PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Erica Davis-Pitre.
ERIKA: Hello! Hello!
PAM: Erika and her husband, Michael have four adult children. She has spoken at many unschooling conferences over the years. Her favorite topics being unschooling teens, the joy of unschooling and celebrating diversity through unschooling.
Now you were on the podcast way back in episode number 97, talking about unschooling and diversity, which we recently rebroadcast. And I’ll put the link in the show notes for people if they haven’t heard that episode. And I really appreciate you joining me again to answer some of the listener questions that bubbled up from that. So, thanks very much.
ERIKA: You’re welcome.
PAM: All right, so let’s dive into question one.
Hi, Erika. Thank you so much for what you shared in this podcast episode. And thank you so much for agreeing to come back and share more. I appreciate how you said that the default of our culture is racist. If you don’t do anything, it’s not neutral.
You default to the racist based structure. So, how do we “teach” anti-racism to our kids without teaching? Since we don’t teach our kids as unschoolers. My thoughts are to start with educating myself about white supremacy, systemic racism, and anti-racism work by reading books, listening to podcasts and watching movies, and then invite our kids to join us, if they want to, protest and march and invite our kids have discussions about anti-racism with my husband and invite our kids to ask questions. What else can I do?
ERIKA: Well, that was a pretty thorough list of ways that you can encourage action on dismantling a biased racist system. The easiest answer is to live it, to be anti-racist yourself, to work towards anti-racism yourself, to have a firm grounding on what that means for you and your family and your community.
And to contact and talk with people that are working in your local community and nationally, and then internationally that are working towards, antibias, anti-racist work. I find that it’s most helpful to follow the lead of people who are living the work versus people who are studying the work or who are trying to aid the work.
And that means, having frank, concrete discussions in your local community, what do we need?
So, for some local communities, it’s defunding and deescalating police violence, for others it’s working with systems in education that are biased and have problematic situations. For some, it will be around housing, for some of it will be around healthcare and healthcare access, for a great deal of communities of color it’s environmental. It’s not having access to sound environmental policies in many communities where there is environmental harm those are heavily populated by people of color. So, there are a number of ways that you can get at fighting, as an antiracist and dismantling systems that don’t include teaching. It includes doing and living. So, if you can, find a cause that is closest to your area of expertise or interests, I say, join in and, and figure out.
And a lot of times it’s just asking a question. You look around the table. If you don’t see a person of color or ask why. Why are we here to talking about this issue and there’s no one of color here? Start with your circle. If your circle is all white or all of one culture, ask yourself the question of why and how would you best change that, shift that?
It isn’t always marching and presenting yourselves as the forefront of a movement. A lot of it is that quiet parlor, I call it parlor talk where you start asking yourself the question of how, how can I diversify my community in a natural way so that it’s not teaching, it’s living?
PAM: That’s beautiful.
ERIKA: I’ll tell you this, for me, as unschoolers, it’s not separating out living from learning.
So, if you’re finding yourself having to teach something, it means you’re not living it. Your living it is the example that teaches. If you have to pull it out and put it in its own special category, that’s where your work is, is figuring out why isn’t that my life?
Why do I have to separate that out rather than how can I find resources to teach? How can I find resources to live my values? So, for me, that’s unschooling in a nutshell.
PAM: That’s great because I love that when you’re asking yourself those kinds of questions, that’s a great place to look, am I teaching versus living?
And then it’s, again, like you were talking about it, it’s then our work to do as we’ve discovered with unschooling so many times, it’s our work to figure out, why does my life look like this? How would I like my life to look and taking those little steps. And I love the point too, start where you are, start where you live, this is your life what’s going on right here that I can do? Versus sometimes we can get overwhelmed when we look at the wider picture. The bigger picture. But when you look at how is this going in my life? Looking locally, looking at your life, looking at, even if like these are virtual circles, like you were talking about, just always look where you’re meeting and ask yourself those questions. That’s great.
Question two. I think of how I read in some unschooling circles about not wanting to bring in scary news stories because, because they’ll stress us or our kids. That we should build a safe unschooling nest. I get upset and then it makes it hard to stay positive and joyful connect with my kids. But the truth about our racist society, isn’t peaceful or joyful. It doesn’t feel right to hide behind white privilege and stay safe and comfortable. How do I balance prioritizing staying connected and joyful and following my kids’ passions with actively working to dismantle white supremacy, things feel particularly early right now. There’s important momentum happening with the black liberation movement. And I want to actively support it, but I don’t want to check out and leave my kids behind.
