Lenses

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From when we are born and as we grow we make sense of ourselves and the world around us through what we observe and what we experience in relationship to it. We build an understanding, a way to make sense of and navigate the world, and we use that understanding to discern and make judgements about what is safe and what is unsafe to do or be, to make judgements about what we see and things that happen around and to us, and to help us make decisions about how to go about living our lives and meeting our needs.

Essentially, as we grow we construct a lens through which we see the world. However, unless disrupted by events, people or experiences that challenge this world view, we experience our outlook not as a particular lens and interpretation, but as the truth: the truth of who and what we are, the truth of what and who other people are, and the truth of what and how the world is. Furthermore, part of our survival needs and instincts (e.g. to feel safe, to feel that we belong, to maintain our own sense of esteem) make us reluctant to be open to or to process challenges to our view, and can prevent us from moving through the change/grief curve to update our perspective to include new or multiple ‘truths’ and complexities, or even reject the ‘truths’ that we originally held in order to make space for new information and understandings.

Growing up in England (and many other places if not the majority of places thanks to colonialism) at this time, and in history up until now, the way that we have been in relationship with, and exposed to the world around us, has resulted in the acceptance, normalisation and internalisation of a patriarchal lens on how to see and be in the world. Even for those who hold beliefs that are in challenge to patriarchal norms and values, it requires conscious intention to address the patriarchal biases we have internalised, which can without us even realising guide our sense of ourselves, others and our reflex behaviour.

We have learnt this lens in the hidden and explicit curriculum of family life, we have learnt it in church, we have learnt it in schools, we have learnt through the relationships we have been in and continue to be in. We have learnt it through stories, and through the normalised actions of others that we go on to imitate.

This lens, left unchecked, is used to solve problems, to make decisions, and to design the world we live in. The patriarchal lens that we have inherited and internalised has consequences for us all, and the ecosystem that we live within, that persist even as we seek to address them. We can be the barrier to solving, and the perpetuator of the problems we care about, when we are not aware of the lens through which we are living and attempting to change things, and are not actively and consciously seeking to switch out our lens and increase our self-awareness.

We can ‘deschool’ ourselves, and we can meet ourselves, each other and our environment on different terms. We can address each bias as we notice it, and do the work to interrogate it and practice a replacement that is more in alignment with our heart-felt beliefs and values and the sustainable and just world that we want to create.

To do that we must accept the discomfort of change. The discomfort of feeling unsafe at times as our foundations shift. We must accept the need to practice relationship with ourselves and others differently. We must be open to the feelings of grief that come with recognising our inherited lens for what it is and facing letting it go, and being open to the unknown as we open welcome new lenses into our lives. We must be rigorous and we must find strength.

Without new lenses, we are destined to continue in the violent, unsustainable, dishonest and oppressive behaviours, interpretations and ways of being that we have been given by history. We need new lenses to solve our problems, mitigate for unintended consequences, and create the designs necessary for human and environmental rights and justice to be realised, and these lenses come from understanding what patriarchy is, how to deconstruct it, and what remedial dynamic needs to come in it’s place.

 

 

 

Children’s rights: hard to hear.

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It’s not often that I talk about my work from a cold start. From that, what I mean, is with someone or in an environment where there is little or no understanding or awareness of the issues.

I made a conscious choice a couple of years ago, for self-care and affective activism, to direct my energy to connecting, building and collaborating with other innovator/early adopter folk, folk who already ‘get it’ and are working on the same problems, with a view to it being the best use of energy to result in actual tangible change. This group still has loads of problems to tackle, overcome, and strength to build, before things can change on a wider scale, and I still ascribe this strategy and encourage other activists in the area of children’s rights in the home and education to do the same.

However, this week I happened in to a cold start conversation, when I was at a soft play with my son and his friend. Someone that works there, a place we’ve visited on and off for about 7 years, asked me “what it is that I do” over a coffee order. And it was a really interesting experience to follow that conversation out.

It is, almost impossible, to broach the subject of children’s rights and schooling/family life, without in someway triggering the person that you are talking with. Some people respond differently depending on their current life circumstances and personal history, and the person I was speaking to this time was a parent to three children, all of whom were either currently in school or at university.

Sharing that I work on the issue of children’s rights in school, prompted the question: “is the idea then that children’s rights aren’t respected in school”. My work is problematic for a person who is sending, or has sent, their child into a school environment every day. Talking about children’s rights in the home, with the same implication that there is a problem there too, isn’t a lens that is comfortable for most parents, or anyone really seeing as we all have our own experience of the parent child relationship. The conversation soon shifts from one that was curious about the ‘work’, to something that is felt on a personal.

