Saturday, June 20, 2009

Free, Conscious Activity

"When productive work is suffused with the qualities of play--that is, with freedom, creativity, and imagination--we experience that work as play . . . In our culture today, those people who have the most freedom of choice and opportunity for creativity within their work are most likely to say they enjoy their work and regard it as play" (Peter Gray,
"Play Makes Us Human I").

"Labor [is] life-activity, productive life itself . . . the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species - its species character - is contained in the character of its life activity; and free conscious activity is man's species character" (Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker, 75-76).

These two quotes have given me a bit to think about. As homeschooling parents, we are constantly searching for ways to engage our children's desire to productively play, to learn with freedom and imagination, without squashing that desire through any preconceived notions of intellectual or academic progress, the pitfalls of rewards and punishments,  or pressure from outside to "prove" they will be intelligent, well-rounded kids as a result of their not being schooled with others. I have to also consistently remind myself that play is necessary, psychologically, socially, humanly, and that the institutions we regularly engage often are not of the same opinion.

While I find the above quotes to be similarly enlightening, I often wonder why play and "free conscious activity" are thwarted so early on in children's lives. And yet, in the process of watching David Simon's HBO series, The Wire, in reading Linn's The Case for Make Believe, Louv's Last Child in the Woods and now John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down, I have to admit that I don't wonder why, rather I know why. The institutions we must engage cannot be disentangled from the global system for which they were designed, and a system that stands in clear opposition to "free conscious activity."

As homeschooling parents, we are able to make a small difference in our children's lives by extending the length of time they can resist these oppressive modes of thought, their estrangement from what Marx has called their "species being." In enabling their "free, conscious activity," we are hopefully giving them more time to understand that being before having to confront the myriad institutional obstacles to "life-engendering life."

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