diminishing. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 million people with Bachelors Degrees are in jobs that do not require any type of degree. So in light of the ever-increasing cost and diminishing returns, why are we all so worried about getting into college?

Paypal founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel made waves last year in announcing The Thiel Fellowship. The Thiel Fellowship is a grant available to students and entreprenneur’s 20 and younger to launch the next big technology innovation- the catch? They have to suspend their pursuit of a 4 year degree and put the funds to use immediately to launch their business. Thiel believes that higher education is the next bubble to burst. From this tech crunch article earlier this year, he says the following:

“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed. Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

It’s this prevailing attitude that explains why even folks like myself hadn’t questioned the wisdom of this sentiment until recently.

So if you are a graduating high school student, homeschooler or adult looking at going to college, and now questioning if that’s such a great idea, what can you do? What worked for me will certainly not work for everyone, my own kids included so what’s the alternative? First of all, realize that not going to college does not instantly mean you will be stuck with a mcburger-flipping career. Check out this list of 19 great jobs that do not require any type of degree.

You may have your eye on a job that has a stated degree requirement. However, that may not be as big a barrier as you think. A smart person with networking abilities and a willingness to find an angle to market themselves and stand out from the crowd can get their foot in the door. This is what Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens is promoting with his grant. He has founded the UnCollege movement, a movement that seeks to provide networking, support and guidance through social networking for individuals looking to replace the traditional college experience with practical experience and acquiring skills outside of the classroom. In the same vein is the Zero Tuition College, the brainchild of author and self-proclaimed “edu-hacker” Blake Boles. ZTC offers a plan for replacing every aspect of an expensive university education with free or low-cost alternatives, right down to the social aspect (move to a college town!). These two sites also advocate ideas that would apply well to someone interested in entrepreneurship and going into business for themselves.

Obviously, this is not for everyone. There will always be professions in the world that you can’t “open source”. If you want to be a doctor, nurse or lawyer, you will not be able to get around the education requirements. And some may still prefer the traditional path even if a viable alternative exists, and that is OK. If my kids want to go to college after all, I would certainly support it. But I no longer take “college=success” as an article of faith, and I hope others will open their minds to new possibilities as well.

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The Unexpected Gift

When I decided almost 7 years ago that I wanted to homeschool my children my motivation was fairly selfish.  I was so enamored with my beautiful smart 2 year old son that the idea of sending him off to someone else for the day was ludicrous.  First off, I would miss him desperately while he was away each day, and secondly, how could I send him off at age 3? I would see him basically only during summers and vacations until he was 18 at which time he would go AWAY to college.  It was all going too fast already.  One day he was a beautiful little newborn that they had placed in my arms, the next he was an adorable precocious little toddler who astounded me.  I had never thought about homeschooling before kids, but then again I had never thought about co-sleeping or child led weaning either and those felt completely natural to me.

My husband was not difficult to convince.  At first he thought, “just for pre-school”.  Then I bought the book Teach Your Own by John Holt with the intention of learning more about this new life we had chosen.  Unfortunately I do not make time to read, so the book sat there until one day Kevin picked it up.  When he finished it he looked at me and said-

“this book could have been written about my educational experience.  Our children are never going to public school”.

I was fortunate to have gone to private school for junior high and high school and considered my time at that place a pretty happy one where I received a great education.  My husband, who is the smartest person I have ever met, had a miserable school experience, beginning the battle against school at age 5 and dropping out at 16.  So, my work was done, he was convinced.  But his take on it got me thinking beyond the purely selfish reasons I had chosen to keep him, and any future children we might have, home.

As we moved ourselves into this world of homeschooling I learned a million different reasons why people homeschool – Christian education, one on one education, education tailored to your child specifically, and learning through everyday living.  These were all exciting reasons to let your child learn at home and in the community.  I was excited to take part in their education – to re-learn stuff I had loved, or I had missed.

Shortly after we made our decision to homeschool, I was working with a woman I had known professionally for a while, and I found out for the first time that she was a fellow homeschooler.  When I told her that we had decided to homeschool she said to me – “all of my non-homeschool mom friends complain about how fast their children’s childhood had gone, but me, I don’t feel that way because I have been there for everything.  I have seen it all and been part of everything.”  That was the perfect thing for me to hear.  I was so excited and her words reinforced that we were making the right decision. There were so many benefits for our children, so many for ourselves.

