Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration

by  Katarzyna Gajewska

from the Post Growth Institute 

9th of October, 2017

I interviewed dozens of members of two egalitarian communities, rural Acorn community in Virginia, US (30 adults and one child at the time of research in 2014) and suburban Kummune Niederkaufungen near to Kassel in Germany (60 adults and 20 teens and children in 2016). You can find links to my four articles on Acorn community below this text. I share observations and insights from interviews that I conducted with some members of these communes. I will demonstrate the similarities between childhood in such communities and the conditions for optimal child development derived from research and theories based on ethnographic studies of indigenous societies.

Egalitarian communities constitute a more advanced version of experimenting with alternative economy than ecovillages. They share labor, land, and resources according to one’s needs and everyone contributes in a chosen way. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, one usually needs to integrate into one of the work collectives to be accepted. Members can spend money according to their needs but in Acorn community there is a monthly pocket money to cover extra expenses such as alcohol or cigarettes, whereas in Niederkaufungen expenses of above 150 Euros need to be announced. Both communities operate enterprises. In Kommune Niederkaufungen, some members are employed outside. In Acorn community, weekly 42-hour work contribution is required but each member decides what activities to do and no checks are in place.

Basic needs

In both communities where I conducted interviews raising children is considered to be a work contribution and is valued in the same way as activities that earn money. Recognition for care and reproductive work is part of the feminist philosophy of these communes and their pursuit of egalitarianism. In this way parents do not need to choose between making a living or raising children. Since work arrangement is quite flexible and many members work in the same place where they live (in Acorn community this is the case for majority of activities), it is easier to combine work with child care. Also non-parents can choose to participate in child care as a work contribution.

Thanks to these conditions parents can respond to a child’s needs without the stress of economic survival. The first three years of life define emotional development and negligence can lead to trauma and behavioural or emotional disorders. Research examining physiology and theories of child development underline the need for constant availability of an adult and touch in early childhood (see articles by such authors as Darcia Narvaez and Jean Liedloff). This is more difficult to organize in the mainstream society.

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Free play in nature is important for children

Learning environment

Communes provide an environment that makes it easier to pursue homeschooling or unschooling because of the close availability of many adults with diverse skills and knowledge. For example, a member of East Wind, a commune in Missouri, teaches French to one of the children by taking a walk and talking to them in this language. Children in Kommune Niederkaufungen go to school, either a public one in their neighborhood or an alternative school in the city center. However, they can tap on a vast expertise at home having access to many adults with diverse knowledge.  (In Niederkaufungen, some members work in education).

Community skills and multi-age group

Children need multiple attachments, according to Peter Gray, and this is how children have been raised in indigenous communities.1 In the book “Free to Learn,” Peter Gray points to the advantages of being part of a multi-age group and engaging in free play with other children for learning and emotional development. Furthermore, he elaborates on the importance of unstructured play time with other children. Citing survey date, he mentions that one of the main obstacles for limiting such free activities with children in the neighborhood is the concern for safety. Parents prefer to occupy children with extracurricular activities because they are sure that they are taken care of. In a commune, it is easier to establish conditions for children to have free play. The children and their parents know each other and there are many trusted adults around so that children can play in safety.

Peter Gray shows that children learn skills that they observe are crucial in the adults’ world by playing. Growing up in an environment where a lot of discussions and decision-making takes place, this may encourage them to develop related skills. One of the members of Kommune Niederkaufungen said that there is a practice of exercising patience and letting someone express oneself in conflicts, which contrasts with the way his friends treated each other in his life before joining commune. This may also be an example for children.

Disputes among parents

Living in a commune requires a lot more discussions and collective decision-making than living an individualized life. For example, what parents allow to their children may affect other children more directly than in mainstream living. It can become a source of conflict. A father left the commune Niederkaufungen because of the decision of other parents to have satellite television. It was impossible to isolate this child from mainstream media influence. In this commune, at least four people needed to make a veto to block community decision. Parents in this commune gather regularly to talk about their children.

The impact on the society

Certainly the way children are raised shapes their personalities. Aggregated, it results in the human relations and values of society. Jean Liedloff considers touch deprivation in early infancy to be responsible for insatiable wants and searching for solace in consumerism. Narvaez asks what impact depriving babies of their basic human needs will have on the entire society. Peter Gray observes that inter-age education contributes to the development of empathy and compassion. Communities provide conditions to raise emotionally healthy and cooperative individuals. Hopefully, they will inspire mainstream society to create conditions that resemble communal child care.


