Political Problems

Unschooling works best in a peaceful nest.
Building an Unschooling Nest
Some people might want to bypass this and go straight to pages about the value of Peace

The best thing written about unschoolers and politics is this. It is quoted and linked below.
"You stamping your foot is like a butterfly to Nestlé but like an elephant to your children, so don't squish them."
—Sarah Dickinson

I'll put links for some of this. It was in the facebook group "Radical Unschooling Info," so if that's still in existence, you could read it there, if you'd like.

Sandra Dodd, April 6, 2017:

About strident politics and unschooling. I found this and I don't think I made a topic of it at the time, but am willing to now.

Anyone who gets very hot-headed here will be illustrating my point, so maybe only post gently or not at all.


[someone] wrote:

Sandra Dodd, going off your example above regarding questions about where food comes from, is it ever all right to introduce facts, opinions, information, etc that could be considered political in nature? I noticed in another post you mentioned how it's important for unschoolers not to have strident political opinions, and I guess I'm still trying to sort out boundaries on these sorts of issues. Is it ever okay to say something like, "I don't think it's right that people starve, considering we generate an excess of food." Am I overthinking this?
December 27, 2016
Another mom:
I'd be interested in exploring that in its own thread.
December 27, 2016

I'll find the post being referenced. The original topic was about kids and birth videos. If this DID break off and has been discussed already, if someone could leave a link to that I'd appreciate it. And if I'm right and it wasn't, sorry.

Sandra Dodd:
I had posted this, as an analogy to how to discuss childbirth with a young child:


"Where does food grow"?

In dirt. Water and sunshine, plants...

Farms or gardens. There are some big farms, and some small ones.

That's probably all a child would want to know, but if he wants to know more, say so! [note in April—I think I meant "he'll say so]

Don't go off politically and rantingly about what you don't like about farming. Don't say "You'll learn that next year." :-)

But answer each question simply and be open to another question immediatly, or not for a week or a month or a year. That's the way learning works at home, with unschooling—conversations and connections and questions answered.

(In context, December 2016)

So to a question I don't think I answered in December (sorry):

-=- Is it ever okay to say something like, "I don't think it's right that people starve, considering we generate an excess of food." Am I overthinking this?-=-

Saying it to a teen would be different from saying it to a five year old.

I don't think it's overthinking. Maybe more like underthinking, because the statement "I don't think it's right" is okay to make, but what is meant by it? That the government is incompetent? There have been a lot of governments, but I don't think even the best of them have prevented all hunger.

There are generous organizations in some places set up to feed the poor and homeless. They don't succeed in reaching all of them, either (thinking of a few in my own city).

If the parent can't solve the problem, it doesn't seem productive to me for "the problem" to be brought into the unschooling nest, as it were. Because negative emotions (fear, guilt, sorrow, helplessness) can prevent or hamper learning. Unschooling works best in an atmosphere of contentment and hopefulness.

There are thousands of sad stories and unfair situations, and botched court cases, and accidental deaths, and suicides and thefts and dognappings in the world every year. How many should you share with your children? I vote zero.

Rivers Humble:
"If the parent can't solve the problem, it doesn't seem productive to me for "the problem" to be brought into the unschooling nest" --

This really resonates. The last several months we've been heeding the advice to read a little, try a little, wait a little. I've seen even over that short amount of time how healing it has been to let myself embrace joy.

And for me personally, it hasn't meant being politically disengaged, but it has meant refocusing and learning to think of the home as a haven. I've actually had to say to people, "I know this is an important topic, but I find the end result of talking so much about it is feeling more angry without anything in the wider world changing," (I understand this isn't an approach for everyone!).

You've reminded me of an article I read recently about the children of full-time political activists/political prisoners and how much of a negative impact it had on their childhoods.

Protest v parenthood: how the children of political activists suffer in silence

Sandra Dodd:
That article is good. I hope others will read it. I'm going to save it. THANK YOU for finding it and sharing it here.

One quote: " [He] was a good person but I don't think he was meant to get married and have kids,' Marlyatou Barry said."

I have said a dozen times, in discussions, there are enough childless people, and enough people whose children are grown, to dedicate their lives to protests and causes.

