Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Fourth Tenet of Chivalry: Benevolence

I teach.

You read that right.

Here I am, a long term unschooler who totally understands that "teaching" and learning" are not always as connected as people think. Who prioritizes learning, in a wide variety of ways.

I teach, for a living.

I teach two different things (and have taught others). Part of what they have in common is that for the most part (with a couple of exceptions), everyone I teach wants to be there, and has actively chosen (and in some cases, made quite an effort) to be there.

One of the things I teach is more complex than most people are aware of, with the potential of leading to a greater understanding of themselves. 

Of course, I can't teach that understanding directly, at all. It's not like I know more about them than they do themselves, necessarily, but that I know of some ways to help bring things to the surface, where they can be seen and felt and experienced. But I can't DO it for them; I can only lead in that direction. Whether someone chooses to go there is entirely up to them.

Part of my teaching involves a series of 9-10 introductory classes. This series of classes is largely scripted, in the sense that I know what I'm going to introduce, in what order, using what stories, examples, games, and exercises, and sharing what thoughts and observations. Even so, no two series go exactly the same, because so much of what happens comes from the students.

In educational theory, there is a teaching concept often described as "push/pull." Teachers need to have a balance between the two: stuff they "push" to the students, and stuff they "pull" from the students. This is typically understood as push=lecture and pull=class participation. I think, in many cases, it goes exactly like that. Teachers talk at students, and then require them to talk back. There isn't necessarily much connection between the two.

However, in my experience, it isn't what I strive to do. I don't want to push anything on anyone. I offer. I provide. I encourage. And I don't want to pull anything out of anyone, either. I make an opening, provide an opportunity, and create space, into which they may choose to move. What I want is for us to meet in the middle, where students actively want what I have to offer, and it is about sharing what I love, not about trying to make someone do anything. We are not taking turns, we are doing it together.

One of the best parts of this, of course, is that I learn as much as they do.

Today is the 9th class in a 10 class series.
It is a bittersweet class.

On one hand, we have been together enough to have begun to connect. I enjoy my students tremendously, each of them bringing their own selves to the group, with their world view, their experiences, and their own way of communicating. We have practiced enough to spend today working on some fairly advanced skills, just a taste, a suggestion of what is possible if they decide this is something they want to learn more about. It is exciting, for them and for me.

On the other hand, it means that this time together- in some ways, similar to a "baby moon" of a mother and child's first month together- is nearly at an end. Many students take my introductory class and decide, at least for now, that this ISN'T a major interest for them. I may not see them again, although, it being a small town, I often run into former students for many years.

I'd like to share part of what we will discuss in class today.

The entire series of classes is built around the concept of modern chivalry.
To further describe that, and explain what I mean by it, would take a much longer post.
There are four tenets of chivalry: Excellence, Truthfulness, Loyalty, and Benevolence.

We have discussed the first three for the past several weeks.
Today, we will talk about benevolence.

The will to do good.

Some people, and some would say most people, want to do good. They want to be a good person. 
They will do the right thing, and stand up for what is good and true and right.
As long as it is convenient to do so. 
As long as it is in their own self interest anyway. 
As long as it doesn't cost too much. 
As long as they won't make waves, get in trouble, be embarrassed, or step on anyone's toes.
If it's easy to "do the right thing," if it is a generally accepted and promoted and/or currently popular idea of "good," and especially if it makes them look good, they'll do it.
They may keep some of their beliefs about what is good a "secret," rather than out themselves, in order to maintain some sort of public reputation.

Some people go further than this.
They strive to put their beliefs into action, into their lives.
They will do the right thing, even if it isn't always convenient. 
They will take a stand for some of the "greater truths," perhaps. 
They may step up and work towards what is good, with groups of other people who are also doing so. 
They may even accept some level of risk in order to do this, it being important to them.
Sometimes, they choose to do something that isn't particularly popular, because they believe it is for the greater good.
They will, at times, resist the temptation to take the easy way, when that way conflicts with their beliefs about what is good.
But if the risk is too great, if it will potentially cause them too great a loss- like a job, or friends, or position in society- they may let some things slide. Little things, perhaps.

Chivalry is the code of the feudal knight, a guide to a way of being in the world.
Whether any particular person has ever, 100% of the time, lived up to that code, is debatable. 
We can all try, every day, to move in that direction.

The chivalric principle, or tenet, of benevolence, is about actively choosing to go out into the world looking for opportunities to do good.
To right wrongs.
To stand up for the truth, even if- and especially if- no one else is doing so.
To do what is right because it is right, not because it is beneficial to oneself.
To step into situations where few others would, and do whatever is possible to work towards a positive outcome.
To help others without expectation of reward.
To use your strength to help those weaker- or in weaker positions- than you.
To use your privilege to stand up for those who do not share it.

It is a powerful thing.

One of the things I have told parents for many years, often in unschooling forums, is related to this very thing.

If you want your child to grow up to be a person who has a strong sense of self, who is willing to stand up for what they believe in, who will do what is right because it is right, rather than either because they have been told to do so, or because they fear punishment if they do not, if you want your child to be a person who looks at the world with an open heart and mind, and who experiences themselves as someone who has the power to make positive change, you need to allow them to be that way NOW.

Encouraging your child to stand up for what they believe, even when it is unpopular, can be HARD for many parents, because it may be in conflict with what the parents believe. Helping your child make choices from a place of confidence and support, rather than from restrictions and fear, is critically important. That strong will, which can be so challenging for parents, is VITAL as your child matures. Honor and treasure it.

Choosing unschooling, to begin with, is already a step away from doing things because of cultural approval.
Keep moving in that direction.
For your kids.
And for yourself.

Examine your choices in this light: are they what is good and true, what is kind and loving, what is trusting and what builds trust, what leads to joy and positive relationships within my family, extending out into our world? Does this choice lead us to be our best selves?
Or is it based on cultural expectations, someone else's idea of what should be done, someone else's limits, based on punishment and fear and control?

As I say at the end of my class: go forth into the world, and do good. Look for opportunities to do so. Encourage others who are doing so.
Even if it's difficult.
Especially then.

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