Articles on Acorn community

Gajewska, Katarzyna (September 2016): Egalitarian alternative to the US mainstream: study of Acorn community in Virginia, US. Bronislaw Magazine and reposted on PostGrowth.org.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (21 July 2016): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of Post-Capitalism. P2P Foundation Blog.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (10 January 2016): Case study: Creating use value while making a living in egalitarian communitiesP2P Foundation Blog.

Gajewska, Katarzyna (27 December 2014): An intentional egalitarian community as a small-scale implementation of postcapitalist, peer production model of economy. Part I : Work as a spontanous, voluntary contributionP2P Foundation Blog.

You can support Katarzyna’s independent research and writing here.

Photo credit: Jamie Taylor, Unsplash. (Creative Commons).

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent scholar and futurist writer (Facebook: Katarzyna Gajewska – Independent Scholar). She has been publishing on alternative economy, non-digital peer production, universal basic income and collective autonomy since 2013 and is mainly interested in psychological and emotional aspects of transition to a postcapitalist society.

Katarzyna has written 2 posts on Post Growth Institute

This article was originally published on Post-Growth Institute Blog, under a Creative Commons License. 

 

 

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Raising children in egalitarian communities: An inspiration

Acorn: We have a new membership process!

Membership decisions are consistently one of the hardest aspects of living at Acorn. We can disagree about how much money to spend on a goat fence, or where to put a building, but when you’re talking about people, and the friendships formed, or the other social dynamics that develop, the stakes are much higher. After a string of difficult membership decisions that strained the social fabric of the community, we concluded that our old membership process was not serving us well.

The old process was that visitors would come for three weeks, do a round of clearnesses, which involved having a conversation with every member on the farm, and then we would try to come to consensus about whether to make the person a provisional member or not.  If we made them a provisional member, there would be a year long period where they did more rounds of clearnesses and we would come to consensus about making them a full member.

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The Acorn Community

When I first showed up in 2013, there was a stated norm that “if it wasn’t a clear yes, it was a no.” But in my experience, this was only a thing people said, and didn’t actually reflect how the decisions were being made. Probably this was true at one time, but as membership turns over, and the culture shifts, this norm fell by the wayside. Members could “stand aside” from a decision, indicating that they were not excited about a potential member but would be willing to live with them, but there was confusion about what that actually meant, and how many it took to be “not a clear yes.” Any full member could block the decision, rejecting the visitor’s membership, but since it only took one member to do that, there was no incentive for other members who also had reservations to “throw their social capital onto the fire,” which led to members feeling unsupported in saying “no”.

There were other problems too. The short amount of time to get to know someone well enough to make a decision was causing us stress. Even though a provisional member is “provisional,” a year is a long time, long enough for real connections , friendships, and romantic relationships to form. It became very difficult to say “no” at that point, and so we ended up feeling a lot of pressure to be confident in our initial decision, before we had enough experience with a person to actually feel that confidence. Clearnesses and the processing of emotions that leads up to them can be emotionally intense and taxing. The frequency with which we were going through that with the steady stream of new visitors was leaving us raw and without enough emotional energy to maintain our own relationships. To complicate things even further, over the years we had glommed on different mechanisms like the “Delta Maneuver,” which allowed visitors to stick around as interns until a membership slot opened up, which provided us flexibility to achieve the outcomes we wanted, but that was clunky and confusing.

So over the summer of 2017, we had a bunch of meetings where we talked about what a new membership process could look like. Most of us liked the sentiment of “if it’s not a clear yes, it’s a no,” but we needed a clearer implementation. A significant portion of the membership wanted to feel less rushed in their decisions, and like a provisional decision was actually provisional. We liked the function of clearnesses, but recognized that it was overloading us. So we wrote a bunch of words down and came to consensus on it, with the understanding that it will need to be re-consented on next summer after we evaluate how it is working for us.

One of the biggest changes is the actual decision making mechanism. Instead of consensus, we came up with something we called a “test for excitement.”  In a test for excitement, every member present is asked to answer either “excited”, “accept”, or “have reservations”.  A “have reservations” answer cancels out one “excited” answer, and if there are at least 50% “excited” answers, then the decision is passed. This gives people some room to express concerns without feeling like they are solely responsible for saying “no,” and it ensures that there is actually enough enthusiasm to constitute a clear yes. Any one member can still block the decision, so underneath it still functions like consensus decision making.