JoJo Glass:
I have taken my children to peaceful demonstrations for equality because it effects them. They need to know that there are others out there who want them and their mum to have equal rights.

We also attend several gay pride parades every year, but there are ones we avoid because they are known for having incidents that none of us would be safe in.

We also have been to sit ins for racial inequality. We are a multicultural household.

There isn't a lot of diversity in homeschooling and even less in unschooling, so human rights may not be high priority for most in the community. Allies are great, but why would someone orphan their child or injure their child when as Sandra said, there are others who can go to those high risk situations.

Sandra Dodd:
When I was first homeschooling there was a family that had challenged the government in some state, not where I was, and they were spending all their time doing that and one or both of the parents went to jail about it. And I was, meantime, extending our peaceful attachment parenting to cover kindergarten for Kirby.

Because I was coming from attachment parenting, it made zero sense to me for the mother to be in jail, separated from her children, or to risk losing custody.

It wasn't an unschooling family, and I didn't follow the story for long, but it disturbed me that the parents seemed to care more about winning a political challenge than to hold and sleep with their children.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-There isn't a lot of diversity in homeschooling and even less in unschooling, so human rights may not be high priority for most in the community. -=-

I don't agree with a lack of diversity. In the 25 years I've been unschooling, I kinda lucked out with being invited to speak at lots of conferences. Conferences are self-chosen groups, and it does take some money to attend, usually. Our own family wouldn't have been able to go to many of the conferences I spoke at.

But I've seen lots of families, and haven't met any who disregarded or discouraged human rights. But if by writing "human rights may not be high priority" you mean that they're not out protesting or campaigning, I don't think they should be, with young children, for reasons given earlier.

Unschooling works the same way regardless of other issues. Learning works the same, in humans (or it doesn't, in stressful situations, for humans), regardless of where they live, what the laws are, what their religion is, and so forth.

The human cognition parts of people don't know what country they are in or what their religion, ethnicity or income might be.

JoJo Glass:
By priority I have met very few families who interact outside of their homeschool communities. I don't think they should be protesting with their children either, but I have been to multitudes of homeschooling conferences as well as parenting conferences over the last two decades and there are very few brown people, Asian people or gay families.

There has only been one event I have attended where I have met more than one family that were part of the LGBTQ community.

There can sometimes be a disconnect not for any other reason than they have so much going on with their own families, it's not priority time wise.

Alex Polikowsky:
JoJo Smith maybe it is your area because ,'first we don't interact with homeschoolers only, second even out small local homeschooling group is very very diverse.

I think that interacting only with homeschoolers is not a good goal or something one should aim for. My kids are out in the world and community and interact with all kids of people.

At 11 and 14 they are pretty aware of human rights, inequality, social issues but not because I made sure to bring it up but because they are out there with us and they read, talk to friends, are exposed and life , are living out in world with us , parents, answering questions and discussing ideas as they come up.

JoJo Glass:
It seems it could be. It's the south and there are issues here to begin with.

Bridget Peach
This thread made me remember this comic strip I love. I apologize if it is not relevant.

Sandra Dodd:
In the 1970's, I thought the best thing I could do for women everywhere and women's right would be to make enough money to hire a housekeeper and a nanny so three women would be employed.

In the 1980's when I started having children, I knew more. I knew that there are instincts involved, and that some things can't be hired out without lifelong penalties.

Childless women can't know that, and so put-downs and accusations can be irritating, but *IF* "women's rights" is any more than a slogan, then women should have the right NOT to live their lives as men in the workplace, should have the right to choose NOT to work and leave children in daycare, as well as to have the opportunity to work.

Socially it makes sense. Politically, it irritates those who want to live in and through the political protests and for as many other women as possible to join and support, emulate and praise them.

It's another us vs. them problem. The "us" wasn't all women, it seems sometimes.

Sandra Dodd:
I still remember when I was five and got my first inkling of the size of the world. I was SO OFF. And most adults are still off in their imagery and estimates of distances and populations. I think probably fewer than one percent of even people who are geography buffs could identify every single nation and island on the planet. So there are thousands (millions) of people living somewhere that I know nothing about. And there are probably problems there, and crimes.

Recently Jihong Tang wrote about a place [In the Caribbean] I had never heard of—Guadeloupe. They use Euros; it's part of France. Over 400,000 people.


