Learning to Unplug from the Cultural Grid

Associated School: 

A Fragment of a Sudbury Parent’s Journey

The day we offered the option to homeschool to our children will be etched in my mind forever. Not because it felt so radical (which it did), not because it scared the pants off me to think of the responsibility (which it did), and not because they were excited to “get out of school” (though they were), but because of this surprise experience: an actual felt sense of wholeness and enormous love came like a substantive wind of God through the living room where we were talking with our children. It was so startling and palpable, that I nearly gasped at the “third” entity that had graced the group of us so suddenly. Later, and in private, I asked my husband if he had felt this sensation as I had. He nodded and agreed he felt something like a delivery of love and wholeness as well. And suddenly, we were a family again. No longer were we squashed and pushed around by always trying to meet the demands of the system.

Having rarely been set free from this in my life, I was completely amazed at the feeling of connection that came back to our family, reminding me of the earlier years when both my children were still un-indoctrinated with a “have-to-now,” life style.

When my eldest daughter, then nearly eleven, was given the option (which she took wholeheartedly) to homeschool, she stopped giving me her forehead (face tilted down) as her kiss goodnight. Instead she started turning her full face to me with outstretched arms and kissing me right back! Whoa. That was a big shift. It appeared to me that previously, like a prisoner, she had to keep her feelings of release at bay each evening because I, her prison guard, would be insisting she return to the same grim environment the following Monday. She could not allow herself real relaxation, because then she would have to go through the painful experience of re-detaching and dissociating each morning and each Sunday to return to the environment imprisoning her. I believe that this generation has consciousness that makes participation in social structures where people “lord over” them very difficult. Perhaps there is a “new human” evolving, for whom attachments must include a respect for them as whole, intelligent, and integrated beings.

Upon entering the doors at the Sudbury School for the open house, I noticed that there was no one available to engage my expectations for the usual handshakes and prepared introductions. Instead, warm but non-intrusive faces said hello, spaciously waiting for a hint of what we needed as visitors. It also felt like no one owned the building, space, or school, but instead expected that you should fill it as you like, not with “egoic mentalizations” that reflect the proscribed culture and conditioning we are accustomed to. At once I felt that I had to allow myself more space. A short while later, I had the recognition that all that hand shaking and greeting I am accustomed to is actually a kind of “sell.” “Sell” is the norm of the culture I was brought up in. In my family and community and schooling, you sell yourself by becoming articulate, learning how and who to hang with and when to drop names and by adorning proper handshaking. This way you will let people know you belong to the “right” club, or are cut from a certain cloth. Hence, it was an old and recognized structure in me that felt the respectful peace and non-pressured atmosphere at Sudbury as a discord. But as I challenged my usual internal frame, I also experienced it as hugely relaxing and pleasurable. Here there was no one imposing their will on another. After a while of exploring the physical space and finding their own way around, the group assembled to answer questions for the visitors. Again there was a deep peaceful space that was palpable as I calmed my “ready to step-up and fill the void self” back down again. Instead, I was able to notice what I can only describe as the roominess to be.

I was silent on the way home. My husband had that knowing look on his face. A look that said, “Ah. I get this and it is right!” (Sometimes I hate the certitude my husband’s radar for “right,” holds for him. It meant a new challenge to my poor over-socialized self.) Not long after, when both kids had been at Sudbury for a few weeks, he articulated what he felt so strongly was fundamentally “right” about Sudbury versus the experience of public schooling as we had experienced it: “They are getting to be themselves, and find themselves BEFORE they have to edit themselves.” What a beautifully simple way to say this. To become a self, before editing a self.

Editing the self is most evident in the nature of how the psyche develops. When we are asked to evaluate and reflect on every minute detail of everything we do, we are in fact fragmenting our children’s sense of self, and overdeveloping the super-ego interfering with states of flow, integrity, happiness and pleasure. It interferes with our wholeness and ease of being. I believe that compulsory schooling has become synonymous with ‘disempowerment,” “being kept down,” (perhaps “being kept,” period) and more poignantly, with disembodiment, dissociation and dispiritedness.

More than any other setting I can think of, schools in the 21st century are places that reify the concept of not accepting children as they are. Instead, the entire process is designed to get children to become what is pre-conceived/pre-imaged for them. To become the paper-doll who will wear the social fabric that was pre-cut for them, before they were born: this is the antithesis of the Buddhist proscription, “show me your face before your mother was born.” In other words, the less you are imposed upon, the greater the true-self development. The greater the true-self, the greater the embodiment, the wholeness and ultimately the moral integrity, that informs intelligence.

Today, I am elated by the turnaround I see in my children. They have become loving, non-fighting, brightened, engaged, natural, creative, relaxed beings. They are talking about their decisions, and how they make them. Their self-reflection is now a natural, rather than contrived, outcome of being respected and trusted. They, and we, are now living in a cohesive family flow that is in deep contrast to what we lived for 8 years as we dutifully repeated our own upbringing: we went to work, they went to school and in that process we became detached, to keep them marching with the “machine.” During our public school experience, all the pieces seemed to fit together, yet neither the beings nor the family felt whole: love and attunement degraded to depression. This depression was, I believe, a result of not activating our own autonomy and instead allowing ourselves to be identified with the role of the aggressor. We had become like the school and like the Gestapo; a top-down structure. In our role as gatekeepers for our children’s activities from dawn to dusk, I had to detach from my own natural flow and so did our children. It is well documented that relaxed attachments with one’s significant others ("teachers," too), is critical to psychological wellness, self-regulation and to generating an authentic self, capable of passionate engagement from the inside out.

We must consider de-institutionalizing systems so our people and our planet can stop being a self-destructive force. Let each man thrive in unity, so all fragmentation and duality of mind and being, can recede to the annals of history. Sudbury does truly offer a ray of hope not only for an education for the “new human,” but also for a new humanity at large.

Ah! Unplugged and self-respected, at last!

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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

84 Zena Road
Kingston, NY 12401
Phone: 845-679-1002
Fax: 845-679-3874