Category Archives: diversity

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.

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Welcoming Diversity at Unschooling Conferences

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.

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Homeschooling, Unschooling, and Diversity

I was recently inspired to write about the need to welcome diversity in the homeschooling community: people of all races and backgrounds can benefit from the freedom and empowerment of homeschooling, unschooling, and worldschooling. And the homeschooling community and the world can benefit from the presence of that diversity.

Then I read about the incident of racial profiling against Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the pre-eminent African American scholar from Harvard University who was arrested by police after being accused of breaking into his own home and getting upset at the policeman, just down the street from me in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a clear sign that racism is still a problem when a middle-aged scholar is arrested for “entering ones home while black”.

It’s always been my dream that homeschooling could help with the issues around race and fear and hate for supposed outsiders. I performed a rap poem in 2002, when I was 18, called “Whole Education Without Getting Schooled”, in which I said:

“Whole” as in complete with unity

With everyone part of a community

When you know everyone is interconnected

Propaganda that says “hate,” is ineffective

(You can read the whole rap poem here.)

I still think that homeschooling, or worldschooling as I like to call it, has great potential for broadening people’s horizons and breaking down the barriers that separate us.

A common concern about homeschooling is the students could become sheltered when in fact, as worldschoolers, they have the opportunity to have the whole world as their school rather than one building, in one neighborhood, in one city.

One thing is clear: according to a study done in 2007 “Home schooling improves academic performance and reduces impact of socio-economic factors.”:

Hepburn (of the Fraser Institute which did this study of homeschoolers in the U.S. and Canada) said evidence clearly demonstrates that home education may help reduce the negative effects of some background factors that many educators believe affects a child’s ability to learn, such as low family income, low parental educational attainment, parents not having formal training as teachers, race or ethnicity of the student, gender of the student, not having a computer in the home, and infrequent usage of public libraries….

The study also reports that students educated at home outperform their peers on most academic tests and are involved in a broad mix of social activities outside the home.

(You can read the whole article here.)

Homeschooling allows people to grow freely. This improves many aspects of ourselves, one of which is achievement on standardized tests. It also allows our spirit as a whole, our soul, to soar.

Homeschooling is not an elitist option only for wealthy, “well educated”, white families with two parents in the house. On the contrary it seems to be a powerful way for disadvantaged people to get ahead.

And I’m told that more and more people from diverse backgrounds are reaping the benefits of homeschooling. At the same time I’m disappointed at the lack of diversity at the unschooling gatherings I’ve been to. In my next post I’ll address this issue as best I can.

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