Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Reality Bites

One of the (many, many) blogs I subscribe to (Crunchy Chicken) is written by a woman whose husband is dying of cancer. She has young children; she and her husband are young; the whole thing is pretty much heartbreaking and horrific and makes me feel so, so, so lucky for a healthy husband and baby girl.

But I don't share this with you for the depressing dose of reality. I share her blog with you because she is refreshingly honest about all that she goes through, but in a very positive and reflective way. She's matter-of-fact about what she and her family goes through, and it's an interesting perspective. It's different from how I imagine I would deal with such tragedy, were that my lot in life to bear, but it's a strength I hope I would be able to dig down and find.

Anyway, she just posed this question to her readers and I thought it was a really interesting and thought-provoking one. Read her post to get the full context, but for those pressed for time, the gist of it is: "If you could shake off the chains of societal expectations and the ideas of monetary wealth and do whatever the hell you wanted to, what would it be? Would you choose an alternative lifestyle?

Don't limit yourself - would you be willing to cash in the equity on your home to live extremely frugally in a yurt out on some land? And don't limit yourself to the U.S. I think this, as a mental exercise, is good practice for helping you get used to dealing with change....What do you actually, really need to live happily?

And I think this is a different vein of the question Scarlet Lily asked us several weeks ago. This is taking an idea akin to hers to a much deeper level. Because it's not "what would your occupation be?" This doesn't even necessarily assume an occupation. And it does assume a more realistic thought process. Don't think of an imaginary lifestyle. Think of something you could actually, logistically do, but think outside the constraints of what we are culturally conditioned to think is possible. It's scary because there's a lot we're taught we can't do that really, we could, because plenty of other cultures do, and plenty of generations before us have.

If you go to Crunchy's post and you read the comments from readers who have responded, you'll note that many people talk about living off the grid somewhere in the middle of nowhere with lots of land to grow their own produce and meat, etc. Not a big surprise dream from readers of green blog. And it's a dream I harbor in dusty corners of my mind, too, that I don't really take seriously because I don't think I'm brave enough to ever try it. But it's nice to think about.

And if you read through those comments, you may come across mine, where I wondered, if someone was to follow through on that dream, living off-grid with sustainable farming, built their own log cabin, etc., and if that someone has kids, and if you want those kids to have the choice and opportunity of going to college when that time comes, what do you do about education? Obviously, you would home school, if you were really that removed from society. Or am I assuming too much isolation in that scenario? Do you think people could/would live in such a way and still arrange transportation to and from the nearest school for their kid? What would the social implications be for the kid? I guess there are plenty of more rural communities in this country where you could have enough land to do all that for yourself, but still not be too many miles from the nearest school.

So, fine, I've talked myself through that problem. But what if you choose to home school your child. Again, the social implications are even more innumerable, but put that aside for a minute. Do you think that you could home school a child as aggressively as would be necessary to make them college ready, while at the same time growing all your own fruits and veggies, raising your own meat, etc.? When I think of all the agrarian cultures that have certainly produced very intelligent and well-educated children, I don't think those were the same families that were grooming the kids for Harvard. Not in this modern educational system anyway. Modern schools are infamous in this country for not recognizing different brands of intelligence. It's the SAT-way or the highway. Could you teach the specific curriculum that American academia demands to your children while running a fully self-sustaining farm?

I tend to feel that accomplishing both those realities would be impossible, in which case, would it be wrong to consciously make that decision for your family knowing the limits it would place on your child's future? Let me know your thoughts!


Sarah Berry said...

Hmmm... interesting original question, and interesting POV from you on living off the grid. Even as someone who is *extremely* reticent about the media and technology empire that our society is turning into, I have never had a desire to live off the grid or see that as preferential to the way we currently live.

I believe more land is good, gardening is good, living simply and naturally is good, and having a plan for an emergency is good (drastic climate change, etc), but living off the grid takes away so many of the benefits of modern society. So, like you, I'm hesitant to see that as a good idea. Life is about moderation.

As to the broader question, it frustrates me. It frustrates me b/c I feel as though I think like that all the time and have been given continual grief over the years from people who couldn't think beyond our cultural/financial constraints, but are now willing to in a question. I don't know... someone told me once that there are more "no" people in this world than "yes" people, so I supposed I should try to make peace with that.

I'm glad that her question is getting so many readers to broaden their minds though and think beyond where they usually limit their thoughts to.

