Posted in family life, hikes

hiking with littles: wet beaver creek day use area

It is good to simply be – to be present, to be at peace, to be free.

This is something I try to give to my children: freedom, space for wonder, opportunity for exploration and self-determination, time to be young and wild among the wild things of the earth.

Chores, deadlines, busy schedules, impatient adults – they all can make it hard to leave no stone unturned in the quest for interesting bugs (not to mention that riparian areas tend to have much more fascinating bugs than our urban desert backyard!).

Home is good, and safe, and stable – but unless you go out adventuring you will never stumble across pools to wade in, rocks to splash, logs to climb, and leaves as big as your head.

And when you begin, you may find that every bend in the river is calling you forward, over boulders and brush, through shadow and sun, to discover the unknown ahead.

Or perhaps it is the curve in the path that beckons, as it winds through the grasses underneath an archway of leaves.

The wild around you may make you feel small, dwarfed by the solid rock beneath your feet and by the broad, tall trees rising overhead, in whose roots alone you could take shelter.

Yet it is that same grandeur and size that makes overcoming those wild obstacles such a meaningful feat, such a source of delight and satisfaction – no worksheet or artificial task can hope to compare.

You learn to ask for help when the problem is too large to handle alone; you learn to stretch and bend and serve when your friend needs help that you can give. And in the serving, you come to find joy, and in the receiving, you find joy as well.

And when you cannot find the trail that others made, you go where beauty and danger call, where the challenge and reward are equally great, and never count the loss of what might have been for the thrill of the wandering.

How to get there: As you may have guessed, we didn’t exactly follow a trail on this adventure! Instead, we used the Wet Beaver Creek day use area as our base and spent five hours exploring the surrounding area. To get there from the valley, take the I-17 N through Camp Verde, exiting onto the 179N toward Sedona at exit 298. Almost immediately, turn right onto FR618 and follow for 2.4 miles until you reach the day use area on your right. There are several one-lane bridges, but the road is paved the whole way. The day use area has no fees and a couple port-a-potties and picnic tables.

If you do want to take an established trail (and I’ve heard this one is good, although I didn’t locate it until we were leaving), you won’t need to stay on FR618 quite so long, instead turning left into the Beaver Creek Work Center and parking near Bell Trailhead. This is a 3.5 mile trail leading to a swimming hole, so it’s probably better for older kids.

Posted in musings

because prejudice ends up hurting everyone

Recently, when I mentioned I wasn’t yet part of any homeschooling support groups, a (non-homeschooling) friend mentioned a local co-op called Branches, so I looked it up. It is far more structured and school-like than I am interested in, and also has several concerning (to me) points in its code of conduct and statement of faith. When choosing a homeschool group, as when selecting a private school, it is important to read through to that level of detail because no matter where the co-op or school falls academically, it will be detrimental to your child if its culture differs dramatically from your home culture or endorses cultish or prejudiced beliefs.

Some of those concerning aspects were (unfortunately) fairly familiar to me – the parent must sign a strict statement of faith, and must cede to the group’s board the final word on the interpretation of that faith. Considering they are not my pastors, nor theologians, nor even members of my church, I don’t think they can legitimately claim to have that level of authority. I did appreciate their honesty, however, in stating that while they believe the Bible is the final authority it is their interpretation of that authority that will have the ultimate say… it reveals a weak point in Protestant understandings of religious authority in general.

However, one point that I had not run across before was as follows. In a list of forbidden behaviors, along with things like cheating and bullying, the group prohibits “personal appearance and behavior contrary to one’s biological sex.”

Interesting.

That is so broad and vague. While it was most likely intended in a transphobic manner, it is so loosely worded that it essentially prohibits all display of non-gender-stereotypical behavior. So… apparently in this group, math is only for boys, and the girls can’t be competitive in STEM topics or hope for a career as a scientist. Apparently, it’s inappropriate here for little boys to wear pink and purple shirts, or play house, or take care of baby dolls (because heaven forbid they grow up to be engaged and involved fathers when they have babies of their own). Apparently, girls need to wear makeup, do their hair neatly, wear skirts, and make sure they stay clean when they play; boys on the other hand should probably get muddy every so often to avoid an appearance of girliness. According to the words in this code of conduct, it is ok for girls to giggle and cry with each other, but boys should stick to anger and aggression if they have strong emotions. If a girl does just happen to be athletic, she should definitely stick with acceptable sports like gymnastics and volleyball, and avoid playing pick-up basketball or touch football with the boys. And just to be on the safe side, boys should play with boys, and girls should play with girls, to ensure that all the play is happily gender-conforming.

