Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The things we believe in


I've been on this little school rampage for a little bit, as you can tell.

I didn't really start this blog to go over these things.  I wanted to - and want to - share more personal things about our life and our son.

I'm bad at doing that.  When Conan's learning a new thing or whatever other thing he does, I tend to live in that moment and enjoy it, listen to him sing "Smells Like Teen Spirit", as I noted in this post on my other blog, talk to him as he figures out the body parts on his doll, or read What's That Squeak? to him for the umpteenth time, and then, unless it's relevant, there doesn't seem to me much of a story.

But I'll try to find more contexts to write about those things, because they make me unbelievably happy.

This subject, on the other hand, put me into a black, black headspace and I need to step away from it for a little while anyway.

I wanted to hit one more thing I note, and I suppose it's not unlike the earlier post Honor thy father and thy mother, but it's hard not to keep noticing the awkwardness of having this conversation in public.

The thing I notice is that saying you don't think compulsory school is the best way to teach kids seems a lot like saying you're an atheist.  In both cases, there seems a defensiveness among a significant group of adherents, religious believers or traditional schooling advocates.

It feels to me like many people need to be assured that your lack of agreement with their belief system is not an attack on them or their belief system.

It's harder for me with school to offer that.  As I noted, here certainly, this is not, for me, an idle point of casual disagreement.  I feel like what those Jesus Camp kids or ones from similar kinds of religious background seem to feel when they get out of that environment and reject those beliefs.  It's a white hot anger.  Sometimes it's an atheistic anger at religion, others are angry at God.  Either way, it's not something I have a relationship to on that issue.

On religion, you believe what you believe, I'll believe what I believe and as long as you don't try to inhibit my life with your beliefs, we're totally great.  Go out and do good.  Make the world a happier place, please.  Whatever name you choose to do it in is fine by me.

Conversely, if you're doing harm and acting maliciously against the happiness of the world, I don't care what excuse you have either.

With school, it's harder.

Off and on, I've studied it.  I even took some degree of interest when I was in school.  Partially from my own frustration, partly because education had always been an active interest of my mother's, so the material was around me. I've studied it in the years since and, of course, with renewed vigor since Conan was conceived.

People try to convince me of the benefits of school for Conan's benefit, and some of that has made a difference, along with our experiences.  You can see Thoughts on school for a relatively large adjustment we've recently made.

Most people, even when they express concern over Conan, are defending the status quo.  They're entrenched in what they believe in.  For those especially, it's hard for me to argue.  Obviously, it's impossible to do without criticizing things they believe in.  Were I simple non-believer in school, I'm sure I could make those arguments reasonably and tactfully without straining myself.

So, for the record, please know, I'm not disagreeing with your experiences.  That teacher that inspired you was undoubtedly terrific.  In my opinion, even more so for standing out in such an extraordinarily flawed system.  The things you learned, the friends you made, the skills you gained are all valid and acknowledged by me.

I just think there are ways you could have gotten more, as well.  And I think all of who were - or who at least feel we were - failed by school could have gotten more from it, as well as less frustration.

Here's Conceiving Of Change And Invisible Alternatives to assist my point, as I'm running out of ways to state all of this in a positive way.

Like I said, all of this thought and discussion on this subject has not done good things for my mood.  I need to spend some time away from it.  I'm going to just enjoy Halloween with Conan and get back to my general feeling of satisfaction with my life.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rage and imprisonment


I've mentioned The Evergreen School before.

I don't recall the details of why I started going there, but I remember liking the environment on my first visit. I remember all of the student books around the library. I remember the copy of Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella that I looked at often over my time there, but never got around to reading.

I mention this, because most of the things, positive and negative, that makes the things I read by Peter Gray resonate so thoroughly for me. I try to explain some to Kim and tend to say she should read his blog or his book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, when we get it. Last night she expressed the concern that I was merely parroting back someone else's philosophy and I had to explain that the issue isn't me parroting back what he said, but that he so perfectly expresses the things I've felt for so long, and backs them up with such great evidence and examples.

I don't remember much about my days there. I couldn't tell you any which way what I studied. As adults, we joke merrily how we don't remember what we "learned" in school as if that was either our failing or an amusing piece of happenstance, rather a core flaw in how our schools work.

My parents paid a lot of money that they couldn't easily afford to send me to these schools.  I'm not certain I can find the same casual amusement in that as everyone else does.

I remember one teacher, Ron Cohen, who taught me about musical theater.  He also had a mock trial of Harry Truman for war crimes and crimes against humanity for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I don't know that I gained what I was supposed to from it.

I did watch Give 'em Hell, Harry! in there and still think of Truman and the movie fondly.