ERIKA: So, this is where the living comes in, instead of the lesson. So yes, the black liberation movement, that’s been going on for centuries, but we are having a particular flashpoint now because of technology.
So, there are things we see now that have always existed, but now we have recorded evidence. For the first time when somebody says I was harmed and here’s the video or I was harmed and here’s the tik tok or I was harmed and here’s the transcript there are witnesses with technology now. The video witness is unbiased there. It’s just blunt. It’s blank. It doesn’t have any skin in the game except for camera angles. Now you’re experiencing and questioning something that people have lived for centuries.
And finally, it’s coming to the forefront and to create a calm, peaceful nest while the house is on fire, really shouldn’t be your focus. Your focus should be, how do I get water to the flames? How do I take care of my family’s moral development by participating in the emancipation of others?
How do I handle the fact that it isn’t, my lived experience, isn’t the lived experience and how do I help foster the opportunity for everyone to have that kind of lived experience if they desire it?
I feel that you’re not creating a nest of peace, calm, joy, and tranquility if you ignore that these people are going to grow up. It’s fine to think about a six year old as being six and being tender and delicate and needing to be protected. But it doesn’t do anything for the 16 year old, if they’re suddenly thrust into all of these dilemmas and they don’t have the emotional social, or even educational options to navigate that.
And I think you do children a disservice when you pretend that they don’t know what’s going on around them. It’s pretty hard even in an all white, suburban community, it’s pretty hard to ignore what’s going on in the larger world, unless you’re completely detached from all media, from all technology, from all opportunity to hear people speaking of it.
So, it’s not a matter of making your nest less safe and less stress free. It’s making your nest rich and full so that when things come, they have a context in which to handle them.
I don’t believe, because of my experience, shielding children from the outside reality is actually safe for them. And it’s actually stress-free for them because they’re very aware when people are tense. It’s actually the youngest of kids, all of their knowledge comes from exterior forces coming in. So, it’s not what you say, it’s how you move. It’s how you act. It’s how you react and unless you’re going to stay in your in your home, in your bubble, they’re going to go out into the world and they’re going to experience the shock of that stress and they won’t have any context to put it in. So, rather than protect them from protests and things that are going on, I would include them in the conversation and do it in a way that you most understand it.
So, if you are a reader of a certain magazine or a watcher of a certain news program, or you follow something online, find ways to include that experience in your conversation. I just read an article about a protest downtown. The people are protesting because they don’t think it’s fair that they’re treated so badly when there’s a police altercation.
And I wonder if there’s something I can do to help lessen the likelihood of harm? Now that conversation doesn’t bring any undue stress into the nest. But what it does say to your little chicks, I’m paying attention to what’s going on in my world and I want to offer solutions and I want to make my nest grow. I want my safe place to be larger, not smaller.
So, a lot of the unschooling circles that stress peace and harmony in the nest really don’t unschool to me because my ideal of unschooling is making the world bigger, not smaller. My ideal is making my nest of safety and clarity larger. It’s including the world, not excluding the world.
So, I think any family can find a way to bring in controversy, stressors, even violence and put it into context of how your family’s values should influence this. Be it volunteering, be it making phone calls, be it art, making things to express your anger any way that you can relieve the stress that’s already there and show your kids through your actions that you’re looking for solutions to these stressors, not avoiding them.
PAM: And that’s back to the living piece again that we were talking about earlier. And I think, again, our work, because of that overwhelming stress that we feel is to me, that’s the first stage and it’s our work to take that stress and then process it and figure out how to live it and live what our choices and actions are in that next moment.
When you’re in that stress moment, that doesn’t mean, go and engage with your kids, because like you were saying, they can feel that energy. They take it in no matter what your words are. So, it would be really hard to keep that peaceful nest, if you’re just trying to hide the stress, no it’s processing pieces and figuring out how you want to live that and the changes that you want participate in and living that with them. Beside living together. They’re like you were saying, or else it’s making their world smaller. Isn’t it? When something’s important to you. It makes their world smaller to hide pieces of yourself really.
ERIKA: Also too, I find with any struggle with any kind of controversy, with any kind of stress outside of you, those people, those situations also have joy. They also have ways of coping some of the finest examples of that is art and music.
So, even in the stress of the civil rights era of the sixties, there was beautiful music being made. There was excellent poetry being written. There were contributions of joy in that stressful time, and you can learn so much from the creative process of stress, from the creative process of doing this work, there’s certain beauty.
