Archive for January, 2009

“Look at this,” my wife mused as she surfed the internet one Sunday evening. “I’ve heard of home-schooling, but ‘unschooling’?”

“What?” I snapped back. “What what what? What sort of rubbish IS THAT? It CAN’T be what I think it is!”

“I think it can.”

“Oh Christ, send me the link would you?”

“Just look it up, ‘unschooling’…”

And so I went to my lap-top and I did just that, where upon I found a website http://www.unschooling.com. I will, in the interests of detail, copy in the introduction I found, by an ‘Anne Sullivan’.

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience.” 

My word. Really? So if our little one wants to call a banana a kitty, we should let them on the basis it’s ‘their own impression’? And what if my child decides our living room floor needs a river of milk flowing through it to feed the imaginary cows? Let it go should we? I was intrigued and tickled by what could loosly be described as a ‘utopian’ viewpoint. So I ventured into the FAQ section of the page to dig further. Amidst the perfectly reasonable questions, I found one which appealed to my immediate sense of order; ‘So I’m meant to let them run wild?’ asked the question. And here is the answer.

‘Unschooling doesn’t mean not being a parent. Children need loving adults interested in helping them grow and learn. Choosing to build a lego village will include the opportunity to learn math and culture, maybe even history depending on the type of village. We do chores, have a family life, and participate in the wider community. The children are actively engaged in living and learning during all of this.’

Now, call me old-fashioned (or even unprogressive, or even an asshole as this lot no doubt would) but substituting some history with the building a of a Lego village as a way to teach culture is pathetic. Let me see, I have fifteen lego people and you have four lego people, but your four have weapons and my fifteen don’t and so I am going to take your fifteen lego people and your  lions and monkeys too and call them my own; this, my little sweet-cheeks, is colonization, aka, your village is now mine because I’ve got more weapons motherfucker!!! Better still, let’s teach them all about modern pop culture AND good versus evil via the Lego Star Wars edition, where depending on your perspective, Darth Vader can be a goodie or a baddie or there can be no goodies and baddies and they can all just be happy friends. See what I mean? 

Meanwhile, over at http://www.unschoolingamerica.com with Dayna Martin, we read that “Unschooled children do not have to deal with typical peer pressure. They are not graded or measured. They are not segregated by age. They are not bullied, or moved around by bells. Also Unschooled kids do not have to be away from their families. They do not have to ask permission to go to the bathroom or move from their seats. They also do not have a mundane life living someone else’s agenda. In short, our Unschooled children are truly free.”

Look. I think I know what these people are trying to say (SPEND MORE TIME PAYING ATTENTION TO YOUR KIDS AND WHO THEY ARE) but their ‘movement’, good Lord, how totally and utterly unhelpful and criminal it would be to inflict such a thing on your kids. An example.

We have recently started to make sure the pre-schooler’s bedroom door is shut and that she has to wait for us to get up and open it at night. The reason is that for the past few months we’ve been woken up be her at 3, 4, 5 in the morning eating cereal, climbing counters and shelves, going outside into the garden nude, reading on the sofa, anything other than sleeping. This is because she could. So in our infinite wisdom, my wife and I decided that we had to make sure she couldn’t. So we did. And she doesn’t. And now she’s sleeping better and so are we. 

If I was to follow the lead of these nimrods, I would gladly indulge her nocturnal spirit, indeed, if I was a decent person I would embrace it, nurture it, build a Lego town at night with her and discuss all the lovely little international men, women and children everywhere who were currently enjoying DAYLIGHT HOURS BECAUSE FOR THEM IT WAS DAYLIGHT AND NOT THREE O FUCKING CLOCK IN THE FUCKIN MORNING? Oh sorry, did I say that? I meant to say, wow, your creativity and independence is a shining light to us all.

Indeed, I pondered what would happen if I allowed her day to meander wlong only those things which interested her and which she wanted to do. Here’s how it would go.

