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Unschooling As An Act of Resistance
A video and transcript from The SDE Weekend discussing unschooling as an act of resistance against white supremacy, racial/gender stereotypes, ableism, and other forms oppression that centered marginalized voices.

Transcript

Iris: So I will be sharing parts of my story, but I really just want to hear from you and talk about our ideas about how unschooling is an act of resistance. But before I get too deeply into that, I wanted to open it up and just ask people to fill in the blank for the sentence: “For me, unschooling is an act of [blank].” And it can be anything. However you want to fill in that sentence, and explain a little bit about your own motivations for unschooling or self-directed learning, whatever that looks like for you and your family.

[Iris Reading from chat:]

Ooo.

“An act of love.”

I love that.

“Freedom.”

“Freedom to be who we want to be.”

“Liberation.”

[Conference room bot: “Recording...”]

Sorry, can you repeat that?

I think the person said “decolonization,” but I’m not sure.

“Healing.”

Yes. Mmm.

“Respect to the organic development of people.”

“Disruption.”

Yes. Yes yes.

I love all of these. “Emergence.”

I love that.

I don’t know if you want to expand a little bit more on that.

What you mean by that?

“Trust.”

Yes.

“Courage.” “Creation.”

Okay.

These are all wonderful.

Iris: And yeah, just this proactive desire to create an experience for ourselves and our children, and also sometimes a reaction to what’s going on in the world around us. And wanting to resist those things that we don’t want to perpetuate in our lives or in our children’s lives, right?

Iris: Yeah, I just wanted to share a little bit about my own unschooling journey, how I came to this point. So I have two kids, 2 boys, 11 and 13 now. And we started unschooling about four years ago. At that time, I was living in China. And so, like, our schooling options were pretty limited. So for me at that time, actually, unschooling was an act of desperation. It was an act of, like, I have no other choices here. Because the local schools, like, we were not able to get into the local public schools. And I don’t know about the countries that you are all from, but China is probably one of the most coercive, indoctrinated systems out there. And so even though we saw a lot of the harm in that, there was also a desire to be like, oh, well, I’m ethnically Chinese. We’re living in this community. How can we become more a part of this community? How can my kids learn the language of their people? So there was that drive, that desire to be part of the public school system. But that fell through. We were not able to get in. And the other option was like, international school. But we really didn’t want to go that route, because a lot of expat private schools are steeped in a culture and a mindset of privilege and colonization. And so I was like, I didn’t want to be a part of that system either. So one of the few options left for me was homeschooling. But I also know, as someone who has the instincts of a tiger parent, that I would want to be very controlling if I was to practice schooling at home. And so, I knew that about myself, and I knew that that would just create so much conflict and tension between myself and my children. And so I was like, you know, that’s not going to work. I don’t know how I’m going to do homeschooling in a way that works for my family.

And then I stumbled upon unschooling. And actually... ASDE, The Alliance for Self-Directed Education, was a big part of my decision to to unschool, because I heard a talk from Scott Noelle, who at that time was on the board. And that brought me to the website, and I read through the pages, I watched some videos, and I just resonated so much with the idea of trusting our kids, believing that they are natural learners, allowing them to self-direct their education. Like, that was — all of it made so much sense to me. What time frame...That was like four years ago? 2017, I believe. So my kids were about 9, around 8 or 9 — my oldest, and my youngest was around 6 or 7. So I talked to my husband about it. Surprisingly, he was on board, because we’re both from traditional schooling systems. We both went to college, did all the things that we were supposed to do. And so this was really outside of the box for us. But I think part of the reason was because we were already outside of the box as foreigners living in China. There was no normal for us. We weren’t normal to the locals. We weren’t normal to anybody. So the choices that we made living as foreigners in a different country were already countercultural. And so in some ways, that made it easier for us. It may have been different if we were living in the States, where we had grown up, and there were a lot of options, and everybody around us was going to public school. But because of our situation, we were already weird, you know? And so we just gave ourselves the freedom to be like, okay, we’re going to try this out.
It’s like, an experiment. Our kids were still young at the time, you know, where it still feels like they could play for a year and it would be fine.
Their lives would be fine. We could always go back to school. And if this totally falls through...

But the moment — just the more I dug into it, the more we practiced it, the more I was like this makes so much sense. This is the way life was meant to be, even though it’s so outside the box for us. But just having this idea of being, just living life without that system of school to try to shove our kids and conform them into, was so freeing and so powerful for me and my family. So, yeah, I don’t know if any of you relate to some of that, but I wanted to talk a little bit about, particularly for me as an Asian American, why unschooling is an act of resistance. Because, yeah, it might be more like — if we look at the demographics of the unschooling movement or for people who are moving towards this choice, there aren’t that many people who look like me. But why I find that — why it is particularly important for somebody like me to practice unschooling and to encourage other people to do so.

So... So first of all, it’s an act of resistance for me because of the cultural pressures as a Chinese American, as somebody like me with a Chinese background. Because culturally, the Chinese have a deep reverence for education, for formal education. And this is because, like, thousands of years ago, China had the Imperial exams, which were a series of really intense exams that determined whether or not you can enter the state bureaucracy. So no matter what, like, economic level or class you were in, you could come and take this exam, and if you did well you could become an advisor, you could be part of the administration, or whatever it was. And so the system of needing to pass exams to do well academically, to get this education, was historically the one way to improve your standing in the cultural, the Chinese culture and Chinese society throughout history, right? So I think that has really affected why there is a stereotype of East Asians in particular really prioritizing education and academics. In my situation, also, the immigrant experience where my parents immigrated to the States — and just like for many people who grew up in countries where there was poverty, there was more, like Public education was not a given. Like, they really had to fight for the right to an education. So now having access, having the opportunity to have a free education is something that you should definitely grasp and make the most opportunity of, right? So choosing to step away from that is pretty, like countercultural, pretty radical, something that many in my community do not understand.

We were able to immigrate to the States because — – I was born in the States because my dad was here studying for a Masters degree and then for a PhD. So it’s just like, a lot of access to different opportunities, to the life that we have now is, in a lot of ways, because of formal education. So, you know, just the assumption for second generation immigrants like myself is that, of course you would make the most of your opportunities to get as much education as you can. And so for me to choose to take my kids out of school, to not prioritize college for them if they don’t want to, is really mind blowing for them. But again, it is one of those things where I see so much beauty and so much freedom, liberation — all those words that you associated with unschooling — through this movement. That is more powerful, that is more compelling to me, than these cultural scripts that I have.

