Dwarfing Pluto and Shrinking Ourselves

See also update February 2009 and related posts such as:

Another Cloud on Home Education Clarity Campaign’s Horizon?
Pro-choice? Quit crying about your miscarriage
The Label Marriage in for further moral meddling
Hairspray Again

DWARFING PLUTO And Shrinking Ourselves,
A Joyfully Unclear Meditation

By JJ Ross

Created and published 25 Aug 2006

Well, here is poor Pluto’s cautionary tale, and then mine:

Pluto’s status as the solar system’s ninth planet became a relic of history Thursday when international astronomers meeting in the Czech Republic decided it was too small to remain a full member of the planetary club.

Members of the International Astronomical Union overwhelmingly voted to demote Pluto to a “dwarf planet.” Though still retaining the term planet, it was clear that Pluto had been exiled.

“Pluto’s out,” said Michael Brown, the California Institute of Technology astronomer whose discovery last year of a planet-like object called 2003 UB313 reignited the long-running debate over whether Pluto should be considered a planet. “People are going to be unhappy, but it’s the right thing to do.

This is a great moment in science.”

Really? – I get that it’s a great day for him and his own science career, not so sure I see how changing the labels is helping science or reason or even human understanding of the complexities of the universe. But okay –

Yes folks, a GREAT MOMENT IN SCIENCE! He won – he moved his whole Union and they in turn rule the solar system! Start buying new textbooks.

Meanwhile in the same solar system, on the same topic of changing labels and definitions as human perceptions of reality change, but obviously in a completely upside-down universe — the tired old Calvinist Christian-soldier “clarity campaign” to keep homeschooling and public schooling words clearly separate, was waged anew among a group of otherwise rational and fiercely independent homeschool parents, each blogging from wherever we call home.

This political campaign’s concept is so simple — simpleminded really — that it makes a fine wedge issue: homeschooling is not public schooling, and public schooling is not homeschooling.

Duh!
I went to school myself, even I get that. Next?

Ah, but wait. One can’t just acknowledge this politely and move on, as if someone proclaimed marriage isn’t divorce and divorce isn’t marriage. Not so simple — if you accept this, the next steps follow inexorably. There must be political implications and binding definitions in law for all to live by, to “protect” the separation of these concepts.

It’s like any other wedge issue, and the worst place to be is in the middle, where the sharp edge of the wedge pounds into you and the bottom starts to bind and then split.

What IS homeschooling then, and what is public schooling? All they all about the money, or lack thereof? Defined only by law and rule, or lack thereof? Are these definitions immutable and universal, or made by parents and citizens, just like every other aspect of government and occasionally in need OF change to REFLECT change?

Are they mutually exclusive, “separate but equal”?

Is either one of them in any part meant to be defined by protecting kids’ hearts and minds, so they can grow up to be smarter, more progressive and enterprising citizens than we are?

What part of each is just pandering to grownups and their groaning?

Should we define these two labels by law alone, or also by what they mean to the folks who choose them, what they want and need from their family’s education experiences, how they live while living those choices?

And why is there confusion and concern and endless angst over this, if it’s all so simple and clear?

There’s a simplistic answer (with some truth to it) for that, too – the clarity campaigners say it’s all MY fault, as a dissident! Although they use other words LOL, like obstructionist, distractor, and a bunch of garden variety slurs. I’ve even been called a Nazi once of twice, and you know how Godwin’s Law defines THAT word no matter what your political expertise: “discussion ending” . . .

They scold us and say if I (and Nance, just to further confuse you by further clarifying) would just hush up and go along with their political strategy of distinct legal definitions as liberty, then the hsing world would be a peaceful, secure little Stepford place where we’re all free to be the same, and so would school. Happy homeschools and public schools could live in perfect, legally defined and enforced harmony, each person clearly defined on one side or the other with both sides patrolling the borders. Immigration laws strictly enforced, because that serves the interests of both governments. And it’s so easy to keep straight!

I should consent to government by unelected fundamentalist and authoritarian peers, because then our home education will be freer and safer? But this isn’t the point, they tell me, WE define the point, not you!

After another exhausting trip round the sophistry (stupidity?) track, last night an unschooling dad who apparently never heard all this before — or maybe only ever heard one side of it in some little homogeneous eddy somewhere, and just assumed that this one threshhold belief defines all homeschoolers, the way belief in the Virgin Birth defines Christians? — finally sniffed at me and Nance, said even his eight-year-old son understands how calling something by a different name doesn’t make it so.

