Parents! Stop whatever you’re doing and DESCHOOL now!
How do we unschool our kids when we ourselves have gone to school? The only way to make sure we’re walking the walk is by doing the deschooling work.

School as the unifying factor

The majority of humans live in a society that has been created and built around the same unifying factor almost regardless of where we were born or what culture we were raised in: school.

Conventional school is also the tool that has been used for almost two centuries to mold and/ or colonize populations everywhere on the planet.

The vast majority has been schooled. And whether we like it or not: it has shaped us into how we think, act, talk and live our lives. It is The Norm that unites every culture. And even though it’s a system that hasn’t existed throughout most of humanity, it’s been implemented in such an effective way that it’s made most of us believe that we can’t live without it.

How our own schooling has affected us

Since most of us grew up in the school system (and our parents and grandparents too), we actually don’t even know how it has impacted us, or even if it makes us learn in the best of ways. Why? Because there’s no control group that we can compare with.

All we know is that the school system wasn’t originally made to support kids’ learning, but rather actually to control their thinking and mold them into obedient citizens. Well, most of us don’t even know that. We believe what we’ve been told: that school is necessary for us to develop into capable adults, and that without it we won’t survive.

So what happens with us parents that question the school system, society’s norms and decide to pull our kids out of conventional school or to never even enroll them to begin with? Are we free from the imprint school has made on us? Of course not!

We might not know it and might not see it, but we’ve all been wounded from our experiences in school. Actually, it’s had quite detrimental effects on how we think, act and live that show up in small and big situations where we judge, interfere with and try to control our kids’ development and learning in so many ways. At the same time, we’re completely unaware of what’s happening for us and how our kids are being affected.

Our incongruence

I know it’s not our intention to do anything bad to our kids, but we simply can’t help ourselves. We grew up in a system where we were not trusted to make choices, decide what to do with our time, let our inner motivation guide us and our unique configuration lead us. We weren’t allowed to develop freely, and we internalized the ways of school. We have become schoolish. The medium is a very effective message.

All of this leads us to think we adults know what kids need to learn, when and how. Which is why unschooling parents can still panic when our kids don’t follow that predetermined path that says they should read at age 7, do algebra (regardless of whether they will ever need it or not), focus on scientific and/or creative projects, and finish every single thing they start – despite wanting them to design their own path! Can you see the incongruence? This is how badly we have been affected by our schooling.

We also grew up in a system where adults held the power and “knew” best. Even if we all can remember how frustrating it was when adults always had it their way even when they were wrong, it still taught us something: Adults have more power than kids, and they have the right to use their power in non-consensual ways in order to coerce kids into doing what the adults want. Now we are the grown-ups and have the potential to disempower our own kids. And so the cycle continues – if we don’t actively do something to break it.

It’s not our fault, but it is our responsibility

Yes, our schooling has influenced how we use our power with younger humans, how we talk and interact with them. Most of us have used power over-dynamics with our kids, imposing rules (sometimes masked as “agreements”) and punishments (sometimes masked as “consequences”) because that’s all we know. No one ever taught us anything else.

I’m not here to judge any of us. This isn’t our fault. We learned these oppressive ways during our many years in school. But it’s our responsibility to unlearn them by first identifying what they are and how they play out, so that we can relearn new ways and new tools. Otherwise, we won’t be able to support our kids on their journey of crafting and designing their own educational path.

This is called deschooling. It’s hard work that never ends. It’s a constant questioning of every limiting belief that has been imposed on us by society’s norms, the school system, our parents (that also, most likely, went to school) and other people (that also went to school). It made us – and now our children – smaller than we have the potential to be – in the way we think, talk, speak to ourselves and others and how we behave towards one another.

One adult standing on others shoulders being supported

In my experience, it’s vital that we parents, who want to offer our kids the opportunity to self-direct and design their own educational path (whether they are unschoolers, enrolled in any kind of self-directed program or a mix of both), need to be aware of what I think of as inner programming.

Why? Because it’s simply impossible to fully support our kids on this path if we’re not willing and ready to do this work.

We can’t just outsource our parenting responsibilities and think it’s all going to work out. If we don’t actively take responsibility for breaking the patterns under which we grew up that created habits of oppression where we (knowingly or not) are using power-over tools with our kids, then we’re not truly supporting our kids on their path. On the contrary, it’s very confusing for our kids because we’re only talking the talk instead of actually walking the walk.

It’s like giving them this amazing opportunity thinking that they’ll do the work. When in reality we need to do the work.

Kids know how to self-direct. We don’t.

Kids know how to self-direct. It comes naturally to them as long as we “let” them. We adults don’t. We lost that ability a long time ago. And we have no clue what self-direction looks like in its multitude of varieties. It’s quite the opposite: we’ve been molded into thinking learning is this thing that looks like this very specific way – completely separated from our own wishes, creativity and curiosity. Learning should be neat and tidy: you sit down, focus and concentrate. Solve some problems. Finish some tasks. And then you move on to the next thing.