I think another way that I am resisting — how unschooling is an act of resistance, is just also the stereotypes. So for Asian Americans, there’s the stereotype, the myth, of the model minority, right? Where we are assumed to just be these good workers, hard working, good citizens, keep our heads down, do the things that everybody expects us to do. In the academic world it’s like we go into these systems that sort of assume and expect that we will do well. And many of us, like, just buy into that and say, okay, you expect me to be a certain way. I will be that person. I will get all the straight A’s. I will get the academic awards. I will go to the best schools. And, yeah, it’s that stereotype that we are automatically hardworking, smart, whatever it is. For other people of color they may not have the same stereotypes, where they are disproportionately discriminated against, assumed that they don’t have those skills or abilities. There’s the school to prison pipeline, the policing of body and hair and languages and all those sorts of things. So while, like, East Asian Americans did not necessarily deal with the same labels or same stereotypes, there are still racist stereotypes. Whatever — even if it’s like a positive thing, that’s still dehumanizing, that still doesn’t allow us to be fully ourselves, you know? So for me, unschooling is really allowing my child to express themselves fully without needing to be typecast based on their race or their gender or whatever it is, right? So they can pursue certain things, like they can pursue coding, or they can be really good at math without having it be assumed that they are that way because they’re Asian, or they’re nerds, or whatever. Or they can play basketball and not have somebody assume that they’re not athletic or that they don’t have the skills because they’re Asian. Or whatever it is. That’s just one example, the race piece. But even, you know, I’m raising two boys, and giving them the freedom to show interest in things that are typically labeled as feminine or as girly or whatever it is, whether that’s arts and crafts or dance or whatever it is, where we can pursue these things without shame, without the fear of peer pressure, or just those messages that are part of that system that feels like, you know, we need to fit these boxes in order to be accepted. So I think for me, choosing to unschool and to not participate in that system is also standing in solidarity with other people, and other people of color, other groups, instead of being complicit to an unjust system.

I think the last way that I’ll talk about it being an act of resistance is just the colonization of our education. I think this is something that we’ve talked a lot about in other sessions, too, where it’s like, the world view that is presented in the schooling system is rooted in the myth of white supremacy, in patriarchy, in all of that. And like for me, as an Asian American, as a person of color, we don’t have any opportunity to learn our own histories through our own lenses rather than through the white gaze. Like, maybe even, like, if they assign for API Heritage Month, they might assign a few books, but that is still through, like, them deciding what books they should read, or somebody out there deciding for me, these are the few books that you’re free to read and write about... Instead of it being initiated from myself, my own desires, centering our own voices, really prioritizing the narratives and the stories of those who typically are ignored or silenced... And so I think that’s really important.

And that’s not just like, the curriculum. Whether it’s the history or like, if we think of literature, if we think of music, if we think of social studies, all those things. Even the types of sports that are played in schools, right, like you don’t really badminton, or ping pong, or certain
ones that are not considered cool in America. All of these things, like standardized tests, SATs, these really all center the white experience. And if we think about even, like, homeschooling curriculum, it’s not necessarily much better, right? A lot of it is very grounded in classical education, some of it... It’s created by and for white families, usually. So, what unschooling has done for me is, like, where I am not confined to a certain curriculum, where for each of us, in our own unique experiences and our identities and our ethnic background or whatever it is, we can pick and choose things that are relevant to us. Things that, yeah, are not rooted in that white colonialist mindset. I found especially living outside of America at that time was really helpful because so much of curriculum and schooling, we don’t realize how ethnocentric and nationalistic it is until we go to another country or we experience another perspective. And we’re like, not everybody learns about this. Or not everybody has this perspective. So I think being part of a global community, like this community, being connected to international views, to ideas that are outside our own culture, outside our own perspective, is really helpful and powerful to sort of expose how some of those ideas are very narrow and not the only way to see things. So I think also just being part of multi-cultural spaces, it’s really powerful.

So those are just a few of the ways that unschooling is an act of resistance for me and my family. I don’t know for you how much you connected to, related to... I’ll just open it up to some questions right now.

I do have other things to discuss, but that was just part of my story, and I didn’t know if anybody had any feedback about that. So if you do, you can type it in the chat or unmute yourself and share.

Participant: Hey, Iris, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think for me, the part that really is resonating for me is the pressure of my family members who feel like — not just my family members, but just friends of mine, Black and Brown friends, that feel like what we’re doing is going against what our ancestors fought for, right? Like, they’re like, wait. But, like, do you not remember what — – that education was something that we fought for? And so there’s a lot of sort of, like, shaming and guilt put on us as a family. So which is why I need to hear these stories more, from more folks in the BIPOC community, because I know in my heart we’re doing what is best for our family. And I know that our ancestors were really not fighting for education. They were fighting for their liberation. And at that time, whatever that pathway was, or what was believed to be that pathway, be it education or whatever it might be, was what they have to do, right? So, like, I get that, I understand that that’s real. And also, the system is madly oppressing us. So I just wanted to share that and say thank you for sharing your story.

Iris: Yeah. Thank you so much. It is like what you said. I feel like, you know, it’s the stepping stones that our ancestors took to create more liberation for the next generation. So maybe we’re making choices now that our ancestors might not understand. We are just, like, taking those steps. And it’s okay if it doesn’t look the same as it did in the past. Just like my parents, really, because of their situation, because public school probably was not even a given to them, so them fighting for the right to education was part of their liberation. And that’s not something that I need to deny or whatever, but that was a step to their liberation. But now, in our case, for the next generation, who now — where compulsory education is more a form of oppression than it is a form of liberation, like how can we make different choices?

Participant: And you said it: choice, right? Like, that’s what we want, right? Like, when we were talking about, the conversation about liberation yesterday at the end of the day, like, people want choice. They want the freedom to choose without feeling shamed, without feeling made to be guilty. Like, we just want to choose, tight?