So my point is that in my 60's I'm still learning that the world is bigger than I knew.

When I was five, we lived outside of Fort Worth, Texas, walking distance from my mother's parents, in a small-farm area, now an industrial area near a freeway, but then it was dirt roads near the south end of Lake Arlington. I knew of Fort Worth and Dallas. They seemed endless to me.

When we visited my other grandparents, they were in Rotan, a small town. When I found out that there were LOTS of cities as big as Fort Worth and even bigger, it felt scary. I remember sitting and thinking about that. How big WAS the world?

I still don't know, and I've visited Australia, and Europe, and North Bay, Ontario. :-) Thanks to Jihong, I got to visit Hawaii. And still, I can't even imagine how big all of Ontario is, or all of Hawaii.

So to tell a young child something disturbing will not give him a context for distance, nor for the possibility of the problem being solved by you, or him, or by governments.

And if a parent of a young child is looking outward, and collecting hurts and sorrows and bringing them home to sort through and bemoan, who is holding that child and touching him gently, singing to him and smiling at him?

Lisa J Haugen:
-=-I guess I'm still trying to sort out boundaries on these sorts of issues. Is it ever okay to say something like, "I don't think it's right that people starve, considering we generate an excess of food."-=-

I can tend to talk a lot.

WAIT- Why Am I Talking - is a good little acronym I keep in mind as often as I can. I try to think about why I am wanting to say something before I say it, and assess whether or not it makes sense to say it with as much context as I can consider—whether it will help or hurt a situation. Sometimes it still happens in retrospect, but more and more it happens before I open my mouth. :)

If your hope—the purpose behind a statement like the one above—is to transmit values about compassion to your child, or to be a compassionate person yourself, be compassionate to your own children first. Make sure your children don't go hungry, for food, love, attention, connection, hope, fun, and interesting experiences. Don't cloud their worlds even a little with doom and gloom and negativity. So much of it will inevitably enter their perception without you ever telling them even a little bit about any of the bad things that happen in the world. The way they cope with and respond to those things will be shaped by how well they have been tended to and been treated with kindness, consideration, and compassion.

That's the best influence I think a parent can have with a child.

From my own experience and observation of others, it seems most often parents say those kinds of things to their kids because they are hoping to transmit their own values—as if a child is an extension of their own power to shape and influence the things that cause them fear or discomfort (no matter how well founded) in the world, in the ways they want to shape and influence them. Or they want to make sure their kids reflect well on them and their values and their parenting.

I'm not talking about older children who have an interest in such things and are asking for adult opinions and wanting to talk about them. I was really interested in politics from about the age of 11 or 12 or so (I'd need to do the math, whichever year Clinton was elected the first time). I hope to give my kids some kind of buffer, so that they have enough light and hope and fun and love to drawn on as they grow and learn more about the world. I also hope not to color their view of the world with any negativity I still hold about it. The way I see the world will be different than the way my kids see it even as they grow into adults, and I think that's a good thing. It gives me hope. :)

If how a parent looks to other people, other adults, other activists, other compassionate grown ups, matters more to them than their own child's experience of them, then school might be a better choice for those kids, because at least at school the adults are paid to focus on the children.

I try not to share my opinions, about most things, with my children unasked for (even and maybe especially about more minor things that come up more often, like songs and movies and colors and clothes, unless, again, they ask me). If they ask me, I think about ways to answer that are both honest but simple and not too much information (since I'm prone to talking more than people want to hear). My kids are young, 7 and 5, and when they're older, I'd probably say more than I do now, but still think about what I say and why before I say it. I do this with adult friends too--if not asked for, how important or useful is my opinion? And, how will my opinions benefit them or our friendship? Sometimes not at all. Sometimes it doesn't matter much to *not* share an opinion and I share it openly and honestly and pay attention as best as I can to how long I'm talking, and whether or not other people look like they want to talk too, and if I'm being too animated for other people's comfort. :)

My kids like it sometimes when I'm animated, but mostly they don't and I want to make room for them to be the animated ones. :)

I definitely don't want to shut down conversations or opportunities for them to develop their own personalities and thoughts and opinions. I don't want them to be bogged down by my opinions, I don't want to make their worlds smaller, even if it would appear more virtuous or 'radically awakened' to other people. I give my opinion on practical things like resolving playground or sibling issues when I can see they could use some help. I still do it more than I think is beneficial, especially when I'm stressed or tired, even with years of paying attention to it and being mindful about how what I say (and how much I say) affects them.

