Monthly Archives: March 2015

John Holt in Life Learning Magazine

John Holt in Life Learning MagazineJohn Holt died in September of 1985. But the ideas and words of the man who was the creator of the term “unschooling” and a steadfast supporter of trusting and respecting children live on. In Life Learning Magazine, on the 30th anniversary of his death, we looked back at some of that inspiration.

Here’s an article I wrote about my experience with John Holt.

And here’s an interview I did with Pat Farenga about his work with John Holt. The quote above is from that interview. Here is another:

“He created [the word unschooling] in order to avoid giving the impression that families were really creating miniature schools in their homes, as the word homeschooling connotes. I see it not as a method, but an attitude towards learning and children, a way of life.”

I am honored to have known and worked with John when I was first embarking on my own advocacy work. And I’m pleased to be able to help keep his words alive for this and future generations of unschoolers.

Why Trusting Kids is So Hard

Why it is so hard to trust our kids.A Life Learning Magazine reader recently asked me to publish more articles about trusting kids and how to to do it. I said I’d think about it – not because I don’t want to (trust is, after all, a foundation of unschooling) but because I’m not sure there is a set of how-to instructions. And, really, most of the articles in the magazine revolve around doing just that – either learning how in the first place or reinforcing the belief that kids can, indeed, be trusted.

Why is trusting kids so hard? Why do we find it so difficult to trust them not only to learn, but to eat properly, to develop “good manners” (meaning to treat others mindfully), to get enough sleep, and to generally do the right thing for themselves and others?

Trusting kids isn’t popular in our culture. People “know” that children and young people can’t make their own decisions, that they won’t learn unless taught, that they won’t say thank you unless we tell them to, that they’ll grow up to be slobs unless we bribe them to keep their bedrooms clean…. Our society says children can’t be trusted because they aren’t trustworthy, and that they are wild, loud, inconsiderate, and uninterested in learning about the world around them unless forced. They must be socialized and molded.

I think the reason trusting kids is hard is that we don’t trust ourselves and, therefore, can’t trust our children. And that’s because our parents and our teachers didn’t trust us. Growing up, most of us weren’t allowed to make our own decisions – what to wear, what and when to eat, whether or not we were cold, what friends to have, what to study and when, how to participate in family decision making. We were managed, not trusted. We were dictated to, not allowed to think. Then, as we became young adults, our parents and teachers worried about us – not realizing that their lack of trust and the resulting control had ill-prepared us to make our own decisions. In the end, their lack of trust often became a self-fulfilling prophecy and we messed up. Many people think that adolescent mistake-making is a rite of passage, an important part of growing up.

And, indeed, most of us learned from the mistakes we made. But some those mistakes have been very painful for us and other. And many of us have spent a lot of time and money on therapy, retreats, workshops, and self-help books in order to learn to trust ourselves. If that is still a work in process, we can pass along the legacy of our upbringing and schooling to our children.

Those of us who have decided there is another way need to be sure the pattern doesn’t get repeated. We need to give our children the message that they know what is best for them, and that we are available to help and guide them if they are confused, and want our help.

By choosing life learning, we have chosen to mindfully protect and encourage our children’s ability to live their lives with joy and the knowledge of who they are. Even if we’re still figuring things out for ourselves, we can listen to and treat our kids with respect. We can model self-respect, mindfulness, and care for ourselves and others.

Trusting kids is not something that most of us were programmed for, so we need to be patient with ourselves as we walk the alternative parenting/life learning path.

Manipulation of Information About Health and Food

Manipulation of Information About Vaccines and Other Health and Food IssuesPeople have been talking about measles and vaccines. But, for me, the issue is broader than measles and vaccinations; it is an example of the manipulation of information about health and food for corporate profit. And that affects our ability to make informed decisions and give informed consent regarding what happens to our bodies and those of our children.

