Shift the Power

Balancing perspectives

Remember: the best educational environment is one where everyone is moving in the same direction, with similar levels of enthusiasm. Not everyone has to “love” writing, but it helps if resistance is lowered. So let’s work on that!

Power Dynamics in Home Education

I read, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last,” the other day and found myself thinking about the power dynamics in families. There’s no question “who’s in charge” in a family. Kids know. Parents know. Adults carry the responsibility so they have the power.

Knowing we are in charge, we often use that power to run our families and homeschools. We set out the expectations of what is to be done and then we expect respectful cooperation. When our kids don’t share the same goals and don’t have the same instincts, many parents assume the child is in rebellion or is willful. (Books have been written to illustrate this point.)

Kids who don’t share the same goals or perspective, instead, will assume their parents are mean and don’t understand kids. (Kids wish they had written books to illustrate this point.)

There is an imbalance between the perspectives of parents and children (one has books with studies to support its viewpoint and the other doesn’t—all kids have is whining, crying, ignoring and acts of passive aggression). This imbalance can create havoc for the homeschooling mom who hopes her child will write one day. Kids might believe that the mother’s insistence that they write is another one of those parental power-plays designed to meet adult needs while ignoring the viewpoints of children.

When one group experiences itself as marginalized (not able to express its views in a way that makes contact with the powers-that-be and causes change) and the other group experiences itself as in power with the ability to coerce compliance, crankiness has the chance to fester and develop into full-blown rage or disinterested passivity (the “I surrender” stance).

For some reason, working on writing causes the power struggle to show its full colors. Kids have a knack for resisting parental input when it’s related to the writing they do. Their writing is the one space that children try to protect from parental control—writing equals “who I am” and as a result, they want their writing to be accepted as is, punctuation mistakes and spelling errors included.

If we want to see crankiness replaced by joy (since it is my contention that joy is the best teacher there is), we have to shift the power dynamics. We need to hear our marginalized poor, our “oh-so-powerless” kids. We have to “divest” ourselves of our power and serve our kids.

Here are some sure fire ways to move from first to last so your kids can move from last to first:

1) Apologize.

I remember at one seminar encouraging the moms to rub their kids’ shoulders before a freewrite. A mom’s hand shot into the air. She couldn’t believe it! Just that morning, her son had asked her to rub his shoulders, before he started writing. She told him, “This is school. This is not play time. I’m not rubbing your shoulders. You should get to work and stop dilly-dallying.” Lightbulb! She suddenly saw. Unwittingly, she had undermined his success in writing that morning.Say you’re sorry. Then start over, together.

2) Take the same risks your kids take.

When they write, you write. Freewrite once in awhile when they do. Risk sharing your writing so that they can hear and read it. Respect and honor the process you are asking them to engage in. You will sympathize with their efforts if you have experienced the same kinds of blocks and blanks that they experience with writing from time to time. And the biggest bonus of all: you’ll learn how you break through stuck places so you can share those insights with your kids.

3) Ask permission.

Your child is not just a writer, but an author. Authors deserve final control over their writing. Let your child know that the input you offer is optional and that you won’t give unwanted input. Discuss artistic choices. Then let the writer decide which of these artistic choices she prefers to make. If you take this approach with all writing (personal, academic, assigned), over time your child will come to value and ask for your input. Trust me.

4) Ask for your child’s writing goals.

Your child may tell you up front that he has no goals for writing. If that is the case, you can share the goals you have for your writing… and then pursue them, right in front of your child. “Wait honey. I’m working on that piece about gardening for my online community, remember? I’ll be right with you. Hey can you listen a minute— ”how does this sound?”I know you have goals for your children’s writing. We’ll discuss that at another time. Right now we are working toward unhooking the power struggle.

If your child has goals (such as, wanting to start a live journal or wants to write a short story or is interested in learning how to write poetry in calligraphy), talk about ways that you can support your child in reaching those goals. Does she need more time on the computer? Does he need a book about story writing? Can you purchase a set of pens and offer a book of poems with which to practice her calligraphy?

5) Make writing opportunities interesting.

If writing has become a curse instead of a joy, take a break from writing. Read, talk, read, talk, watch movies, read, talk.Then pick a surprising writing activity. My favorite one that kick starts lots of writers is the Communication Game in Chapter 2 of The Writer’s Jungle. Of course a new freewriting prompt left on an empty kitchen table with brand new colored pens and pretty paper sometimes jump starts the reluctant writer as well. Don’t say anything. Just leave it all out and see what happens.Jump in the car and bring journals along. Write at a coffee shop, all of you, together.Change the setting and you’ll change the attitude.

If you shift the power dynamic in your home—giving up some of your power so that those without power get some—you’ll see a shift in the level of joy in your home. It may take some time before they trust that you are truly divesting (not just manipulating them). You have to let go of outcomes and not see this as a strategy. But once they believe you—that you are unequivocally on their side and they know it—they will trust you to give input into their writing and to even make some suggestions of what kinds of writing they may want to attempt or learn.

It’s really true—the last shall be first. What an honor to be the one to foster that kind of home environment!

The Homeschool Alliance

2 Responses to “Shift the Power”

  1. Kika says:

    I like that on your blog you often suggest adding some nice touches like snacks, shoulder rubs, change of location, attractive writing tools…it is good to hear these suggestions and I’ve found that they make a HUGE difference. It is easy to fall into the trap of always being so serious, even drill-sargeant-esque (I’ll speak for myself alone)and forget that we really do want JOY in our learning. (Not that our kids don’t need to be pushed out of their comfort zones at times or do work that they’d rather not apply themselves to). This year I’m trying to lighten up more and my kids are surprising me with their motivation to write. It all started with some cute notebooks for everyone (myself included) from Chapters and regular freewrite sessions built into our schedule. Wow.

  2. Kay says:

    Not sure where to add this comment so it’s ending up here….

    Reading work outloud has validated and expanded our listening skills and writing abilities. Sharing the stories, getting them off the written page makes them real.

    Memorizing the poems they have written has added a new angle to their work. They have memorizing each others poems without trying, They often act them out too. Screneplay writing is next. Any ideas where to start?
    My son wrote a poem about a British half penny he found at the beach one year and contracted it with a US penny. Now when he recites the poem he switched from an english accent to an american accent depending on the coin he was speaking about. Everyone who hears it loves and remembers the fun.