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Unschooling is that radical space of possibility of the practice of freedom where each of us can live up to our own images of who we are and who we can be. Unschooling is ultimately the practice of freedom!

Currently western society, previously colonised societies and settler societies all favour a dominator parenting model, a poisonous pedagogy of sorts that take from children their agency and act on and for them without their consent. In contrast, unschooling, as a practice of freedom, is a practice of learning without the coercion of schooling and living in partnership with children, respecting the agency of children and refraining from acting on and for them without their consent.

Most of the attention in unschooling circles, including mine, is directed at the learning aspect of unschooling rather than the parenting aspect.

However, it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that the living in partnership aspect of unschooling is where the real potential for the transformation of our society lies. It is in these relationships based on the ideals of respect, trust, acceptance, and authenticity where the seeds for the kind of humans we want to live with and the kind of world we want to live in are planted. This is where the seeds of freedom, love and respect are nurtured. This is not a novel concept at all. Prior to the cultural destruction of settler colonialism, partnership parenting was the norm in many first nation cultures — cultures that not coincidentally were also egalitarian in nature. On the other hand, we also know that at the time of the rise of Nazi Germany, a particularly severe and violent form of dominator parenting was in practice.

It is impossible to ignore the overlap between the kind of parenting in practice and the kind of society it is practiced in, and it is clear to see that dominator parenting and education reproduces and maintains a dominator society. Even though we cannot imagine it yet, large scale adoption of partnership parenting would radically transform society into a more equitable one.

For me, this radical space of possibility was the missing piece of the puzzle: Our struggle to create an egalitarian society in this post-colonial world excluded the struggle to end the oppression of children. To end oppression in our society, we have to urgently end the oppression of children, the precursor to all other types of oppressions. That’s the missing piece.

Dr Stacey Patton sums this up perfectly:

“Generations of scholars and activists have examined race, gender, class and sexuality as categories of oppression. They have not extended the same courtesy to the category of childhood, to the oppressions and sufferings of children.
But the fact is you can’t reproduce any order of societal oppression based on race, gender, class or sexuality without first destroying each generation of young people as soon as they enter the world.”

It seems futile to work towards dismantling dominator models in one space while ignoring the domination in play in other spaces. As unschoolers we need to continuously advocate for society to acknowledge and dismantle the institutions and practices that are oppressive to children, notably dominator parenting and forced schooling, and to advocate for the inclusion of the oppression of children in the broader fight against oppression. In a similar fashion, 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. In our work towards dismantling the structures that oppress children, we simultaneously work towards dismantling the broader institutional, economic and social structures that oppress all people.

This is the hope of unschooling that I want to celebrate today. The radical space of the possibility of freedom!

Further Reading

In For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence, Alice Miller describes in detail the parenting practices of members of Nazi party, including Adolf Hitler.  This a great essay to get going with Alice Miller’s work.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling Indigenous voices of her generation.  She writes a powerful piece Turning Inward $ Purposefully Educating Our Own.

Andrea Landry is Anishinaabe from Pawgwasheeng (Pays Plat First Nation).  A good start is her essay Smash the colonial patriarchy. Restore the Indigenous Matriarchy.

Teresa Graham Brett’s Parenting For Social Change is great place to begin the transition to embracing Partnership Parenting

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