I remember being frustrated that I didn't think that the jury fully understood their job and took too much of their initial beliefs into the jury box rather than what was argued.  I also don't recall there being clear definitions of the crimes for them to work from, just their loose understandings, same as when they came in.

His class was also where I wrote "The Case of the Playground Monitor", which I think was kind of the Quentin Tarantino of early '80s short stories by eleven-year-olds.  It was popular but divisive, excessively violent, featured stretches of profanity and jumped around through storytelling styles.

I might have oversold it, but luckily I don't have a copy around to disappoint you...  nor does the school.  The first time in the school time in the school's history they didn't maintain a copy to show off to new parents and students.  I took a fair amount of pride in that at the time.

Now, I just feel angry.

I was kind of off to go with the writing thing.  I was pretty proud of myself.

Now, I'd always been a socially awkward kid, or considered myself so.  I don't remember ever feeling comfortable around other people - being a confusing character like The Loud Extrovert and 30 years from beginning to understand it was a factor - and I'd long felt picked on and never took well to it.

But I'd become friends, for a time, with my one-time rival, and easily the coolest kid I knew in the whole 12 years I was confined to be educated.  His name was Quentin.

I don't remember the details of us moving from rivals to friends.  I know it happened on the playground, though.

We played Four Square and a team version of "Smear the Queer" that, as best I remember, we largely made up.

(I'll briefly jump in to say that Wikipedia article on Tag provides a variety of alternate names for this game, starting with the decidedly British "muckle" and the incredibly awkward "kill-the-guy-with-the-ball". It was the '80s and we were of the right pre-teen age that homophobic slurs did occur, but I can't remember any suggestion of the game's name being one of them.)

We weren't allowed to play the game.  Not because of the name, but because it involved tackling.  If someone was watching, we had to switch to two-hand touch, which frankly ruined the game completely.

We read Savage Sword of Conan and tried to draw like the artists in it.  We read the Robert E. Howard Conan stories and wrote our own pastiches, but both agreed that we avoided the ones by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter that were shoehorned into our beloved paperback books.

He was better at drawing than I was, although I couldn't trust my memory well enough to say it was good by a standard other than what an eleven-year-old does.  I also feel like I was better at writing, but I could be being kind to myself, as I hate to be so far behind Quentin on everything, but it is possible, as I suggested, he was really, really cool.

I had other issues going on in my life, including some turmoil and major changes in my home that had probably left me unsettled.

But there were some kids a year or two older than me who liked to flip me crap.

As when Quentin had flipped me crap a year or two previous, I tended to respond by getting into physical fights.  This had been a recurring issue in my life.

Somewhere between the increasing concerns about my fighting and the "disturbing" trends in my writing, I was made into the problem.  I'm sure no one involved told me that, and perhaps no one even really thought that, but that was the "lesson" I took away.

People fucking with you is something you're just supposed to expect and "ignore" when you're a kid.  As noted, here, that's because it's a prison.  In a prison that's a normal expected factor and you need to man-up and deal with it.

In all of this it was my anger that was considered a problem.

At least that's how I took all of it.

If I took action on my anger then I was misbehaving.  "In trouble", as the saying goes.  "Bad", as all kids inevitably when they are "in trouble".

No, I'm not really defending fighting as an expression of anger, however coming up with a way to express my anger productively was decidedly not on the table.  I was told to "ignore" it all, which is a load of horseshit.


When I tried to work it out, express it creatively, that, of course, added fuel to the fire of me being a "concern".

I learned, for a long time, not to express my anger at all...  or barely.  It all turned inward.  I've never really gotten past the tendency to turn all the anger I have, whether personal or toward the great injustices of the world, on myself eventually.  Nothing does more to set me into a bleak depression than getting mad, even if justifiably.

That's that legacy.

Somewhere in there I became scared of my voice as a writer and stopped writing with any regularity, despite always thinking of myself as a "writer" and "writing" being the thing I was going to do.  And occasionally I do.  I write all the crazy, bloody, fucked-up shit that got me "in trouble".  I've never seriously considered writing anything else.  Was that just who I was already by then or is that another legacy?

I've been reading Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence, which an incredibly insightful book by Gerard Jones.  Jones has incredible insights on children dealing with violence through violent play and media, and I'd love to just be celebrating that someone is just saying these things, but I'm not.

I'm angry.  I'm angry at people for not saying these things more.  I'm angry at people for not saying these things all along.

And, of course, I'm angry at myself, because that's what happens to me when I get angry.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Honor thy father and thy mother


In my previous post, Bullying, I made a reference to how our parents treated us potentially being a bigger obstacle to our recognizing the systematic problems with compulsory school than how we treat our children.