Iris: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

Participant: So I think it’s helpful to look at the history of schooling in the United States and seeing how, of course, there are people who fought for equal access to education, and they wanted to make sure that, for example, Black communities were getting the same support from the system as white communities. But seeing how that has constantly evolved in ways in which there were very unintended consequences that resulted in the continued... The schooling system was initially constructed to benefit a very tiny percentage of the population, and, for example, Black and Indigenous people were not included in that. And that even as people fought for access, the schools continue to evolve in ways that preserve that form of benefiting some groups at the expense of all the others. I’m reading this book, First Strike, by Damien Sojoyner, who talks about it in particular in terms of the impact on Black communities, in particular Black communities in Southern California. And it’s just a really great look at it from an academic lens, of the ways in which schooling never benefits the people that it was originally intended to lock out. It just does things to make it look that way. And some people — recently we’re talking about Brown versus Board of Education, and everyone celebrates that, right? Everyone celebrates it because, like, it gave access, but there’s all these historians that are talking about, well, what really happened? It’s not like society became more fair all of a sudden, but what happened was all these Black schools, which were spaces where at least it was run by Black people and they got to center the experience of Black people in these schools, well, what happened was all the Black educators, all the Black educators lost their jobs, and all those kids were pushed into non-segregated schools where all of a sudden Blackness was completely erased. And so it’s interesting because I think that efforts to try to make the schooling system more welcoming and supportive of groups that it has historically — or groups that have been historically marginalized or oppressed, it just never works. And at some point, we need to stop trying to hope that the next reform or the next way of inclusion will somehow change that.

Iris: Yeah, I agree. Absolutely.

Participant: I’ll say...

Iris: Go ahead, Jo.

Participant: Sorry. Not sure if we’re supposed to raise our hands, but I’ll say from my point of view, I’m coming from being a public school teacher, teaching predominantly in underserved communities where I heard a lot of people talk about what we needed to do to help “these people.” And just different curriculums we could use. Again and again just trying and trying and finally separating myself from that, and realizing that nothing was really getting done. Now I live in a pretty affluent area that has really, quote-unquote “good schools” where a bunch of white kids, predominantly, go. So for me, this is an act of resistance, even just learning about this. It has been so — I — and just my mind is exploding every day after these meetings. But the act of resistance for me is trying to create a space for affluent students, kids from under served communities ,that they have the space to dream and grow and do what feels right for them in the moment in whatever capacity that means. So just trying to create an alternate space where we can explore together as a community what meaningful education can look like through, hopefully, self-directed education, but just working with families and communities that want something different than the, quote-unquote “great schools” that we have in our community.

Iris: Yeah. Thank you for being here, Jo. I know that even as a public school teacher, it can be very intimidating to enter into these spaces, and I really applaud you and welcome you for being here.

Participant: I wanted to bounce off... Oops, sorry. I’ll just go real fast.
I wanted to bounce off what Jo is saying. I am a former public elementary school teacher, and so for me, a big act of resistance has been not going
back to school. And I acknowledge I have a lot of privilege not, not having to go back to teaching. But... And also just trying to share more about unschooling and SDE with a lot of my coworkers and family members, like, teaching has just been ingrained in my life. And I realized that a lot of the resistance from them hearing this is because it just basically shatters their whole life goal. So there’s a whole grief that has to go into, like, oh I worked so hard, I thought I was doing the right thing to become a teacher, I was going to make the world a better place, and all this stuff... And you really, really believe that. And then for me, once I’ve started to see the truth and I try to share that with others it’s become... It’s almost too hard, and they don’t want to be like, no, this is how hard I worked to get here, and so I’m not going to believe that this isn’t the right thing to do. But there’s a big part of grief in, in giving that up, because it’s huge. So that’s me just trying to gently nudge people into seeing things a little differently.

Iris: Yeah. Thank you for sharing. I know that in the chat, I see that there are many people who are teachers, were former teachers. I was a teacher. So I think for those of — those who love children, love learning,
we go into this profession believing that we’re doing the best thing for the community. And having it sort of exposed that we become part of a system that really is not for the liberation of our children, that is very oppressive in many ways, it can be very triggering, we can get defensive.
And so for those of us who are having our eyes open for the first time, it can be hard to hear some of these things. But once you see it, it’s like you can’t unsee it, right? So many of us have stepped away because of that, and maybe some are trying to make change within the system, too. Daveed, were you going to share something?

Participant: Yeah. I mean, I worked as a para, and I really liked that part of the job. But I never... It was really hard for me to get into, like, being, trying to be a teacher in the school system, because of all that I saw. But I’m actually, I was thinking very recently about sort of the trauma that has been, especially on Black and Indigenous populations here in the Americas, and the schooling system... Because I think about, yeah, I heard the thing about our parents wanting us to be part of the school. You know, they fought to get schooling rights and all that. But yeah, it is very painful to hear about our histories and how we’ve been stripped of a lot of things. I have to look at other people that have written about my own history, that I don’t even know. And it’s like, how much trauma has actually been just from the schooling system, and coercive schooling, conventional schooling system? That we’re like... It almost like... I don’t know if we should ignore that. Especially as an Indigenous or a Black person. It’s like, it’s visceral in a way. It’s hard to think about it. So I’m writing about it a little bit, and I like I feel so much anger, and it’s just another part of the system. It’s just like, making us do, forget ourselves, forget our communities. Continually. And it just keeps getting worse. But I just wanted to bring that up.

Iris: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing. I know that there is so much trauma and wounds that we experience through school, but maybe we just assumed that that was life because all of us, most of us, went through school. So we just assumed that that was life. But how much of it was reinforced because of the school system or the school mindset? So I do think it’s important for us to name those things and to talk about how, how it harmed us. And... Yeah.

Participant: So I wanted to add on just a little bit. Just like, I want
to talk about, in terms of centuries of schooling, just centuries of reeducation of Black and Brown people in the Americas, and just like, how much compounds that, how much that’s compounded, like, now. I don’t know. That’s just what it would be. Just make it more clear, I guess.

