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Twin Oaks is a great place to raise children. At Twin Oaks almost every parent likes their kid(s) and likes being a parent. Almost every parent is raising their children deliberately and consciously. Although not all of us parents agree with each other, we all concur that there are many bad mainstream child-rearing theories and practices that we want to avoid/overcome.
Kristen and I just celebrated the milestone of our youngest having his 18th birthday. We have been reflecting recently on our journey as parents, and we are very pleased with how the kids have turned out—pleased and relieved. Why relieved? Our parenting practices were at odds with almost everymainstream child-rearing theory we read. We weren’t so confident that we could know for sure that the kids would turn out great. According to those other theories, our bizarre parenting practices should have resulted in kids who are emotionally crippled sociopaths. But they aren’t—in fact, the kids are, by all accounts, altogether fine human beings. I don’t want to gloat or embarrass the kids by describing how great they are—but take my word for it.
Kristen and I both had lots of experience with kids prior to having our own, so we were already quite skilled, or, at least, opinionated by the time we were holding a newborn. As the kids grew, we talked fairly constantly about how the kids were doing. We wanted to do things right; we would immediately work on any behavior problem that started to crop up, or, even better, recognize an interest early so we could kindle it. Through our experience as parents, our belief in the fundamental wrongness of how children are treated in the mainstream culture solidified. If you want to try to give your child a utopian childhood the hardest part is letting go of lots of misguided mainstream beliefs about children. Honestly, doing things right is a lot of work, but if you want to know what we did and why, without further ado, here is the “Dakota theory” of how to give children a utopian childhood:
[Kristen and I have the last name “Dakota.” This has nothing to do with any Native American people]
Current belief: Children are lesser beings who should not expect or receive the same polite and considerate treatment that adults give each other.
Dakota theory: Children have the same intrinsic value that all humans have and should be listened to and treated with respect. Specifically, parents should like their children.
Conclusion: Children behave well when they are treated as though they are deserving of respect.
Current belief: Children should obey authority figures.
Dakota theory: Children should be taught that they are responsible human beings and they should learn to negotiate for what they want.
Conclusion: Children who are taught to obey, learn to distrust their own judgment. They also demonstrate less personal motivation. Children who are taught to negotiate show more task persistence and have a strong sense of self-esteem. Unfortunately, raising a child who negotiates requires more time and effort from parents.
Current belief: Children need peers to develop normal social skills.
Dakota theory: Children develop better social skills without same-age peers.
Conclusion: Children learn social skills from the people they are around. Children in groups and in institutional settings are sometimes inconsiderate or cruel to each other. Children who are around other children for much of the time, often develop dysfunctional behaviors from being with other, partially socialized, children. Children who are around adults for most of their formative years develop better social skills than children who are in group childcare for most of their formative years.
Current belief: Children need to go to school to 1) develop social skills and 2) to absorb a body of knowledge.
Dakota theory: School exposes children to bad social behaviors. The body of knowledge in school is often outdated, inadequate, and inaccurate. Additionally, it doesn’t take much time to learn that body of knowledge at home.
Conclusion: Many children are exposed to unhealthy social behaviors from the bad behavior that inevitably results from large-scale institutionalization. The body of knowledge that schools pass along is easily gained at home. Typically, parents have other interests and values that schools don’t teach.
Current belief: Children need to be punished, they need to be disciplined and they need consequences for their bad behavior.
Dakota theory: Never punish or discipline children. Normal life provides enough consequences, no additional consequences are needed.
Conclusion:Punishment has been proven tobe ineffective at teaching children a new behavior. Children feel punished merely from a parent’s disapproval—nothing more is necessary. An effective “punishment” is making a child stop playing in order to explain why it’s not OK to hit or take another kid’s toy. Frequently, merely calmly pointing out what the problem is to the child can make a child feel bad enough to stop the bad behavior and/or make restitution. Encouraging a distraught child to take a time-out is good advice for anyone having emotional trouble and isn’t really a punishment.
Current belief: Misbehavior is due to a poorly disciplined child.
Dakota theory: Misbehavior is due to a poorly designed environment.
Conclusion: A toddler, set down in front of a coffee table with a lot of breakable glassware on the table will, inevitably, drop and break something. This is not bad behavior. Don’t punish the child; move the glassware. It is more likely that children will hang up their clothes on pegs than on hangers. A yard with two swings and three kids creates ongoing strife. Often a child’s “bad” behavior is due to normal child-like behavior in an environment that is designed for normal adult behavior. The easiest way to have a well-behaved child is to change the environment to suit the child’s behavior. For instance, if there is only healthy food in the house, then “food wars” become much less likely.
Current belief: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s bad
Dakota theory: Children demand an adult’s attention—and that’s OK.
