From opting out

Opt Out of Money?

I’m on this ‘opting out’ kick and I’m seeing keen examples of how opting out creates excellent opportunities for humanity — how opting out is actually a deliberate choice for opting in to something better.

The example I ran into today is MONEY. The Positive Money group in the UK posits that by opting out of our current banking system, we stand to gain big social, economic and environmental improvements.

What does it mean to opt out of the banking system?

First, it’s helpful to realize the extent to which we’re living under the thumb of our current banking system:

The first time I watched that video a few years ago, I was stunned. I totally understand it. But what’s there to do?? It seems so much bigger than me! What does it mean to opt out? What does that even look like?? Like this:

I look at the simple changes recommended and it’s a little hard to find the action I, as an individual, can take to begin my opt out. Living a debt-free life can help, but an ideal that feels only accomplishable against great odds; and as the video says, you paying down your debts means someone else somewhere else is gaining a debt to maintain this system. For now, I’ve signed their petition and have my radar up. I want to better understand how us regular folks can actively make an ‘opt out’ kind of choice. And I want to hear what you think, too.

I add money/banking to my current running examples of things to opt out of, in addition to standardized testing and housing system & dependent energy systems.

What does it mean to opt into YOU?

As I ponder all of these boxes we’ve put ourselves in, I continue to look for personally empowering and tractable ways where I can unplug from things that keep us in these boxes. What is keeping me from being able to plug into this exquisite world and life we have going on right here?

Plugging in kinds of activities could be a lot of things like doing yoga, meditating, focusing on a hobby, going for a walk, paying attention, crafting and maintaining meaningful relationships. But the thing they all have in common is that they all have YOU at the center of them. For me, it’s making art. Art is a way to opt out of scripted experiences by off-roading with my own creativity. I’m opting out of brick brain, coma-inducing systems and zombie-creating programs – I choose to feed my own creativity and artistry as a stop gap measure against being overcome by these things.

Art has inherent in it risk, experiment, failure, growth, reward, adventure, curiosity, wonder, love, excitement and many more things that simply aren’t available to the capacity and lack of limits that anything within a system might try to provide. So this small thing of opting in to me is actually a really huge thing.

What does opting out to opt in mean to you? What are examples in your life?

Our Frontier

After working for a corporation for 13 years and then stepping away, I wanted to indulge in life not constrained by “the system.” My husband and I bought land in upstate New York late last year and started this dream adventure of creating a place not beholden to any system. In many ways, this is a form of opting out that seems like such a theme in our life right now if we can be brave enough to really explore the possibilities. It’s more than opting out: it’s about choosing ourselves.

Here’s a partial tour of our new place:

We purchased the 12.9 acres based on what we saw along this path. In consequent visits we created a path circumnavigating the parcel and visited our neighbor, the beaver, in the wetland along the back edge.

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Max visiting the beaver

 

We’re flexible about our dream, which started out with aspirations of a 450 sf tiny home with swimming pond. I’m learning just how hard it is to build a tiny home given codes, covenants and budget. Before you suggest to me that we ought to look into a tiny home on wheels as a way around the codes, note that each region is different and ours is under a covenant that regards anything with wheels as ‘temporary’ and can only be on the parcel 90 days (essentially over the summer) and then needs to be stored elsewhere the rest of the time. That doesn’t work for us.

I’m learning about codes in our area too. In 1987, Manhattan put in place a restriction that apartments couldn’t be less than 400 square feet. In recent years, there has been talk of overturning that restriction for the ‘micro apartment.’ Here’s a bit of irony for you: the minimum square footage for a home in New York is 720 square feet. We would need to submit for a variance to create the size of space already permitted 3 hours away.

I’m also learning that the infrastructure required, whether energy saving and green or not, comes with a hefty cost even before you talk about what kind of building you want to set there. It may still be worth it, but we don’t have those funds lying around and it’s not clear yet whether financing will be something we can handle. We’ve considered building an Earthship (a radically sustainable building) thinking that would be cheaper since it uses recycled materials, but it’s not, and it tends to freak out inspectors big time.

