My Unschooled Life

I haven’t gone to school since I was thirteen years old. With that sentence, it’s usually assumed I’m lazy, stupid and well on my way to homelessness. The fact that I’m a young native woman only makes this judgement even more harshly assumed. I’m writing to defy that stereotype. I’m an indigenous youth and I left school to learn.

School will always be a subject rooted in pain for the native tribes living within any Western country, with the advent of schooling marking the end of our culture and the beginning of assimilation. Canadian Indian Residential schools opened in 1840’s until the 1960’s with the majority of them closing, the goal of ‘killing the indian out of the children’ was largely accomplished, my people were without a culture. Children growing with their language and teachings beaten out of them had begun to have children who grew up only knowing colonial society. The only way of life they knew were the teachings of the Western people, the exact opposite of the indigenous ways of life.  Western teachings are you have to get a job to live, but to get a job, a good job, required having a high school diploma (now having a bachelor degree). With high school being illegal until the 1960’s and our knowledge of how to live off the land lost, we were in a harsh poverty before 1960s. We needed to have money to live and support our families. School was the key to life. Being a student, a learner, meant being in school.

 With that history of schooling, it would come as no surprise the resistance and opposition I faced when I left school. I was doing exactly what we were taught not to do. At first, I felt ashamed, guilty and depressed. I was thirteen years old, just started high school which is like a coming-of-age ritual of our society, and my grandma had passed away. It was during a time of change for me. My brother was the one who brought unschooling to my attention. Perhaps the catalyst for all my change. He left school the same time I did but being four years older and having seemingly being unschooling for most of his life. He and I were at different places in life. I was pushing on my own for most of the time in my journey. But I persisted. Through all the shame, guilt and confusion, I started to learn more and more about my culture, our traditions and teachings. Unschooing suddenly became a way for me to live more similar to how my ancestors lived. It had opened me up to learning the traditions, songs, dances, and language of my people. It had brought to my attention the situations people, animals and life worldwide are facing because of Western teachings.

Sometimes called deschooling, homeschooling or dropping in/out, unschooling itself comes in many different colours, flavours and sounds. Yet it follows a few underlying principles that are found in any unschooling home or practice. Living and learning are the same thing. People are instinctively curious and avid, adaptable learners, and not every method of learning is suitable for everyone, everywhere. I used to refine my definition of unschooling over and over again in my head when I first left school. It definitely has changed over the years as I’ve come to experience the meaning of learning by living. One way I see it is as a form of decolonizing. It is to break down the colonial system that has imprisoned my people for over one hundred and fifty years. It is the same philosophy that my ancestors followed, that all indigenous people have followed since the beginning of time, that there is no difference between being a student and being alive. Unschooling has opened me up to allow my culture to come. I’m writing this blog to give insight into the life not usually talked about the life of a unschooling, young native woman.

This my life. Welcome to my blog.

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2 responses to “My Unschooled Life

  1. Awesome post! Thank you. Here in Wisconsin, we have a large group of Hmong people, and there is such a gap between the traditional Hmong ways and this culture and there is such a crisis in that community because the young people go to school and don’t know their traditional stories and ways and so there is a big rift between the generations. I’ve thought that unschooling might be a good option for them, or some similar variation.

    • I can definitely see unschooling as a solution to many problems around destruction of cultures. The area my brother and I were working on was how to get unschooling into communties. Its so touchy a subject with the history of school being so closely tied to colonization, its hard to bring up leaving school without bringing up the fact you are colonization and the emotional and psychology trauma that fact brings up. Though in the long run, it’s better to become aware of it then to continue without fully understanding the root of most problems that a native community faces. We’ve sort of came to the rough conclusion that to get unschooling into native communties, particularly in our community, is to open up spaces for youth to come that follow the unschooling way. For them to experience it first hand without really knowing that what they are doing is unschooling. That way its something they are familiar with and not so abnormal when its discussed as an option. But it has to come from the youth or esle it’s not really a particularly enjoyable place for youth. lol From my experience anyways. Thanks for commenting! :)

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