Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mind the Gaps

This post is not new. It is my talk from the Northeast Unschooling Conference, August 2013. Just putting it here so it doesn't get lost.

It's like someone hands you a train schedule when you are five years old, and it details the plan for every day of the next thirteen to seventeen years of your life. The stops are laid out, the timetable is set. There is only one set of tracks for your school train.

They are the same for everyone. They tell you this is the only way to get between stops, where you are tested to make sure the train is on schedule. Sometimes you might see a shortcut to the next stop, or a nice sidewalk or winding wooded path running along the tracks. You say "Look, that path goes to the same place we are going anyway. Can I use it instead for a bit?" They say that's not the right way. You have to get there the same way as everyone else, at the same time. You have to ride the train with only other kids who are the same age as you, whether you like them or not. Sometimes, if your train is small enough, you end up spending years and years with this same group of kids. Even if you don’t get along with any of them.
You might really want to go sit with your sister, who loves you, whose train is a year ahead of you on the tracks, but that is not allowed.

It will be decided for you very early on if you get to sit in the front of the school train or the middle or the back. Once the decision has been made, it will be very difficult to switch cars. You end up feeling like you must be where you belong. All the cars take the same time to move between stops, but the kids in the front always get there first, and the kids in the back always last. It is made quite clear that it's better to get there first.

Sure, there will be some (planned) "destinations" along the way, where you get to get off the train for a set amount of time. Maybe you are one of the lucky kids, for whom weekends and summers are actually destinations, places to stop moving, or at least to move in the vehicle of your own choosing, at your own pace. But maybe you are a kid whose weekends and summers involve more trains, maybe with a choice about which trains to ride, which sport train or which art-or-music-themed train. But still with little or no choice about the path or the pace.

While riding any train, you have to do what the conductor (teacher) says. Stop when he wants to stop, go when he wants to go. You might get new conductors every year, and sometimes multiple conductors will rotate through each day. Some of them will be amazing people, who will inspire you.

Others will not be kind. And they all have different expectations of how the ride is supposed to go. You are expected to know this, and adapt to each one. To know what each one requires of you and be able to give it, even on your worst days. If you don't follow the rules on the train, they might kick you off. You might be relieved that you are getting off, until you realize they are only taking you to another train.

You watch the real world fly by you out the windows, and it looks like a blur. You might catch a glimpse of something that looks interesting and say, "Excuse me, can we stop for a minute? I saw something cool out there."

But they say they can't make unplanned stops. That would make the whole train late. When you finally realize how futile it is to ask, you might find ways to sneak off and get to a destination on your own.

Or you might just stop looking out the window.

The worst part of these train rides is where they drop you off at the end: your parents' house! This whole time, they were telling you how important it was to stay on schedule. Now you are back where you started. With a lot of knowledge about riding trains, and maybe not much else. They say go now, find your passion. You say "Now? But that's what I wanted to do all along and you... Nevermind."

At this point, at the end of your compulsory schooling journey, you might find that you are one of the really lucky ones who has managed to figure out at least one thing you are passionate about in school or in spite of school. Good for you.

Or you might get off the school train at this point and realize you have no idea how to live, off of a train. You might have forgotten that it's even possible to live and to learn without a train, a timetable, a conductor.
You might get a job that feels exactly like being on a train as well. You will keep hopping from job train to job train, hoping to find one that makes you happy, or at least one that doesn't make you miserable. Or maybe you will stay on one that makes you miserable, because you realize that they are all inherently the same. It's just easier to stay on the one you're already on.

Or you might get off a train at 18 or 22 or 25 or 35, and say "Wow. There has to be a better way." You might spend the rest of your life trying to avoid trains. You might be able to make up for the time you lost, and find some passion after all.

So, if being in school is like riding a train, then what is traditional homeschooling like? You know, the school-at-home kind.

It’s like riding in a car. Your parents are driving and you get to sit with your brothers and sisters if you have any. But other than these two common elements, the details of the car ride can vary greatly, depending on your parents' views on education.

You might have parents who buy a curriculum, which resembles the timetable used by the school train. Your mother might take on the role of "conductor," and insist that her car keep up with the train. She might not let you have much say about how fast to go or what the stops will look like. You might spend as much time in the car as schooled kids do on the train.

Or you might have parents who make up their own curriculum, accepting some level of input from you. They will take your interests into account when planning activities. They will adjust the pace if they think it is necessary. They might even stop the car sometimes when you point out something interesting you see out the window. You might spend a lot less time in the car than schooled kids do on the train.