I keep all this in mind with my husband too, not just my children.

Emily Strength
I wouldn't tell a kid randomly about people starving. But it's come up in our home, when they see people on the side of the road asking for money.

They ask why.

"Maybe they are hungry." And if we have some apples or granola bars in the car, I stop and hand one out the window.

They have asked why those people didn't have a job for money.

"Sometimes it's hard to find work. Maybe they were sick and couldn't work."

My oldest has a friend with a mom who is a drug addict (who she doesn't live with). My daughter found out that sometimes drug addicts stand by the road asking for money for drugs.

She asked if that's why I give them food, not money.

"Yes, but sometimes people need money too. Maybe a woman on her period needs to buy tampons. Not everyone asking for help is on drugs."

So it comes up, naturally, as we live life, but I didn't go looking up the statistics of how many homeless are in our city and show her pictures of starving children in Africa to complete the "unit study."

Christina Kim
I recently got stuck as a parent regarding this sort of thing. Our local Pride march was coming up and I wanted to walk in support of my brother and his husband and also a family that I'm friends with who adopted two little girls of a different ethnicity. So, they are gay dads with black daughters and very "political" and "active." My thoughts kept bouncing around about how to talk to my daughter. I know they choose to tell their daughters lots of things that I'm not sure are age appropriate but it may very well be necessary in their lives.

I just got STUCK.

We ended up not attending because of nap time and the heat outside and probably a little due to my hesitancy and inability to decide if we should just go, say it's a rainbow parade?

The idea of telling my daughters that people don't like their uncles and they have to protect their rights breaks my heart. (Not that that is what id say, but what if conversation lead to that?) I don't really want them to know that. But is that naive?

Also, what about sexism and racism? I have two daughters and we're half Korean. Do you bring these things up? Do you let it ride until they have questions? Do you just read children's books about being strong and smart?

I've erred on the side of simply keeping my mouth shut, the oldest is so young nothing has come up.

Sandra Dodd:
Other things with unschooling, you're waiting for them to discover them, right? Fractions? Are you going to go to a class (or march, or workshop) on fractions just because you know there is one? I think you can trust that they will figure fractions out from folding paper, eating food, cutting real or play pizza, playing with Lego.

They'll know more about Korea than other people, and will figure out that some don't know much. It's the same with kids who own horses or don't, or whose family has a boat, or doesn't. The older they get, the more particular their own bodies of knowledge will be. Unschooling will take care of those connections, and questions, and awarenesses, unless the unschooling is sabotaged or compromised.

The better the unschooling set-up and maintenance is, the better their thinking and pondering can be. The calmer your explanations can be. And your answers, conversationally, will be better received when the children asked the questions because they had a need to know, than if you decided it was time for a unit/class/session.

[A mom wrote:]
If it impacts their lives then it's something to talk about. Less when they're young, more as they get older and ask more questions.

Being unschoolers, we are out and about and rubbing shoulders with all sorts of ideas. Being American, a lot of those ideas are ones that contribute to, as an example, institutional racism. By not talking about them, these ideas sink unquestioned into our minds. I've tried to address them not by being strident (tho' sometimes I am, despite my best efforts) but by strewing (not scary) books about people of color, America's historic abuse of its citizens, etc. Positive books that don't shy away from the history we've inherited. Or even just instances in otherwise well-loved books (like "Little House on the Prairie") wherein a person of color is portrayed one way or another.

Children understand that the world is unfair, and they're often moved to want to make it fairer. It takes a bit of passion—which might come across as strident, sometimes—to figure out where we can do so. We know children in our city go hungry; we volunteer at a place that provides lunches to them. We know youth in our city experience homelessness; we make cookies for the place that provides a safe place for them to hang out.

We may not be able to solve everyone's problems, but we can do what we can. The unschooling nest remains a safe place from which we can help a bit, here and there. (Laughing at myself because I used to be "strident" about unschooling :-) I'm still passionate about new things I discover.)

