On Unschooling and Blackness.
Our daughters don’t go to school. We’re Black people. We’re not yet millionaires, nor do we come from a financially well-off family. Kris and I are both full-time entrepreneurs. We are not anarchists.
We are not fundamentalists of any kind. We claim no religion. We do not hate schools. We do not live off-grid. I don’t knit or crochet or bake or sew. I’m not a raw vegan (all the time).
And still, we practice unschooling; a way of living that calls for daily presence, intuition-building, curiosity-following, and the prioritization of self-exploration and self-expression over money and test scores.
My family represents a growing number of people of color who have reclaimed our relationships with learning and living through unschooling. Though there are many Black families who homeschool, and include some aspects of what I like to call free-range learning, most of the ones that I know of still use a pre-defined curriculum.
And they administer tests. And their daily structure is based (if even in part) on information the parents have decided that the children should know. Unschooling is the opposite of that.
I make the distinction, not because I think one is wrong and one is right, but because I want to clarify the primary difference between homeschooling and unschooling. And because I’m realizing how important it is for me as a Black woman to share the reality that unschooling can be for us too.
We (my husband and our two daughters, ages 10 and 8) decided three years ago, to stop planning and start practicing when it came to the life we wanted to live.
We took a long hard look at all the things that felt uphill, and recognized that the structure within which we were operating, was designed for a different path than the one we wanted. We felt tethered to our responsibilities, most of which were financially heavy, but emotionally malnourished.
We were muted by the idea of letting go of the American Dream we’d worked so very hard to realize. We were stifled by fear of losing all the “stuff” we’d acquired over the years.In other words, we presented well, but in many aspects, we were not present.
One of the reasons I sat on the shores of an un-muted life for so long was my beliefs. I believed that I wouldn’t be a responsible parent if I didn’t follow a traditional path. I believed that the life I truly wanted to live was one that would be available to me eventually, but never now.
And I believed that my biggest desires were sitting on some top shelf, out of reach for now, but attainable once I had paid my dues (read: spent a few decades in corporate, stacking dough).
But my own Old Knowings wouldn’t let me stay in that fear-based space. I couldn’t keep denying the truth about how I wanted to feel. I couldn’t shake the idea that it was possible for me to enjoy my life while I was actually living it, and not later, after I had earned the right to joy.
And I damn sure couldn’t deny that my daughters did not deserve to live a lid-on life, where we focused on weekends, vacations, getaways, and summer breaks.
We unschool, we do work we love, we travel as often as we can, and we bring home with us wherever we go. We still work hard. We still have more unmuting to do, and we’re still learning. But for me, the difference between three years ago and today is this:
Today, my actions are consistently in alignment with my desires. My goals, conversations, relationships, and efforts are in accordance with the type of life I want. I do not feel muted by what I do with my day. I do not “vacate” my life for a couple of weeks at a time. I do not hate Mondays. My Sundays are no longer riddled with anxiety about the upcoming week. I am me in all that I do. I am myself for a living.
I share this with you because perhaps you identify with me. Perhaps we’ve got similar backgrounds or ideologies. Perhaps we both come from families of little financial means, plenty of hope, and a skewed idea of the American Dream
If you do identify with my ideas and mindset, I want you to do one thing today: Ask yourself whether whatever you’re doing with your days is in alignment with the life you desire. In other words, question the link between your actions and your beliefs.
I was watching a video about unschooling today, and in it, a young Black man named Mathew Davis was asked to explain unschooling. I enjoyed the short interview, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that a black male was sharing his view on alternative learning.
I feel that our voices are severely underrepresented in the space of unschooling in particular, and I’m writing and teaching in part to change that reality.
Because the reality is that Black unschoolers exist, which means that Black people can in fact unschool, and are in fact successfully helping their children to understand themselves, information, the world, and the possibility of a rich, emotionally-fulfilling, and financially rewarding life.
Unfortunately, Mathew disagrees, and 2 minutes and 47 seconds into THIS VIDEO, Mathew tells us why. He is asked whether he sees any limitations to unschooling. He said yes, and went on to say that minorities and impoverished people can’t unschool.
I think Mathew is a brilliant young man, but his perspective on what it means to thrive in America is a lid-on philosophy to which I am vehemently opposed. If we took the stance that certain things are only for certain people, I shudder to think of all the ways that women, immigrants, the elderly, poor people, and all other categories of traditionally marginalized groups would rise out of their situations and into fulfilling lives.
Check out the video of Mathew’s interview and draw your own conclusions. But please, PLEASE, as you consider important life topics like education and lifestyle, don’t forget about the human ability to create what it needs to thrive. Try not to let a broken system make you a person who becomes what she needs to be, instead of WHO she wants to be. Okay?