We live in a society in which racism and its wounds continue to play a big role. While I think unschooling has solved so many problems, it seems the issue of racism still needs special attention in order to welcome diversity at unschooling conferences and in the scene as a whole.
Over the last few years I’ve been to several huge (700 people plus) unschooling conferences around the country and have noticed a real lack of diversity. Much more upsetting I’ve heard stories of seeming racism.
Honestly, I think the racism has mostly been subtle exclusion that comes from a fear of trusting and welcoming diversity and what it might bring. I don’t think it’s hateful bigotry. Nevertheless, it has a sad effect.
Last year at the Northeast Unschooling Conference, near Boston, Massachusetts, Erika Davis-Pitre led a session about diversity. Erika is an African-American mom of four unschoolers, now 16-30 years old, and one of my favorite unschooling speakers: she’s both hilarious and profound when she talks about following your joy.
At the diversity session she talked about how the first year of the Northeast Unschooling Conference there appeared to be a lot of diversity among the hundreds of homeschooling families. But many people noticed the following years there was less and less.
Erika explained she can’t speak for everyone but gave an example of why that might be:
Earlier at that conference an African-American boy, about ten years old, wanted to take part in an activity, but was stopped by the unschoolers running it. They said he had to ask permission from his mom first and they pointed to Erika.
He said, “That’s not my mom.”
They said, “Yes, she is.”
Erika said it’s not the original assumption that bothers her. (“There’s a black child and a black woman: they must be related.”) It’s continuing to insist after the child has said otherwise.
Unschooling is about trust and this child was not trusted, first of all to participate in the activity without permission from a parent (which is unheard of at an unschooling conference), and then not trusted about who his mom is!
“It’s not a big deal, but it is a big deal.” That’s how Erika Davis-Pitre described it. Nobody really got hurt, Erika stepped in and said that she is in fact not his mother and was believed. But it is that type of thing that may drive people away.
Rethinking Education is an unschooling conference in Texas and clearly does something right because it’s the oldest in the country and seems to be the most diverse. But an incident of apparent racism occurred when I was there in 2007 that certainly felt like a “big deal” to the mother involved:
An African-American boy about eleven years old was accused by a security guard of breaking something. The mother of the child was upset and scared, so she tried to grab an unschooling mom for help and support. She explained to the unschooling mom that her child said he didn’t do it.
The unschooling mom said, “Well, sometimes kids lie when they get in trouble.” And she walked away.
Eventually, another unschooling mom came to support them and a child who witnessed the whole thing came to the boy’s defense. But the incident had a lot of negative meaning to this mother of a child who had just left school and entered the unschooling community.
She wasn’t so upset about the security guard, he wasn’t part of the unschooling community, she was upset about an unschooling parent not trusting her child and not supporting them: throughout the conference she and other African-Americans wondered if they were really welcome and included in all this talk of freedom and empowerment.
My point is not to villainize the people who displayed what seems like racism. I’m trying to bring to light the fact that we all have deeply ingrained fears and distrust of which we may not be aware and yet negatively affect our actions and keep us from doing what we truly want.
Most unschoolers have realized rooting out their own fears so they can really trust their children and themselves has amazing results: we may need to make a special effort to do the same with people who appear different than us.
Just like when you start trusting your children or yourself, this may take time, fears may need to be faced, and wounds may need to be healed. But trusting and welcoming diversity will be a great service to those families and will be a great service in enriching the unschooling community and, I believe, the whole world.