This was a rant I recently posted in four parts. I decided I’d put it all together on one page because I’d like it to be quickly available. It really helped me to write it.
May we set ourselves on the path to be better parents,better friends, better children, better learners, and most importantly, better disciples of the living God. As a note, this post, though it may seem detailed, is not simply about school… I think that anyone can learn from what I’m wrestling with, because for me, it’s changing the whole way that I go about my daily walk with our God.
So, lately Yvonne and I have been embarking on new ways of doing schooling. About a year ago we began to look into what is called “Unschooling”… in fact, the first book we read on the subject referred to the concept as “Christian Unschooling.” I was intrigued and curious and apprehensive. But the more that we read, the more I thought that this was definitely something we had to take a good long look at.
Maybe you’re not familiar with the thought. If you look it up, you’re sure to find a dozen or so definitions, opinions, and maybe even staunch warnings about it. But you know, many of the very best and most valuable things worth doing in life will get your hands and backside slapped for going against the mind-numbing grain of our culture.
Unschooling, to me, is this… Everything is school. Period.
This does not mean we get to do whatever we want and call it school, no, that’s not it. This means that we’re facilitating our little ones in being the life and information sponges that they already are. God already made them that way, our job is to, just like shepherds, guide them along on this path.
Sounds simplistic? Risky? Nuts? Yeah, it is. But so far, it is so so so so so much fun.
For a long time I’ve had a thing on my heart that I’ve wanted my kids to learn from everything put in front of them. This thought makes you question what you put in front of them. The truth is, whether we like it or not, they’re being truly shaped and molded by each and every word entering their little minds. Every song, every commercial, every cheeseburger, every touch of your hand, every harsh or kind word… it’s all school.
This is reality. What you put in front of them is who they will be.
Needless to say, it’s a big deal. Right? Sure, there’s no question.
So I’ve been thinking on all of this lately. I’ve even been rethinking my involvement in various things here in our church body that we live with.
Last week I found myself asking myself, “Who’s life am I living? What’s happening?”
I’m not having an existential crises. No, I’m hashing out some concrete decisions. In fact, I’m learning far more deeply who I’ve been made to be.
But there’s this fight I find day to day. For example, I’ll teach the kids something awesome, they’ll get a lot out of it. Then, I want to shut off the mind and check out. Now, I don’t always do this, but the urge is always, always there. It’s a real thing. There’s always that thought of waiting to be done.
After thinking on this for a bit, this is the way of schooling, typically, as well. You go to the school house, or if you’re a home-schooler you go to your schooling area, get to work, put in your hours dumping info into your head. You strive to pass the tests. You cram it in, puke it out… and… it’s gone.
I’ve heard stats in the past about information retention, and of course they weren’t impressive. I honestly don’t feel like taking the time right now to look them up. But needless to say, this is the style of learning that the majority of us are accustomed to.
Beyond that, this ideology transfers over to our spiritual life as well. We go to the scriptures, learn a thing or two. We stuff it in our brains, and then we run along with the subtle impression that we’ve “attained” some new revelation, all the while that “information” is leaking out the back of our heads onto the roads.
The information that we crammed in our heads, and hoped would seep into our hearts never gets a chance to become part of our lives. Supposed “learning” has thus become separate from actual “living.”
This is a seriously compartmentalized life and way of being. It’s a mess. From here out I’m going to simply refer to this as info “dumping” and move on.
This fairly well sums up our society, even more my generation.
For the life of my oldest child, I’ve been trying to live a compartmentalized life. I’ve been trying to balance being a good dad with writing music, recording and engineering, playing outside, being romantic with my wife, watching a guy movie, watching a kiddie movie, being a rock-star in my head, poetry, the Church that I’m a part of…
You may wonder, “Why can’t those things go together?” You’re right. It’s a good question. Many of these can go together. But not all of them.
If I am honest with myself, (and I am certainly striving to be) I will admit that many of the aspirations of young John Robert Cullimore have been hanging around this fully grown, bearded, father of three and a half little girls Papa John.
Now and then me and rock-n-roll John like to visit with one another. He’s 19, and he loves making music. He’d love to spend hours and hours late into the night being creative and neglecting all other forms of life.
There’s also recording engineer John. He’s a fun guy to chit-chat with. He loves to drift off fantasizing about Steve Albini, Gene Eugene and Steve Hindalong. He imagines that one day he’ll make a recording opus that will cause men, women and children to press play on their audio device, and be so enraptured with the sounds that they cannot help but halt their day and listen to the album from start to finish.
Thus far, these fellows have a very hard time with being a father at the same time as being who they are. They’re hindered by the incessant questions of five-year-olds, and they’d like for those around them to appreciate what they’re doing for what it truly is.
When I hang out with these two very often, usually I get that sick feeling in my stomach. You know the feeling. . . that sense that you’re not where you’re meant to be. You want it, sure, but it’s like a vampire on your soul. It only takes away from life. It never satisfies. It never gives new life.