This dad, let’s call him Sam — because he says that is his name, although it might be an online alias, and I once knew a schnauzer named Sam, but hey, it’s not my business to research and relabel this fellow homeschooler, or worry about whether the name he chooses to use in this context is confusing, disingenuous, or possibly outside the LAW as documented on his official government birth certificate — DadSam says Nance and I are clearly wrong, and he figures we know we’re wrong but won’t admit it and he’s done listening or thinking. (LOL, he doesn’t know us or much about the fight, or the laws in our state or the context of our unschooling, but he can define us as “wrong” and pronounce that we must define ourselves as “wrong” too?)

He might as well have pronounced himself the Decider. If enough homeschool parents agree with his definition for us all, will his victory be a GREAT MOMENT IN EDUCATION?

You start to see now, that this habit of defining strangers by your own beliefs and concerns and then calling it reason or science and writing it into law and rule as self-evident truth, is not so easy or logical as that Big Duh makes it appear at first pass?

Sam the Unschooling Dad meant to underline his disdain for our global position about clarity, definitions, emphasizing wedge issues in politics, and the unintended consequences of oversimplying complex ideas and relationships in our own groups and communities (much less letting the GOVERNMENT oversimplify our words and labels and choices, to narrow and control what we used to call our “liberty” but now label mere “legal options” as if life were just a Red Chinese menu and we can’t cook. )

So Sam pronounced that we were wrong and we knew we were wrong, and he was off to “wash his brain out with soap” after reading and rejecting our thoughts about what homeschooling means to us and why we want to protect it FROM community law and rule and standard definitions.

(For clarity, astronomers or some education union may need to redefine Sam’s claim to be unschooling — it sounds a bit narrow, punitive and dogmatic in practice to be labeled with the same word as MY unschooling; “school-at-home” is what we used to call that parental authority attitude based on teaching and telling rather than exploring and imagining as the Creative Class does. . . imo unschooling isn’t compatible with that Theory X, Calvinist world view but I’m not the one nailing down definitions, they are, so who has more to fear here, the definers or the defined?)

Anyway.
I posted last night in response, to say to Sam and the rest, that what my own son sees is harder to explain but closer to the truth imo, more complex and significant in human terms than any legal definition debate. Power of Story.

At 11, he’s beginning to intuit that official groups get to make the rules and set the labels we all have to live with, whether he likes it or not. That is called government. I And that it matters, and can be worth resisting at least in spirit, that he needn’t passively accept whatever definitions others proclaim as immutable (because they’re just gonna change them anyway!)

He cries — sobs actually — on New Year’s Eve each year, to see the old die and the new begin. I use the word “see” to mean something that can’t be seen or even defined, except within his own heart. Nothing has changed at midnight, except the accepted social label of the past minute and the new minute; his reality is objectively unaltered except for the subjective “scientific” label, but he feels the difference keenly and it matters to him. Is it real, just because he feels it?

Is he crying because he’s “happy” or because he’s “sad,” you ask.
Yes. Define THAT.

He already grasps at some level that learning about the world and negotiating it through relationships with all its inhabitants, no matter how you do it or what you call it, doesn’t mean being TOLD WHAT IS RIGHT.

It means thinking and feeling for yourself, and the words you eventually choose to express it all must be yours and yours alone. Don’t let anyone tell you different, son, no matter what they call themselves or you or your education, your work, play, politics, parents or future children.

It means sociologists notice that when we can’t agree about sex, we fight about legal definitions, things like how to define marriage, birth, life, death, who gets to choose any of these under what legal parameters set by the public, how we’ll keep each other in line, who will pay what price for the freedom to have some sex, some of the time, according to the law and society’s pressures. And when I say price, I am not just talking about money.

Same when we can’t agree about education. Different words and different costs to succeed, or price to be paid for mistakes and failure, but it’s the same loss of individual liberty and conscience as the sex debates.

School is about defining clear answers that everyone accepts to pass. Education is about distinguishing one’s self rather than being a credit to one’s label, wanting to define one’s own thoughts, feelings and questions to pursue, rather than being taught defined, clear, factoid answers written into curriculum, testing and the law.

Home education thus would be different than homeschooling, though we don’t use the terms distinctively among ourselves or in law (that’s another tired old battle.) I’ve learned to contemplate and comprehend ambiguous reality through or around imperfect labels . . .in the end it’s the human understanding itself, not the words used to dispute or articulate it, upon which real education is focused.

My kids learn this at home with me. We don’t call it anything really, and I don’t want any one-answer crowd anywhere near them, neither homeschool congregations nor school governance! — well, except as a curious breed under controlled conditions like a zoo, to be studied. We listen to conservative rants on the radio in the car a lot, and then discuss. The kids make some pretty sophisticated jokes so I know they’re getting it on a deeper level than mere facts and words — so I figure that’s about the right exposure for them.