But either way, you are still a passenger, sitting in the backseat, having at least somewhat of a passive role in your educational journey and your life overall. The car, like the train, separates "learning time" from the real world, which you are still looking at through a window.

The car follows streets, like the train follows tracks. There may be more than one path between two stops now, but you are still confined to the streets.

An alternative
So what’s an alternative to exploring the world in trains and cars?

Imagine everyone in your family has access to lots of different bicycles.

Some days, your mom or dad says, "Want to go for a ride? I have something fun I want to show you." If you want to go, you hop on the bike and go. Some days, you are the one who has something you want to explore, and your mom or siblings or dad ride along. But every day, you have choices about what to do.

When you are too little to ride a bicycle, your parents can take you on theirs. You can move on to a tricycle with a handle to make it easy for a parent to help you move and steer. On your tricycle, or a bike with training wheels, you can learn to use the pedals. You might even get a balance bike, to learn how to propel yourself and balance without pedals. And when you are ready, you will ride your own bicycle.

Your own bicycle can be powered by your own legs, steered by your own hands. It stops when you stop, goes where you want to go. But it's not that you are always responsible for your own movement. You are not just left to figure it out for yourself. When you prefer to have some level of assistance getting where you want to go, you also have choices like tandem bicycles and bike trailers available to you. You get to choose if you want help and what kind and how much. And your parents do their best to help when and how you want them to.

No matter which kind of bicycle you are on, there is no separation between you and the outside world. No window to look out. You can smell the real world, hear the real world, stop and touch the real world. You are part of the real world. In many places there are paths to follow if you want to, but your rides are not limited to the paths.

In your family, no one is the teacher, but everyone learns from all the others. It is not that your time on your bicycle is your "education." Every day is your life, no matter how it is spent.

You learn from all things you do, but the learning does not need to be measured. Your parents don't keep track of how fast or how far you go each day. Your choosing to do something makes it valuable. You get to learn what you want at your own pace. You don't have to keep up with anyone else.

That is unschooling.

It is not a model of education, but a way of life. It is recognizing that people learn from living, and there is no need to separate learning from living.

It’s like riding a bicycle.

Knowledge gaps
Those of us who are living it know how wonderful unschooling can be. However, those who are unfamiliar with unschooling have many concerns about it. One concern many people have about unschooling is that it might leave a person with “gaps” in knowledge.

They wonder how we will make sure our children learn everything they will need to know for their adult lives. These people are right about one thing: people who grow up without school do have knowledge gaps.

However, they are wrong to assume that going to school will somehow guarantee a person will learn everything he or she needs to know. Since no one can possibly know everything there is to know, all of us have knowledge gaps. One thing that is great about unschooling is that we can look at these gaps differently.
The people in charge of the school system have preselected the gaps THEY feel are most important, and then they instruct their teachers to “go over” the information to fill in those gaps. Even the terminology of “going over” a subject fits perfectly with the idea of riding a train, because that’s exactly what a train does. The train goes over the gaps where the tracks are already set.

The train passengers can’t even see a gap as they approach it, and they can’t see what it looks like underneath the bridge as they cross it. They can only look out the windows as they cross a bridge that someone else built. They have no experience of the gap itself unless they have the time and inclination and access to explore the gap on their own time.

On board the school train, students are passively pulled across the gaps. The teachers may describe what the gap looks like, and then the students are expected to “know” what the gap looks like. In school, a “gap” in knowledge is seen as a weakness, a failure. Students are constantly required to memorize facts, and then tested so they must prove what they know. Not knowing how to cross the gap by answering their questions correctly translates to losing points, being punished by low grades.

Asking for help getting over a gap can be considered cheating, which is another thing that leads to punishment and shame if the student is caught. Some people grow up to fear the gaps they will inevitably come upon. They fear not knowing what to do in new situations. They lose faith in their abilities to overcome their knowledge gaps without being pulled over a bridge built by someone else. They feel ashamed to even think about asking for help. They might become very skilled at avoiding gaps altogether.

In the world of school, not knowing something you are expected to know means you fail.