There are certain aspects of it where you can understand the struggle but you understand it from a joyful standpoint. They’re still happily singing. They’re still creating art. They’re still contributing to the culture, even though they’re wanting to dismantle part of it.
They’re still contributing positively in other ways. So, not to land and live in the violence, the hate, the stress of the moment, try to find how are you expressing this in ways that brings people in and creates greater understanding. So, listen to some speeches and go to marches, but also look at good art. Look at good self expression, read great poetry, literature that takes you into the movement rather than as an observer, you’re in it. And then you can create art and you can create poetry and you can add to the joy as well as march, fight for, involve your kids involve yourself in the liberation.
PAM: As you mentioned earlier, find your contribution as well, from who you are and that is the unique and interesting piece that you can bring to it through this lens, through this change you want to help with.
ERIKA: Right. Exactly. And it’s tough because our culture, right now it’s immediate. it’s, here’s a problem. Here’s a solution. Let’s solve the problem. Take the pandemic. We had, a moment of clarity for the whole world, because everyone was at home, everyone was isolated. And finally, this technological gift, came to us all. And in real time we were all experiencing the same thing.
So, we were all seeing the same thing and we didn’t have the excuse of going to grandma’s or being on the road or vacationing or working, or for a large percentage of us for the first time probably ever, we were all home. We are all paying attention to the same things, looking for answers in the same way.
And suddenly we’re thrust in to this immediate, situation with that kind of immediacy, a solution, we see something, we do something and action happens for the first time. I think for the first time in the history of the world, the whole planet was focused on one thing. And there was no immediate solution because the reality of this is structural.
This is not as a movement. This is not a moment. This is structurally worldwide oppression, and it’s not going to be solved because we all see it now. And that’s going to be the work of this generation forward, understanding and recognizing that the privilege of some works for none. The stress of maintaining the privilege is why we see police brutality. It’s why we see economic brutality. It’s why we see environmental brutality. Flint still doesn’t have clean water. It’s deeper. It’s bigger than the protest, the marches the things that you see visually it’s, it’s the stuff that you experience viscerally.
That’s what we have to get at and that’s in all families, it’s not just in black or native or Latino or Asian. It’s not just in the other families. It’s in all families and we’re all experiencing it all at once. And we have the means to pay attention. We also have the means to ignore.
And that’s where I think it’s a bit more brutal than it used to be because to ignore it was simpler before the internet. It was simpler to say, I don’t know anything about that because with a click you can know all about. We, the older generation are slowly coming to the realization that ignoring problems is not possible anymore because everyone has a megaphone.
PAM: That’s such a great point.
Question three. I feel like we could, or maybe even should question the belief that our children are too young or innocent to talk about racism and the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. What are your thoughts on this?
ERIKA: My thoughts are your children are never too young to experience your stress and your distress. So, if you’re reading about, if you’re hearing about things that are stressful, things that make you sad, things that just disappoint you, things that anger you, have the discussion be from your personal perspective. “I heard about this case and it makes me sad that people don’t have equal protection. And I think I want to work towards making that less so.”
That’s the young version of it. It’s important to know that, racism or any ism, particularly that’s structural, particularly that says through policing through healthcare, through environment, through all kinds of other things. If the end result is death, that’s the extreme.
Where you want to bring it into your children, especially your young children is when there’s a racist family member. Or their neighbor is a racist friend and it makes you question your involvement. That’s where you can have conversation.
So, it’s your compass, you’re building a moral roadmap for your family. So, you can question inequality. You can question systematic biases. And you can do that with very young children because they’re taking in everything, they’re absorbing everything.
One of my favorite stories that I used to tell at conferences is that I was in a supermarket and a very young child came up to me, ran up to me and was running from someone, ran up to me, touched my hand and then licked my hand. And he was, it’s like, “Oh, it’s not chocolate.” And I said to this young child, because I could hear the footsteps of the parents running, running, running, running. I just said, “No, it isn’t chocolate, I’m brown because my family’s brown, because my parents are brown and it’s okay. If I didn’t know, I probably would have thought it was chocolate too.”
And I’m diffusing, the mother who is horrified. She wanted to do that thing that we do when we’re embarrassed, which would have told the child that he was wrong, that something was wrong. Rather than have that be the memory, it was me being gentle, being kind, and showing the mother it’s perfectly fine.
