I appreciate this article from Education Week, titled "We're teaching consent all wrong,"
The key idea from the article is this:
Instead, researchers and educators offer an alternative: Teach consent as a life skill—not just a sex skill—beginning in early childhood, and begin discussing consent and communication in the context of relationships by 5th or 6th grades, before kids start seriously thinking about sex.
I like this because I see it both as a parent and as a teacher. As a parent, I often see my children test one another's boundaries and do things to one another without the other's consent: one might arbitrarily take control of a video game, or dump leftovers onto someone else's plate at dinner, or drop something in the other's room that they don't want anymore. At school, students take one another's books, or write on one another's pages, or talk to another student when they clearly want some peace and quiet. None of these issues are sexual, but nonetheless they're matters of consent. If someone doesn't want that food, or someone doesn't want you writing on their page, the perpetrator is breaking trust and consent.
One of the issues I've seen in the consent conversation, however, is crossover with other terms: "Bullying," for example, often gets used in situations where no bullying is taking place. Perhaps people are doing things you don't want them to, but they're not inherently bullying the other person. Conflating "nonconsensual" and "bullying" muddies the water too much to be useful. The Venn Diagram crosses over—bullying cannot take place consensually—but they're far from one and the same.
Does a parent bully when they need to get their child to attend a family gathering for example? The child may not want to do it, and the parent may need to coerce them, but it's not quite bullying, not quite a matter of non-consent.
Just as we often conflate non-consensual actions with bullying, we also conflate it with coercion. I think we need to be a little careful about that. Somebody can do something without consent, but also not necessarily participate in coercion. Many non-consent stories, it seems, don't involve coercion as much as they involve terrible communication.
Consent is always complicated. We'd like to think that there are little cues we can take to make it simple, but it's always complex. It's a continual process. It demands good communication. It gets messy as we reiterate it in our memories. Whether in parenting or education or in sexuality, there's always more nuance than any maxim can handle.
So I support the idea of teaching consent as a general life skill. Even when it makes life harder.
When coping, we all project to some degree or another. When we empathize, we project a little bit upon others and assume that we can get into their shoes and see things from their perspective. We need to project a little bit because, ultimately, we're all alone. We do our best to make community, but ultimately we're very alone.
A few months ago I came across this infographic while navigating Pinterest. It really bothered me to discover it. However, I've learned to do my best to pay special attention to things that seem to irk me, so here it is:
My issue is that I really don't want to be the manipulator. But I read through those "red flags" and can't help but feel like I've taken part in a good portion of those.
But I've gotten to a point where I second-guess my intentions so much that I can't help but feel like I must be a manipulator, that I must be a desperate, terrible person to have the desires that I do, to have said the things I have. And then I spiral downwards, unable to even fully come to grips with my own sense of reality. And I wonder if I'm just some projection machine, blasting everyone around me with my own ego.
That's the thing about being in relationship with people: friends, intimate partners, spouses, children, etc.: context really does make a difference. All. The. Time. And we hope that our relationships can share a common reality.
And when they don't seem to share that common reality, our shared projection gets blurry and out of focus. And then we realize just how alone we can be.
So I'm astoundingly grateful for those relationships with whom I seem to be able to share a common projection, with whom it seems like we can look at the same screen and perceive a clear image. I cherish shared a clear images of the world, even if the image itself is a little unseemly.
Every once in a while, I come across a book from my childhood and I try to introduce it to my daughters. And I'm almost always disappointed at how they just don't seem impressed.
This is one such book:
From that book, I learned about Esperanto, Andorra, Alfred Nobel, and the history of candy. I read its articles over and over again and used it in school projects. This book and books like it were my bread and butter for learning and company at home.
There's a long tradition of books like this one:
And here are a few that I've bought for my classroom: my Grade 7s in particular choose them for silent reading time.
So why don't I read them very often anymore?
I blame the Internet.
Because these books were the Internet before the Internet. These books were a wealth of information that a person just might be looking for. There seemed to be so many times when I would wonder something, crack open one of these books, scour the Table of Contents and the Index, and actually find an article that addressed my curiosity. The writing was always edited carefully and written in a lively, interactive tone. They were perfect for knowledge-seekers like me,
Now I first go to the Internet and these books often lay dormant. I feel a little bit o' melancholy about it, as if something's been lost. But that's probably just me being a sucker for nostalgia.
Which isn't all bad. But I miss the careful editing. The Internet's slapdash chaos is useful for finding specifics, but nothing beats good editing and copy for getting big ideas across.