However, outside of school, it is all right if you don't know all the answers, or even any of the answers. You can hope for better results if you can quickly admit that you do not know the answer to a specific question, or the best solution to a problem. Because the best things to know are when you need help and where to go for help. And then you go there. And you ask for help. You are not alone and you don't have to figure things out on your own. You are allowed to consult someone else or some technology to help you figure out an answer. The train model of schooling teaches people to think there is only one right way to cross a gap, and if you don’t know it, you fail.

Now think about how different it is to be riding along on a bicycle in a direction that interests you, and coming upon a gap where you don’t immediately see a way to get over it or through it or around it. Think about how many options there are when you are on your bicycle.

Maybe someone else has already built a bridge across the gap and you discover it. You choose whether or not to use it. Maybe you figure out how to build a bridge yourself. Maybe you see something interesting deep down inside the gap and you find a way to get to it. Maybe you recognize it is too dangerous or difficult to cross this gap by yourself, so you ask someone for help. Maybe you think that crossing this gap isn’t so important to you after all, so you find a way around it. Whatever you decide, you know that YOU decided what to do. YOU get to decide which gaps are important for you to get across. YOU decide in what depth to explore them. YOU get experience making important decisions for your own life.

With unschooling, we do not have to think of gaps in knowledge as failures of our children or ourselves or our lifestyle. Our children will hopefully not learn to fear gaps, but instead feel empowered to know how to handle them.

Instead of being afraid of not knowing how to do something or how to answer a question, our children can embrace their knowledge gaps and recognize that each gap is actually an opportunity, either to learn or discover or invent new things, or to work with and rely on others who can help them. Our children will not feel ashamed if they don’t always know how to cross the gaps immediately, or alone, or ever.

This is where we, the parents, and other supportive adults, come in. We can help our children learn how to navigate the gaps they come upon. To continue with the analogy, we don’t just hand over the bicycles to our children and assume our jobs are done. We know our children. We help them figure out which type of bicycle is most appropriate at a given time and we give them access. We stand behind and push our toddlers on tricycles. We provide training wheels or balance bikes until our kids feel ready to ride on two wheels. We provide helmets and other safety equipment as needed. We get on our own bicycles, and ride alongside our children. We are there to help them stand up if they fall. To fix their flat tires. To watch out for dangers. And we are there to help them explore and cross the gaps they find along their paths. We provide as much help as they need, until they have enough practice and confidence to do it without us right next to them.

We are there, especially while they are very young, to make sure they understand that riding their bicycles in freedom does NOT mean they are allowed to ride around anywhere they want. We help them and guide them and talk to them about respecting people around them, and things that belong to other people.
We help them remember that crossing a gap does not mean riding through someone’s garden just because it might be the easiest way. When we are comfortable that they understand these things, maybe we ride behind them at a distance for a while.

We watch them to see how they handle the gaps in front of them. We and our children grow, and we can be confident that whatever gaps they approach as they grow up, they will be able to decide which gaps they want to cross and to come up with a plan on how to do so.

Sometimes we might catch a glimpse of the school train and worry that we and our kids are not keeping up with it. When these doubts and worries creep in, it helps to remind ourselves that we are providing the opportunity for our children to experience a life with richness and depth that are immeasurable, specifically BECAUSE we are NOT pressuring them to keep up with the train. Because we are mostly ignoring the train as we live our lives. Are we going slower than the train? Probably. Are we going to end up covering the same exact gaps as the train does? Definitely not.

We will not have the same convenience that school parents have, of being provided with a neat little map at the end of each year that shows where our children’s trains have been and how well our children kept up with them. We will not have the grades to prove to others how well we are educating our children. We will not be validated by people who believe in the train and will never understand how we can live without it.
What can help us feel better is to decide early on whether or not these things really matter. To remind ourselves often that we are trading the perceived efficiency and predictability of the system that follows the train tracks for a unique and rich and joyful and wonderful life on bicycles. The gaps we and our children discover and explore and cross will feel meaningful and memorable, instead of feeling frustrating and obligatory, constantly moving in a direction someone else has chosen.

The beauty of unschooling is that it allows the members of a family to live together, learn together. As parents, we not only get to watch our children grow and learn, but we also get to experience a way of living and learning for ourselves that most of us never had a chance to experience before. We get to explore the world on our own bicycles. We get to go through the gaps we always knew we wanted to experience more deeply. We get to find new gaps we never knew existed because we couldn’t see them from our seats inside the trains we spent most of our lives on.

Do unschoolers MIND THE GAPS?