I’m continuing to gather information to investigate different ways of making this work. In the meantime, we plan to build a fancy treehouse for Max and am seriously contemplating a platform tent so we can have a destination point this summer. This weekend we meet with an excavator to plan for a driveway. And in a few more weeks, we meet with a DEC forester who will help us come up with a plan for optimizing our woodland. This is an amazing service; anyone with woods in the northeast should take advantage of it!

Let me know what kinds of ‘opt out’ experiences you’re planning for yourself; I’d love to hear about them!! In the meantime, my daily opt-in-to-me practice continues to be my art making. <3

Opting out to opt in

The decision to opt my son out of state testing felt like an act of civil disobedience and it gave me pause; we were considering it well before Cuomo angered the teacher’s union with his education plan, which helped make our choice to opt out crystal clear. In the state of New York the results are used to determine the adequacy of his teachers (50%) along with an assessment from an outside observer (35%). And we don’t get to see the results of the test.

Teacher assessments being tied to children performance on the tests wasn’t the only reason. I couldn’t shake this feeling that my son’s access to creative well-being and enthusiasm for learning at school has been compromised. And as another mother said and has been quoted in lohud, “You know, you have to be very careful if you’re a politician about coming between a parent and their children…”. So my husband and I acted out of the compelling force to do what we thought best for our son, his future, his peers, and our community of teachers.

This test takes six days. Three days for the ELA and three days for math. They’ve finished the first three days last week and from what I hear of it so far, it’s a special form of educational torture. Estimates say that most children will struggle. Testing authorities fail to understand that growth mindset plays a far higher factor than knowledge-building in terms of a child’s ability to be college ready or job ready.

My son, on the other hand, sat in the cafeteria with the pack of books and his writing notebook. Each day of testing he was looking forward to school “I’m so excited that I get to read!” It’s been a really special time for him to be self-directed in his learning and that his learning felt self-indulgent (yay!). Instead of spending his time being demoralized, he’s engaged and empowered. He also gets to use the time to write his book; something the test prep all year prohibited him from being able to do.

The math portion happens this week. We’re continuing to do his multiplication and division flashcards each morning because I agree with the Common Core idea that attaining fluency is good. I disagree that the best way to attain it is by being timed. For most kids, this is a recipe for choking, degradation of self-worth and an opportunity for anxiety over the expectations we’ve established for our children. So we do our flashcards repeatedly, even when the other kids are backing off because the test is so arduous. And Max will get to figure out how he wants to fill his 70 minutes each day with his own learning.

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I’ve heard of many school districts ostracizing the children whose parents have opted them out. Things are getting nasty in some places. Thankfully not in Ossining. I spent 40 minutes on the phone with the principle of our school about how the opting out works, how our child will be treated and wrapped up the discussion with some exciting ideas about how to differentiate his education! Our school district is exceptionally supportive and I am grateful!

What I am learning as a parent and as a creative is that opting out is indeed an act of civil disobedience. However, by opting my son out of the system, I am opting him in to something very powerful: him.  With that comes tremendous personal responsibility, something that the system has been trying to compensate for. With the advent of No Child Left Behind came this sense that the system has to take responsibility to make up for the lack of empowered participation by some of its constituents. A noble idea but by taking over, self-responsibility is not part of the picture. And not all of us are cool with that. As hard as it may be, I want my family to thrive on our own terms, not be scaffolded and limited on the terms set out by the system.

I believe that education needs to allow students to have abundant ‘figure it out’ moments. Give them space to experiment, fail, wonder, be curious, have some self-direction.

Opting out is a theme in my life the past few years and really coming into sharp focus right now. There seems to be a lot of things to oppose: education, banking, corporate culture, etc. Which means there are a lot of reasons to opt in to something else — that something else being the same thing: yourself. Funny how YOU and I are the answer to the woes our society faces today. We choose. And the right answer is to choose ourselves.