The video is based on this article from The Book Of Life. This passage is my favorite:
We apply the wrong medicine:
This section hits home to me, especially as I watch more and more relationships come to pieces around me, including, of course, my own relationship with my ex-wife. It's always a battle to refrain from senseless blame when we feel hurt; careful introspection can help us realize that the hurt we wield against those around us usually stems from problems deep within ourselves.
I appreciate how the School Of Life and Book Of Life folks seem well aware that our minds are far from tame, that we are by no means "rational animals." The baggage we carry with us can affect every part of our lives, no matter how much we fight against it. We mis-aim our solutions and choose misguided shortcuts that inevitably make life more difficult in the long run. We compromise where we shouldn't, and stay steadfast when we should compromise.
So with every marriage that crumbles, with every friendship that goes silent, I can't help but wonder at the hidden, mis-addressed thorns in each person's side, at the ways we've lashed out at those we love the most. It's terrifying when so many of my friends, so many of the people I love and respect the most, seem to be hurting so much.
At least we'll be keeping therapists in business.
I'm exhausted. I don't think I'm going to get to have any sort of routine until January. But lord I can't wait for that routine. I can't wait to get up in the morning and calmly prepare for my day, and to finish my schoolday with most of my daily tasks completed, to go home and do things for myself a little. I know that people say that you should be able to take care of yourself at any time, but right now there are a few too many commitments to use my time wisely. I'm having trouble keeping weight off, keeping up at work, keeping my few extra-curricular activities maintained, and keeping positive with my daughters. But a time will come when I'll finally be able to perform the introspection necessary to accurately identify and address the hidden thorns in my own self, and I look forward to it.
I can think of a few times over the last few years when I've felt uncomfortable with the ways people "call out" each other. My impression is that the person who "calls out" injustice feels their explanation is witty and useful, but it can often come-off as a conversation-closer. Despite this, I usually try to give the call-out a serious listen, even if I can't do it on the day of confrontation. If I'm uncomfortable with an idea, I like to try to get to the core of my discomfort.
A few weeks ago, I came across this article, "A Note on Call-Out Culture," by Asam Ahmad after somebody posted it to their Twitter feed. I didn't read it for a few days, but when I did I found a couple touching passages.
Here's the article:
I think the article brings up some valid concerns, namely that "Calling-Out" is a performative act. When we call-out, the calling-out itself becomes the issue of importance. It's hard to keep one's aim straight on the content when the calling-out is so attractive in and of itself.
Most importantly to me, Ahmad writes,
There are ways of calling people out that are compassionate and creative, and that recognize the whole individual instead of viewing them simply as representations of the systems from which they benefit. Paying attention to these other contexts will mean refusing to unleash all of our very real trauma onto the psyches of those we imagine to only represent the systems that oppress us.
I believe in calling-out injustice, but I also believe that there are ways to do so that decrease damage and increase relationship. When we can confront people in ways that don't jade them or shift the focus of their concern, people have a chance to feel legitimized, even if their in the wrong camp. A successful call-out should allow the receiver of the call-out to feel as human as the person who performs the call-out themselves.
On October 24, The School of Life published this video, "Is It Better To Be Polite Or Frank?" which seemed to address some of my call-out concerns that day. The video compares "frank: and "polite" behaviours and evaluates their efficacy in different contexts. If you have 10 minutes, I highly recommend viewing it.
In relation to the video above, I would argue that "calling out" is almost always an act of frankness: the person wants to bring something to the surface and "tell it as it is." However, the combination of performance and frankness shuts down nuance. Once the performance of calling-out begins, once somebody highlights somebody's apparent indiscretion. Calling out creates opposition and debate where nuance might fit better.
When I was searching for the first article in this blog entry, I came across a second article with a different focus. Kitty Striker wrote this article for The Walrus: "The Problem with Callout Culture."
For my purposes, the most pertinent part of this article reads,
For some critics, it feels safer, and more cut and dried, to call out an individual for saying something racist, for example, than to dig into the root of why they felt it was okay to say it in the first place. It’s less overwhelming to yell at one person than to, say, go after institutional oppression.
Calling out is fine if you want to frankly bring something to the surface, but terrible at identifying the root problems that maintain injustice. If anything, I would think that effective call-outs would immediately be followed by some empathic conversation between both parties. Call-outs draw attention to a problem, but may be a bad method for changing the systems they confront.
I'm all for changing the system; I'm all for calling out injustice. However, I'm more interested in workable ways to change the system than I am in forcing myself into a position where my frankness and performance force me to try to be "right" when I could very well be wrong, or missing the target altogether.
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