Yes and no. No, unschoolers don’t MIND the gaps, in the sense that we are worried or distressed by their existence. But yes, unschoolers MIND the gaps, in the sense that we are aware of their existence, we approach them thoughtfully, and we take care to cross the ones that are most important to us and our children.

So the next time someone asks you if you are afraid your child will have knowledge gaps because of unschooling, you can say something like, “I’m sure they will! And what thrilling opportunities those gaps will provide for my child!”

The next time you are feeling doubts about unschooling, when you question whether or not your child is learning everything he or she needs to know, you can think of bicycles. You can think of all the interesting gaps your child has crossed so far on a bicycle. And you can get excited about the possibilities of where and when your child will find the next gap, and how you can support him or her in crossing it.

Unschooling at its best is built on trust among family members, and trust in human nature. Trust that children have a strong desire to learn about things, even if those things may not be on the short list of school subjects. Trust that, with our acceptance and support, our children will follow their own paths, leading exactly where they want to go.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Do You Know When To Help Your Child?

Your child is struggling to do something. How do you know when to help, and when to stand back and let him work it out on his own?

Here is a chart that illustrates my thought process in this situation:

Sometimes your child wants your help. If you can help, then why not do it? If you do, he will learn that getting the help he need feels good, and that it's cool to help other people when they need it.

Sometimes, you can't help in the specific way your wants you to. In that case, you and your child may be able to find someone else who is able and willing or figure out a different way to help him accomplish his goal. If you do this, he will learn that you care about his needs, that you are resourceful and creative, and that there is often more than one way to do something.

Sometimes your child doesn't want your help. If it is safe to do so, why not stand back and let him figure things out? You can let him know you are there if he needs you, but stay out of his way. If you do, he will learn that you trust him to know when he needs help and that you have confidence in his abilities. Also, he will have the opportunity to get better at whatever it is he is struggling with.

Sometimes your child doesn't want your help but he is doing something dangerous and doesn't understand the risk involved. In that case, of course you step in if you can. If you are unable to intervene in time, you can help by comforting your hurt child and calling for more help if needed. Once the situation is safe enough, you explain why you stepped in, and help your child understand the danger and figure out a safer way to accomplish his goal. If you do this, he will learn that you are looking out for him.

These are all things I want my children to learn. How about you?

On the other hand, what does a child learn when he wants help and his parent refuses to help him? What does he learn when he doesn't want help but it is forced on him constantly?


I have read a bit about this issue recently, and I think maybe some people are confused about it. I think some people confuse "letting" a child do something on his own with "forcing" the child to do it on his own even when he doesn't want to. There is a big difference. There is also a big difference between insisting upon helping or doing something for a child, and being willing to help when he wants it. The child's wishes should not be ignored in these discussions.

Here are the articles I'm referring to, if you are interested:

From The Atlantic, Why Parents Need To Let Their Kids Fail

And from Alameda Patch, Please Don't Help My Kids

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Truth About Having Kids

Before you have kids, you might spend time thinking about who your kids will be. You might think about how you will raise them and mold them to be a certain way.

You might decide you will offer only the "healthiest" food and then they won't even want junk food. You might decide you won't ever let them watch television and then they won't even like looking at screens.

Maybe you think you'll make them go to bed at a certain time, so they will learn to always get enough sleep. And you'll make them always pick up their toys so they will learn to clean up after themselves.

You might wonder why these and other simple ideas seem to escape the parents who have come before you. You think they must be doing it wrong. They're inconsistent and soft. Yeah, that must be it.

Then you have a baby. For a while, everything is great and going according to plan. Well, except for the sleeping part. But everything else, totally perfect.

Then your sweet little baby, who was going along with your plan without complaint, becomes a toddler. And your toddler has ideas. Your toddler sees a working television while out and about. She's mesmerized. She's curious and *gasp* enjoying it. She wants more. Your toddler sees cookies at a party, she sees the candy at the checkout counter of the grocery store. Not only does she want these and other shocking things, but it turns out she also loves some of them.

One by one, your toddler starts chipping away at your ideas, trying to implement a different plan. Her own plan. It's a plan to try everything, to taste everything, to sleep only when her body demands it and there's nothing else fun going on. Her plan is to explore her world and to immerse herself into whatever interests her. Her plan is to seek out the things that make her happy and do those things.

