Muslim, Momma, Storyteller, Unschooler, Currently Pursuing a Doctorate in Social Justice Education
Interview by Razan Abdin-Adnani
Razan Abdin-Adnani: "Hi there, Saira! Can you please start off by introducing yourself, thinking about your own multi-layered identities? How did these identities affect the lens through which you view/experience the world?"
Saira Siddiqui: "I identify with being American, Asian, Muslim, Female, and differently abled.
This question is so loaded for me and I actually want to write an entire book addressing just this alone! I struggle immensely with my identity growing up as the lone non-white child in almost every single one of my classes. I had no mirrors, in text or reality, and mirrors are what allow you to see yourself and form your sense of identity. So it was hard, to say the least, trying to figure who or what I was when I had no images to hold on to or relate to.
That being said, it was my assumed foreignness, along with being differently abled, that made my childhood one of an ‘outsider looking in’. I became incredibly self reflective and analytic. I experienced increasing hearing loss through my childhood (though I didn’t get hearing aids prescribed until well into my freshman year of college) so I spent a tremendous amount of time studying PEOPLE, their facial expressions, their manners, so that I could ‘read between the lines’ of the speech I was missing. I may have grown up with gaps in the self acceptance department, but I grew super powers to compensate.
Also, as a product of Indian/Pakistani immigrants, I recognize now, in adulthood, that much of my self-hate was rooted in post-colonial mindset. I despised all that made me different and felt it was inferior. These are issues I’m still trying to work through, even as an adult."
RAA: "At what point did you realize you wanted to study social justice education?"
SS: "I have always been a student of social justice education, though I didn’t realize it. My entire existence was contingent on being a member of several marginalized communities.
Technically, it wasn’t until I met a professor in college that everything clicked. Honestly, it was the first time I’d had any experience with a teacher or professor (and a white male one at that!) who got me. Who understand and validated my unique thinking. And who gave me the pieces to understand that it wasn’t just me.
I had been a very organic student up until that point. Conscious of imbalance and injustice, but in an extremely personal way. He was the first one who exposed me to the field. Years later, when I’d contemplated going back to start my doctorate, I met with him again, and he was the one who pushed me to study the field. I was ‘one of them’, so to speak. I didn’t know what I would do with the degree, or how it would translate into a real life application. I just knew, these are my people, and this is what I NEED to study."
RAA: "What is the purpose or function of education in society?"
SS: "I think education is the path to freedom. Of the mind and body. Plain and simple. In order to have a free and just society, we need education."
RAA: "How/why did you ultimately make the decision to 'unschool' your own children? Also, can you define 'unschooling,' as you see it?"
SS: "Unschooling is a controversial word with different meanings according to who you talk to. For me, it is simply about giving respect to self direction. I didn’t choose to unschool, I choose to seek a path of education for my children, one in which their natural curiosity was not only respected, but encouraged and developed. I sought a path where children’s natural desire to learn and understand the world around them was not inhibited. I sought a path where their strengths would grow, where they would be mindful of them, and where those strengths could be used to improve upon their weaknesses. And honestly, I sought a path that we could all enjoy, that would allow us, as a family, to grow and improve and live all of our best selves. I don’t believe I ever made the conscious decision to start unschooling. I think I simply rejected anything else that didn’t meet our expectations."
RAA: "If you could offer only one piece of advice to other parents/educators about raising race conscious, anti-bias children, what would it be?"
SS: "Work on yourself. Read, educate your mind. Learn as much as you can about everything. Reflect on your own practice. We think this is about them, but the key to them is you."
RAA: "How can Muslims address the biases and racism that exist in our own communities?"
SS: "I cannot stress this enough—we, as a community, are drowning in post-colonial mentality. We MUST actively and consciously work to remove the oppressors mentality from our minds. It is they who taught to divide ourselves, which inevitably forces some to rise and others to fall. It is they who taught us to have a deep self-loathing and hatred for ourselves and what makes us different from them.
It’s so strange, isn’t it? That something so vehemently against our faith is so commonly found within our hearts? That’s the power of the oppressor. That’s the power of propaganda.
As a community, we need to define ourselves by ourselves, not in reaction to other things, like Islamophobia. As long as we stay on the defensive, or as the oppressed, we’ll never rise above the definition of ourselves others have given us."
RAA: "How can we find/support your work?"
SS: "You can support my Patreon account! I’ve just created an account and am hoping to do a lot of innovative things in that space to help folks develop their critical thinking skills.
You can also follow me on Instagram or Facebook. I’m working on several virtual courses and my social media platforms are the best places to keep updated on all of that."