The debate about measles and vaccinations on social networks has been ugly for the past few months, ever since some people got measles at Disneyland. Anyone who questions the current schedule of vaccinations in North America is said to be “anti-science,” ill-informed, non civic-minded, and even stupid. Some people have been suggesting that parents who don’t vaccinate their children should be jailed or sued. A medical ethicist thinks that all doctors who have concerns about vaccines should lose their licenses. War has broken out between those who are being characterized as “anti-vaxxers” and those who think they have righteousness on their side and like to reinforce it with insults. The rest of us have been keeping our heads down.

When fear kicks in, truth, complexity, and rationality get lost in such “discussions,” so I haven’t become involved. But the truth is that the issue is not black and white. To vaccinate or not to vaccinate is not a simple decision, and it is a highly personal one. It is increasingly being complicated by a huge amount of obfuscation of the facts. Although the media, the medical establishment, and the for-profit companies that manufacture these highly lucrative products (and must legally maximize shareholder value rather than our health) would like us to think that vaccines are unquestionably safe, the science is not that solid and it is constantly evolving. At any rate, one of the problems with exposures to drugs, food additives, and environmental pollutants is that they are studied in isolation from everything else we humans are ingesting.

Take, for instance, the stance of Israeli physician Yehuda Shoenfeld, who has spent more than three decades studying the immune system. He has written numerous medical text books on the subject and has been called the “Godfather of Autoimmunology” – the study of the immune system turned on itself in a wide array of diseases from type 1 diabetes to ulcerative colitis, lupus (about which I have personal knowledge, unfortunately), and MS. Shoenfeld is pointing to vaccines as a significant contributor to the growing global epidemic of autoimmune diseases, likely due to the adjuvants they contain. We published an article twenty years ago in Natural Life Magazine by a naturopath who suggested that childhood vaccines may be leading to a general trend of deteriorating health and increased autoimmune diseases.

Further complicating things are the corporate whistleblowers, the doctors charged with fraud, allegations of data manipulation and suppression of research papers…. Can you begin to see the web woven of money that entangles the truth, as I’ve described many times in the past in Natural Life Magazine? All of this makes it hard to know what the facts really are, although it certainly should lead one to be suspicious.

The vaccination kerfuffle is just a current example of corporate influence on our health – an influence by so-called Big Pharma that makes it very difficult to make decisions. For instance, millions of people take the cholesterol lowering statins and blood pressure drugs that research increasingly indicates may do nothing to reduce mortality but can harm our health in many other ways. In fact, in a situation eerily similar to the manufactured confusion and apparent statistical deception regarding vaccine safety, a new study has suggested there has been a cover-up of over three hundred adverse health effects of statins documented in the biomedical literature.

Then there is the breathless promotion of wearable technology devices – from wristwatches to technology-embedded clothing. The financial opportunity appears enormous – a tenfold market increase to fifty billion dollars in three to five years, by some projections. But aside from the usefulness or stylishness (or lack thereof) of this stuff, is it safe? That’s not to mention the increasing but oft-denied evidence of serious health effects of ubiquitous wi-fi, especially for children. And then there’s the fragrance industry, processed food, GMOs, etc., etc…all things we’re told won’t harm us and may even make our lives better…if we buy them.

Please approach those things, and other issues like vaccination, with an open mind, knowing that we do not necessarily have all the information we need to make good decisions, and in many cases neither do our physicians. For instance, most so-called “anti-vaxxers” are not anti-science; they just want to know exactly what the science says, not what industry wants it to say – before they provide their consent. In the previously mentioned article about vaccinations in Natural Life Magazine, the author wrote, “Informed consent means the parent/guardian is given time to read, understand, and research the information about the risks and dangers of immunizations” – and to weigh that against the benefits. That is true of any sort of medical intervention that is being suggested.

So do your research as best you can, and make your own decisions about what you buy and eat, and what medical procedures you subject yourself and your family to. We need to think hard and long before we accept what corporations and even governments say about the safety of products and procedures out there in the marketplace – in spite of attempts to influence our decisions, even shame us for them, use fear to manipulate us, or legislate our compliance. Keep in mind that we do have choices.