Part 3: Are You Buying What Back-to-School is Selling?

August 25, 2017— This is the conclusion of my conversation with Michelle S. Hite, Assistant Professor in the English Department at Spelman College on oppositional consciousness and parenting. (Originally published September, 2015)

Click links to read Part One and Part Two.

Kari: Do you believe there is a universal need to be accepted?

Michelle: I’m not convinced that there is. If being accepted is a universal need, it would seem to me then that our universal condition would be enslavement. One’s freedom would always be tethered to another’s potential for refusing to concede. The refusal wouldn’t even need to be rational, but could be rooted in power, pettiness, personality…and on and on. The power to accept or to reject seems to me to be more a matter of character than ontology.

In other words, a person can “be,” or exist, without another’s acceptance.

Kari: When I started writing about Thorin it sprung from a belief my husband and I both ascribed to in our lives –even before we met. It was Walt Whitman’s quote from Leaves of Grass: “I exist as I am, that is enough.” It has been on the blog since day one.

Okay circling back: Consumerism wants to shape and define our collective identity with a  price tag attached. What better way to insure yearly gains — than by tapping into a collective insecurity and naming it for us: Back-to-school. Maybe schools would have enough money if they charged corporations a licensing fee for ‘mandating the normal’ through  consummation.

Michelle: Several years ago, there was some discussion about corporate sponsorships and charter schools. I remember thinking that people wanted to preserve the lie that schools were innocent, virgin landscapes. For me, it is important for Miles to see what Americans mean when they talk about school. His job isn’t to fit in or to find a home there. I just want him to see the bullshit for what it is: bullshit.

When my students talk about themselves as good students that typically means that they’ve mastered filling-in the blanks that someone else left for them. These poor deprived children actually think that answering someone else’s questions to their liking is what it means to have a rich intellectual life.

[They] don’t know how to process a very basic question: “why am I here?” As I point out to them, “I didn’t come get you.”

Students actually ask me for permission to imagine their own futures. My response is always the same, “I don’t see why you can’t work anywhere you want to. I don’t find job placement very mysterious. What is mysterious and worth concentrating on,” I tell them, “is who you can be–which is not the same as where you can work.”

Even with Miles being 6-years-old, we challenge the conservatism that makes being a good student synonymous with being compliant; with being someone who accepts the single answer model as the only measure of thoughtfulness…it’s just ridiculous.

Kari: What does it mean to live like you are free?

Michelle: This is actually the title of my manuscript! Definitely confirmation that I’m on the right track. Living like I’m free means that I recognize that I’m not governed by the expectations of others when making decisions for what is best for me and for my family. It means that I have rejected the unchallenged notion that cultural norms are universal truths. It means that I respect my own reading of the world and live in accordance with this understanding. It means that I can change my mind; or be inconsistent.

Living like I’m free also means that I respect the sovereignty of others. Denying others such sovereignty, in my view, deprives them of the search for their own life’s purpose. I don’t think that most people embrace this search; instead, they have been conditioned to accept cultural, economic, social, and civic norms of what is good, just, and true. Meaning, for me, requires a search for purpose; the examined life. Far too many Americans accept marketplace slogans about what will make their lives meaningful as The Truth. They rarely question whether buying + happiness = life aptly identifies purpose. Far too many Americans have forfeited their freedom to live creatively, quietly, complexly for the frivolity of whatever is trending. I don’t want to live like that.

Kari: Either do I. I have started asking myself: “Where does my love live?” as a reminder that we don’t have to look for it “out there”.

This entry was posted in Down syndrome by Kari Wagner-Peck. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kari Wagner-Peck

Kari Wagner-Peck lives with her husband and son in Maine. She is a writer & storyteller who home schools with her son. She is the author of the memoir Not Always Happy: An Unusual Parenting Journey, May, 2017, Central Recovery Press. She has been published at CNN, Psychology Today online, The New York Times Well Family blog, The Huffington Post, The The Good Men Project, The Sydney Morning Herald Daily Life blog, BLOOM and Love That Max among others. Author page: Twitter @KariWagnerPeck and Facebook: Email:

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