A Self-Educated Chicken

By Debbie Harbeson

[This article first appeared in issue 150 of THE VOLUNTARYIST]
I was never much of a rebel. I always did pretty much what I was told and followed mainstream thought. I didn’t want to get into trouble. I didn’t want to stick out. I think the only thing I ever did that would be considered rebellious was underage drinking. But even that’s not particularly rebellious is it?

But something changed when I had my first child. I was a college graduate but realized I was not educated at all about pregnancy, childbirth or parenting. So I began to read and learn all I could about the topic.

I eventually found a group called La Leche League, which is a support group for breastfeeding mothers. Through them, I began learning about other parenting ideas that made sense to me but were fairly counter-culture to anyone outside that group. But now it didn’t matter. I didn’t care because it was working for our family.

I continued to read, listen, discuss and learn. I was completely free to draw my own conclusions and make the decisions my husband and I thought fit our family best. None of these decisions required government permission.

But that ended when my children became school-age and I decided to try homeschooling. Suddenly our lives were affected by the state. I could now not be trusted to do what was best for my children.

At the time, we happened to live in a school district that was going outside of what the law required. We received a letter from the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney telling us that if we did not comply and fill out all the forms, we would be charged with educational neglect, a felony.

This official government letter, on official government letterhead, explained to us that they had primary authority over the education of our children. This official letter telling us they knew best how to educate our children had three words spelled wrong.

I circled the spelling errors in red and wanted to mail it back to them with a big F on it. But I didn’t of course. I’m a chicken.

In reality, I was scared and worried. Not that I would actually be charged because I knew I’d do what they wanted before that would happen. My main goal was to not do anything that might jeopardize my ability to homeschool. Eventually others with more experience and courage got this district straightened out, we turned in the form that was in the law, and were left alone.

But when it all settled down, I just got mad. Mad at how we were treated, how we were disrespected, how they were willing to use force against us if necessary. That’s probably the root point at which I began to lose respect for any government authority.

I wanted to forget about government and politics and concentrate on raising my family, but I couldn’t. I needed to stay informed about the law, at least as it related to education, because any change in the law had the potential of drastically changing our family’s entire life.

At this time, online message boards were beginning to grow and I participated in online discussions about homeschooling freedom. I subscribed to Home Education Magazine, which has a monthly column called Taking Charge written by Larry and Susan Kaseman. They kept me informed and thinking about homeschooling freedom. I read books by education reformer John Holt and realized how much a child benefits when given freedom to learn and became a proponent of unschooling.

I discovered the Separation of School and State organization and joined. I became rabid in my belief of freedom in education. I was definitely becoming an educational anarchist, though I never thought of it that way at the time.

I eventually ran into people online identifying as libertarian. Once again I found myself learning about a whole new idea that was outside mainstream thought.

When I began asking more questions about it, someone online recommended Harry Browne’s Why Government Doesn’t Work. It was the first book about liberarianism I bought and I remember really being hit for the first time with a moral argument against the state as he explained that government is force and it is back up by a gun.

I eventually found the Libertarian Party and my husband and I started the affiliate in our county. Still being a chicken, I convinced my husband to take the chairman position fearing that I could not handle any publicity.

The state party had an online message board and I began once again to educate myself about a new topic. The typical energetic purist/pragmatic debates were going on and I loved it. However, state party leaders became uncomfortable with the image these debates might be giving to potential members so they shut it down.

I was learning so much and really enjoying the debates so I decided to start my own list and made it clear there was no affiliation with the party. It was about this time I discovered Murray Rothbard. I read his book For a New Liberty and found myself consulting this book often as we debated and discussed various topics. I also received good information from the Advocates for Self Government, which is where I discovered Mary Ruwart. I bought two of her publications, Healing Our World and Short Answers to the Tough Questions. I consulted these often too. These were not the only books I read, I was also very ignorant about economics and read a lot of books in that area beginning with Economics in one Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.

It should be no surprise that I was all about using the Libertarian Party as an educational tool. I remained involved in the LP for a few years, even running for state senate at one point, running an educational campaign. After that campaign experience, the problems inherent in making changes through politics became even clearer to me.

During discussions, I began to get more frustrated that others in the party didn’t seem to be reaching the same conclusions as I did. I kept on reading and thinking about the philosophy but others did not appear to be doing the same. They seemed to be more concerned and busy with the details of operating a political party.

Then one day someone said I was not a libertarian, I was an anarchist, Me? An anarchist? How can a chicken be an anarchist? Talk about out of the mainstream.

At some point I found the online site, Strike the Root and began reading their “non-voting archive.” I found every single article interesting but when I read George Smith’s LP Dialogue, I was completely fascinated because it mirrored many discussions I had been involved in for so long.

I noticed this article came from a site called Voluntaryist.com and that’s when my life took another turn. I felt like this time, I really did find a place where others had reached the same conclusions as I did. So much of what I read on the site matched my thinking. But most of all, the suggestion that one needs to simply focus on the improvement and education of the self resonated strongly. Self-education is where it all started for me and where my life continues to focus.

What I do now is still focused on education. I have a weekly column, “The Suburban Voluntaryist,” in the local daily paper where I write about local issues from a voluntaryist perspective, as much as that is possible. I do this mostly for myself because it helps me think and learn. If my writing helps someone else to do the same, then I’m very enthused, but if not, it’s still okay.

What’s odd now is that many readers are surprised at what I say and how I say it. They think it’s either courageous, crazy or just plain stupid to be so forthright. They don’t believe me when I say I’m still a chicken. But I am. I’m still not living my life in a manner as consistent to voluntaryist ideals as I would like.

I know I can improve though which has led me to another project. I want to read all of The Voluntaryist issues, in context, from the beginning. I feel like there’s a treasure in those pages and all I have to do is start reading. Carl Watner has done so much for voluntaryism by keeping this publication going for so long and I want to really get a feel for the publication as it developed.

I want to see what else I have to learn – about voluntaryism, about myself – and since writing is a big part of how I learn, I’m going to blog about it as I go through the process. Carl said he will participate if he has the time and as long as it is valuable to him so hopefully I will get more insight from his current perspective as well. We’ll see how it goes.

If you are interested in following and perhaps even participating in this project along with me, then by all means join me. Share your thoughts of agreement, or disagree and set me straight. Add your unique perspective. Let’s learn together. The blog is here: http://debbieandcarl.blogspot.com/

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