In a bitter twist, after I’d hopped onto Facebook Live and spent 20 minutes talking about Lewis Howes’ book The Mask of Masculinity and a sobering, insightful article by Charlie Hoehn written in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, I woke up the next morning to news of yet another school shooting.
on the bottom of the page.
Yet another, angry, probably lonely, young man had taken his rage and directed it outward. And now 10 more teenagers are dead.
How many more dead children do we need to have before we start taking the emotional, spiritual, and mental health of our boys and men seriously?
School shootings. Dead students. Emotional, spiritual, and mental health.
You might be wondering what the hell any of those have to do with a blog about unschooling.
Us unschoolers? We don’t separate learning from life. We view them as one and the same, an indivisible pair.
If that’s the case, then we can’t ignore what’s going on in life around us.
It’s dangerous - and inhumane - to ignore the emotional, spiritual, and mental health of other people.
The premise behind Hoehn’s article is that we’re seeing this spike in mass shootings in large part for three reasons: young men are deeply lonely, they’re experiencing chronic play deprivation, and they are swamped by shame.
I picked up Howes’ book because I have a husband who is recovering from depression and anxiety, a son who has come into adulthood in a climate that is increasingly hostile to men, and a growing concern about the growing vitriol aimed at men...and I wasn’t disappointed.
Toward the end of his book, Howes pleads, “If you have children - especially boys - please teach them what it really means to be a man.”
In his article, Hoehn states, “We are a culture that continually neglects the emotional health of our boys and men.”
We do. And we’re paying for it. In dead bodies and destroyed lives.
That has to change.
I don’t know what to do to change that.
As I raised Jarrod, I made a conscious effort to keep hugging him, keep kissing him, keep touching him appropriately, keep telling him how much I love him, keep telling him how proud I am of him, keep honoring and validating his feelings, and keep giving him permission to feel.
He shouldn’t even need permission to feel.
That should be as natural as breathing, and yet, for boys and men, it doesn’t seem to be. They get shamed for having and expressing the feelings that would keep them from loneliness and isolation.
“Exactly at the age that we begin to hear the language, the emotional language, disappear from boys’ narratives - in the National Data, that’s exactly the age that boys begin to have five times the rate of suicide as girls,” reports Professor of Applied Psychology, Niobe Way.
Powerful, high profile men like Lewis Howes are speaking out to help equip boys and men with the emotional language they need in order to stay emotionally, spiritually, and mentally healthy.
And I want to do what I can to help him do that.
I watched a documentary, The Mask You Live In, that Hoehn recommended, and I sobbed my way through it. I thought, I hope I’ve done enough. I hope I’ve done enough to keep him whole.
But despite all I’ve done, I know my son still struggles with messages society sends boys and men about what it means to be a man. Those are powerful forces.
And according to Howes, many boys and men respond to those forces by retreating behind nine different kinds of protective masks: stoic, athlete, material, sexual, aggressive, joker, invincible, know-it-all, and alpha. He challenges boys and men, “Who are you pretending to be?”
Because, that’s the point. These boys and men are pretending to be something they’re not. The tab for that is soaring, and we’re all on the hook for it.
Howes’ book is beautiful because he’s real. We don’t get more than a few pages into it before he cuts straight to the chase. He shares a story - it’s fraught with public shame and humiliation, bullying, and it’s his. From when he was a little boy.
He writes, “Do you know what the worst part of my story is? That it’s not unique. Nearly every man I know has his own version.”
The horrifying thing about this is best summed up by a quote from Dr. James Gilligan, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s: “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed.”
How about this? “We’re seeing a rise of loneliness and isolation. No one kills themselves when they’re hungry; we kill ourselves (and I will add, others too) when we’re lonely,” author Simon Sinek warns. “And we act out as well.”
Do you get it? People are rallying for stricter gun control. But where are we when it counts? Where are we on seeing past the masks we wear to the real people behind them? Where are we when someone is lonely, bullied, and feeling worthless?
As homeschoolers, we have an incredible opportunity: we have time with and access to our children that we can and should be using to speak life into their hearts and souls. I don’t want to see anyone waste that.
In Hoehn’s article, he writes,
“If you let your kid walk up the street alone, you’ll either get a call from another parent, or the cops will pick them up. Our kids are stripped of their right to experience life on their own terms. In an effort to improve our kids’ test scores and beef up their future resumes, we’ve stripped away nearly all of their free play opportunities. Recess has been sacrificed in the name of Scantrons, and pills are prescribed to the kids whose bodies and minds cry out for play. The result: a generation of the most anxious, depressed, and suicidal American children on record.”
Interestingly, Hoehn quotes a hero of the unschooling community, Dr. Peter Gray, next:
“Over the past half century, in the United States and other developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults...The decline in play has contributed to the rise in the psychopathology of young people.”
That is part of the reason I am a tireless advocate for unschooling.
I will never stop encouraging parents to stop worrying about schoolish constructs and pay more attention to the emotional, spiritual, and mental health of their children.
If we do that well, we can help raise a generation of young men who don’t hide behind the mask of masculinity anymore. And just maybe, in the process, we can help prevent another school shooting.
If the idea of unschooling, of freeing children from the damage compulsory education is doing to them, intrigues you, you can join my newsletter and claim your free copy of my guide, 5 Things You Must Do If You Want To Be A Successful Unschooler, below.
I'm a married, homeschooling mama of three who is passionate about self-directed learning.
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Before you buy this booklet, you need to know that I am an unabashed proponent of self-directed learning and that will be reflected in everything I share about my own experiences as a homeschooler.
I’m giving this disclaimer so you aren’t surprised by the clear bias I have toward unschooling.
I want you to know, upfront, what you’re getting and what to expect from me. The advice I give and the questions I ask you to ask yourself are all valuable and valid no matter what style of homeschooling you ultimately embrace, though.
About the Author
Becky Ogden has been homeschooling since 2003, and graduated her oldest in the spring of 2017. In her early years of homeschooling, she too struggled with feeling overwhelmed and inept. In trying to do right by her children, Becky found herself embroiled in battle after battle with them over their schoolwork. Until…
Until she found a better way. One that empowered her children to self-direct their own educations. One that respected their autonomy. One based in “right on time” rather than “just in case” learning.
Without many veteran homeschoolers around to serve as mentors, Becky had to muddle through it on her own. She spent hours of time in research and reflection.
In the years since then, helping other homeschoolers find their own way and solve their problems has become a source of great joy for her.
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org