Unlearning: Feeling Your Way to Activism

“We can’t leave without the binoculars!” Ollie exclaimed, jumping into his room excitedly. His head popped out “Help me, mama.”  Hurriedly we rummaged through drawers until we found them, and strutted all the way to the park, bursting with excitement and anticipation. We couldn’t wait for our first bird watching excursion!

Making our way through the Woods, we started shedding the city incrusted in our shoes, in our eyes, in our soul. After just a few minutes Ollie needed to rest. Taking in nature and stripping away the city took great energy, so we sat by the trunk of a towering tree, and we finally breathed. All of a sudden, Ollie lit up “I’m going to do a tree pose in the tree!” and so he did, in his honor, and we thanked him for the air that we breathe, and we thanked him for the shade he provided.



Then Ollie had the best idea, let’s take off our shoes! And so we did and connected to the moist earth. And felt the tickling of the grass on our toes. Ollie gravitated toward the meadow and I let him go. I watched as he played- heard the muffle of his voice talking to invisible friends, and saw as he laid down and looked up at the vast sky.


[I wonder what he thinks about, what he ponders, who he talks to, and what the world really looks like inside his head.]

He remained in meditation for a while, and then was back to climbing on tree trunks, and opening up hiking paths, and looking through his binoculars at birds and other wildlife.

1.b 1.g

We played, we discovered, we sensed. And I realized that we don’t really honor our senses, and so the day became an exercise in awareness.

We played the “what can you hear?”, “what can you see?”, “what can you smell?” game. Which was surprisingly hard to do for him at first, but then increased as we worked on it further.

  • We heard the rustling of leaves
  • We saw the scrambling chipmunks
  • We felt the sharp fall breeze
  • We smelled the water stream


And eventually we were so silent we could hear our heart beats and we could smell the earth inside us. But this got me thinking, how often do we take for granted our senses? Children need to actively address the world around them. They need to develop their feelings, so that they may navigate this world with their own compass. Exploring senses and feelings leads to empathy. If you can understand yourself, you can begin to understand others and thus better serve them.

So awareness is really crucial for activism, and for paving the way for children to become better activists.

“The emotional dimensions of activism are crucially important but are often seen as secondary to action. …with very little attention to positive states such as joy, especially those that prefigure the sort of society activists are seeking to create. Therefore, we argue, there is a need for more attention to what we call skillful emotional self-management, namely individual and collective capacities to foster desirable emotions, both as instruments for better activism and as ends in themselves.” Brian Martin, “Emotional self-management for activists”.

Children are born compassionate, but they need guidance in getting to articulate their emotions. In a fast paced whirl of a city, it’s easy to lose touch with your feelings. Cities are so loud, we need to de-synthesize our ears just so that we can filter what is important. In this increasingly fast world of instant media, it’s so easy to become dull to suffering and injustice, because we see so much of it on a daily basis that we need to protect ourselves from instantly combusting. But to create activists, to create people that care so much about something, who are willing to fight arduously and passionately, we must fight against the deafening sirens and the jadedness of brutality videos on Facebook. We must go back to our core and feel the anger that might propel us to action, but also, feel the world that we are trying to create. Feel the equality down in our bones. Feel your feelings, and feel the feelings of others. I am convinced that feeling in itself, is revolutionary.

“During the last two decades, social movement scholars have begun to recognize something that activists have long acknowledged: the importance of emotions in motivating, sustaining, and shaping activism and activists themselves… social, cultural, and personal trauma in particular can serve to motivate individual activism, provide both tools and constraints for activism, and construct narratives and frames of injustice or reconciliation that can sustain and shape activism on a large scale” Mobilizing Ideas


As usual, the learning in this excursion was incidental.

Yes, we learned of new birds, their names, their qualities, habits, habitats, etc.

Yes, we practiced making charts, checking off items, itemizing.

Yes, we practiced math, numbers and adding.

Yes, we practiced journaling, crafting reactions to our experience.

And later we practiced art as we painted some of the birds that we saw.

But the real lesson, in how to find your senses, how to pierce through the layers of indifference and dullness to find a clarity of thought, a torrent of feeling, the birth of passion, the electric connection to others, THAT was incidental, as most true learning is. And this is one of the reasons why I love unschooling, because learning is whole and not divided into arbitrary isolations, but one messy, deluge of hair-up-on-your-arms, butterfly in your stomach, heart racing, aha moment of LIFE.



Birds seen:          common grackle

                               Mallard ducks


                               Rock pigeons

                               House wren

                               Song sparrow



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s