Friday, 8 November 2013

de/institutionalizing children in an institutional world

As a young adult who was raised without school, and who has remained a life-long unschooler, I am beginning to notice that my ability to handle institutional violence is very low. I'm interested in considering the bigger meaning of this, in terms of how we can best support children to function within this institutional (fucked up!) world, without simply requiring them to get used to institutionalization. While unschoolers aren't saved from all forms of oppression (systems of oppression can play out in the home, or in other institutions such as hospitals, or like, pretty much anywhere), we do have the privilege of skipping out on the every day institutionalization that the majority of children experience. I've always thought of this as a net-positive, hands down. Skipping violence? Good! I've wished to pass on these experiences to other children and I still dream of this. I've started to notice, though, that I am exceedingly, sometimes incapacitatingly sensitive to institutional violence, which makes functioning in this world really fucking difficult. Could this be related to the relative little experience with (educational, particularly) institutions that I've grown up with? I'm not about to say we should keep institutionalizing kids so that they're equipped to handle institutions later in their lives, as they inevitably will have to (until the revolution, of course!). I am looking for a way to deal with this as an adult unschooler, committed to anti-institutional values, interacting with work place institutions and 'higher education' which, while elective, is hard to get by without at times. To deal both with my own experience in the world (crying every time I interact with an institution is unsustainable) and with questions of how to support children who will grow up in a similar world.

My path at this time seems to be leading in the direction of working with children, and I still don't know what that will look like in the long run (most likely it will look like many different things). I must balance my values and goals for positively impacting the lives of children and families with the reality of my abilities/desires/protective needs. There may be spaces where I can seemingly be most useful, or impact the lives of 'average' kids, but which will destroy me. There may be other spaces which fit my ideals at face value, but fail to engage with the children most at risk of institutional violence. How can I (and we) manage these complexities?
I've done a lot of "this is radical, that's not radical, you can only do any good in this environment, that environment, blah blah blah..." and I'm bored of that. I've devalued my own work and trials and have dismissed the work of others. I've had huge defensive fights with people who've had different experiences than me and thus see different problems and different solutions. I'm working really hard now to value my own efforts and that of others. We're all fucking trying, and it's all imperfect, and we need well intentioned folks in all sorts of environments, institutional or alternative or what the fuck ever. Above all, I think that any of us trying to work with young'uns (or in any work, actually) gotta base it on what we can do without crushing our own fucking souls. If we try to be self-less, we will end up soul-less. Luckily, we each need and want different things and thrive in different environments, so rad folks do end up everywhere.

Okay, back to my experience as an unschooler.
It's important I don't generalize that my experience of extreme sensitivity is shared by all or even any unschoolers. I don't know enough life-long unschoolers to really survey this. I do see, though, that many of my friends, peers and comrades who have been in 'educational' institutions for most of their lives, while sharing anti-institutional sentiment, can manage this contradiction (participating in something which they have deep critical analysis of) much more smoothly than I can. Having been forced to do very little, really, in my life, I freak the fuck out when I am in coercive environments (even if I'm choosing to be there). Perhaps the world would be better off if more of us had a deep visceral reaction to the injustices inherent in institutions, but we do live in this world, and does it serve us to not be able to function in it?

When I complain of the violence I witness or experience in the institutions I now interact with to folks who have been schooled most of their lives, I come off something like an upper-middle class art school kid complaining to his working class friends that he is broke. Boofuckinghoo, I'm getting a taste of what others chew and partly by my own choice? But because my reactions are congruent with my (and my friends') politics, I easily feel justified in my complaints. Yes, we all wish these institutions didn't exist, so yes, we are all critical. But how useful is it for me, as someone in this regard privileged, to just crumble under the stress that many face their entire lives, and subsequently expect the sympathy of those with more experience of ('educational') institutions?

I've been thinking about this, fretting about it, fighting about it, talking about it with a lot of people and these are all just questions and realizations I've come to with a lot of help. Certain people very close to me deserve huge props for tolerating it and immensely aiding in my development of ideas. When it comes down to it, I can't tell if I'm just really sensitive, or if having been unschooled has something to do with it. There's no perfect way to raise kids in a fucked up world, or to function as an adult in a fucked up world. I'm just trying my darndest, and I guess I hope that the more I understand my own experiences, the better I can move forward inevitably impacting the experiences of little folks (for better and worse).