Sandra Dodd:

-=- By not talking about them, these ideas sink unquestioned into our minds.-=-

Not if other things are discussed. If kindness and fairness are discussed as natural situations come up, there doesn't need to be analysis of outside situations until kids are older.

-=-It takes a bit of passion—which might come across as strident, sometimes—to figure out where we can do so.-=-

I'm unwilling to let arguments that defend negativity sit here unchallenged today.

-=- We may not be able to solve everyone's problems...-=-

Not "may not." Cannot.

-=-..., but we can do what we can-=-

Yes, and if that involves your children feeling helpless or afraid, then it probably wasn't a good thing to have done.

If it doesn't, great. But sometimes parents are in denial (or not even considering) the effect on their children's peace of mind.

-=- I used to be "strident" about unschooling :-) I'm still passionate about new things I discover.)-=-

Until the unschooling is done and the kids are grown, it's good to keep it solid and operational. Politics can derail it.

Meredith Novak:
-=-Do you bring these things up? Do you let it ride until they have questions? Do you just read children's books about being strong and smart?

I've erred on the side of simply keeping my mouth shut, the oldest is so young nothing has come up.--=-

What you'll say and when and how is going to depend a lot on your kids - what their interests are, how social they are, how sensitive they are and in what ways? It's not going to do much good to set an anxious kid up to be more anxious, for instance, or to make an emotional kid cry so you can teach them a lesson about how mean people are. It's okay to be gentle with your children's feelings for as long as possible.

My daughter is a homebody and a strong introvert who's not much of a talker. She's not the sort of person you take to soup kitchens and demonstrations or discuss social justice. So there have been many times when I've felt at sea among people saying "oh yes we do these cool things" and "oh, of course you have to talk to your kid about these things" because those weren't good options for my kid. But she also doesn't live under a rock ;) Things come up - often tangentially, in the course of doing something fun. That's how a lot of learning happens!

-=-Do you just read children's books about being strong and smart?-=-

Do your kids like those kinds of books? My daughter has tended to prefer tv and movies to books, or more recently comics - often those with underlying themes of mutual support and the value of individual differences. Your kids are still pretty little, so you're still guessing, but over time they'll have more distinct preferences.

As you look for stories and games and toys your kids enjoy, you'll run into chances to point things out. You'll also run into moments when the world turns out to be unfair or disappointing and you'll get to see if you can problem-solve some better options... or sometimes when all you can do is commiserate that, yes, the world and people in it aren't always so wonderful. Sometimes you may decide your kids need a word of caution so they don't end up blindsided by a weird or dangerous situation - we've run into that with our kids now and then - but there's no need to throw a lot of scary stuff at them "just in case". There's no rush! The ugliness of the world will still be there tomorrow, after all. It's okay to let kids ease into it.

Sandra Dodd:
-=-Do you just...-=-

Anytime that's the question, the answer is probably going to be "no." :-)

Unschool as well as you can, and lots of the side questions disappear. But part of unschooling well is keeping a fairly peaceful environment.

Making choices about being more peaceful is like making other choices.

Make the Better Choice

Jo Isaac:
==Do you bring these things up? Do you let it ride until they have questions? ==

I haven't needed to bring things up. Questions did and have come up - but I didn't feel like I was letting it 'ride'. I don't expect my son to have the beliefs and ideas as I do - it has been one of the most important stages of deschooling for me - my son is not me.

Naturally, as he's got older, he has asked questions about things he's seen me do, heard me talk about. He came to his own conclusions about eating meat, for example - he will only eat free range chicken, which is actually less meat than I eat, because I also eat game meat.

He now has strong political ideas (he's almost 11) and likes to discuss politics - mostly his political views align with mine and my husbands, but he has some interesting diverging ideas, too.

We've had conversations about civil rights and racism that have come from watching movies - X-Men, The Help.

He gets very upset when we see homeless people in the city, and recently in London when we visited the UK - about the injustice of it. I suggested we could volunteer at a soup kitchen, but he doesn't want to do that right now.

==Do you just read children's books about being strong and smart?==

No. I AM strong and smart ;) His friends who are girls (and boys!) are too. You are imagining that 'just' reading books will 'teach' your daughters that girls are 'strong and smart'...it doesn't work like that..

