Monday, March 22, 2010

Unschooling and Diversity

A while back, Ronnie did a blog post about this. It's here. She recently got this comment to that post:

Is it okay for unschooling conferences and gatherings to be made up of 99 percent people who appear to be white or identify as white? What about 95 percent? Or 90 percent? I don't think it is.

Unschooling, as a philosophy and ideology, is supposed to be best for everyone, not just some people who have certain characteristics. So, why would these conferences be heavily weighted with white folks?

There are a lot of reasons for this, so I'm asking rhetorically. However, I think it's really important that unschooling conferences start making an effort to confront racism directly in order to make sure these conferences are as multicultural as possible. Maybe we need to put together an explicitly multicultural unschooling conference in order to help raise awareness of the fact that other conferences are not multicultural?!? I don't know, what do you think?

I was motivated to respond. Let me start at the beginning and respond to these questions in order.

Q1. Is it okay for unschooling conferences and gatherings to be made up of 99 percent people who appear to be White or identify as White? What about 95 percent? Or 90 percent?

A. Yes, because that simply happens to be the current demographic of U.S. unschooling. Unschooling itself and unschooling conferences in and of themselves have no causative ability or power over this: non causa pro causa. You're confusing self-selection with active restriction (racism, sexism, any-ism).

The Marcy Playground Tennis Club will probably be composed mostly of people who enjoy tennis. It will be heavily weighted (biased!) toward tennis players. People who are not tennis players are not specifically or actively restricted from participating, they're simply not interested. The group forms by self-selection, not restrictive exclusivity. If it happens to be mostly White (or mostly Black, or mostly left-handed, NAZI atheists), that's due to other factors, not tennis itself or this tennis club in particular. Are there individual members of this tennis club who are prejudiced against Blacks or left-handed NAZI atheists or even objectivist anarchocapitalists? Possibly, even probably. What does that say about prejudice and exclusivity in tennis or in this group? Nothing. Abusus non tollit usum. Unschooling and unschooling conferences, idem.

Let's consider a couple of alternate scenarios.

Belle de Foret Tennis Club has a membership fee of $50K, annual dues of $12K, and a requirement to spend at least $12K/year in their facilities on gear, meals, etc. Not for everyone, obviously, but does this money barrier constitute specific restrictive exclusivity? Much as I personally think we should eat the rich, I can't honestly call this unacceptably restrictive. There are several unschooling conferences we'd like to attend but we can't afford to; we are financially restricted from attending them. Should we put together a conference explicitly to raise awareness that poor people are restricted from attending (some) unschooling conferences? Who's gonna pay for it?

Ye Olde White Man's Tennis Consortium refuses to accept non-Whites, non-heteros, non-Christians, etc. ad nauseum. This is clearly a case where the group itself is actively, selectively restricting membership. This is not the case for unschooling in general or unschooling conferences in particular. There is no unschooling conference anywhere that I've heard of which discriminates against "multiculturalism," whatever you mean by that.

'nuff said on that one.

Q2. Why are these conferences heavily weighted with White folks?

A. My Zen-like response is: Because they are. I think it's disingenuous to pose this question in this manner. You know as well as I, or anyone, that sociocultural factors are the dominant effector here. Unschooling and unschooling conferences are neither causative nor purposefully restrictive.

Q3. Maybe we need to put together an explicitly multicultural unschooling conference in order to help raise awareness of the fact that other conferences are not multicultural?

A. Feel free to create such a conference. Some specifics might be helpful to those of us who find your language somewhat fuzzy, like your logic. I deny your contention that other conferences are not "multicultural."

Datzawl from me. I now return to my usual self-centered psychotic babbling.


  1. My response to his comment was similar.

    My one issue with your tennis analogy stems from "they're simply not interested." I can't say that's what's keeping minority groups from homeschooling as much as whites do. I suspect economic factors come into play in the statistics (although I could argue about whether economic factors really need keep someone from unschooling, since I know a lot of families who do it on *very* little money).

    Nevertheless, your point is well taken and expressed with the succinct flare that is your trademark. :-)

  2. I like your reply, Frank. How would we make conferences more multi-cultural? Would racial quotas work? Will we be able to find enough minority folks to fill the quota?