1) Play Princess dress-up at 4 am with chocolate milk and cereal. 2)  Watch Caillou at 4.43am, still in Princess dress-up. 3) Have a tea-party at 5.33am with all her stuffed animals. 4) 6.05am, drink more chocolate milk and maybe draw on a wall or two with some glitter glue. 5) Treat the furniture as a trampoline on which she practices her gymnastics. 6) Take off knickers and show her bum to everyone – time has become abstract, and this takes place every few minutes. 7) Says things like ‘stinky’ all the time, and is allowed to repeat various phrases she has snaffled from her teenage brother, such as ‘dirty Sanchez’ without any reprisal whatsoever. 8) Is also allowed to follow her mother around like tape on a shoe everywhere, including into the bathroom. 9) Paints and draws glitter princesses on paper, the dining rom table and perhaps even the floor…hey, no repressive structure right? I mean, she’s just EXPRESSING herself! 10) Repeats this course of action on an hourly basis, albeit shuffled around somewhat.

Look, again, I know what these sanctimonious idealists are driving at; that children should be encouraged to express themselves, that we should spend time with our children (now THERE’S a novel concept eh?!)…but what these cultists don’t acknowledge is that unless you plan on disengaging your child from society a la 2009-onwards as of now (and forever) you will ACTUALLY be doing them an enormous disservice. 

You children could end up believing that they can do what interests them whenever they want in life. They will not be prepared to compromise, to adapt themselves, to work with situations and not outside them…like it or not, that-is-what-life-is, and whilst nobody wants kids who are shoved through a sausage machine, and nobody wants kids to be frog-marched through starch-collared schooling from the age of three, people SHOULD want their children to understand how the society they’re going to be living in works. The key is to spend enough time with them giving them the necessary tools to use such knowledge in a way that allows them to avoid being robots yet sees them fully able to express themselves happily within the public sphere.

There is a vital difference between encouraging your children to think for themselves and letting your children grow up believing that life has no set structure. Even a commune will have it’s rules, and it’s no good thinking you’re beyond pulling the parsnips of an evening because instead you ‘feel’ like doing some tree-painting in a swim-suit. 

Trust me, if my kids, ESPECIALLY the pre-schooler, got any more space to exercise her creativity and freedom without structure, our lives would be a liquidized mess and her future most uncertain. Because like all children, she actually enjoys some structure. She likes to know she has a few hours of pre-school 4 days a week. She likes to know that some afternoons will be spent with her Mum or Dad doing something or other. She likes to know there’s a bedtime, and deep, deep down, as much as she might want to eat dry cereal or jump on the couch at 4.30am, the fact that she hasn’t been getting up until 6.15-6.30 in the morning suggests that she even likes the fact her door is not left open for her to ‘express’ herself.

Balance is the key and it always should be. THAT is a parental truism.

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A while ago, loyal readers will remember  I commented on how aggravating Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Mrs. Robinson’ had become due to the fact the pre-schooler was obsessed with it (the title of that column was ‘MRS.FUCKING ROBINSON’ for those who are either interested or forgot). Hold onto that thought for a while would you? Thanks…

I must return to the week between Christmas and New Year. I had gone to visit my good friend and culturalist Francois so as we could get the pre-schoolers together. As they played with toy cars and jumped on each other, we did not discuss world politics or the economic crisis. No, Francois leaned over to me, a fatigued yet satisfied grin on his face, and slowly waved his iphone in my face. I’m used to this. Francois and I are proud iphone geeks, but his grin was almost perverse thus my interest was piqued beyond usual levels.

“This investment,” he said, “is quite simply one of the best I have ever made.”

I looked at the screen. iFart. A mobile fart machine. And here I was thinking that maybe Apple had snuck out a new version of the iphone that I hadn’t seen. He saw my bewilderment.

“Try it,” he grinned. And so I did. I tried it. I tried The Hammer, The Wipe-Out and all manner of heinous farting sounds, and for every one my sniggers and giggles got louder until myself, Francois and the pre-schoolers were crowded around the iphone listening and laughing loudly.My devillishy devious funny French friend had, indeed, been correct. THIS was an investment of some magnitude, thus I waited not one second longer and  immediately bought the application. It was, indeed, the soundest of investments, and in terms of pennies per use, it has to be the cheapest application I will ever buy.

