What We Can’t See Isn’t Hurting Us…It’s Killing Us
By Toby LaVigne
“That humans tend not to learn from the lessons of history is the most important lesson of history” ~ adapted from Aldus Huxley
School at home parents decide to opt out of traditional school for a number of reasons. But they all come down to a belief that traditional schooling jeopardizes their children’s ‘success’.
A child’s odds of ‘failure’ may go down if they school at home, but how much do their odds of true adult success really go up?
How can we really know if we’re flying in the right direction if we don’t first define success and then implement a strategy to achieve it?
What is success?
The media regularly crowns an array of women and men as “successful”. They’ve founded companies, sold millions of records, won academic awards, built giant hedge funds, won trophies, and been elected to high seats of power.
If these media darlings are successful, then what do we call a non celebrity who lives a holistically successful life and possesses genuine peace of mind?
Perhaps success isn’t holistic and doesn’t include peace of mind, but we know that’s wrong.
The dictionary defines “success” as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
This definition allows a person to throw anything against the wall, then paint a bulls-eye on it after the fact.
Our education system claims that it’s purpose is to prepare children for a successful adulthood. So perhaps it’s not accomplishing what you set out to do, but rather success is being chosen for doing what you’re told to do by the education system or an employer.
So here we see three different and confusing definitions of success;
- Media Success is some combination of rich, powerful, and famous
- Pretend Success is whatever you want to say it is after the fact
- Education Success is being chosen because you did what you were told
These common examples of success do not provide specific guidance for young children growing up and they’re not much help for parents either.
Yet, this is where our society is at this juncture in history.
We watch with horror at what passes for ‘socialization’ in our school systems. We don’t want our children to receive 17,000 plus hours of repetitive exposure to low moral, ethical, or social standards.
We hear the countless stories about how school caters to the lowest common denominator and cannot alter it’s approach to suit the different needs of individual students.
And we feel the loss of close family and community connections as the ‘rat race’ of school buses, too many activities and hours of homework rob us of the time to bond closely.
Escaping this madness is clearly an important first step, but then the reality sets in.
Now it’s your job as the parent to make sure that each child develops a strong foundation of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Now it’s your job to customize the learning experience, to motivate, to mentor, to coach, to instruct, and to guide your children to realizing their potential for real world success even while you manage home life and strive to create a close family dynamic.
Now you are the parent and the teacher, and through the lens of today’s society, it can feel like your job just doubled or quadrupled.
My wife and I have a tremendous amount of appreciation for all school at home parents. It’s not easy to run against the grain of status quo in any arena, and most of us weren’t taught to do all these jobs. We school our two daughters at home, and we understand that guidance in this richer version of parenting is lacking.
The outside world isn’t going to change overnight. But within the walls of our homes we can take action today to create the experience we want for our families, and to support our children to become successful, grounded adults that contribute to making our society better.
The strength of individuals and society are directly linked to the strength of families. In order to rehabilitate society we need strong families building strong children.
We must redefine success and develop a clear approach for achieving it.
We have to stop flying blind.
The Canary In The Coal Mine
So how do we do this?
When you’ve been immersed in something long enough, even the best of us can become ‘accustomed’ to it, and we can lose perspective. One way to regain our perspective about success is to borrow from the perspective of others.
To do this I want to share something I recently learned about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As I’m sure you know, many soldiers are coming home and experiencing debilitating emotional symptoms.
Most assume that this is a result of having experienced the extreme violence of war, and of course many have. But only about 10% of our soldiers actually experience combat first hand. Yet PTSD claims are much higher. If their emotional trauma isn’t from violent combat experiences, then why are these otherwise strong individuals suffering so much when the return to the relative safety of the United States?
The very short story is this. In war, soldiers experience an extreme level of connection with their platoon members. They do everything together 24/7. Their lives depend on each other. Their training is rigorous, their level of preparation is high, trust is high, accountability is high, individual purpose is high, equality is high. These conditions produce powerful and addictive feelings. Feelings that are embedded in our very DNA.