Iris: Mmhmm. Yeah. You know, what Antonio was also talking about, like, how our education system in the States was formed and for what purpose? And if we learn more about that, if we go back to the history and understand how it was created and for what purpose, we can see that it was really not for our good and really was oppressive, to particularly Black Indigenous people. Yes. Well, I wanted to share my screen and just talk about — Okay. Because I think sometimes people, when I share about unschooling and stuff, people say, like, well, that’s really a choice of privilege. You know, like, it makes sense if you’re white, if you have a lot of money, if you can have one parent to stay home, if you can afford to have the social services that are provided in school, like, you can afford to pay for those yourselves. But I think...I really chafe against that, because if we look... Can you see this wheel of power and privilege? Like in the center is “power and privilege.” And as you move out, those are, you know, the more marginalized communities. And if we think about school, like, who is school really benefiting? What does school really reinforce? So I think I just wanted to open that up. Like, in our observations and experience with school, how does the school model reinforce positions of power and privilege instead of disrupting it? And maybe a follow up question or just another question is, how can unschooling be an act of resistance and liberation for those more on the outer rings? So we can just open it up and hear, what your thoughts are on that?

Participant: I’ll come from the teacher perspective again. I mean, I think I could probably speak to every single one of these, but I was what we call an ESE teacher. I worked with, I think the term I’ve learned this week, I’m hopefully — correct me if I’m incorrect, but — neurodiverse students. We were completely segregated. We had to be in trailers. We didn’t get to interact with really the general population, what they call the general population, at all. It was something that I fought for every day with those kids. Every time that they did have the interaction, it was always amazing and positive. But our school was definitely created for able-bodied students who, you know, were, quote, unquote, you know, doing all the things that they were supposed to do “on time.” And my students lacked a voice and they really even just lacked a presence or even to be viewed by other students in the school. And so therefore, a lot of stories were told about them throughout the school, by teachers, by other kids, and they really got a bad rap for something that they really played no part in at all. So that was definitely something that I witnessed: all these people on the outside of the circle, but one that, you know... Definitely can see it.

Participant: I’ll pop off... Jo just said something that, like, made
me have a lot of memories of when I was a teacher, because I was a special ed teacher for quite some time. And there was a lot of tracking going on. They track students from, really from Pre-K, honestly, in kindergarten, all the way up, from what you’re able to do based on your skills and the testing that they do with children at a young age. So you can kind of see how they segregate students, like, from the start, based on their abilities, and their skills, and also their behavior. And that just follows those kids all the way through, even up to high school. And that is something that has always bothered me, because as a person who struggled in school as a child, I experienced that my own self, like, being labeled as the poor reader or bad at math. You can’t take this test because you’re in the lower group. So I find that even from, like, four years old, they start by segregating children and separating them into these groups based on their ability, and it’s just so harmful.

Iris: Yes. Absolutely. I just think those labels that are placed upon children at an early age, where we’re pretty much classifying them, you know, into who is more worthy, who gets more attention, who is more valuable in the society. And people who don’t fit into those norms, into that center wheel of power and privilege, you know, they’re just left behind, they’re left to the wayside. And, and it’s easy to internalize those beliefs about ourselves when those are the messages that we are constantly getting.

Participant: You can even see that with actual schools, like school buildings themselves, like there are certain schools down the street that are falling apart, and then you have schools around the block that are beautiful. And you can just see the inequality, even just within the physical buildings and the spaces that these kids have to go to every day.

Participant: Yeah. I think that what you’re saying, Iris, is that when these people are cast aside — I see that so much — and also not only cast aside, but seen as wrong, seen as something that’s problematic. And one thing when I was in graduate school, I had one person who was getting their PhD who taught a class for — on — kinds of alternative, like, special education programs in schools. And this person showed us how the framework for inclusion in schools is often centered around this idea of the least restrictive environment. So for people who are neurodivergent, to the goal being putting them in least restrictive environment, which is often defined as a general education setting... And it’s so interesting how they have decided that a general education setting is less restrictive than any other, because I think it’s incredibly restrictive, often more restrictive than classrooms that are actually segregated for special education purposes, that teachers generally tend to have more freedom over how they conduct their space, and there’s less restriction over behavior and things like that. So while it’s, it’s just, like, an unsolvable problem within the structure of a conformist and obedience based model.

Iris: Yeah. Absolutely agree. Like when, like, the whole system is set up to try to conform and fit as many people into the system, right? And even though it may be an individual, teachers desire for it to be more inclusive or to have more space, it’s like, when you have 25 kids in your class, like, how are you going to manage all that and all the different needs within the group? It’s almost — – it’s really challenging. So just the system... I don’t know how it would make sense to make it work within that system.

Participant: And if I may just respond to what you were saying about
how you can often see from the outside how underserved a community is, how inequitable a space is just by looking at it, and I do want to, while holding that that’s absolutely true, like, their socioeconomic inequalities that make spaces less appropriate, but it’s also really hard to look at a space and know how free the people are inside. And I don’t think money is actually going to solve the problem with our system. I don’t think that is — there’s no capitalist answer. I think schools are constantly orienting problem-solving around funding, and that’s a major distraction from the core problems that enable all these symptoms to arise.

Iris: Yeah, I think we’re sort of, like, told this myth that public education is an equitable path. When we see, like, the way that it’s played out, there’s just so much underneath that that makes it not equitable. Like, it’s obvious. But we’re told, like, well, everybody has access to public education, so that makes it equitable. Well, that’s just not true. You know, we can see that in the way that it’s played out, that’s not, that’s not a reality. So we need to just understand that that’s a myth. We don’t have to buy into that lie that helps us to continue on this path instead of challenging it and disrupting it, right?

Participant: Yeah. That makes me think of how there’s a lot of money that gets funded into schools where there’s English language learners. And basically that money is just paying for these, you know, for kids who are bilingual or sometimes trilingual, whatever languages they are speaking, to almost just to make them feel shame, make their families feel shame and then just colonize them, essentially, in a way. They don’t... So I already think about that money sometimes just “serving marginalized communities,” in a way, to just colonize them even further. By just taking and stripping away languages that they know and then making them dislike their own languages. So that’s something I think about a lot, too, and it makes me really angry.

Participant: Can I take it back a little bit? It’s just so funny to think about how I grew up. I was speaking Spanish and English in my household very early on, actually Spanish first a little bit. And just how, like, it’s like, I just remember it being like, I’m shameful for... I feel ashamed for speaking Spanish. And then later on in schooling, it was like, all these white kids got to learn Spanish. And, like, it was just like, this weird... I don’t know. I didn’t think about it. I thought it was normal. I just, like, part of me sometimes feels like a lot of my close friends are white people who speak Spanish because they learned it, you know? But it’s like, I feel like I was shamed for that first. And then now you get to speak it. Like, you get to speak it. That’s so fucked up, you know? But that’s all. I’m a whirlwind of emotions, I guess.

