Free, Awake

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If one’s freedom impinges on another’s freedom, what kind of freedom is it?  If one’s freedom is labeled irresponsibility by others, if one feels imprisoned by somebody who thinks wrongly is promoting your freedom, if one feels trapped in a lie of freedom, if one controls others in the desire for his own freedom, if one is under illusions of . . . . wait, what’s the point?  There is no point, just questions and more questions and nowadays, what do you do when a question does not leave your head?  You go to the Oracle of Google and google, “If one’s freedom impinges on another’s freedom, what kind of freedom is it?”  Yes, you can put sentences as long as you want in the search box.

The Google goodie loot bag came up with this, a paragraph from an article by Mark Harrison called, The Limits of Freedom:

“The point is that we are free. And so is everyone else. That means we cannot impinge on the freedom of others. This is not some moral statement. I’m not saying we should not interfere with other people’s freedom – it is simply impossible to do so. You cannot make another person do anything. Even putting a gun to someone’s head cannot make them do anything. If someone is threatened to the extent that they fear for their life, they are likely to comply with whatever is being demanded of them, but this compliance is not a result of the threat – it is still a choice they make. If you doubt it, think about the people who have been threatened and not complied – think about people who have died for what they believe in rather than comply with an external demand.”

So now you want me to die?  Perhaps that’s what I do everyday.

So am I under the illusion that certain freedoms have been taken away but freedom can never be taken away?  Am I belaboring a fact that cannot be taken away?  What if I feel my freedom is impinged upon?  I am choosing not to have it impinged upon but conflict ensues.  And it cannot be impinged upon, he said.

Mark Harrison continues:

“In every situation, there is a choice. Accept that we cannot control other people or try to force, coerce, manipulate and bully to get our own way. The latter course of action damages relationships and, in the end, leads to pain and dysfunction. Or, we can accept people as they are, accept they are utterly free agents, accept that we cannot force them, and concentrate instead on building relationships with them and on building the inner world which echoes back to us as our experience. When we have good relationships, things work. Perhaps not in the way we might have expected, or even in the way we would have preferred, but things will work. The world is not ours to control, so let it go, and let it work in its own miraculous way. This is the effortlessness to which Lao Tzu alluded when he wrote, ‘The world is a mysterious instrument, not meant to be handled. Those who act on it never, I notice, succeed.’

“We are responsible for ourselves. We make our choices and then we must live with them, not blaming others or circumstances, and not cowardly abdicating responsibility to some external forces. We are not victims! We are in control.

“By the same token, we are not responsible for other people. Their fear, their anger, their pain, their misery – it’s all a choice they make, as freely as we make ours, and they need to shoulder the consequences of these choices – they are not our crosses to bear. Their happiness, their success, their joy – it’s all their doing, not ours.

“So here lies our freedom – it is inside us every moment and we can recognize it and live our lives according to the truth of this freedom, or we can continue to behave in the way we have been conditioned by society and try to force our way through life, pushing and coercing others into doing our will. One way is peace and happiness, the other way is pain and madness.”

So I may be choosing the way of pain and madness, struggling against this situation I think I cannot change but I can change the way I view it and react to it.  I need to let go but what if your concept of freedom and responsibility conflicts with another?  Mark just said you are responsible for your own state, not others.

Excuse me while I go on having an imaginary conversation with Mark.  I am grappling with how to apply this.  This is from another of his article, The Wisdom of the Serenity Prayer.

“While much cannot be changed, there are certainly things which can yield to our influence. Lasting change, however, is rarely brought about by direct action. Any sense of direct control we might have over the world around us is almost all illusion, and we would be better to think of effecting change in terms of influence.

“The world we experience is, essentially, a kind of echo of our inner landscape. We make mental models which enable us to navigate through the world, and we interpret the outside world in terms of this framework. Keeping a positive mindset, then, tends to draw positive experiences towards us. From this place, we are able to act in ways which will bring about change, often in indirect and surprising ways.

“Keeping a positive mindset can be difficult, especially if we are used to playing negative scripts in our head. We need to be courageous. Courage is not aggression, violence or force. It is seeing the world at its best, and it is proper action, executed in the right way and at the right time.