For millions of years, humankind existed in small egalitarian groups that depended upon each other for survival every day. Small tribes the size of a typical platoon worked together to hunt, fish, gather, govern, play, and laugh. Children did not become adults without first completing a rite of passage that demonstrated their commitment and capacity to contribute to their tribes success. Every member was accountable to their tribe, everyone had a valuable purpose, everyone felt connected, and the tribe succeeded.
This is exactly what soldiers experience.
Yet when they return home, what do they experience?
The exact opposite.
After a complete immersion in the ultimate human experience of purpose and unity, they come home to experience incredible division, and a feeling of having no purpose.
There are four intrinsic human emotional needs; Satisfying work, connection, meaning, and hope. Soldiers in war and our tribal ancestors experienced these at the highest level, while modern ‘civilized’ society is experiencing them at all time lows.
The contrast delivers a shocking emotional blow that is triggering depression, suicide, violence, substance abuse, divorce and more.
But this isn’t just a veteran problem. As I said at the outset, the ‘extreme’ case of our returning soldiers reminds us of what we are ALL missing.
The statistics of veteran’s suffering may be higher than society as a whole, but they are extremely similar. Their symptoms are exactly the same as our society’s, and so is the source. Our innate communal nature is pulling on all of us, and everything we see in the news is a symptom of not fulfilling our basic primal needs.
We can pat ourselves on the back for developing technology to eliminate the need to fight as a small group every day for our survival. But this ‘advancement’ does not mean that we can ignore our biological programing.
We can’t think or legislate our way out of this mess, we have to ‘act’ our way out. We have to ‘act’ in accordance with who we really are and how humans are actually meant to be.
The happiness we seek is a feeling we get when we act in accordance with who we truly are in a way that contributes to our ‘tribe’. It’s not about wealth or fame. It’s not something we can pretend. And it’s not about pleasing teachers or bosses.
Frequent and consistent happiness is success, and success is a capacity that WE build (or don’t) through our actions.
Yes, our children must develop reading, writing, and math proficiency. And yes, we need to earn money to pay bills.
But, believe it or not, our society is already doing these things at unprecedented levels, yet the symptoms of our returning soldiers are running rampant with civilians as well. The only real difference is that the soldiers have had the experience of stepping out of modern society, and that has enabled them to see how far off track our society has truly become.
The challenges we face in society cannot be fixed with new laws, programs, more mental health checks, new school standards, prescription drugs, gun control, or political correctness.
And schooling at home won’t fix them either. It may be less bad, but, homeschooled children and families will only transcend these issues if they specifically and powerfully address the actual skills that produce true success.
The fact that homeschooled children perform 37% better on academic tests is encouraging, but it’s not nearly enough because grades have nothing to do with genuine adult success. Our society is filled with educated adults who are struggling to stay married, to get a good night’s sleep, or to love themselves.
Do not take this lightly and assume that, “Well that won’t happen to my sweet child.”
Look around at your adult family members, your neighbors, your co-workers. If you’re truly brave, look in the mirror. Look at the struggles that even the so-called successful adults are having. I’m betting that most of them grew up with ‘good’ parents and teachers who had the best of intentions, yet somehow they still don’t really understand the underlying dynamics of interdependence and prosperity.
As a society we are looking in the wrong directions for success. We are putting band aids on top of band aids hoping that the symptoms will go away. The Veteran’s Administration is a mess, but no amount of reorganization is going to fill the void that our soldiers feel. And the same is true of our education and political systems - They’re a mess, but fixing them won’t fix our children, our families, or our society.
Only we as individuals and families can do the actual work necessary to merge the best of our tribal needs with the best of our modern resources. And the best hope for our society is the leadership of school at home parents because you have the greatest control over your family dynamics AND your children’s education.
Lessons From Our Soldiers
What can we learn from our returning soldiers and our tribal ancestors about developing the capacity to actually be successful?
What can their successes and failures teach us about how to build strong families, strong children, and rebuild our society?
When we look at what makes soldiers and civilians alike feel happy, we see four things;
Military and tribal communities have clear structure. The ‘game’ is clearly understood. Members know their roles, they know the roles of their team mates, and they understand the ‘game’ that’s being played.
One of the key drivers of soldier and civilian ‘peace of mind’ is the feeling of competency. The more highly trained someone is, the more confident they feel. Confidence in our ability to surmount challenges individually and collectively gives us emotional strength.