    I'm also right there with you on the topic of eating the rich.

  3. If a racial quota was set, who would enforce it? Would it be the unschooling conference's responsibility to seek out ethnically diverse families? And if the quota wasn't met, then what? And would we limit access to white families because there weren't enough minorities represented?

    At this point the LIFE is Good Conference seeks out and invites ANY family that wants to join us. We even subsidize those who can't afford to pay. Race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference or dancing ability never come into the equation at all.

    I seriously don't know what more I could do. Change may need to happen, but I believe it's on a much larger socio-economic and cultural scale.

  4. BTW..."dancing ability" was meant as a random attribute and not to be tied to any ethnic group. But now I'm afraid it might read that way. DOH!

  5. I really want to comment about this post but I am up to my ears in a project that I am working on that is due next week.
    I will come back as soon as I have time to write a thoughtful response.

  6. I pictured Frank head-banging when you mentioned dancing ability, Mary. :-)

  7. That's a great video and seeing multiple images of me on the screen is always a delight!

    And now I'm waiting with bated breath for Erika's comments!

  8. Kelly Lovejoy (Ms. Live and Learn herself) sent me this comment, which she was unable to post herself on this blog due to technical reasons. Kelly sez:

    I personally sent out invitations for the last two Live and Learn Conferences to the African American Unschoolers on yahoogroups. One woman asked whether the conference would have people of color. I answered that it *would* only if they would attend. I can't "conjure" color at an unschooling conference. I *can* be as welcoming as I possibly can. But if they won't attend, it's not my fault as coordinator. I twice considered asking Courtney Walton to speak; but she seems to bring religion into all her articles, so I wasn't sure she would/could keep it out of her talks. I am still a member of that yahoogroup (but I'm as active on that one as I am on all the others right now: NOT at ALL). But I would suggest that it's more their own limiting than it is my not being welcoming enough.

  9. Conversation about this is also happening on Facebook here.

  10. Sandra has commented that among the African American unschoolers she's known there is huge family pressure to appreciate the public education that was fought so hard to achieve. Among her arguments, she made them recently at always learning, is the idea that those who have recently won education for all feel a need to harvest what they've toiled for through their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren.

    Here's a quote:
    The pressure of people's parents and families to send kids to school
    is probably much greater in any population (economic or ethnic or
    immigrant) for which the privilege of the availability of school is

  11. Hi Frank,
    Speaking as a Black person who is interested in unschooling, attends unschooling conferences all over the country and has experienced several very awkward moments as an unschooler of color at those conferences, I really wish that we could discuss those awkward moments and how we can lessen their occurrence in the future rather than getting sidetracked by all of the other points that seem to come up anytime the subject of race comes up.
    The incident that I spoke about in my talk several years ago(where a AA boy was not believed when he said I was not his mother), was/is disturbing to me for several reasons.
    First, because Unschooling for me is all about trust and this child was not trusted - to participate in the activity without permission from a parent(which is unheard of at all of the unschooling conferences that I have attended), and then to not be trusted about who his mom is!
    Remember, he was told by the adults present that I must be his mother and was only believed that I wasn't his mom when I said I wasn't. And yes I'll say it here, I seriously doubt that your child would have been questioned and disbelieved by strangers if she had said that some random white person was not her parent!
    Second, it is bothers me because it seems that a lot of the uncomfortable feelings that unschooling families of color feel when they attend gatherings/conferences of unschoolers are presumed to be "their problems", things that they should deal with on their own without including the larger community.
    And while it is true that there are AA/Black Un/Homeschooling groups online and in real life(we even host annual family camping vacations), the groups were formed to combat some of the isolation and separateness that is felt when you are an minority within a minority and to date, there has not been conference held specifically for unschoolers of color. Perhaps it is something that needs to be explored.
    As to my own family's experiences at our conferences, we have always felt welcomed, have made many good friends and really look forward to our "vacations" with like-minded folks. And because of that, we would like to make sure that many other families like ours see and experience the richness that the gatherings have to offer.
    Oh, one more thing, by speaking out about what disappointed him about our group/family/gatherings, Eli was trying to work out/understand what felt wrong to him about some things he witnessed. I don't think that he was saying that the conference organizers or the attendees were excluding anyone from their events.
    And I also have to add after reading Kelly's reply that I have had the same conversation with many families of color too, telling them that if they came to conferences/gatherings there would be more people of color at the events!

