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This paper outlines the theoretical, pedagogical, and philosophical framework for critical unschooling. Critical Unschooling is a student-centered and autonomous teaching and learning praxis rooted in decolonizing human rights education. Unlike homeschool, unschooling de-centers the hegemonic power dynamics inherent to essentialist and traditionalist approaches to formal education in favor of a student-led educational milieu in which learning is decompartmentalized and can occur at any place and time. Critical unschooling draws upon literature rooted in ethnic studies, postcolonial feminism, and human rights education, to propose conceptions of self-directed and community-based learning that develops students' radical agency and critical consciousness.
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 2018 Vol. 12 Issue 23
ISSN: 1916-8128
Abstract: This paper outlines the theoretical, pedagogical, and philosophical framework for critical
unschooling. Critical Unschooling is a student-centered and autonomous teaching and learning
praxis rooted in decolonizing human rights education. Unlike homeschool, unschooling de-centers
the hegemonic power dynamics inherent to essentialist and traditionalist approaches to formal
education in favor of a student-led educational milieu in which learning is decompartmentalized
and can occur at any place and time. Critical unschooling draws upon literature rooted in ethnic
studies, postcolonial feminism, and human rights education, to propose conceptions of self-
directed and community-based learning that develops students’ radical agency and critical
Keywords: unschooling, decolonizing, pedagogy, self-directed education
The unschooling movement is a beacon of hope for the evolution of teaching and learning.
Through self-direction and autonomy, students and teachers can break the bonds of educational
modalities rooted in colonial and industrial power structures in pursuit of a more equitable and
democratic society. As more families choose to unschool, however, it is important to develop
theoretical and pedagogical frameworks of self-directed learning that situate the pursuit and
creation of knowledge as an act of resistance. Though it may seem counterintuitive to prescribe
theoretical frameworks and educational outcomes to the practice of unschooling, self-directed,
student-centered, and community-based learning models untethered to an ideology of solidarity
and resistance will result in students being submerged by the structures and systems of neoliberal
capitalism without the necessary contexts needed to analyze and engage with their unjust realities.
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 2018 Vol. 12 Issue 23
Though formal education can be rightly critiqued for its role in the reproduction of
hegemonic discourses, education equally functions as a site of postcolonial protest in which
historically minoritized, racialized, and marginalized people are able to critique the oppressive
systems under which they exist and imagine more just and humane realities. The philosophy of
critical unschooling is informed by this appreciation for the emancipatory potential of education
and sounds a call to students, teachers, and administrators to eschew the inextricably
interconnected hegemonies of white supremacy, neoliberal capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and their
necessary bedfellows: exploitation, inequality, genocide, and war. The critical unschooler (which
comprises of student-teachers and teacher-students in the Freirean sense) must instead
intentionally, and center the hxstorical
contexts, epistemologies, and lived experiences of womxn,
people of color, queer and trans folx, indigenous communities, and those engaged in the struggle
for human rights.
Though theoretically heady, the intentionality of critical unschooling can be manifested in
simple ways. The first step that practitioners of critical unschooling must take is to transform the
oppressive power dynamics between teachers and students. This is partly accomplished by doing
away with what Freire (1970) calls banking methods of education, in which teachers are regarded
as omnipotent sources of wisdom and students as empty vessels to be molded and shaped. A critical
unschooling praxis recognizes that adults have much to teach children but departs from essentialist
conceptions of education by recognizing that children have just as much to teach adults. As such,
critical unschooling necessitates that parents embody the teacher-student role and ensure that
The letter x is used in this paper to de-gender words (such as hxstory and womxn) that in their
common spelling are gendered in a way that centers masculinity.
Toward a Critical Unschooling Pedagogy
access to knowledge is unrestricted based on preconceived notions about appropriateness or a
child’s capacity to understand certain concepts.
The theoretical framework of critical unschooling consists of three pillars: 1) a critical
interrogation of the role of education in capitalist societies, 2) the reclamation of pedagogy and
educational practice as a tool for decolonization, and 3) the demand for transformative action is
based upon critical reflection inspired by human rights education. In practice, critical unschooling
is an autonomous and learner-centered approach to education that turns the world into a classroom
and divorces education from the coloniality of its underlying power structures. Critical
unschooling deploys this philosophy to equip students with the cognitive and experiential tools
needed to practice environmental stewardship, to understand, promote, and defend universal
human rights, and to build solidarity with marginalized people.
Critiques of Education
Critical unschooling is rooted in critiques of education that identify the essentialist,
perennialist, and formal practice of education in capitalist societies as what Althusser (1971)
termed an ideological state apparatus (ISA). ISAs constitute the loci of authority that a repressive
state may deploy without resorting to violence. The role of education as an ideological state
apparatus is thusly to convince citizens of the state’s authority and necessity. To achieve the state’s
cultural and political hegemony, ideological state apparatuses work in concert with repressive state
apparatuses, or the more overtly violent mechanisms of social control at the state’s disposal, such
as the military, police force, and the criminal justice system (Althusser, 1971).