At this point you have two choices. You could cling to your original plan. It seems safer. You like being in control. Or you could realize that your toddler's plan is actually much better than your plan. If you dig even deeper, you might realize that your toddler's plan was actually your real original plan too. The plan you were born to follow as well, but most likely didn't get to. If you do realize this, you will stop fighting your child's desires and instead support her passions for exploring and learning.

The truth is that kids (people) come with their own plans. And your best plan for your children may be to understand and follow along with theirs. To help them navigate the world and figure out who they are, and not who you want them to be.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stop Panicking About Bullies?

Nick Gillespie, at the Wall Street Journal, says we are worrying too much about bullying. There is no bullying crisis, he says. Parents are too overprotective, he says. Things are getting better, he says.

Lenore Skenazy, author of the book Free Range Kids, writes about the article on her blog:
Like Gillespie, I am appalled by true bullying and in favor of a society that does not tolerate it.
All right, what is "true bullying" as opposed to some other kind of (false?) bullying? She explains a bit further: lump together unbearable harassment with minor teasing is just a mistake.
Right, so "unbearable harassment" is appalling and "minor teasing" is nothing to worry about. Got it. But who gets to decide the difference? If not the victim himself, then who? If a child finds his environment unbearable, who are we to say otherwise? And what about things in-between the two extremes as Skenazy describes? What about harassment that's sort of bearable? Is that worth troubling our helicopter-selves with? What about relentless "minor" teasing?

Anyway, Skenazy says she is "in a rage" by any talk of a growing bullying crisis. She picks out a very convenient quote from Gillespie's article, which says:
Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.
Wow, everyone! Four percent?! Really? Bullying seems like it's pretty much over. Oh wait, keep reading just a tiny bit further in the WSJ article and you don't have to wonder why Skenazy chose that quote, and not the one immediately after it:
When it comes to bullying numbers, long-term trends are less clear. [NCES] reports find that 28% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in 2005; that percentage rose to 32% in 2007, before dropping back to 28% in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available).
The first quote says everything is fine. In fact, things are so much better, that the problems are almost completely gone (4%! Down from 12%!). The second quote says the numbers are less clear, that around 30% of students reported being bullied, and that the number hasn't changed much in the recent past. While it means bullying may not be increasing, it certainly does not prove that things are getting much better, as Skenazy would like us to believe.

From the National Center for Education Statistics

So where did that 4% number come from? I was curious, so I went right to the source. The survey questions and the key findings of the study done by the National Center for Education Statistics are published on their website. It turns out, there are many sections in the survey. The section called "Fighting, Bullying and Hate Behaviors" includes the questions that lead to the conclusions those around-30% numbers. There is a completely different section, apart from the bullying section, entitled "Fear," under which the questions about fear of  "attack or harm" were asked. These are the questions that give us the 4% number. These questions are, by design of the study, not related to bullying. It seems those questions are referring to other kinds of violent acts.

Why is the 4% number being used in articles and blog posts on bullying? Because it's convenient for those who want to downplay the bullying problem. The trouble is, it is irresponsible and misleading. When almost one-third of children are being bullied in school, there IS a crisis.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Would You Brag About These Things?

Would you brag about beating your toddler in a game of chess? About beating your 7-year-old in a running race?

Would you brag about beating your 10-year-old at Scrabble? About making more money than your 14-year-old?

You're probably better at puzzles, too.

If you are like most people I know, you would probably say "No" to the above questions. If you answered "Yes" to any of them, you probably want to stop reading here.

I'm assuming most parents wouldn't brag about these things. Why not? Because it's pretty obvious why we might be better at these things than our children. We are bigger, stronger, more experienced with words and strategies and making money. The decks are stacked in our favor. Our kids have no chance against us in these and many other competitions.

Yet, I often hear parents bragging about winning over their children in other kinds of "battles," as if it makes any more sense than it would to brag about a chess victory over a three-year-old. I see parents patting themselves and each other on the back for proving how big and strong and powerful they are. Guess what, parents? Your kids already know you are more powerful than they are. This is a lesson that does not need to be taught. Your children are frequently reminded of how powerful you are, every time you do (or refuse to do) something for them that they cannot do for themselves.

If life is a game, then you have a choice as a parent. You can view your child as an opponent, with whom you are constantly in competition. You can focus on beating your child at the game, proving how much more powerful you are. You can make all the rules, add new ones all the time: eat three more bites before you can leave the table, stay in bed alone until you fall asleep, go to your room, only 30 minutes of TV today... You can use physical force or withholding of "privileges" or psychological manipulation to ensure that you will win.