I am an unashamed fan of fart humor. I don’t care if it’s juvenile or even disgusting to you because I believe that if taught to enjoy such humor in the right situations, farting is a gift, a free joke that never stops giving and never repeats itself (have you every farted EXACTLY the same twice? No. Thus farts are like snowflakes in the sense that no two are exactly the same). I freely beg the teenager and the pre-schooler to ‘pull my finger’ and have tried on three occasions to show the pre-schooler one of Clint Eastwood’s favorite comedy moments the Jeff Daniels toilet scene from “Dumb and Dumber” (for the record she gets scared when Daniels thumps the floor with his feet in relief at punishing the bowl – she still, however, asks to see it). And yes yes YES, I can announce that we have enjoyed a couple of family farting moments where it seems everyone has something to say from their bottom and believe me, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house (in the sense that we were all laughing, not that we stank each other out). Despite this, you will not hear my children (or any of us family farters) letting rip in social situations, in public places or in other situations where manners might be compromised. Uh-uh, we enjoy that sort of deliciously crude and vulgar humor within our own walls and confines.

The pre-schooler has become very very interested in my iFart application, indeed, she has not only asked to “have a turn” she has memorised her favorite sounds. “‘The Bubbler’ Dada, can I please hear The Bubbler’?” and who am I to deny a child such a simple request? Thus I get ‘The Bubbler’ out and we repeat hit the button about 10 times, the laughter getting stronger per ‘airing’.

We were driving home from an errand one evening, and as usual, I was playing some of the pre-schoolers (and mine) favorite music. Underworld. The Prodigy. Public Enemy, all courtesy of my iphone which was connected to my car stereo via a cable. 

“Can I hear something else?”

“Yes, but not ‘Mrs.Robinson’.”

“But that’s what I wanna hear…please?”

“Blur first.”

“Can I see the picture?”

“OK.” And as I held up the iphone to show her the Blur artwork for ‘Song 2’ (or ‘Whoo-Hoo’) it hit me. I quickly went to the master ‘control screen’ and looked for the iFart app. I opened it and found myself quickly locating ‘The Bombadier’ before waiting for my moment.

‘Whoo-hoo!’ shouted singer Damon Albern and I let the iFart fly to great effect, it’s sharp, shrill yet decidedly brown sediment-stuffed tones filling the car. I held my breath. Would the pre-schooler be mad about the fact I’d inserted this into a song she loved? Au contraire, she started making plans to do a farting road-trip, which basically involved lots of talk about Princesses and farting sounds courtesy of ifart (although farting Princesses are a ways off I suspect).

I felt confident and I felt ready, thus with great swagger I loudly asked, “ready for that ‘Mrs.Robinson’ now?”

“Yay! Yeah”

‘…and here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you…’ I soaked up the words, their delivery, their timing, not because I love them (nay, I hate them!) but because I wanted to time the delivery of ‘Burrito Maximo’ perfectly. I opened the app and my finger hovvered over the iFart master button. ‘…and here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson (PRESS) THRIIUURRRPPPPPPPPPP!’ Garfunkel’s voice was ripped apart, torn asunder by the chunky brown blast which nearly deafened the pair of us (I had turned the volume up slightly).

I waited a split second to hear her response. She giggled.

“Was that you Dada?” she giggled knowingly.

“No, it was the iFart on my phone,” I replied, chuckling.

“Can I hear The Bubbler there now? Please? Please?”

“During ‘Mrs.Robinson’ again?”

“Yeah yeah yeah, yay!”

Not only a successful sabotage of this godforsaken song, but the pre-schooler had a specific idea of the iFart she wanted to hear during said-song. Outstanding musical direction, well-done, A+! Again, I’m not one to deny children a ray of happiness when possible, thus we iFarted ‘Mrs.Robinson’ with ‘The Bubbler’ all the way home. And I suspect our mutual joy will not end. The latest iFart update provides a platform on which to record your own i Farts. I smell greater, more personal family victories to come…

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I strode into my local Whole Foods (I know I know, trust me I’m just trying to eat better!) and surveyed the scene. Wearing my new stomping boots, dirty faded jeans with my ‘cool’ black bomber jacket, I cut the figure of a cool urban warrior about to lay waste to the land as he foraged for his family. I put my hand in the bomber’s pocket, and felt something I didn’t recognize. Cotton. But I don’t carry a hanky? I pulled said-item from my pocket and found myself standing in Whole Foods brandishing a pair of my daughter’s knickers. What’s that phrase, pride before the fall? I quickly shoved them away as I couldn’t even remember why I had a spare pair of Minnie Mouse knickers in my jacket.