Education, through classrooms, schools, and school districts segregated on de facto bases
along racial and economic lines, reproduces the social stratification of neoliberal capitalism at-
large. Though under-resourced students and educators often find ways to succeed, the role of
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 2018 Vol. 12 Issue 23
education in capitalist societies is nevertheless to indoctrinate students into accepting narrowly
defined societal roles, as well as the notion that one has no choice but to sell one’s labor in order
to access basic resources and liberties (such as food, water, shelter, healthcare, and the freedom of
expression) that should be unconditionally conferred upon them as human rights. Public education
in the capitalist state also paradoxically conditions its subjects to accept their self-exploitation
whilst simultaneously accepting the inequitable transfer of power and capital from one generation
of nonproductive elites to the next (Bowles & Gintis, 2011).
Gramsci (1971) notes that the traditional teacher-pupil relationship is predicated upon a
power dynamic in which the teacher is tasked with passing on evergreen cultural knowledge and
values. This relational dynamic, having been internalized by citizens through years of formal
schooling is then reproduced on a societal scale “…between the rulers and the ruled, elites and
their followers, leaders and led, the vanguard and the body of the army” (p. 350). A decolonizing
philosophy of education recognizes that the learning experience ought to instead subvert the
prescriptive and traditionally repressive teacher-pupil dynamic in favor of collaborative processes
that enrich teacher and student alike, thereby halting the reproduction of hegemonic societal,
institutional, interpersonal, and discursive relations in educational spaces. As Nyerere (1968)
The education provided by the colonial government in the two countries which now form Tanzania
had a different purpose. It was not designed to prepare young people for the service of their own
country ; instead it was motivated by a desire to inculcate the values of the colonial society and to
train individuals for the service to the colonial state. (p. 46)
In mapping the direction of education in post-colonial Tanzania, Nyerere (1968) points to
how pre-colonial African societies did not have schools, yet young people, through their
interactions with their communities, elders, and peers, were still educated in their respective
societies’ values, norms, and knowledge bases. It was not until the advent of colonial rule that
Toward a Critical Unschooling Pedagogy
education in Africa began to bear the hallmarks of an ideological state apparatus. This interrogation
of the history of education in Africa highlights the settler-colonist violence that undergirds much
of the discourses surrounding Western education paradigms and the dire need for community-
responsive alternatives.
Giroux (2001) notes, however, socialist critiques of education often fail to propose such
alternatives, in spite of their compelling analyses of the myriad problems with education systems
in capitalist societies. As such, it is imperative that community-responsive and decolonizing
philosophies of education move beyond critique to inspire action and integrate contemporary
literature produced by scholars and activists from the communities most affected by social
stratification and institutionalized exploitation. The pedagogy and praxis of postcolonial feminists,
ethnic studies scholars, and queer theorists is thusly positioned as the second of critical
unschooling’s three pillars as these works serve as the philosophy’s ideological center.
Postcolonial Feminism, Ethnic Studies, and Queer Theory
The second pillar of a pedagogy of critical unschooling consolidates a wide breadth of
scholarship from a variety of fields, but I have chosen to focus on several works that have most
directly impacted me as an educator. These works fall primarily under the umbrellas of
postcolonial feminism, ethnic studies, and queer theory, but embody the intersections of numerous
strands of scholarship and identity. This specific combination of influences is integral to the
philosophy of critical unschooling (and to autonomous and decolonizing philosophies of education
in general) because it establishes the steadfast intent of critical unschooling to emphasize and uplift
the emancipatory struggles and cultural perspectives of historically marginalized and colonized
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 2018 Vol. 12 Issue 23
In Teaching to Transgress, hooks (2014) writes “…I recognize that students from
marginalized groups enter classrooms within institutions where their voices have been neither
heard nor welcome. My pedagogy has been shaped to respond to this reality” (p. 84). Due to the
intentionality of the ideological state apparatus’s silencing of dissenting voices, the act of teaching
in the manner that simply recognizes the experiences of marginalized groups in general and black
women in particular is revolutionary in itself. As hooks (2014) notes, black feminists have
published research and have composed critiques in every academic discipline imaginable, yet
established researchers in these fields often seem to ignore or devalue these contributions by virtue
of the dominant societal discourses of race and gender that reductively conflate blackness with
childlike masculinity and feminism with moneyed whiteness. As Davis (1981) demonstrates, an
approach to education that centers black women’s experiences and trusts in their agency has the
potential to foster solidarity through education. By examining the advocacy of white women such
as Myrtilla Miner, the Grimke Sisters, Prudence Crandall, and Margaret Douglas, who recognized
that education for black women not only served the goals of the abolitionist and suffragist
movements but uplifted all of society, Davis (1981) offers up history as a blueprint for resolving
the rifts ingrained in contemporary race and gender relations.
