September 26, 2012

Communism for Culture Club

The Chinese woman, the guerrilla leader, and the Russian

We decided to study Communism for this month's Culture Club.  It's interesting, really, how we came to study it.  We heard a piece on NPR about Regina Spektor's family having fled from communist Russia, which led Hannah Jane to ask what Communism was.  When I described it, it of course sounded kind of nice.  I found myself saying, "I know that sounds idealistic and good, but it's a system that doesn't work.  It's not good.  Our country spent a lot of time fighting against Communism."  They, of course, asked why.  I didn't have much of an answer.  I realized that I was never taught about Communism in school, other than that it was evil, so I didn't really know.  "How 'bout we learn about it for Culture Club?"  Cheers all around!

We hadn't gotten started on our studies yet when I was sitting on the banks of the lake watching the kids splash around with a friend and I mentioned that we were going to learn about Communism and I hoped it wouldn't offend the other Culture Clubbers.  We always tend to end up presenting something sort of controversial, it seems.  My friend said, "No one should be offended!  They need to understand!  I mean, we're practically living in a Communist society already!  If people don't understand, it will just get worse!"  She then surveyed my face to try to figure out if we were on the same political team.  I tried to look neutral.  She went on about how our country is heading towards Communism and I realized that this is a sentiment I hear a lot now, during election season, and I couldn't help but wonder if the people saying it were ever really taught anything about Communism or it, like me, they were just told that it's bad and that's enough.

So when we finally set out to learn about it, I really wanted to find sources that were neutral.  Factual and unbiased.  Very few such resources exist, as far as I can tell.  I all but gave up on finding a youtube video for the kids that was Communism neutral. Instead, we read some Karl Marx and started watching documentaries on the lives of famous Communists.  Well, we meant to.  Che Guevara was the first one we watched and we were all captivated by him so he took over most of our study time.  I noticed that when we watched documentaries about him, Communism seemed like an ideal that no one ever quite reached and that Che denounced the Communist leaders for perverting it for their own devices.  When I watched movie dramatizations about his life, he seemed like a cold blooded killer looking for power.  Interesting. So, he was a figure that we could at least discuss critically as a family and talk about the differences between ideals and the carrying out of ideals.  We could look at him through the documentary and at least say, "You see how people can feel justified doing extreme things when they see so much injustice?"  Che got in there and worked hard, refused to take more food than his comrades, did the dirty work even though he was in charge of his little band of rebels.  He said the ideal would never work if leaders ate more, took more, rested more than the rest.  Seems kind of noble to me.  But he was a harsh disciplinarian and a killer, so yeah...there's that too.  What's a mom to say?

When we read about Che and the United Fruit Company, and the kids talked about how bad it was for Americans to manipulate other countries to get rich.  It seemed the right moment to mention that we still do that to some extent , and that each of us participates in it, to a degree when we buy cheap junk toys and clothes from China when we know that the people who made them are enduring subhuman conditions that no American would ever choose to work in.  Ouch.  That stung a little.  But they need to hear it and sit with it and see how they feel about the reality of their consumerism.  We looked at Marx's writings about being disconnected from production.  I can't remember how he phrased it, but it totally made sense.  The farther removed we are from the production of our goods, the easier it seems to be to stomach them being made at the detriment of someone else.  It's hard to know what to do better, though, when our economy is built on finances instead of production.

Okay...this post is starting to sound political, which I didn't intend.  We just thought about things that we normally take for granted and the discussion among the kids was profound.  And I love homeschooling in these times because I learn so much too, and the kids can see how excited I get about learning about new ideas, and isn't that the best thing they can ever see?  Adults who think openly about new ideas and get excited about learning?  It was kind of a magical topic to learn about just in how much conversation we had. We didn't all agree, but we discussed at length and were okay with our differing views.  Haven, taken by Che's charm and passion, decided that his actions were okay because he was fighting for the common good. Hunter held firm that it is always wrong to kill, and there had to be a better way to make change, so he was a bad guy.  Hannah Jane, like me, just seemed to be fascinated and didn't feel the need to glorify or vilify the persona that was Che.  But as they argued their sides, and as Hannah Jane and I played devil's advocate just to get in on the conversation, we were forced to think about what we want for our world, what role we currently pay versus what role we should play, and how to get along and learn from someone that has a different opinion than ourselves.

Okay, on to what we're presenting!

The kids colored flags of the last 4 technically Communist countries (according to wikipedia).  Joe says that Venezuela is Communist no matter what wikipedia says, and others, but I can't find anything to clear up the lines between different forms of government in a pure fashion, so we're sticking with wiki for now.  I found it interesting that all of the official names of the Communist countries included other forms of government.  Lao People's Democratic Republic, the People's Republic of China, etc.  Why not the Communist Republic of Vietnam?

And they colored pictures of Communist leaders and philosophers.  On the back, we taped little bullet points for them to remember to mention during their presentation.

For food, we're taking black beans and rice and calling it guerrilla food.  I looked up Cuban food, and saw lots of black beans and rice, and all of the vegans can enjoy it.  I'm making enough that we can have it for dinner too, because I'm not going to have time to cook between Culture Club, gymnastics, and Feast.

That's all she wrote for this month's culture studies.  Hopefully I'll have time tomorrow to post about making Salt Dough maps.  The kids each designed a map for a made up country as a way to learn different geological formations and they are in phase 3 of 4.  By tomorrow, they should look awesome enough to share.


  1. ...and we're reading an Olivia (the pig) picture book... LOL I love that you have philosophical discussions with your littles!!

  2. Talking about a political system without getting political is very hard to do, but I think you did pretty well. I think the biggest difference between communism and socialism is how the political leaders instigate a communistic/socialist government in the first place. One is taken by force (ie, killing millions of people), and the other is instigated through the legal system and through philosophical teachings over time. I won't get any more political than saying that I hate socialism, but what we have in America is not communism as much as it is socialism. When all is said and done, I think that they are two sides of the same coin.

  3. Sally, yours was the only one we kept talking about well into our other social gatherings last night, so we very much enjoyed "princess culture!" Hannah enjoyed sharing with the Baha'is at Feast that somewhere there is a real princess that raps!

    Tamsyn, that seems a good way to describe the difference. Our government is clearly a mix of a lot of things that we praise and reject, and I like the idea that one vlogger I enjoy tossed out there, which was that America is less a singular political system than a recipe. WE have dashes of just about every kind of political system you can think of and all of them seem to serve some form of good in their own way when couched by the others.

    But I learned a lot as we studied this. And from posting this, I've received some interesting e-mails from people who grew up in true communist countries (or have family that did)and their feelings about it, having lived it, are even more complex than I would have ever imagined. Very much a love/hate thing.


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