This is the first part in a two-part series of blog posts recapping and going deeper into the presentation giving by Anna Mock and Britany Sproul at the Education Empowerment Hub Conference in Layton, Utah, May 2022. This first part is given by Anna Mock.
What is a community and why do we need it? The answers to those questions are almost one and the same. What is community? Community is meaningful connection with other people. It is a shared purpose, shared goal, shared concerns, shared fears, shared solutions, and shared joys. You can have all those things by yourself – and you do! You, by yourself, have a purpose, a goal, concerns, solutions, and fears. But eventually, and this is very different and personal for everyone – you may not want to do everything alone. A long time ago Aristotle said that man was a “political animal.” You can derive a number of meanings out of that – some of which are not very flattering! – but most people understand that "political" means needing associations with one another. Do you remember the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks? Where he is stranded on an island and starts talking to Wilson, the volleyball? Yeah, well he needed social interaction to survive, emotionally and mentally. It didn’t matter who (or what) it was, he needed someone to connect to, to talk to, to relate to, to share his burdens and joys with. There is just this inner need that all people have on some level, sometimes big and sometimes small, to connect and relate and share with other people.
image from: https://www.wionews.com/entertainment/hollywood/news-woah-tom-hanks-volleyball-in-oscar-nominated-cast-away-sold-for-an-unbelievable-sum-428464
Let’s talk about connection for a moment. A few minutes ago I said that Community is “meaningful connection” with other people. Well, have you ever been in a “meaningless” connection? My kids used to play rec soccer with our city. I would drop and pick the kids up from practice and sit and watch their games multiple times a week. I talked to some of the other moms on the field, but besides our kids chasing each other and picking flowers on the soccer field, we didn’t have much to connect about. And after I became their soccer coaches for a few seasons, I felt the connection was even less because I didn’t even get a chance to make meaningless small talk with anyone anymore. I was too busy coaching the games. We were all together at least twice a week. We all had the same purpose and the same goal, but the connection meant nothing. (I’m not saying you can’t connect with people at sporting events, I’m just saying I didn’t connect very well with anyone.) I had the same experience when I used to send my kids to 4H after school classes. I would drop them off, pick them up, and that was it. I didn’t have a part in it at all. There was no connection for me in that situation. Johann Hari has written extensively on the topic of connection and loneliness. He said that “Loneliness isn't the physical absence of other people. It's the sense that you're not sharing anything that matters with anyone else.”
Sharing what matters.
Does sharing what matters make the connection meaningful? A shared purpose, a shared goal, shared concerns, shared fears, shared solutions, and shared joys? I think so! For the remainder of this presentation I would like you to keep the following three key elements in mind:
Needs vs Shoulds
So back to soccer. I signed my kids up for soccer because someone told me they needed organized sports. Fine. I signed my kids up for the 4H afterschool programs because someone told me my kids needed social interaction or else they would turn out backwards. Fine. Societal pressure told me what I needed, but society was wrong. What I actually needed was time with just myself and all my little people and to figure out what homeschooling was going to look like for me. I needed to find my own groove without feeling like I wasn’t keeping up with someone else, or that I was doing it wrong somehow. After I did find my groove (3 years later!), my needs started to change and I needed to do something about it.
Before we go on, it's important to keep in mind is that homeschoolers are a different breed of human being, right? We have purposefully and willfully exited the mainstream flow of popular culture and popular expectations. I have noticed that the longer I homeschool, the wider the gap between my interests, hopes, desires and the general public-school mom’s interests, hopes, and desires becomes. This is NOT because there is something wrong with public school parents and kids NOR is there anything wrong with homeschool parents and kids. This is not an US v THEM type of thing. This is just an acknowledgement that there is indeed a divide between the two cultures that can sometimes be hard to bridge. So because we have chosen to go off the beaten path, sometimes the things that fill regular, mainstream people’s needs, don’t fill ours. At all. The good news is this means we have the opportunity to seek out and create our own solutions.
To understand the first social need I discovered in myself, you need to know something very personal about me. I am afraid of bears. And mountain lions. But mostly bears.