The Importance of Unlearning

By Lorane Sherpa and Kaitlin McKoy

“The illiterate of the future are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” -Alvin Toffler, Future Shock

Before we start this paper, we want to highlight the importance of being open-minded. Open-minded for yourself, to read and address your own biases in an effort to unlearn them, open-minded enough to identify how and why you want to grow and open-minded in understanding that in order to learn, you need a lesson. We ourselves are guilty of having preconceived notions and ideas on topics I am not well-versed enough to understand – but we acknowledge and respect the process of unlearning, and I hope you do as well.

While many are familiar with what it means to learn, focusing on unlearning is equally, if not more, important. Unlearning can be defined as discarding or putting aside certain knowledge as being false or binding. As we grow up, we are constantly consuming information and internalizing it, fundamentally influencing who we are, our beliefs, and how we understand and perceive the world today. However, this information is not always accurate and thus, unlearning comes into effect. Throughout our years in the education system, we have been taught false narratives and singular perspectives from the oppressor about crucial events in history. This ultimately disregards and erases the experiences of other groups involved. For example, many of us were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, but it wasn’t until much later in our academic career when we finally learned about the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous lives murdered when Columbus colonized their land. 

Not only is it important to unlearn the history we have been taught that focuses on the oppressor’s narrative, but also to unlearn our own biases and misconceptions of certain groups. Unlearning can be uncomfortable as we have become so accustomed to our past beliefs and assumptions and anything that contradicts it can feel like a personal attack, but it is important to focus on what new information and way of thinking is possible in the future. By unlearning, we make room for more knowledge and are able to gain a whole new perspective, allowing ourselves to grow and progress.

We are all born the same, but it is the way we choose to create ourselves in society that exhibits our actions towards our ability and willingness to unlearn and relearn. We are all capable. It is more important now than ever to make the active decision to decide what we choose to believe in and become an activist for. In the current climate of our world, we have so many resources to take a stand to relearn aspects of what might have created clouded judgement in the past. We challenge you to identify a learned, or even biased opinion or topic, change your point of view with the help of research and relearn.

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