(My mom exposed all us kids to chicken pox when we were little, so we could get it over with before we were old enough to miss school. I never thought that was funny but that’s another essay, I guess.)
😀

So back to Sam and his 8-year-old view of how labels don’t matter (I thought that was MY point, oh well, I’m not the one who claims this is simple and clear) here’s what I wrote, and the news story I linked:
“My 11-year-old son wants Pluto back as a regular planet, concerned that it’s been diminished somehow by today’s official change in name and status. He seems to feel diminished too, a little, or maybe just let down or disappointed? Something that matters to him about the label change, though I’m sure the planet formerly known as Pluto cares not a bit.
Dunno what that means if anything, but — hey!
Does “dwarf homeschooling” work for anybody??”

“It’s a Dark Day for Pluto”

. . .The earlier proposal said that to be a planet, a body need only be round and orbit the sun. Under that definition, there would have been dozens of new planets added to the solar system, something the astronomers gathered in Prague refused to accept.

Instead, the astronomers adopted a definition that also requires a planet to “clear its area,” . . . That eliminated Pluto, one of thousands of objects in the Kuiper Belt more than 3 billion miles from the sun.

“Poor little Pluto,” said Patricia Tombaugh, the 93-year-old widow of the man who discovered Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh. “Kids are going to be upset.”

Are you wondering if science is just WRONG, why this wasn’t obvious to scientists all along and why they had to debate it, was the former label just a big boo-boo, has Pluto changed somehow and deserves this loss of status? Maybe it just wasn’t politic enough to protect itself from this demotion, when some guy defined a rival for its place in our understanding of the solar system, and today defines Pluto’s union-decreed fall from our esteem as a GREAT DAY IN SCIENCE!”

And never mind what all this political wedge-labeling means to real-live children learning every day about planets and system and themselves and what it all means, wherever they are and whatever they’re being called. Schooling was never about them anyway; it was about grownups struggling for power, labor and factories and the economy, manifest destiny and Prussian regimentation to train a better fighting force, the church, immigration, paternalism, Horatio Alger beliefs and on and on.

But now I wonder if home education as a movement with lobbyists and magazines, catalogues and conferences and church study groups was ever about the kids either. Once it began morphing toward politics and the law, I mean, defining away John Holt’s ideals of not defining anything or anyone by how they choose to learn, and of cooperating happily with “school” for the benefit of our own children, whenever we wish.

I wonder if homeschooling/home education understands anything more of its own wonder and power, than all this simple-minded schoolish labeling and forced choice, legal definitions and penalties, rote drilling at the lowest level of knowledge Bloom described . . .I prefer Maslow’s model that defines cognitive understanding at the very top, not the bottom of what it means to be human — above self-actualized transcendence in the clouds somewhere, stratospheric thinking, maybe right through to outer space!

Maslow theorized that unfulfilled . . .can become redirected into neurotic needs. For example, children whose safety needs are not adequately met may grow into adults who compulsively hoard money or possessions. . .neurotic needs do not promote health or growth if they are satisfied.

Maslow also proposed that people who have reached self-actualization will sometimes experience a state he referred to as “transcendence”, in which they become aware of not only their own fullest potential, but the fullest potential of human beings at large. . . . these individuals experience not only ecstatic joy, but also profound “cosmic-sadness” (Maslow, 1971) at the ability of humans to foil chances of transcendence in their own lives and in the world at large.

Nance, we’ve toyed with it before, some new identity for ourselves and those like us, to clarify we want no part of that old-school regulation Ohio and Pennsylvania follow — the government road, such dwarf homeruling-schooling, fallen from its former singular significance in the solar system. With my new understanding, officials may indeed downgrade this kind of home learning into just another chunk of ice, dime a dozen. There is NO protection from that, except refusing to let ourselves be defined at all.

Size and loneliness in space isn’t everything, poor Pluto; temperature matters too, even if it wasn’t in the official Union committee definition! You can be be tiny and round but also blaze like Mercury, say, keep the handlers at bay protecting themselves from being consumed by your blinding light and heat; don’t shrink and cower in the furthest freezing regions of darkness, hoping to be left alone until they amass the will to redefine you and call it THEIR accomplishment.

How about Home Education Heretics? (Love that acronym!)
See if it’s been trademarked yet, will you? Maybe for once we can define ourselves officially, in black and white, before the shrinking definition dwarves do it to us. . .

5 responses

16 02 2009
“Dwarfing Pluto and Shrinking Ourselves” Redux « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Dwarfing Pluto and Shrinking Ourselves […]

18 02 2010
Tea Partying is to Homeschooling? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Read this Time Magazine power of story about disaffected tea partiers wanting to bring their own dollars and choices and leaders “home” from big government, struggling to make a movement with rival leaders, exploitation of their intended message by entrenched and often shadowy interests, etc and let’s think about how it’s analogous to our grassroots out-of-school learning party these past 30 years or so.

