Akilah S. Richards
writer | mama | partner | podcaster | digital nomad | unschooling activist
We cannot keep using tools of oppression and expect to raise free people.
Akilah S. Richards is an unschooling podcaster, writer, and founding board member of The Alliance for Self-Directed Education. Her work both challenges and encourages social justice minded people to explore privilege and power in their relationships with children. In her own family, Akilah, her partner, and their two daughters, use unschooling as a tool for decolonizing education and liberating themselves from oppressive, exclusive systems. Find her conversations and commentary at Fare of the Free Child Podcast where Akilah supports, connects, and highlights people of color designing their own liberation through Self-Directed Education and love-centered community building. Akilah’s website is the number one stop for tools on raising free people through her writing, podcasts and speaking schedule.
Adebayo C. Akomolafe
poet | philosopher | psychologist | professor | passionate about the preposterous
The times are urgent, let us slow down.
Bayo Akomolafe (Ph.D.) considers his most sacred work to be learning how to be with his daughter and son, Alethea Aanya and Kyah Jayden – and their mother, his wife and “life-nectar”, Ijeoma. “To learn the importance of insignificance” is the way he frames a desire to reacquaint himself with a world that is irretrievably entangled, preposterously alive and completely partial. Bayo was born in 1983 into a Christian home, and to Yoruba parents in western Nigeria. Losing his diplomat father to a sudden heart complication, Bayo became a reclusive teenager, seeking to get to the “heart of the matter” as a response to his painful loss. He sought to apply himself to the extremes of his social conditioning, his faith, and his eventual training as a clinical psychologist – only to find that something else beyond articulation was tugging at his sleeves, wanting to be noticed. After meeting with traditional healers as part of his quest to understand trauma, mental wellbeing and healing in new ways, his deep questions and concerns for decolonized landscapes congealed into a life devoted to exploring the nuances of a “magical” world “too promiscuous to fit neatly into our fondest notions of it.” A renegade academic, lecturer, speaker, and proud diaper-changer, Bayo curates an earth-wide organization (The Emergence Network) for the re-calibration of our ability to respond to civilizational crisis – a project framed within a feminist ethos and inspired by indigenous cosmologies. He considers this a shared art – exploring the edges of the intelligible, dancing with posthumanist ideas, dabbling in the mysteries of quantum mechanics and the liberating sermon of an ecofeminism text, and talking with others about how to host a festival of radical silence on a street in London – and part of his inner struggle to regain a sense of rootedness to his community. He also hosts a course (We Will Dance with Mountains) among other offerings. In short, Bayo has given up his longing for the “end-time” and is learning to live in the “mean time”. In the middle, where we must live with confusion and make do with partial answers. His greatest vocation is however learning to be a satellite orbiting his greatest gift, his goddess Ijeoma, and knowing the blessings of her gravity. He speaks and teaches about his experiences around the world, and then returns to his adopted home in Chennai, India – “where the occasional whiff of cow dung dancing in the air is another invitation to explore the vitality of a world that is never still and always surprising.” Bayo has authored two books, ‘We Will Tell Our Own Story!’ and ‘These Wilds Beyond our Fences: Letters to My Daughter on Humanity’s Search for Home’
Kaolin Thomson Woods
parent | researcher | musician | artist | educator
Learning To Transgress: Learning as a Practice of Freedom
For the past three years, seasoned musician, artist, educator, researcher and parent, Kaolin Thomson, has focussed her research on unschooling, self-directed learning, and the impact this has on our way of seeing the world. Recently completing her Masters of Art, Fine Art, at Wits University, Kaolin revisits her exhibition titled Learning to Transgress, Learning as a Practice of Freedom. Kaolin’s work with her own children as co-researchers draws on the powerful writing of leading voices such as Sir Ken Robinson, John Holt, Peter Gray, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Phil Jones, Gunther Kress and Stanley Milgram. The intimate nature of the methodology and practice, she had to consider her own identity, role and collusion as a parent and teacher within this system that she is critiquing. Some of the themes that have distilled in this process have been the partnership of colonisation, christianity and capitalism in South African education, white supremacy, discipline vs punishment, sexism, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, mental health, children’s rights, collaboration vs coercion, perpetuation of industrial age teaching practices, and the hierarchy of languages, symbols and “subjects”. Never scared of controversy, Kaolin takes a hard, critical look at schooling and its underlying colonial agenda.
In 1996, Kaolin was awarded the Martienssen Prize for the best final year art work at Wits. The work, titled Useful Objects but more famously known as The Vagina Ashtray, skyrocketed the artist to notoriety, and she was later named one of the Mail & Guardian’s newsmakers of the year. She followed this with the release of the critically acclaimed single and album with her band, Naked, which cemented her position as a cutting edge and critical artist in the feminist discourse. She continued to collaborate on several international projects, including the highly acclaimed One Giant Leap, which included the voices of Baaba Maal, Robbie Williams, Michael Stipe and Faithless, and she recorded with Brian Eno (David Bowie, U2, Coldplay, Roxy Music) in South Africa and the UK. She released her debut solo album titled All I Am, and was awarded a SAMA for best pop album. She then formed a film company with her late husband, and together they worked on adventure films. She went on to write music for several documentaries including for National Geographic and Discovery TV. Never shying from a challenge, in 2005 Kaolin was awarded provincial athletics colours for the marathon and half marathon, and she competed in both disciplines at the National Championships. The same year, she had her first solo exhibition of paintings. Titled The Colour of F, the show focussed on sexual identity, and was a sellout success. Soon after that, she moved with her young family to the KZN Midlands, where she found herself drawn into arts education, and by 2010, she was appointed HOD Arts and Culture at the local private school. Tragically, she lost her husband in a mountain climbing accident that same year. She continued to work in arts education, but became increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the education system, and eventually resigned in 2015 to focus on furthering her studies which has culminated in this research. Her two youngest children do not attend formal schooling and are active unschoolers.