Iris: Yeah. I think a lot of us who grew up not speaking English as our primary language when we were younger were shamed. My first language was also Chinese, and I lost a lot of it when I went to school because then I was being inundated with all this English language and English learning. And I know for a lot of immigrants, they actually encourage that in their children, because they want to help their children assimilate and be able to function well in the society. And so it is very sad when we are conditioned to feel ashamed of our languages and our culture, and then it gets appropriated and made cool and other people can take it and use it for however they want. It is a hard pill to swallow. And I do feel like unschooling can help us create an environment where we can resist that shame, where we can be fully proud of our cultures and who we are, and we can speak our own language in our own homes without feeling like this is an English only space. Or you need to get sent to a special class if you are speaking with bad grammar or whatever it is, you know? Like it’s where we can really celebrate ourselves for who we are.

Participant: I’ll jump in. I’m also noticing a lot of emotion, listening to all of you in this session. Yeah. I just want to really appreciate you, Iris, for... So my mom is ethnically Chinese also, and there aren’t a lot of Chinese voices in the unschooling space. And just like, I’ve been following Untigering, and kind of seeing you share more openly and really clearly and articulately about this stuff has been really nourishing for me in so many ways. And so I just want to appreciate you, not just for unschooling and actually taking that stuff with your children, but also, like, using your voice to, um, yeah, really talk about the nuances of it. And yeah, it just seems appropriate to share a little bit of my story, which is that I chose to unschool or to leave public school when I was eight years old, and so everything that you said about — my mom is very much a tiger mother. She’s like, definitely a tiger mom. And so I think, unschooling as an act of resistance, that choice that I made when I was eight years old was an act of desperation and resistance. And against mostly — because my dad was kind of more open to the idea, but my mom was like, no, like, everyone goes to school. Absolutely you need to go to school. This is how we survive. You know? Like what you’re saying about the survival, her coming from a background of oppression and of like, yeah, in order...so much fear around you don’t want to make yourself... It’s not even, like... you don’t do anything that makes you stand out, basically. You don’t make any choices that make you different than the rest of the group because that’s not safe. So that was the message that she grew up with and that she obviously very much carried with me. So me making this choice, like, being like, the only person in our community that wasn’t going to school was very scary for her. And so my mom and I were in conflict for most of my childhood and over this kind of issue, that I was just not having it. I was like, no, this is not... I need my freedom. And it’s just been an interesting... Just everything that we’re sharing here is making me think about these cycles of, you know, the cycles of oppression, but also the cycles of healing. And intergenerational healing, And how this can happen. And I think about, like, different communities and where they’re at in kind of, like, in the healing process. And how, yeah, I was lucky enough to be a young person that kind of came along at that moment when it was possible to kind of do some of that healing. And thinking now, just to end it on a happy note and hopefully an inspiration to other people who might be not as far along in that process, so my mom after, like, now I’m almost 30. She’s to the point now where she’s kind of seen my choices over time and seen kind of that liberation that has come to our family because of my choices. And now she’s, like, pro homeschooling, unschooling, and her grandchildren, my brother’s kids are now in public school, nd she’s the one that’s, like, maybe you guys should take them out of school. Maybe there’s other ways. Maybe I could unschool them. So she’s fully come full circle. And so it’s kind of a situation where she was my oppressor in that moment, right? But how this healing can happen if children are just given enough room to really be respected for those choices. And it’s tough and it’s a struggle, but...but, yeah. Just really all of everything that’s been shared here is just really moving to me, and I don’t have, like, all the words for it. But I thought I’d share a little bit of my story.

Iris: Yeah. Thank you so much. That’s so powerful just to see how your, you know, proactive, your pushback against your oppression and your choice to unschool yourself, like, brought healing to multiple generations. It doesn’t only go forward to the next generation, but it can heal the past generation, too. Because, like, what we see is, like, our parents were oftentimes making these choices because they were oppressed. Because they were going through trauma. Because they didn’t feel like they had any other choices. And so those who are hurt, hurt people. And so when we can resist that, when we can be a part of our own healing... And I think that does give permission to even our parents’ generation to begin some of that healing, too. And maybe we’re finding that that’s true of our own children, too, who are pushing back against us in our oppression of them. Right? And we are needing to face, like, oh, there’s stuff that I need to work through, because my child right in front of me is showing me that they’re not having any of that. And what do I have to work through in order to heal myself, in order to not pass down this trauma? And... yeah, just this pain and harm to the next generation? So thank you so much. That was really beautiful.

Iris: So we talked a lot about how, you know, within the school system, we’re seeing that power and privilege is really reinforced. So let’s just talk about unschooling now, or self-directed learning, and like, these positive examples that we see in our own lives, through either our own intersectional identities or our children’s or in the community around us. How we see these, like, unschooling or these self-directed spaces being a place where we are resisting that power and privilege.

[Cut audio or chat]

Antonio: Heather, are you talking to me?

Participant: Yeah. I just wanted to get some clarification. Sorry.

Antonio: Yeah. So I don’t know. Iris, I definitely don’t want to take this in a direction that you’re not intending to go. But when we talk so much about race and other forms of power, I do know that there has been this long time struggle within the unschooling and SDE community between people who generally agree about a lot of things in terms of trusting kids. But there is a camp that is fundamentally oriented towards positions of liberation, like, the goal is to help liberate everyone. And there are groups in the SDE world that might call themselves Libertarian, or they might call themselves “radical unschoolers,” or different things — and there’s a lot of bleed and I’m not trying to paint anyone into a corner, but — there is this situation where they see unschooling as a way to hack the system and to get their kids ahead. To get their kids in Harvard, to turn their kids into the next big tech giant. And when you want to talk about issues of white supremacy, for example, they’re just like, well, that’s irrelevant., let’s not waste our time on that. And so there is a, I think, an ideological struggle within the SDE community, a lot of which is sort of behind the scenes, but I do think it’s... It runs the risk of SDE eventually being co-opted into sort of a Libertarian, you know, “we can use SDE as a way to win the game of capitalism and benefit from all the ways, particularly white men, but... benefit from all the ways in which society benefits us without taking that on.” So I just think there’s a conversation to be had there. I don’t know if this is the right forum, but I think that there’s a real struggle there.