The work of ethnic studies scholars builds upon the framework of honoring the voices and
experiences of the oppressed by acknowledging the fact that colonized people may not even know
what their truths are, due to their cultures and ancestral knowledge bases having been destroyed or
distorted by the centuries of horror perpetuated upon their communities by the transatlantic slave
trade and the colonial project. The praxis of Pinayism (Tintiangco-Cubales, 2005) is a critical
touchstone for the pedagogy of critical unschooling due to the way it establishes a theoretical
framework for the deconstruction and transformation of the pinay (or Filipina-American)
Toward a Critical Unschooling Pedagogy
experience. Tintiangco-Cubales’s praxis serves as a blueprint for the praxis of postcolonial
transcendence which can be practiced by all people. Pinayism creates an intentional and closed
discursive space for Filipina-American women to engage with what it means to be many things,
such as pinays who are not defined by their relationship to pinoys (Filipino-American men),
feminists who are not defined by their relationship to white feminism, and Americans who are not
defined by their families’ immigrant experiences or a yearning for assimilation. Tintiangco-
Cubales (2005) also positions the pinay engagement with colonial mentality, such as internalized
misogyny, white supremacy, and the perception of other pinays as rivals, as a vehicle for Filipina-
American women to build solidarity with one another. Tintiangco-Cubales (2005) terms this
solidarity a “sistahood” forged through “a repetitive process of reevaluation, reconstruction,
retransformation, re-transgression, and, especially, relove for one another.” (p. 147)
Building upon this foundation of postcolonial feminist critique rooted in black feminism
and Pinayism, the second pillar of my philosophy is rounded out by a critical interrogation of
gender itself. By queering pedagogy and praxis, critical unschooling demands that systems of
learning deconstruct and transform the binaries that limit the possibilities of existence and
experience. Sokofsky-Sedgwick (1990) contends that society as currently structured is based on
absurd and deterministic prescriptions of gender norms and gender relations. One’s chromosomal
sex at birth (male or female) is assumed to determine a host of unrelated characteristics, choices,
and even occupations. These prescriptions, which conflate female chromosomes with fragility and
male chromosomes with rationality and strength, form the basis of societal institutions and
relations and are thusly enforced and reproduced in all aspects of mainstream society. These deeply
held gender biases are especially reproduced in education, as evidenced by the widely studied
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phenomenon of teachers and administrators systematically discouraging girls from pursuing
“rational” and, therefore, masculine fields such as mathematics and engineering (Haraway, 1988).
Butler (1990) contends that these dominant understandings of gender are inherently flawed,
as assumptions and ascriptions of attributes related to chromosomal sex are not rooted in biological
or physiological fact. Gender, due to the morass of societal assumptions ascribed to it, is not so
much a biological or empirical reality, but rather a sustained performance. Still, deviation from
the socially accepted script comes with dire, violent, and often fatal consequences. Lugones (2007)
adds further nuance to established queer theory by tracing the origin of these rigid gender norms
to colonialism and the reclassification of the world and its people to serve the needs of European
imperialism. Lugones (2007) contrasts the more egalitarian gender relations prevalent in pre-
colonial societies (such as the Yoruba in West Africa) with the strictly prescribed assumptions of
both gender and race that reordered these societies under colonial rule. Lugones (2007) notes that
colonial-era records regularly describe bourgeois white women as virginal and frail whilst
enslaved black women were viewed as both sexually perverse and “strong enough to do any sort
of labor” (p. 13). Lugones (2007) uses these records demonstrate that the colonial hierarchies of
gender and race were not designed to protect any sort of universal dictate that all women were to
be venerated by virtue of their femininity. Rather, colonial authorities had no qualms conscripting
white women’s minds to unquestioning subordination whilst dehumanizing, enslaving, and
brutalizing the bodies of black women. Gender and gender norms ultimately should thusly cease
to be understood as objective realities but as products of the coloniality of power, or the brutal and
intentional ways by which the colonial project reclassified human beings in order to most
efficiently exploit them. As such, the philosophy of critical unschooling contends that it is
incumbent upon students, educators, and all engaged in the process of learning to disentangle the
Toward a Critical Unschooling Pedagogy
coloniality of power from the pursuit of truth and knowledge. To begin this process, educators
must engage with decolonizing approaches to pedagogy and praxis that, at the very least, question
the validity of commonly held beliefs related to gender, race, and the intersections thereof.
Human Rights Education
The final pillar of critical unschooling is rooted in the theory and praxis of human rights
education (HRE), which envisions learning as a tool for promoting and defending human rights by
practicing education that not only expounds upon the content of human rights law but affirms
universal human dignity through progressive, student-centered, and community responsive
teaching methods. HRE embodies the action- and service-oriented compulsion of critical
unschooling and enables any adherent of this philosophy to transform theory into action and mere
practice into praxis.