“Lao Tzu, reputedly the founder of Taoism, wrote, ‘A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.’ Action is best kept to a minimum and best kept in the background.

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond winning.” – Lao Tzu

“Sometimes, we rush in and act when we should not have done so. At other times, we hold back when, perhaps, we should have acted.

“And yet perhaps it is not so difficult, after all. It seems to me that the key is being detached. When we observe in a detached way, we are more likely to make the right calls. Even when taking action, we should not be emotionally blinded by our own involvement. What matters most is the way you see the world. Anthony de Mello, a great modern mystic, called it ‘being awake.’ He wrote, ‘It’s not your actions, it’s your being that counts. Then you might swing into action. You might or might not. You can’t decide that until you’re awake.’

“Being awake – being aware and unattached – can make a huge difference to the way we interact with the world. When we have the ability to know when to act, how to act, and to be sufficiently detached as we act, our influence can be enormous.”

I have been trying too hard, struggling too much and I am tired.  Sleepless and tired. Helplessly trying to cut attachments, feign detachment.

How do I know I’m awake?  (I just said I was sleepless.)  Again, I consult the all-knowing Almighty Oracle of Google and find this, the Seven Qualities of Awakened People:

1. When our identification with a form ceases, a new space is generated between us and the form, and we are able to recognize that we are not identical to that form.

2. We virtually step out of the psychological time frame, we stop mulling over injuries of the past, and do not build our identity for the future.

3. Ego disappears, telling personal history stops, and the line of our accustomed identity is broken.

4. We are awake, only the present moment exists for us. Our soul is permeated by the quiet of the Miracle that is the consciousness and the joy of the existence.

5. We are free and independent of the forms and shapes, and of the necessity of choosing from them. All our suffering and problems have vanished, we are surrounded by peace and tranquility.

6. There is only the pure existence, we are eyewitnesses, contemplating the dance of forms and shapes around us. We do not identify with anything, we are a consciousness free of the obligation to make choices.

7. We accept life as it is, and it is not done under pressure, since that acceptance is the result of our complete freedom.

Based on this, I seem to be asleep most of the time.  I think I’m getting five hours of sleep at night but I’m getting more during the day eyes wide open!  Not funny.

Okay, so what do I take away from this?  No direct action, Mark said.  No direct action. Yes, I got that trying to be Lao Tzu.

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond winning.” – Lao Tzu

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Off to Chinese Summer Camp

Joshua has tried summer camp in the Philippines; now he’s getting a taste of one in China.  Ran and organized by my brother-in-law, Jiang Yong in the mountains of Jixian an hour and a half hour away from Tianjin city, the camp trains children in Chinese calligraphy, martial arts, musical instruments and seeks to impart the cultural heritage of this proud nation.

At first, Joshua was not too eager to join but once he saw other kids his age, he forgot about his mom and dad, ran off to play with new-found friends, all wearing their smart, light blue, Mandarin-collared costumes.   During lunch, some of the parents expressed their apprehension since they had never been separated from their child.  I look forward to meeting them after a week when we pick up Joshua and wonder how the parents endure the separation.  In most cases, I think, the separation is harder for the adults.  For my kids and I, because we’ve been shuttling between China and the Philippines at times together and at times not, we’ve had a lot of practice.

Jason and I found our bit of heaven staying a couple of nights in Jixian, enjoying the cooler weather and walking up and down the mountain slopes right outside our doorsteps. Dream come true for mountain-lovers!

Check out information about the summer camp here, but it’s in Chinese:

Shan Shui You Dao Summer Camp

A Synthesis: Alternative Schools Visited on Our Road Trip

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Having lived in China for more than eight years, I was introduced to the problems and deficiencies of the educational system from horror stories told by students in the university where I taught for two years.  After seeing the worrying effects on students’ lives and attitudes, I feared my own children languishing in the system and didn’t want the light in their eyes to go out.  My anxiety about the rigidity of schooling transformed into an eager and passionate curiosity to research non-traditional forms of education such as Waldorf, democratic schools, homeschooling, unschooling and Finland’s much-admired model.  As a mother of two, I wanted to understand best practices for my children hoping to expose them to broader and liberating opportunities.