==is it ever all right to introduce facts, opinions, information, etc that could be considered political in nature?==

It depends on context? What you mean by 'introduce'? If it's a natural discussion, sure- share your opinions. If you are introducing something in the hopes of making a point and making a child believe a certain political view - not so much - that verges on teaching...

Trust that your kids WILL see what is important to you, just through living with you, hearing your conversations, seeing you live. Answer questions as they come up. But also trust that they will come to their own beliefs and their own conclusions, that may not directly align with yours.

My favourite Sandra quote works here - 'If your child is more important than your vision of your child, life becomes easier'

Lisa J Haugen:
-=-by not talking about them, these ideas sink unquestioned into our minds-=-

This sounds too much like teaching and mainstream thinking about the way children learn and experience the world.

I don't think it's true, and I think it can be a way of transferring responsibility from the parent being mindful about what they say/do/think, and instead focusing that energy on instructing (subtly and manipulatively, or directly) children on how they should perceive the world, and act in it.

I think if a parent has a principle about respect, it should show in their actions toward their children and everyone else they interact with. Same goes for acceptance and tolerance. What the parent does, who the parent *is* in the world will influence a child the most, I think.

-=-we volunteer at a place-=-

Be careful when using "we."
Why she is there too with you matters a lot, and how much real choice she had in volunteering matters too.

When Moms Use "We" SandraDodd.com/we

Meredith Novak
-=-By not talking about them, these ideas sink unquestioned into our minds-=-

One of the really big ways kids - especially younger kids - question what they see and hear is by playing with those ideas. Parents sometimes panic when that happens - omg, my perfectly peaceful baby is playing guns! They've absorbed violence! Ahhhh! No. They're thinking. Play is a big part of how kids think. It's a bit more concrete and overt than what adults do! Sometimes kids play with calling other people stupid as a way to question that kind of behavior - does it really work just like it did on tv? Let me try that again. It's not an uncritical process, it's what learning looks like in action.

Depending on how this topic might be of interest to a reader, this page might be helpful:


Sandra Dodd:
This page has commentary on the Nestle boycott that many in the UK feel very strongly about (and other places, but it can be a touchstone there).

"You stamping your foot is like a butterfly to Nestlé but like an elephant to your children, so don't squish them."—Sarah Dickinson SandraDodd.com/factors

Sandra Dodd:
I came upon the transcript of a chat about wonder and awe, and down in there (with many fun things and music) was this:
Sandra Dodd: For a single person to dedicate himself or herself to "a cause" is all well and good, but for a parent to take one moment from his child's peaceful life to try to make theoretical peace 10,000 miles away is bad.

Robin B.: And filling kids' heads with the misery of others doesn't make them happier.

There is more there.

It's going to be the link (with an unrleated quote) from Just Add Light tomorrow. The reason I went there was for the heart-shaped dog poo, because it had a connection to the dog named by Pushpa in her interview with Pam Laricchia. Things are so connected!!! :-) There's some more there about the Nestle boycott (and how crazy it makes some moms) and other things: SandraDodd.com/chats/wonder

Beth Ahlquist Lamb:

I came across this page the other day with a quote from Sylvia Woodman about boycotts:

"And I remember so vividly the (LLL) leader very gently saying something to the effect that she could never keep track of all the companies she was not supposed to support and she found it much simpler to just spend time every day supporting moms who wanted to breastfeed and that eventually that would have a greater and more positive effect on the world she lived in.

"It was an aha! moment—don't focus on the negative or how awful the situation is—take small steps toward positive change."

I am inspired to focus on taking small, positive, achievable steps rather than focusing on negativity.


Sandra Dodd:
Everyone who helps others unschool or to live peacefully with their children is contributing more to the peace of the world than anyone who is sorting through fine print to try to boycott a company as a punishment for something someone did, or didn't do, years ago, while their children are saying, "Please, mom, please?"

Those who help others live more gently and peacefully help more (here and anywhere) than those who are collecting up political causes and posting about their indignation.

Factors, Problems, Odd Considerations, including "boycotts and other political stances"

Priorities, in parenting Problems with negativity When Parents have Issues

Christian Politics, 2022 and following; I hope it's only an American problem.