Diversity, Unschooling Conferences, and Steinbeck, MLK, and Gandhi Quotes

I was inspired by a quote from John Steinbeck to write more about race, racism, and welcoming diversity in the homeschooling scene and at unschooling conferences. I also quote Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. from a great YouTube video you can watch here.

In 1961, Steinbeck talked with a wealthy white man in New Orleans, who admitted, “Surely my ancestors had slaves, but it is possible that yours caught them and sold them to us.” Steinbeck acknowledged this. Then the man explained:

“If by force you make a creature live and work like a beast, you must think of him as a beast, else empathy would drive you mad. Once you have classified him in your mind, your feelings are safe…. And if your heart has human vestiges of courage and anger, which in a man are virtues, then you have fear of a dangerous beast, and since your heart has intelligence and inventiveness and the ability to conceal them, you live with terror. Then you must crush his manlike tendencies and make of him the docile beast you want. And if you can teach your child from the beginning about the beast, he will not share your bewilderment.”

I think we all feel huge empathy for our fellow human beings and feel shame when we wrong them in any way. It’s a miracle that social creatures are given: we are unable to hurt others without feeling responsible and hurt ourselves.

Still, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

“So often people respond to guilt by engaging more in the guilt-evoking act in an attempt to drown the sense of guilt.”

(The quote starts around 1:30 in this great YouTube video and you can read the interview here.)

There are many ways we try to avoid guilt and shame that result in more guilt and shame. This can be totally unconscious especially, as this southern white man says, if it has gone on for generations.

A  lot has been acknowledged and healed, and huge progress has been made in the area of racism against African-Americans and everyone else. And a lot of shame has been shed.

Nevertheless, as Gandhi put it when he had a transformative experience with racism:

The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial – only a symptom of the deep disease of color prejudice.  I should try, if possible, to root out the disease….

The disease has still not been completely rooted out: significant racism exists today and old wounds and shame have yet to be completely healed.

I think sometimes when white people see African-Americans they feel confronted with an unacknowledged shame they fear and this can in fact result in racist behavior or just avoidance of the people or topic.

I had a lot of fear about writing about race and racism in my Homeschooling, Unschooling, and Diversity and Welcoming Diversity at Unschooling Conferences posts. I didn’t know how the white people who love the unschooling conferences would react or how African-Americans and other people of color would respond.

But I tried to write in a gentle and honest way. When I finally did it, tons of people viewed the post and some people shared their own stories and encouraged and thanked me for raising the issue. Personally, I’ve felt really freed through my writing on the topic.

And I hope ultimately it results in people being more welcoming and there being more diversity in the homeschooling and unschooling scene and at conferences.

I think the potential is great with homeschooling and unschooling in so many areas including progress in learning about diverse cultures and welcoming all people.

What I can’t stress enough is the more we do make an effort to do this the more we will naturally pass it on to our children. Instead of teaching our children “about the beast“: let’s teach our children about the beauty we can see in people of all races, from all backgrounds.

As usual, we teach mostly by example, which I think is both a sobering and inspiring thought.




Filed under diversity, homeschooling, quotes, race, travel book, unschooling, unschooling conferences, worldschooling

5 responses to “Diversity, Unschooling Conferences, and Steinbeck, MLK, and Gandhi Quotes

  1. Carman

    When you write, “we (humans) are unable to hurt others without feeling responsible and hurt ourselves,” I would disagree. Have you every know or worked with a sociopath? I have.

    I don’t believe in hell, but I believe in the devil on earth (and brain chemistry)–aka a sociopath. Estimates suggest three percent of all males and one percent of all females are sociopaths. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you_know_if_someone_is_a_sociopath

    I don’t understand parts of what you write above. White people, like ourselves, philosphizing on racism can get a little grandiose. I agree with you that we teach by example. Maybe this is why talking or writing about race, as a white person, feels so hollow–for me at least. No disrespect, just offering my feedback.

    • Thank you for your comment Carman: really after a few days of getting no response at all I’m happy even if it’s criticism!

      You’re obviously right that sociopaths exist but, as you say, it is a very small percentage. I still think unacknowledged shame is a huge source of a lot of the shameful things we humans do on a small and large scale.

      And the way I’m trying to teach by example is studying diverse cultures, thinking about these subjects, when I think many do not, and being willing to bring them up so progress can be made.

      I think white people NEED to talk and think about race and racism. Trying to ignore the issue seems to be a big part of the problem. But it can be awkward and sound hollow I know, and maybe I didn’t do a very good job in this post, or at least wasn’t clear or took on too much.

      Honestly, I don’t know why I’m moved to write about these issues but I am. And it actually feels good after thinking about them so long. But I want to be clear so I’d love to hear what parts you didn’t understand.

      • Carman

        Welcome to the web 2.0 world! I love feedback of any kinds also, since it helps explore challenges and uncover feelings.