My husband and I decided to embark on our dream to drive around the world which, in its earliest planning stage was a continuous loop that soon evolved into segmented portions.  Last year, we drove from the north to south of China as well as visited the Green School in Bali, Indonesia.  To launch my research, my Chinese friend, Donna and I attended the first Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) held in Taiwan.

This year, for a little over three months and over 10,000 miles, my husband, two sons and I drove from San Francisco to New York, using and eventually selling the pick-up truck we purchased at the starting line.  Aside from staying with friends, fellow worldschoolers and camping at National Parks, we visited various alternative schools along the way.

To get a handle on the range of schools visited, some of which are not technically schools, the diagram below locates each one within the spectrum from traditional to progressive to self-directed.  This spectrum is also echoed in homeschooling which runs the gamut from following a strict and formal curriculum to having none at all, the curriculum being the child himself or herself.

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My interest in the examples between traditional and progressive and between progressive and self-directed lie in the possibilities of bridging traditional and self-directed paths.  For parents who may not be comfortable in going all the way to the extreme end of unschooling or fully self-directed education, the progressive alternatives do offer a degree of self-direction, albeit limited and provide innovations that could be applied in traditional and public schools.  For instance, laboratory schools like the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute in Toronto, deliver a platform to test, implement and disseminate education tools and methods that could lessen the negative impacts of traditional schools.  The Metropolitan School may look like a regular public school on the outside but it has more features shared with the Northstar model for SDE than with regular high schools.  The students can take community college courses and work more days a week than they actually “attend” school.

As a parent, I personally fall into this group needing a bridge between two polar opposites.  A product of Catholic education from gradeschool to high school to university, I carry old habits and attitudes that may take some time to change even though I admire those who practice SDE.

Choosing the schools to visit came from hours of googling, watching TED Talks and networking at the APDEC.  I was so excited to visit the Tinkering School after watching Gever Tully’s TED Talk.  Even if I didn’t get to visit the original in San Francisco, I was grateful that the Brooklyn Apple Academy had one that Tully himself was involved with.

Self-Directed Schools and Centers

For this article, I shall focus on the self-directed schools and centers which we visited in the United States and which I shall group in these five main categories:

  1. Free School – Albany Free School
  2. Center for Homeschoolers – Macomber Center, Brooklyn Apple Academy
  3. Agile Learning Center – ALC New York
  4. Self-Directed Center for High Schoolers – North Star for Self Directed Learning for Teens, Princeton Learning Cooperative
  5. Sudbury School

What unites these schools is that the teachers, founders and staff experienced disillusionment with the status quo and have made the transition from a traditional school to their present work where they feel more joy and fulfillment as educator-mentor-facilitator.  Ken Danford’s bold and courageous move from public school to establishing an SDE model for teens that has existed for more than two decades is to a certain extent, mirrored by the teachers at the Albany Free School who are happier in an environment where students don’t feel coerced.

The teachers or staff could have also made the switch from one alternative (e.g. Sudbury or Free School) to another (e.g. center for homeschoolers or ALC) where they followed their hearts which sought something more attuned to their personal philosophies.

ALC is gaining traction deserving its own category as it opens up more branches within and outside America.  It may be a kind of “Sudbury” growing its own brand, inspired by the high tech IT industry.

Although I wasn’t able to visit a Sudbury school, I was still able to get to the office of the original one in Framingham.  Some people who worked at a Sudbury school shared some points they did not agree with such as discouraging parental involvement and how “democratic” meetings can be abused.

ALC in tune with being agile, keeps meetings to a minimum and they don’t vote on issues but instead go with the spirit of the discussion.  Although, some students still think of it as a way of voting, in terms of length and content, there’s still a big difference between the meetings that take place in a Sudbury and an ALC school.

