Written by Peter Bergson, OC Co-founder. Originally Published in the Fall 2019 OC Magazine.
At our end-of-the-year OC Board meeting in June we began a discussion regarding the second half of OC’s mission statement:
“[work] with others who share our principles and values in order to tip the balance from the traditional model of compulsory instruction over to a more organic, learner-directed approach based on self-motivation and the creative process.”
In other words, it is our intention to extend the OC approach to the world beyond our campus in Edgmont.
We talked about the different ways of going about this, including holding workshops for non-OC parents, for teachers in both similar and more conventional schools, and for anyone else who is interested yet unable for some reason to enroll in our regular programs.
It was at this point that one of our OC-parent Board members remarked that he, himself, felt like he could deepen his understanding of the Open Connections body of knowledge and various practices. Furthermore, he shared that he doesn’t feel like he’s in a position to share them with others beyond a certain superficial level. He said this with a refreshing level of honesty and self-disclosure that is all too rare in modern life, and also with an air of regret, or maybe longing, as if to say, “I wish this weren’t true and that I had a fuller grasp of OC’s jargon and practices.”
From there the conversation went quickly to, “Well, then, it would seem to make perfect sense to begin our outreach here, within our own community, with the parents of the young people who are living OC on a regular basis with their peers.” The idea of ramping up the number of content-oriented parent meetings surfaced, where the adults would get to experience OC in practice. They would then have the opportunity to reflect on the implications of what they had just been exposed to, how this way of thinking and communicating might serve them well at home as it seems to do for their young people at OC. Perhaps they would then take the OC approach out into the greater world for us, or with us, influencing by example more than proselytizing.
Thinking about this further, I imagined an OC parent having a conversation with a neighbor who might remark, “I noticed that you refer to Sally and Ted as your young people rather than as kids or even children. Why is that?” This could be the start of a discussion about how young people are generally viewed as some lesser beings in our culture, lacking in key attributes such as logical thinking, self-control, deferred gratification and other characteristics normally associated with adulthood. The term teenager, for example—as in, “ugh! I don’t look forward to her becoming a teenager’—is often used in a pejorative sense, similar to the notion of the “terrible twos”. The implications of such terms is that, as lesser beings, they shouldn’t be taken too seriously when they express their needs, hopes, fears, or desires, nor should their ideas be taken as seriously as those of adults—and certainly not ours. “Hey, who’s paying for this vacation anyway? You should be grateful that you get to go anywhere!” “I don’t care that you don’t like what we’re having for dinner. This is not a restaurant, where you can order whatever you like!”
By contrast, I am reminded of one of my favorite books to read at Group Time in the Open Program: Harald and the Giant Knight, by Donald Carrick. As I tell my audience, one of the things that I like best about this book is the way a novel idea is sparked from the image of a shadow. Even more important, for me, is the seriousness with which a young boy’s newborn idea is taken by his parents in a time of extreme distress, when the whole family is facing a major catastrophe. The father’s response to the youth’s fanciful idea is not the usual, “oh-that’s-cute-but-it-would-never-work” retort that young people hear on a regular basis, but rather a version of, “Oh, that sounds interesting, son; say some more about that”, which is something that OC encourages our Facilitators to say anytime they hear a new idea that doesn’t immediately strike them as a potential solution.
Such a simple shift in wording, and yet one with major implications with regard to respect of a youth as a full-fledged person.
In another scenario, I can imagine overhearing a parent in a store attracting the attention of another adult when she responds to an obviously (?) unreasonable request from a pre-teen to make a purchase that doesn’t sit well with the parent. Again, rather than shooting down the idea—or worse, insulting the youth for even making such a request—the parent would say, “Hmmm…Let me think about this for a minute. Well, I can see why you might want this, because it does fit your taste, and it matches the outfit you would likely wear it with. It’s also on sale, which makes it reasonably priced from my perspective. At the same time, it seems to me that you get a pretty decent clothing allowance as is, and this would take you well beyond our agreement. How could we resolve that dilemma?”
Perhaps the youth would respond with an idea to address the parent’s concern, such as offering to lower the next month’s installment as a way to balance the budget. Or maybe she would be sufficiently tired and hungry to let her disappointment take over and lead her to say, “Aw, Mom, you never let me buy anything just because I want it!”. Still, an onlooker would have heard the mother’s initial response as a respectful, rational and compassionate one that honors the full personhood of her daughter, without sacrificing her own values or considerations. One would have to assume that the likelihood of this negotiation’s going south is greatly reduced thanks to the mother’s equanimity and, as we OCers call it, her Balanced Response*.
What else might parents take away from an OC Parent Meeting that could improve his or her quality of life? Maybe the best thing would be a newfound appreciation for one’s own ability to generate novel and workable solutions to such life challenges as, How to turn my hobby into a business, or How to increase sales in the business that I already have up and running; or How to do justice to my youth’s non-OC days without sacrificing my need for personal time to pursue my own interests. If there is one identifying characteristic of American culture, it is that our ability to speculate new ideas is often exceeded only by our ability to find reasons why they won’t work, or to engage in some other self-limiting behavior that keeps us stuck in a frustrating, oscillating pattern of excitement followed by disappointment. So-called learned helplessness is a national disease that sucks the life out of far too many people, and its contagious nature easily spreads from one generation to the next. Too often we parents might wish for a fresh start for our youth, then inadvertently model the very behaviors that undermine the pursuit of such goals.
Perhaps OC can be of service to parents who are bothered by these habits, in the same way that we hope to provide value to the young people. That would certainly accelerate the transition from an over-stressed society to a can-do one, where the optimism of youth is not limited to three-to-five year olds. Imagine jumping out of bed in the morning and thinking, “Hot dog! Another opportunity to live an enjoyable and purposeful day!” Could the OC Process skills make the difference? I’d like to think so.
* The OC Glossary of Terms is available in the Parent Resource Library at OC.