Tibbits (2017) defines HRE as “a deeply practical expression of the high-minded ideals of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)- a deliberate attempt to foster a worldwide
human rights culture” (p. 69). The praxis of HRE is three-pronged, the first of which is education
about human rights, or the specific history, principles, and instruments of human rights law. HRE
then demands education through human rights, which encompasses learning and teaching methods
that validate the rights of both teachers and learners. Lastly, HRE is education for human rights,
which transforms educational spaces and processes so that all persons are granted the opportunity
to “enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others” (p. 71). The goals
of HRE, even at face-value, signify a radical departure from the goals of education (social
reproduction, the inequitable distribution of generational wealth, capital, and power, simple
conformity and obedience) as identified by socialist, feminist, and postcolonial scholars of
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HRE can take on multifarious forms, in formal and non-formal educational contexts, and
is used to address a wide-range of social and political issues. Bajaj (2017) describes how HRE
initiatives in India, through comprehensive approaches toward education and equity, uplift and
empower even the most extremely marginalized students. The programs Bajaj (2017) studies
specifically serve students from the Dalit caste who are considered “untouchable” by Indian
society and enjoy limited opportunities for prosperity and fulfillment. Bajaj (2017) documents the
multifaceted approaches of non-governmental HRE organizations to serve Dalit students and to
ensure that their schools provide opportunities for them to learn and grow. The approaches taken
on by HRE organizations include the use of course content that dispels the notion of Dalit
inferiority, basic coursework on universal human rights, student-centered teaching methods that
include performing skits and engaging in facilitated discussions as opposed to prescriptive
lecturing, and instruction in the students’ mother tongues. Mother tongue instruction itself departs
from the dominant practice in Indian schools of submerging indigenous codes and non-dominant
languages, thereby forcing already-vulnerable students to learn in what is often a completely
foreign language. The classroom content is augmented by non-curricular reforms that rid schools
of practices outside of the classroom that nonetheless perpetuate the oppression of Dalits and other
vulnerable groups. This included the common practice of forcing Dalit children to clean bathrooms
while other students were in class. Courses were also desegregated and boys and girls alike were
taught to cook and practice healthy sanitation routines, thereby fostering a palpable sense of
equality in these schools.
Though decolonizing, community-responsive, consciousness-raising pedagogies have
been proposed and practiced for generations by the likes of A.S. Neill, Paolo Freire, and John
Dewey, HRE represents an important development in the universal application of such
Toward a Critical Unschooling Pedagogy
methodologies because it draws from a comprehensive and codified legal framework to inform its
practice. By rooting the authority of its praxis in universally accepted agreements such as the
UDHR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International
Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), HRE bears a legitimacy that goes beyond a
singular scholar’s opinions and observations on how education should be. By tethering its praxis,
theory, and research to the voices of the world’s most vulnerable communities and the legal
instruments designed to protect them, HRE represents a workable blueprint for developing systems
and philosophies of education that will create and sustain equitable societies and the conditions of
true justice.
Conclusion: Critical Unschooling and the Future of an Autonomous and Decolonizing
Human Rights Pedagogy
As a site of resistance and tool for liberation, education should not be compartmentalized
or understood to be separate from the process of engaging with one’s community, environment,
and hxstory. As a parent of young children, I have deep misgivings about the purpose of education
and the influence that dominant approaches to teaching and learning will have on the cognitive
and experiential development of future generations. Dominant approaches to education have
achieved the mandate of the ideological state apparatus and have created wide swathes of people
who will defend the notion that students in schools ought to learn how to obey instructions, speak
only when spoken to, demonstrate unwavering fealty to arbitrary and illegitimate authorities, and
that their intellectual contributions are only valid if they can safeguard the continued generation of
wealth. The status quo has led to a world in which people are subordinate to profit and where
demagogues and madmen can whip a scared populace uninformed of their rights or the rights of
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 2018 Vol. 12 Issue 23
others into a reactionary frenzy
. The three pillars of critical unschooling- socialist critiques,
decolonizing feminist pedagogies, and the theory-into-action mandate of human rights education,
naturally coalesce into critical unschooling, or an alternative approach to education designed to
combat the discourses of hatred, fear, and complicity engendered by capitalist education systems.
Critical unschooling is predicated upon the notion that human beings, even children, can
and must be trusted to develop into the best possible versions of themselves. Inspired by the
precolonial learning systems described by Nyerrere (1968) and Lugones (2007), critical
unschooling contends that education need not take place in a classroom, but there is no reason why
an engaged and passionate educator cannot practice critical unschooling in a formal setting with a
large number of students. To unschool critically is not simply to practice nontraditional teaching
methods. Rather, critical unschooling is the embarkation on a journey of unlearning,
deprogramming, and undoing the generational trauma visited upon our communities by the
discourses of colonialism and the coloniality of power. More than likely, however, the autonomous
pursuit of decolonization and solidarity-building would be hindered in a formal environment
informed by the demands and expectations of education as an ideological state apparatus.
