"The more quickly you empty your cup and open yourself to new ideas uncritically, the sooner you will see natural learning blossom." - Sandra Dodd, Deschooling for Parents
Confluence Academy (the name of our little homeschool) has been going full speed since beginning lessons after Christmas break. Going into the break, I was feeling a major burn out and questioning how I was going to keep us on track the rest of the year. I know it was in part my being overwhelmed from depression and my health crisis, but a big part of it was playing teacher and placing myself under arbitrary rules. My big experiment in letting go has also included school, and because of it, we are accomplishing much more during our attendance days than we were.
We have been attempting a Waldorf education for our girls off and on since we became parents. What Waldorf asks of us is so vastly different from anything I experienced while in school, and the lifestyle, if you are a purist, is far removed from the mainstream experience. The concepts that Waldorf expounds were anything but what I was asked to do while teaching public school and obtaining my Master's of Arts in Teaching. "Proper" Waldorf education in the home would mean that I would truly devote much of my life and time toward learning the philosophy, correct application of the concepts, and the activities of home life that support the education. Committing to this kind of study while in the middle of carrying out the principles ascribed, mothering, homemaking, and trying to work on the side, soon overwhelmed me and created a heart conflict. I didn't want to do all this studying. I wanted to use my free time for me time. Us mamas have so little me time. Yet, I wanted my girls to experience the beauty and the gentle guidance this method allows.
"Stop thinking schoolishly. Stop acting teacherishly. Stop talking about learning as though it’s separate from life." —Sandra Dodd
I've had to let go of the idea that we'd be a purist Waldorf home. There are many things we do that aren't in line with the stricter aspect of the philosophy. I'm a student though. I love being a student, and I'll do my work whether or not my heart is in it at all just to earn the A+ and say that I did it. As we all know, being a good student and learning are two totally different things. Being the student is all about performance, doing the work, and getting it right. It's a rewards based task. Learning is about understanding, taking a subject/topic in deep, and integrating it into one's repertoire. Learning is a life task. I was raised in a home of educators. My grandfather taught vocational school. My great grandmother taught English. My grandmother was a substitute and a secretary at the Board of Education. My dad began going to college to become a physical education teacher, but did not complete the degree. I earned my master's in teaching. You can imagine how our journey to homeschooling has been for me. I've been the "student" since I have memory. I have taken that attitude into my approach to homeschooling my daughters and have found for one of the few times in my life, it hasn't served me well.
"Deschooling is not just the child recovering from school damage. It's also the parents exploring their own school and childhood damage and proactively changing their thinking until the paradigm shift happens." - Robyn Coburn
These days, I'm working on deschooling me. I'm having to take it slow, because doing my "school" work is a way of life for me. Allowing myself to enjoy my free time while also keeping up with my responsibility to provide a well rounded education to my children, has been a weight off. I still study Waldorf methodology. I still participate in the support groups for my curriculum, and we are still right on track with our lessons. Nothing has slipped. The only change has been my expectations of what we are doing and my level of stress. I'm seeing the learning in every opportunity we take. Literally, how can you keep a child from learning? They are built to learn.
The education we are providing our girls is unique to our family. It meets our needs while expanding the world view of our girls, and supporting their choices for their individual life paths. It isn't a prescribed "Waldorf" education, but is very much inspired by the ideas. We are eclectic homeschoolers. I can relax and not follow exactly what the book lays out, but I can trust my instincts as a human being. I don't have to be a good student. I don't have to be a constant teacher. I just have to be a mother who supports learning. I can let go of my book work a little to allow the real learning and growth to begin. My daughters can know their mother and enjoy our lesson times - or at least be at ease in them most of the time. I am capable of my own accord to guide my children down the learning trail, and I can follow their lead. Let go, mama.
I can't help but to think it would.
It could be my own sadness affecting the way I see southeastern Kentucky, but in this case, I don't think it is. I can't help but be swallowed by this general malaise I feel all around me. I can feel it when we are driving back into the Kentucky mountains from outside. The beauty of our land calls us home and yet, when we arrive, there is this blanket of heaviness. It is such an energetic let down. Our collective subconscious, of which we are vaguely aware but who's impact is not recognizable. The defeat before the game is even begun. I can see it in the eyes of our people. Feel it in the way the wind blows through the trees. I can hear it in the cadence of our voices. It is readable in the sighs and groans of grocery aisles and waiting rooms. To conquer this would be to lift an incredible burden held by generations of a people.
Yesterday, we took a day trip to Johnson City, Tennessee. Johnson City is a larger Appalachian city with most of the urban amenities and yet short miles from the joys of the rural mountains. We had to take some Christmas gifts to exchange and purchase some things for my husband's tattoo shop - The Parlor Room Fine Art and Custom Tattoo. It was such a relief to be out of the house and away from the familiar. We visited the Hands On! Museum, ate out, and accessed some great food at Earth Fare. Even though our restaurant experience was less than killer, we were all joy filled.
It is those few and far between glimpses of the world outside of home that makes me daydream about what it would be like to live once again away from here. What opportunities would be held for my girls? How would it affect my husband's work and his ability to grow his business? Would I have more opportunities to interact with friends and be involved in my community? Is it possible that I'd feel more freedom? I don't know the real answer. Is there any way to know really? I've read about contentment and ways of living in both rural and urban settings. Now, I feel like we are in a limbo, waiting for some moment to arrive where we can say something really paid off big.
There's been all kinds of media coverage of the little town where my husband works and where I was raised - Whitesburg, KY. We have a cultural media center in town called Appalshop that has worked for 40 years to preserve our cultural heritage through diverse undertakings. In no small part, because of their influence, we have had plenty of notable recognition. Yet, there's been outside attention focused on southeastern, KY long before Appalshop arrived in town and part of their efforts were spurred by the media coverage on Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty in Appalachia. Our people have been used, abused, and gawked at in a variety of ways.
It seems some media outlets want to focus on what is going right in our neck of the words, or at least an effort that is being made by some to make a life here on their own terms. Al Jazeera Amercia picked up a piece I wrote for The Daily Yonder (New Risk Takers in a Post Coal Economy) and came to Whitesburg to do a story on the ideas and work of the townsfolk - 5 Days in Kentucky: Small Town Conceives New Life After Mining. Here we are two full years after the article still in same place. I honestly can't say I have any clue what life is going to be like here when most of the coal mines are gone and if our region is sustainable as it is. Transition takes time. There are growing pains. I don't know what will become of Whitesburg and other southeastern Kentucky towns. For as many as give entrepreneurship a go, as many must step away. Even one of the business women in the Al Jazeera piece will soon be closing shop.
My hope at this time is waning. I'm not sure if we'll be able to peek far enough from under this heavy quilt (as beautiful as each bit is) long enough to see the sun. I wonder if it is time to again see the world from another lawn.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.