Unitierra

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= new type of 'unschool' in Mexico


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Excerpted from Gustavo Esteva:

“Years ago, we started to observe in villages and barrios, particularly among indigenous peoples, a radical reaction against education and schools. A few of them closed their schools and expelled their teachers. Most of them avoided this type of political confrontation and started instead to just bypass the school, while reclaiming and regenerating the conditions in which people traditionally learned in their own ways.

The people in the villages know very well that school prevents their children from learning what they need to know to continue living in their communities, contributing to the common well-being and that of their soils, their places. And school does not prepare them for life or work outside the community. In many communities in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico, parents no longer delegate their children’s learning to school.

They know by experience what usually happens to those who abandon their communities to get “higher education.” They get lost in the cities, in degraded jobs. A recent official study found that only eight percent of graduates of Mexican universities will be able to work in the field they graduated in. Lawyers or engineers are driving taxis or tending stalls. In spite of such awareness, people still hold the illusion that higher education offers something to their children. They don’t feel comfortable depriving their children of such an “opportunity.”

We once did a thought experiment in which we took a suggestion of author John McKnight—imagining a world without dentists—and applied it to the teaching profession. For a few minutes many apocalyptic descriptions circulated around our table as we imagined a world without teachers or teaching. But then something radically different started to come into our conversation. We imagined a myriad of ways in which the people themselves would create a different kind of life.

One of the most important conclusions of our conversation was the explicit recognition that we learn better when nobody is teaching us. We can observe this in every baby and in our own experience. Our vital competence comes from learning by doing, without any kind of teaching.

After the exercise, a very practical question came to the table. We have learned, with the Zapatistas, that while changing the world is very difficult, perhaps impossible, it is possible to create a whole new world. That is exactly what the Zapatistas are doing in the south of Mexico. How can we create our own new world, at our own, small, human scale, in our little corner in Oaxaca? How can we deschool our lives and those of our children in this real world, where the school still dominates minds, hearts and institutions?

The most dramatic lesson we derived from the exercise was to discover what we were really missing in the urban setting: conditions for apprenticeship. When we all request education and institutions where our children and young people can stay and learn, we close our eyes to the tragic social desert in which we live. They have no access to real opportunities to learn in freedom. In many cases, they can no longer learn with parents, uncles, grandparents—just talking to them, listening to their stories or observing them in their daily trade. Everybody is busy, going from one place to another. No one seems to have the patience any more to share with the new generation the wisdom accumulated in a culture. Instead of education, what we really need is conditions for decent living, a community.

Our challenge thus became to find ways to regenerate community in the city, to create a social fabric in which we all, at any age, would be able to learn and in which every kind of apprenticeship might flourish. In doing this radical research, we surprise ourselves, every day, when we discover how easy it can be to create alternatives and how many people are interested in the adventure.

So we created our university, Unitierra. Young men and women without any diploma, and better yet no schooling, can come to us. They learn whatever they want to learn—practical trades, like urban agriculture, video production, or social research, or fields of study, like philosophy or communication. They learn the skills of the trade or field of study as apprentices of someone practicing those activities. They also learn how to learn with modern tools and practices not available in their communities.

As soon as the young people arrive at Unitierra, they start to work as apprentices. They discover that they need specific skills to do what they want to do. Most of the time, they get those skills by practicing the trade, with or without their mentors. They may choose to attend specific workshops, to shorten the time needed to get those skills.

Our “students” have been learning faster than we expected. After a few months they are usually called to return to the living present of their communities to do there what they have learned. They seem to be very useful there. Some of them are combining different lines of learning in a creative way. One of them, for example, combined organic agriculture and soil regeneration (his original interest), with vernacular architecture. He is not offering professional services that allow him to move towards the middle class standard of living by selling services and commodities. He is learning how to share, like peasants, what it means to be a cherished member of his community and commons, as has been done through time immemorial—before the modern rupture.” (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/liberate-your-space/reclaiming-our-freedom-to-learn)