As such, critical unschooling differs from the traditionally accepted definition of
unschooling, which is often considered to be a branch of homeschooling. While other
homeschoolers may do “school at home” and follow a set curriculum, unschoolers learn primarily
through everyday life experiences- experiences that they choose and that therefore automatically
match their abilities, interests, and learning styles” (Gray & Riley, 2013). Though informed by the
This statement is based upon a forthcoming paper (Romero, 2018) in which a quantitative study
was undertaken and suggests that US adults have limited knowledge of human rights law,
regardless of gender, race, level of education attained, income. This lack of human rights
knowledge was even demonstrated by respondents with high orientations toward gender equity
and antiracism.
Toward a Critical Unschooling Pedagogy
learner-centered ethos of traditional unschooling, critical unschooling calls for its facilitators and
practitioners to embrace an intentionality informed by socialist critiques of education,
decolonizing feminist pedagogy, and HRE in order to create engaged scholars living to grow,
transform, and resist. In a sociopolitical environment dominated by discourses of neoliberalism,
white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy, it is not enough to simply let unschooled students loose in
an unjust world with no context for how it came to be. As such, I propose the framework of critical
unschooling, which couples self-directed learning with the intentional centering of epistemologies
of resistance, in order to address the potential pitfalls of ideologically unmoored unschooling. In
short, critical unschooling defines “everyday experiences” as specific acts of deimperializing
resistance and declares that value of educational content should be measured by its usefulness as
a tool in the decolonizing process.
In order to unschool critically, students and educators must divorce learning from the
coloniality of power, to see communities and networks where formal educations would only allow
for hierarchies, and to work specifically for the advancement of their own human rights as well as
those of others. This process enables students to immerse themselves in their current and historical
realities of their communities and engage in praxis in pursuit of positive and sustainable change.
Critical unschooling builds upon the practice of traditional unschooling by calling upon parents,
educators, and community members to recognize formal systems of western education as
ideological state apparatuses and instruments of colonial reorganization. From this analytical
vantage point, critical unschoolers will guide students toward a conception of learning that centers
the voices of the most vulnerable and historically marginalized communities, that educates by, for,
and through human rights in a learner-centered fashion that encourages students to create
knowledge that affirms their interests, ignites their passions, and addresses their most pressing
Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning 2018 Vol. 12 Issue 23
concerns. Through critical unschooling, the disparate strains of socialist critique, postcolonial
feminism, and human rights education converge into a foundation from which students are able to
develop the critical consciousness needed to engage with the world and the radical agency needed
to change it.
Noah Romero is an academic program manager at the University of California, Berkeley and a
doctoral student at the University of San Francisco. His work explores the use of art, technology,
alternative educational models, and sociopolitical approaches to STEM education and child
development to teach and promote human rights.
Toward a Critical Unschooling Pedagogy
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Gray, P.G., & Riley, G.P. (2013). The challenges and benefits of unschooling, according to 232
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Romero, N. (in review). The Need for HRE: A Quantitative Analysis of Human Rights
Knowledge. International Journal of Human Rights Education.
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... Anarchist (Suissa, 2006), holistic (Miller, 1991), critical educators (Illich, 2000), systems thinkers (Capra & Luisi, 2015) and decolonial scholars (Prakash & Esteva, 2008) alike, believed in the inherent nature of humans to learn spontaneously as an inextricable function of living and being an interconnected part of their environment. Romero (2018), who presented critical unschooling as an alternative, states that "an autonomous and learner-centered approach to education…turns the world into a classroom and divorces education from the coloniality of its underlying power structures" (Romero, 2018, p. 3), thus the learner can be engaged in education at any time or place. Alternatives for authentic learning, then, must allow for the autonomy of the learner to follow her own curiosity as it interacts with her environment, both social and natural (Mercogliano, 2016;Miller, 1991). ...
... Whereas authoritarianism of colonial schooling conditions children to ignore their natural instincts to imagine, create, and explore, authentic learning alternatives foster the co-construction and meaning making that happens spontaneously when children are given a nurturing environment to explore, wonder, dialogue, and experiment (Haworth & Elmore, 2018, Mercogliano, 2016Miller, 1991). Romero (2018) conceptualizes this alternative learning as that which "centers the voices of the most vulnerable and historically marginalized communities, that educates by, for, and through human rights in a learner-centered fashion that encourages students to create knowledge that affirms their interests, ignites their passions, and addresses their most pressing concerns" (p.13-14). ...
... The first conception of place echoes that of Greenwood and Meyer. The second lends itself to Romero's (2018) argument in which places of education function "as a site of postcolonial protest in which historically minoritized, racialized, and marginalized people are able to critique the oppressive systems under which they exist and imagine more just and humane realities" (p. 4). ...
