What is ‘deschooling’?

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Photo: San Francisco, Museum of Modern Art, no year

‘Deschooling’ is a term that is used to describe the process people go through when they transition to home education – particularly unschooling. It’s is something that can be beneficial for parents who went to school themselves but want to home ed, and for children who have been attending school but then deregister to start home educating.

Deschooling helps people to move to a self-directed and self-motivated way of studying and living, from one that has been directed and controlled.

The term ‘deschooling’ gives us some clue to it’s meaning – ‘de’ describes the taking away/reversal of something, ‘schooling’ the thing that is being taken away.

But what exactly is the ‘schooling’?

Traditional schooling functions, among other things, as a process of socialisation into subjugation. One of the key things that we learn during our time at school is to accept the authoritarian model of ‘power over’ as normal, and to learn our place and role within that. We are socialised into accepting that the person at the top has power over those underneath, and the best way through that is to please/satisfy the person/people in authority, in order to survive/do well in the system.

Punishment and reward is used as a tool to reinforce this. At school, when we please those in authority, we are rewarded, often publicly.  If we fail to please, then we may be punished (also often publicly) – either directly, or more discreetly over time, by being labelled as not doing well enough, trying hard enough, as being difficult, or as having something wrong with us.

Traditional schooling also teaches us that learning is something that is controlled by the teacher, and our role as learners is to take on board what we have been told, and prove that it has been internalised. We are ‘schooled’ into thinking that ‘real learning’ looks like a particular thing, that happens with a teacher, in a classroom. That it isn’t something we ourselves can manage and direct, but that we need someone else to direct us and show us what is important. We are ‘schooled’ into believing that any learning we do independently isn’t real.

This process of ‘schooling’ doesn’t only happen in school. It can also happen in other spheres of socialisation, for example, in the family. When parents behave in authoritarian ways with their children, and use punishment and reward, they are teaching the same kinds of messages as are described above: to survive/do well/be loved you must please. Fail to do so, and you will suffer. It is a way to condition, coerce and control people into being a particular way, and doing a particular thing.

We have become ‘schooled’ once our subjugation – to a person, system, or idea of who we ought to be – has become normalised. At that point the existence of ‘schooling’ as an influence becomes invisible, as we have accepted subjugation as ‘life’.

Deschooling, then, is a process of personal liberation. It is the process we go through in order to deprogramme our bodies and minds from the conditioning that results from being socialised in a ‘power over’ dynamic. It creates space for us to reconnect with our own inner voice, sense of self and autonomy, and to release any belief, conscious or unconscious, that misusing our own personal power over others is ok.

Deschooling enables us to realise, accept and embrace our most authentic selves, our feelings, strengths, weaknesses. To acknowledge and address any fear or shame that has resulted from being socialised via punishment and reward, that is limiting us in exploring and being ourselves. It empowers us to be authorities in our own lives and to self-advocate – and crucially, to listen to, acknowledge and respect that same self-empowerment when it is demonstrated by the people around us. It creates a climate for honest relationships.

Deschooling frees us to be who we truly are, to understand ourselves and our own needs, and to make space for other people to do the same. It frees us to own our capability to learn what we want and need to, in order to explore our potential – and get excited for other people to do the same.

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