Ending My Timidity About Presenting RC

I've been working on an RC-based wide-world project over the past four years and I've recently begun to "go public" with it. The project includes an eight-week parent education program called "Listening to Children" (LTC). The project is forming the basis of my doctorate work as well. The content of the program is straight RC, focusing as much on parents as on children. We read Patty Wipfler's Parents Leadership Institute pamphlets and some articles that I've written.

One of my goals in pursuing a doctorate was to be able to present RC ideas related to parenting and young people in wide-world settings. I wanted to learn how to get people to think afresh about discharge, parents' oppression, learning, and cooperation. I thought that having a Ph.D. behind my name would open certain doors and certain ears more easily. I also wanted to know what information was out there.

This year I took Listening to Children "on the road" to see how it would be received in wider circles. So far I've presented it at three national professional conferences. The first was last November's National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Conference, which involved early childhood educators, day care folks, and others who work with families and young children. Our hour-long presentation drew about sixty people. I gave an overview of Listening to Children and what makes it distinct from other parent education programs; my friend, Carol, talked about the school-community collaboration we have here in Evanston, Illinois, USA and why parent education programs need to be part of such efforts; and Patty Wipfler talked about listening as the powerful tool that it is and how our programs bring about significant and lasting change in peoples' lives. The presentations were well received. I learned two important things:

  1. People are eager to hear about a theory and a program that work, particularly for "bringing about long-term behavioral change," instead of the band-aid surgery and empty promises they've experienced with other parent education programs. I talk frankly about the shortcomings of the behaviorist approach which dominates most popular parent education (and much of early childhood education as well). People have tried those programs and have been frustrated and disappointed with the results. They're looking for something that works and seem pleased to hear that there's a better way.
  2. Patty speaks with confidence and vigor about RC. She tells great stories about the initiatives parents have taken, making sure to talk about parents of color, working-class parents, and fathers. Most of the professionals in these fields either work only with middle-class mothers (because that's who they can easily attract) or with mothers of color and working-class mothers, but not very effectively or consistently. I learned a lot from watching Patty. I realized that I was holding back in my communication.

The second conference was in April, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, and was called "Protecting Children, Protecting Families: Research and Practice." It drew university folks, community "mental health" professionals, and some direct service providers. This was an opportunity to push myself in a new way because the participants were trying to be slick and polished (experts-in-training!). It was a one-hour presentation, and I led it alone. I expected a group of about twenty, but because several other sessions had been cancelled, there were about fifty participants out of a total conference registration of 140!

The workshop went well. I explained parents' oppression, what it means to treat children with respect, and how parent education programs should be structured in order to reflect parents' oppression and the fact that children are fully human. During the questions and answers, a woman said in a bold, almost bullying tone, "I cannot tell you how many of these presentations I've sat through over the years. It is such a relief to finally hear someone telling things the way they really are. You seem completely grounded in reality, and I love it! What I want to know is where you learned what you know. How did you get this grounded? Where did you develop this perspective?" I talked some about how Listening to Children is based on the theory of Re-evaluation Counseling and that her hunches were correctñI didn't learn what I know at Northwestern University. I realized two things:

  1. I have to circulate a sign-up sheet when I do these presentations so that I can follow-up with folks when opportunities present themselves.
  2. People want these ideas, even people in three-piece suits with lots of degrees and professional experience. They listen closely, understand well, and aren't afraid of asking who I really am and what I'm really about.

The third conference was here in Chicago, Illinois, USA in May. It was a national conference sponsored by the Family Resource Coalition. It drew people from all over the U.S. and Canada who are working with family resource and support programs. Patty was presenting her own workshop at this conference so she chose not to participate in mine. Listening to Children was given a three-hour time block. We had about forty people in attendance, half of whom stayed for the entire three hours. I circulated a sign-up sheet, and we now have thirty-three names and addresses of people who want to be informed when we begin to offer trainings in Listening to Children.

The seminar included presentations by two parents who had participated in Listening to Children and a presentation by the outreach worker who recruited the low-income black mothers for the recent Listening to Children series. The parents were a Japanese-American mother of five-year-old twins and an African-American mother of five. Both spoke eloquently. They talked about their lives, their struggles, the value of the supportive group atmosphere and the opportunities to be listened to, and how implementing the ideas in Listening to Children had changed the way their families operate. (If I'd presented what they shared, no one would have believed me!) The outreach worker talked about the group dynamics she observed in the class and how different the class was from other groups she'd led for similar populations. She talked about how it changed things to have the expectation held out that they would listen to each other repeatedly and with respect. (An audience member commented to me at the end that the close relationships among the panelists were obvious and that this spoke louder than words. She said, "It's clear you come from completely different backgrounds and yet you all trust and love each other deeply. It's a pleasure to see. It speaks well of your work.")

