If ever there was a word whose existence was constantly questioned, it is this one: Unschooling. Many words die while new ones are born; this happens all the time. Some evolve to mean completely different things. Will the word unschooling die or evolve?
For a word that’s just over 40 years young, its usage is certainly under huge pressure and evolving pretty fast. It reminds me very much of the wrestling of meanings of feminism.
A current orientation of unschooling that is gaining momentum and bringing the word itself into question is that of unschooling as social change and as a tool for decolonisation. This orientation is rooted within a broader human rights framework and within the framework of reconnecting with ancestral ways of living and learning in some cultures. As such, the work towards dismantling the systemic inequality and oppression faced by marginalised and colonised people the world over happens alongside the work of dismantling the systemic inequality and oppression faced by young people.
But this is just one orientation of unschooling. Like feminism, there are multiple lenses and orientations to unschooling. Also like feminism, the practice and lenses of unschooling are constantly evolving. And still like feminism: The practice of unschooling predates the coining of the word in the same way the practice of feminism in all its various forms predates the movement and popular usage of the word. Women have been doing this work for as long as patriarchy has been in existence, and many cultures have practiced partnership parenting and non-coercive learning long before the term unschooling had been coined.
In the early days of feminism, the dominant orientation focussed on women’s participation in the world as it was: The right to work and vote in a settler, colonial, capitalist world. What was missing, was its rooting within a broader human rights framework. It ignored all the intersections of race, class, sexual orientation, ability etc. that women find themselves in. It rejected its transformative potential towards a socially just society. That’s not to say that the framing of women’s rights at the intersections was missing. It was always there, but it was bourgeois feminism that was getting most of the airtime. Unschooling seems to be following a similar route.
So it was only natural that the word feminism was often (and still is) rejected by women that didn’t identify with the narrowness of bourgeois feminism (it was just feminism then). But others embraced the word and refined it into the various orientations we have today. Orientations that are grounded in and in response to the situations women find themselves in or that are aligned with their values and philosophies. There isn’t and there shouldn’t be a one size fits all feminism. There’s a dynamism that comes with having orientations such as Socialist Feminism, Marxist Feminism, Muslim Feminism, Eco Feminism, Intersectional Feminism. It’s what makes feminism antifragile.
Intersectional feminism resonates with me. It is an articulation of feminism rooted in the reality of the various, often overlapping, systems of oppression and discrimination that women face. Rooted at the intersections of gender, race, class, sexuality, ability etc.
So when Bayo Akomolafe says that unschooling is an ethical response to the broken world we find ourselves in, I understand this to mean intersectional unschooling. An orientation of unschooling that includes the dismantling of the systems breaking our world: Patriarchy, racism, neocolonialism, capitalism, etc. It’s not enough to be raising free people, we need to raise free, aware people towards a transformed world. Unschooling as an ethical response can only be an intersectional one, right?
In the same way that the word feminism was rejected by women for whom there was no resonance with the practice, unschooling is also being rejected by those whose orientation of unschooling is rooted in social change/decolonisation. I’m guessing that Muslim or Christian unschoolers might have similar misgivings.
While some may find and use new terminology in lieu of unschooling, we’re probably also going to see various orientations to unschooling with their own descriptors emerging. There isn’t and shouldn’t be a one size fits all unschooling. A healthy thriving unschooling movement that challenges adultism and coercive schooling needs to be reflective of the diverse ways people practice it and understand it to be. Multiple orientations, regardless of the terminology used, is a good thing. It’s what will keep unschooling antifragile. As far as terminology goes, how does intersectional unschooling sit with you?
Some Notes and Links
The original semantic musing
UNSCHOOLING UNPACKED – A SEMANTIC MUSING
This piece introduces some history of the word unschooling, other objections to the word, alternative phrasing and my defence of the word unschooling.
Intersectional Unschooling – A work in progress explanation
An orientation of unschooling in which the practice of living and learning with freedom in partnership & community that is rooted within the challenges of living in settler colonial, patriarchal societies and responding to the range of oppressive systems that affect people and planet.
A short piece explaining intersectional feminism
Angela Davis provides a critique of Bourgeois and Mainstream feminism and shares further on intersectionality.
What intersectional unschooling looks like
Check out Fare of the Free Child Podcast. It’s the most comprehensive space where you will meet a different intersectional unschooler, intersectional unschooling space or intersectional unschooling idea in every episode. The range and depth is mind shifting. There’s also the episode talking specifically about Raising Free Aware People, as follow up on the Raising Free People, Raising Aware People panel discussion at the Learning Reimagined: Unschooling as Decolonisation conference.
An older piece exploring Unschooling as Social Change
“……while unschooling is the practice of freedom in our homes, a natural extension of unschooling should be to acknowledge and dismantle the structures, practices, behaviours and values of domination in society that continue to oppress numerous groups of people. “
Unschooling as Decolonisation
From Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure , risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.”
Mother | Wife | Unschooler | Education Freedom Advocate | Child Rights Advocate | Learning Reimagined Conference Convenor | She/Her
For the last 25 years, Zakiyya has been experimenting with living and learning in freedom, also known as unschooling. She is an advocate for freedom in education. Her three children have never been to school, living instead as if the idea of schooling doesn’t exist. She has been supporting and has been consistently sharing her reflections on the intersections of unschooling with decolonisation, social change and unschooling’s foundational role in social justice. She convened the Learning Reimagined Conferences of 2017 and 2018, both groundbreaking in their own rights with the 2018 conference being the first conference globally to focus on the socio-political dimensions of Unschooling, Decolonisation and Social Change.