I asked one of our newer parents to tell us a bit about what brought her family to our community. This is her answer.
The year 2017 is the year our family – my husband, six year old twin girls and I – took the big leap into the world of self-directed education. As we are only at the beginning of our journey, I am not writing about our experiences, but on the process of getting to this point. How did we end up here – ready and excited, eager to toss out all those ideas about top private school/model-c education for our kids – of which getting into had plagued us since the twins were born.
In their first year of life, I dutifully applied to at least five of the best schools in Johannesburg and up until last year, went to assessments and interviews at almost all of them. As these six years have passed, I carefully observed the life of school-going children and began to feel more and more alienated from that way of life…. where was the time to be a child – to play, explore, create and be bored? There are also so many “activities” on offer but no time to be truly immersed in any of them, for deep learning and experimenting. The idea of breaking learning and knowledge up into “subjects” without integration, the eurocentric nature of the curricula and the pressure to conform in mainstream were less and less appealing. Then there were all the scandals which kept breaking in the media about the real nature of inclusivity and diversity within school spaces – there were just too many signs that this was not what we wanted for our family.
But what else was there? I began to look into the world of homeschooling, which can be just as overwhelming as trying to find the right school. Eventually, we stumbled on unschooling or self-directed education (the term I prefer) and felt a lot of the philosophy resonate with us. So we opted out of mainstream schooling precisely because education is an important value in our lives.
I am a researcher, both in the formal sense and by nature – and so my reflexive approach was to research everything I could about homeschooling and self-directed education – I was convinced by the notion that children learn best when they are learning what interests them in the ways that feel natural to them. In our rich Islamic tradition, we have a narration passed down to us from our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in which he said, “Made easy for everyone to do, is that for which they were created”. The great mystic poet, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, echoed this message in his lines, “Everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”
What this means to me, is that each of us have, within ourselves, a deeper purpose for why we exist, something we have come to do and accomplish, no matter how seemingly big or small, which according to these great sages, should come naturally and is latent within ourselves. How are children (and all of us really), supposed to realize this potential, when they are so heavily veiled from their innate ways of learning and their own unique strengths are dulled down through standardized education which insists that all kids must learn the same things in the same way.
On a family level, self-directed learning allows us to fashion our own lifestyle without being stifled by the mind-numbing routine and year-in year-out rigidities of mainstream school. It allows us the freedom to travel at any time, as the world truly is the best school. It allows us to explore our own ways of being and ways of knowing more fully and deeply. It allows us to be immersed in our culture, our religion and spirituality, our passions. It allows us to live in the real South Africa – of immense beauty, harsh realities, incredible diversity and huge challenges.
In my work, my areas of research are in the field of religion – specifically in gender, spirituality and of recent decoloniality – the new buzz word in Universities across the country and one of the calls of the student movements since 2015. As I began to read deeper and try to understand exactly how to decolonize religion and education, the journey became deeply personal. There were so many questions, there still are. How can we, as a family, contribute to decolonization when we are still bound to a school system which privileges certain kinds of knowledge, performance and self-expression? How can we unearth the epistemicide of so many great cultures and traditions – all eventually replaced with the industrial-age ideas of school? How do we honor our own traditions, legacies, wisdoms and histories? How do we face the reality that the world as we know it is changing so rapidly, that mainstream schooling simply cannot keep up? How do we contribute to narrowing the inequalities gap in our country when the public education system is a failure? How do we protect precious old ways of learning and also embrace the exciting new ways? How do we recognize each and every child as an individual with their own interests and passions? How do we allow our kids the freedom to explore all aspects of their identities without judgement, in ways and spaces that are safe? How do we teach that learning is a lifelong endeavor, for its own sake, for the joy, humility and transformation it brings? All of this research, these observations, questions and debates have led us to embark on the journey of self-directed learning.
- Safiyyah, Riverstone Village parent.