When your child complains to you about the striking unfairness of the way the game is setup, you can ignore her. When she realizes you aren't listening she may complain to other people about how unfair the game is (how unfair you are). When you find out about this, you can take away or destroy her means of communication with others. You can take away her cell phone, shoot her laptop, forbid her from seeing her friends outside of school.

You can brag about ignoring your child's "tantrums" or getting him to eat something he didn't want to eat. You can brag about tricking your child, cheating at the game to get your way. You can call each of these things a "win" for you. If you do so, you will most likely get pats on the back from other parents. Just remember that as often as you are "winning," your child is losing. Even as you declare your victory, your child may be losing faith in you, losing interest in you. If this is the case, what exactly are you winning? Bragging rights? Are they worth that much?

Play. Together.
If you don't like the sound of that, rest assured, there is another option. You can view your child as a partner, a member of your team in this game. You can have fun together, without competing at all, without needing to declare winners and losers. You can make up the rules as you go along, together with your child. You can listen when your child has a problem with the way you are setting up the game, and figure out how to keep it fun for both of you. You can tend to your child's needs and be supportive of his food choices and other preferences.

If you choose this way, you will probably get the confused or nasty looks from other parents, the ones who are trying win as many battles as possible. They may call you crazy or weak. They may list for you all the ways in which they are winning. These parents have no idea what they are losing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So What If She Bought It With Her Own Money?

You might be tired of hearing about Tommy Jordan, the man who shot his daughter's laptop to punish her for complaining about him on Facebook. I know, I'm tired of it too. I was tempted to drop it completely, but I think this is a very important story. It's not so much about this one family anymore, but about the families of the thousands and thousands of people who think that his act was not only justified, but a show of good parenting.

One very important aspect of the public reaction is that many people have said that since this father bought the laptop for his daughter (which they assumed), that made it acceptable for him to destroy it. Some of them even said that it would be different if she bought it with her own money. Well, I came across this last night, which is allegedly a quote from Tommy Jordan himself, from his own Facebook page, in response to someone who asked why he didn't just sell his daughter's laptop instead of shooting it:
I actually considered selling it on eBay, but decided against it. She bought it with her money. For us to sell it and take the money, in my mind anyways, is just theft, even from my own kid.
I tried digging through the more than 30,000 (!) comments on the posting to see if I could get a screen shot to prove this, but it was too time-consuming. After trying for a while, I realized it wouldn't matter if I proved it anyway. For at least a few people, it didn't. Last night I read some discussion threads that went like this:
Dad-supporter1: The laptop was technically his since he bought it with his money, so it's fine if he wanted to destroy it.
Daughter-supporter: The dad said she bought it with her money so really it belonged to her. 
Dad-supporter1: Oh, well actually it doesn't matter anyway, because legally anything a child owns belongs to the parents. It was still his to destroy. 
Dad-supporter2: Yeah, and where did she get the money to buy a laptop if she didn't have a job? It must have been her father's money. Therefore it belongs to him.
You see, it is convenient at the start to assume the father had bought the laptop for his daughter, because that makes it easy for people to allow him ownership of it (even if it was a gift to her). But it's not a necessary condition if one is looking to justify the father's actions. Even with the father admitting that it was HER money used to purchase the laptop, people will find a way to take it away from her.

The father himself admits that if he sold the laptop and took the money, that would be stealing, but to render the item useless? No problem. What is the disconnect here? How is destroying her property NOT stealing?

I have read some of the follow-up to this story, and it has been very discouraging. Apparently Hannah is saying it was not a big deal, after she got over the initial shock. It makes me sad to think that she (along with so many other people) has brushed off this assault on her rights. However, I realize she doesn't have much of a choice. She has to live with this man for a few more years. Mr. Jordan has said that he doesn't regret what he did (except for the fact that he was holding a cigarette, that he used the word "ass," and some parts of his wardrobe choice). Otherwise he would do it again the same way. Therefore no matter how upset Hannah really is about this, she knows better than to make a fuss now, as long as her father is still around her-but-not-really-her belongings with a gun.

I also feel terrible about all of the nastiness being thrown in her direction. She is the clear villain in this story to most people, as if they were never teenagers and never had complaints about their parents. So many people have said "Yeah, but I would never have posted that on Facebook." I would like to remind these people that they would never have heard her words were it not for her father reading them to the internet-at-large. He is the one who publicized her words.