He used the information he had to make an assessment and he wanted to prove that theory what an intelligent boy, what an intelligent child, and it diffused the situation and it took it from where it would have been punitive and embarrassing and just took it too inquisitive. And we should always question, not lick. (laughing)
But question. Ask a question, “Are you brown because you’re chocolate? Are you brown because you’re burned? Are you brown because…?” We want to encourage those questions. And in our zeal to not produce someone that we would be embarrassed by, we go overboard in the other direction. We don’t encourage inquisitiveness.
And I would say that a young boy who is on his feet and who can communicate, not knowing why I was brown—that’s the larger question, that you don’t have contact with people. You don’t have a diverse environment that you’re raising your children in and that’s the thing you need to solve, not admonish him for asking a question, but actually wondering why he had that question because it behooves us to expose our kids to a wide variety of people so that they can ask us questions and we can have answers for them.
So, I think you’re never too young to know about oppression, especially if you’re a person of color. You’re never too young. So, no, I don’t think white kids have the privilege of being too young to be exposed to what we live with every day. There is no such thing as too young.
PAM: Yeah, like you said, it’s all context and communication, from where they are. And then back to exactly, that’s the bigger picture of that super beautiful, beautiful, by the way, supermarket story, is why did he have that question at that age? That’s for the mom. And, and the great thing about that is she also doesn’t walk away feeling so embarrassed she wants to forget it. When we’re embarrassed, we shut down and we just want to forget and move on. And that’s again where it comes to, ‘I don’t want to think about it. I want to avoid it.’
But now that bigger question, that goes back again to how we want to live in the world. Let’s make it richer, wider. Let’s make those kinds of choices. I remember in the last episode you were talking about, going to a further library, a further playground. Find a more diverse community. If it’s not in your backyard, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you just have to stay in your backyard. Making your lives richer is a beautiful thing.
ERIKA: And you also have to understand, I also need to add this, not everybody who is other will have that charity. If you come upon a situation or a person who this was just interchange number 57 of the day where I’ve been marginalized, I’ve been made feel less than, you might not get a charitable response. You might get a very angry response and that is justifiable as well. And that’s where your work is. If your child does something or you do something that is inherently biased or downright racist, you might not get the charity of the victim. You might get the anger of the victim because they’re just pissed off. You have to accept that.
No group is monolithic. So, no woman is going to respond to sexism in the same way. Not every black person is going to respond to racism in the same way. No, class of people is monolithic. That’s where your grace comes in. That’s where the expectation of grace comes in.
So you’re hoping that it will be grace that greets you, but fully expect there could be anger and there could be dismissiveness and there could be, “What the hell?!” Be ready for that as well. With young children, we’re given a certain grace when we’re dealing with children. Most people, I’m not saying all, because like I said, it’s not monolithic, but a lot of people, the majority of people that I run into offer grace to children, not so for adults.
And that’s learned too. So, whenever you can be gracious and offer grace and when your children or yourself mess up, if you can just step back, don’t take it so personal that you’re combative. But if you step back, even in anger, if you step back and say “I’ve got to put some space between me and this experience in order to respond in a way that’s helpful.”
And that’s less harmful. That’s the work because then your child sees, ‘Oh, you don’t have to immediately have an answer. Oh, there’s no standard response.’ Sometimes people are going to be angry and other times people are going to be charitable. Don’t expect either expect your own grace. Expect grace.
PAM: Such a great point.
And that it takes us back to living with our kids. Because then they gain that experience of the more interactions they see and the more they see us working through them, the more experience they have.
ERIKA: The more they see you mess up, the more they see you mess up and correct. Because that’s the biggest lesson, the more they see you willing to try. We as adults try to wait for perfection. We try to wait until we look the best. ‘Oh, I’m gonna wait on this until I have all the answers.’ I think that’s the exact wrong thing to do. I think plunge in make your mistakes. They learn from your recovery or not.
A lot of racism is inbred and embedded. And it’s generational, inter-generational, because we are afraid to make that mistake and then correct. So, we avoid, and in the avoidance you’re second generation, third generation, fourth generation, they learn that this is uncomfortable, these people are other and they are to be avoided.
And then that avoidance leads to a lack of knowledge and that lack of knowledge feeds fear and ignorance. And that’s where it goes. So, while most people are looking for hoods and people using the N word and people being directly violent, they don’t look for the insidiousness of ‘I’m going to avoid that because I don’t want to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing.‘
You’re teaching bias. You’re teaching racism. You’re upholding oppression by avoiding the subject altogether. We have to live together. The world is getting smaller by the minute. And we have to start solving problems that otherwise we’re left to, it’s not my problem. It’s not it’s over there. I don’t have to deal with that.