Returning soldiers are frequently dismayed to find a society that doesn’t value them in the private sector. A former Marine I know struggled to get a job even after getting his college degree. In the Marines he was responsible for guarding nuclear missile silos, but in the Dilbertized private sector he wasn’t trusted to handle a copy machine.
Feeling useful makes us feel valuable and gives us identity. Identity is THE most important human need. Not feeling valued leads to the destructive pile of symptoms that returning soldiers and civilians are suffering from. And pretty much every bad piece of news is a predictable consequence of this kind of suffering.
We want to feel like we have a support community. Our modern, non tribal society, pits us against each other in a competitive, win-lose race for financial independence. Nowhere in nature can we find such a thing as independence, so it should come as no surprise that it runs completely against our human nature to pursue it.
Military units that operate independently die quickly. And societies that operate independently die slowly.
Nothing has been more destructive to our society, to families or to individuals than our attempt to pursue success independently.
The four things that make soldiers and civilians truly happy and successful, match up identically with the four intrinsic needs I mentioned earlier.
Satisfying work - Satisfying work IS clarity. We know what to do, we know what the benefit is, it fits our particular strengths, and we know where we stand with it.
Hope - Competency gives up hope. When we’re well trained and practiced, when we have the support of a team, and when we build a history of accomplishment together, we feel the hope of continued success.
Meaning - Despite the rampant selfishness we see, people really do want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something that contributes to the betterment of society.
Connection - Our desire for a communal connection has been ingrained in us over millions of years.
Now lets’ look at what awaits both traditionally schooled and homeschooled college graduates. Over 50% of them will not find jobs that even require a college education despite going deep into debt to get their diploma. “Successful graduates” get to join the 70% plus of adults that do not feel engaged with what they do. There goes satisfying work.
The odds of them having to make frequent and significant career adjustments that their education didn’t prepare them for are 100%. Out goes hope and in comes anxiety.
Most work environments inhibit teamwork. There goes connection.
And most companies, despite their flowery statements, are focused solely on short term profits whether their products and services are truly in the best interest of society or not. There goes meaning.
That’s four for four.
Congratulations modern humankind, we conquered physical survival only to kill ourselves off emotionally.
We spend over half of our waking hours driving to work, working, and thinking about working. Half of our lives is too much to give up for unsatisfying work, and a lack of hope, meaning or connection.
This isn’t just unpleasant, it’s inhuman, and it’s literally killing us. Make no mistake, our health, family, and political failures are the direct result of fear, anxiety, and anger. A truly satisfied, connected, hopeful, and purposeful society would not do what we’re doing to ourselves and to each other.
And it’s not ‘THEM’, it’s US…ALL OF US.
We cannot fix this with more technology, politics, management or will power, and we are exhausting ourselves by trying.
Now the natural question that has been embedded in our minds through decades of brainwashing is something like; “This is all nice, but can we really bring back tribal interdependence in the modern age?”
Of course we can. And we must.
The fact that we wonder about this shows just how blind we’ve become.
Here’s how we stop flying blind.
We get clear about what we really want, and how to actually attain it.
We redefine success AND the means of achieving it.
We prepare our children differently, we transform our family dynamics, and we rebuild our society starting with strong children and strong families. When enough of us do this, the hope of healing our society will rise.
We have been conditioned to think of heroism as something that’s rare, something that other people do.
We have been conditioned to think that family and tribe are quaint notions. But for most of human history, family, tribes, heroism, and survival were inextricably linked; heroism, a commitment to being a contribution for the good of others, was expected and rewarded...
...and selfishness was severely punished.
Family, tribe, and heroism used to be as normal as selfishness has become today.
The result of this approach to life was prosperity; the capacity to produce a surplus for everyone. Working together as an interdependent team increases our ability to produce more of everything we need physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
But in order to prosper interdependently, every member of a family, a tribe, or a team must be accountable for contributing for the good of each other. Conveniently, this happens to be the formula for a successful life.