I confess I have no real data to back that one up, other than anecdotal, but I've come to strongly feel that way.

It's unceasingly amazing to me the lengths people go not only to defend their parents actions but to normalize them.

At various points I've heard dozens, if not hundreds, of people use some form of "My parents did ______ when I was a kid, and I turned out ok."

The near universal truth of those is that, to the outside observer, those people are not "ok" by any of the usual standards on would expect to use to assess "ok-ness".

That applies to drinking and drug use, including while pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as exceptional punishments and probably any number of other things that aren't necessarily looked kindly upon.  These now grown people will not only try not only to defend what their parents did, but endorse it, in many cases.

I think it's one of the major barriers we have to ending corporal punishment in this country.  Again, I've anecdotally found many people who don't "believe in spanking", don't spank their own kids, but can't quite bring themselves to condemn it generally or for others, and I strongly suspect that's involved.

I find myself similarly inclined, in fact, and I was only very rarely spanked as a child and I believe my parents found themselves coming to realize the futility of it as a parenting tool, at the least, so, if anything, I have every reason to agree with the conclusions came to.

And I do really.  I certainly have not, do not and will not spank Conan, but I struggle with condemning it.  If for no other reason than the fact that the vast majority of people spanking their kids mean well and believe it's the best thing and that it in some way hurts them more than their children, as the saying goes.

We grow up watching our parents and processing what they do as "the things people do".  Their behavior, good and bad, is the very definition of how people behave.  It becomes so ingrained into who we are, that it becomes difficult to fully process them, even when we see them...  in fact, even when they are extraordinarily obvious.

I've long believed you can explain the virulence of the rage and hatred you can find in Jim Crow era southerners, in particular.

I think that for a reasonable person, once a separation takes place, it becomes impossible to find a moral justification for slavery that makes any sense at all.  Sure, we can intellectually explain the origins, the tradition and the needs that led to and fueled it, but if you're really thinking about the ins and outs of owning and using human beings, I can't make it make sense.  It's so horrifying to me, I get nauseated just trying to think about it.

I suspect being a child and having the evidence of that utter inhumanity everywhere and your parents and grandparents and everyone around were responsible.  The only possible way to process that would be to create justifying scenario, in this case it would have been to blame the slaves themselves for the unfathomable violence inflicted upon them.

That's the depth to which the vast majority of people will go to justify and normalize the actions of our parents.

It's something that worth remembering when we're repeating the things our parents do as well as the things we do in life, especially around our kids.  I know I do.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bullying


To some extent or another, we all think of bullying as a fact of life.

I confess it was I haven’t thought about the kid who bullied me in over twenty years by Wil Wheaton that pushed me to write this and not one of the more heartbreaking stories of suicide or other ways lives are utterly devastated by bullying.

Here's the thing, bullying is going to keep getting worse.  Period.

Keeping kids in school longer hours, giving them less free time after school.  I'm a 42 year old man, and I couldn't take that schedule.  I'm not the only one who thinks that.  My Daughter’s Homework Is Killing Me by Karl Taro Greenfeld makes that point as well.

Without the benefit of bullying, I can promise I wouldn't have survived childhood with that kind of schedule and I don't think I would now, although obviously I have Kim and Conan to make the effort to go on for.

I don't know if I'm the best example.  I certainly don't hit any norms.  I cut class in high school and would go to the library, try to avoid notice as long as possible while I read books until I was kicked out for not having a pass to be there and I'd go outside to smoke.

This is, I suppose, where it was cemented for me that School is a prison! and not a place to learn.  I certainly have more to say about that another day.

My point is that even at that point in my schooling, I wasn't broken.  I lacked the least inclination to obey, but I was still actively and enthusiastically interested in learning.  I just knew that school classes are rarely, if ever, the best medium for learning.  They are a primarily a medium for control and any real learning is largely incidental.

I wasn't bullied in high school, except by the school administration, but I was earlier.
No, I don't have any of those stories of relentless harassment.  I was just singled out by various other kids through the years for verbal abuse.  I didn't take it well.  I'd get into fights and then I'd be the one that got into "trouble".

It was a fine system, huh?

Let me just say, even this relatively benign stuff is still able to get me worked up.  If I think about those dudes, I feel like I could punch them again now.

But really, I know who the real enemy is and if I ran into any of those administrators from The Evergreen School from those days, I almost certainly would take the opportunity to finally punch them.  Yeah, it wouldn't do anything good.  Frankly, I'm quite happy to just never run into them.

That's where we come to School Bullying: A Tragic Cost of Undemocratic Schools by Peter Gray, "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"

People who are disempowered learn that disempowerment is a standard way to live.  They then go about disempowering others to place themselves higher on the empowerment ladder.  It's basic.

