Sex, death and consensual education

Christina Aguilera as a schoolgirl in a Skechers ad.

I’ve finished reading Instead of Education, one of John Holt’s influential tomes about unschooling and home schooling. As soon as I started typing my notes into the thesis wiki, I had to make a Vagina deja vu category to keep track of all the concepts I recognized from studying women’s sexuality and reproduction over at All About My Vagina. The root of all the deja vu seems to be one single thing, and it’s one of my favourite things, too! It’s consent.

John Holt spends a lot of Instead of Education making the point that compulsory education is, by nature, oppressive and unethical. (The book is a bona fide manifesto! ‘Students, you have nothing to lose but your chains’… the whole deal. I liked it.) My favourite quotes on this topic are in the wiki:

This seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on why until, about a hundred pages in, Holt started writing about teacher-learner relationships. He insists that because these relationships involve one person assuming a position of authority and power (the teacher), teaching relationships need to be temporary, well defined, and free to leave. Maybe I’m the only person who hears that and thinks immediately of BDSM, but I think it’s a really useful parallel!

There is a huge amount of sex writing about boundaries, relationships, temporary roles, domination and, above all, consent. I think what John Holt was after was consensual education. When he talks about the impossibility of consensual education within the framework of compulsory schooling, he sounds exactly like lesbian feminists who believe hetero sex is automatically oppressive within a patriarchal society. It’s about consent, and the circumstances under which it is possible.

My favourite discussion of consensual sex is The Ethical Slut‘s characterization of consent as an active collaboration for the benefit, well-being and pleasure of all persons concerned. An ‘active collaboration’ is exactly the kind of learning John Holt promoted. E.g.,

Like a few children I know in the U.S., [unschooled children from Ny Lilleskole in Denmark] are probably much more able than most of their [conventional] schoolmates (who can only submit or resist it) to make use of [conventional] school, to get from it at least some of the things they want for their own reasons.

It makes perfect sense that a freedom loving gal such as myself would want all relationships to be consensual, but I’d never thought of teaching as a relationship. I started to wonder what other situations I might enjoy more by examining the relationships involved and finding ways to make them consensual.

I think this definitely applies to self-defense (I had trouble making sense of it until I realized that being attacked is a relationship, not a situation). Cooperation and competition in business is another one.

Mainly though, I think this might be a good way to think about dying and death. There are obvious hot topics about death and consent (euthanasia, living wills, etc), but I wonder what could be gained by trying to have a consensual relationship with Death itself. It clearly has terms of engagement; maybe I could come up with my own set of terms and we could collaborate.

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