Yeah, it doesn’t take a SIL or grandchild. It doesn’t take a daughter-in-law or a niece or a nephew for you to have skin in the game. Everybody has skin in the game. If someone is oppressed, we all suffer.
PAM: That is such a great point. And I think that will be a really great lens that people can bring to it.
We talked a lot about how it’s our work again and to just think about that for a while. Just sit with that for a while. I encourage everybody listening—just sit with that awhile. Absolutely. It affects all of us, right back to that systemic nature.
Question Four. I do see a risk that I’m talking about injustice towards black people so much lately that my kids are starting to feel sorry for black people. What’s a good way to counteract that? One of my closest friends is black and my kids have played frequently with her two sons since they were babies. I remind my kids of our friends when we’re talking about black people, but overall, our community is very white.
ERIKA: It’s kind of funny. I grew up in Seattle, 2- 3% black and so my whole childhood and most of my young adulthood was spent in very white spaces. My chosen family is an Irish Catholic, Scottish family, nine kids, mom and dad.
They’re my mom and dad. I grew up also in my black family, very large, very religious, family. And with those two prongs, I determined if they are really friends. If your black friend can’t help you navigate this, you may be an acquaintance rather than a friend, because if you’re real friends, she, or he can help you navigate this.
If you can have honest, courageous conversations, you can navigate this. And it’s not all doom and gloom and sad and feeling sorry. It’s wanting to be proactive. If your children are feeling sorry for black people. It’s because they don’t have any real relationships with black people, even though you’re in the presence and they play together in this that and the other. It’s still not internalized that this is your family. These are people who influence you, who you should know more about. If you only have one picture, that’s where your work is. So, I would say, assess your friendship and make sure it’s truly a friendship and not an acquaintance.
I can tell you with my own white family, most black Americans that live in places where they’re 2%, have family members that are not black, family members that are other ethnic groups and family members that are white. I am included in that. And it’s important to know, for me to let you know, we’ve always had courageous conversations.
My white family, my white friends. We’ve always had courageous conversations. When things come up, I speak to them. When there’s joyful occasions, I speak to them as well. When there’s misunderstanding, I speak to it. So, they’re more than acquaintances. I’ve had difficult conversations.
Their children don’t feel sorry for me because they know oppression is just one piece of who I am. The rest of it is joyful. The rest of it is just like their piece and the oppressive part doesn’t overreach into our relationship. So, there isn’t any pity shame or, sorry, it’s just, “How can I help?” So, if your children or yourself is falling into feeling sorry, you’re not doing enough.
You’re copping out. You’re not seeing the joy. You’re not exposed to more. You’re just taking a small part of something and trying to digest it and disseminate it in your family. That’s wrong. It should be more.
Every city, every area of the country and now virtually you can be exposed to black art. You can be exposed black joy. You can be exposed to black excellence. With a fingertip on a mouse or on a computer. So, if all your children know is sadness and pity and a lack of joy, you’re doing more to encourage the continuation of oppression, then you are dismantling it. It should be a full experience.
And if it’s not, you need to work on that. It doesn’t matter if you have a black friend, if that friend isn’t a friend to you. If it’s only a one-way street, if it’s only for play dates and different little pockets of things, that’s an acquaintance. I got a friend, a friend can tell you, “I’m really tired of being the only person of color at our events.” What can we do to change that? How can we broaden our relationships and our friendships? So includes more people.
You don’t need to artificially do that if you’re living in a way that encourages diversity, if you’re going to that library or that playground in the other part of town, if you’re doing more rich work, if you’re taking on an art class, if you’re taking on a writing class to meet up with more people, more black people, you haven’t done the work. All you’re doing is pointing out the deficit. You’re not pointing out the richness of a people. Because it’s rich. It’s not one. It’s not a monolithic experience.
PAM: Yeah and again, that ties together so nicely. Like when you feel overwhelmed by that, that sad part, that hard part, that oppression and you take just that and that’s all you’re seeing, this is what can happen. But, and like you were saying earlier that this isn’t something that’s going to be solved immediately. This is a longer term thing. And part of it is discovering that richness and seeing all aspects of people, cultures, that all have huge aspects. As you mentioned, all the artists. As well as, people more focused on resistance and teaching and all those aspects. To explore all of it, because if you bring in just that part, that’s when people are going to start feeling sorry, because that is all they see. It’s a very important part of the story to address higher systemic problems that we’re seeing now but that, well, has been around forever, but it’s wonderful that people are recognizing now.
