In June, you may remember that we stayed with Willy’s Aunt Kathie in Montana. We spent a lot of time in the car and a lot of time cooking and drinking and watching the changes of weather and I knew in that time that I’d want to interview her here on my blog because much of what we discussed, I wanted to remember. And to share. Kathie has lived an interesting life, some may even say a life against the grain. Much of it has been in Montana, hundreds of miles from where she was raised. She’s worked on Indian reservations and has a story to match any crazy story I could manifest off the top of my head. She wears one earring because she believes in the beauty of asymmetry and she grows garlic partly for a living and partly because she enjoys it. She raised her son Joseph for much of his life as a single mom, but all of this is really just the bullet points. Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy her point of view and learning a little about her as much as I did.
You raised your son in a very small town. Can you discuss your decision to do so and the factors that contributed to your decision?
I moved to Montana in 1983 and after moving around a bit, settled in to teaching social studies at Sweet Grass County High School in Big Timber after getting married in August of 1991. We moved to our home on the Yellowstone the fall of 1992 and I discarded the worn boxes I had been packing and unpacking since about 1980. When I found out I was pregnant in 1994, it seemed like a good idea to continue setting down roots and having grown up mostly in Phoenix, I was thrilled to think of raising my child in a rural place!
Some say small town, small mind. What are your feelings on more progressive topics like the legalization of marijuana and gay marriages? Would your son agree? Do you opinions isolate you at all from the community you are a part of?
Ahhhhh, we do reflect our locale and the geography of place is real. I support the legalization of marijuana and jumped for joy this summer when the US Supreme Court decided in favor of protecting the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation! (Aside: Jeannette Rankin was elected to US Congress in Montana in 1916, before women had the right to vote in US.) Montana is an interesting mix of “small” and “wide open” – haha!
I believe Joseph supports both, although he is personally opposed to indulging in alcohol and drugs.
Sweet Grass County is one of the most conservative in the State… Yes, my opinions could isolate me from the community. I taught US Government, History, and Geography. All seniors are required to take a year of US Government and I did compromise my politics in an effort to teach students to think, analyze, and learn about democracy. Most everyone knew at some level that I am liberal but I kept my politics to myself…mostly. Education is really a liberal idea.
Speaking from hindsight, are you glad you raised your son in a small town? What do you think were the pros and cons?
Without a doubt, I am happy and grateful to have raised my son in rural Sweet Grass County.
Cons: lots of driving, limited exposure to diversity, not “street smart”
Pros: great network of people who care and taught him firsthand about “community” and the ups and downs of everyone knowing everyone… (ie lots of eyes and genuine interest and concern for each individual, also gossiping nature of a small town where everyone knows your business, sometimes before you do – haha); living in the country, he had lots of room to roam in the natural world; he spent most of his free time at home… he learned basic skills of rural life, like tasks involved in heating with wood, fencing, irrigating, winter survival
You mentioned that you’re glad your son has left Montana for California. You’ve always encouraged your son to travel and live and explore. In a way I feel like you raised him in a small town, but ingrained in him big world ideas, which is really noteworthy. Please elaborate.
The natural world is just that and we are a part of it– although our modern world tends to make us apart from it. (We are animals you know.) Seeing the Milky Way Galaxy spread across the sky most nights helps remind us where we may fit into the picture of the universe. We are a small part of a tiny light in this great universe and yet each of our lives is a miracle and we are present for a short time, graced with life and gifts to cultivate and share. I wish for my son a full and beautiful life where he may grow and blossom and become one with the earth, not fighting with it always. Knowledge is power and tends to bring light to the darkness. We need light and hope and love in our world, always, and my goal has been to raise Joseph with this in mind, well, in his heart, too.
We spoke about how technology allows us to be very individualistic; you no longer have to listen to music you don’t like or watch commercials you don’t want to because of things like playlists and DVRs. Can you discuss this further and the implications you feel it has had on society?
Yes, we have become most individualistic and yet tethered mightily to electronic devices that allow us to forget that we are all connected in a very basic, cellular way (no pun intended, really!) Even our language has duality… We must remember that we all are human beings who basically want to have enough food, shelter, and clothing to survive, we want to be loved and accepted, and we want our children to grow and thrive. Technology can be used to make our worlds more connected through communication and transportation; it can also separate us by spreading misinformation and fear. It is our choice and our responsibility to use it wisely.
You worked for years as an educator. I’d like to ask a few questions specific to this topic:
-What do you think the goals are of early education?
Education begins in the family unit – and “parents” and their immediate network start the process. Brain research suggests that years 1-5 are critical for developing healthy patterns, there are two more times when the brain establishes fairly critical patterns that tend to become lifetime habits! (I can look this up to confirm the two later age spans) Teaching values is a big part of this first period – like honesty, “good” and “bad” as defined by individuals and the culture in which one lives, most of this is taught simply by lifestyle habits of the family. Socialization occurs here, too, how to get along with others. Of course, reading, interacting, and playing are the ways that young children learn. Have fun with them and teach them along the way. Everything counts and from the beginning until our kids are grown, they are always watching us and learning from our examples! (great book – “Our Children Are Watching”)
-Can you discuss your observations and experiences of/with children that were homeschooled? What are your general feelings on a homeschooled education?
Ha, trick question for a public school teacher who enthusiastically supports free, quality, public education for everyone. Numerous homeschooled students I’ve met in high school are nowhere near their publicly educated peers, academically and/or socially. That said, I can name some individuals whose families actively and consistently educated their sons/ daughters at home AND with the “outside” world – not simply their like-minded, homeschooling group (remember the playlists and DVR’s that let us block out what we don’t want to hear and see???)-and these young people have been terrifically successful as they move into adulthood. Life is full of adversity and I believe that it is at home that our children are best-able to process their early experiences with adversity if we allow them to experience life and if we communicate openly, honestly, and age-appropriately with them.
–We talked briefly about ‘unschooling’, where children are kept out of school and are free to learn on their own at home, in the absence of any curriculum. What are your thoughts on this?
Well, if the individual is motivated to learn and the family has the means to support them if they choose to continue a life in this manner, I suppose it can work. I am skeptical of these individuals finding a satisfying life in society as we know it. Maybe this will change if there are more people who are “unschooled.” Remember, knowledge is power and if your kids don’t have knowledge, those that do will end up making the decisions for them. I do believe this and if you look at history, this has been the pattern…
-What do you think is the best way combine the freedom of homeschooling, the autonomy of unschooling, and the structure of standard schooling?
Can you have your cake and eat it, too?
Have your kids go to a neighborhood school. Actively support the school and/or work to make it better! If you take off for a long weekend or whatever, have the kids learn along the way. Teach your kids when they are home or let them learn on their own, the unschooling part. My son played a lot on his own. We had a list of “bored chores” just in case he wasn’t able to figure out something to do on his own. As he got older, he had chores that were important to the household. He learned along the way.
Parenting was the most important, challenging, and rewarding work I have ever done. It is a short and fleeting time-savor this time with your children. My Dad said that when there is a challenge or obstacle in my life to try to make a game out of it and figure out how to win the game… I think parenting may be a bit like this, if all else fails, make it a game and do your best to win! Of course, remember that you are the adult and it really isn’t you against the child, it is you and the child winning the “game” of life together☺
You can view more pictures of our time in Montana by clicking here.