Correne said...

Hi, feather nester. I saw your comment/question about homeschooling in Crunchy Chicken's comments section, and I just had to follow your link here.

The first question that springs to my mind is what you will do if your child isn't interested in college? Post-secondary education is expensive, and I don't think everyone should automatically go. Universities are great places to go if you want to become a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. If you want to become an accountant or personal trainer, you could find a great 2 or 3 year college program. There are also lots of technical programs for people who want to become paramedics, massage therapists, social workers, computer programmers and hairstylists. Don't forget all the apprenticeship programs for people in the trades: welders, plumbers, electricians, and so on. There are so many career options out there, many of them vitally necessary, that it's a little short-sighted to pick the university or college path for your child before they're old enough to have a say.

That being said, if your child WANTS to go to college or university, many of them are welcoming homeschooled students with open arms.

Homeschooling can take up as much time as you think it needs to. I know people who have a schedule for their kids running from 8am to 3pm including latin, grammar, math, history, piano, violin, and so on. They have higher standards than the schools do. I know other people who "unschool" which usually means that they do whatever they want to do, whether it's plant a garden, watch educational videos, take a class together, or read books. Just think of the amazing education your child could receive if she had all the time she wanted to read good books and discuss them with someone who was interested in hearing what she had to say!

I think many homeschooled kids, mine included, probably spend 2-3 hours a day on "schooly" stuff, and the rest of the day doing "life" stuff. Older kids might need 2 hours of your time, plus spend another 2-3 hours studying on their own. This could easily be accommodated by someone trying to set up a homestead or farm or live off-grid.

If you agree with what Sharon says at Casaubon's Book, your child might be much better off knowing how to grow his own food and live off the grid than with a fancy degree and nothing to eat.

Also, many people fail to realize how much time and energy it takes to send their kids to school. I can't tell you how many times I hear people tell me that they couldn't do what I do. When I look at their crazy schedules, I shake my head and think that I wouldn't want to do what they do: drag kids out of bed early, hurry them through breakfast, pack lunches, sign forms, get to school, try to volunteer, run around to swimming lessons and piano lessons, rush home, get dinner, and try to squeeze in 10 minutes of family time in between soccer practice and homework before starting all over again the next day.

This has been a really long comment, lol, but maybe it's given you a little food for thought with respect to homeschooling.

Anonymous said...

Personally I don't see public schools as always the best option for kids. I agree with correne totally.

It all depends on how much or how litte you want to put into it. What your childs learning style is.

die Frau said...

I wanted to wait until the weekend to think about this and have time to post. What I'd really like to do, if I could, is live a much greener life with my own garden for fresh food, maybe help out on a farm (without hay, as I am allergic) to get my meat and chicken and the like. I think for my kids I'd do what Greenpa said, have my kids go to the local schools (which we've already got in the works, living where we live) and teach them "real world" stuff on the side as much as possible, primarily to keep them informed and have them live the way they choose to, whether college is involved or not. I think for some reason this country has gotten away from technical or vocational training, and we snigger at it while forgetting that learning a marketable skill can be invaluable in this life. I think computers are the latest vocational skill, and as we go (hopefully) go back to becoming a country and world that builds things to last instead of acting as such a throw-away society, we'll need those people to fix and tune up our things. If my kid wants to do that, go for it.

I've digressed a bit, but getting back, I think as teacher I'd also like to teach my students to truly love literature again and see how it combines with today's technological society. I always say I want to do that, but with the requirements for state and the U.S. (do NOT get me started on NCLB and how it's a good idea with absolutely awful implementation), we have to get them ready for stupid standardized tests. So I'd like to contribute in that little way, getting away from grades so much and going for learning for the sake of learning; a more intrinsic appreciation of it all.

I think that's what we need in general, an appreciation of what we have and a greater attempt to live in harmony with it, on all fronts. We as a nation and a world at large tend to ignore a problem until it becomes huge and almost unmanageable, and then begin throwing solutions at it without considering the long-range consequences because we need that fix RIGHT NOW. We can't do that. Example: Use corn and soy to make more products. But now the corn and soy farmers have added pressures and problems and we have to fix that.

I've rambled, of course, but I guess in a nutshell I'd like to live a simpler life, not quite off the grid, but in a way that makes me less dependent on it. Does that make sense?