A Social Justice Issue

I have been thinking about social justice a lot recently. Most of the issues I feel passionately about are issues of social justice ..... poverty, the environmental crisis, the dumping of our waste (& resulting toxins) in other parts of the world, gender equality .... Such issues (& I know there are many others!) stir our hearts because we care about our neighbours in the global village. We are none of us disconnected in our interconnected world. Today it was brought home to me again that unschooling is a social justice issue. But it is not seen as such, and remains shrouded in misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

One of the criticisms most often directed at unschooling is that it is a luxury choice for the middle classes, for those who can afford it. It is assumed, though often unspoken, that some parents would not be able to unschool, perhaps because they are not seen as being “educated” enough by the system they are seeking to escape. Or perhaps because it is too costly, and some folks will simply not have the means. I have long known that this is not true. Unschooling is a choice, a life path, like so many other choices. And there are parents who choose this path even though they are single, families who choose this way and live far more simply, parents who live on benefits yet long for something better for their children, a different way, who enjoy a whole new education alongside their offspring and are empowered by it. Unschoolers are a mighty diverse bunch. Seems to me that in fact, those deemed to have been failed by our current system of schooling, have the most to gain from unschooling, the whole process of deconstructing the self as defined by the powers-that-be. Freedom is actually a scary concept, isn't it? We talk as if we want people to be free, but free thinking can be frightening, threatening to the status quo; threatening to those who are pretty well served by the existing hierarchies, who find the world as it operates works pretty well for them. Do we really want people to be free?

Another question I am often asked is about aid initiatives in the so-called “developing world” .... Is it not a good thing to be providing schooling (education) to children in the name of aid and development? Of course, questions like this are multi-layered, and do not always have easy answers, but I think we have to be prepared to examine our motives, to begin with the people we are seeking to serve and to ask what their priorities for development would be, rather than imposing our own. And I think we have to be prepared to be wrong, to be challenged about solutions we may simply take for granted, to be open to rethinking the entire system of global development and the role of schooling in that.

To these questions speaks Manish Jain in Udaipur, India, reminding me that yes, unschooling is indeed a social justice issue. In my heart of hearts, I despise schooling and the way it shapes people into conformity and enslaves them to the way things are, to knowing their place in the scheme of things. As Manish says, "Using IQ tests and labelling millions of innocent children as ‘failures’ is one of the greatest crimes against humanity." Maybe you disagree with us both, and that’s OK, but I am thankful for voices like Manish Jain’s and for the reminder that all around the world, green shoots of alternative thinking are shooting up amongst the ruins of our failing systems of institutionalised schooling, kindred spirits whose words speak out for a different way, a better way, of raising human beings.

"After visiting and working in many villages in Africa and India, I noticed that schooling was a vehicle for spreading industrial monoculture. It was like an AIDs virus which destroyed the immune systems of local culture, and local commons and local common sense. ‘Educated’ students became ashamed of their traditions and their elders, they became emotionally and spiritually disconnected from their fields and forests, they became useless members of their local economy. The entire backbone of community life was disrupted. My own father was a victim of this. Today it has become very clear to me that the call for ‘educating the tribals’ is very much linked to an agenda of displacing tribal communities from their land (which are full of valuable natural resources).”

Read the whole interview with Manish Jain HERE.

Shikshanter: The People's Institute for Re-Thinking Education and Development

"The modern factory-schooling education system is one of the greatest crimes against humanity. One hundred years from now, we will look back at the violence of the culture of schooling and ask how could we have done this to innocent children."