It’s different in that the child is truly in pursuit of knowledge, rather than a top down, teacher-led (or parent-led) method. We spoke to five parents about their experiences of unschooling. Here’s the first interview in our unschooling series.
HOME EDUCATION TO UNSCHOOLING
Adele Jarrett-Kerr is a mother, writer, home educator and breastfeeding counsellor, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, now living in Cornwall. She works on the family farm and hosts a podcast about human connection called Revillaging
I didn’t set out to unschool. We made the decision to home educate when I was pregnant with our first baby, ten years ago, but self-directed education was not on the agenda. Until I came to see it as a natural part of the decolonisation process, I respectfully put it in the category of things others do.
Ironically, unschooling embodied so many of the reasons we were home educating. We wanted to give our children time, knowing that school takes up many hours unnecessarily. Even at our most structured, our days offered a lot of free time but only with many pleas of “Let’s just get this done and then you can do whatever you like.”
Often the to-do list could scatter across the whole day because I was also pregnant and had a toddler and then a baby, in addition to my school-aged child. Whenever I interrupted my eldest child’s flow something jarred. No matter how much time I “gave” her, it was never enough. Something that was already hers wasn’t mine to give.
The reasons we were home educating began to take precedence over the way we were doing it - one shaped the other. We were committed to letting our children take things at their own pace, helping them to follow their interests and develop their passions, to listen to their bodies and naturally develop their confidence as whole people. I grew sensitive to the ways our approach only partially met these needs.
“We increasingly moved into unschooling and I saw that this is how learning really happened”
We were working with the idea of a consent-based education but how much space was there for consent when the person offering the ideas held most of the power? I began to realise that talking my children into doing things, however gently, was a subtle form of coercion. The authenticity gap between what I believed and what was actually happening became unbearably uncomfortable, even though a lot of people would have said we were so relaxed.
We increasingly moved into unschooling and I saw that this is how learning really happened. I wanted to make my peace with it but I needed to hear from people who understood where I was coming from and what I felt up against.
I’m a mixed heritage woman from Trinidad and Tobago, living in Britain. It was one thing for these writers, speakers and thinkers of European descent to talk about educating for happiness. That didn’t speak to my concerns as a person of colour. For me education was also about ensuring my children’s acceptance and respect in a society that often didn’t extend those things to me or only did insomuch as I was willing to assimilate or to code switch. I was also seeking that “good parent” validation for myself. Deep down I knew that even a certain type of education couldn’t guarantee anything for any of us.
I began to hear from other Black and Brown people who understood the cultural elements involved in these decisions. Fare of the Free Child, a Black, Indigenous and People of Colour-centred unschooling podcast, was an important partner at that time and continues to be now.
Last year, in the UK’s first lockdown, I found space to question whether a lot of the decisions I was making were based on what other people thought rather than what actually made sense and was intuitively right. The fresh wave of Black Lives Matter sparked by the killing of George Floyd shifted the last piece. Around that time, Black Worldschoolers on Instagram called classical education inherently racist and I felt a wave go through my body.
Questions I’d not even realised I’d been afraid to consider rose straight to the surface. Why was I buying into this system that not only didn’t acknowledge us but that intended us harm? I knew the school system perpetuates oppression but I was still allowing its hierarchy, categorisation and Eurocentricity into my home. My own colonised school education had taught me to disregard my own thoughts and deny my own right to speak. Yes, my children had more freedom. But is a little freedom, free?
Last year Lucy supported over 500 families who joined the unschooling online course and coaching membership, Disco Circle - discolearning.com.
“Together we are befriending our fears, growing our community-building skills, updating old limiting belief systems. With a monthly workshop and a seriously brave and alive online community, Disco Circle might just be the heart-work that will keep your unschooling sustainable and joyful.”
LISTEN Adele’s Revillaging podcast and blog can be found at adelejarrettkerr.com
FOLLOW @black_world_schoolers on Instagram
READ How Children Learn by John Holt and The Unschooling Manual by Jan Hunt