Conclusion: “He’s just doing that to get attention!” is a statement some adults make to indict a child’s motives and to grant the adult permission to punish the child for bothering the adult. But, attention from an adult is essential sustenance for a child’s emotional well-being. Once a child receives an adequate amount of attention, they are full and will go off and play, only to return later for another helping of attention. If we say with scorn of a child who’s crying, “he’s just crying because he’s hungry, I’m going to spank him” it sounds cruel. “He’s just doing it to get attention,” should sound equally heartless.
Current belief: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through psychoactive medication.
Dakota theory: A child’s chronic behavior problems can best be dealt with through counseling and behaviorist reinforcement/extinguishing techniques.
Conclusion: Psychoactive drugs have immediate side-effects and long-term physiological consequences. Changing a child’s chronic behavior problem without drugs is vastly more time consuming, but results in a more emotionally healthy child.
Current belief: A child might become emotionally crippled from spending too much time with a parent (or parents).
Dakota theory: strong family connections help create an emotionally healthy child.
Conclusion: Studies of poverty, mental illness and crime consistently show that parents who physically or emotionally abandon their children create the pathology that leads to dysfunctional adults. On the other hand, outstanding and high-performing athletes typically have at least one engaged and supportive parent. There is not a bell curve here; it’s linear; the stronger the family connections, the more emotionally stable the children are as adults.
Current belief: Children should be kept protected and secluded from real-world experiences. They should live in a separate world called “childhood” until they are completed with their schooling and are able to enter the adult world.
Dakota theory: Children are part of the world. It is healthier for children and the world for children to be included in almost all aspects of the adult world.
Conclusion: Children in their early teens want to distinguish themselves from younger children; they want to act like grown-ups. Mainstream culture allows few opportunities to show their maturity, so these young teens turn to bed behavior, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, swearing and having sex as ways to show their “maturity.” However, teens who have the ability to take on real responsibility, like, for instance having a part-time paying job demonstrate their adult-ness through taking on these healthier parts of being a grown up. Throughout their teen years, teenagers should have the opportunity to do part-time, intern, and volunteer work to explore their interests. This serves several useful functions; it keeps teens busy, it allows teens to develop maturity and responsibility, and it gives teens a wide range of real-life experiences which should help prevent the all-too-frequent situation where a young adult goes into debt to pursue a degree only to discover after graduation that they hate the work that they have spent years training for.
Give your child a utopian childhood in just 10 easy steps:
1) Enjoy the company of your children. (That’s really the main one, since so many parents don’t really enjoy the company of their children, and the children know that, so they misbehave. No child-rearing theory can overcome parents who don’t like their kids.)
Gossip gets embellished as it travels. Things heard second hand should be verified with the speaker. Beware words taken out of context, even if the context is the room next door. Good communities practice all that.
While this is true as far as it goes, it misses the tremendous complexity around the issue of gossip and how important it is to both the culture and success of a community venture.
What is gossip? It is certainly more than an opinion expressed about someone who is not in the room. “Trump is a misogynist racist,” isn’t gossip, unless you are close to him. It is just an opinion. “Cindy is gifted at fixing cars,” almost certainly does not qualify either, as most people think gossip is a negative opinion.
“Paxus is a poor driver.” What if this is something I have said myself and you are simply repeating it? Is it gossip if the target is the source?
Let me propose a harsher definition: Gossip is a critical judgment shared about a person or group, often in conspiratorial or secretive tones, while not directly communicating with the subject of the gossip.
Using this definition one might reasonably be concerned that gossip would have an acidic effect on the fabric of the community. One of the common anti-gossip norms that exist in the communes is if you hear something critical about someone you could ask, “Have you told this to them?” This is the antidote to gossip; being transparent with the subject of the rumor.
Back in the 80s, as I was just becoming aware of community living, when I was making a critical comment about gossip, my dear friend and mentor Crystal replied “Gossip is the fabric of the community,” and it took me a couple of decades to understand what he was talking about.
Even when using the negative it turns out gossip is important for a community to be healthy. Members need to confide in confidants about their frustration with others in the community. Ideally, this is less about spreading rumors and more about seeking advice. “How do I deal with this headachy circumstance?” or “Do you understand their motivations for this strange behavior?” or “I was so upset and they were clueless, what is really happening here?”
In the best light, gossip is the flow of self-critical and self-correcting messages which members share in the lead up to actually addressing the problems. [Where the “self” here is the larger collective one, rather than the individual personal one.] You talk about things which are on your mind with the people who you live with and they help you reflect back on what you should do about it. Recognizing that if you are being critical of another member of your community, you are obligated to get back to them with your concern.