While I am very happy to talk about what I do, discuss it conceptually, theoretically and in practice, this becomes almost impossible when the person you are talking to has been triggered, and has hit the start of the grief curve (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). We went from talking about what it is that I do, to a space of denial, justification of school as ‘surely not that bad’, a need for validation. The shift from curiosity to self-protection was tangible, even though it took me a few moments for me to remember and realise what was happening, and adjust myself to the new nature of the conversation and the needs of the person I was talking to.

The conversation a book, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to While People about Race”, by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which I had heard about but not read yet. I’ve just started listening to it and highly recommend. From the book:

“The journey towards understanding structural racism still requires people of colour to prioritise white feelings. Even if they can hear you, they’re not really listening. It’s like something happens to the words as they leave our mouths and reach their ears. The words hit a barrier of denial and they don’t get any further.”
― Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

The underlying and constant concern and motivation of my work is addressing the systematic and interpersonal violation and disregard of children’s personhood and rights – a critical element of intersectional feminism, and essential for deconstructing patriarchy and enacting social and environmental change. For many reasons, it isn’t always easy to hear.

Don’t hide from, deny or fear your ignorance, it’s your greatest invitation for accelerating growth and smartness.

psychology-2422442_960_720[1]It’s been a while since I’ve written here,  I’ve been directing my energy to the Cabin (a new paradigm model for education based on principles of self-direction, consent, children’s rights and ed positivity), as well as the role of being a Trustee for a progressive education charity.

But here I am, back putting words to the page to share.

The last two years have seen a continuation with my self-experimentation around the principles that I believe are crucial to moving us out of the old, patriarchal, colonial, paradigm and into the new way. It’s a practice that I engage with every day, integrating this new way of being into my life across all areas. It has and continues to be a transformative process with results that deepen and strengthen my commitment to this work. The principles that I work with are keys to a transformation in body, mind, heart and spirit –  a speeded up process to manifest the world that we want and need, first within ourselves to then be able to share and build around us and in relationship with others that ‘get it’ and see the problem.

An absolutely critical part of this process of integration is engaging with our own ignorance. Patriarchy/schooling teaches us that admitting ignorance is unsafe, shameful, something to be denied and hidden. It teaches us that ignorance renders us as nothing. This lesson is essential to the internalisation and acceptance of patriarchy. Centering a persons power, worth and authority on a perception of them – and a perpetuating by them – as all knowing, is literally what justifies and underpins concepts of the legitimacy of the patriarch – the God, King, Father – the absolute and all knowing beings, entitled to rule over others, regardless of what they actually do or don’t know and understand. It is the illusion, the image of being all knowing, and the rejection/denial of ignorance, that is the problem.

Lets just consider for a second here how this issue has been weaponised in history and today. Justification for the oppression, subordination and undermining of women has often been based on an accusation of their ignorance, lack of ‘education’, and even ‘smaller sized brains’. Children are also diminished and undermined because of their perceived ignorance/lack of knowledge. Black people have been represented as stupid and intellectually inferior to justify racism under patriarchy. It’s no wonder that there is fear attached to playing with, accepting, admitting and engaging with our own ignorance when it arises.

The infuriating, yet, I have come to accept, typical thing when we look at what is unsafe in patriarchal paradigm, is that demonising admissions of ignorance is precisely what perpetuates and upholds patriarchy. It leaves us in a state of unknowns, because we can’t admit that we need to ask, and it maintains situations where people are in positions of power with their ignorance rather than learning and growing out of ignorance.

The methods of personal transformation and experimenting with self-directed education, have turned the patriarchal norms, values and culture on it’s head in regards to this. In this new way of being, problems – which can include ignorance/not knowing enough about something  – are the gold dust and golden opportunities that you want. They most certainly are not something to be hidden or denied – that would be self-defeating, self-sabotaging, undermining to our own authenticity and integrity, and a misrepresentation and betrayal of self. Noticing and having self-awareness of our own ignorance and gaps of knowledge/information is a gift.

Every single time an ignorance is felt, it is an invitation to get smarter. It is a problem on the table to work with, in order to take forward steps, to grow, understand better, increase our integrity and competency in relation to our work, and to increase our capacity to be useful, creative and constructive in our calling.