  12. Hi Again,
    I also wanted to say that Sandra's comments are spot on!
    Talk about getting it coming and going! We are constantly reminded about someone in the family that was on the front lines of the fight for school desegregation!

  13. Erika,

    Thanks for participating/sharing; I appreciate it. It's nice to have an actual Black person contribute to this discussion. (wink and a grin)

    First, as Ronnie clarified, this thread (as originated by me, anyway) has nothing specifically to do with Eli's original post, although that is the root origination point for all that followed. I started this specifically about the responder who commented on Ronnie's comments about Eli's post. Yeah, that was simple and clear, wasn't it? My post was limited to responding to that guy's comments, which are in brown on my post.

    In that context, I was speaking to the accusation that unschooling conferences are institutionally *not* inclusive. That point is limited and specific. Your points are at a more general, interpersonal level and I agree that these types of behaviors/incidents should be addressed openly in public in the greater community. Fresh air and exposure to sunlight are helpful in cleansing festering wounds and racism in America is just such a deep wound in the body of our society.

    My opinion is that there is no specific discrimination by unschooling conferences and their creators and that unschooling and unschoolers are, in general, nondiscriminatory. But I hasten to add that "in general" and "in actuality" are not entirely congruent. Your experience with the boy and the adult who insisted that you *must* be the boy's mother is a clear example of (what I hope is) the *unconscious* racism prevalent in our dominant culture. Additionally, just as you said, it's also a clear example of someone who is not really a fully-evolved unschooler if they're behaving like they did with that poor child. And you.

    So lemme back up a step. IMO there are two levels which could be addressed under this subject. The broader, abstract, societal level is the one I opened for discussion. Are there institutional beliefs, behaviors, functions, paradigms, etc. which are racist de rerum natura. I would say there are not; I believe that this level is about as nondiscriminatory as it can be. My opinion is not Fact or Truth and contradictory opinions are welcome; but let's use that as a baseline.

    This is the level where social constructs, like laws, operate. The limitation at this level is, of course, that abstract constructs can control behaviors but not thoughts. A KKK member may desire to refuse service to certain classes of people in his restaurant but the law forbids him to act on those thoughts/desires. An abstract social construct cannot, however, control his thoughts and make him want to accept people he has chosen to detest and denigrate. That brings us to the second, more subtle level. The personal/interpersonal one.

    Assuming, and I admit that it's a grand assumption, that the societal, abstract level is adequately addressed, how then do we begin to change hearts and minds at an individual level? Phew! Isn't that the eternal question?
    (part two in next comment...)

  14. part 2...
    Assuming, and I admit that it's a grand assumption, that the societal, abstract level is adequately addressed, how then do we begin to change hearts and minds at an individual level? Phew! Isn't that the eternal question?

    To make this Herculean task a bit easier, I think that we are generally talking about interacting with people who are not card-carrying members of the Knights of the White Camellia or even the White Citizens' Council. I'm imagining people who have grown up in a deeply White culture and they are simply blind to their own insularity and are not fundamentally or purposefully ill-intentioned. Actually, let's just state that these are the kind of people we're talking to/about because talking to a dedicated ideologue of the Sheriff Bull Connor School of Social Justice is a waste of time and breath. Me, I really only have two suggestions in this area.

    The first is the simple, if sometimes uncomfortable, act of personal accountability. Somebody tells you a nigger joke. Do you just keep quite and let it pass so as not to "cause a fuss" or do you step up and call them on it? If you choose to let it pass, are you not guilty of participating in and perpetuating the unacceptable status quo?

    I understand and sympathize with your discomfort in doing this. I am, at root, a shy person and discord of any kind destroys my personal harmony for a long time and even makes me physically uncomfortable. I grew up as a privileged White male in a Southern society which pretended desperately that the Civil War never happened and we were all part of the happy White master race, floating blithely through the prebellum world, stoically enduring the White Man's Burden. I know that it's just so much easier to go with the flow. Conversely, it's so awfully expensive, in terms of personal comfort, lost family and acquaintances, and pariah status, to stand against an entrenched zeitgeist.