But that’s not what self-direction looks like. It can, but it’s not commonly that way. And when we see our kids play the same game over and over again for months, not show interest in reading in spite of “having the right age,” or only want to be on screens, WE FREAK OUT.

And we will interfere, manipulate and try to control our kids’ activities instead of supporting them where they’re at. Because we don’t know better. We don’t know anything else.

So much deschooling work to do

Again, none of this is our fault. But it still is our responsibility to look at these patterns, challenge them and try to break them. This can be tricky business when you’re on your own, because honestly, it’s overwhelming and endless. Plus, there are so many things to question, like:

  • Why do we believe that we need to see results and outcomes of our kids’ learning? Ever thought about why that seems important to you?
  • Why do we separate learning from living? Ever wondered if isolating kids in buildings five days a week almost all year round has something to do with that?
  • Why are we hyper focused on the content the kids are learning instead of the context we live in? Ever questioned why?

And apart from this we have our own behavior to observe and change, like when we disempower our kids and why, and how and what we can do in order to empower them instead. It’s not easy to see beyond our own experiences and create other ways of being and relating to one another when we don’t have any real life examples to follow.

None of this can happen without a lot of inner work. Which is what the deschooling process is all about. But from what I’ve observed during my years in the field, there’s often quite a resistance to doing this work. Again, I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. It’s a result of our time in school.

Fear and school wounds

The fear of failure; of not being a good enough parent; of not knowing sufficiently; of doing it “wrong” or simply thinking you don’t have time are all school wounds that hold us back from diving into our own deschooling. It’s a shame, since at the end of the tunnel there is true liberation for both ourselves and our kids.

It is possible for us to both heal and break cycles. It is possible to co-create a completely different way of doing things together with our kids. But most of us need help and support in order to achieve this.

During my years as a director of Explora ALC in Mexico, I started creating content and courses (in Spanish) for parents that wanted to deschool. This has since grown into an amazing 7 day bilingual Deschooling Intensive called The Shift – a consent-based offering co-created with my friends and colleagues Sari González (director of Explora since 2020) and Madi Zins (bad-ass facilitator).

The Shift is an opportunity for adults supporting youth to come together and kickstart or deepen their deschooling practice. We use a lot of play, dynamics, art of hosting-techniques and reflections in order to support the participants in understanding where their limiting beliefs and programmings come from, how to end power struggles and move into power with-dynamics instead where, we center relationship, share power, communicate more clearly and learn to navigate conflict with more ease.

The goal is for parents to feel more confident in their non-conventional path and have more joy in their lives through a deepened connection to the people around them (kids and adults alike).

Every Shift is different, but they’re all equally amazing and I have never experienced so much transformation take place in such a short amount of time! The only catch is that not everyone has the privilege to travel all the way to Mexico. And not everyone can take so much time off.

One adult standing on others shoulders being supported

So, in order to support all parents that have chosen a very unconventional educational path for their kids, we’re creating more opportunities and possibilities for the deschooling support.

One is offering The Shift in other places. It’s obviously really cool, but still won’t meet all needs. This is why Sari and I, through our organization Radical Learning, are building a platform with courses for all deschooling parents on topics like communication, learning, neurodivergence, teens, toddlers etc. We’re planning on launching it later this year, and little by little fill it up with more and more content.

If at this point you’re jumping up and down, wanting some crazy good deschooling tips, I would point you to our podcast Radical Learning Talks (you can find it on every podcast platform). You can also read all our articles at our blog Radical Learning Blog. But I also want to leave you with some things you can do to start this process:

  1. Grapple with your limiting beliefs

    We look at limiting beliefs as oxidized ways of thinking that are in misalignment with our true selves and values, that limit our behavior and potential and where power over structures are the driving force, creating distance between ourselves and others.

    Look at and question your fears, limiting beliefs, oxidized convictions and mindsets around learning, kids’ behaviors and abilities, and what the future might look like so you won’t limit your kids’ growth and learning.

  2. Be authentic

    Being a great role model has nothing to do with being perfect. On the contrary! It’s about showing up as you are so that your kids can do the same – without any pressure to be something they’re not. Being your authentic self means recognizing that you have flaws, and that you don’t hide them.

    So much of the deschooling work has to do with building relationships with your kids. But you can’t do that if you insist on trying to project a perfect facade, masking how you really are or feel because of fear of not being good enough.

  3. Understand the importance of modeling

    Most parents focus far too much on what their kids are doing/not doing and learning/not learning. The best way to support free learning kids is by showing and leading by example.

    Model what it’s like being a responsible and accountable human with agency, so your kids can implement and embody that in their own lives.
    Become an unschooler yourself and self-direct your own life so that you don’t just talk the talk, but actually walk the walk.

If you do this I can guarantee you that slowly but surely you will start to transform not only yourself but actually the relationships with your kids and the life you live together. Deschooling is about shedding, shedding and shedding anything that comes in the way of freedom, authenticity, and trusting, equitable relationships.

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