Thursday, May 13, 2010

unschooling, deschooling our kids?

Recently, someone posted on this on their facebook:

I responded with:

I really like this idea. I just wonder how do people afford to do something like this? I would LOVE to home school my kid. But I'm a single mom on welfare (who may/may not get child support every month) going to school so I can actually be maybe somewhat competitive in the awful job market (so I can afford to buy food by myself someday! pay bills! be self-sufficient, save up for my kid's future education). I also live in North Dakota and while the classrooms are small and my kid is thriving in public school (based on ND educational standards), there are no options of co-op schools, montessori, etc. My kid luckily is in the gifted and talented program, so gets to touch on some of the critical thinking skills (which from my understanding - has a huge positive impact on kids). We do unschooling at home when we can, navigating the restrictive gender roles, family structures, and sexuality that are enforced in public schools, deconstruct the history that kids learn in public schools, and continue positive reenforcement of her own creativity, autonomy, self-love, and self-respect. I agree with what (previous person who commented) said about homeschooling and the social reasons. My kid loves to be around her friends and gets a lot of benefit from that. I don't know many home schooled kids in the city I live in and the ones I do, do not live near me (even if they did - I have school, who'd watch my kid?) My kid is also luck to be involved with theatre stuff during the summer, after school, and gets involved with the yearly Talent Show at her school. She gets to learn Spanish next year in school (something I'd have no time or resources to do and have wanted to for a long time). I can and do see the destructive consequences of public schools and I see the wonderful, loving benefits of homeschooling/deschooling/unschooling. But unfortunately, a lot of these are based on positions of privilege and oppression, it's a really hard thing to navigate.

The thing I have noticed with unschooling/deschooling movement is that it is mostly white people. Why? Because they are the ones with the resources, time, and money to do something like this. Are they all rich and well-off? No, that's not what I am saying. But for someone to be able to take time off and travel to teach their kids does lead me to ask questions on how they are able to do it. I so wish I could have the money to do that and I completely agree with the reasons for doing it. My kid gets frustrated with school, she is already judged for her gender, and has to deal with shit from other kids concerning her religious beliefs (she believes Jesus was a historical figure and has no belief in a higher power other than, she can't control everything) and that she is a vegetarian. While I certainly do not put these judgments fully on the kids themselves: their parents clearly have not taught them about other people's beliefs, experience, and so on, it still hurts my kid. Not cool.

I wish all parents had the resources they needed to give their kids the fullest lives possible. I truly fucking wish that. I also think that it's not realistic. So, I think finding ways to resist the patriarchal, capitalist, hegemonic, racist, abelist, classist structures of our lives is sometimes do those resistant acts within the structure we are in. This is why I unschool my kid while she's enrolled in public school. Teach her about the people's history and who Christopher Columbus really was, create a safe space for her to explore what she wants, let her be creative and autonomous at home, be open about sexuality and the changes her body will go through, let her still be the person she wants and keeping a critical eye on how gender, sexuality, and family structures are portrayed (we have an on-going scenerio with her Littlest Pet Shops: two mom bunnies with kid bunny and two dad penguins with kid penguin), and letting her create her own space as well (she has been building a club house out of boxes and tissue paper for a couple weeks now). This is certainly hard and never easy. To be in opposition of the mainstream narrative is hard, especially when having a kid - because they are bombarded everyday. But it is certainly worth it. It takes a lot of work, reenforcing, and a lot of discussion. So far, my kid is awesome. She understands these restrictive roles of gender and sexuality but also understands race and class and how people are treated when they are not the "norm."

I would love to create a community in which a bunch of parents could get together and we could all teach our kids, in our space, and on our own time. But it's not possible for everyone. Plus, I know my kid needs space and time away from me, as I need space and time away from her. Public schools offer that. I would love for it to be completely restructured into a way better space for kids to be. However, I also think some of us this can start with parents, too. There's a lot of pressure to be the "perfect" parent. No one is. I want there to be resources so parents can be better parents if that's possible. A space where they can grow as parents and have spaces to talk things through with other parents on the rollercoasting of raising kids.


  1. Hello! I found your blog while googling "unschooling feminist blog" while I was taking a break to eat my lunch - I look forward to reading more :).

    I did however, want to respond to what seems to be your most basic question and frustration - how on earth do families manage to unschool and live in the real world without being independently wealthy? Or are they all?

    First I wanted to thank you for actually asking the question. In progressive circles I find that I'm much more likely to be "accused" of setting back the womyn's movement by subjugating myself to my husband (I am in a heterosexual marriage) and of being hopelessly elitist and privileged, without the accuser having any knowledge of my or other home/unschoolers actual situations.

    Now back to answering the question -- the way this works for any individual family is as unique as the family itself. In my own household we have had a variety of configuration. Sometimes my husband is the sole financial supporter (this has been maybe 3 yrs out of our 13 yr marriage). Often times I am working part-time evenings/weekends in a tag-team arrangement. Now that my children are older and I can leave them at home alone I am working early in the morning while they are sleeping/ getting up and around, usually getting home by 10am. My husband was also laid-off from his job about 14 months ago and has not found full-time work. So he is often at home, though doing contract work so isn't available-available. I am also a graduate student - having gone back to school in 2006 and have taken out extra student loans to pull us through during this time.

    We are part of a large unschool/secular homeschool network that includes a number of single parent families (including lgb families), families in which both parents bring in some income (including lgb) families, and families where one parents is the sole source of income (also including lgb families). Again the way this works varies. Some share care with other families, some take their children to jobs with them (one good friend of mine who is a single lesbian mom took her four young children with her to clean houses for years until they were old enough to stay home alone), some depend on government assistance, student loans, etc. Many are also extremely frugal getting the majority of their clothes through thrift stores/hand-me-downs, growing their own food, being a one car family, etc

    Statistically speaking the average homeschooling family is below the median income of their area - primarily because they do give up some level of income-earning power in order to have the time to homeschool, but it also means they aren't particularly privileged, income-wise.

    The lack of ethnic diversity is an on-going issue and one where I personally see the issue of privilege being most evident. In my unpacking of the issue what I think I see going on is that those of us who are part of the macro-culture feel less of a need to "prove" ourselves to that culture and therefor feel more free to thumb our noses at its institutions. Its seems that being part of a minority group (and this also may include LGBTQ families) leaves one feeling more in need to "prove" their acceptableness to the macro-culture and one fundamental way of doing that is through their children's school success. I also see this in my birth-work and families choosing to have out-of-hospital experiences.

    I would be more than happy to answer specific questions that you might have on the issue. One of my goals as a homeschooler is to help unschooling/homeschooling to seem and to actually be more accessible to a wider audience. And for those children who will continue to need non-parental/family/friend care I also think it is vital that we to tear down the current institutional structure of schooling and to replace it with a more liberatory model (per Freire, Illich, Gatto and others)