It's even our stereotype, our joke even, that bullies are bullied at home.  We see that as the "punchline" of those things all the time, or, in more sensitive cases, the bittersweet realization we're brought to.

As with most stereotypes, it's, at best, incredibly simplistic, but almost certainly comes from something.  In some cases, they come from what the person doing in the stereotyping brings in.  It's certainly true that a substantial number of negative stereotypes about black people in the U.S. are rooted the expectations that slave owners had for their slaves that were insane expectations for a human.

In this case, we're probably enamored of the perceived irony of the bully being bullied, but I think there's a basic truth to it as well.  Those kids who are bullied at home are even further disempowered and, as such, have an even greater need to make themselves feel empowered by disempowering others.

And now we keep buzzing about the increasing "bully problem", while we take away more and more of children's freedoms.  In many cases, I'd strongly suspect this is a media problem more than a bullying problem.  The media likes to find some issue and blow it out of proportion in order to draw viewers/readers.

This one seems to have some real weight.  The stories we hear about bullying seem to have escalated in virulence now.  The "official" explanation has something to do with the internet, but I think that's at least 98% bullshit, thrown out because they either don't know or don't want to face the more basic truth about the nature of the schools that we send our children us to, and, more importantly, where our parents sent us.

In fact, in keeping with the basic philosophy, we're creating more and more rules to curb this issue.

Look, I'm perfectly happy with the two girls in this case be appropriately punished by the appropriate harassment and assault.  I even agree with Sheriff Grady Judd that there should be a way to put the bulk of the punishment onto the parents and administrators instead (or as well).  It's important to note here that I am not favoring the creation of new rules or laws here, just the serious enforcement of the ones already in place.

Most new rules will be counter-productive, making what is already a prison even more restrictive and, as such, greatly exacerbating the problem.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Censorship


I read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Banned Due to Racy Jumper Fumblings by Leah Schnelbach and Media Exposure - Students, Parents and Trust at the Sudbury Valley School site in relative proximity of one another, which put me in mind of another subject that frustrates me about the merest notion of putting Conan in a traditional school.

People like this New Mexican parent feel, for reasons that make sense to them, that things should be kept from their children.  I don't necessarily disagree with regards to my own son.  He's young enough that hasn't been an issue yet. Conan's taste runs toward Quiet Loud and Roller Rintoo, so I don't concern myself much over how the things I read might affect him.

But whatever I decisions on the books, movies and other media my son is able to handle, will be handled by Kim and I based on our assessment of his needs.

How dare that woman or that administration try to take a role in what choices other parents can make for their children from the group resources of that school?  I understand that it will always play a role in what choices are made regarding ordering new items, and that's frustrating, but limited resources make some choices unavoidable, so I can release that.

So, she's a turdsicle who wants to spoil her son's enjoyment of reading?  I'm not trying to inhibit her rights to be just that shitty.  Spoiling other people's kids reading enjoyment?  Fuck you!  What the fuck gives you the gall?

This kind of thing just enrages me and I'm not going to send my son to a public school or move to New Mexico, so this has not direct effect on me.

I just can't imagine what right one could imagine they have the right to decide what other people's children should have kept from them.  It's horrifying to me!

I get that my view is less common than that, but that doesn't make it make the least bit of sense to me nor does it justify it morally in the least.

I have a recurring fear.  It's from the pilot episode of Roseanne.  I'm not generally going to defend the first season, which only rarely captured the things that would eventually make the show great, but this moment does, even if they might perhaps have done it even better once the show was in its groove.

In the scene, Roseanne is at a parent-teacher conference and the teacher is telling her that Darlene has been barking like a dog and they end up in a fuss over it, with the teacher speaking to her in an exceptionally condescending tone.  I would not handle that at well as Roseanne does, and, of course, she doesn't handle it the way one is "supposed to".

I am not built to defend my son's rights his whole life against people who find it self-evident that he should have them kept from him and not be treated like a person.  My own losing battles against those forces through my own childhood have left wounds that are too raw for me to be able to do it at all diplomatically.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Holding us back


School holds us back.

There are many, many things wrong with schools, as they currently exist, that fail to do what we claim to want from the, but are, as the kids are saying, not a bug but a design feature.

Schools are supposed to teach us to stay in line, keep quiet and obey authority.  That students leave with less creativity and independence are features not bugs.

This relates, in it's way to Schools Are Good for Showing Off, Not for Learning by Peter Gray.  In that article, Dr. Gray discusses the flaws in both positive and negative reinforcement as teaching tools.

Today, I overheard someone discussing the book report her son had coming up.  He had, she said, selected a 400 page book to read and write on.  She was relieved that the teacher had managed to talk him out of this challenge and down to something easier.

