Unschooling for decolonisation

Adele trelisses tomatoes on the farm

Colonisation works to bring us all into line. It insists that there is one knowledge stream, one way of doing things, one value system for understanding success. It enforces this agenda to the detriment of all ancestral knowledge, all other ways of knowing and doing, and leaves us with a narrow vision of what life is and can be. An education that does not actively dismantle this process perpetuates systems of oppression throughout the rest of society.

 

When Black Lives Matter protesters toppled the Colston statue last week, they awakened a memory for me. I visualised myself in a university seminar room 15 years ago, freshly moved from Trinidad and Tobago to England. I remember vividly sitting there with all the sensations of feeling embarrassed by the gaps in my knowledge as compared to the British students. And that went on for me. Even though I more than caught up and kept up. Even though I knew that I had learned more about their colonial history and slavery legacy than they had. Even though I’d read more Caribbean and African authors than they had.

There was an overwhelming and enduring feeling of inadequacy. It rose up whenever someone corrected my Trinidadian pronunciation of a word or made little effort to understand my accent when I was working hard to understand theirs. But mostly, it emerged from within myself, an enduring relic of colonisation which kept exhorting me to make myself small and less noticeable. I think it’s one of the reasons my accent changed over time. It’s certainly why I’ve always looked up the British pronunciation of things before repeating them to my children.

I lived in Bristol for six years before moving to Cornwall. The discussion about whether to remove Colston’s statue came up multiple times while I was there. Initially, I thought they shouldn’t remove it. If you removed all of the slavetraders, slaveholders and people who benefited from slavery, you’d have to remove a lot of figures. I eventually changed my mind and signed a petition for it to be taken down. It’s different when someone’s main contribution to society is rooted in the destruction of others. And monuments celebrate people. They’re not mere markers of history.

What was personally interesting to me in seeing history made as people took the matter into their own hands was realising that my own understanding of what history is has shifted. This has been and continues to be a work of decolonisation for me.

I’ve been reflecting on this in the light of the education I’m making accessible to my children. For a long time we have been moving from a position I described as “semi-structured with Classical influence” to giving them more and more freedom to decide how they spend their time. But I couldn’t call it unschooling because I was still drawing on a framework of things I felt they needed to know.  And although I was offering things to them that fell outside of that, the framework itself was white supremacist and patriarchal in the sense of: why did I feel they needed to know these things? Who was I trying to impress through my children?

By choosing to home educate, I had taken the step of deciding that coercive state education didn’t get to decide what my kids learned. Yet I was still dipping my toes in and out of trusting them to make good decisions with their time. Part of that was by demarcating “learning time” from the rest of their time even though I knew that they were learning through everything they were doing. This is a schooled mindset which is also a colonising mindset.

Colonisation works to bring us all into line. It insists that there is one knowledge stream, one way of doing things, one value system for understanding success. It enforces this agenda to the detriment of all ancestral knowledge, all other ways of knowing and doing, and leaves us with a narrow vision of what life is and can be. An education that does not actively dismantle this process perpetuates systems of oppression throughout the rest of society.

I’ve been thinking along these lines for a long time. I’ve also been listening to others talk about unschooling or “self-directed education” as it relates to decolonisation but something had to shift in me so that I could fully step into it.

The pandemic created the space for it. During lockdown when the full restrictions were in place my children and I were just home and I didn’t have the energy to arrange anything for them. I also didn’t feel comfortable taking them to the farm because I have a holy terror of being stopped by the police so all my social interactions (other than online) were with them. And it meant that I was tuning in, in a way I’d been too distracted to do, at least lately. We were moving more and more into unschooling but I hadn’t made any conscious decisions around that.

Like so many others, something has shifted in me in the flood of conversations about race, white supremacy and decolonisation. I realised that not only do I not have to put up with always worrying what others think of me and whether what I’m doing matches up but that this kind of thinking is, for me, rooted in colonialism. And while it’s good that people are talking about bringing Black history into their schools and homeschooling, that is not enough for our situation.

We’re already outside of the system. We can burn the whole damn thing to the ground. And they deserve more. They deserve not to grow up with my conditioning to always crave external validation, especially from figures of authority even though I have a complicated relationship with authority. They deserve to trust themselves. I can help by trusting them.

How that’s playing out for us is naming it, saying that we’re not just going with the flow, we’re actually going to call this thing “unschooling” with the express purpose of decolonisation. We’re no longer settling for making a plan together and then because there’s no resistance we consider that consensual. Their consent needs to be enthusiastic. And that means giving them the space to be absolutely honest about what they like and don’t like, which also involves learning to be non-judgemental of their interests. And it means prioritising my own learning and my own enjoyment. To finally name it is to step out of cognitive dissonance, to move closer toward being free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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1 comment
  • Always love to read something that expresses things I am experiencing/exploring..we have been unschooling for the last 5 years and are currently discussing in our family how the space provided in the pandemic has deepened this practice further and sharpened our view of the system we are not a part of.I have been alternately hopeful about some of the conversations that are beginning and frustrated at the limited nature of them.thankyou for writing.

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