Just as the teachers found an oasis for their practice of SDE, the students are also grateful for the alternative with some feeling “rescued” from the prison of four-walled classrooms.  There are also students who have never been exposed to anything but SDE, with their parents believing firmly in this form of learning from the get-go.  The parents who talked to me were excited about the empowering quality of SDE.  One father wanted to start his own homeschooling center for their area.

There are two big categories of SDE’s that I found on this trip:

  1. A school that is a kind of “unschool” – Democratic, Free, Sudbury, ALC
  2. A center or resource center for homeschoolers and unschoolers – Macomber, North Star, Princeton Learning Cooperative

In the “school” type, the kids go to school five times a week and there are still the requisite documentation for the education board.  For instance, ALC still has to fit the things that they do within state regulations.  The second type emphasizes that they are not a school but they provide resources and opportunities for socialization and self-development, but for the kids, these are simply places where they can be themselves without pressure and expectation.

What do they do the whole day?

Most people including me could not imagine what goes on in this type of school or center.  “How can you possibly let loose young children?” somebody asked me adding “Maybe high school age kids but not six-year olds.”  The best way to understand would be to visit one yourself.  If you are contemplating to send your child to one, they usually have a one week trial period to let the child decide if it is a good fit.

What do they do the whole day?  They could be playing minecraft, practicing on an instrument, building with Lego, attending a class being offered that day or offered weekly, hanging out, lounging around, reading a book, talking with other kids, teaching others how to code, playing football, baking cookies or bread, planting in the garden, going on a field trip, going to the park, asking questions, meeting with a mentor, organizing a class they want, and before you know it, the day is done and it’s time to go home and they don’t know where the time went.  What they are NOT doing is getting stuck in a classroom staring at the clock on the wall waiting for the school bell to ring dismissal time.

How do they learn to read and write?  At their own pace using their own way, by themselves or with the help of others.  What about math?  They pick it up naturally or they can opt to attend basic math classes offered like in the Albany Free School.

The Brooklyn Apple Academy and the Macomber Center both serve homeschooled kids but one is in tight quarters at the second floor of a building in the midst of Brooklyn while the other is on a sprawling piece of rolling land where kids have so much green space to run around and play ball.

The centers for high school age students like North Star and Princeton Learning Cooperative (PLC) both have a one-on-one, very personalized quality to the education.  Each student has a counselor with whom he or she meets once a week.  You know how some schools claim they tailor fit education to the student but actually, they still use the cookie-cutter, factory method with a euphemistic label?  In North Star and PLC, you can really see how it is personalized.  One-on-one tutorials are arranged as requested or agreed upon.  I was fortunate to attend a forum at the PLC where a panel of four teenagers shared their stories of creating their own paths without formal schooling.

 The Affordability of Alternatives

Sometimes, the alternatives are not within the reach of people with ordinary incomes.  Think of Elon Musk’s Ad Astra, the AltSchools in Silicon Valley and international schools like the United World College and Green School.  It is truly admirable how progressive schools like the High Tech High and Metropolitan schools are able to provide radical options within the public school system.

Expanding on this, is it possible to stretch public financing to democratic schools and homeschooling centers?  The democratic schools in Israel have achieved this, but democratic schools in America tend to think that freedom would be compromised if they accept government funding.  A worldschooler in Canada informed me that they could deduct homeschooling expenses from their taxes.

Private democratic schools are usually smaller and tuition fees vary.  They are usually less expensive than the typical private school.  ALC has a scaled tuition fee according to income.  Depending on their personal preference and economic means, homeschooling families can choose how many times a week they send their children to centers like Macomber or Brooklyn Apple Academy.  North Star prides itself as never having turned down anyone who has knocked on their doors.  To enable them to continue this type of service to the community, they do a lot of creative fundraising.  North Star and ALC also help others set up their own SDE center while Sudbury Valley School sells a start-up kit.

Visiting all these alternative schools and centers in the U.S.A. has made me more curioius about alternatives in third world countries especially those that are within easy reach of common people.  Except for Raya School, the progressive schools in Manila tend to be more expensive than regular private schools and there are no democratic or SDE schools at all.  However, there is the Gopala Learning Haven which is a center for homeschoolers located in a farm setting.