The question-and-answer period was good. People asked insightful questions, mostly in the direction of, "Tell me more. I'm not satisfied and I'm not leaving yet!" One woman said, "I understand everything you've said and I'm greatly encouraged to have the information. But I can't help thinking that there's more to this than you're letting on. I have the sense that I could not go back to my community and implement this program without more information and more training. Is that true? How can I get that kind of training?" This time I was prepared! I talked some about RC, the Community, and the theory. I explained that we're in the process of developing a Listening to Children training and that we'd keep her informed. I said, "You're right. All that I've explained doesn't really tell you what to say when a parent asks, 'Yeah, but what do I do when my child throws a tantrum on the grocery store floor?'" At that point, another woman broke in and said, "Right! So what would you say about handling grocery store tantrums?" So I explained more theory and filled in the generalities with more specifics. People are hungry for this information!

I've learned that doing these presentations can be fun and even useful, but giving people a taste of Listening to Children is not sufficient without the opportunity to have the whole "meal" if they so choose. In the coming year, I'm planning to present only at Midwest conferences where I'll have the best chance of being invited into communities for follow-up trainings because distance and costs won't be prohibitive. My focus will be on giving people enough information that they can decide whether they want more-either by bringing me to their community or by coming to Chicago for the training we're planning for next spring. It's analogous to giving an RC introductory lecture and then following it up with the chance to enroll in a fundamentals class. Introductory lectures can be useful, but if there are no classes available, it's like a tease and an opportunity lost. Another thing I've learned is that whenever possible I'll include parents in my presentations. They teach by example, and it's very helpful. It changes the tone, and the audience learns about understanding and respecting parents just by listening to them.

Since January, I've also led two groups of low-income black mothers. Here are the main things I've learned:

  1. The mothers are eager for the information I have, and they are willing to wade through any of my still-to-be-discharged unawareness to get it. I've discharged a lot (in sessions) on everything that comes up for me.
  2. By the time the second group began, all the discharging I had done during the first group began to have an effect. I've been more relaxed. I've presented the information with greater expectations of them. I've focused much more on their discharging and much less on my talking. Because I'm more relaxed, they've been more open with me and they more obviously like and appreciate me as leader. Angela (the outreach worker who was a panelist at the Family Resource Coalition conference) told me last week how much better this series is from the first. She said I'm allowing for much more discharge time, and she's both surprised and delighted that they seem so comfortable with it.
  3. I have a lot to learn about communicating RC to working-class people, poor people, and people of color. However, my ignorance doesn't need to stop me! Also, taking action leads to discharge that can't happen in the abstract.

The last opportunity to share RC in the wide world started out as a fundraiser for me to attend a leaders' conference next fall. I decided to lead a one-day Educational Change Workshop for parents and teachers, focusing on opening communication between the two groups. I called it "Forging Alliances: Bringing Together Parents and Teachers in Pursuit of Educational Change." We advertised it among RCers as an opportunity to bring close friends and associates to a wide-world event, an event that would be completely RC but adapted to wide-world language, etc. I also advertised it among my contacts in the schools, day care centers, and so on. In the end, we had thirty participants: one-half RCers and one-half non-RCers; one-half parents and one-half teachers; and about thirty percent people of color. We had folks from an inner-city public high school in Milwaukee, an elementary school located in one of Chicago's public housing developments, and a variety of other settings.

It was a really nice day! What surprised me most was how well people listened to each other. The opening circle took nearly an hour to get through, but everyone paid great attention. The diversity and quality of the group came through and set an "upward trend" tone of from the start. Various support groups were woven in throughout the day, some focusing on identities we carried as children that affected our experiences in the schools and others focusing on identities we carry now (parents, elementary school teachers, school administrators, etc.). During the afternoon class, I gave a talk about how the schools impact all students in lasting and damaging ways, relying on Julian Weissglass' excellent wide-world pamphlets. Then I worked with several teachers and parents. Most of the "clients" cried even though only one of the demonstrations was with an RCer. It was a testament to how much bolder I've gotten about presenting RC straight up!

Two good things have come out of that day so far. An ongoing Educational Change Support Group is being planned for teachers who were there. It will be organized and led by one of the RCers who participated. We've also set a date for a second day-long workshop as a follow-up.

I hope others can learn something from these experiences. I think the main thing that has held me back in my wide-world-change efforts has been my own timidity and fear. Reality is presenting few real obstacles.

Randi Wolfe
Skokie, Illinois, USA

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00