In wondering “How are decolonizing, place/land-based, and community-grown learning places created and sustained as alternatives to dominant settler-colonial systems, and what stories would they share about their creation and existence?”, I formed relationships with two alternative, autonomous, decolonizing schools through a teacher-guide at each school who served as guides for me to enter their spaces with invitation. In developing these relationships over 2-3 years and spending 2-3 weeks alongside each of them at their school sites, I was able to sustain natural and deep conversation with my teacher-guides, who then served as co-storyers of this research to collectively consider research questions through the lens of their stories and lived realities in their schools. This study was carried out through narrative storywork, Indigenous and culturally responsive methodologies, and critical autoethnography, as my experience of entering these school communities and forming these relationships over time became a supporting contribution to the data. Data is regarded as all the stories, conversations, reflections, observations, intuited moments, and elements of portraiture that were gathered through this process of sustained relationship with my co-storyers and my dedicated time in being within and experiencing each school space. I identified four major themes as emergent from the data: (1) a necessary process, (2) school as communion, (3) a radical existence, and (4) belonging. Dialogue with my co-storyers about the emergent themes suggests that this work of creating decolonizing, community-grown, place-specific alternatives to settler-state educational systems is necessary across many communities; yet, entering this work requires a necessary process of individual and collective work to align to place-appropriate, decolonized, and Indigenous principals of place, community, culture, and work. Data also suggests that creating such schools is radical yet sustainable and that these schools embody a paradigmatic shift from colonizing, individualistic systems toward collective, communal systems aligned with Indigenous and anti-colonial communities. Furthermore, the data and dialogue suggest that within this work of growing such place-specific communal schools, members of the community are often afforded a greater sense of belonging and collective ownership over their educational experience. Both schools in the study also demonstrated a positive impact on the place and land on which their school was situated. Therefore, this study implicates that there is value in seeking and growing schools outside of the dominant system and that communities who seek to grow such place and person-specific schools can experience great benefit for both human and more-than-human members of the community. Keywords: alternative-autonomous school, communal school, school as communion, decolonizing, anti-colonial, Indigenous-aligned, Indigenous methodology, decolonizing communities, portraiture, critical autoethnography, co-storying research, narrative storywork, belonging, culturally responsive methodologies, place-based, land-based, resisting settler-state, sustainable systems thinking, Hālau Kū Māna, Angeles Workshop School, revolutionary schools, diverse communities, students of color
... Indigenous education can broadly be described as education for life which accounts for the "sacred roles of Nature, environment and community", the foundations of interconnectedness and the process of ever-evolving relationships (Cajete 2004, p. 29). Critical unschooling refers to a form of primarily home-based education which defines the pursuit of gender equity, community engagement, and social justice as the objective of education itself (Romero 2018(Romero , 2021. Recognising their common departure from the orthodoxies of Western educational philosophy, this study investigates the parallels, possibilities, and divergences between Indigenous education and critical unschooling to expand our understanding of anti-colonial pedagogy, or ways of teaching and learning and relating that resist the metastasizing violence of colonialism while honouring the aspirations of those doing the resisting (Zembylas 2020). ...
... Critical unschooling is a burgeoning approach to self-directed education that responds to these warnings in addition to the limitations of traditional unschooling discourse. Critical unschooling combines self-directed education with a call to reimagine society and the family to reflect and reproduce justice, harmony, and balance (Romero 2018(Romero , 2020. A praxis of critical unschooling entails three overarching political commitments: ...
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This article draws from autoethnography and historical analysis to examine how racialized people pursue educational justice, consent, inclusion, and enjoyment through non-hegemonic learning. A historical analysis of U.S. colonial education systems imposed upon Diné and Philippine peoples grounds a comparative study on two forms of anti-colonial pedagogy: Indigenous education and critical unschooling. These two lines of inquiry underpin autoethnographic analyses of our own experiences in non-hegemonic learning to offer direct insights into the process of experiential, and decolonial growth intimated in relational learning environments. Indigenous education and critical unschooling literature both affirm the notion that all learners are always already educators and students, regardless of their age, ability, or status. This notion reorients the processes and aspirations of education toward an understanding that everyone holds valuable knowledge and is inherently sovereign. These relational values link together to form systems of circular knowledge exchange that honour the gifts of all learners and create learning environments where every contribution is framed as vital to the whole of the community. This study shows that because these principles resonate in multiple sites of colonial contact across Philippine and Diné knowledge systems, through Indigenous education and critical unschooling, and in our own lived experiences, it is important to examine these resonant frequencies together as a syncretic whole and to consider how they can inform further subversions of hegemonic educational frameworks.