In China and the Philippines, there are people who believe in progressive education with Waldorf and Montessori as viable options but SDE still falls under the radar or seems too revolutionary.  People can’t believe there are schools where students don’t have to go to class unless they want to.  The structure and curriculum offered by progressive schools still serve as the security blanket that an SDE would not have and the bigger, unknown variables may scare people off.  No grades?  No tests?  What is your measure of a good education?

When asked about testing and assessment at the APDEC 2016 round table discussion, Peter Gray said that he would evaluate an educational system based on two questions: 1) Are the students happy? and 2) Do they live satisfying lives and are productive in society?  None of these can be measured by tests but can only be seen in the long run.

In the future, I’d like to research about the affordability and accessibility of SDE centers in other countries.  I’d like to fill up a world-wide map with pins of more schools and centers visited.  The road trip through America showed me the abundant variety of options available that sadly are not as accessible in countries like China or the Philippines.  Through the growing networks of self-directed learning advocates, that reality will hopefully change soon.

Web Links:

Albany Free School https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/the-free-school-in-albany/
Macomber Center https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/dream-of-macomber/
North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/helping-teens-thrive-without-school/
Brooklyn Apple Academy https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/tinkering-at-last/
Agile Learning Center https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/infinite-agility/
Princeton Learning Cooperative https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/tigers-humans-and-sde/

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/thanks-carl/

Green School https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/12/12/we-made-it-to-the-green-school/
United World College South East Asia https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/06/15/rave-rave-about-the-light/
High Tech High School https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/baby-stepping-forward/
Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/whats-possible-in-education/
Metropolitan School https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/13/power-unicorns-and-keegan-creatures/
Classical Conversation Homeschoolers https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/three-bonuses-plus/
Alternative Education Resource Organization https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/26/aeros-hero/
Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/more-apdec-photos/

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/magic-groove/

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/please-mom-can-i-go-to-summerhill-please-please-pretty-please-with-sugar-sprinkles-on-top/

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/opening-up/

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/at-the-roundtable/

Democratic Schools around the world https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/democratic-education-around-the-world/
Gopala Learning Haven https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/tag/gopala-learning-haven/

https://entirelyofpossibility.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/go-gopala-go-go-gopala/

Following is the list of schools and centers that I have toured including those in my home country, the Philippines.

Between Traditional and Progressive
Chinese Immersion Program, Madison Elementary School St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA
Classical Conversation Homeschooler St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA
Incubator School Los Angeles, USA
Urban Homeschoolers Los Angeles, USA
Manila Waldorf School San Mateo, Rizal, Philippines
Acacia Waldorf School Sta. Rosa, Cavite, Philippines
Green School Bali, Indonesia
United World College South East Asia Singapore
Temple Hill International School (Montessori) Quezon City, Philippines
Progressive
High Tech High School San Diego, USA
Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School Toronto, Canada
Between Progressive and Self-Directed
Metropolitan School Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Self-Directed
Albany Free School Albany, New York, USA
Macomber Center Framingham, Massachusetts, USA
North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens Sunderland, Massachusetts, USA
Brooklyn Apple Academy Brooklyn, New York, USA
Agile Learning Center New York, New York, USA
Princeton Learning Cooperative Princeton, New Jersey
Holistic Education School Miaoli, Taiwan
Gopala Learning Haven (Interest-Led Learning) Silang, Cavite, Philippines
Other Resources
826 Valencia (a resource center for young writers) San Francisco, USA
Alternative Education Resource Organization Rocklin, New York, USA
Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (2016) Miaoli, Taiwan
Got Only till the Front Door
Sudbury Valley School (Self-Directed) Framingham, Massachusetts, USA
Tinkering School at Brightworks School San Francisco, USA
Keys School (Progressive) Mandaluyong, Philippines
Raya School (Progressive) Quezon City, Philippines
Beacon School (Progressive) Taguig, Philippines

 

Calling My Monster

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Life never goes the way you want it to go.  I really don’t want to homeschool.  I personally prefer to send my kids to a progressive or a democratic school, but we’re in an area in China where there are no options except regular school.  Even if it was a traditional school, it’s perfectly fine with me sending my kids there as long as they pick up reading and writing and then after a few years, if they choose homeschooling, I’d be happy to do it because they consciously chose it.  But my husband does not agree — he wants to continue homeschooling.

