After eight years our family is switching gears, we are unschoolers no more.
It has been a long time coming yet, we barely just noticed the need for a change.
Personal and family journeys of decolonization are often slow and take many twists and turns...lots of ups and downs. When it comes to our life learner's journey into self-direction, this issue hasn't been the exception. Twist and turns abound indeed. We are surprised not to have noticed but the signs were there all along.
They were there when my Mom and Mother in Law took turns taking care of me for 40 days after I gave birth, giving me caldo and tea so I would get strong and produce lots of milk for my newborn. They were there when my daughter was seven months and I tried to carry her using a sheet around my back when I couldn't find an affordable Mexican rebozo.
They were there when I was at the library and a hip looking Mom from the dominant culture asked me if I was an attachment parent and would I mind telling her more about my methods...And I said I didn't know what that was and she looked at me like I was stupid as I replied "I'm just doing what my Mom and the women in my family do" and got the heck away from her and her kid as soon as I could, just to avoid her contentious stare.
They were there when I instinctively knew to seek a circular community of women in the same situation as me, with children like my child so she would have others to speak Spanish with.
They were there when I knew to let her play with dirt. When I knew to let her cook among us, the women in the family, because regardless of age women of our kind always have a part to play and a weight to carry in a cooking circle. Which happens to always turn into a life wisdom sharing circle, as we work.
The signs got a little blurry when the women in my circle started sending their kids to school and their kids started to disappear into the business of their school days. I remember telling my husband, I didn't like how quiet and stiff our daughter looked when we tried out a formal classroom for a day. Would he be willing to consider homeschooling?
The sign was there when he replied with an obvious, yet shocking question..."Aren't you homeschooling already by being part of that Spanish immersion coop? What would change?" Indeed I was! So this time I followed the sign and reminded myself of how, when I was twelve and our family's fortune changed, I was "unschooled" by our oppressive circumstances and was given the chance to work alongside adults. A valuable experience, which turned out to be the secret to my professional success later in life. The sings blurred again, as the pressure of the dominant culture told me my child wouldn't learn to read if I didn't teach her and yet she did. On her very own at an early age.
The signs began to get fuzzy again, as I sought online guidance an read things that resonated with me. Mostly Unschooling literature and advice..."Deeper multi-generation connections within the family and community"check. "Emotional safety and connection are necessary for learning to happen" check. "Value and enjoy the journey and process" check. "Unschooling produces life long learners" check. "Learning takes place anytime and anywhere" check."Learning is pleasurable and noncoercive" check. "Learning happens as a coincidence as we go about our lives" check."Learning is a communal activity" check. "Learning comes as a product of emotional connection" check. Check on all those things I could recognize, as part of my own personal educational experiences. I immediately thought...I must be an uschooler!!! That's what we are, I affirmed to my husband and child. They followed suit.
Then more signs crossed my journey but I overlooked them. Like when after doing research and realizing school is mainly and instrument for colonization and destruction of cultures like ours, how it is mainly a European invention used to disconnect children and youth...here I was...Learning from others that were not my kin, who had very much sanitized and reclaimed our old ancestral customs calling them new. I had been sitting on an ancestral treasure a treasure of self-directed education and knowledge preserved thru thick and thin so it could sit invisible right in front of me after generations.
Then the moment of truth came after having unschooling discussions among other women of color, who also felt discomfort using the unschooler label for themselves and their families. The moment came, after several visits to México in a short amount of time. During which I took the time to interview some of our elders, for oral history purposes and I realized many of our ancestors grew up under "unschooling' circumstances just like I did.
Circumstances which for them, involved being put down and marginalized for their informal ways of learning, of playing barefoot and unsupervised in nature, for breastfeeding, for working alongside adults to earn a living, for working as if they were adults to contribute to the family finances, for carrying children in rebozos or seeming too emotionally attached to their children for the taste of the dominant culture.
Instances when they were devalued, mocked and even marginalized for having a deep emotional connection to family and community, for being innate and informal life long learners, for the deep generational emotional connections formed while learning. For solving conflicts among family circles of equal power, regardless of age. For learning as a vehicle for mere survival.
It finally hit me. Calling ourselves unschoolers is no way to honor that journey and all those sacrifices. Because it does not give our family the credit it is due.
Because now that our ancestral ways of carrying children with prohibitively expensive "baby wraps", breastfeeding, attachment parenting, non violent communication and self-directed learning is all too fashionable, especially for relatively affluent women from the dominant culture...credit is not generally given where it is due and when it is, it is talked about as a thing of the past, something we no longer do in the present day.
I'm here to tell you, we very much do, otherwise I would not have been able to innately find it among the remains of my family's culture and customs.We are indeed unschoolers no more. If we continue to call ourselves unschoolers, we are contributing to our own cycle of oppression, by erasing the merits of an entire culture and not acknowledging where that knowledge comes from and the sacrifices it took to preserve it. The next time another Mom from the dominant culture approaches me wanting to learn about the ways in which we "unschool"... I will proudly correct her and say..."We are not unschoolers. We are ancestral schoolers. What do you want to know? I will gladly share"