In this way, gossip within a community is different from what happens in the mainstream. If I am being critical or concerned about another member, I have a larger obligation to do something about it than I do if it is a co-worker or random stranger. If you have a substance abuse problem and we live collectively, not only can it blow back on me in a problematic way, but I have made some level of commitment to take care of you. If we are part of the same intentional community and I am worried about your mental health, I can’t casually gripe about it to another member, we have to be considering what our course of action is regarding this problem. Even less dramatic problems other members are experiencing a poor choice of romantic partners or headache with a boss are much more shared in a community setting than when living independently. Gossip in community has more obligation to it.
It is worth pointing out that Twin Oaks does not embrace this culture. In my large commune, if you don’t want to deal with someone you can completely shut down communication with them. This is terrible for clearing gossip but might make it possible for some people who really do not see eye to eye to be able to live together. And because the community is so large these estranged members (including me) just try to avoid each other.
It is worth pointing out that when ex-Oakers founded Acorn with financial assistance from Twin Oaks, this was one of the most important things they wanted to do differently. Acorn (and many other communes) have a communication covenant which makes it the community’s business when members are failing to communicate. When you are designing communities one of the thorniest issues is when do you give power to the collective over the individual members. And gossip is one of the few places you should seriously consider it.
Winter is ambling along here in the heart of the Ozarks. The days are growing longer and spirits are rising. As an Erie, PA native it has been wonderful to see my first serious snowfall at East Wind in the three winters I’ve lived here. The weather this winter has been kind to a northerner: plenty of freezing cold with a sprinkling of sunny sixty degree plus days. The farm is busy with a number of projects, including butchering season and the building of our new shower house.
Fran, the Foopin manager, starting in on a pig quarter
Foopin, the dedicated food processing room, has been bustling with the butchering of several pigs, cows, and deer (along with all the year round dairy processing, of course). East Wind’s freezers are filling up with tenderloins, bacon, ribs, hams, beef, and a variety of tasty sausages. If you have no experience and want to learn about butchering, this is the place and time to do it!
Liesel and Mardock beginning on a deer they hunted as Indo and Roxy discuss mammal anatomy.
Just north of Foopin, garden manager Andrea took advantage of a nice warm day to harvest spinach. The garden is largely dormant at this time of year, but there are cold hardy greens- spinach and kale. The garlic, planted late fall, is slumbering under the snow and mulch waiting for spring growth. Riding on the success of last year’s experiment, onion starts in the hoophouse will be transplanted to the main garden in spring.
Andrea harvesting spinach. The new shower house, under construction, is in the background.
Construction on the shower house began in late summer with Brandon leading up the demolition of the old site, hooking up water and electric, putting up all walls, windows, doors, insulation, and the roof. The summer crew worked incredibly efficiently to get the structure solid and weatherproof. Beckie is heading up the completion of the project. The siding is nearly finished and there is much to do in the interior. Below you can find a short timelapse (my first dabbling) that was taken during August with the summer crew (it looks best in 720p!).
New member Max and Richard nailing in a board.
Of course, there is plenty of time for recreation in the winter time as well. This past week, a group of about ten communards hiked out to visit the ‘Ice Pillar.’ The pillar is located up a tributary valley to Lick Creek and only forms under certain conditions.
A pillar was indeed formed! A great way to spend part of an afternoon.
It has been a long time since my last written post. So long that a couple people were getting worried about me (shout out to MoonRaven growing the communal spirit in NYC)! Holiday traveling and dealing with the business left me with little spare time these past couple months. Soon I will have more time to jump back in the blog saddle and get back to at least once a month posts. I am SUPER interested in what YOU are curious about living at East Wind. Please feel free to ask questions and give feedback in the comments! I am constantly looking for blog inspiration. Until next time, here are the dairy cows in the orchard:
Three generations: grandmother Marmalade to the far right, mother Jackie Brown to the left, and daughter Mary Jane up front.
Post written, pictures taken, and video created by Sumner
I found a book in the library calledThe Five Dysfunctions of a Teamby Patrick Lencioni. It was focused on business executive teams, but I found a lot of it applicable to communities. His five dysfunctions were Absence of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Commitment, Avoidance of Accountability, and Inattention to Results. To put it in positive language, I would say that in creating a team or a community you need to build trust, be willing to disagree, be able to make commitments, and also be held accountable, before you can achieve results.
A friend of mine pointed out that every group, including communities, has to deal with power dynamics. It may be especially true in the commune world.
If we want to build diverse, inclusive communities, we need to deal with these dynamics. We need to deal with anyone dominating conversations, and ignoring or disregarding the contributions of others. While white men are the prime offenders, we need to call out anyone with these behaviors. And it’s not just women and people of color who get trampled on, but queerfolk, people with disabilities, and working class and poor people. In fact, the whole community is often being trampled on.
To return to what I began with, when you have a person or a few people dominating in a community, it’s impossible to build real trust. People become afraid to disagree with these folks and have no desire to give real commitments to the community. Accountability is at least difficult, if not impossible, under these circumstances, and what results happen are usually not what the group wants.
