Just as a reminder, we are less than two weeks away from a new edition of John Holt’s “Escape from Childhood” currently being prepared for release by Pat Farenga at HoltGWS LLC. This will be an ebook, available first on the Kindle and then eventually in other formats. I encourage everyone to purchase it; the quotes I am including here barely scratch the surface and this is a book everyone should read in its entirety.
One of the most challenging chapters in the book, the one I read two or three times in order to digest it, wrap my head around it and fully comprehend it was “On ‘Help’ and ‘Helpers'”. Holt writes:
“…in its best sense, there is nothing wrong at all with the idea of helping those who need help. The Good Samaritan who helped the injured traveler in the ditch is one of our culture heroes for good reasons. We need more like him. But when the traveler was healed and well, the Good Samaritan let him go on his way. He did not tell him he could not travel because it was so dangerous or because obviously he couldn’t take care of himself. He did not make himself a permanent protector of the traveler. He did not make a business or career or vocation out of protecting all travelers. He helped because, before his eyes, he could see someone who at that moment needed help. Otherwise he had other things to do.”
So the ever present “helper” or “protector” – maybe the helicopter parent? – becomes a hindrance to a person’s independence.
“The person whose main lifework is helping others needs and must have others who need his help. The helper feeds and thrives on helplessness, creates the helplessness he needs. The trouble with the helping professions — teaching, psychiatry, psychology, social work — is that they tend to attract people who want to play God.”
Holt is referring here to professions, but I can see the same thing in parenting. The over-protecive parent winds up making the child dependent on them for everything (or trying to). Helicopter parents not only stifle a child’s independence but create a situation in which their own identity is so entwined with that of their ‘helpless’ child that any attempts on the child’s part to break free are met with anger or hurt feelings.
Holt mentions teaching, and perhaps the reason unschoolers are seen as such a threat is that we eschew the “helper” mentality of education. We do not believe that children are helpless to learn unless taught, and if enough people come to believe the way we do, the entire system will crumble upon itself. Reading this chapter of Escape from Childhood called to mind some recent discussions on line in which various teachers became very indignant about the idea that they might be doing more harm than good. They cry loudly about how they help children whose home lives are not good and for whom school and education – the kind of education they are offering – is their only chance at a decent life.
“Of all people in history who have coerced, threatened and hurt other people there have been very few honest enough to see and candid enough to say, ‘I am doing this to you, or forcing you to do this for me, not for your good but mine.’ Most of them claim, usually sincerely, to act from the highest motives.”
So how do we change from a culture of “Helpers” to one of Good Samaritans, who offer help when needed but then get back to the business of our own lives? How do we assist those who have become dependent on such “helpers” (because they were told they are incapable on their own) to extricate themselves, heal and move on?
Like most things, the best way is probably to start in our own homes. To “be the change we want to see in the world”. (Thank goodness for that quote from Gandhi! It is applicable in everything, every day.) If we could do just that, we might begin to see solutions for the rest.
Quotes from Escape From Childhood copyright 2013 by HoltGWS LLC are used with permission.