Growing in and being socialised in a patriarchal society, as we all have, means we all have many ignorances, blind spots and gaps to dance with. We have beliefs that are limiting and poorly informed. It’s not possible to have avoided, that living in the world and dominant culture that we do. Part of integrating a critical approach asks us to question even the things that we feel we ‘do know’ and to test out the validity of those beliefs, to scan for where their might in fact be ignorance underneath. We can do this by being lovingly rigorous with ourselves. Asking, is this true? How do I know? Do I need to check this out more? Am I sure that I have all the information that I need on this? Endeavouring to go two steps further in examining our beliefs and assumptions, asking for our blind spots so we can explore them.

Rather than being triggered and fearful when it seems like we might not know what we need to know, practice every time to be grateful for this awareness, accept and acknowledge it, and take action to address it. This is self-loving, responsible, and demonstrates integrity and will lead to legitimate authority on an issue or area, increasing the value of our contributions to manifesting the world that we want and need. We need to be engaging in our education and knowledge base this way in order to be informed, strong and  compelling enough to overcome the challenges that we face.

p.s. Self-Direction: it is our own responsibility to engage in, own and take responsibility for this process, there are many ways we can self-educate and work our way through ignorance and blind spots thanks to the time and energy others who know things that we don’t know yet are giving and have given to sharing content on the internet, publications and other places. This can also happen through asking for help in consent-based relationship with others. This is self-direction, the onus is on you to take responsibility and to deal with it, and ask.

When parents feel “weird/crazy/bad” for not putting their children in to school, or for taking them out.

Yesterday I received an email from a mother who’s son is deeply unhappy at school, but who is being criticised and told she is a “bad mother” for not forcing her child to attend. A week or so ago I was chatting to a mum I hadn’t met before, in a playground, and home ed came up because there were home ed kids there. The mum said that she was stressed about how to support her 6 year old son because he was getting in trouble at school. The main reasons she gave was because he didn’t want to sit still all day, and had a good idea himself of what he wanted/needed to be doing. That was getting him into trouble because it’s not ok in school to choose how you use your time. Lets say the school wasn’t particularly interested in her son’s need to move or direct his own learning, and was more comfortable labelling him as disobedient/naughty, and insisting that she toe some kind of line to get him under control.

Now, I’m going to take the space of this blogpost to address something that I think is really inexcusable. It is when parents (or children) are left feeling like they are “weird/crazy/bad” by the people around them for questioning schooling.

I’d like to highlight that this is a feminist issue, because it is most often mothers who are experiencing this – they tend to be the ones closest to the coal face of children’s experience. They also have a long history of being diminished and labelled as ‘crazy’ when challenging authority and/or deviating from the norm/what is expected of them, and we need to collectively stop doing that because it is abusive, silencing and limiting to progress.

This is also a children’s rights issue, because children’s access to their rights at all times and in all places (including school) should be a primary concern to us all. The very nature of schooling as it currently exists is a direct obstacle to this, as are the attitudes and behaviour of some adults and even children who have internalised the marginalisation of children as normal, natural or necessary. Who have also learned that conformity and obeying the system of schooling is more important than questioning whether it is a healthy space or best serving children’s needs, individuality and growth.

So, back to the main point, of parents feeling “weird/crazy/bad” for challenging schooling.

A survey of young people published earlier this year by Barnados, identified SCHOOL as being their most cited cause of stress: “By the age of 16, stress at school was a worry for 83% of children.”

There seems to be a cumulative negative effect of schooling on children, peaking at the end but starting in the primary school years. I would suggest that in actually starts in the preschool years (and continues to impact and influence throughout adulthood), and that children themselves underestimate it’s full impact because they have adapted to and accepted various aspects of schooling that is damaging to their sense of self and personal agency.

The diminishing mental health of children is a symptom of a dysfunctional system and environment of schooling. Let’s highlight here that schooling, and education, are not one and the same.

As a parent, if someone said to you: “You can send your child to school, but by the time they are 16 there is an 83% chance that it will be negatively affecting their mental health”, what would you say? “Oh yes please where do I sign them up?” Or would you ask what you other options were?

It is deeply uncomfortable to start interrogating and addressing the full problematic extent of schooling, seeing as almost all families in our society use schools, parents love and want what is best for their children, and teachers enter schools with a passion for education, not wanting to negatively impact the children in their care.

It is uncomfortable, but it is absolutely critical that we do it.

Parents and children that question the system, or make the decision to do something other than school, are deserving of recognition and support, not undermining or black sheeping. As a society we need to be questioning schooling and working on alternatives, so that things can change positively now and in the future for children and society as a whole.