We also made the length of the visitor period flexible, up to six months. This lets us get to know people better, and even for them to get to know us better and make their own decision on if they want to live here.  We put a test for excitement at one and three months, so there is a less emotionally intensive path to take when it becomes clear someone is not working out. Any time during the first five months of a visitor period, the visitor can ask to be considered for membership. We do a test for excitement here, which is really a decision to commit our emotional energy to doing a round of clearnesses with this person.  This insulates us a bit from the emotional processing with people who there is a good chance aren’t going to work out anyways. If we invite someone to be a membership candidate, then they have the rest of their visitor period to do their clearnesses, after which we do another test for excitement to make them a provisional member.  If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, we have flow charts.

We’ll see how this works over the next year. It’s likely we’ll want to make some tweaks, and it’s possible it will crash and burn and we’ll have to come up with something else entirely. We’re currently looking for a few new members, so if you’ve been thinking about checking out a project like this and don’t mind being a guinea pig for our new process, now is the time to apply! Please see the information here about how to do that.
Following is a graphical representation and the text of the policy.
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Membership Track

Our membership decision making mechanism will be termed a “test for excitement” and will consist of members answering either “excited”, “accept”, or “have reservations” about a particular decision. A threshold of 50% of the members who were asked need to have answered “excited” for the decision to pass. An answer of “have reservations” will cancel out one “excited” answer. Any one member can also block the decision. In membership decisions where clearnessses are required, a block or “have reservations” answer will not count if the clearness did not happen and the member is at fault for not getting clear. The member is not at fault if they scheduled and showed up for two clearnesses. Blocks and answers of “excited” or “have reservations” will only be accepted from members who have attended all discussions. If a member is not able to attend a meeting but has a strong desire to block or have their answer counted, they can request that the discussion be delayed for up to two weeks until they return. The answers of individual members are confidential and should not be shared with the person who the decision is about, or any other non-members.

The discussions about membership decisions should at minimum consist of a go-around where everyone present at the meeting has a chance to speak. Space should be made for popcorn discussion to process anything that might have come up in the go around. If no one feels that there are any unresolved issues, then the test for excitement will be held. As long as anyone feels that something is unresolved, discussion will continue for up to one hour after the go-around. For visitor period extension and invitation decisions, the test for excitement will be held at the end of this discussion, regardless of whether there are still unresolved issues. For provisional and full member decisions, if there are still unresolved issues at the end of the one hour period, the discussion will be tabled until the next meeting, where another go-around and discussion will be held. Regardless of whether there are still unresolved issues, the test for excitement will be held at the end of this second discussion, which can go for a maximum of two hours.

Visitors can stay for up to six months. At one month and three months, the membership will evaluate how the visitor period is going and decide if we would like to extend it. At these points, the visitor’s process shepherd should put their visitor period as a topic for the member meeting. After a discussion, a test for excitement should be conducted with the members present. If we decline to extend a visitor period, the visitor will have some amount of time to get their next move figured out before they have to leave. During their first month, they will have one week to leave, and any time after that they will have two weeks. This time is not guaranteed and can be shortened by the group if there are concerns for safety or discomfort. Members are encouraged to give feedback to people whose visits have been cut short, but they are not obligated to do so.

Any time up to five months into their visitor period, the visitor can make a request to be considered a membership candidate by writing it on the member meeting agenda. The process shepherd should print out the interview questions to give to the visitor, to be filled out and put in the file folder with the rest of the member interviews before the meeting. At the next member meeting, there will be a discussion and a test for excitement among the members present on whether to invite that visitor to be a membership candidate. If we do not invite them, they will have two weeks to leave. This time is can be shortened or extended by the group. If they are invited, the membership candidate will then have until the end of their visitor period to complete a round of clearnesses. After the clearnesses are complete, the process shepherd should put the membership discussion on the member meeting agenda. At the meeting, there will be a discussion of what came up in the clearnesses and how people feel about making the visitor a provisional member. A test for excitement should be held at the end of the meeting, or be tabled for the next meeting if there are unresolved issues.

Provisional members can apply for full membership no less than a year after being invited to be a membership candidate (and after having been a provisional member for at least six months), and no more than two years after becoming a provisional member. Time off the farm such as for LEX or family emergencies will not count towards these time limits. During provisional membership, a round of clearnesses should be conducted every six months on the farm. The member should discuss their intention to apply for full membership in the clearness preceding their application. After they have completed their clearnesses, they should put their full membership discussion as a topic on the member meeting agenda. At the meeting, there will be a discussion of what came up in the clearnesses and how people feel about making them a full member. A test for excitement should be held at the end of the meeting, or be tabled for the next meeting if there are unresolved issues.

If the provisional member has not completed a round of clearnesses after one year, or two years has passed without applying for full membership, a test for excitement will be conducted and a decision made regardless.

Acorn: We have a new membership process!