My parents and his parents are frustrated that we’re not sending our kids to school.  My sister and his sister are both worried about our children not getting an education, as if they won’t be able to acquire education OUTSIDE of school.  So I am trapped in a situation not of my choosing but I still have to make the most out of it or else go crazy which is not an option (just an occasional one).

People say it’s my fault for convincing my husband to homeschool because I undertook this elaborate research across the whole of the United States visiting alternative schools, but my husband was set on homeschooling way before that.  I undertook the research precisely to show him that there are alternatives to traditional schools.  Apart from homeschooling, there are progressive and democratic schools.  He needn’t be afraid of the rigid type of education because there are options out there that exist, albeit quite limited in China.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t convinced and he still wants to homeschool.  After more than a year of this experiment which for some people including me is quite enough already, it’s only now that we are hitting our stride.  I’m willing to still give it a chance only if we keep improving our methods.  My husband is trying his best to teach the kids Chinese while I struggle teaching them English.

I started with workbooks which were a nightmare so I switched to online programs which seemed better and then I noticed the deficiencies after a while.  This last trip to Manila, I had Joshua try a number of tutors while I observed their methodologies, trying to see what can be picked up and applied.  When we got back to China and my husband renewed his commitment to homeschool with vigor, I also observed his techniques that got Joshua engaged.

Today, I finally hit on something Joshua and I both enjoy doing together – biographies.  I already got an inkling of this a few months ago when he liked a book I got him which was a compilation of stories about young achievers.  Today, we used Amelia Earheart’s bio as a mini unit study which I was thinking of trying before but never got around to. So for the first time in what seems like forever, I was quite happy about homeschooling and not at all gritting my teeth in exasperation.

Maybe my standards and expectations are too high and I want engagement one hundred percent of the time and I should be happy with less than that.   However, it seems to make sense aiming for one hundred knowing about progressive and democratic education, that it is possible to totally engage the child.

Admittedly, I tend to focus on the shortfalls when it comes to homeschooling because I’m setting up myself to fail.  But actually, there is a role that I have been relishing and that Joshua has been very responsive to and that is the role of a curator.  He preferred the longer audiobooks of novels rather than short stories so I offered him the Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, Matilda and Harry Potter which he happily lapped up although he didn’t take to A Wrinkle in Time which I loved as a youth.  To my surprise, he enjoyed books for even older children: the Artemis Fowl series and A Monster Calls.  The last one by Patrick Ness was a new revelation to me and I ended up loving, adoring and coveting the quality of writing.

So there are good things to come out of homeschooling.  The other reason going against it is I simply want to get back to the work force.  But if we HAVE to homeschool, then I’d have to shelve that desire for a while longer.  Anyway, I could still do our Hero’s Journey start-up project on the side.

Actually, in America, I was able to convince my husband to send the kids to school after writing him a long letter, but then he changed his mind when we got back to China, so I’m back to zero, stuck again.  However, I have to get unstuck because it’s not useful feeling stuck.  I was looking forward to having our next dream come true.  Our first dream was to travel with our kids which we did a lot of already this past year.  Our next dream was to settle down in Xishuangbanna, buy a house, enroll the kids in school and get a dog – in that order.  I had been repeating it over and over to the boys like a mantra but now my husband has decided against Xishuangbanna and against the school.

When I wrote a blog entry about that, one of my students sent me the sweetest message, “Maybe your husband has reasons for changing your plans.  Maybe you could try cooperating with him temporarily and meanwhile, don’t give up thinking of ways to reach your ideal.”  Reading those words gave me such a boost.  I don’t have to give up hope on Xishuangbanna.   There is still hope for Xishuangbanna!