“Naming the Tea Party movement, however, is easier than defining it. Tea Partyism covers a lot of ground and a world of contradictions. . . ” […]

22 12 2010
Homeschool Dad Sam Sending Sons to School « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Dwarfing Pluto and Shrinking Ourselves […]

31 01 2011
Nothing is Immutable, Including School Rules « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Dwarfing Pluto and Shrinking Ourselves […]

1 07 2011
JJ

The independence to choose comes first. Our independence isn’t ours because we homeschool. We homeschool because we are independent, and no matter what we choose, homeschooling or not, we STILL are independent and sovereign. We don’t become slaves if we choose not to homeschool, or if/when we accept or benefit indirectly from any form of public assistance (g-schools, g-clinics, g-retirement, g-farm subsidies, g-worker’s compensation, etc.)

Education is never the government’s call, not for any family. We’re not “chosen” to home-educate in my world view – we choose it, because we can and we want to enough. Or not. It doesn’t confer divine status on us nor consign everyone else to hell.

Mashing up some of JJ’s contributions from the epic blog discussion that gave rise to the Dwarfing Pluto essay, a conversation made choppy when cannibalized after the fact by some participants wiping out their own comments:
************************
Over several years, most of us manage to discuss this concern thoroughly, decide where we stand, and move on to learn about and consider other issues. But for a “handful” of hsers this word-protection cry is like some rhetorical loop of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental wash-til-raw-and-repeat pathology deluding itself that it’s merely some normal, healthy concern for cleanliness.

In contrast, I do often take pains to distinguish between education and schooling in my own speech, and to persuade others it is an important distinction when it comes up in conversation, but I don’t proclaim my personal view as legal fact, driven to police it for every parent and reporter on the planet, to make it my cause celebre . . . I hope someone kind would suggest I seek help for my disorder if that ever starts to happen.

. . . unfortunately the bad stuff (in both directions) is sometimes real, actually happening the way it feels and not just an unfortunate misunderstanding. Today’s new annual PDK/Gallup poll, for instance, is unfortunate that way – public attitudes seem to be gradually responding to the PS frames of “choice” as a school thing, not a parent and child independence thing. PS unions, school boards, PTAs and principals’ sports assns etc are smart to foster this separation of families and parents from their own education choices.
But for us to help them do it to us, when it’s exactly what we didn’t want — not so much . . .

“…a good strategy to keep hsing from being seen as school choice would be to cause people to reconsider calling a public school-at-home program a homeschooling program. The key to having independence and to being *seen* (by the public) as independent is not to take public money where there is the accountability trade-off.”

This I really do think, has been the core of this difficult disagreement all along. I’d love to agree, I wish I believed this were a good strategy and could succeed. I don’t.

It’s all just so much bigger than that . . .the whole canyon and then some. So “homeschool advocates” keep dropping these little word pebbles off the bridge (or toss then into the river, pitch them at each other, whatever ) and that’s fine. But if that strategy by its very nature supplants or even contradicts other efforts that really can protect us– if, as I fear and have seen happen already, it in fact takes us into unforeseen consequences that may well leave us worse off and LESS able to protect our autonomy and public support, then how can that be justified, or even excused?

Not to me.
It’s equating each family and individual’s sovereign intellectual independence with mere economic independence as if the former is only legitimized by the latter and otherwise has no validity, that’s the problem in my view.
That way, we ALL lose. To the State. We just do, no getting around it no matter what else we manage to defend. IN my view, I’m not calling Canada to spread it though. 🙂
Just sayin’ . . .

The independence to choose comes first. Our independence isn’t ours because we homeschool. We homeschool because we are independent, and no matter what we choose, homeschooling or not, we STILL are independent and sovereign. We don’t become slaves if we choose not to homeschool, or if/when we accept or benefit indirectly from any form of public assistance (g-schools, g-clinics, g-retirement, g-farm subsidies, g-worker’s compensation, etc.)

Education is never the government’s call, not for any family. We’re not “chosen” to home-educate in my world view – we choose it, because we can and we want to enough. Or not. It doesn’t confer divine status on us nor consign everyone else to hell.

Collect all the data and authority in the world and it still can’t prove there’s only one way to view planets, or Holt, or homeschooling, or the Constitution and truth, beauty, justice and the American way, while all the other ways are wrong . . .and would you really want it to?? That’s what home educating as we see fit is supposed to MEAN –and if I were writing a definition for us all, it would!
(But I don’t define, don’t ask me. . .)

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