But there is one reason to homeschool I did not know about, one no one talked about, but I have seen it time and again first hand and it is one of the best gifts I could have imagined.  I have given my children the gift of a childhood that goes at its own pace.  There is no outside pressure to grow up too fast, stop playing with toys too soon, or give up the amazing gift of imagination.  I saw this gift unfold one day through the eyes of my oldest when he was 7.  I think the idea must have been lingering somewhere in my brain, but he put the words out there.

We were on a play date with a client of mine, who happens to homeschool.  Martin was 7 at the time, the other boy 9.  After an awesome pay date, Martin said-“Mom, can I ask you a question? Why is he 9 years old but he still likes all the same things I do?”  To which I replied- “He is homechooled and no one has told him he can’t.”  Martin had 2 other non-homeschooled friends at the time, both 9 and they did not really like to play the same way as he did anymore, and he hated it.

The outside pressure to be older seemed ever present.   As I watch Martin play with his new homeschooled and unschooled friends there seems to be little thought given to what or who society says they should be playing with and only thoughts given to what makes them happy and holds their interest. I rarely hear them ask each other how old they are or what “grade they are in”.  At a recent gathering of children, mostly from this new community, I watched a group of kids aged 5 to 14 playing together in some sort of Star Wars meets Dragon ball epic battle.   Age didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered but having fun.

The gift of a slow-paced childhood is immeasurable and is making its way to the top of my “favorite reasons we homeschool list.”

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The Bedtime Struggle?

I was recently out somewhere when I overheard a parent complaining about the nightly struggle to get her children to bed.  The mom was commiserating with another parent who fully understood this struggle and replied with great pity and understanding.  I don’t often get involved in mothers’ discussions out in the world since it came to my attention a long time ago that I very often disagree with them and I HATE confrontation.  This conversation was no different.  I sat and listened but had no intention of chiming in.  It did however get me into a conversation with myself, which is what often happens in these situations, since I know so few others who agree with me.  In this conversation with myself I came to the realization that I really did not have anything I could have offered to this little chat the moms were having, since, I have no experience with a bedtime struggle.

I am a mom.  My kids do go to bed.  But, they don’t have a bedtime and there certainly is no struggle.  My family all goes to bed at once.  My 9 year old, my 5.5 year old and my 2.5 year old all crawl into bed with my husband and I in our big ole family bed.  My youngest quickly nurses to sleep.  My oldest watches tv for a bit then nods off to sleep.  My daughter curls up adorably on her daddy’s chest and watches him play on the ipad while drifting off to sleep.  My husband and I can either go to sleep then or get up and do something else or watch tv or read.  The only struggle I encounter around bedtime is from the rest of the world when they hear how we do things.

“I can’t help noting that no cultures in the world that I have ever heard of make such a fuss about children’s bedtimes, and no cultures have so many adults who find it so hard either to go to sleep or wake up. Could these social facts be connected? I strongly suspect they are.”
-John Holt

I didn’t put a lot of research into how my family sleeps.  I didn’t read a lot of books, consult my friends or ask my pedicatrician.  Actually I did all that before I had my first child and found out that all the information in the books, and all the things the other parents I knew said they did and everything out there in the parenting magazines felt wrong.  It felt wrong and sad and foreign.  It was a bit of a journey for me to travel from that foreign land of what our culture says bedtime should look like to this place I fall sweetly asleep each night.

First I nursed my oldest to sleep no matter what they said.  He slept in our bed for a while, then a cradle in our room, then finally; reluctantly I put him in his own room where he would awaken each night around 1 to come back to my room and nurse and there he would stay.  Till we went up to visit family in Canada and he slept in the same hotel bed as me. And he slept through the night.  He was not waking up in the middle of the night because he was hungry or thirsty, he was waking up because he needed the comfort and security of his mother.  It seemed so normal, so natural, so comfortable.  When we returned from vacation he stayed in my bed after nursing to sleep and he is still sleeping there.