What if there’s none?  What if we don’t end up in Xishuangbanna?  If we end up in a place I don’t like, what then?   Well, I’ve done that before!   I just figured out a way to turn the situation around to my advantage and even if I didn’t like the place, I found meaning and purpose being there.  Bloom where you are planted, the quote goes.

Erase all expectations.  Maybe I’ll reach Xishuangbanna — that peaceful piece of heaven I long for now — when I die and get to real heaven, and Xishuangbanna would pale so much in comparison, it would immeasurably be unbelievable!  It doesn’t matter if I don’t reach my conceived and anticipated Shangri-la in this lifetime because paradise awaits at the end of the line.  Paradise is also here, now.  We make our own heaven and we make our own hell. My grandmother always told me that.

At the back of my mind, there’s that nagging problem with dreams in a marriage.  What if the dreams of the couple are different or in conflict with each other?  How does one resolve that?   Compromise.  Communication.  What if there’s a breakdown in communication?  Uhmm.  If all else fails, blog?

More like, call forth a monster!

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Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls: It’s What Makes Us Human

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You sleep soundly because no demons chase you they come after me oh what luck to know that one is right and not swinging and tortured by whether it’s one or the other one day it’s right and wrong the next because there can only be one right and that right belongs to the one who sleeps soundly innocently because the demons are kept at bay while the sleepless owns the monster who calls nightly at precisely 1:05 in the morning tapping on the keyboard like a lunatic ravaging the city for a sense of one right but it doesn’t work that way sorry to say it’s not a contest to be won it’s a battle you fight against the shadow of yourself and if the shadows hide folded inside the comfort of sleep and unawareness then it is their journey not yours it is simply another planet you are never ever welcome to step on because yours is the only planet you rule and know with all its beautiful and unbeautiful beasts devils riding their dragons around your head till you can’t see through the dust their hooves agitate stirring the microscopic sins of the past thundering into the present giants at your doorsteps knocking at your gate at 1:12 in the morning like it’s not a matter of life and death it’s a toothache that refused to acknowledge its smallness sleep does not come to the undeserving you have to earn it like you’ve murdered your confession washed your hands of any wrongdoing and believe that there is no one more moral than yourself of course the one who does not sleep will tire out and lose agility during the day which gives the one who sleeps an advantage but you said it’s no contest no prize for the one who is counting rights and wrongs distinguishing the distinguished judges because no judgement can ever be made no prize can ever be given no certainty can ever be awarded because our prize is the unknown whole in its unknowability it is given as a gift and your only response is to take it

Water

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What am I up against this stubbornness that is unwilling to change to budge to give way to reason what am I up against this boulder intractable immovable but even Bruce Lee said be like water and pass through pass over be the water in that container and funny thing is I understand this madness like I designed created fashioned it in another lifetime purposely to haunt me in this explicitly for the aim of making the stone in me into water as well as the well of life water that doesn’t seek anything but where it is supposed to flow but why this agonizing wait for all the broken strings inside to weave themselves into wholeness we’d be dead by then we’d be fucking dead by then and nights like these when bleakness weighs and the scream nobody hears reverberates throughout have you ever met somebody so selfish beyond belief beyond measure beyond trying being water and failed over and over to pour the self into that earthen vessel clay pottery not certainly worth getting upset no indeed because there is the choice between levity and heft don’t let the thief run away with your laughter if you fail to see the mirth that is the cosmic joke on you then turn your back the instance it splashes surf the wave like an amateur about to fall because something catches you it’s the water you were meant to be and the minute you drop your droplet you the water already is you inside inside you peel your skin to reveal it is minus that thin barrier you are already are always been nothing else but that water you seek

There’s No Such Thing as Non-Negotiable

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There is no such thing is a non-negotiable.  I thought I’d be able to negotiate and make a stand, not back down and win, convince my husband to put the children to school, but he insisted and debated for the continuation of homeschooling.  Now, I’ve researched homeschooling, unschooling, worldschooling and we’ve done it ourselves. I’m not too happy with the results and find it too stressful fending off everyone who feels we are wrong that I’ve started to believe we may be wrong, too.  My husband has no problem making a stand for something he believes in.  Me, I am the wavering type.   At the sign of difficulty, I fold and give up.