Communities Conference Workshops

Here is the workshop and partial presentation schedule for the upcoming Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  The below links are to blog posts on these elements.  There is a posted full program (with short descriptions for every workshop are in the newly published program).  

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Cambia lunch

Saturday September 1st

9:30 to noon

1:30 to 3 PM

4 to 5:30 PM

Sunday September 2

9:30 to 11

There is still time to register for this amazing event.  Twin Oaks Community is hosting this event in central Virginia Aug 31st thru Sept 2.  There is also great Labor Day (Sept 3) program at Cambia Community, less than one mile from the Twin Oaks Conference site.

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Twin Oaks 50th Anniversary – Circa 2017
Communities Conference Workshops

Ecovillage Design – An experts perspective

We are lucky to have some very talented folks presenting at this years Communities Conference.  In the coming days there will be several workshop highlighted on this blog.

If we are going to change the way relate to our environment, we are going to need to build new types of buildings and entire ecovillages.  Fred Oesch has been doing exactly this for years now.

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Charlottesville Ecovillage Design Proposal

 

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Acorn/SESE Seed Office design

This is the workshop Fred is offering at this years Communities Conference.

Ecovillage Design – Principles and Practices

Presented by Fred Oesch of Oesch Environmental Designs and Openworld Villages

We now have significant experience designing ecovillages both in rural and urban settings and this workshop will take stock of what has been learned over the last 30 years.  There are sustainability elements, aesthetic aspects and design components connected with high degrees of sharing which all go into making a high functioning ecovillage. In many cases these are not elements which are taught in architecture school.  We will explore conversions of existing non-ecovillages as well as designed from scratch solutions. The workshop will start with presentation and then go into question and answer.

Fred Oesch Head shot
Fred Oesch – Architect/Ecovillage Designer

Fred Oesch is a licensed architect who designed the seed building at Acorn and lives in Schuyler VA.  He has also been involved in several ecovillage projects, both urban and rural as well as new builds and conversions.  He serves on the Ecovillage Charlottesville Board and throws a mean quarry party.

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Site of ecological design and excellent parties

Some of what is covered in the workshop is Principles of Regenerative Environmental Design:

1] Design as a Way of Life.

2] Reflection of Evolving Regional Society, Tradition, Culture, and Religion

3] Utilization of Indigenous Technology, Materials, and Labor Skills

4] Direct Response to Microclimate / Seamless Site Integration

5] Minimum Inventory / Maximum Diversity Systems

6] Direct Designer / Builder / Inhabitant Participation

7] Net Resource and Energy Production

8] Self-Regenerating ‘Living’ Systems

 

It is still possible to come and participate in the Twin Oaks Communities Conference on August 31st thru Sept 2.  You can RSVP here in Facebook.  Or simply register for the Communities Conference

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Acorn/SESE Seed Office Actual

 

Ecovillage Design – An experts perspective

Call for Workshops: Twin Oaks Communities Conference

May is the month when the organizers for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference ask people to think about Labor Day weekend.  Specifically, we ask people what types of workshops they might be interested in offering at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC).  These come in two broad types.

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Fixed Time Workshops:  This is the collection of 16 (or sometimes 20) workshops which are selected in advance and are all relating to intentional communities.  We are exploring different themes and it is likely we will choose a couple of them.  If you are interested in presenting on an intentional community related topic we would encourage you to submit this workshop proposal form.  The deadline for proposals is May 31st.  These workshops happen Saturday, Sept 1st and Sunday morning. Workshop presenters who are selected for these fixed time slots will get their registration fee waived.  And if you are coming from NYC metro area (or south of there) you might be able to come on our totally groovy bus.

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Open Space Technology Workshop:  There are way too many clever and interesting people at the TOCC to not provide a forum for them to demonstrate or propose their own workshop even if it has little or nothing to do with community.  The problem (from an organizers perspective) is which ones do you choose?  Fortunately, this problem has been well worked by others and there is a democratic, self selecting mechanism called Open Space Technology.  These workshops are giving Sunday (Sept 2) midday into the afternoon and typically we do between 10 and 20 workshops ranging in size from 25 participants (like at a urban squatting or polyamory workshop) to just a couple of excited participants (bird watching or Python blockchain programming).

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Even if you don’t want to offer any workshop there are three types of people who might want to come to this annual event, which often has over 150 participants and 40 plus communities represented:

  1. You want to find an intentional community to move into
  2. You are starting a community with friends
  3. You live in a community and are looking for new members

If any of these three things is true for you, then you can register for this event here.  If you want to see who is already coming and who is interested go to the Facebook event (35 attending and 215 interested so far (May 1), and we have just started our outreach).

Call for Workshops: Twin Oaks Communities Conference