Consent Based Education Workshop: LONDON – FULLY BOOKED

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I am really excited to share that I am offering a London based, one day Consent Based Education workshop!

The workshop will be taking place in a studio at effraspace in south London, just a few minutes walk from Brockwell Park, on the edge of Herne Hill and Brixton.

Details for the workshops are:

Date: Saturday 4th November 2017
Time: 10am-5pm
Location: effraspace, 21 Effra Parade, London, SW2 1PX

This one day workshop will be an immersion in Consent Based Education. The day will be broken down into two 3 hour segments, with an hour break for lunch in the middle.

The morning will cover:
– Why are things the way they are? The History of Patriarchy.
– Breaking cycles – how to do it and why it’s hard.
– What is Consent Based Education?

The afternoon will cover:
– Love and Relationships, Freedom and Boundaries
– Learning, Creativity and Flow – Structured and Unstructured
– The Bigger Picture

The workshop will involve presentation, Q&A, discussion and reflection on each of the different themes.

Participants will be provided in advance with some orientation materials. These may include videos, podcasts, articles, quotes and/or images, and are designed to give context to what we will be exploring on the day.

£45 per person

To book your place on the course, please email: sophiechristophy@gmail.com for payment details. Full payment is required to secure your place. There is a limited number of places available in order to ensure a quality experience for everyone involved.

Please note: This is an intensive course with challenging and potentially transformative content.

Reframing ‘Neediness’

Let it be known: Every single person on this planet has needs. And yet, there seems to be an aversion, in my culture anyway, to acknowledging that.

Maslow famously laid out his ideas about needs in this pyramid:

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Everyone’s landscape of needs, or needset, looks different. Some people have higher social needs than others. Some people have higher sexual intimacy needs than others. Some people are more risk averse and have higher security needs than others. But everyone has needs.

If you have, by luck or design, always had your needs met, you may not realise what your own needs landscape looks like. You might just have always felt good and balanced, and not really given any thought to the concept of needs.

However, if, for some reason, there are things going on in your life that are acting as a barrier to you being able to meet your needs, it might jolt you into an awareness of how important need meeting actually is.

You might be a sensitive person who has a heightened awareness of their needs (see ‘thin bark’ reference below).

Once you do see needs, you might also notice how phobic our society is to the idea of people having needs. For example, imagine the connotation that comes with the description of being ‘needy’. It’s not a positive one.

This, like many things, can be observed in the realm of parenting culture – the environment we create between parent and child to pass on the norms and values, social and interpersonal meanings of our society.

There has been a strong cultural resistance, historically entrenched, to the idea that babies are individual people with a their own set of needs. Rather than acknowledge this human reality, parenting culture has been based on the idea that parents control their children and that it is normal and acceptable for parents to deny/ignore needs that might be expressed by their children. Or frame that expression as ‘bad behaviour’.

This results in us/society being socialised into ignoring our needs, not listening to ourselves, and essentially becoming so distanced from our needset that it no longer sits within our personal awareness.

This can be a problem.

When a person, of any age, is experiencing their needs not being met, it can have adverse affects for that person, and depending on the circumstances, for the people around them as well.

Needs being left unmet over time result in distorted behaviour, that can cause harm to the self and to others, and it can result in deteriorating physical and mental health. Maslow’s theory places need meeting as the primary motivator of human behaviour. And if there isn’t a prosocial way to go about meeting a need, a person may then either turn in on themselves by allowing the need to go unmet, or start behaving in a way that is not prosocial to meet the need by any means necessary.

How long it takes for this to happen depends on an individual’s margin of resilience.

The best analogy I can think of to explain how resilience works, is to think of trees. Some trees have thick bark, some have thin bark. If a tree = a person, it’s bark = their resilience margin.

People with lots of bark can survive prolonged periods of their needs being compromised/going unmet (aka trauma). People with thin bark, are affected much more quickly by the experience of their needs not being met adequately, because their layer of protection is thinner.

As I mentioned above – it is possible for a person to not really experience their needs being unmet. They might have a combination of thick bark, and the ability to manoeuvre themselves without being particularly aware of what they are doing, into situations, relationships and circumstances that meet their needs. Having some cash available helps with this, as money does facilitate needs being met – plenty of the needs listed above by Maslow require access to resources to be met.

But, even people used to experiencing ‘needs stability’ are likely going to hit a breach of their needs when they go through a life changing experience, like becoming a parent.