ERIKA: That’s correct.
PAM: But part of that process is to see the richness, not just the challenge. I love that.
ERIKA: It’s truly is a challenge of the modern age because we can’t ignore it. And there was a resentment and we need to do that, Oh, I didn’t know that. And I don’t want to know it because I can’t do anything about it. So, if I can’t do anything about it, I don’t want to know about it. I don’t want to expose my children to it. So, I’m just going to be over here.
It compounds the work of people who are working to dismantle it. When you have people knowingly, willingly begging for ignorance so that they can continue to exist in a way that they’ve existed for quite some time.
Oh, go ahead.
PAM: I was going say, because then when our kids, when those kids get out into the world, it is a huge shock for them. That’s a whole aspect of the world that they haven’t been exposed to and then they’re just starting fresh. Like, ‘Holy crap, what is this?’ So, you’ve made the world smaller for them.
Okay, let’s move on to question five.
I think the question that comes up most often for me is I’m white and I grew up with the idea that you should treat everyone the same, that treating someone better because of how they look is almost as bad as treating someone worse because of how they look.
So, I guess my question is, is it okay to purposely seek out diverse playmates for our kids and friends for ourselves? Is it okay to be extra nice to the black family at homeschool group, both because we want them to feel welcome, and because we want to nurture a diverse group where our kids can play together? I think I’m afraid of using diverse families to raise anti-racist kids. If that makes sense. I know it’s a twisted up idea.
ERIKA: Oh, wow. So much to unpack. That is a lot. Number one, I don’t know how you treat someone better. I read over this question. This was the one that tripped me up the most because treating someone decently is not better, acknowledging that you see someone fully is not treating them better or being nice. It’s just being a good person.
Take someone that is differently abled. I’m not going to not see their need for a ramp. I’m not going to, you know, I think you can make it up the stairs. I think you can do it because we all can do it. We all can use the stairs. So, try it because I don’t want to treat you differently because you need a ramp. So, I think you could try the stairs and if you can’t make the stairs, then we’ll all use the ramp. That’s ridiculous. You need a ramp. It’s not extra to provide a ramp.
Subsequently, if you look around your circle and there’s no diversity seeking it out is not any different than wanting a full rich life. It’s no different than wanting your daughters to know opportunity exists for them just like your sons. You’re not saying because you’re a girl you’re limited because you’re a guy you’re limited.
You’re saying the sky’s the limit it’s open. You’re not being more nice to the girl to say to her, you can do anything or be anything you’re not being more nice to the boy by saying you can do and be anything. You’re just, you’re just being. So, seeing color in a society that wants you to not see difference is ridiculous.
We are by the nature of our beings, always discerning difference. Always trying to figure out how do we move within this society, group of friends, even in our own families. How do we navigate this? To tell people to ignore one key piece of who people are so that we can feel better about ourselves is ridiculous.
I am a black American. I live completely differently in some ways than my white American counterparts, than my Native American counterparts, than my Hispanic brothers and sisters. I live completely different and I lived the same as them. Discerning when those differences make it harder or easier. That’s the work.
So, if it’s harder for me to meet in your neighborhood because I feel threatened going through your neighborhood, your work is how do I make it so that she does not feel threatened in my neighborhood. So, that may be being on the civilian police board that may be being on your neighborhood’s HOA board. That may be talking to your neighbors and your friends and saying, “I feel badly when Jane comes to visit me, she’s looked at and she’s made to feel unwelcomed. How can we change that?”
That’s the same, looking for diversity, looking for a fuller, richer, wider world for your kids is not a negative. If the most important part of that question, should I be extra nice to the black family in my group? I think that was, I think that was one of the most important parts of that. To me, understand why you have to be extra nice.
PAM: That’s a great question to ask ourselves. Why are we even looking at it through that lens? How does that come about for us?
ERIKA: Yes, that’s the bias that keeps seeping in and it’s not the torch carrying, N word using racist that we, I have been inundated with for centuries. That’s racist. It’s that expectation of less or the expectation that you’re going to have to do more in order to accommodate those people. I’m going to have to do more.
I’m going to have to be nicer or extra. There’s where your racism is and it lives there. And that’s why it’s perpetuated. Not the people who call people bad names and say that they don’t want them around. It’s the one that expect less.