It seems funny to me that people think the way we do things is foreign or unnatural , or that we are the only family who lives this way.  Most of the rest of the world lives this way.   I discovered when my oldest was a baby that most of the people I knew had their babies sleep in their beds at least part of the time, but no one wanted to talk about it.  Why is that? Why have we created a culture of adults who are afraid to admit that they are there for their children?

I enjoy sharing my dreams with my children, awake and asleep.    I can count on one hand the times I have been awoken in the night by a child not feeling well or scared.   I do not wake up in the morning to children sneaking into my room to wake me up for the day.  I don’t have to set my alarm to be sure I wake up before my children to keep them safe.    I wake up to my littlest ones sweet smiles and I know my children are safe because they are there with me.  My children sleep comforted and happy, and so do I, struggle-free.

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The Last Socially Acceptable Prejudice

A few weeks back I came across this gem of an article by CNN contributor LZ Granderson. It was shared approvingly by a few facebook friends, and I couldn’t resist the headline, knowing that the article was probably going to annoy me considerably. “Permissive parents: Curb your brats”. Indeed. Unsurprisingly, it did annoy me. It annoyed me so much I considered dedicating an entire blog post to it, but others have eloquently rebuffed this guy’s nonsense. So I thought instead I will address the larger issue, since it’s a theme I see over and over again reading and speaking to the non-homeschooling/unschooling public at large- the extreme bias and prejudice that adults hold against children, from birth to young adulthood and in some cases even beyond.

In a more recent example, this idea really took hold and crystallized in my mind. The local network affiliate here, WMUR, posted a story with a poll on unschooling. The article was a fairly balanced take on the subject of unschooling and also the “Sudbury” model of private school, which share many philisophical points with each other. What really struck me was the comments I read on the facebook feed-

“Yaay let’s teach them to be lazy”

“Seems like a lack of structure. Children need some sort of structure. I used to work in an elementary school, so I know they all learn at different levels, paces and methods. Am skeptical on this one.”

“All we do is make excuses for kids, they are growing up to be lazy, with no motivation, and they want a reward for everything they do, stop making excuses for everything and start to be parents, kids need parents”

“the idea that you can let kids decide what they want to learn is ridiculous….how will they succeed in life if they can’t add, multiply, divide or perform a proper sentence or….speak English. You’re dooming them to failure”

Now, comments of this nature are absolutely typical on stories like this. In fact according to the accompanying poll, 77% of readers think unscholing is a BAD idea. But what struck me reading all this was not the comments themselves but the attitudes behind their formulation.

Now, some may agree with the commenters I quoted, others may disagree, but most won’t find them terribly offensive. But here’s an interesting thought experiment- substitute the words kids or children on those comments with “black people”, or “asians”, or “jews”. They look a lot different now, don’t they?

People ascribe many qualities to kids. Some of them might be characterized as fair, even if not ALWAYS true, they are true enough. You might say children lack maturity, or that children are more impulsive, or that they don’t have the same perspective that added years bring with adulthood. But most adults go much further and more negative in their attitudes toward kids, perhaps without ever being aware of it. The comments above illustrate this point. Children are lazy. Unmotivated. Unable to master basic elements communication. Indecisive. Foolish. Incurious. UNTRUSTWORTHY.

These are all pretty harsh things, and in polite society we would certainly avoid making these generalizations of any other (adult) minority group. LZ Granderson makes no effort to hid his disdain of children. He defends his bias by pointing out many other examples of business and society doing the same. But that’s the issue- he’s right. Most adults don’t think highly of kids, or trust them in any meaningful capacity. And as a result, it’s perfectly acceptable, prefferred even, to think of kids as little creatures just waiting to do the wrong thing at every opportunity, in need of wise adults to fence them in and make sure there’s plenty of “structure” to keep them in line.

I think unschoolers identify this prevailing attitude within society, and maybe within themselves, and they reject it. They stand up against these poisonous ideas, and ENTRUST their children to find a path to happiness and success. And in doing so partner with their children to help them navigate the world and find their place in it.

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Why does “it get better”?

Midwest punk band Rise Against have produced a video for their single “Make it Stop” in partnership with the It Gets better Project.

The It Gets better Project is a nonprofit organization created to promote the message that the bullying and torment that many LGBT kids and teenagers suffer through will one day be better.