How can a child feel free to explore the fullness of the world around them if they have to be worried about stepping over a (socially-constructed, averages-based, generally-applicable, ambiguous) line all the time? Even a feminine, female-identifying, biologically female individual is going to have some aspects of their personality and behavior that fall outside female gender-stereotypical lines (for example, I am a cis-gendered female who likes my hair cut very short, does not wear makeup or heels, and has a career in the hard sciences). In this group, would that behavior be censored in a (transphobic) attempt to force all people into one or other of two black-and-white categories? I’m guessing it wouldn’t be – but the exceptions would be tolerated in an unpredictable, social-norms-based way (kind of negating the whole emphasis on biological differences) instead of by any sort of reliable and consistent rubric, which creates confusion and has the potential to lead to shame or stigma.

And finally, because this is what this kind of discriminatory rule is really intended to address, what happens to the child who actually struggles with gender dysphoria? Here, they would not be met with support and help, but with shame and rejection. Here, they would be told that because their brains and their bodies aren’t in sync, they are unfit to be part of an educational activity with other children (a mixed-gender educational activity, no less). Here, they would be told that the shape of their body is more important than their identity, their natural inclinations, their talents and giftings, and their mental health and emotional well-being.

That isn’t ok with me.

Trying to discriminate against one group of people usually ends up this way, with the implementation of vague social rules that constrain and restrict all sorts of unintended behaviors while adding to the stigma and isolation faced by the target group. I would rather be with people who may not always act as I would, but who accept and love each other anyway, around whom I can be my authentic self and know their authentic selves. While this co-op may have good things to offer, they don’t outweigh the negatives of prejudice and social control. After all, we are homeschooling in part so that our children can be free to explore, learn, and grow in their own time and in their own way; we don’t need a group of self-appointed parental “experts” trying to shape us into their acceptable mold anymore than we need the public school system doing so. And I am sure that in the right time, we will find the right group and homeschool community for our family.

Posted in musings

freedom in learning

What is the goal of education? Or, for that matter, what is the goal of parenthood? Is our aim to shape the children in our care into a certain type of person, to give them specific skills, to qualify them for certain careers, to prepare them for expected circumstances? Do we envision their future selves as the complete products toward which we are currently laboring, and the ends which justify all the unpleasant activities we must force upon them in their childhoods?

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Or do we see our role as parents and educators to be one of providing opportunities to explore and grow, while allowing our children to choose the direction, rate, and nature of that growth? Are they like plants which we tend with loving care – providing soil, water, and space to flourish – but over which, ultimately, we have no true control? I remember one year planting peas, all in a row in a single garden bed; I watered them and fertilized them synchronously, and yet some sprouted days before their neighbors, and some grew to twice the height of others, lanky stems reaching up to the sky much farther in between each set of leaves and tiny tendrils. Nothing I did caused or could have eliminated the differences between those plants (though I certainly could have affected their development negatively by forgetting to water them, in which case the height difference may not have been so noticeable…).

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Perhaps it is the same way with children. Some will shoot out intellectually, reaching with insatiable desire towards the skies of knowledge and academic learning, constant thirst for the sunlight of information driving them onward. We could stunt that growth by neglect or empower it by attention, but we cannot create (and can only with great difficulty destroy) the passion that motivates it. Others may grow in more embodied ways, developing craftsmanship and skill in professions such as music, art, or manual trades, and pursuing the creation of tangible beauty rather than the acquisition of knowledge. While we can offer the opportunity to learn those skills to all children, not all will desire to hone them to mastery, and it is most likely counterproductive to attempt to force it.

The knowledge and skills that align with a child’s natural talents and inclinations will be the easiest for them to develop, as well as the ones most likely to bring them joy and success throughout their lives – regardless of how “one-sided” it may make them appear now.

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We may fear that, if children are allowed to choose the direction of their learning, they may choose incorrectly.

Does a tree choose the wrong place to grow a branch?

Does the blackberry bush extend its vines the wrong way?

Hardly.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis (I believe from Mere Christianity), the tree and the bush are following the rules of their nature and are not wrong or incorrect in doing so, although they may be quite inconvenient indeed for us!

And while it is quite fine to trim back a plant for the sake of our comfort and convenience, it is not at all fine to trim back the growth of another person for the sake of our own convenience. Providing a trellis to support their growth is one thing; stunting or restricting that growth simply because it doesn’t fit our idea of what their growth should look like is quite another.

Children are human too, after all. And humans, we believe, in fundamental democratic terms, are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (always being aware of how our actions infringe upon the rights of others, of course).

Coercive education – forcing a child to learn something in which he has no interest, for no purpose at all except the nebulous expectations of adult society, at the expense of time and energy that could have been devoted to the unique and explorative learning that his heart desires – seems to me to be quite far from those exalted human rights.

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We can attempt to control, and set ourselves and our children up for disappointment, failure, and bitterness – or we can let our children provide the directing and motivating force while we provide the rich and nourishing environment in which they can flourish in beauty and individuality. We can give them the gifts of freedom, acceptance, and support, and marvel at the different ways they blossom before our wondering eyes.