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Building a Gift Economy within our Homeschooling Community: Lessons from Braiding Sweetgrass

“A great longing is upon us, to live again in a world made of gifts” from Braiding Sweetgrass, page 32, The Gift of Strawberries

Years ago, I slowly read through Robin Wall Kimmerer’s beautiful collection of essays called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Within this collection, there were two ideas that dug their way into my own heart: the idea of a gift economy and the need for reciprocity. These two ideas have composted within me and nurtured the soil of what AnySchoolers has become through the shared vision between Vanessa and me. With the heartwarming events we’ve had and budding friendships that have begun forming, these ideas are beginning to be harvested within our group as well. The twin ideas of a gift economy and reciprocity are intertwined throughout our values and ways of being in relationship with one another within AnySchoolers. It’s worth talking about these ideas explicitly, so we can work together to build this.

Within Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks deeply to these ideas in her essay The Gift of Strawberries: “But in the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity” (page 28). It is clearly aspirational to build a gift economy within the ecosystem of capitalism and consumerism that we all live in. But for us, this is a goal worth striving for within AnySchoolers.

One of the ways we are trying to implement this is through changing the ideas around fees. In many other organizations, fees are transactional; if you pay the fee, you are a member. Instead of transactional, we want AnySchoolers to be reciprocal within these types of exchanges; we really do want people to be in relationship with each other and feel those obligations of caring for one another. This is why we have chosen to ask for donations; it’s a way for us to begin building relationships with one another. Donations at any level offer the same chance at building relationships and accessing materials because we deeply believe in being as inclusive as possible. But we also know that some people may want to express their support of this mission in deeper ways, which may come in the form of higher donations.

However, reciprocal support can also come in other forms as well. Offering the gifts of deep knowledge, skills, and time through leading classes or volunteering are also ways to build this type of gift economy and create those relationships. Not everyone can offer all of their gifts without costs because we still live in a wage economy, so we also wanted to ensure that a reciprocal exchange happened through the possibility of paying for these gifts as well. Acknowledging the value of others’ gifts through exchanging money can be another way to build a gift economy within the confines of capitalism, especially for people’s whose labor and gifts have gone unacknowledged (which includes so much of what homeschooling adults do).

Another way that we want to implement the ideas of a gift economy and reciprocity is through our Kindness Project and Fundraiser. We want to spread these ideas to others outside of our innermost circle, and engaging in kind acts can be a way to do this. Engaging in kind acts will allow us to build deeper connections that nourish relationships in a way that feels honorable and loving. There are suggested activities from October 3 until December 1 that will allow us to engage in kind acts to ourselves, our families, our community, and our planet. There are free printables under Classes + Events | Merch to help your family engage in these actions. These are our gifts to your family to allow you to continue the exchange of gift-giving. After all, like our priceless family heirlooms, a gift’s power grows when it is re-gifted to someone else who will love it.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer connects these ideas as well. She writes: “A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears. Your only role is to be open-eyed and present. Gifts exist in a realm of humility and mystery—as with random acts of kindness, we do not know their source” (page 23).

I would love for us all to engage in the mystery and warmth of the gift economy within AnySchoolers and spread these gifts to others. So many of us are hungry for deep, authentic relationships; being present within the gift economy and reciprocating these gifts is one way to begin these relationships and meet our responsibilities to one another joyfully.

I would also love to hear your thoughts in the comments. How can we build a stronger gift economy together?

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