Iris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that’s why it’s important for us to have these conversations, and to see, is our framework of SDE, again, reinforcing that center circle? Or are we blowing the boxes off of it and really saying, this is the human experience? And how can we value everybody within this human experience? And as we said, unschooling is love and unschooling is freedom. How can we expand that to everyone? So it’s not just for me. It’s not just for my family, for my kids, so that they can have a better life and go to Harvard and make a lot of money. That’s not what we’re about. That’s not what I’m about. If you are, you’re probably not in the right space. But we are here for the liberation of all people, and so how can we participate in that? And that’s really why I sometimes, when I post things and people say, like, why are you talking about this anti-oppression thing? What does this have to do with #unschooling? And it’s just like, it’s all connected. It’s all about the liberation. It is about resisting these forms of oppression. And if you don’t get it, then — then your framework of unschooling, your motivations for unschooling are not the same as ours. And so I think it’s really important for us to have spaces like this, where maybe that white male dominant perspective is not the dominant perspective that is shared, where we can invite more, like, other voices, other people who have intersectional identities, who can bring a different perspective to this work that we do. So that it’s not just about what benefits me and mine, right? But it’s about, like, for everyone who is practicing this, how can we do it in a way that really lifts us all up and creates liberation for us all?

Iris:So for those of you who are practicing unschooling right now, or Self-Directed Education in any form, like, how are you seeing that as an act of resistance against, like, the center circle of power and privilege?

Participant: I’d like to go. This is Chavvy. For me, I noticed, well, for a long time now, I’ve been doing a lot of decolonizing work already. And my kids started schooling at a Montessori. And that was the only option that I knew back then that really focused on the whole person. And it was for me, I saw it as a huge contradiction to the adultism that happens and I see often in the conventional public school. And it was also my way of working on my own adultism, as well, to put her in Montessori. But it got so not financially accessible after a certain point. So we went to public school after that. But going to public school — I was scrambling, looking for other options to avoid public school, but we couldn’t avoid it. But finally, this coming year, we... You know. So it’s always been, I’m always trying to figure out a way to not put my child through this really oppressive system. I knew right away already, being a K through 12 public schooler myself, I knew that it was such a harmful place to be at and didn’t want my children to go through it. But I think the place that was really huge for me, in terms of the act of resistance, is that looking at how the system indoctrinates you and it’s all holding up this, this white supremacy and power and all of that, is that me finally saying, No, you’re not going to use me anymore to do that. It was more of like, no, I’m not letting you use me anymore. Especially around how I’m Asian, Cambodian. I’m Cambodian heritage, and seeing that being under the Asian umbrella, people with model minority, it’s like, nope, this is just another way of you using me in this school system, and I’m not letting you do that anymore. I’m not letting you use me, to pit me against other groups of people. I’m not going to allow you to do that. So that was my way of saying a big no, thank you. A big no. Not even a thank you. I was like, oh, hell no. And I noticed that the way, I was, when my 11 year old was going through school and the teacher... The teacher would always email saying she missed her homework. And I was like, why am I, like, doing the extension of your work, of checking in with homework and all that? I wasn’t a nice person to my kid when I was doing that. Like, why the hell should I be doing that? No. So that was me. That was my way of saying no more. But it’s been, like, a long journey to get to this place. And there were times right after Montessori where I was like, I got to figure out something else. It was like, for me, it was desperation as well. I came across unschooling and I learned so much about it, I loved it so much, knowing that the child is the whole person directing their own learning and stuff. But then it was me planting seeds in my family’s mind as we were going through public school and finally moving from the East Coast to the West Coast. Being away from other adults, like my parents and the elderlies, it just made a lot of sense. Now it’s like, good. I’m not under their their oppression and all of that, and their gaze. Now I can really take this opportunity and raise my young people the way — I think we were talking about this yesterday — like, to be a gardener instead of trying to shape them. Yeah, that’s my story. Thank you.

Iris: Thank you for sharing, Chavvy. Yeah. I think it’s like, when we’re parents that are part of the school system and we see how we’re participating in being our children’s oppressors, usually in ways that we don’t even care about, you know, like forcing a child to sit in front of a screen for hours on end without moving or all these things, it’s like, no. No, without the thank you. Right? Just no. So glad that you were able to take that step. I’m going to stop sharing my screen. Is that okay? If you want to continue to just look at this, you can just look up Wheel of Power and Privilege online, and I want to stop sharing my screen just so that I can see everybody and read the chat easier. Yes. So were there any other thoughts about how unschooling allows you... Like, especially with maybe your personal intersectional identities or your kids, whether they’re neurodivergent or BIPOC or whatever it is, how that allows you the freedom to just embrace the wholeness of who they are instead of trying to get them to fit into that inner circle?

Participant: Yeah. I wanted to say something. My son is almost five, and I felt like being out of school — – we’ve done a couple of things here and there, but for the most part, he’s been with me — – has really get him the freedom to make choices that I think generally in school would be very gendered. And I love that he doesn’t even think about it in a way, you know? So that has been a big, a big thing for me, like being able to just take him to the store and he picks the Barbie Mermaid or whatever. And without it, without even, like, he’ll be like, oh, do I want this little plastic pistol or do I want that Barbie Mermaid? I don’t know. And it seems like such a small little thing, but I don’t see anybody, any of my other acquaintances’ children making those very, just kind of innocent and ungendered choices. And so that’s been something that’s been very lovely for me to witness in my child.

Participant: I was just going to add that — Can you guys hear me, fine? — So I was just going to add how unschooling empowers us or makes me feel empowered... Iris, ask that question again so I can share? Bring my thought back, please?

Iris: Sure. I was just going to say, ask how unschooling allows you and your family to just embrace the wholeness of who your child is and your intersectional identities without trying to force them into that inner circle of power and privilege.