I can think of no better example of what's intrinsically wrong with traditional schools.  In a school in which learning and improving oneself is the goal, overreaching can only be seen as a good thing, you're working the muscles.  It's only when the real goal is timed and graded that this could be an issue.

Believe me, I'm punctual.  I believe in punctuality.  I even suspect serial lack of punctuality is borderline sociopathic, although I admit that's probably an overreaction based on personal issues.  And, yes, I'm already broken by the system, something I definitely intend to address another day, which affects my punctuality.

I don't think our school system genuinely teaches that skill or any reason why it's important, aside from as an act of continued obedience, though.  I suspect that, in many ways, that makes it counter-productive in teaching it as a valuable skill and a courtesy to bestow upon those around you.

I think a child could benefit themselves, in knowledge, confidence and understanding the world, much more in challenging themselves to read the longer book than they gain reading a shorter one that they're more likely to be able to regurgitate some reasonably useless information back in order to achieve a competitive grade.

Yes, I thought all of these things all through school.  After my final breaking point, which was after school by a couple of years, because I was just that obstinate, I stopped thinking about it very much at all, except on rare occasions when someone would say something so outrageously pro-school that I'd go into an outraged rant, usually internally, but occasionally it would leak out.

Now that I'm raising a child and facing that future, I have to say I'm back to being a raw nerve.

At a work gathering at Kim's job, another guest described the work load at the kindergarten class she works in, and how little recess they got and how much homework they were given even at that young age.  I seethed.

I ranted at my poor wife later about it and she said, "She just works there, it's not like she can do anything about it."

And I said, "Yes, I'm sure she's the nicest guard at the Concentration Camp".

(Yes, I took the conversation to Godwin's Law territory that quickly.)

Now, I'd probably go for the less ambitious School is a prison! argument, which would sound mildly less dramatic.

However I phrase my response, I can only imagine Friedrich Fröbel rolling in his grave.

We respond to our students struggling more and more to learn from our schools by exacerbating all of the things that are causing the problem in the first place, and get, as one could only expect, receiving worse results, at least by the arbitrary standards we set. See Educational Reform by Daniel Greenberg.

And while it's undoubtedly more complicated on some levels, I think that it speaks volumes that school, as well as parents, knee-jerk to preferring a better grade, and perhaps a more timely assignment, to something that would be more likely to stretch this growing boy's horizons and exercise his mind.

You can say what you want.  I've "evolved" to hesitantly moving toward accepting a "school" type environment in my last post, Thoughts on school, but I was always a little open to something along those lines.

I'm not budging from there, though.  There's no way I'm sending my son to a public school.  Not even a consideration.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on school


Kim and I are looking at Clearview Sudbury School for Conan.

It's kind of a big step in thinking for me, because I had been very resistant to any kind of school. I wrote School and socialization at my other blog, before I started this one.

In that post, I wrote, "My experiences at the private Seattle Country Day School and the The Evergreen School feel as constricting, personally and intellectually, as the ones I had at the public Olympic View Junior High and Mariner High School."

And here I should note, as I neglected to in the earlier post, that not only were the first two private schools, they were intended, to one degree or another, to be provide an alternative teaching method. Something I think the result of which was little different, if at all, than the result of the traditional methods.

So, my position hasn't changed. In fact, I've been reading the Freedom to Learn blog by Peter Gray, and looking forward to reading his book, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, soon. This has, if anything, cemented my position that School is a prison!

As Kim and I spend more time trying to parent in our own way, we find it's increasingly difficult to do.

I realize that input and company from other children, as well as other adults, is an important part of life.

There are, as it happens, plenty of groups, but both of us have one trouble or another keeping up on that.  There are regular meet-ups and finding times and places, having to deal with other parents who might be several degrees opposed to us on one issue or another, which creates those awkward moments that are hard to get through with new acquaintances, especially ones who you're ostensibly around because of your common ground... and for a loud introvert like me, any block in developing a relationship, grows quickly into something difficult to tolerate at all. That's a failing, I know. At least somewhat.

I like their philosophy. You can read some further details regarding the original Sudbury School at Children Educate Themselves IV: Lessons from Sudbury Valley if you're interested.  It sounds like it fits with the needs I had as a child, that went woefully unfulfilled, as well as the needs I'm planning to fill for Conan.

If this turns out for him, like my schooling turned out for me, I'll turn back in a heartbeat.

But I have a very good feeling.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Parenting, debate and the hunger dogs


My son, cuddling a Red Dalek Talking Plush Toy. We got it last night and it is the first plush toy he took with him to bed to cuddle up with to sleep.

