Yesterday, my sister crept out of bed shortly before 10 a.m. She then spent about 10 minutes curled up on the couch before she made it to the kitchen for her choice of breakfast: she heated up a cold piece of pizza. I told her we needed to buy her school supplies because the school year would start tomorrow. She groaned and then asked to go to the park before we did that. I agreed and we set out for the park, where we played. The rest of the day, we decided together the order of running errands, playing at home, eating and walking the dog. Our night ended with a rush to bed, after an extended game of tag with a gaggle of neighbourhood children. And it was in this rush to bed, that I realized tomorrow would not be the same.
Today, I pulled up the blinds to let the rising sun peek through the windows at 7 a.m. I turned on the radio and sang along while I got dressed in hopes of waking up my sister. No luck. Ten minutes later, I shook her gently with a cooing voice, her eyes still shut. I pulled back the sheets and tickled her. Another 10 minutes later, her eyes were open and she begrudgingly got out of bed. Then, the barrage of my dictating began.
“Put on your uniform,” I told her.
“You need to take your vitamins,” I insisted.
“C’mon, eat breakfast,” I coaxed.
“Sit still, let me brush your hair,” I demanded.
“Hurry, hurry,” I ordered with an occasional threat, “or you’ll be late.”
On the way to school, I reminded her to go into the school gym first before heading to her classroom with her classmates.
“Oh great,” she said, “I hate being in the gym.”
“Why? Don’t you just run around in there with your friends?”
“No. We have to sit still and be quiet. I hate morning gym time.”
And with that, she walked into her first day of 2nd grade.
I drove away troubled. I not only remembered being subjected to the same ridiculous rules and regulations in school. But, I also worried about my own controlling behaviour towards her before she had to go off to a place which I think conforms more to the definition of a prison than to a learning environment. My easy-going, egalitarian and playful mindset vanished once I was in charge of sending her to school. Why? The short answer, I am a product of schooling and in some twisted way, am still afraid of the teacher’s consequences.
Schooling is about establishing social norms, which include submission to hierarchy and authority, accepting a loss of freedom and an allegiance to learning in an accredited institution by a certified teacher. I was socialized to assume adults have power over children and that children must follow what adults command, or face the consequences. And now, as a young adult, despite all my radical beliefs about the reality of schooling, I reverted to that socialization. Unlearning, it seems, is a life-long project.
However, I trust that unlearning is the only path to freedom. But, it’s not just our individual freedom at stake; it is also the freedom of our children and of all society. Systems of oppression continue to dominate the world because we learned submissive behaviour at a young age. What if we no longer scolded children for not liking school, for not doing what they were told? What if applauded them for asserting themselves, enacting their beliefs and rebelling against codes of conduct? Would they be better prepared to challenge the norms of consumer culture? Would they be fearless enough to confront racist supremacy and imperialism in all its shades? Would they reject a life of fitting in with the masses and choose to revel in their unique worldview?
Well, we can start a revolution by honestly facing who we’ve become as a result of schooling and choosing to unlearn those behaviors. We can challenge the norms of parenting and schooling. We can create learning spaces that encourage curiosity, independence, questioning, play and self-directed exploration. We can live our lives passionately, honestly and fearlessly or else, the reality is, we will continue to listen to the voices of teachers who told us to sit still and keep quiet.
--Sarah looks forward to writing more about the journey of unlearning, of being a swapthagami and how these are tools for a social revolution.