I think this is a great project and the message is a strong one. In today’s world there are many examples of strong, successful and influential LGBT adults that perservered through the pain of their adolescence to lead meaningful lives And as our culture norms shift towards grwoing acceptance of LGBT people as whole participants in our society, this group will surely grow.

I can’t help but ask what to me is an obvious question though, one that is not addressed anywhere on the organization’s website or through its various media messages: Why does it get better? Or perhaps more precisely, how did it get so bad in the first place? Why is it that even today, children face such horrible treatment at the hands of their peers, for their sexual identity, or any other reason for that matter?

While watching the video, my immediate strong reaction was remembering being picked on or witnessing bullying back when I was in school. This experience, I would guess, is nearly universal. EVERYONE remembers being the subject of or at the very least, witnessing an episode of bullying in school. School is ripe ground for bullying, and LGBT students get some of the worst of it, but they aren’t alone. Anyone who is different can be the subject of this awful phenomenon.

A lot of attention is paid to bullying in the media and in political discourse of late. Much of this attention and new legislation stems from highly publicized cases of bullying that led to the tragic suicide of the victims. In the wake of these tragedies a new breed of anti-bullying laws is being enacted. Peter Gray, a research professor of Psychology at Boston College, writes in his blog at Psychology Today about one such law that was enacted recently in Massachusetts-

“The new anti-bullying law requires that every school employee–including cafeteria workers, janitors, and bus drivers as well as teachers and administrators–report any bullying incident that they see to the principal, who is then required to investigate the incident and take appropriate disciplinary action. In addition, the law requires that every student in Massachusetts, from kindergarten through 12th grade, in every school, participate every year in an “anti-bullying curriculum.” On the surface, these may look like good things, but you don’t have to scratch very deeply to see the problems.

The first problem with the reporting requirement is that very often–maybe most often–the staff member will have no way to know whether a particular act represents good-natured teasing or real bullying. This is especially true in large schools, where individual staff members don’t know everyone. Teasing among friends is a normal, healthy part of adolescence, especially for boys. The best of friends may repeatedly call one another names that sound horrid to outsiders. For many boys, this is their way of hugging.”

On curriculum requirement, he has this to say-

“In fact, many anti-bullying school programs and courses have been tried over the past twenty years, in other countries as well as in the United States, and many outcome studies have been conducted to see if they work. So far, no program has proven itself to be very effective.”

So if none of these programs work, then what are we to do? We can tell these poor kids that “it gets better” all we want, but why should they take us seriously when nobody seems interested in meaningfully ending their suffering in the here and now?

The root of the problem lies in two areas- the compulsory nature of school in our society, and the way it is governed from the top down, with little to no regard for freedom of choice for the kids who are forced to attend every day. Kids who are suffering teasing and abuse in school have no meaningful means of escaping these things- they have no choice but to come back to school day after day and endure. The bullies themselves are also behaving in reaction to this surrounding- lacking any meaningful power over themselves, they react by bullying others. According to Peter Gray, there is one other institution where this behavior flourishes- prison.

“Bullying occurs regularly when people who have no political power and are ruled in top-down fashion by others are required by law or economic necessity to remain in that setting. It occurs regularly, for example, in prisons. Those who are bullied can’t escape, and they have no legislative or judicial power to confront the bullies. They may report bullying to the prison guards and warden, but the guards and warden may not know whom to believe and may have greater vested interest in hiding bullying than in publicizing it and dealing with it openly.”

So, in my mind, the answer to why it gets better is simple- It largely ends once you are through with compulsory school in your life. There is not really anything like the social environment of coerced education in adult life, unless you happen to be in prison. That’s not to say that bullying doesnt exist outside of school, it certainly does. It’s just that school happens to bring out the worst of this phenomenon. Think “Lord of the Flies”- a large group of kids trapped together, with no power to change or better their circumstances, turning on each other in ways that are vicious and to the outside world almost inexplicable.

If kids could walk away from school and find something else worth their time and energy, I am convinced that this problem would largely go away. Unfortunately, instead we are relying on knee-jerk anti-bullying laws while at the same time we make it increasingly harder to leave school through tougher truancy laws, and increased homeschool regulation. Leaving school behind will sound too extreme to most folks outside of the homeschooling/unschooling world, but it’s an idea that will only gain traction by continually questioning societal norms in a thoughtful way.

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