PAM: It’s another great piece for people to sit with, that’s the important part, that sitting with that discomfort, right? I appreciate people sending in these questions. Because it really helps us pick out some of the places where it’s like, ‘Oh, hey, I’m thinking about this. I’m going to sit with this for a while and see what I find there.’
Okay. Our last question, question six.
I’m about nine months into unschooling and am observing, processing, digging, reading, and worrying about how this new way of life works. There’s one issue that’s especially concerning right now. I have three beautifully brown skin children with other names, living in a 75% white community.
I worry about my children not having a diploma, especially with these “disadvantages.” In Nevada, from what I understand, I can issue a diploma, but I’m not sure how it will be received when they begin to apply for work. My husband has expressed his strong concern about them not graduating from school as he did not. Because he feels it was difficult getting a good job without a diploma. What can you share that will help me feel better about them not getting a school issue diploma with the above considerations in mind? I feel strongly that unschooling is the way to live, but I struggle pulling it all together.
ERIKA: Well, wow. That’s two fold, it depends on the age of the children how are we to answer this. With very young children, don’t worry about it because we don’t know what the future is going to be. We like to think we know what the future is going to be, but we don’t. Middle to preteen teens, this is a conversation you’re having with your middles and your preteen and your teens. This is a conversation. There are many ways to get skills that make finding a job easier.
At eight, nine and ten years old, I’d start volunteering. I’d start making those character connections, meeting people that can further your child’s aspirations. So, if you have a kid that’s very interested in animals, find out about volunteering at the shelter. If you’re willing to shadow your child and help them participate in their volunteering. Many places will not reject you, even if they can’t have you doing hands on things until years later, they’ll remember the absolute readiness of you and your children to make that accommodation work. So, the first thing I would do is expose them to opportunities to be mentored and to volunteer and to work with in the community.
Number two, and most importantly, there is no guarantee with a diploma you will have employment prospects that are fair, equal, and even as a black person in America, there is absolutely no ticket that you can have that’s going to make it guaranteed easier.
There are ways you can make it worse. And that’s disconnection and making sure your community is so small that you don’t have that wider world experience. And then I go back to volunteering. I go back to internships and I go back to mentorships. So, everybody has the ability to find something that they’re interested in and seek out ways to get exposure to those things.
So, I always tell unschoolers, when I’m speaking about unschooling teens, there is a college for every person on earth. Someone will take your money. There’s no block from you getting what you want out of the world, except for your being your first no. So, if you have a young teen and they say, I want to go to college, I want to go to this college.
Then your work is contacting that college and finding out what the requirements are to attend. And then you’re working from knowledge rather than from fear. What happens if my child doesn’t do anything? Talk about what happens if my child does do something, what happens if my child wants to go to college?
Okay. What happens if my child wants a job in this industry? Okay. There are plenty of unschoolers, adult unschoolers at this point that didn’t go to college and are working their dream job, pick their brain. How did you get that gig? I am known for anytime I’m in a situation where I see someone working a job that I find interesting and stimulating, and they’re either old or young.
I say, “How’d you get this gig?” Start doing that as a parent, asking everybody, everybody you meet from, from the store clerk, that’s packing your bags in the trunk to the CEO that you meet at a dinner party or that you’ve met online, whatever. How did you get that gig? How did you start? Once they see you asking their origin story, for all my Marvel fans, once they hear you asking that question, they learn to discern. I’m interested in being a veterinarian. I don’t want to go to college for 12 years to do it. So maybe I want to be an assistant. I want to work in the dental field. I love teeth. I don’t want to be a dentist.
Maybe I’ll find out how I can be a dental hygienist, which by the way, is a truly terrific gig. I’ll go back to the brown children. The writer of that question is down to have a really great uncomfortable conversation with her husband because there’s a lot she doesn’t know about him. And that’s why she’s concerned about her children.
And she needs to be encouraged to look at ways that she can empower her children to start looking at how they want to live in the world, how they want to move in the world. What are your interests? And be willing to let go of an interest every six, eight, ten, twelve months, every five, six, seven, eight weeks, every two, three, seven years.
Always moving, shifting with their interests, never landing on an interest. Oh, he’s always wanted to go to Harvard. Great. Now he wants to live in a commune, growing trees and Ecuador. Fabulous. Let’s see how we can navigate that. There are so many ways to move.
