Author Archives: Wendy

About Wendy

Editor of Life Learning Magazine

Marching for Their Lives – Support The Teens Working for Change

Marching for Their Lives - Support The Teens Working for Change

I’m always astonished that mass shootings in the U.S. – well, disasters around the world, for that matter – drop off the public agenda quickly. But the Valentine’s Day massacre at a high school in Florida is different. It’s being kept in the news cycle by a group of strong, passionate, teenage survivors who are, literally, marching for their lives. Determined that enough is enough, they are channeling their anger and hurt into organizing for change. (Here’s a look at that organizing.)

“Action is the best antidote to despair.” ~Joan Baez

Many other progressive movements around the world have been started by young people marching in the streets; they are, after all, those with the most to lose when things go wrong. I’m old enough, for instance, to remember that in the 1960s American students hastened the end of the war in Vietnam.

Despite the passion, apparent organizing skills, and seriousness of these students, and the potential for success, there is a great deal of adultist, cynical, and otherwise negative reaction to their efforts. I’ve seen comments about guns not being the problem and gun laws being the wrong target. I’ve read rants telling “the kids” to get jobs, suggesting they should be run over while they’re lying on the ground or marching, and worse. I’ve seen ridicule, mockery, and suggestions that “like most teenagers” they are easily influenced and are being manipulated by adults with political agendas. I’ve read patronizing comments about how the kids shouldn’t be allowed to do this because they might be targeted on social media, and that their protests won’t work anyway.

I, too, fear for their safety. As a I watch from across the border in Canada (a country with plenty of guns but few large-scale massacres), I worry that the American youth detention centers could be filling up soon, or if this group will be branded as terrorists because they’re taking on some huge vested interests. But the seeming danger just underlines the importance of what they’re doing: These kids get that they are already fighting for their lives.

And that’s why we who are older should listen to them. We should walk with them. We should support them, help and advise if asked, but not get in their way. Support has already been offered by a number of groups, including the organizers of the women’s march and an organization founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in 2011. Giffords said in a statement: “No child should ever have to march in the streets to demand that their elected leaders take action to protect them – and yet, that’s exactly what’s happening…We will do everything we can to support their effort and will stand by their side for every step of the march.”

Some of these students are saying they don’t want to go back to school until substantial change has begun. That is making some school officials and parents nervous. They can put their concerns away; these teens are getting well educated through this process. This, unfortunately, is what “real life” looks like – the one that education is supposed to prepare them for.

I am proud of these articulate, passionate, courageous people who are fighting for their right to live and learn peacefully. If you want to support them, they have a website www.MarchforOurLives.com.

Photo: Washington, D.C. – February 19 2018: High school students from across the D.C. area hold a “lie-in” in front of the White House to protest gun control laws, as a result of the February 14 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (c) Joseph Gruber/Shutterstock Images.

The Joy of Aimlessness

The Joy of Aimlessness

I am exploring the feeling of aimlessness resulting from the lack of need to be productive, and am hoping it will lead, ironically, to increased creativity and productivity.

These days, my time is completely my own in a way that it hasn’t been in more than 40 years. No children to take care of. No writing or publishing deadlines. No need for productivity. No meetings scheduled. No money pressure. And I am feeling aimless.

Oh, I have lots to do – that I want to do. But I am trying to explore and enjoy this lack of busyness. I am remembering the same delicious purposeless from when I was a child, sitting on a rock in the shady and overgrown corner of our backyard that was my retreat from my mother’s summer busyness projects. It was freedom, aimlessness that wasn’t to be feared. Freedom to be and to dream, rather than to do and to think. Freedom to focus on the present moment, to hear, see, and feel things that are submerged when we are constantly occupied with to-do lists – the grass rustling, the birds darting, the delicious blue of the sky above the tops of the trees.

These days, I can walk a few blocks and add to my childhood experience the sensations that accompany the rising and lowering tides. After so many years of self-discipline and productivity, I’m finding it a bit unsettling, this new-old state of having nothing that must be done, of being able to follow the urges of spontaneity along with Nature’s beauty. But I’m settling into it. And I have just completed feathering a room that is my own little writing nest – the first I’ve had since I was a teenager. I have a hunch that aimlessness will be (dare I use that word?) productive, in the same way that my childhood boredom led to creative surges.

Resilience – Why We Need It and How To Help Our Children Develop It

Resilience - What it is and How to Help our Children Develop it

Resilience is our ability to adapt successfully in the face of stress, adversity, and traumatic events. Having it (and building it) leads to good mental health, which allows us to meet our life goals, to live happy and meaningful lives, and to cope with whatever challenges life tosses our way. And I think it is especially important in these strange and dire times.

Developing this trait (or not) begins early in life. And it seems to be something that many children and young people in our society struggle with. Parents often share with me their concern about the stress in their children’s lives, the impact it has on them, and how to help them deal with it. Some tell me that their kids, even very young ones, are on medication for anxiety.