... This chapter theorises a critical unschooling praxis, or a process of reflection and action in self-directed education (SDE 1 ) that is directed toward the transformation of oppressive social structures (Freire, 1970). This work extends my previous writings on the pedagogy of critical unschooling, which proffer explicitly decolonising approaches to SDE (see Romero, 2018;2020). Critical unschooling research recognises that home-based and self-directed learning environments can be community-responsive and antiracist, but only if the prejudices of the unschooling family are themselves reflected upon and addressed. ...
... University of Auckland, New Zealand neoliberalism, white supremacy, and Western exceptionalism in alternative education (Kizel, 2017;Romero, 2018). To this end, Zakiyya Ismail (2019), an unschooling activist and writer based in South Africa, posits: ...
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This chapter outlines a process for queering and decolonising self-directed education (SDE). A critical unschooling praxis, or reflection followed by principled action, involves self-reflection, queering family structures, and working toward non-metaphorical decolonization. This chapter provides a theoretical outline for a lived commitment to decolonized SDE along with examples for doing so. It argues that unschooling is not decolonizing by default and that truly liberatory learning must be underpinned by a commitment to radical change.
... Formal education is not innocent in its disciplinary function and measures the child against normative boundaries of personhood (Foucault, 1979;De la Cadena, 2010). There are certainly many ways to learn and various decolonising approaches to education (Romero, 2016(Romero, , 2018(Romero, , 2019Smith, 2012Smith, , 2017, but this paper is more concerned with understanding working children on their own terms, rather than evaluating their capacity to perform academically. We suspect that, rather than any genuine concern for their scholastic fulfilment, part of the anxieties around working children is that they operate outside of the disciplinary regulation that schooling imposes, which means they do not necessarily perform as 'civilised' economic units in accordance with the chronormativities that fuel global capitalism. ...
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This paper diffracts the work of Maria Lugones, Elizabeth Freeman, and Karen Barad to develop the notion of colonialities of chrononormativity. This diffractive reading is motivated by a desire to examine the way childhoods are a colonial inheritance, producing multiplicitous configurations of children that embody various un/just distributions of agency. That is, like the coloniality of gender (Lugones, 2007), the coloniality of chrononormativity re/produces the boundaries of acceptability around how childhood ought to be performed, as part of broader colonialities of power (Quijano, 2000). This work does not suggest that these colonialities are separable, recognising the entanglement of gender, capitalism, labour, disability, race, sexuality, age, and the reproduction of inequalities. Rather than colonialities diluting one another, we demonstrate how it is this very entanglement that produces the narrow parameters of normative childhoods, fosters hegemony, and affects intel-ligibilities. While mapping the boundaries of colonialities of childhood is productive, insofar as it resists the naturalisation of colonial taxonomies, we are more concerned with how tracing these entanglements allows us to attend to the im/possibilities of doing 'childhood' differently, affording different responses to what it means to become child.
... What becomes truly striking to me though, is that while the academy has been central to the displacement and devastation of the process of yenùdän du -holistic, ecocentric, relational, reflexive learning -a Denagogy and ecogogy that is deeply rooted in the laws and spirituality of Dena Au'nezen and land+ -it is now trying to claim this knowledge for its own through discourse about "reconceptualism" (Pinar, 1978& Grumet, 1989, "epistemologies of the south" (Glaveanu & Sierra, 2015), "legitimating lived curriculum" (Aoki, 1993), "hidden curriculum" (Apple, 2004), "unschooling" (Romero, 2018), "decolonial education", "social justice" and "curriculum as a cultural practice" (Kanu, 2003), and "re-imagining" (Bickmore, 2021). But there is no thought not yet thought. ...
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This work is an exploration of identity in relation to land+, language, nation, community, clan, and family; or what I call my ecocentric relational identity and relational-determination. Weaving my identity through stories and language, this work reflects on a lifelong journey of learning and applying the teachings of Dena Au’nezen (the highest law of the Kaska Dena) and Dena K’eh (the Dena way) in my community and work. From the perspectives and experiences of being a long-time advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit+ people and their families and survivors in the Yukon, nationally, and internationally, I articulate and examine tacit aspects of colonialism, ‘beneviolence’, and violence and speak to Indigenous experiences of resistance, antifragility, and survivance. This work, nested in the Kaska Dena community, seeks to rematriate Indigenous learning models and modalities, and introduces the concept of Denagogy (learning and leading from Dena K’eh), ecogogy (learning and leading from the land+), and ecocentric relational identity as foundational concepts. The dissertation in practice is presented in two parts: a narrative storytelling, and a digital educational model. Through the practice of dän känàdän äch’e (teaching) and känídän (learning) simultaneously, and the sharing of tea and stories, I have been gifted with the privilege of having a role in restory-ing the future through sharing a theory of decolonial living. This work introduces the practice of methodolotea as a formal research tool, deconstructing western approaches to teaching and learning while articulating the ways these have impugned and aspersed Indigenous teaching and learning methodologies and spaces as an act of genocide. Echō (Elders/highest teachers of Dena K’eh) often say Kēdzéntēdé Kedzedı̨̄ (we are all learning together) which is the conceptual midwife for introducing the model for what I call communiversitea in Kaska homelands.
