Fear, Understanding, and Politics

This Onion article seems to be particularly on-point regarding Trump’s speech, from what I’ve heard and seen of last night. Fear and inaccuracies seemed to play a rather large role.

I’m going to start with a very brief two-paragraph history of my own: I grew up with the network news on in the background daily when my dad would get home from work. Then 9/11 happened when I was a college freshman, living on campus. I stopped watching the news about two weeks later, primarily because of all the fear and hatred being spread around. The network news broadcasts were starting to remind me of the two-minutes hate in 1984, which I had recently re-read at the time. The news was also constantly on wherever there was a television set at my college and it quickly became overwhelming for me.

So I went cold turkey and purposely didn’t watch any news at all for about a decade, aside from clips that were shown during college classes or occasional documentaries I watched. My quality of life improved significantly and immediately upon cutting broadcast news out of my life. I periodically would read news articles – but they were mainly local or relevant to my life in some other way. I heard about significant international events primarily through blogs or personal interactions with friends. Over the last 5 years I’ve slowly added in more written news stories that are of interest to me and carefully avoided much broadcast news, preferring to read the news rather than watch or listen to it anyhow.

Given my news hiatus, it seems obvious to me that, in the past 15 years, things have not gotten better on the spreading fear and hatred to everyone front. Instead they appear to have gotten remarkably worse.

***Now, I want to be very clear that not all fear is unjustified – fear is not a dirty word and it doesn’t imply anything negative in and of itself. Healthy fear can even be life-saving at times.***

However, I would like to encourage all of you, my friends and readers, to look deeply into the things you fear and consider why you fear them and maybe even if you should fear them. It can be difficult to do this at first, it certainly has been for me, but it gets much easier with practice.

These are some of the things that have helped me the most with my own endeavor towards greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and that I think might possibly be of use to others – feel free to take note of any that sound helpful and leave the rest: 

Seek out and listen to numerous perspectives.

Consider staying away from the more dramatic news sources or at least limiting their influence in your life.

Keep at least one or two reasonable friends who don’t hold the same political stances as you do.

Have calm, reasonable discussions with friends who don’t share your political beliefs.

Listen, listen, listen!

Ask for clarifications before assuming what someone meant – especially if they didn’t explicitly say it.

Clarify your own words when asked.

Try to avoid becoming defensive or thinking that someone merely said what you were expecting them to say – especially, again, if they didn’t explicitly say it with their words.

Move beyond pithy, partisan sound-bites and dig more deeply into the issues.

Take frequent (or even long) breaks if you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed. A wise friend of mine once said that the words will still be here when you come back. To a degree, that can sometimes not be true if people decide not to stand by what they said and instead delete comments, but hopefully you’ll be mainly talking to reasonable people who are willing to let their words stand for the sake of the larger discussion even if they’ve since changed their perspective.

Set boundaries for what topics you are not willing to talk about in an online group setting. For example: I have no desire to talk about gun control. I have good friends on both sides and have a good grasp of both sides, I’m somewhere in the middle, and those discussions get nasty very quickly these days. I don’t see any reason for me to either host or participate in those discussions at this point when I can instead save my energy for topics that I still need or want to delve into more thoroughly.

It has been well worth my while to listen open-mindedly to a diverse mix of people and I believe that more people doing so can only benefit our society as a whole – particularly in these fearful and divisive times.

“Better than Co-op”

So, it would appear that my children prefer being unschooled in a kind of Charlotte Mason-y way to belonging to a co-op. Even a fun co-op with their friends. They had been pretty upset about not being able to be in co-op this year and I was worried about how they’d do once the school year started more officially for other children, but my fears were apparently unfounded.

We were at the park last week, learning about leaves, when one of my daughters piped up, “This is better than co-op!” I said, “Really?” Apparently co-op had been “too much like school.” Upon further questioning more things just tumbled out of all three girls, things like, “We only got five minutes of break to play.” and “They didn’t let you teach enough and we loved it when you taught music!” (unexpected ego boost there!) and finally: “We didn’t get to choose what we learned. The teachers got to choose and that’s not fair!”

