Yeah, I’m just now getting around to posting about the conference. I have positive thoughts, negative thoughts & some suggestions. I thought that I could divide the post up into respective sections, but the thoughts & suggestions all kind of blend together, so this post just ended up as a stream of consciousness piece.
NEUC was our first big (by big, I mean more than 100 count) unschooling event. It was wonderful to be around so many families who are all striving to live in similar ways with one another as we try to live ourselves. It was fantastic getting to see a bunch of children of all ages running around (literally) with each other and not being intimidated by the adults around them, yet actually enjoying the adults around them. I can’t really convey the feelings of love, respect & freedom that I had while at the conference and do them any justice.
There has been a lot of talk on various blogs (I won’t link, but you can Google to find them) about two issues 1) “unparenting” at the conference and 2) making future conferences more “welcoming”. I want to address the 1st issue before I talk about my experience at the conference.
In a sense, I am not really sure what “unparenting” is (nor are a lot of people, but we all apparently know it when we see it). Concern has been expressed about the group of children who were running around (being children), the state of the art room, unattended children and some other things. First, if I can’t walk away from my child from time to time at an unschooling conference, where in the hell can I do it? I personally have been annoyed by many people who have been very judgmental in their comments about unattended children at the conference. Personally, I feel like it is my place and the place of many other unschooling parents who are already “there” and are not just coming into this life to be available for new parents at these conferences…available to hang with their children who don’t want to be present for presentations/talks and available to help out parents who are struggling while at conferences.
I hung out with one little boy many times at the conference who wasn’t yet 3 years old. His mum left him in the play room and he had a couple siblings who would flutter in and out every once in awhile to check on him. He was content to play dress up and only needed someone to help him in & out of costumes. His mum *needed* to be present at talks and he didn’t want to attend them. She felt safe enough at the conference to leave him in an un-staffed room. I met her and from the conversation I had with her, she was anything but an “unparent”. However, if her child had been a little bit older and running around with the group of 7 to 10 year old boys at the conference, I feel as though she might have been labeled as an “unparent”.
I know that I left Elijah or rather he left me on many occasions. This usually worked out, but there were a few occasions when he got busy and then forgot where I said I’d be and he panicked when he couldn’t see/find me. He was brought to me once in tears by someone early on the first day (thank you whoever you were, I never looked up, only heard a woman’s voice). I felt bad, but at the same time, I knew that he was surrounded by caring respectful adults who would have done their best to comfort him, if I or William truly couldn’t have been found. We talked about how to deal with things again if he forgot where I/William was or had a problem…end of story. I think I might have erroneously thought that it was safe to not hover around my child the entire time we were there — just like the little boy’s mum. I posted awhile ago about the two different kinds of playgroups & gatherings that we’ve been part of…I guess I assumed that large unschooling gatherings were like one really big “scene one” — maybe I shouldn’t assume that’s how it is, even when that’s how so many portray it to be. I found myself doing A LOT of “parenting” of other children and I never thought twice about it…maybe it’s NOT my “job” to have the capacity to parent whatever child is right in front of me at any given time (but that just feels wrong, anti-community and certainly anti-village).
Regarding the art room…really, I mean really? Do none of these people have crazy destroyed art rooms/dinning rooms/play rooms at home? Because they are lying if they say they don’t (I’ve seen the flickr pictures to prove it). Would it have been nice if the floor coverings weren’t destroyed, yes, but it also would have been nice if the floor coverings weren’t tissue thin plastic sheets.
Apparently there were children/teens (not sure which) who had ran up & down halls late at night or who had knocked on doors & ran…I don’t know, because I didn’t see any of that — that’s NOT cool & shouldn’t have happened, but what are you going to do…make sure it doesn’t happen again. I don’t think *we* were ever loud late at night in the hall…there was some pool noodle fighting with the lovely family across the hall (high C & B & family), but that was well before 10pm (which *I* feel is time for quieter things at hotels). The teens want, nay need, to stay up REALLY late, so I feel it’s important that they have the space to do that.