The general public consensus seems to be that children should not have the right to own property at all, even if that property was obtained with their own money. Also, many people seem to feel that children complaining about their parents is disrespectful and is an offense punishable by destruction of the property that doesn't even belong to them. That is discouraging for all the children out there who are being mistreated by the very people who brought them into this world.

One more disturbing fact: when the police came to visit the Jordan home, to answer the many calls they received about the incident, here's what Mr. Jordan says happened:
The police by the way said ‘Kudos, Sir’ and most of them made their kids watch it. I actually had a ‘thank you’ from an entire detectives squad.
So much for the police looking out for this teen and her property. I hope if someone destroyed something of mine, the police reaction would be better than this.

I can't promise I am done talking about this yet.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Kind Of Bed Do You Make With a Gun?

Last night I watched a video that has gone viral, featuring a man with a gun. The man took this video of himself, posted it himself, and what he chose to show the world was an upsetting picture of who he is.

The first half of the video is his reading of a letter that his daughter Hannah wrote, aimed at her parents, and posted on Facebook with the belief that they would not see it (although I wonder if she was really hoping they would see it, so maybe they would understand how miserable she is). The father found it by apparently using some sneaky tactics. It was a very depressing letter, in which Hannah passionately expresses her frustration with her parents and their poor treatment and high demands of her. Her father reads the letter to anyone who will listen, in hopes that it will make Hannah look bad. He picks apart her words, disputes her claims, and calls her lazy and stupid, among other names.

This happens at the 7:10 mark.
At the end of the video, he puts the icing on the (sick, twisted) cake when he shoots nine bullets into what he has referred to several times as "her" laptop. This punishment is extreme and rather scary, well outside the bounds of even commonly accepted punitive parenting. I wonder how long ago it was that he gifted her that laptop. Was he excited to give it to her then? Did he take pride in his ability to give her such a gift, and feel satisfied when she expressed gratitude in some way (a thank-you, a smile, a squeal of joy, maybe even a hug...)? Did he let her enjoy her gift for any amount of time, or did he immediately start holding it over her head, demanding appreciation for it? What part of the word "gift" does he not understand? What suddenly made it ok for him to destroy her property in such a violent manner?

He explains that Hannah will be able to get a new laptop, when she can buy one for herself. I would advise her not to do so until she is able to move out of his home, because I would bet a lot of money that he would not hesitate to brutally murder that one as well, any time he got that angry at her again.

Many comments have been written in support of what this man did. They cheer for his violent and disturbing act of publicly berating his daughter and shooting her property, because they say Hannah deserved it for writing such a nasty letter. They hail is as "parenting done right." I disagree wholeheartedly. She had obviously been given many reasons to write that letter, and her father's video only proves that her discontent is justified.

The most striking part of the video (besides the gunshots) is when he details the list of chores he has demanded of Hannah. He describes each one and smugly offers an estimate of how long each task should take. According to him, the total time he asks of her is very small: not more than a few minutes for each of a few simple tasks. If it's true that he asks so little of her, is it really worth forcing it, while causing so much damage to their relationship? If the chores are as easy as he says they should be, why not just do them himself? In fact, he could have finished almost all of them in the time it took for him to record his eight-minute tirade.

He hoped to teach his daughter a thing or two. I'm not sure exactly what he intended to teach, but the only lessons he conveyed to me were the following:
  1. He does not respect his daughter or her property.
  2. He runs his family like a business, in which he is the unquestionable boss and his child is his employee, but without even basic rights (one could be arrested for shooting an employee's personal computer).
  3. He is a vindictive and violent man who is not to be trusted.
One of Hannah's responsibilities is to make her bed (which, to me, is an inexplicable thing to require of someone). I couldn't help but think of the old saying: "You make your bed, and then you must lie in it." What kind of bed has this man made for himself, in terms of his relationship with his soon-to-be adult daughter? One that is prickly and scary and cold and not welcoming or safe or happy. One that has already led Hannah to write about how miserable she is with him.

Well sir, I hope you are satisfied with the bed you have made for yourself, because you will spend the rest of your life lying in it. Someday you will wake up in this bed and wonder what went wrong. You will wonder why your daughter doesn't want to spend time with you, doesn't trust you. On that day, I would invite you to watch the video of yourself. It explains everything.


More on this story: So What If She Bought It With Her Own Money?