“For most of human history, the art of the hero was not left up to chance. It was a multidisciplinary endeavor of optimal nutrition, physical self mastery, and mental conditioning that children were taught at a young age. The hero’s skills were studied, practiced and perfected. And they were passed from parent to child, teacher to student, generation to generation. Children graduated into adulthood via a rite of passage that demonstrated their capacity, competency, and commitment to being a contribution to their community.” Christopher McDougall, author, Natural Born Heroes
Heroism is really interdependence; responsibility and accountability to each other.
Interdependence can only exist with leadership. And the source of that leadership has always been, and must become again, family.
From now on, think of parenting and teaching as family leadership, and think of success as interdependent prosperity.
There are thousands of leadership and success myths, but there is only 1 set of timeless and immutable principles that governs the realm of prosperity as physics governs the physical realm.
In short, there are 4 elements that we must master in order to prosper.
Later, we’ll take a look at how these 4 elements are used to realize individual potential while forging a close family bond at the same time. You’ll be amazed at how each of these simple elements clarifies life. When the purpose of family and life are clear, children become adults who realize their potential, families act like teams that grow together and strengthen our society.
Interdependent prosperity is like a game. There is an objective, there is a field of play, there are players or positions, there are rules, and there is scoring. In order to play any game well we must be able to see the field, the objective, the players, and the game itself. And most importantly we must know what position we play best, so that we can time our actions and coordinate with team mates effectively. If a child can’t see the ‘game’ of life, if they can’t see their unique role, they won’t feel valuable or connected and they will drift away. As children go, so too goes our society.
Every marriage, parenting, and sibling conflict stems from an inability to observe the timeless dynamics of tribal interdependence.
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than you played yesterday”
Prosperous teams realize their potential, not because they are smarter, but because they learn to learn quickly and together.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot learn, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ~ Alvin Toffler
This is trickier than it sounds. Kindergartners will laugh, skip, dance and sing because they haven’t learned that the world is evaluating them. Ask a group of high schoolers to stand up and sing and you are very unlikely to get a volunteer. Prosperity requires a commitment to learning. And learning, by definition includes risk and failure. Strong families protect and support one another, and they develop the ‘muscle’ to risk failure and judgment in order to accelerate learning and accomplishment, so they prosper and grow together.
We all have a biologically embedded need to feel valuable to our ‘tribe’. This need drives all human behavior. Prosperous teams are made up of heroes who learn to package their identity in the form of an offer to be a contribution to others.
Their offer becomes their signature; something that serves to set them apart and increase their identity as a valuable contributor to their community.
A truly remarkable signature is worlds apart from the self-centered resume most of us were taught to develop. Skills and experience are essential, but they do not lead to success and happiness until they are properly packaged as a contribution to others.
The ultimate skill that separates gangs from teams is the ability to coordinate with others. No-one accomplishes what they do without the support of many people. Our society perpetuates two myths;
The first is that if you gain a high enough degree, enough money, or sufficient authority, you can ‘make’ others to do as you wish, and then you can do as you please.
The second is the myth of independent success. There is no such thing as independence in nature, anywhere. Individuals, families, teams, and societies that forget this always lose in the end.
The truth is that there are dramatic consequences to these two approaches. In order to produce the life experience we seek for ourselves, for our children and for our family we must relearn how to gain the voluntary and enthusiastic support of others. There is no better place to practice this than with your family, and no better time than childhood.
Even the best business schools in the world don’t teach interdependent prosperity.
If the principles of heroic leadership and tribal connection aren’t clear, children, families, and society drift toward anxiety and away from unity. Just remember, a family (and a society) prospers together or not at all. If we alienate each other and ourselves, anxiety and brute force will win, even though our intentions were noble.
If children and families can’t see these principles, how can they play the game of life effectively? They can’t, none of us can play a game we don’t thoroughly understand and which we aren’t well trained to play. If children and families don’t learn and train in these dynamics, they run the risk of losing connection with themselves and each other.
Trying to play the ‘game’ of life well without knowing the underlying immutable dynamics is like flying blind, and that’s crazy!
The aim of heroic unschooling is to reintegrate learning, accomplishment, growth, and family; to create a modern tribal structure to succeed while maintaining the freedom to be ourselves.
