I mean, the title really says it all, but let’s dive in a bit.
If you had told me a few months ago that this lifestyle I’m trying to build is inaccessible, I would have gotten all prickly and ready to defend myself. I want it to be accessible, I believe it needs to be accessible, but for most people in the world right now, it’s just not.
When I talk about opting out, I’ll focus in on the measures that my family has taken to try and stop participating in institutions that we believe are oppressive.
We are unschoolers for many reasons, but one of those reasons is because the compulsory education system uses oppressive methods in how it delivers education and also perpetuates that oppression by teaching kids that these methods are acceptable and necessary. Do all children feel oppressed in a classroom? I don’t think so. Some kids really enjoy school. But even those that enjoy that style of learning are still being impressed upon that systems of oppression are how we should be operating as a society.
In a perfect world, we would all live in tight-knit communities with multiple adults coordinating efforts to provide a space where self-directed education could be an option every day for kids of all ages. I can envision pods of families, living in shared spaces, where income is generated locally and older kids help look after younger kids. But that type of environment doesn’t exist where I live and I think many would say the same.
In addition, for many places around the world, the stigma of being “un-educated” is a barrier for child-led learning to really thrive.
Unfortunately, the compulsory education system is tied closely to capitalism and the 8-hour work day. In order to provide more unschooling options for families, there needs to be a shift in how we earn income where parents aren’t pulled away from the home for the bulk of the day. Yes, there are totally options for parents to work from home. Yes, some folks could arrange their lives, like we have, to live on a lower income. But for an ever-increasing number of people, wage labour is a necessity to stay alive, housed, and fed and as long as that barrier is in place, self-directed education will rightly take a back seat.
We all live in a capitalist system that demands that we either trade our labour or exploit other people’s labour for money.
If you are part of the former group, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for opting out of capitalism. We all have needs to be met: basic needs like clothing, shelter, food, and water. Currently, our economic and political systems do a piss poor job of helping us meet those needs.
I believe that you need money in order to not need money. In other words, you need to have a certain amount of financial security in order to explore ways of opting out of the capitalist system. Not everyone can go live in a tiny home in the woods. You need money for land, you have to pay property taxes, you need ways to get food, money for fuel, etc.
That being said, I do fully believe that there was ways in which you can minimize your dependence on the capitalist system and that involves consuming less. But those choices can only come after you have your basic needs met.
I hate shopping at the grocery store. 99% of the food is processed, imported, and out of season. Here’s the reasons why I still shop at the grocery store.
- I can’t afford to do all my shopping from local farmers.
- My family likes food that can’t be sourced locally, like granola bars and juice and bananas. I want to honour my kids’ requests for foods that they enjoy eating.
- While we are learning to grow more and more food ourselves, there are major parts of our diet that are harder to produce on our own, namely grains.
I have big and beautiful dreams of more local micro farms that produce accessible food where that food is prepared together as a community. I can envision shared kitchens where people share recipes, come together for potlucks, and learn how to eat seasonally. I desperately want to build these options for more people and I think others do too. It’s a beautiful vision, but it’s not a reality yet.
When it comes down to it, our current food systems are just NOT accessible in any way. When people are forced to choose between highly processed foods that fill tummies versus locally grown foods that they need more time to cook and process, I don’t blame anyone for going with the former.
This is a really tough one because I believe that government and it’s system of policing should be avoided at all costs. They are both systems designed to continue the ongoing oppression of marginalized groups in order for the elite to maintain their status. Both institutions are tools used to keep one group elevated and the other group exploited. When you call the police, when you buy into the false democracy that is our political system, you only serve to keep them in place. I don’t call the cops. I don’t support systems of government at any level.
There are, however, groups of people that heavily rely on these systems and their programs in order to stay afloat. You can’t simply deny those programs and services without replacing them with something better. And while alternative, citizen-led programs ARE being developed, they aren’t available everywhere and I will never ever EVER blame folks for accessing the services from governments or police that are required to have their basic needs met.
I am all for abolition, but we need to simultaneously build better systems so that people don’t fall through the cracks.
In Blake Boles’ podcast Off-Trail Learning, Alex Khost talks about freedom as a concept that has different meanings in different contexts. There’s one point that Alex makes sits rent free in my brain everyday. He says that if I experience freedom that isn’t accessible to everyone, it’s not freedom but privilege.
It’s not freedom. It’s privilege.
When I talk about opting out, if it’s not accessible to everyone, it’s just privilege.
And it’s not accessible.
So how do we make it accessible? How do we open up the world of self-directed education to everyone? How do we find alternative economic systems to exist in while the one we’re forced into crumbles around us? How do we make good, healthy, locally sourced food available to everyone? How do we build alternative systems of governance that support the needs of everyone, not just the few?
Privilege in this context often feels like a dirty word that I should be ashamed of. But I have to swallow it down deep into my stomach and own it because I believe that it’s that privilege that should fuel that need for change. I cannot rely on those without privilege to do this work. It must be those who have more to lose, who have the opportunities to build new and better systems, and create a world where these alternative are finally accessible to everyone.