I think occasionally on why I don't post here that often. Part of it is just a basic matter of time, priorities and other such bits and pieces, I also think I'm stuck with an unusual lack of desire for debate on parenting.

Not too long ago, Kim posted a thought she'd had on our plans to homeschool on Facebook and this ended up with me getting into rather a row with a mutual "friend" of sorts, because I thought her comments were useless and condescending and she thought they weren't, I guess. Mind you, I think the spirit of them was deep, deep condescension, but condescending people always just think they're right and you're wrong and they're, as such being ever helpful in demonstrating that to us. That's what makes them so goddamn condescending.

What I did come to is this, though, I really don't give much of a fuck what other people think, at least in a debate sense.

This is a larger issue, mind you.  I think my other blog, The Bleeding Tree, suffers of late because I've grown less interested in debating the merits of movies.  I'm not uninterested in other opinions in themselves, but the give and take of debating has fallen by the wayside.  The specifics of that might be its own post over there some day.  Who knows?

It's not that I don't think debate can be a valuable tool and important for critical thinking, but so little of what I come around is valuable or done in the spirit of, or featuring, critical thinking.  I couldn't tell you the last time I was involved in a debate I didn't feel stupider for having gotten involved in.  Is that my age or is that the way people debate nowaday?  Is it laziness or wisdom?  Probably a bit from each cup, if I were to guess.

But Kim posted this article today, How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids, and I felt compelled to share and add to it.

My brother Ian was six years old when he was adopted. He had spent a good deal of his formative years literally starving. For the rest of his childhood - and I believe as an adult he's had some success in curbing this - he was literally unable to control his compulsion to eat. He would eat meat down to the marrow. He would eat off other people's plates. And as frustrating as it could be to all of us, and we were certainly not always as understanding as we should have been or would have liked to have been.

When people suggest to me that the best way to make a child independent is to withhold some degree of attention/affection so they won't look to you, it sounds insane to me. It's a surprisingly popular theory, though. I'm incapable of making it make sense in my brain at all, though. If it works for you in your life, that's terrific for you and your child(ren).


As I said, I'm not terribly interested in debating these things and am no more interested in telling you what would or should work for you than I am in hearing you tell me what would or should work for me.
To me, I only see that if one deprives a child of their needs, they only need more.  A starving child learns to take all of the food they can get, when they can get it.  A child starving for attention/affection learns to take all of the attention/affection they can get, when they can get it.

I can't speak for everyone, but I know Conan is a pretty independent little guy for a two-year-old.  I believe that by never make him feel he needs to worry about where attention/affection will come from next, he's able to regulate his own needs.  At least he's developing that.

Sure, he gets tired and fussy sometimes and needs extra attention - hell, so do I - but generally he's happy to play on his own and solve his world with occasional breaks for cuddling and hearing a book. From my perspective, this not only is the only way that makes sense, it's the way that's working.

Like I said, if some other way works for you or those you know, I can't make sense of it, but I have no interest in debating you.  What I know is that with how well this is working for our family, I have no intention of changing it.  If anything, I only want to do a better job.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

T.V. is not the devil.

Well this is actually Kim Sarver posting this but I am not as internet savvy as my wonderful husband. There are several parenting groups that I follow on Facebook that seem to (at least a large majority) follow the belief that T.V. should not only never be turned on around a child but not even used for an adult. I struggled with this for most of my life. When Neil and I met I had a T.V. in the living room but only because that was my roommate's. I did not really watch T.V. Neil is a HUGE movie fan and likes to watch them frequently. I must say since we have had our son he has decreased his movie watching significantly.

The T.V. is on now as I write. I turned it on to play "Blue's Clues" while Conan ate a late breakfast. Conan wakes up at about 11 and I made his oatmeal and cereal and milk but he likes to graze. He doesn't sit and watch it but he does shake his booty to the songs and answer back when they call out.

As far as myself? I may watch a show when he naps but that is about it. On rainy days I have been known to put on a show while he sat in his bedroom and played. He is very independent. This may surprise those people in my life that have warned me of the dangers of co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding and baby wearing as tools to insure a clingy child.

We pretty much go with the flow in this house. He doesn't have a set in stone bedtime yet he goes to sleep between 10:30pm-11:30 pm. Thats when I gets home from my part time job.

When I am at work, Neil may watch something while Conan plays but he never ignores Conan to do so. Conan seems to have little to no interest in T.V. and we have not kept it from him. I think that if you make T.V. a huge forbidden fruit that causes problems when he gets older and gorges himself (so to speak) on T.V.

So ya- T.V. is not the devil.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The other F word


Kim and I watched The Other F Word by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins last night. In fact, we both watched the trailer and rushed home and paid to watch it streaming instead of waiting for a copy to be available from the library.