The Aim Of Heroic Unschooling
The four capabilities that produce true success (interdependent prosperity) translate into four very powerful personal transformations that we can and must produce in our children and ourselves.
Developing a sense of self, who am I? What are my strengths and weaknesses? How do I react in certain situations? What are my habits? Which habits serve me? Which habits get in the way?
Knowing oneself is an enormous advantage, but it’s when we explicitly package it as an offer to others and use it to actually accomplish and contribute that it begins to payoff. One concern we have for our traditional education and child development paradigm is that our children face an economy that requires self actualization. Knowing this, we simply cannot in good conscience delay teaching our children to declare and accomplish meaningful projects.
Too many children today are entering the real world with little more experience than some menial part time jobs. 18-22 years old and beyond is too late to start the process of real world self discovery and actualization.
Heroic unschooling requires that children declare and complete personally meaningful and increasingly challenging projects as a regular part of their preparation. And I don’t mean a couple of book reports, I mean 100+ self chosen, increasingly significant monthly project repetitions by 18.
There is a great deal of talk about socialization and ‘people skills’. The most important differentiator of humans versus all other creatures is our ability to coordinate action through communication. Every significant human achievement required human communication.
Socialization is a common reason for choosing to school at home. It is also, erroneously cited as the greatest weakness of schooling at home. Socialization is a process of adopting the norms and behaviors of the surrounding group. Socialization has no correlation with real life adult or family success, if anything, most school based socialization is an impediment to success.
“We’ve seen the village, and we don’t want them raising our children”
‘People skills’ on the other hand are vital, assuming of course that we are referring to understanding and coordinating with each other. The purpose of observation training is to increase both self awareness and mutual awareness in all situations.
This is the real world right here. Mutual actualization is where we coordinate as a team to learn, accomplish, grow and prosper. This pinnacle capability is built on the backs of the previous three and it’s what separates the prosperous from the cogs.
The ultimate goal of heroic unschooling is to raise children and build families that;
- Truly know who they are
- Excel at self direction
- Can read others
- Accomplish projects of increasing contribution
I’m sure that this all makes sense to you, but what are you doing that’s so dramatically different that it will ensure that your children and your family don’t continue to fly blind?
Answering this question requires a level of self honesty that has become rare. It’s politically incorrect to question or challenge anyone’s parenting, education, or family approach.
It’s ironic that as a society we admire our star athletes, the Navy Seals, and real leaders, yet we resist incorporating the ONE thing they all possess. This one thing isn’t innate talent, it’s a choice.
It’s the choice to honestly self evaluate out of a commitment to contributing to others and to getting better every day.
Successful parents and children aren’t born, they’re forged through years of training, learning, accountability and contribution.
Truly successful adults don’t hide behind childish excuses or avoid feedback. Their intention to contribute and improve is greater than their ego.
The question I have for you is, “What do you want your legacy to be in the minds of your children, your family, and our society?”
Schooling at home is an effective first step that increases the control we can have over our child’s preparation and our family’s long term unity.
Parent and teacher are really just one job that was separated when we invented the education system.
That ONE job is leadership.
Our soldiers make great sacrifices to keep us safe, but perhaps their greatest modern contribution will be the powerful reminder of how we are truly meant to live and prosper.
The definition of success that we have been teaching and our means of achieving it are seriously broken.
The only solution is to get to the root cause, family tribal leadership.
And our best hope as a society are true family leaders.
Are you ready to be heroic unschooling leader for the sake of your children, your family, and our society?
This is a call to arms for a new breed of parenting and leadership. Please feel free to share this far and wide, and if you’d like to promote this idea socially, the hashtag is #heroicunschooling. Tell us what you think...comment below.
About the Author
Toby LaVigne is the founder of The Vaikido Hero Unschool, and a problem solving leader…”Wouldn’t it be great if…” He is an intuitive coach, a keen observer of people’s strengths, and his enthusiasm to realize visions makes him ask, “When can we start?”.
It has always been Toby’s dream to build a school that would fill the tremendous gap between what school teaches and what truly produces lifelong success. But his goal is to not just to teach, the goal of the Vaikido Hero Unschool is to tip the balance of society from self-interested anxiety to interdependent prosperity.