Homeschooling has been difficult and stressful for me.  There are many homeschooling families whom I admire – my friends, my sister, worldschoolers we met on our road trip.  But unfortunately we just don’t fit into that type of family which practices this non-traditional method of education in an admirable way.  We get angry at the kids.  The kids have too much screen time.  We are not that creative.  Gosh, and the kids still can’t read.  Even if I know for a fact it doesn’t matter in the end what age they start reading, it still weighs heavy on my mind.  Our methods leave much to be desired but my husband said we can improve ourselves.

What about the naysayers?   Those who echo my own opinion that we should stop because one year of experimentation is more than enough time.  I also feel the same way – that this has gone on too long but my husband thinks we should press on this path despite the setbacks.  He wants to prove that he can teach Chinese to Joshua and Jimmy in a calm and effective manner.  He showed me and it was quite good but can he do it consistently through time, every day?  That remains to be seen.

Me?  I wish I can hire tutors.  That’s my homeschooling method which is used by many moms I know.  One mom I had just met when we were in Manila hires a tutor two hours a day to go over the academic materials with her children.  When I met her, I told her that’s exactly what I want to do.  I was able to do that easily in Manila because I know my way around but in China, my husband insists on teaching Chinese himself and for English, I’m the one who has to do it unless I get the Skype tutor again.

My husband doesn’t understand why I don’t want to continue homeschooling because I was the one who researched a lot about it.  That’s true but my research spans a wider field – alternative education which includes progressive and democratic schools.  Precisely why I am researching those because I also want an alternative, a back-up, in fact it’s my preferred choice to homeschooling.  I am researching those alternative schools because I want to quit homeschooling and put my children in a progressive school.  It would be great if there were options for a democratic school but there’s none in China or the Philippines.  And because there is none, that’s what I seek to establish in the future with my friend Donna.

The other stressful thing about homeschooling is the people around me who do not believe in it, who do not believe we are doing it well, who are getting stressed themselves that our children are missing school.  That for me is stressful, but not for my husband who does not get stressed by what other people think.  So maybe this is a call for me to practice that devil-may-care attitude.  It’s harder for me because I also think we are not the ideal candidates for homeschooling.  We are striving for that ideal and we fall short but that’s like everything else in life, right?

After a year of traveling and many years of switching homes, I was looking forward to settling down in Xishuangbanna.  We promised the kids that we’d find a house, get them into school and get a dog – in that order.  Now, my husband decided against that for valid family reasons.

I was so eager to live in a pretty place.  Dagang is not pretty.  It’s pretty ugly.  Sorry to say, but it is.  Living here for two years, I had to seek out beauty and found it.  As in any place, beauty is all around, in the streets and most importantly, in the hearts of many people who become friends.  But my mind had been conditioned to expect this physical paradise, this Shangri-La that we found and agreed upon that was Xishuangbanna.  Now, it escapes my grasp.

I have to switch my mind and re-program it to re-discover beauty, reconnect with friends and feel joy and happiness wherever in the world I am at.  Yesterday, we drove by the bleak, unpretty, blah landscape of the oilfields and I felt this lump on my throat and inside my head screaming, “No!!!  I can’t live in this place again!  What?  You’re asking me to live here again?  This hell hole?  I’m so over this place!  I’ve moved on!  We were supposed to live in X!”   I waited for the shrill, panicky voice to die down and get tired and waited.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Just like a child’s tantrum, I just let it scream its lungs out and then I was at peace.  I can rock this world again!

About the school issue?  Maybe I’m too flexible, too kind, too giving, too stupid.  Maybe I’m wrong to give in to my husband in the major decisions that I have not been able to win.  Maybe, it doesn’t hurt to be too flexible.  This is just another arena for me to flex my muscles.  I set about re-envisioning how this could work.

I mean look at this, I’ve got three hunks (one half-naked) making noodles for me!  Only in Tianjin.  Plus I’ve got a promise of a motorcycle ride through TEDA!