Again, this doesn’t simply apply to parents, it’s all of us as we grow up. The fact of the matter is that life changes. We change. Lament for a moment then move on.
I found myself looking some of these ghosts in the eye over the weekend. That sense of unease was all about me. I was torn with what to do with myself. I had taken my family away for a weekend of peace and quiet. I had aspirations of writing new music and having creativity flow out from me… oh, and to be a good dad and do super cool stuff with the kids.
Can you guess which one happened?
Well, it wasn’t the creativity. I was an awesome dad if I do say so myself. I hiked, read, climbed, played, swam, threw and ate ice cream with the best of them. It was awesome.
Once, just once, I sat down to write. I felt so empty inside. It’s not that I’m not supposed to write, it’s that I wanted the kids to go away. I wanted to be done with that, so I could be this other thing. I made some neat beats and sounds, and I listened, dissatisfied.
The girls loved it, but I felt so empty about it.
I turned off the computer and played hard.
Again, I’m not saying that I’m not supposed to write. I’m saying that the heart behind it is what’s killing me. My intentions have been to separate things. To take off one hat and wear another.
There’s a lot of freedom in giving up and starting over. I truly believe this. In acceptance lyeth peace. Right?
So I had stopped myself. For those few hours I would have stopped everything if I felt God wanted me to. I knew that wasn’t the case, but I had to figure out what it was God was saying to me.
I let it go. We had an amazing night, and the next morning we got up to start on another day of adventure. . .
Sitting in the lobby of the hotel having breakfast, I was casually watching the Today show. I know, that’s a bit outside of my box. But none the less, I was enjoying myself. All of the sudden there was an interview with the girl who played Blossom back in the day, Mayim BIalik. She talked about attachment parenting, unschooling, and the general idea of what it is to be a parent in our day and age.
Now, she has some pretty extreme views on some things, but she’s on to something, and she stands firm in what she’s saying. More importantly, she lives what she’s saying. She lives it with conviction.
One thing in particular really caught me. (and keep in mind that I’m totally paraphrasing here) She was speaking about how our society often looks at the ways she’s doing things as weird; the long term nursing, attachment parenting in general, and unschooling as a whole. But the truth of the matter is, our society has learned to hold on to this idea of individual identities and lives that only serve to separate us from one another.
She took this further when she said that a parent needs to look at life, surrender their identity as an individual, and accept their identity as parent. When you choose to make this life, you are choosing to commit to them for the duration.
This is now your occupation.
We’ve truly downplayed the nobility of this. But I get to say three amazing words that define me. This is who I am.
I am dad!
This is who I am. I am not a rock-star. I am not an epic recording engineer. I am, plain and simple, “dad.”
You may think that I’m over-emphasizing this, but if you’ve been raised in this American culture in this century, then I truly believe that this needs to be drilled into our heads, and walked out in our lives. We are obsessed with making something of ourselves. We are obsessed with celebrity. We’re obsessed with these stupid things that in the end are only vampiristic (is that even a word?) and life-draining from the world at large.
C.S. Lewis said once that it used to be that people were famous because they did something truly remarkable or special. Now, people are deemed remarkable or special because they’re famous.
We exalt illusion.
We crave lies, fiction, false bodies and indulgence.
And more than any of these, we are losing, if not nearly lost completely, the ability to rejoice in the mundane. The day to day has become dreaded, boring, and useless. We have become so addicted to fame, entertainment and media that we have to constantly keep a stream of it coming in to our minds and hearts.
We’ve forgotten how to live. May we look hard at Brother Lawrence.
But it goes deeper than just dad. From Genesis one till now, men and women have been created to be the image bearers of the living God. He never wanted the temple to be confined to a tent or a building, he wants us to be living walking temples. He wants us to be a living vessel where heaven and earth connect, and people can touch eternity.
This is no small task. This is something worth embracing.
My identity as John the young man, John the hot-head, John the rock-star (though that one was always only in my head) is done. It is mine to surrender to become, embrace, and take delight in being John the father. It’s a delight to become a place where the heavens and the earth meet for my little girls to dance and play in this realm where God rules.
If I am done, then He can have full reign here.
And here is where I have some serious stuff to look at. Because I have been going to God in the same compartmentalized manner that I spoke of with our learning in the previous posts. I have the habit, which I’m sure others do too, of going to God, or the scriptures, reading something… dumping. And then I go live my life.
You find some great insight in a devotional, or maybe a passage of the Bible. You go, “Yeah, that was awesome. I needed that.” Then we go put on our other hats. Maybe Dad John, or Office Manager John… but just saying this, you see how messed up this is. I’m not a whole person when I live this way.
When I was young there was a Christian focused record label called “5 Minute Walk” records. They’re hope was to encourage young people to at least take 5 minutes a day to focus on the Lord. I thought that was a pretty neat concept at the time.
But how far gone is that from the eternal intentions of the Father that I mentioned above? No, it just won’t do.