Now, to address the issue of the mob of children (mainly boys aged 7 to 10 yrs.) who were running around playing games, free running on the handicap ramp (which I would have predicted if I had done the walk-through when deciding on that hotel for the conference & did point out the night before when we were sneaking around in the conference area that there would be some free-running occurring on the ramp) and other means of mischief. Something was missing from this conference that I have seen over and over again from pictures & videos at other conferences…children playing OUTSIDE. Unless I was totally out of the loop, I don’t recall anyone playing outside, trying to organize anything outside and Elijah sure never told me that he was going outside to play with so & so or such & such group of kids. I truly don’t blame these children at all. They were contained to a building and mainly one floor of that building almost all day every day for 4 to 6 days…I would have been going crazy too! In the past 7 years that I have been vicariously riding the unschooling conference circuit via blogs, photo albums & online videos, I have seen at almost every event, a mob of children outside on a playground, in a section of the parking lot riding bikes/scooters/etc. or some similar place outside with a few “designated” adults — usually the adults were the parents of a couple of the children outside, but it usually appears to be about 5 to 8 children per 1 adult present. Why was there no one outside at NEUC?
On the other side of this coin, I was also missing a media room. I really thought that there would have been a room where we could have set up gaming consoles & such…maybe I was dreaming. I know that would have helped curtail some of the running about & done so in a positive, attractive & constructive way.
In the unschooling community and more-so the radical unschooling community, there is this goal of making sure everyone is “taken care of”. After talking to several families who were new to unschooling/conferences, I feel like a lot of the new-to-unschooling families at the conference didn’t feel taken care of. The main reason being that they had a choice of either go to talks to share & learn or hover around their child…hell, I even felt like that several times (I can’t imagine how I would have felt/coped if William hadn’t come with us). I’m suggesting a volunteer rotating staff, child-care or adopt a newbie program…seriously. I think a lot of people who “left” their children, felt like they had no real choice, but to either leave them & trust the community (which, I don’t feel is wrong) or to forgo any possible enlightenment being handed out in order to follow their children around.
Moving on to making these things more “welcoming”. I didn’t feel unwelcome, but there were a couple times (one in particular) where I didn’t feel all that welcome or included — in which case, I just got up and moved elsewhere or found a group of kids to hang out with for a bit (the children at these things are really fun to be around!). I’m not a group person and I have a hard time getting into a group, but it’s not as difficult with a group of unschoolers, because I don’t have to explain myself, my choices or my parenting all while everyone is looking at me like I just sprouted an extra head. I will agree that it can be difficult for a newbie when there are a lot of people at these events who are always there, have known each other for years or are just simply really out-going. I don’t think it’s fair to lay the blame on newbies or on conference veterans. I will say that it is much easier to “fit-in” (if you will) , when you’ve had a presence on discussion boards or have a blog that makes the rounds…people recognize faces and names — I had the fortune of having been on online discussion boards for several years & having a blog with lots of readers…so, I wasn’t *so* new, even though I was new at this conference. I have to think on this one a little bit more, but I’m sure there’s somethings we can integrate into future conferences to make it easier for people to “join the family” (so to speak).
Overall, I had a fantastic time, that is until I got back home and realized that I am NOT surrounded by respectful parenting in my everyday encounters. While these events lift me up while I am present, they do make it harder to get back into the daily routine when most of the parenting going on around you is mainstream, punitive & oppressive. I can almost liken the feeling to a sugar high…all these fantastic people & feelings, but then once the supply of sugar is gone & the processing done, then on comes the crash. The crash for me this time was pretty rough…I was angry, not just sad for the kids I’d see at the grocery store, the bank and coming from & going to school, but angry at their parents & society in general for how horrible it treats children & how unfriendly it is towards youth in general. I’ve dealt with my feelings, which took some time (hence why it’s taken me some time to write a post about NEUC) and now I’ve moved on…
…on to thinking about how great the Unschooling Cruise is going to be! It appears that it is going to be a small group, which will be nice & intimate. I can’t wait!