Participant: So yeah. Okay. So it’s just been a beautiful journey, to just see my children altogether just coming to their own. It’s been a long... I heard somebody say it’s been a journey, and this has been a really long journey for us. And it’s really been these stages and these processes of unlearning and being with them. So just seeing them... Because my daughter’s been home schooled, and our journey started out... As some, ours started as like, we brought school home. And then we transitioned into the unschooling, the self-directed learning. So just seeing them evolve... My oldest son, he’s gone to school all of his life. Just one year, I think the year that my husband passed, we home schooled him, but he’s been in school all his life. And then my middle guy, he’s been unschooled, he went to kindergarten. He’s been home schooled ever since after that. But just seeing them develop this confidence and who they are and figuring that out and owning it, it’s just really, really beautiful. Especially being like, they see the world in a different view, where they are really owning their own experiences. And for me, that is really, really freeing. And allowing them the space to figure out who they are, and me learning and unlearning things like to not control them and allow them that autonomy and... It’s just been a beautiful thing. And it’s hard to fully explain, but it brings my heart so much joy, because they don’t have the full struggles of the, I don’t know, the views of what others put on them. I mean, they do to a certain degree, because we’re influenced by society in different ways, but it is refreshing to see them move and be, and own their, their experiences, and figure out who they are. Like, I just see my son... He’s like an introvert. He’s a gamer. He’s not a big people people person. He is... But it’s all about building trust and relationships and stuff like that for him. And so people have so many opinions about where he should be or what he should be doing. But I just see him, as I continue to give him the space. I encourage him. And I’m like, so proud to see him just develop, because I keep encouraging him, like, you got this. You got it. You got it, because I just see him figuring it out, if that makes any sense. You know what I mean? I see him figuring it all out, and it’s really, really great to watch. And they have the support of me, so, of me, on their journey. So it’s just been empowering, encouraging, and very liberating. And it just brings my heart a lot of joy, because they’re having a different experience. And some of it they aren’t fully understanding. But I see the benefits. Because they’re very confident, even, even in their ignorance, if that makes sense. But it’s fun to watch, and that’s one of the things that I’m enjoying in the unschooling process.

Iris: Yeah, absolutely. Just seeing the freedom and the joy that our kids are living in is so...Like, that definitely reinforces for me why I’m doing this. It can be triggering sometimes, when we’re seeing our kids live a life of freedom that maybe we didn’t have. But it’s also very inspiring. It’s like, wow, you know yourself so well. You’re so confident. You don’t feel like you need to people please or do something just because somebody else thinks it’s cool. And, Lou, you were talking about your child being, like, an introvert and how you’re able to make space for that and accept him. And even within the schooling environment, there’s certain temperaments that are valued more than others, right? You need to be a leader. You need to raise your hand and be outspoken. Or like, you can’t just sit there and absorb, and you’re forced to work in groups when you’d rather not. It’s just like, all these ways that maybe the individual temperament of your child is not valued, because certain other ways of being are seen as more like, more proper or better in that school environment. So just having the freedom to accept our kids as they are is...It’s really powerful.

Participant: I’d like to share something, piggyback off of the things you said, Lou. It’s watching our kids thrive. I just, I’m trying to think as I speak right now, what came to mind was that the way unschooling is, that I’ve seen so far — and hearing what other folks have talked about — is really about connections and relationships with our young people. Is like, real, true, deep connections. And there’s something just really inherent about deep connection, it’s what we look for inherently as human beings. And that we are being, like, freely being human. And there’s something about how the conventional schooling system beats that out, squashes that out of us. So that when we’re disconnected from ourselves, when we’re disconnected from our community, and we’re disconnected from our parents, our young people, it’s easier to lay on even more oppression on us. It’s easier to manipulate folks who are disconnected from community, from themselves and so on and so forth. So I love that when we focus trusting our young people, on building that really deep connection with our young people, that, that itself is a huge act of resistance to the things that is being thrown at us. I just wanted to say, I think that’s the insight that I’m getting so far from, from listening to everyone here.

Participant: I would love to piggy back off of that and just say that this finding unschooling is like finding myself. I felt like I lost myself when I was in school, and there was just a lot of pain and... Oh, man. Trying not to get teary here. And then to watch my own children go through pain in school was really hard. It’s just been like a healing time.

Iris: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing, Heather. It is really, you know, a lot of this unschooling process is really healing for ourselves, as we need to deal with our own school wounds or the things that we went through in that process. So it is painful, but — There are things to grieve, and yet so many things to celebrate as we see what we can offer our kids. And I love, Chavvy, what you were saying in terms of like, it’s about connection and relationship. It really is about that. It’s just learning how to live in relationship with our kids without this, you know, framework of school to place on them. Where we’re just free to be together and to live life together and like, to embrace our whole selves. And I think something, Lou, that you shared, and how you said that your child — there was one year when, or you started unschooling when your husband passed away, and I think also just the freedom to respond to life as it comes, you know, instead of just chugging along and needing to go by a certain schedule or just like, the system... Where, like, things happen in our lives, right? Do we have the freedom to slow down, to take a break, to rest, to just focus on our mental health? Or is it all so academically focused, all about learning this information instead of seeing a child as a full, complete human being? And all of those aspects are important: the physical, the mental, intellectual, the emotional. Are we taking time and making space for all of that? Or is it all just about, like, content knowledge? Those things that somebody else has told us are important, right? But I know for me, unschooling has been so beautiful and powerful in giving me the freedom to just respond to life as it comes. Like, two years ago, we moved back from, we moved back to the States, from Asia. And it’s like, a huge international move. My kids were born in Asia. They lived there all their lives. And so, like, we were able to just take time to ease into life and to take things as they come, to spend time together as a family, to not feel pressure to, you know, work on school. And I love how unschooling can give us the freedom to do that, to respond to the realities and the challenges that life throws our way, whether it’s the pandemic or a loss in the family or whatever it is.