Yes, how it’s been done, traditionally diploma and college and an entry level job and moving up the ranks. That’s comforting. It’s comforting to know that there’s a plan. I’m here to tell. There is no plan. There’s no plan. The number one thing about unschooling is that flexibility to recognize you’re the plan. So, it changes and it grows and it develops, or it stays exactly the same.
I can’t tell you the number of stories that I have of young people today, most of them are right around 30, never took a class until they went to college. Never worked a real job until they found some need and filled it. And they’re fulfilled because they recognize all those choices.
The little tiny choices led them to big choices. So, rather than worry about them being brown and what’s against them, she should be investing in what’s for them. And what’s for them is the opportunity to live as free people, the opportunity to make those choices with support of their parents. So, she and her husband need to get together and have that courageous conversation so that she can respect his wisdom as a brown person.
And she can also enhance their experiences as brown people. She can also add to their repertoire of avenues of success and success to me is knowledge. It’s not an end prize. It never ends. It’s just knowledge and how to get that knowledge. That’s why I say, ask people directly in front of your kids.
“Hey, how’d you get this gig? This is cool. I never would have thought that this was a job. How did you get it?” Like, I am fascinated with the people who build models for Lego fascinated. I’m like. How’d you get that gig? I just want to know. Did you have to build models? How did you get to be the sampler, the taster for a chocolate factory?
How did you get to be a food critic for the New York times? How did you get that gig? And then just hone in on it. Just hammer in on it. Be inquisitive. That is the greatest gift. An asset you could give any children, but particularly brown children, because they’re told it’s less, you have less opportunity. You need to be specifically this. You need to specifically do that rather than say the sky’s the limit there is something for everyone, you are a free person. It may be a struggle because you’re brown, but it’s not impossible. Nothing is impossible. It’s open because impossible has I’m possible in it. If you break up impossible, it’s “I’m possible.”
So, rather than focus on what horrible things could happen to them being brown children, talk about the opportunities that they have as brown children who have a mother and a father that are willing to advocate for them and do what’s best. And the younger the better. So, the people who are listening to this that have three, four, and five, six, seven, eight year olds, start questioning everything in front of them.
You train them to look for, you help them to experience their world. As an inquisitive person, we will all benefit, the whole entire world benefits. When our young people are inquisitive and don’t want to do a formula. The hardest part about living. I live in San Francisco. The hardest part about living in San Francisco go, is the formula for success is IT, it’s Silicon Valley. It’s getting a six figure salary right out of college. And that’s so sad because we’re missing out on the richness of all these other things that could be making our world a better place, because there’s a formula. You go to this school, you get this contact, next thing you know, you’re working here and you’re making a lot of money and you’re set. It robs us of the richness of everything else that can be.
PAM: You know, what I love Erica – how we got here back to making our lives bigger and richer, right?
ERIKA: Yes. Yes.
PAM: We’re back to unschooling there by being with your kids in the moment, what they’re interested in, asking the questions about what they want instead of fearing about what maybe someday might happen.
ERIKA: Or applying what someone else needs to their needs. Instead of looking at them as individuals, children, you’re applying, their skin color, their gender, your applying all of these other things to them, rather than the one thing that we, as unschoolers can apply—and that’s their own individual needs. They’re seeing them, which of your children, if you have more than one, needs extra help doing this, you know, the ones ,that need to be left alone. You know this.
So, rather than developing a system for brown children, develop a relationship and a partnership with your children so that they get what they need from you exclusively. It’s their need, not the generic need, but their specific needs. I want you to know your children, not the generic brown a 17 year old who needs a first job, but actually know your son or daughter know them and them to know you enough to know that you’re going to make things possible.
Because you always have made their worlds big. You’ve always questioned everything. You’ve always brought to the table, different ideals and different concepts and different ways of being. Make that their learning piece. And don’t worry about what isn’t for them, only concern yourself with what is for them.
Because that’s the beauty of unschooling. It’s each family getting what that family needs for those learners. And by the way, I always say learners because it’s the parents too. My biggest piece of advice to brand new unschoolers who can unschool everything but math, is if you feel nervous and want your child to take a class, take a class yourself, be interesting and interested so that you can share that interest and that, learning with your kids.
So, always be looking for opportunities to learn yourself. Because your example of an lifelong learner is more valuable than any class.
PAM: That’s brilliant and beautiful. And, and it hits the nail on the head right there. Living together all as learner. Well, thank you so much for taking this time. All this time to come back.
ERIKA: You’re very welcome
PAM: I super appreciate it. It was amazing. Thanks so much for sharing.