As a parent, it can be a lot more challenging to manoeuvre yourself into a position to get your needs met easily, perhaps in the ways that you were used to pre-parenthood when you experienced significantly less personal responsibility and demands.

Parenthood itself can be considered a high risk zone for needs going unmet. The consequence of this can be adverse behaviours/feelings that do not represent the person in their most ‘them’ (self-actualised) state – for example behaving in a way that is out of character, feeling ‘not themselves’, and/or deteriorating mental/physical health. Ultimately, personal and interpersonal dysfunction and compromised health.

This risk is heightened in families where parents do have an awareness of their children as unique individuals with their own meaningful and important needsets to meet, who are parenting in a progressive, children’s/human rights oriented way. This is because supporting their babies/children in having their needs listened to, respected and met, can take a lot out of a parent physically and emotionally, and in a society that has little regard for the needs of babies and children, comes with the extra work of living as a family in a way that is widely considered to be counter cultural and can meet with external resistance.

Another barrier to people being able to embrace their needs and seek to meet them, is the impact of internalised negative connotation with the idea of even having needs, or worse, of being in a state of not having your needs met and therefore being perceived as ‘needy’ (as mentioned above).

The solution to this?

  • Raise children from birth in an environment in which their unique needset is acknowledged and respected by the people caring for them. Make the meeting of needs a thing, not a nothing. Be responsive to the needs communicated by babies, and children of any age, so that they don’t learn to ignore/become unaware of their needs. Support them in acknowledging their needs and in understanding the different ways that these can be met.
  • Resist miscomprehending people – children or adults – who have thin ‘resilience bark’ rather than thick, as being in any way deficient or in need of ‘toughening up’. In the same way that you can not force a tree to grow thicker bark, you can not force a person to be more resilient, and trying to do so will just cause more damage/trauma to that person. Instead, listen to them, believe them, and support them in being able to meet their needs and to not persist in an environment/experience that is harming them. It can be said that the most sensitive amongst us have the most to teach us about this world that we create and live in.
  • We can work to observe and reconnect with our own needset, and learn to see them not as neither good or bad, but essential aspects of ourselves that deserve to be acknowledged, respected and met as best we can. Doing so will create the most favourable conditions to live our most authentic and self-actualised lives.

Booking Open: Autumn Consent Based Education Course for Parents – FULLY BOOKED

I am now taking bookings for the September – November 2017 Consent Based Education Course for Parents.

About the Course:

As parenting evolves beyond the traditional authoritarian model, and more and more families choose to live together in more respectful, socially just ways that acknowledge the personhood and agency of children, essential questions arise as to what that means in regards to our relationship with ourselves and others, our outlook and interaction with the world around us.

Consent Based Education is a response to this quandary. What happens when authoritarianism, the basis of all our existing systems, is stripped away, when we become more individually empowered in our own lives, and seek to support our children in this too? What happens when we embrace our own autonomy and capabilities, when we question the education and social inheritance we’ve received up until now?

What happens when our consent and voice really does matter – when we come closer and closer to our authentic selves?

This course is designed for parents who want to explore and go deeper into their understanding and experience of Consent Based Education, for their own personal development and to support their family’s life long learning in a consent based way. You can find out what it is like to take part in the course here.

The course is made up of the following 6 sessions:

  1. The History of Patriarchy and Consent – Why are Things the Way They are Now?
  2. Breaking Cycles – the Process of Change
  3. What is Consent Based Education?
  4. Love and Relationships, Boundaries and Freedom
  5. Creativity, Flow, and the Potential of own CBE
  6. The Bigger Picture

Before each session, a selection of preparation materials are emailed out – this can include things like podcasts, videos, articles and quotes. This prep material is designed to be thought provoking and takes between 1- 2 hours of your time. The prep is optional, although having a look at it will help you get the most out of the sessions themselves.

The sessions last for 2 hours, and are a combination of presentation and group discussion, critical thinking and reflection. Snacks and drinks are provided.

The course will be taking place between 10.30am-12.30pm on the following dates, at a venue just outside of Bishop’s Stortford:

Sunday 10th Sept
Sunday 24th Sept
Sunday 8th Oct
Sunday 22nd Oct
Sunday 12th Nov
Sunday 26th Nov

The course content is structured in a chronological way, with each session building on the one before.

Price: £15 per person per session, £90 total for the course (total course cost to be paid on booking).

Group size is limited to 8 participants to ensure a quality experience.

For more information and bookings, please email: sophiechristophy@gmail.com