Patrick Lencioni claims that what gets in the way of teams achieving results is a focus on people’s status and ego. Well functioning teams do not have stars; they have a group of people willing to listen to each other and work together. If that’s true in the business world, how much more so with communes. Having dominating people makes true community impossible.
Changing all this is not easy. If you are dealing with strong people, you will probably need a cohesive group to confront them. The more the group can be clear about what it wants and needs, the better the chances of getting it. And that goes back to the need to build trust among this group.
It’s difficult work, but if our communes are going to be truly egalitarian, it’s work that needs to be done.
The first kibbutz was established over 100 years ago, and over the following century, a network of almost 300 full income-sharing agricultural communes was established all over Israel. The plan was based on anarchist principles, whereby this federation of communities would coalesce into a whole cooperative society, without centralized government or borders.
Fast forward to the year 2017. The rural kibbutz communities are in retreat, there’s a strong central government and, albeit for very different reasons, the country has no clear borders.
However, there are those who have taken up the mantle of taking responsibility for shaping the society, young people who are establishing hundreds of urban communes that, both individually and as movements, are affecting change in the inner cities—communes of educators who are working against violence, racism, homophobia, and poverty.
I am a member of Kibbutz Mishol, one of the many intentional communities that have been established over the past 20 years. We are 130 people, all living under one roof, making decisions together, bringing our children up together, sharing all of our income, 10 cars, our living spaces, and a handful of dogs, cats, and chinchillas.
Our kibbutz is in the city; in fact, we are situated in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country—and it’s a choice. We’ve made this choice to work together with our partners in the local municipality, and together with our partners who live in this city, to shape the wider community for the benefit of all of its citizens—Jews, Arabs, those from the former Soviet Union, from Ethiopia, asylum seekers, religious, secular, left, and right.
We have established a nonprofit organization through which we run all of our educational projects. For example, we run a local public elementary school, non-formal education in after-school centres, a youth movement, a coexistence project, and educational tours to Poland. In addition, we have teams of people working together taking responsibility over the inner functioning of our community—looking after our cars, our building, our children, our finances, our learning, our relationships, and our culture.
It’s a healthy tension in our lives: to what extent are we focused on the internal—living together and improving our relationships, creating a community making decisions by consensus, challenging societal norms when it comes to gender roles, understanding the different needs and different abilities of our members—and to what extent on the external—our interactions and impact on the surrounding society? Do we exist for ourselves, as a lifestyle choice, or is our aim to use community as a vehicle for changing the world around us?
The kibbutz-building enterprise started as a way of taking responsibility over the needs of a developing society and a developing economy—agriculture, creating towns and villages, defending the borders, building a public health system, a nationwide union, newspapers, etc., etc. Today the needs of the country can be found in the inner cities, draining the social swamps of society, rather than the physical mosquito=infested swamps of the early 20th century backwaters of the Ottoman Empire.
These urban communes, largely situated in the geographical and economic peripheries of Israel, springing up like mushrooms after the rain, are a model of how an alternative society can be built within the existing capitalist society—not as isolated independent communities, but as a network of communities which together offer an example of how society can be structured in a more just and equitable way.
Having previously been living communally for 18 years in the North of Israel, I’ve now spent the last 18 months living in the American suburbs of Rockville, Maryland. It’s a surprisingly easy adjustment to make—two adults and two young children living in a faceless apartment block with pool, fitness center, and Amazon deliveries 24/7.
I have been active on the international communal scene for many years—I am a board member of the ICSA (International Communal Studies Association) and have attended three of their international conferences.
In addition, I have been general secretary of the Intentional Communities Desk (formerly known as the International Communes Desk) and was editor of their magazine C.A.L.L. for 15 years.
I’ve visited communities in different places in the world and so upon coming to the US it was important for me to connect to what is going on here. Here is the list of communities I have visited on the East Coast, several within a few miles of where I have been living.
Baltimore Free Farm: an urban farm of activists and gardeners who gave me a tour of the farm and showed me their space where they host events.
Compersia, DC: a small urban commune whose members I’ve met a couple of times, including a visit to their house in DC.
Twin Oaks, Virginia: I attended the Communities Conference last year at the 50 year old full income-sharing ecovillage. I was extremely excited to visit their former children’s house named after the first kibbutz, Degania.
Platte Clove Community: I stayed for a few days at the Bruderhof community as a guest of members who had visited me in Israel
Maple Ridge Bruderhof: a visit for a couple of hours, including a tour of the community and meeting old friends who had also visited my kibbutz in Israel.
Rondout community in Kingston, New York: an urban Bruderhof community that runs their own preschool.
Eastern Village Cohousing: a community in the nearby neighbourhood of Silver Spring, Maryland.
Takoma Village Cohousing: another local cohousing community.