The Spiritual Education of Little JJ

31 10 2006

It was an open forum question posed to unschoolers; my response is among many to read at this link. (Something else Scott could mine for K-dad?)

“Just wondering how all of you go about facilitating your children finding their own path. FYI, I am writing this with a LOOONNG background (ie-all my life) of growing up with literal interpretation of the Bible, ask-Jesus-into-your-heart or you-will-go-to-hell fundamentalist Christianity. I am confused in my own heart . . .but am trying/seeking to practice a more liberal, less confining form of Christianity. . .”

JJ’s response, Dec 13 2005:
I’m thinking that apart from any doctrine or religion, the Sunday culture reflects how spirituality can shape individuals and communities . . .and maybe even unschooling paths? Growing up, I’d spend summers with my grandmother in a tiny town (still in the South but like another world to me) where spirituality was built right into the rhythm of life.

I absorbed it but not as a native – it was more like some exotic culture I was visiting, or an internship (is internship meant to be internalizing something and making it part of you? – never noticed that before)

It wasn’t just the regularly scheduled service every Sunday morning, but the big dinner with family at home and then putting it all away, doing the dishes and sitting around stuffed like post-Thanksgiving dinner, or else driving up the mountain for a family buffet at the one tourist place, and taking most of the afternoon to get home.

(To this day I hate mountain roads, especially after eating! What were they THINKING??)

We never did other church, like Wednesday evening suppers, and the pastor never came to our house. We weren’t “churchy” — and yet we were part of a social fabric that was very spiritual, not material. All through town and all through the week were church bells and funeral processions, personal visits to “those less fortunate,” who needed work or clothing or a sack of groceries, daily meditations in the big chair by the picture window, reading and playing LOTS of solitaire in increasingly creative ways, just to somehow pass the time quietly because nothing was open and everyone stayed home and tended to their own lives.

(Needless to say this was prior to the home computer. I finally got a transistor radio and thought music would be my teen escape, turns out the only AM station I could get was mostly country music-spiritual stuff and Paul Harvey story-sermons.)

None of this was imposed as have-to rules for me to rebel against. I don’t recall us talking about God or religion, or being “good” even. It wasn’t even modeling exactly, in the sense that it wasn’t aimed at me at all. It just WAS, and I happened to be there.

No movies or mall. On Sunday you could write letters but not receive them. You could study or read or eat ice cream (or drink I guess) but only if you’d really planned ahead, because there was no school or market, no library hours, and no liquor stores! I was so excited when the Dairy Queen was built but then turns out it was closed on Sunday too.

The visiting to the less fortunate was actually pretty interesting — at least it gave you somewhere to go and somebody to see! Because of that I engaged with those people, felt I “knew” those families and their stories, and was in their homes several times each year. I had one or two real “friends” there to run barefoot through the woods with or swim at the city pool (also closed on Sunday!) and the rest of the time I was steeped in small town spirituality. They were too of course.

Oh, I remember my grandmother was a long-time fixture with the VFW and the garden club. She seemed so socially active but I realize now that her gardening and flower arrangements were for church services and funerals and bridesmaid luncheons before the big church wedding, or to take sick folks. Not for showing off or for sale. (But also not for the “less fortunate” though, hmmmm . . .maybe the protocol was practical things first, like Maslow’s ladder of needs?) The VFW affiliation was mainly about hands-on, personal support of others, too, social in a spiritual rather than party-down kind of way.

It was all both cultural and spiritual, but centered on real people who were right there rather than missions to China or God or religious doctrine.

I think people like my grandmother were doing church as a little part of what they believed and because it fit into the kind of town and lives they chose to make for themselves, rather than because any Church called the shots. Sunday church fit into the lives we were living all week, rather than the community working all week for the church. If that makes sense.

And somehow just being there must have gone a long way to “facilitating my finding my own path” – to wind my way back to Tina’s question. 🙂
JJ

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11 responses

1 11 2006
Scott W. Somerville

I love “Southern novelists” who grew up in this kind of life and write about it in a way that makes me homesick for it. You’ve made me a little homesick in this post. I can recommend “The Last Juror” for a really good dose of it…

1 11 2006
Nance Confer

This all reminds me of school. Every week day and the weekend being full of restricted choices and required volunteer work and the lack of thought that goes into deciding to do any of it. “This is how our town runs and, even if it is all set up to support the school or the church or whatever institution benefits from our efforts, this is just how it is.”

Trying to explain to other parents that their days do NOT have to revolve around the school schedule is sometimes like explaining to your lovely VFW grandmother than life could be different. Why would she want it to be different? She wasn’t “less fortunate.” She got to be busy doing pleasant things. The fact that nobody else got to do anything else on Sundays . . . oh well.

Nance – not having had the “benefit” of a genteel southern upbringing – I grew up in Miami where Sunday was just another day of the weekend.

1 11 2006
misedjj

You’re both so right. 🙂
My learning theme is always culture. Community. Whether it’s School or Church or Office culture, small-town or street culture etc. culture clashes and connections form the prism through which I see just about everything — where we came from and where we’re going, who we are, how humans live together, what teaches our children and defines us. Culture as crucible.

Or how about this? Culture is like our collective lizard brain, the inescapable one-third of human thinking and feeling that no matter how much we study and explain it with our higher order meta-brains, we can’t consciously change, channel or control it. Sometimes it saves us; sometimes it gets us killed. It always “is.”

I hope we’re all here (bumbling around experimenting online) as part of a nascent Thinking Culture that represents progress rather than devolution, human communities better for third-millennium individuals and communities than either Church or School as dominant institution, educationally superior to both my grandmother’s seamless homogeneity and Professor Putnam’s deeply mistrustful urban diversity and competition, demonstrably smarter and also more freely right-brained, more respectful of every individual yet better integrated as real community.

Well, I can dream can’t I? 🙂
Yes, because one long, hot summer with nothing to do, the culture taught me how.

1 11 2006
misedjj

Scott, for Christian homeschooling dads, I think the value of such a story is realizing how much real learning doesn’t come from classrooms and lectures and structured lessons. We have a certified teacher here who does annual evaluations for hsers as a public service, and unschools her own two boys.

I heard her give a newbie talk one year and she said she signs the evaluation as the family walks IN rather than out of the session. She tells them (as a professional, remember) it’s because “if they’re breathing, they’re learning!” Her educator’s opinion is that this takes tremendous pressure and the weight of judgment off the whole family, changes the air they are breathing in the room and maybe the culture of their homeschooling, how they see themselves and their focus — and they wind up having a wonderful, life-affirming visit during which the children reward tenfold her proferred confidence they’ve been learning all year and can show it.

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