Educational Refugees

There is a place where any discussion about democracy and youth comes around to schools. Like traumatized escapees, many adults remember the worst from their experiences: horror stories about teacher treatment, terrorism by bullies and popular students, and/or alienation or homogenization because of who we were or what we did. In having serious, substantive conversations with students about schools, I have found their ability to be constructive with their concerns to pale those of young people themselves. 

Because of this we have disjunctive relationships between young people and adults where adults commonly idealize their experiences in schools and youth commonly disparage theirs. Conversely, the adults who authentically remember their schooling tend to loudly remember it, while the youth who actually enjoy schools quietly do so. Consequently, when these adults decide to take action they go to another extreme by creating new schools and thoughts of schooling that reflect their values that are informed by their experiences.

The outcome of those developments often takes the form of homeschoolingunschooling, freeschooling or deschooling. Deschooling is a process in which the structures of schools, including curriculum, named teachers, classrooms, buildling rules and bells are completely taken away from a person’s life. When originally used by Ivan Illich in his seminal Deschooling Society, the word “deschool” was intended to serve as a metaphor; however, its expanded and become something of a movement. The Freeschool movement, which I’ve participated in through our local Olympia Free School, is an attempt to “democratize” learning by allowing anyone to teach any topic and anyone to attend any class. Finally, unschooling is the process of learning without the rigid structure or systemization of schools. 

All of this is to show that we’ve created a new kind of refugee camp, where educational refugees can find rest, relaxation and comfort among like minds and kindred spirits. A good thing in a stigmatized, polarized society; however, in this era when we appear to be moving towards something of a new social contract featuring consensus, is this type of reactivism appropriate? Only time will tell. 

In the meantime, let’s reflect on our own experiences and starting envisioning where we can go together. Then we’ll be moving ahead.

P.S. – Here is a great activity that guides students through reflecting on their school experiences.

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Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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