Participant: I wanted to, I was thinking... I was trying really hard about this question because... I’m trying to think really hard about this question you posed about how we’re practicing liberation within our spaces. I work at an SDE school, center, Village Free School in Portland. It’s one of those things where, like, I am one of the few BIPOC people in the whole community. So that question is hard for me, cause it’s like... What am I...1 in 5? In the whole thing? And it’s — because of the pandemic I don’t have all the time with the kids of color. But I think it’s weird, because I don’t have to, like, talk about race or race issues with the kids that much. Because they’re kids, they don’t really... They haven’t grown up enough to be, to know how privileged they’re going to be, let’s say, or, like, react to the system in that way. They’re just kids in their... They don’t see color. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say.
But it’s the parents, dealing with the parents and, like, you know, talking to them about... We’ve been reading the book “The Token,” I’m sure some of you know it or all of you know it. And it’s just been so helpful to be like, let’s not talk about... We’re in White City Ville. Like, we’re talking about trying to get more kids of color to come to our school. Let’s talk about the people you do know, me and other people, who are like, let’s talk about what does it mean to be tokenized and stuff like that. And to support your actual...build relationships with the people of color in the BIPOC community that, you know. Trying to have those conversations with parents has been really helpful. And I really, really, like, am so thankful that my co-workers, most of them white, are like... We’re all taking this head on, but they’re taking a lot of time to, like, talk to white parents and me, asking me, you don’t have to engage if you don’t want to. Just say your truth. And so I think that’s been really helpful. It’s all connected. It’s like, yeah, maybe it’s not all about the students at this point. It’s about talking to the parents. And it’s so helpful, because obviously these kids go home and they learn whatever lessons they are going to learn at home, and some of them are going to be very problematic. Yeah. Yeah. White all over the place...

Iris: So, Daveed, have you found that the parents are receptive?

Daveed: I found that a lot of them are very receptive. Yeah. There’s part of me that still has anxiety over it — – If we bring this up, one, are they going to take their kids out? And but, I feel like it’s been really good. I’m really happy with this new chapter, just, like, asking these questions. And we were in... In Portland, there’s so many protests and so many conversations around this. So it’s like, we had to talk about this stuff. We had to. And I’m glad that we were all willing to talk about it as co-workers, as with parents.

Iris: That’s great. Yeah. I think it’s, again, important for us to talk about why unschooling is not just about dealing with adultism, but it’s dealing with all the other isms, too. So it is important for us to bring that to the awareness of maybe many of the white folks who choose to do this for the liberation of their own children. But like many have said in the chat, that it’s more than that. And I love that you’re able to talk with the parents and deal with this in a collective way. Yeah.

Iris: I think we have about five minutes left. So get in all your words now or ask any questions that you have before we have to wrap things up.

[Multiple voices].

Participant: Go ahead.

Participant: No, go ahead.

Participant: I was going to say something to piggy back a little bit, what you were saying about going back to the unschooling and the freedom and also, what else did you say? Oh, it made me think about... I think it was like, just I think, dealing with ourselves. Can you guys hear me just fine? Okay. And the freedom of, of me being able to take that time that I needed to grieve when I needed to grieve, when I was going through that, and that was really, really a great moment for me because, I mean, not a great moment because it’s been, like, more of a journey, but just being able to have that freedom. Because we are just, we’re whole people. And so society will tell us to compartmentalize every aspect of ourselves, but we can’t. We don’t. I know, I don’t. I’m just, like, a whole person. Like, I’m affected. Like, my mind is totally affected by what has happened. And I needed to process that information and process what was even happening for myself and that whole experience. And it was just very, very hard. And so just the idea of us home schooling and then transitioned to unschooling, but also being an entrepreneur, also gave me that freedom to be able to do those things, to take up as much space and as much time as I needed. And I really appreciate the idea, the freedom of the whole process, of both of those — – unschooling and the entrepreneurship, because it’s just truly liberating. Because wow... Like, as I come out on the other side, I’m like, Dang. Wow. That is powerful because I did that. I took up that time. I took up that space. And it mattered to me. And it mattered to the people that I love, which were my children. That’s all that matters. And it was just a very serious time. I mean, it still is, but it was just a really great and I’m happy I didn’t send my children to school at that time because, yeah, coming out on the other side, I’m just like, wow, this has really been, like, a hard thing, but a beautiful thing. So, yeah, just wanted to share that.

Participant: I just want to say thank you to everybody. But, Lou, I was in one with you yesterday about technology. And, like, I’m like a no screen person. And after listening to you guys talk, I was going back with my spouse, and I was like, oh, my god, I don’t know. I just don’t know what to do... My mind... But just listening to you all talk, I mean, the liberation that I feel as a parent who has been regulating and trying to just control my daughter in so many ways... And she’s four now. It started when she was three that she was like, No. No, no. All the time. And I’m like, what happened to my beautiful little baby who always did what I wanted her to do? And now I’m realizing that it wasn’t really her that changed. It was that I decided when she was three and I had another kid, another daughter, that she needed to grow up. And she needed to know what to do. And she needed to act a certain way. And seriously, hearing from you all, it’s just a weight has been lifted in such an amazing way, especially coming from a teacher — I’m a crier — like especially coming from a teacher’s point of view. You know, I did tell myself I’m not going to push her. She’s young. She doesn’t need to be able to do any of these things yet. I’m just going to introduce them to her and see how she does. And we had a lot of fun. But it’s also, just now hearing so many wonderful stories about parents who have just let go. And I want to trust her. She’s such a beautiful little being, and I want that for her. And I just truly appreciate you all on such a level, because this is just so different than anything else that, any sort of training or anything that I’ve been to. And I just feel like it’s validating to me to know that things that I’ve thought of in the past, there’s — there’s a reason why I felt that way. So. Yeah.

Iris: Thank you. That’s so beautiful. I’m getting all, you know, too. Yeah. I think so much of our desire to control our kids is based on fear, based on like, the what-ifs? The “what is what’s going to happen if I allow my child to do this?” And when we respond out of fear, that’s just like, that’s just a very reactive place to be. But how to calm ourselves and be in a place of trust? Be in a place of love and acceptance? And so that we don’t need to react, but enter into the things that they love and to not be afraid of it, you know? So, yeah. Thank you so much for everybody’s wisdom and for sharing your stories.

It’s so powerful because these are very countercultural, radical ways of being with our kids. And so many of us have never seen it done. We don’t know how it works. We don’t know if it will work. And so hearing other people share their stories is just so powerful and can calm all the doubts and anxieties that are going on within us so that we can let go, trust, and see the beautiful things that happen when we do that.

So thank you so much to everyone. I love this conversation. I will go back and read all the comments. So thank you so much.

 
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