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

A Detailed FEC History: Part One, the ’60s and ’70s

by Raven Cotyledon

This is for commune geeks.  

Maximus put out a video of The Phylogenetic History of the FEC.  It was surprisingly popular. My one complaint was that it left out so many details.

Maximus shared with me the spreadsheet that his video was based on.  Using that, Kat Kinkade’s books, Laird’s blog, the Communities Directory, and my own memory of events in the 1960s, 1990s, and recently, I intend to put out a detailed description of the history of the communes and the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.

I will break it up by decades and publish one a month to keep it from getting too long and boring.  This part covers the 1960s and 1970s.

The 1960s

1967  Twin Oaks is founded.  That was fifty-two years ago and Twin Oaks is still going strong with nearly a hundred members. To put it in context, there were hundreds of ‘communes’ formed in the late sixties.  Very, very few of them are still around. Kat Kinkade attributed Twin Oaks survival to a combination of hard work, structure, and freedom, and getting big fast enough. She thought thirty people was “the minimum for security” and said that TO reached that in their third year.

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Signing up for labor in the early days at Twin Oaks

 

The 1970s

1970  East Wind was started. Kat Kinkade claimed that she “left Twin Oaks, taking two members and some visitors with me, and we set out to form a community that would be just like Twin Oaks in every way except one: We would never close our doors!”  East Wind is also still around with about sixty members.

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REIM, one of the original structures at East Wind

1974  Sandhill Farm founded.   Laird Schaub described its founding this way: “In February 1973 I was in a public library and happened across the current issue of Psychology Today. It included an excerpt from a new book by Kat Kinkade, A Walden Two Experiment. It described the first five years of Twin Oaks Community, and it changed my life. …

“By the following spring, we had founded Sandhill Farm: four people willing to try to make that happen.
“Because Twin Oaks was the inspiration and because I’d already done a fair amount of work to reject materialism, we set up Sandhill as an income-sharing community, where all earnings would be pooled. The community still operates that way today.”

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Sandhill

1976  The Federation of Egalitarian Communities was formed.  Laird’s description: “…five North American communities shared a dream of cooperation. As a result, representatives of these communities got together and founded the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.”  The first Assembly was in November of that year. Attending communities were Twin Oaks, East Wind, Aliya, Aloe, Dandelion, Genesis, North Mountain, and Springtree.

1977  There seemed to have been three Assemblies that year, one in February, one in October, and one in November. (At least, that’s what was listed.)   Aliya and Springtree seemed to have already dropped out. The February Assembly lists the population of the other communities at the time, Twin Oaks (72), East Wind (55), Aloe (6), Dandelion (13), and North Mountain (12).

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Undated picture of an Assembly at Twin Oaks

1978   On the other hand, there only appeared to be one Assembly in 1978, in July, with the same five communities.

1979   There were two Assemblies in 1979, one in January and one in August, and a new community, Los Horcones, came to the January Assembly, and the August Assembly saw Sandhill attending for the first time.   The August Assembly also listed community populations at Twin Oaks (75), East Wind (55?) [yes, that’s how it’s listed], Aloe (10), Dandelion (10), Los Horcones (12), and North Mountain (12). There was no population listed for Sandhill.

That was the beginning.  Only Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Sandhill are still around today and right now, Sandhill is struggling. But the FEC continues to this day, with new communities and new energy.

Next month, I will detail the FEC through the eighties with communities coming in while others leave or disband. It will probably have too much detail for most folks, but I find it fascinating to watch the communities and the organization as it grows and struggles. This is how we change the world folks, one small step at a time.

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Kat Kinkade and others harvesting corn at Twin Oaks around 1969 or 1970

(If you have any information about the early days of the FEC or its history at any period, please add it in the comments.)

____________________________________________________________________________

Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

A Detailed FEC History: Part One, the ’60s and ’70s

Warts and All

by Raven Cotyledon

I sometimes worry that this blog sounds too much like “Rah, rah, communes!”  I don’t want anyone to think that the communes are perfect or that we are trying to claim that the communes are perfect.