Oh. Well. They have a good point there. After all, I have always encouraged my children to find what they’re interested in and then I help facilitate that learning by making sure they have the resources available to learn about whatever it is. I read to them, we watch documentaries, they read, explore, create, and play-act things out.

When there are things that I believe are important enough for them to really need to learn, it’s part of my job to make that topic interesting and exciting to my children. I love to read so transferring that love to them hasn’t been very difficult. We found a math curriculum that I love, so again, they love it (I’ve questioned them several times about it). I found a history curriculum that I enjoy reading to them, so they enjoy hearing it (in moderation – not every day).

To my mind, if it’s worth learning, it’s worth being excited about. People don’t tend to retain information that isn’t relevant or exciting or interesting to them in some way. It’s often more of a challenge to help a child find a passion for a topic than to simply feed them information they aren’t interested in, but it’s infinitely more rewarding in the long run because they are much more likely to actually retain the information.

We’ve been so much more relaxed this year without having to worry about getting to co-op on time and trying to teach something that the other parents don’t seem to appreciate (or care to help their children appreciate). It’s been much nicer since my children have been able to take turns choosing the topics of interest that we’re currently studying and if a topic ends up *not* being interesting for whatever reason, we can just switch topics as easily as not.

We’re just over a quarter of the way through the school year and I’m greatly looking forward to whatever the next three quarters bring us!

Currently we are studying: Vincent VanGogh, John Philip Sousa, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Leaves in addition to Life of Fred math, Story of the World history (in moderation), cooking, painting, computer programming, and whatever else we fancy to learn more about.

A Lovely Aspect of Homeschooling

One of the absolute best aspects of homeschooling for me, personally, is discovering new interests right alongside my children.

We’re trying something new this year. Last year we were part of a local Charlotte Mason co-op, which won’t work this year due to scheduling conflicts, and we learned about different composers and their music, artists and their art, poets and their poetry, and we did nature study outside using nature notebooks to record findings.

Those subjects of study may seem peripheral to most people and even to the public school system, from what I can tell, but I believe that they form a foundation for an appreciation of the finer things of life, as well as for a greater understanding of the world and culture we live in, and I can’t imagine ignoring these subjects, despite the fact that the co-op isn’t going to work for us right now.

We were able to base nearly all of our minor subjects on the lives of musicians, artists, and poets last year. Geography, social studies, some musical math, a bit of science, and even some history have all been brought alive by the music, art, and poetry of various countries, time periods, and individuals. I can turn on classical music and my children can tell me what instruments are being used, what type of music it likely is, and sometimes which composer wrote it. My children can immediately recognize the style of Impressionism when faced with an unfamiliar painting and I look forward to introducing them to many more styles as we continue throughout the years.

Anyhow, this year, given the situation and also to help my children handle the disappointment of not being able to see their friends for co-op, I had my oldest (8yo) choose our first subjects of study. She has chosen Degas for our artist, Tchaikovsky for our composer, Rose Fyleman for our poet, and to begin with leaves for nature study. Her next younger sister will get to choose the next set of topics once we have thoroughly examined this first set 🙂

Throughout the process of gathering books and information on Degas, I’m apparently developing a great appreciation for art. I’ve always been more musically inclined, but I suddenly have found an appreciation where there wasn’t any before. It’s invigorating to find good sources, books about his life and works, and documentaries to fill our days that aren’t going to be quite as productive due to various factors.

This year is looking far more promising than I had previously expected it to be and all the children are thrilled to be so involved in the choosing of our poet, composer, and artist. I, also, am looking forward to continuing to develop more of an appreciation for art and poetry alongside my children and for my children to continue developing a great appreciation for the great composers, which has been my greatest pleasure to share with them ❤

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