Minnie Mouse is a presence in our house these days, along with Mickey and Donald and Daisy and Goofy, indeed ALL the participants in Mickey’s Clubhouse. Then there are ‘The Princesses’ which comprise all the classic beauty belles of fantasy land and who are owned by Disney. There’s even Little Einsteins which yes, you guessed it, is also owned by Disney. In fact, when I consider the contents of her room, it is virtually comprised of Disney-related wares. Then there’s her love of the Disney Shop. In fact, you’d have to say that IF we follow through on a loose plan to go to Disneyland this year, my family will personally have given Disney several thousand dollars. And here’s the thing; we are not alone. Tens of hundreds of thousands of others will have done the same thing. And if we decide to average a family of 4 buying Disney stuff along with a 2-day trip to $3000, and multiply that by, oooooh, just 200,000 people, that’s $600,000,000, unless I can’t use a calculator properly which is wholly possible. The reason I say  that is because the figure looks obscenely high, plus you and I both know that more than 200,000 people will visit Disneyland with a family of 4 and buy a few toys in the process. If Disney were a drug, it’d be class ‘A’ for anyone under 8 because boy, they know how to hook ’em and keep ’em coming back for more! And don’t look too smug, chances are you’ve put at least a few hundred bucks into their coffers too.

In fact, Disney is absolutely, 100% recession-proof. Financial woes? Ha! Don’t take the Mickey! Seriously. Judging by my daughter, if you’d like to pull together a few coppers and toss them into an investment pot that isn’t going anywhere, Disney will be your  destination. Your safe bet.

As I stumbled into the car to chauffeur the teenager to school, pondering Disney’s recession-proof racket, I went to move my book from the front passenger seat and came across the daily does of pre-schooler’s artwork. I love seeing what she’s done, but feel responsible for the death of a forest and she’s only been going since August 2008; how many more micro-climates will be perverted by this daily dose of creativity? And more to the point, what do I do with all this stuff? With the greatest possible respects, there are only so many squiggly-line paintings and disproportionate heads a man can deal with. Problem is, whenever I hovver over recycling with them, I feel like a giant asshole, a destroyer of creative dreams, a callous disregarder of pre-school endeavor. So I end up leaving them in the car, and they end up meeting others left behind by me, and before you know it, the car looks like a homeless encampment and I end up grumping off to everyone about how the car looks like a rubbish tip and ‘we need to clean it up’ which really means YOU lot have to deal with the daily pre-school art because I am way too conflicted by guilt and shame to even consider throwing it away. 

The drive was particularly teenage sullen, as he has dropped into full cro-magnon grunting.
“Could you make sure to check on potential elective classes for the next semester, given that your leg and weight-lifting don’t match up right now?”
“IF there’s anyone in the office…”
“Well go after school!”
“IF there’s anyone in the office…”
“Well go during lunch!
“IF there’s anyone in the office…”
I could bring you further down this scintillating line of conversation, but you know where it’s heading, destination ‘murrggghh’ a place where simple conversation becomes sabotaged by pubescent grunting and moaning. 
And what is it with pre-schoolers underwear being found all over the bloody place? I came in after delivering  my ‘fare’, put the keys on the shelf and found myself touching a small pair of underpants with MR HAPPY on them. Quite where to start I’m not sure, except to say that I trust these have somehow ended up in our house by way of the pre-schoolers best buddy and a play-date, and to further ask how it is that their underwear seems to be wandering into  pockets and shelving units where it has no business being?! Having just heard that these underpants did, indeed, belong to her best buddy, I can only say that perhaps my question has no ‘answer’ as such. Maybe it’s all to do with the sort of freedom and non-contextual abandon kids enjoy. You or I certainly wouldn’t put our pants in our parent’s pockets or good friends shelves, but maybe we did this sort of thing too when we were wild and crazy pre-schoolers…at least let’s hope we did, ‘cos man, it looks like FUN, especially when there’s a parent to pick up after you. 

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