... The importance of grounding the educational experience within the reality of children's everyday lives calls for pedagogical approaches that value, authorise and appreciate children's capacities as knowledge brokers, makers and key stakeholders. Importantly, this also includes ways of knowing-being that are often unwelcome, unspoken and punished in the current schooling system (Romero, 2018). ...
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This article presents a collaborative reflective‐thinking‐writing project that draws from the authors’ experiences of co‐productive and critical inquiry with children in the field of gender, sexualities and education. Integrating our collective concerns regarding how childhood can be negatively framed and policed within/through RSE, we explore how these ontological boundaries might be queered through a collective engagement with the possibilities for/of RSE that is affirmative, playful and co‐produced with, rather than for, children.
... This dedication extends now to my roles as a parent and partner, where I have committed to unschooling and, in particular, critical unschooling-a philosophy of self-directed and homebased education that draws from human rights law, ethnic studies, and queer theory (Romero, 2018). Writing on the pedagogies and praxes of critical unschooling demands that I think deeply about the kind of mentor and guide I wish to be (see Romero, 2020b). ...
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In this essay, I metaphorize ‘healing’ as a process of navigating the narrow passage of colonial mentality toward the wider expanse of ocean, land, and possibility promised in kapwa, or the Indigenous Philippine concept of “self-in-the-other” (Reyes, 2015, p. 149). This process involves my personal reckoning with a childhood psyche rooted in colonial mentality and efforts, as an adult, parent, and partner, to help construct a new barangay, or familial network. I frame unschooling, a philosophy of education and childrearing that centers informal learning, self-direction, and community-responsive pedagogy, as the balangay, or vessel, that has made this crossing possible.
The past three years of COVID-19 have resurrected deep pain for the Native peoples of Turtle Island, including the Kichiwikwendong Anishinaabeg, my people. We were the recipients of smallpox blankets used as biological warfare in 1763 issued by Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the commanding general of British forces, as retribution for Odawa leader Pontiac’s battles to protect our homelands from the British. According to our elders, intentional biological warfare was actually wielded against the Odawas on at least two occasions, which reduced our nation from thousands to hundreds, with few left to bury our dead. Rather, the bodies had to be burned in a place that is still held sacred by Odawas today. Until COVID-19, I had never heard these stories. The Odawas faced almost complete annihilation as a result of the insatiable greed of empire, but we have persevered only to now see our Mother Earth in critical planetary crisis. As a result of the destruction of ecosystems and habitat, humans are now experiencing similar sicknesses in the form of pandemics. This article is a discussion of the impact of settler colonialism on Native homelands in the Great Lakes, the role education has played, and the reparative justice work being done to restore the health of the land and Indigenous peoples in Mnisota Makoċe, my home today.
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This article presents a qualitative study in which families recorded themselves reading a child-friendly book about a bear in lockdown and combines ethnographic and autoethnographic methods to examine the reactions of home educated and traditionally schooled children during Aotearoa New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdowns. This research theorizes data sourced from family reading sessions through the writings of Philippine psychologist Virgilio Enriquez and the indigenous Philippine concepts of kalayaan (relational autonomy), katarungan (justice), karangalan (self-respect) and kapwa (shared inner identity). In so doing, it looks to subjugated knowledge, home education, and children themselves to consider the epistemological and ontological possibilities intimated in interactions rooted in a heightened sense of responsibility and care.
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This chapter theorises a critical unschooling praxis, or a process of reflection and action in self-directed education (SDE) that is directed toward the transformation of oppressive social structures. This work extends my previous writings on the pedagogy of critical unschooling, which proffer explicitly decolonising approaches to SDE. Critical unschooling research recognises that home-based and self-directed learning environments can be community-responsive and antiracist, but only if the prejudices of the unschooling family are themselves reflected upon and addressed. Informed by the notion that SDE can complement social justice activism, critical unschooling aims to “turn the world into a classroom and divorce education from the coloniality of its underlying power structures.”
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Unschooling families (families that don't send their children to school and don't school them at home) were invited to participate in a survey about their unschooling practices. Two hundred and thirty two self-identified unschooling families, with at least one child over five years old, completed and returned the questionnaire. Qualitative analyses revealed considerable variability in the routes to unschooling and in the ways in which the parents saw themselves as involved in their children's education. The biggest challenge expressed was that of overcoming feelings of criticism, or social pressure, that came from others who disapproved and from their own culturally-ingrained, habitual ways of thinking about education. The reported benefits of unschooling were numerous; they included improved learning, better attitudes about learning, and improved psychological and social wellbeing for the children; and increased closeness, harmony, and freedom for the whole family.