    I say, tough shit. Ya gotta. If you don't, you're part of the problem, not part of the solution. Yes, it's uncomfortable. Yes, you'll alienate family and friends. (Were they real friends?) Do it, anyway.

    The second thing we can do in this area is what Erika suggests and what we're doing here: Discuss the subject, clearly, openly, honestly. Let in some air and light. Don't ignore the elephant in the room. Public discourse is a wonderful opportunity for learning.

    So jump on in here. What do *you* think?

  15. I guess I'd thought unschooling was about being open and curious and wanting to share and gain knowledge with everyone. So why doesn't it concern people that at conferences we're basically sharing and gaining knowledge from one demographic on this earth?

    But at least Kelly Lovejoy gives a great explanation for why the conferences are all white. Thanks Kelly! Here's what she was quoted as saying:

    "One woman asked whether the conference would have people of color. I answered that it *would* only if they would attend."

    How would this make a person of color feel welcome and comfortable?

  16. Welcome to the discussion, Genelle. It's difficult for me to decipher your specific intent through what I assume is meant to be irony. Are you saying that you believe that the OP is correct and that unschooling in general and conferences in particular are systemically and purposefully racist?

    Erika says she's used the same rhetorical device that Kelly used, which you abstracted and quoted as if it were snarky. Does it make it more palatable because Erika is Black whereas Kelly is White?

    What would you suggest conference organizers do that they haven't already done?

  17. Hello!

    I think it would be helpful to distinguish between purposeful/intentional and systematic. Many things happen accidentally/unintentionally, and still systematically.

    In research (my background is in cross-cultural research regarding behaviors and perceptions), we would call the problem you are encountering (not achieving multicultural participation in the conferences) as a "recruitment bias." That is not to say that you intentionally are recruiting only white people (or a specific demographic within that group), but that regardless of intention, the recruitment (possibly even the planning and design of the conventions) is such as to appeal to just the one demographic.

    This is very common. Most people create messages, events, etc., designed for people like themselves. If you want to address this, you would need to start with working collaboratively with people that you are hoping to recruit from the beginning planning stages through to the end. If someone is interested in accomplishing this, I would be happy to help facilitate the cross-cultural communication and collaboration.

    Based on the anecdotes described above, such a conference may need to address race head-on, talk about these issues in an open way. Open meaning both honest and open to hearing other perspectives, open to listening as well as speaking.

    As for there being a difference when a white person says that the conference will only be diverse if "they attend" and when a black person says the same thing... Context. The white person, inherently is putting the responsibility for representing diversity on the listener/asker. The black person is shouldering the responsibility together. Even said in the same tones of voice, the two contexts *are* different.

    All the best,

  18. Thanks for your input, Kerry.

    I don't recognize you. Are you an unschooler?

  19. undogmatically so, yes, i think that best describes our homeschooling approach. we are new to the forum, and only have been (officially) homeschooling for a year and a half -- oldest just hit reporting age then.

  20. Well, welcome to the party! Are y'all planning to attend any conferences, campouts, etc.?

  21. I’d be upset if I held a gathering of unschoolers and people cried out “exclusive”. Wait, that actually happened. Well, I’d be downright pissed off if I hosted a large conference, doing everything possible to include any unschooling family that wanted to attend, and be told I had to “start making an effort to confront racism directly”. I cannot believe anyone can really make an argument that unschooling conferences (not individuals) maintain a racist element. And anyways, the demographic at conferences should only be compared against the demographic of unschooling families not the greater population.

    I once worked with an annual cross-Canadian gathering for 16 year olds that had federal funding and therefore we worked hard at trying to achieve the government’s prescribed demographic targets. But in the end, despite our best efforts, the gathering was attractive largely to white girls, so each year they made up 80% of the 300 kids.

    An unschooling conference is as diverse a representation of the population that I have found anywhere. The reason I continue to return to SUDDS meetings (despite that, for whatever reason, I find them frustrating) is that I am always astounded by the diverse backgrounds of everyone in attendance. And the fact that we all have this one really great thing in common helps me, for one thing, be more tolerant and accepting of any and all differences.

  22. Thanks for your comments, Craig. Looking forward to seeing y'all soon!