My thoughts on unschooling as decolonisation are constantly evolving as I connect with and learn from others on a similar journey. My reflections, inspired by these connections and reading, for the moment look a little like this:
How do I show up every day to decolonise myself?
How I reconcile my attachment to pizza with knowing that decolonising my diet is one of the actions I need to take to decolonise?
What of the other contradictions I live with?
How do I read, and what do I read, watch and say?
How do I keep developing an awareness of the ways and spaces that I still need to work on?
My unschooling specific reflections (because my colonised mind still likes categories) look something like this:
Is my unschooling colonising and perpetuating further colonialism and erasure?
What am I doing to acknowledge that this practice of unschooling predates colonialism and was/is a practice of countless indigenous communities—most of whom have been violently killed by colonialism and their knowledge erased or appropriated?
How aware am I about my own lens when I am reading about unschooling from a settler’s perspective?
What else do I need to know and do?
Schooling and Colonisation
In a previous piece titled Learning Reimagined: Why Unschooling as Decolonisation I wrote:
“Compulsory schools are designed in the image of colonialism. Colonialism’s modality was power and violence. Compulsory schools’ modality is power and violence. Colonialism was/is oppressive. Compulsory schooling is oppressive. Colonialism took away people’s freedoms to define the trajectory of their cultures and nations for themselves. Compulsory schooling takes away from young people the freedom to define their own growths and potentials. Colonialism imposed on nations and peoples an economic system that is rigged in favour of a minority to the detriment of the majority. Its values are competition, winning, control, profit, individualism. Schooling imposes on young people an education system that is rigged in favour of a minority and to the detriment of the majority. The values of schooling are competition, winning, control, results and individualism. We’re all hurting in this system.
That the schooling system is fashioned in the image of colonialism is not its worst attribute. Its real danger is that compulsory schooling upholds and maintains colonialism by upholding colonial values that the colonising countries or settlers still benefit from. It is one of the master’s primary tools to keeps the master’s house intact. It is a system of separation of parents and siblings, separation of different groupings, of the creation of the ‘other’, of separating knowledge into subjects while devaluing some knowledge and privileging others, of the ‘class’room that maintains the class structure, of dominion of humans over nature, of endless wars, of poverty, of loneliness, of diminishing mental health, of….
As unschoolers we can see that the master’s tool won’t dismantle the master’s house. But unschooling potentially can!”
I want to reflect further on that word potentially.
Unschooling and Decolonisation
It was embarking on this path of unschooling that led me to decolonisation. Or maybe I would have got there anyway, I don’t know. Though I tend to talk about unschooling as decolonisation, I don’t view unschooling as the only way to decolonise. The decolonisation process is different for everyone and depends on each person’s social and cultural history, whether they are descendants of colonisers or the colonised, whether they are indigenous or non-indigenous to the lands they live on, and if non-indigenous, whether they are from other colonised spaces or settlers. Furthermore, within these categories there are people that have different relationships with the colonial institutions of schools and euroversities (universities)—I am using euroversities because it feels like a more accurate term. We all have different things to consider. These are my thoughts on this process.
As I delved deeper into the wisdom of partnership parenting, I came to see that the roots of what I often refer to as a ‘partnership parenting paradigm’ was and in some spaces still is the norm in many indigenous societies. The irony is that I was alerted to this connection by reading pieces on the parenting, education and play of hunter-gatherers written by a settler. As is the norm for so much settler writing, these pieces of incredibly useful information are presented without any mention of the context settler-colonialism’s violent erasure of these communities and their ways of living. Despite that, my awareness of the connection between parenting and decolonisation grew into an understanding that my parenting is and must be decolonising.
Unlike decolonising my diet, decolonising my parenting is an amazing journey. I get the dual benefits of enjoying living with my children in a culture of respect and partnership while simultaneously sticking my finger to colonialism. With enjoyment comes responsibility (yes, I know that’s not how the line goes in the movie). I feel a responsibility to acknowledge the gift of this ancestral wisdom of parenting and community, to mourn colonialism’s violent erasure of the people embodying this wisdom and the wisdom itself, and finally to acknowledge that it is an honour and privilege to be able to join and learn from the community of folks living and working to reimagine, reconnect and regenerate this wisdom in how we relate to young people.
Being Conscious and Intentional
Partnership parenting is a fundamental component of unschooling. After all, how does one freely explore all the kinds of knowledge and interests out there if one is not free to be authentic and express oneself freely. It’s this free exploration of any and all knowledge inherent in unschooling which challenges the dominant knowledge system that makes unschooling potentially decolonising.
But not automatically.
I can’t see how unschooling can be decolonising if we’re not conscious and intentional about it. Not while the settler-colonial knowledge system is our dominant knowledge system, in schools, academia and the popular media. Not while we’re still living with the effects of the epistemicide and knowledge appropriation which accompanied the four major genocides in modern history that set off the trajectory to where we are today.
Furthermore, we’re still living with a covert form of epistemicide in the silencing of young people every day, in extinguishing their natural creativity and curiosity, coercing them to conform to the requirements of modern industrial schooling and euroversities that legitimise only settler-colonial knowledge. The internet, media, books, entertainment, the much lauded MOOCs and free online schooling all extend the reach and influence of settler-colonial knowledge and its accompanying mindset. Exploring the dominant knowledge system with the freedom inherent in unschooling isn’t and can’t be decolonising. It isn’t liberatory. Freely exploring this dominant knowledge system means we freely arrive at the conclusion that our ancestors and their knowledge systems contributed minimally to the knowledge systems we know in the world. The difference between an unschooler and schooled child in absorbing the underlying message that we have no ancestral knowledge that is worth knowing or is useful, is that the unschooler probably got to the enjoy the journey a whole lot more and both are damaged in the process.
However, if we’re conscious and intentional about decolonising our unschooling, then we can develop a liberated picture of ourselves, our histories and our lens with which we engage in the world. We will know that our knowledge and ways of knowing and living was violently erased, that much of it was appropriated and repackaged as ‘new’ and originating from white European males.
It’s precisely when our unschooling is not conscious and intentional about decolonising that we end up engaging in harmful practices that further uphold colonialism. One way of being harmful is when we explore parenting, community and learning systems of indigenous communities, extract what is useful, and write about it to further support unschooling while making no mention of the historical circumstances of their demise. It’s that erasure and indifference to the surviving communities that ends up upholding colonialism. Worse, we might be tempted to extend saviour hands to try and save them by inviting them to this ‘new’ liberating paradigm called unschooling. This erasure also means we don’t got to decolonise ourselves – we don’t get to see and behave differently and consciously step out of harmful ways of being and engaging.
Other examples of practices within our unschooling paradigm that maintains colonialism:
We ignore the racism and sexism of, for example, Dr Seuss because his children’s books are great. We fail to interrogate other celebrated authors’ lens in how they understand colonialism, empire and people of the majority world.
We use our creative writing and dramatic talents and collectively put on drama productions on the Disney version of Pocahontas. There are countless ways in which we could remain colonised and uphold colonialism even as we practice a decolonised pedagogy.
As much as unschooling can be decolonising, it can also be oppressive. Unschooling without a conscious and intentional decolonisation focus will have us replicating the same oppressive systems we live in. As unschoolers, if we are not actively trying to understand and dismantle continued colonialism, we are upholding it.
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.