I considered writing this as a review over at my personal blog, The Bleeding Tree, especially since Kim hasn't taken an opportunity to say anything here yet. but so little of what I want to say is really as much about reviewing it as much as discussing what I wanted from it and what I got.  I suppose that could be a valid review, except it's as a non-conformist/patent that I'm specifically coming to this.

First of all, as a viewer, I enjoyed it a lot.  Seeing Flea wax poetic about how fatherhood has improved his life.  Art Alexakis of Everclear comparing his role as a father to his own fathers failings. Duane Peters of U.S. Bombs discussing the death of his son, Chess.  These are great bits of human drama that are wonderful that Nevins was able to have captured, and I was even weepier than I would have been before becoming a father myself.

I think somewhere I wanted another movie out of it, and maybe that's another example of what I'm working to start here.

The movie focuses on Jim Lindberg of Pennywise, becaue his book Punk Rock Dad was the inspiration for the movie itself, but he's one of the most boring of the dad's frankly.  Perhaps because his conflicts seem much less derived from being a punk rocker and much more from being the lead singer of a rock band of a specific spot on the success ladder.

I was much more interested in Fat Mike of NOFX and Lars Frederiksen of Rancid. They seemed like guys who were struggling with the real questions of what punk rock meant to them and how it affected their role as a parent in a deeper way than the concern over how their lyrics might sound to other members of the PTA.

I don't mean to sound dismissive of Lindberg.  His struggle as the lead singer of a moderate size rock act and where he wants to go with his future in that and how it affects his ability to spend the quality time with his kids is obviously important to him and is actually a compelling story in itself.

On the other hand, everyone was a kid who thought the rules were unfair and for most of us, some form of music and the community and expression of that was how we moved from childhood petulance to forming our own new adult opinions.  For those of us who developed complex views that reinforce the beliefs we had as children that the rules were for crap and the ways they were enforced were even worse, we come to a crossroads with being a parent.

It's fucking easy to say "You did a shit job!"

It's much harder to figure out how to do a good job, or at least a better job.

I'm interested in how they, and others, deal with that. Obviously raising a dick is not kind of solution, and that's what the in-laws and whatever other outside messengers are constantly reinforcing will happen if you don't repeat the same lessons as everyone that came before...  the systems that thankfully managed to, of course, raise only saints, so why would we ever attempt to do better, right?

What does that involve?

How do you raise a kid to be the best, happiest most fulfilled version possible of themselves?  How do you avoid the mistakes of the past?  And how were the mistakes of the past defined by the needs of the past?  How many of those needs are now obsolete?

There's a lot of questions for those of us who want to fight our way into the world of the future.  Maybe the future is here and we need to decide what we really want made of it and our children are our opportunity.

Suffice it to say, that's a subject that I have a lot more to say about in upcoming posts.

For now, I'll just say I wish Nevins had found more of it for the movie.  I think that's what the trailer more or less promises, which suggests that it was what seemed the most interesting hook.

She wrote an article, What Punk Taught Me as a Parent, that I feel like says more about those most basic questions than the movie does. Perhaps there's a sequel in there somewhere. Hell, maybe it's sitting right in the outtakes. What do I know?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Motörhead Mama/Plasmatics Papa


As we suggested in our introduction, Introducing the folks, music played a big part in our thought process in naming this blog.

I noticed, in searching for alternative parenting discussion that veered away from the expected hippie-dippie path, that most alternative parenting discussions find themselves in seem to identify as "punk", to one extent or another.

Before I step too far away from the point, by the way, may I note that while I am, at this point, as guilty as anyone of using hippie as a pejorative, I think a parenting plan that uses the kinds of philosophy Abbie Hoffman and others might have advocated, is very much in line with what I am interested in pursuing. It just seems the people who carry on that image are so fucking precious. They might as well be a bunch of boring religious conservative frankly.

And, for a whole number of reasons, but starting with the fact that Heavy Metal Homesteader played such a role in forming the idea that we need to create a discussion of parenting from our own version of the debate, I'd like to find more parenting discussions that identify as "heavy metal", but so far I haven't had much luck.

Not to mention that I started my days of the teenage version of rebellion, that self-conscious kind of rebellion, with heavy metal. I'm quite sure my basic nature was always rebellious. I can't recall a time my thought-process didn't include a strong inclination to question the hell out of everything.


Perhaps this would be as good a time as any to note that both of us are very eclectic in what music we listen to. We both listen to classical and I have recently expanded the realm of instrumental music that Kim listens to to include movie scores. We both like country, to one degree or another, although Kim is only recently coming out of that closet. We both like hip hop, but I'm much more stuck in my time - being somewhere in the early-to-mid-'90s. I think Brian Wilson is among the world's musical giants. Kim loves Lady Gaga.

