It’s often easy to differentiate immigrants from natives. Immigrants can try to immerse themselves into their native hosts’ world as best they can. But they still end up speaking the native’s language with an accent, sometimes they find some of the customs perplexing or approach them differently and often times they view various aspects of the native’s world very differently from the way the natives view their own worlds. And then you get the settlers. Also easy to recognise. The settlers don’t try to immerse themselves into the native world or culture, neither do they try to co-exist. They tend to impose their settler culture – either through ignorance, arrogance or with well intentioned misguidance. The result is the extinguishing of the native’s ways of being, living and learning.. Of course, this is a rather broad generalisation and there are infinite nuances in all these categorisations.
Mark Prensky’s 2001 piece, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants quite eloquently described the digital gap between people transitioning from the non digital world into a digital one (the digital immigrant) and those born into the digital world (the digital natives). His native/immigrant analogy was spot on and still holds true for me today. But not only in the digital world. This is how I feel as an unschooling parent too. You see, I am a product of the industrial schooling system. And now I am a parent in a family that has chosen the path of unschooling as a way of learning and living – An Unschooling Parent. My schooled mind and the mindset required for unschooling contradict each other in fundamental ways.
My schooled mind believed in structure and control, emphasising learning, looking for opportunities for learning. My unschooling path requires that I forget about the learning – since learning is innate and inevitable – and I just start living and letting my children too also just live. And to trust that the learning will happen.
In order for me to be an effective member in my unschooling family, it was necessary for me to actively deschool my mind in the ways I thought about learning, trusting the learning to happen and living. Over time, I have noticed that my perpetually deschooling mind and the emerging unschooled minds of my always unschooled children also differ fundamentally. When I started on this journey, I truly believed that with a conscious and concerted effort to deschooling my mind, it would be possible for me to transform myself into an unschooler. But what I have found for myself (my eldest is 18) is that I will always be in a state of deschooling in an unschooling world. Very much like an immigrant exists in a native’s world!
With my schooled upbringing, I realise I will always be a deschooling immigrant in this native unschooling world in which my always unschooled children are the natives.
Despite all my readings on unschooling over the years and my very conscious and deliberate effort to deschool myself I continue to carry the accent of my schooled past with me in the way I approach learning in particular and life in general. Sometimes my accent is stronger, other times I blend into the unschooling world a lot better. Overall, my lens of viewing the world – while it is constantly being tweaked, will always be that of an immigrant. A deschooling immigrant. I am very aware of the need for constant introspection to safeguard myself from reverting to patterns of thought and actions dictated by my constantly lurking schooled mindset – from becoming a ‘settler’.
I am most reminded of my immigrant status in the different ways my children and I perceive and understand situations. Sometimes the differences are glaring, other times they are so subtle I only notice them later on.
One of the fundamental differences between my immigrant mind and my children’s native minds is our focus of attention. I tend to focus on and talk a lot about learning. They simply focus on living. They engage in activities they enjoy or are curious about, which often times leads them into new directions. They don’t measure what they’re doing in terms of what they learning but I tend to notice and marvel at all the learning that is happening. I can’t help but marvel. I know that learning is a byproduct of living, yet I continue to look for the evidence. I am well aware of the fact, at an intellectual level at least, that learning is as natural as breathing. I learned and embraced this understanding early on while reading John Holt in the early days of my journey of rethinking education.
It dawned on me just how much of an immigrant I am in their native unschooling worlds when it emerged we didn’t even have a shared understanding of the implications of the fact that they are all self taught readers. I am so fascinated and impressed with them learning to read naturally. Without any instruction. I also always celebrate whenever I hear about a child learning to read by themselves, which is often given that I hang around online in unschooling circles. I firmly believed that this ‘achievement’ of self taught reading would keep a child in good stead in the future. I reasoned that regardless of what they face in their learning adventures, they are will always be able to remind themselves that they taught themselves such a complex skill as reading – so there’s nothing they cannot learn. Right? Wrong!
Turns out, that to them learning to read is really no different from having learned to walk or talk or everything else they’ve learned from by living. Learning to read without instructions gives them no sense of pride and they are not at all fascinated by the feat or process. And they certainly don’t think they’re special. They don’t focus on the learning, just on the living.
In terms of their identity, I have never heard them describe themselves as self taught readers. I would often describe them as self taught readers when I talk about unschooling – because I think it helps provide a concrete example of how natural learning is possible. Even in talking about unschooling to others, I focus on the learning. I have never heard them use the example of reading when they’re describing unschooling. While I focus on the possibilities for learning naturally, they focus on wonders of the freedom. They only focus on one aspect in the difference between their lives and those of non-unschooled children: the degree of freedom.
Another example: I, the immigrant deschooler, would notice and get excited that my daughter is penning stories, and hence sharpening her creative writing skills. She, the native unschooler, gets excited that she managed to get yet another book into her bookstore in her Minecraft World.
So, like an interstellar immigrant whose breathing mechanism on their home planet was different from that of on earth, I can’t help notice the learning in as much as I want to move away from focussing on learning to focussing on living. My native unschoolers do this naturally. They view their learning as they do their breathing, that is, they do not view it at all.
I have found this insight into my own thought patterns incredibly useful. It helps me to think through reactions, thoughts and situations, with these categories serving as a simple filter. I try to establish whether a particular point of view falls under the native, immigrant or settler category. And this guides me in identifying what I need to unlearn and work on.
I have definitely made huge strides – I no longer go to bed assessing our day in terms of how much or what the children learned for the day. I have also come to embrace my immigrant thought pattern, my accent. Now, when I catch myself noticing these things, I smile at my thoughts. I allow myself to enjoy them and accept that I am an immigrant. Furthermore, I now relish the gift of being able to, in many instances, look at situations through both lenses. Moreover, I welcome the influence and wisdom of my native unschoolers. I am also kinder to myself when I do falter. I am, after all, still learning. I’m no longer trying to become an unschooling native. Instead my challenge is to ensure that I remain within the realm of immigrant deschooler and not transmorph into a settler schooled mind imposing itself on my native children’s minds and extinguishing their native unschooled way of being, living and learning.
This piece was inspired by my notes and thoughts in preparation for and the subsequent discussion on a show I participated in on the topic of Deschooling. You can view the archived discussion at the For the Love of Learning Show – Voices of the Alternative Education Movement Episode 64.