This stress is often caused by pressure from coercive schools that are not designed to nurture learning and that are too focused on early achievement. There are so many other stressors like bullying (by adults and other kids), world events, racial tensions, poverty, and death in the family that can be hard for children to cope with if they don’t have appropriate support. Childhood anxiety can be exacerbated by lack of outdoor exercise, environmental health issues (indoor and outdoor air pollution, toxic food, electromagnetic radiation exposure), doctors who are too quick to prescribe, and even well-meaning parents shielding their kids from life’s adversities.

I have learned from my own life experience as a child and an adult that our job is not to protect our kids from adversity, because we can’t. Our job is to provide them with the tools to overcome it, to benefit from it even. I’ve written many times about the importance of trusting and respecting children, as well as allowing them to take risks, to persevere, and to fail gracefully. Not only does that contribute to their learning, it helps them to develop resiliency.

Child development specialist Jacqueline King-Presant, M.Ed. has written a series of articles for Natural Child Magazine that present some specifics about how to support the development of children’s emotional intelligence and natural resilience. She writes: “A child who feels trusted in their independence, risk taking, and problem solving abilities is a child who has been empowered to manage life’s difficulties with resilience – an important mindset that is decreasing in children and young adults today.”

Here are links to the articles. I hope you will find them helpful.

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Attacking Teachers, Not the System: When Schools are the Problem, Not the Solution

Attacking Teachers, Not the System: When Schools are the Problem, Not the Solution

Kids attacking teachers is a symptom of a system that does not serve those kids. We need to move beyond bandage solutions and ask what’s wrong. It’s not a shortage of money.

When a teacher complains about being” routinely attacked and abused” by her students, “going home with bruises, scratch marks and bite marks,” and being “slapped and punched in the face and hit multiple times” by her four- and five-year-old students, there is a problem that’s way bigger than lack of classroom resources.

The situation referenced above involves a years’ long fight between a teachers’ union and a government, culminating now in a forced contract. The contract will leave a bad taste all round. And it will not solve the problems that plague public education.

In all the media coverage of this situation, I’m not seeing any discussion about why four- and five-year-olds are attacking teachers. Nor am I seeing discussion about why “teachers are seeing more and more students with a variety of learning challenges who require individual program plans because of autism and other physical or mental challenges.”

You can throw all the money in the world at providing more teachers, more psychologists, and tweaking the system in other ways. But those are just bandages. Parents, teachers, and governments must start examining the root causes of the problem with schools. Why do little kids attack their teachers? Do they not want to be in school? If so, why not? What are the social and human rights issues lurking behind that? Are children respected and trusted in our schools? Why are there increasing numbers of children with “learning challenges” like autism and other “mental challenges”? Why are more children being diagnosed? Are those real diagnoses or symptoms of underlying environmental, health, or economic issues? Are our society’s (and economy’s) priorities for parents and families skewed? Are they evidence that schools as currently configured are bad places for kids to learn? Does anyone care about whether or not children want to be confined to classrooms for many hours each day, for many years of their lives? Has anyone cared to ask the children?

Much of my writing over the past thirty years has addressed those issues. Other people are also asking those questions, of course. But real change will take more than just a few renegades talking among ourselves. If there is public money to be spent (and there is, if our children are considered to be a priority), let’s use it to ask the deep questions, and to challenge the current model of education. Let’s be honest with our questions and our answers. Let’s free all those well-meaning people who want to be teachers so they can actually help kids rather than be attacked by them.

It is no longer subversive to ask about the elephant in the room. Are schools the problem rather than the solution?

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Compulsory Self-Directed Learning?

Compulsory Self-Directed Learning?

What do you call it when students are allowed to self-direct their learning when their attendance at school is compulsory? I call it cognitive dissonance. You might call it baby steps in the right direction!

There’s a new school opening later this year in California. It’s called, for now, the UnSchool (the students will be able to choose their own name later). There are also a number of other schools, specialized programs, and organizations that use the term “unschooling” or ally themselves with it.

What they’re really about – and share with life learning/unschooling – is the principle of self-directed learning. And it’s great that so many people are recognizing how much learning happens when one controls, and therefore engages with, their subject matter. As much as that is obvious to life learners (like my family, who practiced self-directed learning before the author John Holt coined the term “unschooling” in the 1970s), it is a huge step for most educators. They, after all, have mostly experienced kids caught in classroom tedium and the rebellious behavior that often results. So the fact that kids can be self-directed learners can come as a surprise to – or even be denied by – most teachers, school administrators, and parents.

My problem is that the schools that do get it – like the UnSchool and the Sudbury Valley Schools, for instance – are still schools with compulsory attendance. And our thinking about learning and learners can be stretched so much further – to include, among other things, children’s rights. Self-direction can be seen as a basic life principle. In the introduction to my 2000 book Challenging Assumptions in Education, I wrote that trusting one thing leads to trust in others, and questioning the assumptions embedded in one aspect of life leads us to question others. (Some refer to this as “radical unschooling,” but I think it’s a natural and inevitable progression in trust and respect.)

If we agree that learning arises not from compulsion, memorization, and repetition of material dictated by someone else but through self-direction, investigation, and discovery, then where is the justification for coercive, compulsory participation?

In that light, I look forward to the day when those who offer self-directed educational opportunities further extend their trust in and respect for children and young people…and stop enforcing compulsory school attendance. That way, they can truly pursue a self-directed education!