And, of course, we both think Alice Cooper is the bee's knees!

Limiting you musical appreciation is just one more way to limit your brain.

But the real problem with identifying this blog by musical style is finding that spot where those two ideas meet.

Motörhead lives there. The Plasmatics hit it at their peak.

It's like the best of both worlds coming together.

Perhaps the word just becomes "headbanging", although that has become too closely associated and branded as "metal", I suspect.

Or perhaps, we come full circle to The MC5 and The Stooges and the same kind of Yippie approach to non-conformity that grew up from the hippie ideas.


As such, Kim's idea of choosing the reference to Mama Weer All Crazee Now seemed was perfect. It doesn't make a direct reference to a musical style, but it evokes Slade and The Runaways, another pair of bands that fit somewhere in that unusual middle zone. Heck, even Quiet Riot feels a little more somewhere in between than they were slotted at back in the day.

Our entire question in reaching out to the world has been not comfortably finding a place, so it seems obvious we should not find a comfortable style of music, one that the general public has no real name for nor any quick, simple associates to make with it. Something that continually dances around the edges of the mainstream to the extent that it has familiar touchstones, but doesn't have its own lifestyle or champions.

I think that's where we are. I'm looking forward to examining it, now that I've gotten to point in a direction and said there.

To move this toward Conan and how he lives and behaves, which I expect to be a bigger part of this blog all the time, right now he's absconded with my phone, which means Kim can't call me, so he can listen to Attention Deficit Domination by Hank 3 in the bedroom. Clearly he's doing all he can to join our world.

We went to Motörhead, as well as The Meat Puppets, Roky Erickson, The Baseball Project and Peelander-Z in the last month he was in utero, so he might just come by it naturally. To further that the more direct discussion of being a father, I'll link Letters to Conan: an introduction from my personal blog. It's a series I still have in mind, but have been distracted by life from following up as enthusiastically as I'd prefer.

I'll be back soon, and bring my beautiful wife with me.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Introducing the folks

Hi, we're Kim and Neil.  That's Conan on the left.  He's almost 2.

Conan Daigoro Levon Sarver.

Named for Conan of Cimmeria, Ogami Daigorō from Lone Wolf and Cub and either Levon by Elton John or the great Levon Helm, depending which of us you ask and on which day. Maybe that tells you something about what kind of parents we are.

Or maybe what it tells you says something about you.

Who knows?

We're new to parenting.  Neil is 42, but is apparently a late-bloomer as that goes.  Kim is 29, so Neil is robbing the cradle.

We're playing most of this by ear, and having a great time.  The three of us have a great time together.   Our instincts seem to be taking us to all the things we want.

Conan is a joy and we find that we naturally gravitate toward decisions that serve that.  Some days are easier than others but we're working together.

But then the others come.  The others have done it better or worse yet have never done it, but are sure  they know better anyway.

And even in a "weird" town like Austin, Texas, where we're making our way, there seems too often to be a dichotomy that we don't find out way into.  We're not hippie enough to join all the granola meetings and be comfortable, but definitely too far out to join the local daycare group.

We're working to be healthier, but we like pizza and cake.

We're trying to be natural, but we're on a budget.

We're co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding.  We're planning to homeschool.

(Neil has written School and socialization and Unschool on that subject over at his personal blog and is excited to have a better forum for those ideas.)

However looking through a lot of Facebook pages on the subject led Neil to throw up his hands and wish there was something like Heavy Metal Homesteader about parenting.  We decided we should just jump in and fill the void for ourselves.

Punk Rock Parents is taken. So is The Kids Are Alright.

Neil suggested "Says Fucking Who?" It has a certain punk rock quality, a little childhood petulance, while also speaking to the most basic question regarding all the advice and counsel a person has foisted upon them as a new parent. So many bits of wisdom are passed along, so just dismal. Others leave you curious, begging the question... "Says fucking who?", even when intended with a generous spirit.

Society likes traditions and strongly encourages us all to follow the traditions that were handed down. We'd like to examine them as we go and see which ones feel useful.

And we'd like to do the same with the new-fangled ideas, the hippie-dippie ideas, the ideas from outside our Western culture.

We don't think the new or the old, the western or the eastern, the established or the crazy is better by its own virtue. We want to find and apply the things that work best for us and that work best for Conan.

We're embracing the madness of all of the possibilities.

In the process, perhaps we'll stir up some thoughts for other people, too.



Or if you prefer:



And we will also accept:


But only under cases of extreme duress.
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