If I am made, as was Adam (whether you believe in the real or metaphorical Adam *man* of Genesis – the thought still stands) then I am made to walk, talk, learn from, and have fellowship with the God of all creation. Again, I am made to be a walking temple, always communing with the heavens, and always with my toes in the grass. A child of God, made to delight in him, be with him.
I AM SON!
I don’t want to live a half life, dumping information about God into my brain, and then running off in the vain and lifeless pursuits of the world. I want to be a true son of the King. The one King. The only King.
And this means losing my identity as all of the other things this goofy world would have me pursue. I am son. I stick close to my father. I do what he does. I love what he loves. I hate what he hates. I dance and play in the realm he creates around me. I explore and learn govern over the things he puts in front of me with the same love and tenderness that he governs over me with.
It is no pain to give up the half-life I would seek as a mere man, to gain the whole and undying life as a child of the king. He came and lived to lead me, as a good shepherd, and then died and rose again to lead me into even further life. He gave to the point of death, and life abounded because of it.
And then I get to do the same for my children.
I give my life, and they gain the world.
I give my identity, and they find theirs in my huge heart that God will only expand.
That’s the trick. . . if you live as the vampires live, nothing but death and selfishness abounds. If you give life, that life-blood, that sacrifice spreads just like those tine mustard seeds that Christ talked about so often.
This is the hope of the whole world.
It amazes me how much we’ve allowed ourselves to degrade the supposedly mundane aspects of life. Fatherhood itself has been turned into bumbling and stubborn idiots who are more in the way than they are a resting place and a help.
Being a mom is great in the spotlight, as long as you retain the sexy physique and look good doing it.
Being single is a playground of indulgence.
Children and teens are treated as animals made only to consume and behave as rabbits in heat. ( I know it sounds blunt – but c’mon, watch TV for an hour or two and you’ll see little ones behaving in the most shallow and carnal ways possible, giving in to every urge they can think of )
This brings me back to my original point in post #1… everything is school. Every minute of every day we are learning. We’re feeding one of two beings at any given moment; one is meant to commune with God, the other will slowly but surely disconnect you from all reality, leaving you alone and an empty shell.
The supposed mundane, which from this point on I will call “reality” is not mundane at all.
Real work, real things, real relationships, real songs, real movies, real dish washing, and real hugs and kisses are all amazing.
Real fights are so much better than chat room contention. Real love, and not just sex, but relationships, is superior to pornography in every way. Real work, hard work that gives you callouses and back pain is so much better than virtual entertainment.
Loving things that grow. Exploring the dirt. Finding new sounds. Listening. Learning with every turn.
I want real life and I want to feed this real life to my family.
But here’s the clincher on all of this. In no way, shape or form am I saying that we should throw away our phones, iPads, TVs and close our Facebook accounts.
I’m saying that I want to live the life that is actually in front of me, here and now.
So what’s this got to do with homeschooling and unschooling? I’m so glad you asked.
It has to do with living a life of learning and growing. A life that is life-giving. Learning to engage in every situation with delight and joy. It is a life that lives in resistance to a culture of consumption. It is a life where we choose to go against the grain of devouring one another, consuming one another… a life that only teaches ourselves and our children that things, as well as people, are commodities to be taken in and spit out like machines burning fuel.
If we’re going to send our country in a better direction, if I want to send my family, and my church in a better direction, I have to change my mindset about everything. I have to resist this mindset so ingrained in me that my every motivation seems to be self-gratification.
I will write more songs. But they will be to fill the hearts of others.
I will record more music, but it will give life to my family and my church, it won’t drain.
I will do more things than I ever imagined as I explore the world with my girls, friends and family. It will help and not hinder, it will fertilize and not deplete. It will add and not detract. It will bloom and not destroy.
I believe that we can learn to plant seeds wherever we step, and I believe that we can learn to teach our children a different way. It’s not sheltering your kids to take them out of the system, wrap your heart and soul around them and let them explore the world within your arms. That’s not extreme, it’s my responsibility as a parent.
Even beyond that, the only hope that we can give this world is to give our lives as parents to our children; not in making them the center of our world, because that will only train them to be brats. But instead, to give our lives in taking seriously the fact that we are parents, and there can be no resting from that.
Take pride in each dish you do. Take pride in each skinned knee you repair.
Delight as they dance on your feet. Encourage them to dig in and find things. Play with them. Touch them. Hold them. Be WITH them. Whatever you do, do it with them.
Don’t default to the ways of the system. Find what way your kid learns best. Find where they want to be. Maybe it is a school setting. Maybe it’s the middle of the night on the living room floor. Who knows… but take it seriously and facilitate their growth with zeal.
When we willingly and wholeheartedly choose to surrender our aspirations of independence for the sake of family… when we give our lives to lift others on our shoulders to learn, we will raise children that will undoubtedly do the same for others.
“We love because He first loved us…” this is the pattern God has set before us. Let’s pass it on to everyone around. Love first. Give first. Die first. . . it will spread like wildfire.
um… i think that’s all I have to say about that.