Far from it.  The communes are filled with people and since there aren’t any perfect people, there aren’t any perfect communes. It’s true that many of the communes have high aspirations but even if the people in them managed to perfect themselves, the boundaries between the communes and the rest of society are very porous, with folks leaving and new folks coming in all the time.

Almost any ill that you can find in society, you can find in the communes.  I have hung around at various communities long enough to see the problems and bad behaviors fairly close up.

 

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Diagram of a wart

I occasionally think about writing this and even giving some of the gory details so this blog doesn’t sound too idealistic and to balance things out, but I generally don’t because, first, it would make me very unpopular at what ever commune I talked about, second, because folks who are threatened by the very existence of our communes would publicize these incidents as a way to destroy our communities,  and third, none of these are anything that you can’t find in some corner of any city, or for that matter, almost any rural town.

So, if the communes share all the problems the rest of the society has, why put all the work into creating them?

My answer is that they are also doing some things that you can’t find anywhere else. For example, Twin Oaks does have their fair share of problems and even pass out a booklet saying that they are not utopia, but they also have nearly a hundred people who live communally and share way more than you will find almost anywhere else, and they have been doing it for over fifty years, and contrary to many people’s expectations, there is no dictator or group of people that run everything.

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Charlie Chaplin as the Great Dictator

I say this because I saw something where someone commented on an article about Twin Oaks that any arrangement like that ‘invariably’ ended up with a small group running everything–and, honestly, Twin Oaks is a communist society, and the mainstream wants you to believe that a communist culture has to end up in a dictatorship. I can tell you that no one there would allow it.

I single out Twin Oaks because they are the oldest and biggest of the communes, but every one of the communes is an experiment, trying to live a different and better way. Some work (at least in the sense they last) and some fail, but each is a valiant effort and we can learn from each failure and each success about what is possible. And given the very fallible people they are filled with and the society that they are surrounded by, they struggle with all the problems you can name.

But I prize each of them, warts and all, because they point the way to another future. Another world is possible, and we are carving the way.

world

____________________________________________________________________________

Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

Warts and All

Gluten-Free Consent

I recently compared consent culture at Twin Oaks to my gluten-free diet. Let me explain…

Image result for hug me cake

So before I transitioned to a mostly paleo-ish diet, I was doing the general Standard American Diet (SAD) thing and didn’t really think that anything was super wrong because I was used to feeling a bit uncomfortable after eating. I thought that this discomfort was normal. Once I eliminated most processed foods, gluten, grains, beans, and dairy, I felt so much better and feel somewhat foolish that didn’t even realize that feeling better was a possibility until now. Avoiding these foods has also made me more sensitive over time to when I do consume them, either intentionally or accidentally.

This is similar to my experience with daily minor consent violations that are common in the mainstream and happen much less here at Twin Oaks. In the mainstream, the slight discomfort felt when someone pats you on the back without asking or touches your arm to get your attention when you’re not that emotionally close to them is normalized (and exacerbated by sexism). You don’t realize until it’s gone that you don’t have to feel that way because people aren’t supposed to do that. At Twin Oaks, I thought it was a little weird at first that folks would ask if they could hug me or give me a high five. But then, I began to appreciate that I didn’t have to have as many awkward interactions where folks (mainly cis men) randomly touch me unnecessarily while talking to me, expecting that I was “supposed” to be ok with it. I can breathe a lot easier knowing most people here will maintain good boundaries around casual touch most of the time. Knowing that this feeling of ease exists makes me more sensitive to the times when it does still happen. I get more upset now than I used to about people just going in for the hug or high five without asking me, will likely reject a visitor who casually touches folks without asking, and get more annoyed in the mainstream when I notice that this behavior continues everyday outside of our little bubble.

I’d like more people (especially women, trans folks, and non-binary people) to be able to move freely in the world without feeling mildly uncomfortable all the time (often due to the carelessness and/or entitlement of cis men). So let’s all try to be better at this since I think we can all benefit from transitioning away from the Standard American Diet of sexism and consent violations and into a world of trust and ease.

See the source image

Gluten-Free Consent