Dear Charlie and Jack (and Mike),

Congratulations, kids! You are now official unschoolers. Now get out there and live!

Congratulations, Papa! You are now on the path of decolonizing, regardless of whether you’re comfortable calling it that.

But most of all…

Congratulations, ME!!!! After years of considering unschooling, I am finally taking this leap into the wild. It feels so… right. Like straightening out my back, hearing my joints pop, and stretching my arms overhead after a lifetime of being hunched over the computer. I’ve never felt so aligned before. I feel like I can tackle anything, everything.

Ever since Charlie started going to pre-school eight years ago, up until last year, his 5th grade, I have expressed deep doubts about sending you to school. The moment Charlie went to kindergarten, I started looking into creating some kind of non-profit with a basic goal of unteaching the garbage that I was so sure the school was teaching. It didn’t matter that the school was rated a 10 by greatschools.com.

I didn’t want to home-school you, either. I didn’t want to bring the constrictions of school to our home or become the substitute teacher pushing for the rote learning you would have learned in school.

Instead, I wanted to unschool you. I wanted to let you lead and learn according to your pace and interests. Just learning by doing and being out there engaging with the world and all her creatures and learning to be good stewards. And we all learn as a family. No tests, curriculum, schedule, due dates, etc.

The Ocean as our class room, Cayucos, 10/2020

That was all I ever wanted. For years I read up on alternatives to schooling, explored the concept of home-schooling, talked to people… But I couldn’t find anybody who was actually doing it. It seemed too daunting to just do on my own. So I kept putting the decision off, telling myself that I needed to know what I was doing before taking the leap.

But when Charlie turned 11 last year, I realized he was halfway done with his elementary school years and the question of unschooling, at least for him, was nearly moot. So I made peace with my realization that I did not have the creativity, ability, bandwidth (and whatever else it was that I thought I was lacking in) to unschool you.

That I didn’t, couldn’t, quite manifest my unschooling vision was the source of my greatest disappointment and resentment against what I had come to believe as the manifestation of the whiteness of my marriage to your Papa. Though we hardly fight or disagree over anything due to our racial differences, and though our love and respect for each other is pretty solid, we don’t see regard the school the same way.

My Filipino education, patterned after the American system of education, stripped me of my indigenous identity and had me striving to be somebody I’m not. In the process, I devalued myself; I didn’t know the richness of my inherited culture and instead only knew of the inherited colonial mentality. As a colonized person, my school experience was of American violence masked as goodwill under the policy of Manifest Destiny. It’s taken me years to recognize in myself this colonial mentality. It will take my lifetime to undo it. This was same kind of education I saw that you were getting. It haunted me to know that I was allowing this miseducation to continue with you.

Your Papa, on the other hand, felt that school was the necessary harbinger of opportunities. It provides students the tool to critically think and navigate the world. As a white person, beneficiary of all the privileges that white supremacy has created, his experience of school was positive, joyful, life and self-affirming.

Sure, I explored avenues to unschool but in the end, because I was going at it by myself without your Papa’s commitment (he did say he would go along if it was that important to me…but that’s not the same as pitching in and also doing the work), I didn’t get anywhere and next thing I knew you were 10 and 7. I took too long to act and the window of opportunity to unschool closed. In an effort to be kind to myself, I told myself that it wasn’t meant to be and tried to make peace with your schooling. For a year, I made a conscious effort to not entertain any more thoughts on unschooling. I stopped bringing it up with your Papa or with friends who home-schooled their kids. I focused on relaunching my career and was soon actually glad that you were in school so I could work.

But along came COVID-19. It shook loose my tentative contentment with school.

When school started two months ago, it started out like this:

At 8:00, on the first day of distance learning, your Papa, ever the optimist, woke up early enough to make breakfast—bacon and eggs and pastries—and sing his silly “It’s a Beautiful Day” ditty. He even hand delivered breakfast to your assigned stations next to your beds.

At 8:30, Charlie slumped against his wall and logged in with frazzled hair and a blank look on his face.

Jack, meanwhile, was hunched on his swivel chair, naked and clutching his Mr. Potats plushie under his fuzzy blanket. He, too, stared at the screen, eyes half closed.

This was how the rest of the first day of school went: Broken links. Kicked out of zoom. Unstable wifi connection. Intermittent screaming from Charlie. Dead silence from Jack.

On Friday, the third day of school, Charlie approached your Papa, and later me, to plead to be home-schooled. When I asked what he meant by homeschooling, he said “anything but this”. He then proceeded to cite (in a very reasonable lawyer-like fashion that always makes me forget he’s only 12!) his reasons for wanting to be home-schooled: We’re not doing anything but sitting and listening and when I’m sitting there I just want to bang my head against the table and cry.

For two months, every day was a battle to get you both up so you could show up with your blank faces on the screen. We fought over homework, screen time, food, house chores, going out, physical activity, anything, everything. Your Papa and I became the unwilling enforcers of the school’s unwanted rules and work. Charlie expressed a dislike for being at home. Jack followed suit.

All around us, families struggled with distance learning school. All sorts of alternatives to traditional schooling—pods, home-schooling, outdoor schooling, hybrid schooling—were considered. Quitting school for the year didn’t seem such a crazy idea.

And suddenly, for the first time, your Papa was open to the discussion of home-schooling, later to unschooling, for the sake of saving our mental health and relationships. I think it also helps that there’s a general loosening of structures and agitating for more freedom in the society as a whole, not only because of the pandemic but also because of the Black Lives Matter movement which asks us to re-imagine the (racist, capitalist, sexist, colonial) institutions that we willingly buy into.

This time around, I personally know a friend who is unschooling their kids. Her account of how she did it and how they’re now doing was insightful and inspirational. I joined FB groups I didn’t know existed (although, to be honest, most of them are new as of 3 or so years ago so they weren’t really around when I was in the thick of trying to figure my way around).

And now here we are, as of today, the eve of your Mama’s 46th birthday, an unschooling family. (Well, officially, we are a private school called the Davis Learning Lab.) We even had our first meeting tonight to set our vision and agreements!

I couldn’t ask for a better bday present than to feel aligned!

I’m so excited for all of us! Here’s to freedom to learn! May this all lead to our collective liberation.