        I don’t feel like writing in response, because it’s too time consuming, but when I have time I’ll give you a ring. Best!

  2. Dolores

    I ran across your blog looking for evidence of African-American unschoolers/worldschoolers. I’m an African-American educator who just recently started thinking about creating something new for all children, rather than trying to fix something antiquated and broken.

    It makes sense that your world travels have helped to open your eyes and heart to the issues of diversity here at home.

    I spent a year as an educator, at a private “wisdom school” in a town full of conscious, leading-edge people. I was offered the unique experience of being the very first African-American staff member of a school affectionately known as “the hippie school.” At one point I felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before me that I cried buckets and almost turned it down. I knew that everyone who came in and out of my life would be my teacher, and I would be theirs.

    Before I go on, I must say that the Board and the majority of parents at the school had been wanting a more diverse community for many, many years. My all white classroom parents and their awesome, brilliant children were incredibly loving and responsive.

    Although I was qualified to be there with a Master’s Degree and more than 20 years experience as an expert in experiential education, the new incoming Director of the school believed the outgoing Director hired me because I was Black. She told me that a few families had pulled their children out of the school because of it. My assistant was advised by his mom not to contribute to any planning for fear his reputation would be tainted if I were to mess up.

    During off hours, a few of the seasoned educators waited for me to leave the building before they set the alarm, rather than leave me alone in the building, or teach me how to set the alarm myself. When something like books turned up missing, a few teachers would come to me asking if I had seen them. I often felt like the last person to learn of program changes. One educator stared at me with eyes so piercing, I wondered if she had been harmed by a Person of Color. When a child from my group experienced a melt-down on the grounds before school started one day, it seemed as if the Director called on everyone to help except me. The child responded to me after I’d learned of the incident and went to help. An older youngster threw a craft project at me one day and walked away in disgust.

    Now these were the kinds of opportunities that tested my perceptions. I struggled to determine if being Black was a factor, or if an incident was purely innocent or ignorant. Sure I could have let everything go. But because my being there was a learning experience, and if being Black was a factor, I needed to address it.

    We can not be a nation of people learning to accept others unconditionally, without living with, around and in conditions that perpetuate misunderstandings, prejudice and racism. We shortchange ourselves by creating communities that keep us separate from one another. We need to embrace opportunities that help us to grow. Everyone knows meaningful change is an inside job.

    I grew when I was forced to search my heart because I refused to tell other Blacks where I worked for fear of being ostracized. I grew when I learned at the end of the year that I no longer wanted to be held responsible for changing White peoples’ perceptions.

    Your colleagues must ask themselves; are they justifying prejudice in their community by believing that exclusivity helps protect the emotional well being of their children? Are they perpetuating beliefs of inferiority when they try to manage the amount of diversity in their community?

    Although the year was incredible, the responsibility of having to be the BEST facilitator EVER to silence the low expectation naysayers, as well as a self-imposed obligation to pave the way for future People of Color, took a toll on my health. At the end of the year I was diagnosed with Pneumonia.

    All I know is, that the relationship between the children and their parents in my group was extraordinary beyond belief. I would not have changed a thing. The children loved me unconditionally and taught me to love unconditionally, and we were all changed forever.

    • Dolores thank you so much for sharing your story. It sounds like you must have learned a lot and still be processing so much from your experiences with this school and some people being racist and expecting you to fail. I can only imagine how challenging it must have been for you.

      I hope your physical health has improved at least. I really respect you reaching the conclusion that it’s not your responsibility to change white people’s perceptions: no single individual is going to solve racism.

      In the end change is an inside job like you said. I’ve noted that unschooling and homeschooling don’t seem to be completely free of racism but I think we’re currently at a better place than the country as a whole and even more: I think unschooling has A LOT of potential.

      As you seem to have concluded also: it’s often a lot easier to create something new than “fix something antiquated and broken.”

      And unschooling you’re dealing with individuals and they can change a lot easier than institutions. People running institutions have a lot more fear BECAUSE they have a lot more power. And because they have a lot more power they can act on that fear in terrible ways.

      I do think if you take empowered and free thinking unschoolers (or anyone) and let them experience the diversity of the world through travel they will gain so much awareness and appreciation for all people who are different. That is a big part of my motivation for my Worldschool tours.

      But getting back to your search: I’d definitely introduce yourself to the African American Unschooling Yahoo list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AfAmUnschool/

      It’s a really active and interesting list and I think they’d appreciate your story and be happy to tell you about unschooling specifically as an African American. Some people were even talking about starting a co-op so they might be interested in what you mentioned about creating something new.

      Then there are TONS of other unschooling lists and unschooling conferences. I hope I can meet you at one of the conferences! I just compiled a list of some upcoming ones: https://eligerzon.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/upcoming-unschooling-conferences-2009/

      Anyway, all the best on your journey and again thank you for sharing your story.

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