As if there were…

Ghandi and Oxfam agree that we should, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” The idealist-cum-philosopher-cum-psychoanalyst with a bid towards theologian, Zizek, also agrees. My son has been reading a lot of Zizek recently and conversations around the breakfast table are oddly reminiscent of the ones I remember growing up in 1960s Middlesbrough with a grandfather who made Marx look a bit right wing. Happily, though, the latter day conversations are rather wider ranging and altogether less macho and reductionist.

It struck me during one such conversation that there is an analogous attitude between Zizek and Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer talks about the Christian needing to live “as if there were no God”. For him, this was the epitome of living as Jesus did, namely by taking responsibility for every action within our power, and living as though every one of our actions was crucial. Zizek argues that we should live as though the worst has happened. To live ethically and with freedom we have to assume that freedom is not part of the future and then intervene in the present in order to change this. Once again our actions are crucial, living “as if there were no future freedom” in order to take responsibility, in order “to be the change you wish to see in the world”.

The resulting ethics is not so much Augustine’s “love and do what you will” as, “think carefully and do what you will”. Quite rightly, Zizek is not in the business of itemising the content of what it might mean to live as if there were no future freedom, but our conversation at brunch set me thinking about what ‘intervention’ I might make in the present for the sake of the future

In my recent past I looked at the present from a future with no trust in parents; with increasingly statist views of parenting and education designed to produce increasingly biddable and infantalised adults. The intervention I made was not only to home educate my four (then) children, but also to live with them as autonomous people who deserved to be negotiated with so that we could constantly find mutually satisfying solutions to life together. Of course we fell short of the ideal and in retrospect it could have been more radical, but it was nonetheless a real and worthwhile attempt to be the change we wished for. It is one that remains urgent, but as my youngest comes towards the end of his home education, it’s an intervention that another generation will take forward.

Perhaps my current ‘intervention’ is simply living this small and independent life.

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4 responses to “As if there were…

  1. Bravo, Jan. As someone who has admired your writing about your adventures in life learning, I applaud you. I too wonder sometimes if our own family’s efforts fall short of the ideal, but each day we make the best life we can together. One of my favorite quotes from my well thumbed Growing Without Schooling magazines is: “Let every day have true quality, and the goals will take care of themselves.” (George Dennison, “Reading Aloud With Children” GWS #120, Jan./Feb. 1998. I think that holds true for the goal of raising autonomous learners/independent thinkers. We don’t have to make every day perfect; living with intention is the true quality we give to ourselves and our children, and is unfortunately not something available to most either children or adults in institutional educational settings.

  2. Thanks for this Deb – yes, being more radical and more… is always easier with hindsight and I have that in buckets 🙂 but living the best life we can with the information we have that day is what’s critical- which is what I find attractive about an ethics that reminds us to think carefully

  3. Aisling Tempany

    As a once home-educated girl, I never thought that home education had any more answers than state education, and it can produce its own bad eggs – I’ve seen some :S.Like the brat who had learnt no sense of boundaries from her mother and subsequently wrecked someone’s expensive guitar while she was ‘learning for herself.’ (That’s lovely, will the little girl be paying for the repairs while she works this out?) I’m probably one of its bad eggs too.

    The problem is how state education is now, as you say ‘biddable and infantalised adults.’ But state education is necessary – home education just can’t work for the majority, for reasons too lengthy to discuss.

    My former sixth form bullied English staff about daring to discuss a book that was not a set text for the course. The reason, as i understood it, was to do with money. More A* grades = more money. More A* grades come from people parroting back the perfect answer in the exams. Many of the older teachers (not so much the young uni clones) seemed to want to return to some kind of vague boundary on things. Not to sound all communist or anything, but the current state education feeds, and is fed by capitalism. Money drives the whole thing.

    I feel sorry for anyone in school now who wasn’t born with connections and privilege, with lots of extra curricular activites and private classes, because they are nothing but a battery chicken who will be tossed onto the dole queue in a few years, or to push stuff around a poundshop.

  4. Thanks for this Aisling – the discussion of whether state education is necessary is an interesting one, but so lengthy 🙂 But you are right that simply opting for home education isn’t a catch all solution – Deb talked about living every day with quality and for us a constant attempt to live as an autonomous group of people who needed to negotiate solutions to how to be that group was key.

    I have no time for home education that just collapses into laissez faire neglect with little intentionality or for the other extreme that coerces young people into becoming particular types of products, but I wouldn’t legislate against these groups either as ultimately the freedom to make mistakes (provided these don’t amount to abuse) and for people to live different lives seems crucial to me.

    But yes – my ideal isn’t simply home education, but a particular type of engagement that aims for win win solutions (wrecking someone else’s precious property wouldn’t be one). And I share your despair at current trends in education – those who do well seem to be to be those with parents who effectively home educate out of school hours, whether through extra curricula activities or personal engagement.

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